Beginners start here
There must be as many "Introduction to model helicopter flying" pages on the Internet as there are model helicopter sites---but who are we to break the trend? So this is ours. It's not very good right now. Skip down to the bottom and read the other guides we've listed.
So, you want to fly model helicopters?
There a a number of different types of helicopter that you might consider trying to fly.
- Toy helicopters
- Toy helicopters, like the Air Hogs Havoc, or PiccoZ, can't really be classed as model helicopters. They have no swashplate and so limited directional control. The controls on the transmitter will likely not correspond to the controls on any larger helicopter, so time accumulated flying these will not transfer to any other model. However, if you enjoy flying them, play away!
- Coaxial fixed pitch electric helicopters, like the E-flite Blade CX2, Walkera 5#6, or Esky Lama, are a good general introduction to helicopter flying. When correctly set up, the helicopter will hover almost without control inputs. The controls will relate quite closely to the controls on larger helicopters, and so flying experience will help you begin to fly 'proper' model helicopters. In particular, they are useful for learning different orientations---the way the controls appear to change as the helicopter turns around in front of you.
- Coaxial helicopters are relatively robust and have few moving parts meaning that in a crash (as long as the throttle is cut) the helicopter is likely to experience little damage. When parts do break, they are easy and cheap to swap out. This coupled with their self-stabilizing nature makes coaxial helicopters ideal for the occasional pilot who does not want to dedicate months to learning to hover. Coaxial helicopters are usually flown indoors, but can be flown outside when there is absolutely no wind.
- Generally coaxial helicopters will come ready to fly, with a simple transmitter and battery charger.
- Fixed pitched helicopters, like the Walkera 4#1, Esky HoneyBee FP or Hirobo Quark are the next step up the difficulty ladder. Unlike coaxial helicopters, they are not self-stabilizing and so require constant pilot input to maintain flight, or even just hover. Mechanically however, they are possibly even simpler than coaxial helicopters, making them very forgiving to crashes, although far from indestructible.
- The flight characteristics of a fixed pitch helicopter are very similar to 'proper' (i.e. collective pitch) helicopters, so fixed-pitch experience translates readily to larger helicopters if desired. Fixed pitch helicopters can be flown in large indoor areas or outside in a gentle breeze.
- Collective pitch helicopters are far more complicated mechanically than fixed pitch helicopters, but with the complexity comes performance. Nearly all collective pitch helicopters are fully aerobatic, with the limiting factor being the pilot. However the mechanical complexity means that they must be set up correctly, and they will not tolerate crashes at all, with a typical crash requiring replacement of at least a few components (and a crash is anything where the helicopter doesn't land gently on it's skids).
- Nevertheless, with care and training gear, you can learn to fly a collective pitch helicopter on your own. You should spend some time practicing on a simulator first, and you will come along much quicker if you can find another pilot to help you via a buddy box.
- Large collective pitch helicopters (which for a beginner is anything weighing a kilogram or more) can also be very dangerous in inexperienced hands. However, they are more stable and thus easier to fly compared to smaller/micro helis mainly because you have far more time to react to an incorrect control input and make corrections. If you can find an experienced local pilot willing to supervise your learning on a larger heli, your skills will progress much faster than any solo learning endeavor.
Tips for learning to fly
- Get experienced help where possible, especially for setting your helicopter up.
- Get some training gear. Start off on smooth ground (e.g. concrete) until you have mastered a stable hover, as this will allow the training gear to roll.
- Practice on the simulator.
- Never take your eyes off a running heli.
- Cut the throttle if you're going to crash. Learn to use throttle hold if you have it.
- If you have throttle hold, get in the habit of using it whenever the helicopter is not spooled up. It will help prevent many accidents.
- With a collective pitch helicopter, be gentle with the collective. You may wish to limit the range of negative pitch available using the pitch curve; otherwise be careful not to lower in too quickly especially if you panic, as you will end up slamming the helicopter into the ground with force, bending bits and probably getting a boom strike.
- With LiPo-powered electric helicopters, stop flying as soon as you notice a decrease in performance, or you risk damaging the battery.
- Learning to hover is much easier when you have plenty of space to drift into.
- Radd's school of rotary flight
- Flight training videos
- Finless videos
- Help finding a local club.
- Web forums to ask your questions in, when they aren't answered here.
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