ON THE SAFE SIDE
Ready to Solo?
Just as in full-scale aviation, an RC pilot’s first solo is a memorable milestone. To have your prized airplane leave the ground, tear though the air, and then return safely to earth—all under your control—is a moment that no pilot forgets.
As we all know, RC pilots reach that milestone in many ways. Some, supremely overconfident, leave the hobby shop with an armful of equipment, go straight to the park, and throw their new purchase into the air.
Others think an hour of simulator instruction is plenty. I remember a story about one prospective flier who had flown the simulator awhile and then had a couple of buddy-box sessions from an instructor. The next weekend he went to a public field without his instructor. Despite offers of assistance and warnings to the contrary, he decided he could do it on his own. As you can imagine, his next flight was a short series of over-controlled gyrations ending with his new trainer in pieces a hundred feet from the runway.
I also know of a situation where an instructor told a student he was ready to solo without the buddy-box well before he had mastered the proper skills. In this case, both the student and the instructor did their very best to salvage the situation, but once again, the student’s new trainer ended up not far from the runway and the discouraged pilot going home to fix the damage.
Three things happen as a result of these training incidents. First, there is the inevitable crash (or crashes) that could surely injure someone. Second, even if the newbie keeps at it long enough to be successful, they have probably learned a lot of bad habits that could still make them unwelcome or even dangerous when they fly at organized events or club fields. And last, but most serious, many quickly get frustrated and quit the hobby altogether.
There is little we can do about the guys who are bound and determined to do this without an instructor. In most cases, they have been told by the Local Hobby Shop (LHS) and other fliers that they should ask for help. We can only hope that they will learn and accept safe flying practices when they join us at the field.
But let’s look at the bright side of this issue. Most of those interested in RC flying see the value of instruction and seek us out for help. Most are great learners and take instruction well. But they still face the anxiety that goes with the first solo. Most students are in the middle of the confidence spectrum—not overly timid and not overly bold. And if they tell you they are ready to solo, they probably are.
But how does the instructor know for sure that his student is ready to solo? Many will tell you that they just know the student has the skills to succeed—after all they have been there through the instruction process. I have no disagreement with that, because that is how I have instructed in the past.
Recently, I talked to a few fellow fliers who are a little more formal in that evaluation. Just as in full-scale flying instruction, they have a checklist or check flight that their prospective soloists must master before they wean them from the buddy-box.
Here are some suggestions that you might want to make to your instructors, if they are not already doing them:
1. We all know the student has to be able to make a safe landing. That’s number one on everyone’s list. But what do you require in preparation for touchdown on the runway? Can he correct for crosswinds using the rudder and still make the runway? Does he set up the proper glide and adjust the touchdown point with the throttle? Can he make both right- and left-hand approaches to your runway?
2. Here’s one directly from full-scale flying instruction. At altitude, pull the power back to idle on the buddy-box. Can your student find a good glide angle and make a dead-stick approach that would result in a successful landing?
3. Give the student a task to do, such as flying a figure eight, and then have him announce each part of the maneuver before he makes it. Can he make the airplane go where he says it’s to go?
4. Using the proper field safety rules, can he assemble, fuel, start, and shut down his airplane without assistance?
5. On takeoff, can he keep the airplane in a straight line down the runway and maintain that course and direction until the first turn at a safe altitude?
6. Once again from full-scale flight instruction, put the airplane at an odd angle or orientation and then hit the trainer switch. Does the student make the right corrections to bring the airplane back to straight and level?
7. Fly the model quite a ways out and then hit the trainer button. Can your student get it back over the runway?
How well should your student do on these informal tests? Whatever the student does, it should be conducted “with the successful outcome of the maneuver never seriously in doubt.” I borrowed this quote from a full-scale instruction manual as well.
Many clubs have a formal instruction manual they give their students at the outset with this and other goals as check off items inside. That is a great practice. If your group does not already have a training syllabus for new pilots, feel free to use my club’s as a starting point (rcpropbuster.com/downloads/Rapid%20City%20Propbusters%20New%20Pilot%20Handbook.pdf).
We did not create this document ourselves, but like many of you, gleaned parts and pieces from others over the years.
Good instruction does not happen by accident, and good instruction will prevent accidents. It will also make pilots who are welcome at any field and are a credit to the modeling community—hopefully for many years to come. Q