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Heli Interests


If you are, then maybe we can answer a few questions you may have about Radio Control (R/C) Model Helicopters.

What is the best way to learn to fly r/c helicopters?

The best way to learn to fly an r/c helicopter is to first purchase a quality computer simulator.  A modern computer is essential for the simulators to run smoothly.  The Realflight and Phoenix heli simulators are excellent and very popular.  Don't be fooled into buying lesser simulators or game type simulators.  Note that there is a major difference between simulators such as the Microsoft games, as these programs simulate flying from within an aircraft, but we want to simulate flying a model r/c aircraft from outside the model.

What do I need to begin flying?


We require that you join the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA).  The main reason is that you will have annual liability insurance, in the event that you cause injury to any person(s) or cause property damage due to your R/C model aircraft.  The annual dues for AMA can be found at www.modelaircraft.org The Kankakee Valley Park District, which controls the field where we fly, requires AMA membership for anyone flying. As a member of AMA, you also receive a subscription to Model Aviation Magazine that will provide valuable information about R/C modeling.

Do I have to know how to fly an r/c airplane before I learn to fly a helicopter?

No.  I wish someone would have told me that when I started.  Many pilots learn to fly helis first.  The transition from helis to planes is much easier than the transition from planes to helis.  Flying a plane around is similar to flying a helicopter around, so they do share some common radio control inputs.

Are r/c helis difficult to fly?

Yes.  R/c helicopters are the most difficult r/c models to control.  Remember, helicopters can fly forwards, backwards, sideways, diagonally, pirouette to the right, pirouette to the left, right-side-up, and up-side-down, and any combination of directions combined.

Keeping model orientation is the most difficult challenge when flying r/c choppers.  This is because they can fly in all directions and are very responsive.  Additionally, the helicopter has a much smaller visual size to watch while flying.  A typical trainer might have a 6 foot wing and a 5 foot long fuselage to look at.  A helicopter may only have a one foot by one foot canopy to see.  The tail boom, landing gear, and spinning blades often disappear rather quickly in flight.

How do r/c helicopters differ from r/c planes, cars, and boats?

Cars and boats always move forward and can only turn left or right.  This is called 2 dimensional movement. Cars and boats can't travel upside down.  Airplanes add another dimension to travel because they can gain and lose altitude, plus they can fly upside down.  Helicopters are the only models that can do all the above, plus to everything backwards and sideways as explained in the previous section.

What about some of the basic vocabulary used by heli pilots?

Oops: Self explanatory

Uh Oh:  Self explanatory

Brain Fart:  Common reason for crashing.  No noticeable aroma, but very recognizable consequences.  Typically results in ordering new parts.  Always followed by everyone asking you what happened.  Drop your pride and admit to your brain fart.

A Hit:  This is the most common erroneously used term to describe the previous vocab listing. However, a REAL radio hit is when the radio signal between the transmitter and receiver of the model are interrupted.  This may be caused by another modeler turning on their radio with the same channel as your model, vibrating parts on your model generating RF electrical noise, or simply local radio interference from other sources.

Collective: the blades change pitch while in flight to gain or lose altitude.  The blades change pitch as the throttle is increased or decreased.

Fixed pitch: a helicopter that doesn't have collective pitch on the blades.  The blades of a fixed pitch heli are pre-set to one setting and do not change.  The only thing that makes these helis gain or lose altitude is the speed of the blades.  Increase the blade speed and the heli climbs, decrease the speed to descend.  These are more difficult to fly and should be avoided.

Rotor: The spinning blades.  May refer to the main rotor blades or the tail rotor blades.  Short for rotation, as the blades rotate on a heli.

RPM: Revolutions Per Minute. May refer to main rotor rpm, tail rotor rpm, engine or motor rpm.

Gyro: short for gyroscope.  A device used to sense the yaw (nose turning left or right) due to the torque of the main blades.  The gyro then counteracts that torque by controlling the tail rotor blade pitch to prevent the helicopter from rotating right or left as pitch is added or removed from the main rotor blades.

HH: Short for Heading Hold.  A term used to describe the programmed software of a gyro.  Most modern gyros are now heading hold, and this is a good thing.  This means that where ever you point the nose of the helicopter, the gyro will do everything it can to keep the nose pointed in that direction until YOU tell the gyro where you want the nose to be moved to.  In other words, when you make a turn, the tail will not weather vane behind the helicopter and follow the chopper around the turn.  You MUST turn with rudder while turning the rest of the helicopter.  Wherever you stop your last command, the gyro will keep the nose pointed in that direction.

Dual Rate: Capable of changing settings while in flight.  Used for gyros, control inputs such as aileron, elevator, and rudder.  Some governors have dual rate settings.

Governor: An electronic device that uses a sensor to read the rpm of the engine and then controls the throttle servo to maintain a preset rpm at all times.  It will increase or decrease the throttle for you to prevent over-speeding the engine while descending too quickly, and will add extra throttle if you start to bog the motor.  Great tool to have, and simplifies programming the radio and heli for a perfect setup.

CF: Carbon Fiber.  A very strong woven material cured within an epoxy formula to be molded in a variety of shapes: carbon fiber blades, tail blades, side frames, braces, tail fins, tail booms, fly bar paddles.  Carbon fiber is very rigid and stiff, and offers improved performance while saving weight when compared to wood, metals, and plastics.

Ball link: A type of connector used to move mechanical moving parts.  These connectors allow a wide range of motion.  Inspect them regularly.

Head Speed: How fast the main rotor blades are turning.  Each helicopter has a set of gears driven by the engine.  The gear ratio and engine rpm will determine the final main rotor rpm or head speed.  Typically, about 1600 rpm on the main blades will provide a nice hover.  1700-1950 head speeds are used for aerobatics and 3D flight.

