Friday, May 22, 2009

Busting my flying cherry!

The Easter weekend at our friends farm indeed proved the best place to learn to fly, with some great wide open spaces. Prior to this though, I did actually try to fly during the week previously. Near my house there is a large block of land slated for development as a school, which is where I eventually gave it a shot, but before I get into that I need to bear my soul for a second.

You see, I'm a bit shy. I also have a high sense of embarrassment and generally don't like calling attention to myself. Now picture yourself standing in the middle of a large empty field, surrounded by roads and houses with a large yellow plane in your hands: it is going to get people's attention! I was - and some days still am - torn between a huge desire to go out and fly because it's just so much fun, and the huge desire to avoid people seeing me make a mockery of myself. This battle of the mind went on for a few days, making me get more and more crotchety with myself, my family, my friends, and co-workers, until I'd had enough of myself and grabbed the Aerobird and went down to the empty lot.

Of course, I really had no idea what the hell I was doing, aside from having some flying skills shown by the simulator. Hands shaking, sunglasses on and my hat pulled down low over my eyes, I whipped the plane out of the car boot and strode onto the empty land. Without much fanfare, I picked the plane up started the motor on full speed and weakly tossed it into the wind. Immediately, it banked to the left, hit the ground, and shoved the rubber-band-mounted wing into the spinning propeller, taking chunks out of the foam wing. I repeated this process a couple more times before calling it a day and meekly hobbling back to the car with my tail between my legs. I didn't know it then, but the plane had a twisted tail which was acting as left-rudder input; ultimately it was lucky I didn't get airborne as I will soon describe.

So anyway, at our friends' farm at Easter, I managed to slip away from the house to a paddock behind the machine shed, out of view from most of the guests. My two boys, my brother in law, and the farmer's son (and his son too) all came to watch, and brought a video camera. Now this is where I would like to post a link to the YouTube video of what happened next, but for some reason nothing I did would let me copy the videos "of interest" off the camera. Maybe it was some kind of guardian angel protecting me from further embarassment... who knows?

I managed to get the plane airborne sure enough, but the first three attempts resulted in the following:
  1. Flipping into the ground as soon as I launched it
  2. Smashing the plane into the machinery shed at top speed
  3. Almost taking everyone's heads off
I mean, I launched it into the wind (a good thing) and had checked the trim, but because the tail was twisted it made the plane roll to the left and negated any possible trim inputs I could have made on the transmitter. At the time, I thought that the wing was off centre so I literally shifted the wing about an inch to the left to increase the lift on that side. Amazingly it worked, but probably shouldn't have! Once I finally was airborne I was flying quite well and having probably some of the best minutes of my life. In those short moments I had confirmed that all my impressions on how much fun it was were correct! Fun, just pure unadulterated fun, which is exactly what it is supposed to be.

After a few minutes of flying around I managed a neat landing and was quite chuffed with myself. So that I didn't spoil the moment, I decide that would do me for the day and put everything away. But trouble was brewing, and little did I know it but the poor Aerobird was quite severely damaged internally...

...and the next morning before everyone was up and about, I decided to have quiet little flight. As you probably guessed it did not turn out well; as soon as the plane was airborne, I couldn't control it! And with no trained emergency response, I reacted badly and ended up very high in the air, getting far away from me and headed for a road. Finally I chopped the throttle shut and nosed the plane over into a hard dive, straight for the ground. The impact didn't look bad but after I arrived I discovered that I had overflown some three phase power lines, missing them by a bee's whisker, and then crashed in a ditch between those power lines and the main country road. I was very, very lucky to not have caused more serious problems either to road users or the power grid!

Once again with my tail between my legs, I collected my broken plane and went to inspect the damage. I had split the fuselage and broken off the rubber nose cone, but worse I discovered that the cause of this crash was instigated by the previous days' impacts. Unknown to me at the time, I had yesterday cracked the circuit board which mounted the servos that control the tail, and it had finally broken whilst I was in the air this very morning. Due to the tail control surfaces being held by a rubber band (to put force on the fishing line control wires), the elastic force pulled the elevators down, and the circuit board inside the Aerobird was backwards. With the circuit board loose the servos could not pull the elevators up and so I had no up elevator control or ability to turn, which explained the crash! If only I had cut the throttle earlier I could have avoided coming so close to power lines.

There was good that came out of this crash though; the damage forced me to sit down with the plane and become introspective whilst repairing the plane. It was here that I discovered the tail was twisted, and also learned about how to properly adjust the trim of the control services using the control horns. Ultimately, I needed to crash to force myself to learn these facts and it was much better to do this on somebody's farm paddock than in an empty lot surrounded by houses in Suburbia!

And you know what? The rest of the day I had many successful flights with some beautiful landings. Only one crash happened that day and that was when I let my brother in law fly it, when he had zero experience. He did quite well and the newly-fixed control surfaces allowed for a much more graceful impact with the ground.

All up, I had managed to learn to fly, and I did it without destroying the plane thanks to its toughness. Sure it was basically held together now by gaffer tape and super glue, but it was still airworthy. And as they say, any crash you can walk away from is a good one. I think the analogy still works here.

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