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Getting Started with Helis
Written by: Michael Kranitz

Welcome to Helis!

If you are new to the sport of radio control helicopter flying, you likely are filled with both apprehension and excitment at the thought of flying your first helicopter. Yes, fear is mixed in as well. Not the fear of hurting yourself or someone else, but the fear of punching in a $1,000+ investment! As you spend time with your helicopter, the fear will give way and eventually you will forget why you were apprehensive at all. To me, helicopter flying is the one of the most exhilarating and challenging radio control disciplines.

Heli flying takes a great deal of concentration and patience. The piloting learning curve varies among pilots, depending on their previous fixed wing aircraft experience and their sheer talent in manipulating R/C aircraft. The key to success with R/C helis is patience. If you can keep yourself from reaching too far beyond your skill envelope, you will be rewarded with an intact ship at the end of each flying session. I an impatient person and spent decades wrecking everything from control line airplanes to gliders, electrics and glow powered planes. Nothing could escape my powers of destruction. That is why my friends just smiled when I told them I was entering helicopters. When I made the choice to invest money and time into helis, I promised myself one thing: I would proceed slowly enough to achieve my goal of simply NOT crashing. That was several years ago and now I enjoy flying both scale and pod & boom helicopters. To get from here to there, this is what I think you need:

  • Buy a good helicopter book. I recommend the "Safe and Easy Helicopter Flying" by Bob Motazedi. Bob's book is excerpted on this site. Read the book!!! 
  • Get a good heli simulator. There are many good sims on the market. The investment is well worth it in real cash saved at the flying field. Check the forum for recommendations from fellow pilots. There are many high quality simulators to choose from. Your choice may come down to the library of aircraft or quality of realism, but I learned back when simulators were just beginning to bud and it worked fine then!
  • Start with a larger sized glow or electric helicopter. Micro helis may look fun and inexpensive, but they are tough fly for a beginner. I personally recommend a .46-50 sized glow ship to begin with. The Thunder Tiger Raptor is my favorite. It is stable, reliable and big enough to eliminate issues with orientation and stability that may crop up with a smaller ship. The .30 sized machines are fine, but I prefer the larger ships. 
  • Get training gear! The spider legs may look funny, but they will help you learn faster and avoid costly mishaps.
  • Try to locate an instructor. Although not impossible, learning to fly heli alone is daunting. Morevoer, you miss out on great advice and the confidence building of a coach. Try our Instructor Locator tool. 
  • Invest in a good radio. JR has a nice 6-channel and other manufacturers (Hitec, Futaba and Airtronics) all make great radios. If you can afford it, I do recommend an 8+ channel heli with advanced mixing functions. You will find it overwhelming at first, but eventually, you will be glad that you have so much power at your fingertips.  
  • Take your time! The goal is NOT to fly. The goal is to NOT crash. It may not sound very lofty, but it will get you past the difficult steps and into the air much more quickly than any other way I know.

Safety in Everything

In our hobby, we always hear about safety. In helicopters, safety is even more of an issue that cannot be treated lightly. With rotor speeds averaging 1,600 RPM and blades typically 550MM long, a hovering helicopter just 25 feet away presents a real danger. Safety starts during the build process. Here are some tips:

  • Use thread lock where indicated by the instrucitons. Do not skip these instructions. Helicopters vibrate tremendously and bolts can unfasten themselves on the first flight if they are not secured properly. 
  • Check all linkages during the build process and before every flight. Loose linkages can lead to disaster of epic proportions if a control surface becomes an "uncontrolled surface" mid-flight. 
  • Tighten all bolts before your first flight of the day after every 5 flights regardless. 
  • Check your radio range before your first flight of the day. Just do it and shut up. 
  • Ensure that all switches on your transmitter are in the proper setting mode. Many a flight failure has been caused by an errant switch. 
  • Check for proper movement of all control surfaces before every flight. 
  • When training, avoid spectators. Aside from the obvious safety issue, distractions will significantly affect your ability to perform basic maneuvers while training. 
  • Use common sense.


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