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Written by Chris Mulcahy
Improving Your Skills
As seen in the April 2019 issue of
Model Aviation


I’m often asked how skills can be improved and flying can be taken to the next level. I always come back to the same answer: practice the basics. As mundane as it might sound, practicing the basics is something from which we can all benefit, because no matter what attitude you end up in, you will always be confident in your recovery.

If you can get to grips with flying your helicopter in all orientations and in both directions, you are well on your way to mastering any of the 3D maneuvers you might want to try. Where should you start?

I’ve outlined a few maneuvers in this column and what to aim for when you practice them.

Hovering

You might think that hovering isn’t an interesting maneuver. Maybe it isn’t, but it certainly can be challenging during practice. It will be invaluable later.

Most of us start with tail-in hovering and master that maneuver early in our flying careers. However, tail-in hovering is just the beginning. We can all hover, but can you hover well? Can you hold your helicopter at a steady altitude—4 feet off the ground, for example—and keep it perfectly still over a point on the ground (Fig. 01)? It can be tougher than it sounds at first.



Fig. 01


When you can do this, rotate the helicopter 90° left or right (Fig. 02) and repeat the process. Hold the helicopter as steady as you can. Eventually turn the heli’s nose in toward you (Fig. 03) and hold it there.



Fig. 02




Fig. 03


After you are comfortable and confident in your hovering skills, try a pirouette in one direction (Fig. 04), hold it, then pirouette 180° in the opposite direction. When you have absolute control over hovering, you can try continuous slow pirouettes, holding the helicopter steady over your mark and at your altitude. Don’t forget to periodically reverse direction.



Fig. 04


The next step is to repeat the same thing—only inverted.

Figure Eight

Flying a Figure Eight is easy enough, but how about flying a perfect Figure Eight? Start out in forward flight away from you and fly the first circle that makes up the first half of the Figure Eight in either direction. As the helicopter comes back around, you want the center of the eight to be directly in front of you so that the helicopter is back where it started before turning in the opposite direction to complete the second circle of the Figure Eight (Fig. 05).



Fig. 05


Things to look for are keeping the starting and stopping points in the same position as where you started. Each of the circles that make up the maneuver should be as round as you can make them and the same size as the other. Try to get the helicopter to split the eight directly in front of you on each pass. Keep the aircraft at the same altitude and keep the speed consistent from one side to the next.

Here is where it can become more challenging. Using the criteria that I mentioned, perform the Figure Eight flying backward. When you are comfortable, try flying it inverted, both forward and in reverse. You can then take it one step further. Instead of flying a horizontal Figure Eight, try flying a vertical Figure Eight.

Loop

Similar criteria can be applied to a simple loop. Start forward flight from one side of your flying field. Using yourself as a center point, start the loop as the helicopter passes you. If you look at a loop as a circle and split it into four quadrants along the arc, you want to try to fly each arc with the exact same angle all the way around. In other words, keep the circle as round as you possibly can (Fig. 06).



Fig. 06


As you pass the top of the loop, you need less cyclic back pressure to keep the helicopter coming around, and you need to manage your collective pitch to keep the helicopter coming along that invisible arc. Try to finish the loop exactly where you started it. When you are comfortable, try this backward and, ultimately, inverted.

Transitions

Adding transitions can really make your flying come alive. Instead of flying one maneuver then stopping to set up for another, you can use a transition to smoothly end one maneuver and go right into the beginning of another. It could be something as simple as a pirouette, roll, or flip.

Think about the spacing of your flight in the airspace that you have available, and how you can place maneuvers where you want them to be, ending at one point to set yourself up for the beginning of another.

The bottom line is to keep getting stick time. Practice on a simulator, practice with your helicopter, keep working on it, and you will see your skills develop!






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