Assuming that you can get your plane up, fly 360 degrees without getting confused, and get it back down, now what do you do?
Other than taking off and landing, the other two essential moves are the turn and the non-maneuver known as straight and level flight. These two things probably don’t deserve their own article but they got one anyway because I think you should learn to do them right.
Straight and level flight seems simple enough, but how many RC pilots actually know how to do it? Fewer than you expect, I believe. Most pilots I’ve seen tend to slam the throttle to full power, jerk the plane around as violently as possible for the duration of the flight, then cut the power to zero and land. I always wondered if these guys might have the throttle connected to the landing gear channel accidentally.
I like aerobatics, but I also like the simple beauty of a plane cruising smoothly through the air, and I used to wonder why so many other RC pilots neglect that aspect of flight in favor of continuous stunts. I finally figured out that the purpose of violent maneuvers is to prevent the airplane from continuously gaining altitude, which is a problem when you leave your throttle at 100%.
If you want to be a super smooth pilot, you’ll want to learn to take off, select an altitude for cruising, and set your plane to stay there while you execute graceful turns like a Cessna pilot. Some guys like to go fast, some like to go slow, and some like it somewhere in between. Whatever does it for you, pick a speed and trim your elevator. Now, without doing any crazy stunts, make sure that your airplane is just flying around without climbing out of sight. Yeah, that’s not as obvious as you thought, is it? Now challenge yourself to trim for straight and level flight at various power settings. This sounds kind of silly at first, but for those who are interested in the finer points of how an airplane flies, it is quite interesting.
The other maneuver that seems more elusive than it ought to be is the simple turn. Your goal is to roll slightly, then use the elevator to pull through the turn while keeping the nose up. You start with ailerons, then add elevator, then neutralize the ailerons, and finally neutralize the elevator. If you see the nose drop, if the airplane changes speed significantly, or if the plane changes altitude significantly, keep working on it. It’s supposed to look like a car going around a curve.
I’ve heard it said that boredom is a state of mind. If you’re bored, then you’re not paying attention. These simple maneuvers have given me a lot of challenge and entertainment over the years. Maybe “turning” and “level flight” sound boring, but you just try doing them right and you’ll see that there’s more to it than meets the eye. Especially if you’re a new pilot reading these articles in an attempt to learn how to do more flying and less crashing, you will find a lot of your success comes from knowing what a plane is supposed to do under normal, basic circumstances, rather than always trying to do loops, spins, and other stick-stirring antics. Just give it a try, and you’ll find that making your plane look boring isn’t boring at all.