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R/C Flying: A Basic Manual

R/C Flying: A Basic Manual

R/C Flying: A Basic Manual

by Jerry Kelly


We never seem to have the time to talk about how to fly before the moment arrives when the airplane is in the air. The more thought you give to flying before the first flight, the quicker you will learn. This point was driven home one day when I coached an eleven-year-old for his first flight. When he took the transmitter in his hands he gripped it like he had been holding it for many years. When I said “right” or “up”, there was no hesitation and as a result he made great progress during one flight. It was obvious to me that he had spent a lot of time with that transmitter in his hands, dreaming about flying. This is something not too many adults find time to do. Find time.

All we’ll initially be using is 1½ channels. That will give you less to worry about. On the right-hand stick, a side to side movement will give you left and right, and a top to bottom movement will give you up elevator when the stick is moved toward the bottom of the transmitter. We won’t be concerned about pushing the right hand stick to the top of the transmitter – – that will cause the plane to nose over.

One of the problems most beginners have is overcontrolling: pushing the stick all the way to one side or the other until it makes a clicking sound as the stick hits the case. I don’t want to hear any clicking noises. Learn to apply gentle pressure and wait for the plane to respond.


Straight Flight

Simple? Hardest trick in the book! When I give you the transmitter, the plane will be flying straight, but not for long. It starts to turn to the left so you use a little right to bring it back. Too much and the plane starts to the right. Then on and on as you figure S through the sky. The first thing you must determine is if the wing is level. Level wings equal straight flight. If the wing is not level, the plane is turning in the direction of the bank.

The sooner you decide that the plane is turning and do something about it, the less you will have to do. If in doubt, guess which way it’s turning. A little touch on the stick will tell you right away if you were right or wrong. If you were wrong, you will see it immediately. If right, the plane will continue straight. The problem that will haunt you as long as you fly is which way to move the stick to level the wing. This is no problem when the plane is going away from you since the orientation is the same as if you were sitting in the plane. It’s a different story when the plane turns to face you. Doing it many times is the way to learn, but keep these points in mind:

  1. Pay attention and remember what the last thing you did was. If you banked to the right last, surely you will need left to level out. You can get fascinated watching and forget this.
  2. Keep ahead of the airplane with your transmitter antenna. Don’t stand flat-footed and let the plane fly around you. Keep moving so that your antenna seems to lead the plane where you want it to go.
  3. Keep the transmitter (and your body) oriented with the plane. It may mean looking at the plane over your shoulder. This is particularly important on the final approach for landing.

Practice for the time when the plane will catch you flatfooted. Let’s go back a little – – to when the plane is going away from you and the left wing dips. You move the stick to the right or high wing to return to level flight. If you are face to face with the plane and the left wing dips, you still move the stick to the right, but this is now the low wing. Hence the rule: “When the plane is coming toward you, (you are face to face with the airplane), move the stick to the low wing to level.” I add another to this and suggest that when confused, move the stick to the low wing. This is easiest to practice when coming from a down-wind position, but you must practice this often in order for it to help in a pinch. Got all that? Now you can almost fly straight.



Turning is a change of direction, but it’s no good unless the new direction is what you wanted before the turn. A turn should end at the same altitude it started or it’s called a diving or climbing turn. So let’s call a turn a predetermined change of direction with no change in altitude. By the numbers, it’s done like this:


    1. Bank. This is done by using a little pressure on the right hand stick and releasing pressure an instant before the proper angle of bank is achieved. If you hold the stick after this point, you will be doing aerobatics. If you push too much stick, then use opposite stick until the plane is back to the proper angle of bank. The angle to try for is such that you can just see the top of the wing clearly. When the light reflects from the top, you’ll know what I mean. You must maintain this angle during the whole turn by using more or opposite aileron during the turn. In other words, the bank may want to change on its own and you must be ready to make the correction.


