Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Teaching Dad how to fly

Being the RC Muppet, it is probably a bit cocky of me to think that I can teach someone how to fly given I only have a few hours of flight time myself. But what the hell, I mean, I'm the MUPPET so it would be out of character not to!

And this is exactly what I did last weekend with my father. We had both chipped in for a new Parkzone Radian sailplane and it came with a DX5e transmitter which I made a trainer cable for. Saturday afternoon had rolled around and Dad must have been keeping an eye on the weather forecasts, because he called me on the phone and I could tell he was keen. The conversation went something like this:

"Hey there"
"Hey Dad"
"What are you doing tomorrow?"
"Not much, why?"
"The weather looks good for flying, perhaps I should come round?"
"Hellz yeah!"

OK so maybe I don't use "hellz yeah" in general conversation but you get my drift. Before long it was Sunday morning and Dad had rolled up on his Bandit 1250, replete with backpack containing his DX5e. We didn't waste much time, grabbing both the Radian and my DX6i as well as my complete Mini Super Cub kit, and spare batteries for each.

I have to say I was initially nervous about getting Dad into the air but really excited too, because - aside from motorbikes - we haven't many chances to spend time together with a common purpose. Dad's a great guy, but he's not really into "just hanging around and shooting shit"; he needs to be actively engaged in something, preferrably complex and mechanical (or just riding his bike). RC planes turned out to be the perfect thing for us, because once I had gotten into it myself I remembered dad used to have an old glow plug motor in the shed he was going to fit into a scratch built plane one day (which he never got around to, but I still think he has the engine!). He saw my USB TX and simulator software and was so excited about it I bought him a set for his birthday. I actually don't think I've seen the raw excited side of Dad for a long time, so I knew he was going to be interested from that point on.

Well anyway, we hooked the DX5e up to my DX6i, turned on the plane and my radio (not the DX5e because it was the slave radio), and did some controls testing using my radio and then his radio while I held the trainer switch. Sure enough, all looked good. So we hit the skies and once I had some decent altitude I let dad go for it. This is where praise for the Radian comes in - it has really nice gentle handling and hangs in the air, giving you plenty of time to think. Unless you whack the throttle open, it won't get so fast that the plane is ahead of your brain - and I had planned ahead for that, getting Dad to keep only low throttle inputs.

Sure, he had the usual problems at first:
  • flying too close in and over his head
  • flying close to the sun and risking blinding himself
  • flying too fast for his level of skill and reaction time
  • flying too low and maneuvering too aggressively
But these were only small events quickly rectified by me releasing the trainer switch and taking control of the plane before we got into trouble. I think we kept this up for about 90 minutes and only two batteries (hey, it *is* a Sailplane you know!) before mental exhaustion got the better of Dad. At this point I whipped out the Mini Super Cub and had a short fly to give Dad a rest. I figured he was ready though, so I offered him complete control of the 'cub by himself, no buddy box.

Now, Dad's first attempt at flying were some weeks ago and with the super cub. They were less than stellar! Since I had mentioned the plane only has rudders he was trying to steer left-stick (we're mode 2), and I didn't realise it. He also was too low, and too aggressive on the controls and - even though the super cub has "Anti Crash Technology" he crashed nose down at full speed and snapped the nose off (which I repaired with hot glue and toothpicks).

But that was weeks ago. This day, dad picked up the radio and with throttle held, I hand launched the super cub for him into the wind and he flew really well. He was a little aggressicve on the controls at first, but only because the Radian has very soft handling and could even be called "laggy" on the rudder. The Super cub on the other hand has very fast handling responses and is best flown with a deft touch. It's not hard - it's actually a REALLY easy plane to fly - it's just quick handling.

Dad was flying so well, the only mistake he made was that he got cocky and decided to dogfight with a crow (they HATE my planes and they think where I fly is their airspace!). The crow bugged out, but not before Dad was low, fast, over a road, and into a spiral dive. He pulled out not in time to avoid crashing, but enough to avoid damage! Not that I really mind, the Super cub has taken a fair beating and keeps on tickin'. Heck, I snapped the wing in two and glued it back together with hot glue fer feck's sake!

All up it was a really great day and Dad earned his wings from me. Before he left to go home, he was already talking about a Spitfire ARF kit he had seen online.

Bug. Bitten. And don't I love it.

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