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Orientation refers to the heading of a model helicopter relative to the pilot.

While a given command always has the same effect from the helicopter's point of view, from the point of view of the pilot, the aircraft may almost appear to be moving in direct contradiction, similar to how when reversing a car, turning the steering wheel right (clockwise) will lead to the car moving towards the left of your field of view (as you look out the rear of the car).

A good 50% of learning to fly a model helicopter is learning to respond to the different orientations instinctively; the other 50% being understanding the aerodynamic behavior of the helicopter and transitioning smoothly between all orientations.

Common orientations include:

  • Tail in
Flying with the tail pointing towards the pilot. This is the easiest orientation to fly in as the cyclic commands lay in the same direction that the helicopter will respond in. With a rate mode gyro the anti torque control needs to be managed carefully to maintain the helicopter's heading.
  • Side on
Flying with the one side of the helicopter facing you, either right side on or left side on. Side on flying can be eased into by flying the helicopter directly to your left or right side, while keeping the helicopter pointing in the same direction as your body; that way, the cyclic commands stay oriented in the same direction as the helicopter (like tail-in), but you get used to seeing the side of the helicopter.
  • Nose in
Often seen as the most difficult of the initial orientations, nose in is flying with the helicopter's nose pointing towards the pilot. A mnemonic often used is to think of 'propping up' the low side of the rotor disk; so that if the disk tilts towards your right, to maintain a hover you move the cyclic control towards your right.
  • 45 degree variations
In between these lay orientations with the helicopter at 45 degrees to the pilot. Often these are initially confusing, as the pilot cannot decide subconsciously which orientation to use.
All these orientations can be practiced inverted. Inverted flight leads to the apparent reversal of the collective, rudder and elevator controls.
  • Knife edge
Finally the helicopter can be flow with the rotor disk vertical or close to vertical. Depending on how vertical the rotor disk is, little or no vertical lift may be generated, limiting how long the helicopter stays airborne in this orientation.

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