    1. Up Elevator. When you bank the wings, you lose some of the lift you had and the plane will lose altitude. To compensate for this, use a little up elevator pressure. How much “up” to give is determined by how steep the angle of bank is and arrived at by trial and error. The steeper the angle, the more elevator will be required until you approach a 90 degree bank at which time you should be using full up elevator. The biggest problem you’ll have in the beginning is not using enough elevator in a turn. The tip off to this will come if the plane zooms after coming out of a turn. The reason for this phenomenon is that the plane gained speed because it was diving during the turn. When the wings were rolled level, the lifting design of the airfoil will cause the plane to climb.


  1. Opposite aileron. Be ready to use aileron opposite to the bank as soon as you release the elevator. This will stop the turn and deterine the heading. You must then release the aileron in the manner described in “Straight Flight,” but you begin with a bigger deflection of the stick to get the plane out of the bank promptly. Again, start to release pressure as soon as you see the wings start to respond. REMEMBER: When leveling out you MUST release the stick completely at the instant or slightly before the wing becomes level or the plane will bank in the other direction.

Now don’t pull your hair out; we’re not going to make our first turns like that. First, use such a little bit of aileron so that the wings just barely bank. As shallow as you can is more bank than I want. The plane will turn like this, but it will take a lot of space and lose so little altitude you won’t notice it. After you learn to make the shallow banks, we will go right into the 1-2-3 turn. As soon as you can make a reasonable turn and fly straight, you must start the discipline of flying a preplanned course. The best course is a simple oval: two 180 degree turns connected by straight flight. The size is not critical, but it’s probably best to fly wide turns with short straight flight in the beginning. Then aim for faster turns with more straight flight.



From here, the name of the game is consistency – – to fly each oval pattern at the same position and altitude as the previous one. This is basically the same pattern you will use for landing. A landing pattern is most often thought of as a rectangle and each leg of it has a name.

  1. Initial Leg is first flown directly over the runway at a safe altitude. Turn 90 degrees and you are on
  2. Cross Wind. Another 90 degree turn and you’re on the
  3. Down Wind leg. Another 90 degree turn gets you on the
  4. Base Leg. Turn on to the
  5. Final Approach so that when your wing becomes level, you are in line with the runway.

Now hold on! This rectangle has 5 legs. No mistake! Generally, the pattern will have straight flight only on legs 1, 3, and 6; with legs 2 and 4 being part of the two 180 degree turns. Now here are some problems you might encounter during the course of landing. More than likely the order in which they would occur is:

  1. Too large of a Cross Wind leg, making the plane hard to observe and then it is easy for it to drift even farther away. If you make the Cross Wind leg too small, you will be too close to the runway to make a safe turn for the base and final legs.
  2. The Downwind Leg will want to converge with the Initial Leg. This can cause a triangular pattern that puts you up to 180 degrees off course when you are ready to begin the base turn.
  3. Confusion as the plane recovers from the final turn. Orientation has been easy up to this point, so this turn can really catch you by surprise. Be ready for it by saying out loud, “I am in a left bank, I need right to get out.” Or be ready to use the idea of moving the stick to the low wing as you practiced earlier. After the plane is level and lined up, rotate your body so you are watching the plane over your shoulder and the transmitter is pointed in the same direction in which the plane is going. Concentrate on keeping the wing level and the plane will come right on down the line to the runway. One trick is to aim the plane directly at yourself when you round out on final approach. This will place the plane in line with the runway by the tie you are ready to touch down.

Now that the shape of the pattern and the problem spots are understood, practice sessions are next. You’ll have to practice under all types of wind conditions, unless you want to wait weeks in between flying. Strong winds are no help but they won’t hurt much, unless you start to blame the wind for any problems you have. Don’t let wind distract you from your job. Know the shape of the pattern and do what is needed to keep the airplane on course.

Get into the landing pattern at an altitude that lets you feel comfortable – – you cannot let being too close to the ground distract you. After you’ve flown around several times, throttle back a little and let the plane come a little closer to the ground. Maintain this new altitude until you feel comfortable enough to come even lower. When you can maintain a 100 foot altitude with ease, chop the throttle right after you round out onto the final leg. Let the plane lose altitude while you concentrate on keeping the wings level. Use elevator only if the airplane noses over a lot. When the plane is about abreast of where you are standing, use enough up elevator to rotate the fuselage to a level position, then advance the throttle and climb to altitude before turning on to the cross wind leg. Keep this up until you can fly the plane right over the runway consistently at about 10 feet or less. Do not have a thought in your mind about landing.

