I started to purchase my first radio controlled airplane in 2003. The Avistar 40 trainer was on layaway at a local hobbyshop. It was just about paid in full when we bought a house that needed a lot of work. I turned in the plane receipts, took the cash, and bought power tools for the remodeling project.
In 2007, I put an Avistar 40 on layaway again. This time I completed the purchase and took the plane home. I followed the instructions, built the “ARF” (Almost Ready to Fly) airplane, and admired how great it looked.
I had everything I needed to be a RC (Radio Control) pilot but I didn’t know how to fly the plane. I understood the physics of flying. I started taking flying lessons in a Cessna 150 many years ago. But I knew flying the plane from inside would be very different from standing on the ground while controlling the plane in the air.
I took the plane to the back yard for the first fire-up. I turned on the transmitter, flipped the switch on the airplane, attached the glowplug igniter, primed the carburetor, held the torque starter against the propeller spinner and pushed the button. To my great surprise, the engine started immediately. I carefully removed the igniter and adjusted the throttle on the radio.
The plane was tied to the ground with a rope and a tent stake. It wasn’t going anywhere, but it really wanted to. I slowed the engine to an idle and took off the leash. I stood back and moved the throttle up slightly and the plane started to roll. Before long, I had it racing across the lawn back and forth. Several times it almost lifted from the ground and I was tempted to let it. It would have ended up in a crushed heap, for sure.
We moved in 2008. Our new home put us within fifteen miles of learning how to fly my plane. I joined a radio control flying club. To be admitted as a member, I first had to join the Academy of Model Aeronautics. I received an official membership card, an AMA decal which I promptly stuck on my field box, liability insurance, and a magazine subscription.
On a warm day with a bright clear sky, I met my flying instructor at the club field.
“Do you know anything about airplanes?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, feeling like I was starting at a superior level. “Several years ago I took some flying lessons, although I didn’t…”
“Forget all of it,” he interrupted. “It won’t help you. You’re going to fly the plane while watching it. When it’s flying away from you, all the controls work normally. When it’s coming toward you everything is backwards. Right is left, left is right.”
I was confused and starting to wonder if my new friend was going to drill me into the ground before I was able to actually fly my plane.
He looked my plane over and complimented me on the construction. He taught me how to start the engine safely, stressing the importance of staying behind the spinning prop once the engine started. He adjusted the carburetor needle until the engine sounded like it would take off by itself.
He had already connected my radio transmitter to a “buddy box”, containing controls without a transmitter, by a long cord. He took my radio, I held the box. The instructor taxied my plane to the runway. He pressed the throttle forward and the plane sped down the runway, straight as an arrow. It lifted off smoothly and floated upward.
I watched as he flew the plane in a huge circle, back and forth, right, left, up, down, around and back down to the runway where he landed it perfectly.
“Ok, now it’s your turn,” he said. Again he headed the plane down the runway and up into the air. This time he added a lot of altitude and it was soon evident why.
“When I let go of this button, you will have control of the plane. If you get in trouble, I’ll push the button and take control again. Remember, a little is a lot. No quick movements. Slow and small on the sticks. The left stick is throttle and rudder. The right stick is elevator and ailerons. Here you go.”
My insides felt like they would shake loose from my body. I moved the sticks slightly and the plane almost turned upside down then jolted to the right. “I have the plane” the instructor said. Immediately the plane leveled out and continued in controlled, beautiful flight.
“You have the plane.” Wings waved. The plane shot up, then down rapidly, right, left, and almost rolled.
“Slow sticks! Very small!” he said loudly.
I felt like a little kid who had just been caught stealing.
“Ok,” I said. To my great delight, the plane continued flying. It looked sort of level. It flew kind of straight.
“Now gently push the right stick to the left just a little,” he said.
I did. The plane took a wide turn.
“Ok, straighten it out.”
“Ok, now another left, and bring it back toward the runway,” he said. “Be sure not to push the stick forward while you’re turning. Try to keep the plane level in the turn.”
I did, and it did. I completed an entire circle without the instructor taking control. After another circle he landed the plane. I loved it!
Over the next several weeks I practiced with the buddy box. I flew figure-eights, circles, slow, fast, high, and low. I flew approaches to the runway, dropped to eye level, then lifted away again.
Another instructor decided it was time to let me land the plane. It was everything I could do to keep my hands from shaking the plane out of the air. As gently as I could, I brought the plane around and headed for the runway. A light right on the stick moved the plane to my left. Lower. Slower. Dropping. I pulled back slightly on the right stick, lifting the nose just a bit. The plane floated down, touching the ground gently and rolling to a stop.
“Well done! Well done!” my instructor said. I completed several more takeoffs and landings. “I think he’s ready, guys! I think it’s time!” he said.
The instructor pulled the plug and handed my radio to me. I taxied the plane to the end of the runway, turned it around and gave it full throttle. I gently pulled back on the right stick, raising the elevator, and the airplane lifted off the ground. I flew the plane around the pattern, did a figure-eight, brought the plane back and landed. I had graduated. I was a full pilot of my RC airplane.
Sooner or later, every RC pilot is going to experience the heartbreak of his or her airplane meeting the ground. My Avistar 40 got acquainted with gravity and dirt a few times.
My first crash came on a morning after I had taken several perfect flights. I was going to quit but decided to take the plane up one more time. I don’t know if a gust of wind hit the plane or if my hand jerked, but the plane quickly lifted off the ground and cartwheeled, completely breaking the tail from the fuselage. I carefully made repairs and the plane flew again.
After a minor mishap requiring more repairs, the plane crashed resulting in the condition in the photo. It took two days of searching at the field to find all of it. It took me a month to put the plane back together. I glued pieces, some tiny, some large, back together. I reapplied much of the adhesive covering to the plane. Finally, it was ready to fly again, and fly it did. I flew it upside down, loops, rolls, high, low, and many happy landings.
I decided to add another plane to my fleet. The Escapade 61 is a pretty fast airplane, much larger than my Avistar. As with my first plane, this was an ARF. It didn’t take long to prepare it for flight.
The Escapade flew beautifully. The sound was amazing and it was easy to fly. It was powerful. It landed fast but smoothly and ran the length of the runway. Even this lovely plane met a problem. I folded the landing gear under on a tough landing. Simple repairs made the gear stronger. I was ready to fly again.
I struggled with what I assumed was carpal tunnel syndrome for many years. Three EMGs (Electromyography) over the years proved my condition was something different. I was finally diagnosed with essential tremors. I tried the drugs prescribed by my neurologists, some with worse possible side effects than the condition.
With my primary care physician, I decided to stop taking the medications. I am left handed but it became impossible to write. I taught myself to write with my right hand. I shave with my right hand. Easy things like putting a key in locked door are a challenge.
The condition made it impossible for me to fly. Rather than taking a chance on completely destroying the planes in an essential tremor disaster, I decided to sell them. A buyer who has two young boys contacted me. He took the planes home last week.
I hope the Avistar 40 and the Escapade 61 have many successful flights and the new pilots enjoy them as much as I did.