Sailplane Flying and Trimming Tips

The hardest thing about R/C planes is getting used to dealing with the controls being backwards when the plane is coming towards you.  Experienced pilots or veterans of computer games involving airplanes think flying an R/C glider will be easy, and in most respects it is, but the orientation is a BIG problem until you get used to it.  The most helpful hint I received was "when the plane is flying towards you, move the stick towards the lower wing to level the plane."  That's easier to remember and more natural to deal with than thinking right is left and left is right.

One of the best things you can do is practice on a simulator until you learn the "R/C" orientation BEFORE you go fly your glider.  When the plane is flying away from you, left is left and right is right.  But when it is flying towards you, left is right and right is left.  Even if you remember this 95% of the time, the 5% of the time you forget will lead to some really nasty crashes.  I used Microsoft Flight Simulator, flying in "tower view" mode.  Any version of MS Flight Simulator is fine, you do not need the latest and greatest.  Any other simulator that will allow you to fly in a mode where your view is from a fixed point on the ground is fine, too.  And don't bother using a glider if a powered plane is available -- on MS Flight Simulator I skipped the glider and used the Extra 300, thus I could stay up as long as I wanted (or until I crashed, which usually didn't take too long!).  Basic flying of a glider is easy -- it is getting the "R/C" orientation down that is hard.  I can't tell you how many times I slammed that poor Extra 300 into the ground before it became "natural" to fly from a fixed point on the ground.  Again let me state one thing that helps:  remember that when the plane is coming towards you, you move the stick towards the low wing to level the plane.  This is much easier and more natural than trying to remember that right is left and left is right.  Also, don't bother learning to land.  It is much easier to land your glider in an open field than to land a powered plane on a runway, and involves entirely different skills.  And though landing on some slopes may be tough, it is not even similar to landing on a runway.  Same is true for taking off, so I saved a flight once I was already in the air and flying level, then always restarted that flight after a crash.  You can download a FREE simulator from the internet that you can control with a mouse or joystick, and some even include instructions on how to build a cable to allow you to use your R/C transmitter to control the simulator.  See my Learning the R/C Orientation Using a Free Simulator page for details on where to get a free simulator.

A good basic explanation of thermals and thermal flying can be found on the following pages:

Thermal Surfing Part 1 - Good tips from Horizon Hobby
Thermal Surfing Part 2 - Continuation of tips from Horizon Hobby

I had help from an experienced flier who helped with hand tossing and trimming, then did the complete first flight, then did the second launch before handing me the controls.  The idea is, if something is not working quite right, an experienced pilot has a much better chance of compensating correctly and either getting it trimmed right or at least landing it safely.  Get some help if you can, if not, go for it, but realize you have a larger risk of having to repair it.  Soar FAQ is a sight with some of the best info I found on pre-flight and in-flight trimming (see sections 2.7 thru 2.9).  If the wind is over 10 mph, go home and wait for another day.  It is too hard to trim with a hand toss if there is more than a slight breeze.  Aside from that, once it seems to be flying straight and level on hand tosses several flights in a row, launch it on your hi-start.  Don't stretch the hi-start too far the first time.  Very tiny left and right inputs on the stick are all that are needed to keep it going straight on the launch.  If you have a computer radio, put in -25% exponential on all your controls to help reduce the tendency we beginners have to over-control.  This way you get less reaction near the center point of the stick, but still have full throw at the available as you move all the stick all the way away from center.

To adjust the decalage (angle of incidence) on a Highlander or other foamie, bend the fuselage slightly, then use your iron or heat gut to shrink away the wrinkles you formed.  Hold in place for a minute until covering has cooled.  Make only small changes.  If you go to far, rather than bending the other way then shrinking the other side, try to apply heat to the side you already shrunk and bend while still heating to stretch it back out.  The covering will normally shrink when heated, but will stretch while heated if you apply pressure.

I read the book "Old Buzzard's Soaring Book" by Dave Thornburg which has lots of great info on thermals. If you don't have it you can order it for $16.95 postpaid from "David Thornburg, 5 Monticello, Albuquerque, NM 87123".

For more advanced flying tips, see my Sailplane Links page and look for section titled "Flying Tips."

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