3D: Short for 3 Dimensional flight.  Flying in all directions and orientations.

Tracking:  Both blades should have the same amount of pitch at any given time.  If one blades is hovering at 6 degrees of pitch and the other is hovering at 4.5 degrees, you blades are out of track by 1.5 degrees.  This causes the blades to operate with added aerodynamic drag, and reduces their efficiency greatly.

Pitch Curve:  A pitch curve is programmed into the transmitter to regulate how much pitch is added to the blades in relationship to the position of the throttle/pitch stick on the transmitter.

Throttle Curve: A throttle curve is programmed into the transmitter to regulate how much throttle is added to the engine in relationship to the position of the throttle/pitch stick on the transmitter.

Header Tank: A small fuel tank positioned between the main fuel tank and the engine.  Used to catch air bubbles in the fuel line, add flight time, and offer an outside visual gauge of fuel level for helicopters with main fuel tanks installed inside the canopy.  Sometimes a header tank will make needle settings on the engine more consistent.

Flight modes:  Most radios have an option to change throttle curves, pitch curves, dual rates, governor settings, gyro settings, and programmable mixes with a single switch.  This allows the pilot to have different settings for each type of flying: hover (soft and smooth), aerobatics (more responsive and faster and more negative pitch), and 3D (most aggressive and fastest settings).

Bling:  Fancy shiny, expensive parts they are usually not needed.

Auto:  Short for autorotation.  When the engine of a helicopter stops turning the main rotor, the pilot must use gravity to bring the helicopter down, thus forcing air to flow through the main blades to spin them up like a pinwheel spins up as you run.  The collective pitch of the heli is used to slow the descent near the ground and gently set the machine down.  Autos should be learned ASAP.  You can expect to crack up your machine a few times while learning autos, but in the long run, you will regain that cash back by saving your helicopter during real emergency landings.

Watch This!:  Famous last words before a heli takes a dirt nap.

Where do you find r/c helicopters to buy?

Don't buy used unless you know a successful r/c helicopter pilot that can inspect a used heli for you.  You can quickly spend more money to fix someone else's problems than you are saving by purchasing used.  Purchasing used on E-bay may become more of a hassle than it is worth!!  Unfortunately there are no local hobby shops near that carry and stock helis and parts.  So looking for specific parts locally for a used heli will be difficult.

How much does it cost to get started?

New start- up costs will range from $300 to $1600 plus support equipment and tools.

Used start- up costs will range from $300 and up.

If you have a good airplane radio, chances are you can fly helicopters with it, too.  Just be certain that it contains helicopter programming and flight modes.

What should I buy?

Buy what everyone else if flying at your local field.  They can share set up and building tips.  They might even be willing to share spare parts when needed (of course you should always generously replenish their inventory with the parts used PLUS something else to repay their kindness).  Start with a small helicopter and move up once you can build, fly, and maintain your own helicopter.

Some common starting electric power helicopters include the smaller Blade 200, 230, 250, 360 Series, Align 250, 450, 500 Series, the Goblin 380 & 500 series, and many others.  

Spend your money on the best radio you can possibly afford.  It is costly to upgrade as your needs grow.  You will outgrow a basic entry level radio if you stick with the hobby for any length of time.  Buy quality name brand electronics that are common at your local flying field.  Don't skimp here.

Buy a 2.4 hz receiver/ flybarrless unit  (if needed) when you order your spread spectrum 2.4 hz radio.

Some of smaller Blade electric powered heli’s are offered RTF (ready to fly ) and include the 2.4 hz  transmitter, flybarless receiver/controller, battery  and safe technology. If you already have a heli transmitter one can also buy a Blade heli that is BNF (bind and fly).  NOTE: The heli radio needs to be compatible with the type receiver that is installed in the heli.

If nitro engine power is desired for you heli:

Buy an OS or YS brand of engine and a quality muffler.  Good muffler brands are Hatori, KSJ, Toki, and Zimmerman.  Don't buy a tuned pipe.  The Curtis Youngblood Muscle Pipes look like mufflers but perform like pipes, not recommended for beginners.  Don't buy a used engine because heli engines are tricky to tune at first, and one lean run will ruin an engine.  Just because a used engine runs, doesn't mean it will run properly, make power, or stay tuned.  Trust me when I say you don't want to deal with a finicky engine in a helicopter, and trust me when I say you don't want an engine to die while flying!

Only use 30% helicopter fuel if at all possible.  The cheaper fuels will cause more problems than they are worth in savings.  There is a reason for specific formulas for helicopter fuels.  Heli engines need more cooling because they are enclosed inside the machine with no airflow, they operate at much higher rpm's than plane engines, and they maintain high rpm's during the entire flight.  Airplane fuels will prematurely wear out your engines unless you are VERY good at engine tuning of heli engines.

Use OS #8 and Enya #3 glow plugs.

Fuel is the best upgrade you can buy.  Burning fuel makes a pilot fly better than any other single upgrade option on the market.

What do I do if I crash?

Pick up the pieces, order new shinny parts, and put your helicopter back together again.  Have an experienced r/c pilot give your machine a complete inspection before trying to fly it again.

Common parts to replace after ANY crash are: main blades, spindle or feathering shaft, main shaft or main mast, main shaft bearings, tail boom if dented, and tail output shaft.  Don't take any chances with potentially bent parts or bearings.  There are a lot of rotating parts with a lot of force, and very high rpm's.  Anything bent, out of balance or unsecured will rek havoc on your helicopter and electronics.  Don't take any risks.

Jump back on that pony and start flying ASAP.