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Written by Mark Fadely
RC Helicopters
As seen in the October 2013 issue of
Model Aviation.

Welcome back to the helicopter column. This is where you can go to when you are beginning to question your sanity.

It is common knowledge among RCers that helicopter pilots are as unstable as their machines. I am not saying there are no well-grounded, practical, high-functioning people in this side of the hobby. I am simply saying that I have never met any (ha, ha!).

Helicopter pilots seem to be eager to try something new. This is probably why their flying skills often quickly progress. In fact, there are pilots competing at top world levels after only two years of experience.

In this month’s column, I will answer some questions I’ve received from readers.

This is a 600-size electric heli with a full fuselage, piloted by Andy Rummer of Germany. Andy is performing a difficult funnel because the heli is in a nearly vertical attitude.

Q: I can hover and fly around but now I want to learn some 3-D. What heli should I get and what maneuvers should I work on first?

A: This is a great question and it takes me back to one of the most exciting times in my flying. The first big thrill in flying helicopters is when you lift off into a controlled hover without crashing.

The next big thrill—and maybe the most exciting point in your progression—is when you hover inverted for the first time. When you flip the heli over and can make it set there inverted it’s just … ah, well … pretty darn exciting to say the least! Many pilots will never make it to that point, so when you do it’s similar to entering a special new club: the inverted club!

The cool thing about this club is that when you’re there it opens up the new world of 3-D flight. Flying 3-D means exploring the aircraft’s entire flight envelope.
After you master inverted flight, you have the basic elements you need for 3-D flight.

I’m a big believer in a regimented training program that includes tracking your progress. That is where the flight log comes in handy. Not every pilot will take things this seriously, but if you want to progress as fast as you can, this makes sense.

Record every flight in your logbook. Keep track of how long the flight was, what maneuvers you worked on, and any maintenance issues. If you crash, write that down, too, but don’t let your buddies read the log!

Use a few pages in the front of the book to list what maneuvers you want to work on and check them off as they are mastered by writing the date beside each one. You should first master all orientations of hovering upright and inverted. Pilots will usually skip this because they are having so much fun flipping and rolling all over the place. That will be a mistake in the long run.

As you progress, you will see someone do a maneuver and think, “Wow, that was cool. I’m gonna do that.” Then you find out that you never learned inverted hovering while looking at the left side of the heli. You cannot do the move until you learn that element.

Many of the top pilots merely perform simple variations of those basic orientations. They just happen to be moving fast or low while they do them.

Even a pirouetting flip is mostly upright and inverted hovering segments with a gentle flip thrown in. Hmm, should be easy then (or not)!

I can’t stress learning those basics enough and if you want to see how well any pilot has them down, ask him or her to do one upright pirouette slowly and then one inverted. You might be surprised at what you see. Some impressive pilots are not so impressive when they have to do a precision move such as that.

Nose-down funnels may appear to be more difficult than tail-down funnels to some pilots, but they actually have the same difficulty level. Nick Maxwell is flying this one with his Thunder Tiger G4.

Some of you have emailed me with requests to have certain types of flying maneuvers explained and broken down. I received one such question recently. It read:

Q: I’ve been trying to learn how to do a funnel and I just can’t get it right. Can you explain the stick inputs for one?

A: A funnel is sometimes referred to in other parts of the world as a pie dish. It is a circular-shaped maneuver where the nose or tail is pointed toward the ground as the helicopter flies sideways around the circle. The funnel can be frustrating to learn.

I think the main reason this maneuver is difficult is because you are controlling the turn with aileron instead of elevator. In a normal turn you bank over with aileron and then use elevator to bring it around. Conversely, in a funnel you are bringing it around with aileron.

Your brain is preprogrammed to use elevator for the turn and it feels uncomfortable to make corrections using the opposite axis of control. The difficulty level is compounded as the angle of the fuselage becomes steeper. The best way to work your way into funnels is to start out doing flat nose-in or tail-in remote circles.

A remote circle nose-in is a circular path where the nose of the helicopter is always pointed toward the center. This is an easy version of a funnel. You should become proficient at these flat, remote circles before you begin to angle the fuselage toward the ground.

Sometimes it does go wrong! The helicopter here caught its tail on the ground during a funnel and the pilot quickly flipped the throttle-hold switch to reduce the flying debris.

If you gradually work into it, it will eventually become natural. People who want to jump into a nearly vertical, tight, low funnel are asking for trouble.

With any new maneuver, start high and gradually work your way down. I read techniques for this move on the Internet. The instructions are often similar to this: “For a funnel, start by flying medium speed, forward flight, and then bank while turning the tail up or down to enter the funnel position.”

This method will throw you into a fast-paced funnel for which you won’t be ready. I think your heli will be safer and you will learn better control by using the gradual method I outlined.

Good luck and I will see you all next month.

-Mark Fadely


International Radio Controlled Helicopter Association


Great Article!!! Although 3-D gives me the creeps, I’ve ALWAYS had a passion for helicopters. I’m more of a scale buff myself. Thanks for the article.

I believe I have saved thousands of dollars training for helicopter 3D flight using RealFlight. I am wondering why you didn’t mention the use of a sim program for someone just mastering hovering.

Good suggestion on learning to be comfortable in an inverted hover in all positions before getting too heavy into 3D flying.

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