What to expect on a solo flight


[Ed. Note: Although Russell intended this particular article for Instructors only, I believe it still has a lesson for the Novice, so I have included it here. This is the last of the series, and I think we all will miss them. I know I will.] It is now time for you to turn the controls over to the student for the first time. What you say in these last few minutes before entrusting the controls to his very nervous thumbs are the subject of this article. The student has watched you bring the plane to trim for level flight. Perhaps, as we covered in the preceding article, that took more than one flight. Now that it is flying well his confidence is up a bit. Still, the majority of students look upon controlling their own plane for the first time by themselves with mixed emotions. They want, of course, to learn to fly. They are, at the same time, fearful of crashing. I try to instill a balanced level of confidence in the student at this point. I want him to accept the controls minus excessive nervousness because that would only interfere with good learning. But I don't want the kind of overconfidence that leads to inattentive listening, or a slowness in relinquishing the controls back to me when I ask for them. On the positive side, I stress that ever since we went to a formalized instruction program, we have usually been able to get a student to solo on the first trainer he builds. On the realistic side, I also indicate that flying radio controlled models is harder than learning to fly a full-scale aircraft. This is because when you ride inside an aircraft, a right turn is always a right side movement of the controls, whereas in a model, once the plane reverses directions and is flying at you, right becomes left, which is disorienting. "But we have a little trick to overcome that reversal", I always promise the student, "and with practice, the day will come when that reversal will be automatic for you to deal with." But I don't want to flood his mind with too much information at once, so I tell him about "pushing the control stick under the low wing" after the student has been flying a few minutes. Now, for my first words. "Initially, all flying can be done with the right stick alone. Later, so you don't develop a dead left hand, we will practice turning with the rudder." (Assumes an aileron trainer. If, as I prefer, the plane is three channels, mention when the student's second plane is finished and has ailerons, we, or he alone, can practice left hand work.) "Pulling the right stick back into your stomach pulls the nose up, just as in a full-scale plane, pushing it forward, of course, is down, and right or left movements produce right or left turns. However, the difference between a model plane bicycle or an auto is that with these other two vehicles, you must hold the handle bars or steering wheel all through the turn. Not with a model. You only hold the control over long enough to get the wings to change from level to a moderate angle of bank The wings will stay in that bank even after you let the controls neutralize." At this time, I demonstrate that last point by banking the wings, and holding the transmitter way out in front of us with no fingers on the controls, to show how the plane continues to fly in a banked attitude. "Notice as the plane flies along banked, it is turning. That is how planes turn. You might think applying rudder would swing the tail around, and the plane would turn with the main wings level. Doesn't work that way. Banking the main wings turns the course. Notice that the pLane is also losing altitude. In a banked condition, the wings can't quite hold the plane in a level flight. The steeper the bank, the faster the rate of descent. We correct for that by pulling the elevator stick back (up). When the turn is over, we get off elevator, apply the opposite rudder or aileron that created the turn, and we are back to level flight." Then, as I give him the controls, I repeat a litany with each turn he practices, saying, "Okay, now. let's make a right stick turn. Notice I am not calling it a right turn, but a right stick movement. That way you never have to translate in your mind what I am saying to do with the sticks into what is right or left on the plane. That can be confusing. I will always tell you which way to push the stick. Okay, right stick turn, get off it, now elevator - whatever it takes to achieve a level turn, get off it, left stick to level. Very good." The litany becomes, "right stick, get off it, elevator, get off it, left stick." I include the "get off it ' in my instructions because there is a tendency to continue to apply the first control as our mind shifts over to the second control. When the next control, in this case elevator, does not produce the expected leveling of descent, confusion results. Unconsciously, the mind is still applying right stick, so the normal amount of elevator doesn't seem to be overcoming the rolling and dropping. So clearly, getting a student to end one command (rudder or ailerons) before applying the second command (elevator), diminishes this tendency to double application (Later, when you or your student learn aerobatics, single application of commands has to be unlearned, you must practice gradual sliding between controls to produce smooth results.) After many successful turns, including a few steep ones where the student learns to apply extra elevator to compensate, I return to the promised "little trick" to get the wings level when the plane is flying at you. "All right, at each turn I have been telling you which way to move the stick to get the stick leveled. Now this time, as we are coming out of this turn, I want you to push the control stick under the low wing. See how that levels the wings? If you want to use the aerial of your transmitter to help you point to the low wing, you can. There, see how nice that works? Now don't use your aerial except in this first lesson or so, because the weakest signal is radiated off the tip, and you don't want to chance a glitch to the controls by supplying an insufficient signal." I have never found students getting "hooked" on pointing with the aerial if it is immediately followed with the warning about weak radiation. B ut I have seen old time Rc'ers get hooked on trying to overcome disorientation coming out of a turn by turning their back to the plane, and trying to simulate riding in the aircraft to retain a sense of right and left. This habit should be discouraged by never mentioning it. Go directly into teaching "push the stick under the low wing, to level the wings". Seldom do I allow the first lesson to go the full fuel tank. The increasing strain of the lesson on most student's nervous systems is considerable. After several good turns, including the "stick under the low wing aspect," I bring the plane in for its landing, praising the student for a good first lesson. The show business adage of quitting while the audience is still shouting for more applies here, too. A good first flight will leave the student clamoring for his second flight, whereas an excessively long first lesson may result in increasing mistakes as the student's nervous system overloads. Ending a lesson while a student is making an increasing number of mistakes only places unnecessary doubt in the pupil's mind. So let him quit while he is ahead. It has been my observation that older students learn more slowly. My experience is that teenagers have the best coordination, and can solo in several weeks if they fly one or two days each week. But for each additional ten years of age, the student may find it will require at least another month of practice before a solo flight is possible. Thus, a 5O-year old may not be able to solo his first summer of flying unless he practices a great deal. I usually share that realistic assessment with my older students so they don't give up before giving themselves a fair chance. This is a marvelous hobby for all ages, with something to occupy your time summer and winter. A careful and patient program of instruction will help spread the satisfactions of this sport to many more people than the old haphazard ways of teaching