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Crash Course


Staff member

Written by: Fred Provost

<span class="s1">If it hasn't happened, then you haven't flown, period. The fact is, everyone who has flown an RC aircraft has crashed one, somewhere along the line. I myself have a long, sad history of broken planes behind me. No, really, I think I've crashed more than I have recovered.</span>

<span class="s1">I was trying to think of what to write about next. They say a good writer should write what he knows. So, the answer was obvious, I know crashing! I sacrificed a large number of planes in my slow painful path to be what I could claim was a 'successful” RC pilot. I can take pride in the fact that through it all, the time, money, and embarrassment, I never gave up. After many years of trying, I still am crashing my aircraft!</span>

<span class="s1">My wife showed extreme patience, in those early days. There she'd be, riding with me to the field, while I was blathering with excitement of how I would show her my new skills with a freshly repaired aircraft. She'd tolerate this, only to be rewarded with a short, (she would claim seconds, but I would have sworn in court that I had a full minute or two) airborne adventure. This was something that could only be called flight, because for the time, it wasn't on the ground. The plane would fall, tumble, or sometimes, as if out of spite, drive itself into the ground. My pride so thoroughly crushed, that the idea of retaliation by stomping an otherwise repairable airplane, into balsa or foam fragments seemed like a great idea. My darling, a candidate for sainthood, if ever there was one, would politely ask if I had gotten it all out of my system. I would then have to pick up the scattered remains, search for what could be reused, and properly dispose of the rest, before humbly driving us back to the house, swearing off flying ever again. Of course, in a few hours, I would come to my senses.</span>

<span class="s1">I learned from those crashes. This is not bragging. Those first several ones were because I was too stubborn to ask for help. Basic things like balancing to the center of gravity, proper pairing of system components, and knowing when to stop flying before the battery died. These were simple things, that couldn't be gleaned from practicing on a flight simulator, but any tutor could have taught me, had I sought one out. </span>

<span class="s1">Crashes have causes. Shocking, I know. I thought they just magically happened, or it was some grudge my plane had against me for embarrassing it in front of the other planes. But no, there's a reason these things happen. What causes crashes? I ask this, because if you can determine the causes, you can come up with ways of preventing them. After what must have been at least minutes of thinking, I came up with four categories of why people crash.</span>

<h3 class="p1"><span class="s1"><strong>Structural</strong></span></h3><span class="s1">Aircraft can crash because it just wasn't built right. Not enough glue was used, or maybe too much. Wings could have warped, or something could have been damaged in route to the field. It's possible the plane is not properly balanced, and thus doomed to failure. A thorough preflight check can help eliminate many of these problems.</span>

<h3 class="p1"><span class="s1">Electrical</span></h3><span class="s1">As I mentioned before, sometimes planes refuse to stay in the air because the components weren't the right match. Putting too big a propeller on a motor can cause too much strain on the system. The magic smoke escapes from the speed control, and all of a sudden you have no control of the plane. There are plenty of resources online on how to do this. If Flite Test hasn't produced an episode on it yet, pester them until they do! (Just leave my name out of it.)</span>

<span class="s1">Or maybe you've flown past your batteries capacity to supply power. No need to duck your head in shame, it's another one of those things that most of us have done. It's a matter of learning from this mistake, and moving on. If you have a timer on your transmitter, take advantage of it. Note when you start to lose that pep, and use this as a gauge of your expected flight duration. </span>

<h3 class="p1"><span class="s1">Atmospheric</span></h3><span class="s1">Maybe you're scratching your head at this one. Have you never flown your plane into the ground, or worse, a tree, because you just had to toss it in the air, even if the gale force winds hadn't quite subsided yet? Things can also be problematic when you forget to fly upwind of yourself. No, this isn't some hunter's technique to help you foil your planes plans of vengeance upon you by following your scent to the ground. Letting the plane get too far down wind, will make it nearly impossible to get back once you realize you're nearing the end of your flight.</span>

<h3 class="p1"><span class="s1">Dumb Thumbs</span></h3><span class="s1">Yes, this is a technical term, you can look it up. (Go ahead, I did.) This is a phenomenon that's rare for pilots who fly alone. It seems the only time that dumb thumbs can be identified, is when a friend is there to point it out. This is a purely pilot error generated crash. For example, I was there at the field, my dedicated wife watching with feigned interest. I decided to put on a show for her. I flew the airplane, upside down, along the length of the runway. I turned back, fully expecting to see the pride in her eyes. Well, she seemed mildly impressed, or maybe she was horrified I would do something so stupid. I am not sure to this day which. When I turned back, I noticed the plane was descending. Instinct started to take hold, and I manipulated the controls that would push the nose 'down”, thus gaining altitude, but then my brain intervened. 'Don't be stupid,” it said. 'It's heading down, you need to make it go up, here, let me do that for you.” Sometimes I hate my brain. I instantly proved the saying that when flying inverted, down is up, and up is expensive. There you go, dumb thumbs explained as best I can explain it. How to prevent it? I'd tell you not to show off, but that would be rather hypocritical of me. So, what's the next best piece of advice? Practice. Of course you're going to crash, but if you shy away from flying, until your friends force you to some gathering, you're going to feel the need to impress them with your skills. Might as well have some skills to display.</span>

<span class="s1">While I would like to think that the people that read these articles go away with some insight, I believe it's myself that learns something from my writing. So, what did I take away from this? Well, for one, I now have three other excuses besides dumb thumbs I can blame that balsa filled hole on, to my field mates!</span>

- Flying Monkey -

<span class="s1">P.S.</span>

<span class="s1">Be sure to watch Flite Test wreck many of their planes....</span>

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