If at any time during this descent, the plane gets off course or anything happens to upset you, advance the throttle and climb to a comfortable altitude to begin the pattern again. By doing this over and over again, you will get to the point where your mind will be free to handle the most critical part of landing.



As the plane comes down for the final approach, the nose will be pointed down. This is necessary to maintain airspeed and control. If you don’t let the nose drop, the plane will still lose altitude, but will be flying so slow that it will be difficult to keep directional control. If you control direction, but let the plane land with nose down, the landing will be rough. So at an altitude of about 10 feet, use enough up elevator to rotate the fuselage so it is almost parallel to the ground. If the nose comes up past parallel, try not to release all of the “up” – just enough to let the nose drop back to almost parallel. Now I must emphasize that application of the elevator is a progressive thing that once started should be increased until the plane lands. Ideally, you should hit full “up” at the instant the wheels touch the ground.

The trouble here is that the plane rarely keeps the same heading when the elevator is applied. This means that as soon as you use a little elevator and get the fuselage the way you want it, your thumb must FREEZE on that position of the stick and then your mind goes to the wing. If a wing drops or the airplane starts to drift, make the correction and go back immediately to the elevator for a little more pressure.

There are two reasons why the plane will start to drift or turn when you use the elevator to flair.

  1. During round-out, the air speed is dropping and the plane will vector off if there is a severe cross wind. As you get more experience you can delay round-out to minimize this drift.
  2. Inevitable inaccuracy in the airframe will cause one wing to lift more than the other when you apply elevator at these low speeds. If a wing doesn’t drop during round out, you probably have a near perfect plane. In any case, when you use elevator expect to follow immediately with some corrections for direction. As you improve, you’ll be able to flick your eyes to the runway and back to help line you up. Then you’ll learn to keep your eyes on the plane and watch the runway with your peripheral vision.

The quicker you react to what the plane is doing, the less control you will need to apply and the smoother the flight will be.

I have a list of priorities for landing. As you accumulate experience you’ll mentally go through this list many times on each landing. At the moment of touch down:

  1. Wings must be level.
  2. Plane lined up into the wind. (Substitute with runway)
  3. Nose up. (Proper elevator)
  4. On the runway. Forget about #4 until 1, 2, and 3 come easily.

Now that you’ve just soloed you are going to get as much time in the air as possible. Great! But do this one thing: File a mental flight plan with yourself before taking off and stick to it. This means that you should tell yourself that you are going to take-off, make two circles, line up with the wind and do three loops, two Immeleman turns, a flat spin, four lomchevaks, three low speed flybys, one high speed flyby, and then set up for a landing. Don’t be afraid to make a short flight and land. Most pilot error occurs when you are not paying full attention. It is easy to see that you can more readily give your full attention to flying during the first five minutes of a flight than the second or third five minutes. The point I want to make is if you make short flights you have less chance of making a mistake and therefore will keep your airplane in good shape longer.

I notice that soon after I stop hounding flyers to make a rectangular landing pattern they fall into the habit of hanging around the downwind end of the runway until they think everything is just right before heading in for the runway. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of making a full pattern for every low level pass and every landing under power. If you are dead stick you have an excuse, but excuses won’t put the plane on the runway.

Practice: I don’t have to tell you to practice air work. Most people fly around until they run out of gas or are about to and then land. What you should do is practice the landing pattern every chance you get. This means whenever there are not too many planes in the air. If you are shaky about “touch and go’s” then just flair at whatever altitude is comfortable for you and go around. This is as good as a landing and there is less chance of killing the motor. Do it early in the flight so you don’t run out of gas in a bad spot.

When you get a perfect approach and are really set up you’ll know it: then you can touch and go. Do not try to make a landing from a pattern that was less than perfect. The worst thing to do is to figure S down the final approach and touch with a wing low or other than lined up with the runway.

Be critical of your flying and take time to talk to yourself about it between flights. It’s quite all right to talk to yourself at the flying field.


Copyright 1987, 2000, 2013 by Jerry Kelly All rights reserved