Learning to Fly – A Lesson of Three Flights
Posted by Tom Benedict on 27/12/2012
Santa was nice to me, and got me an RC airplane for Christmas: a Bixler 2. The guys at Flite Test happily said it takes about an hour to put together, and that the plane will be ready to fly before your battery charges. It took me closer to four hours, and all three of my batteries were charged before I’d even put the wings on. From this I conclude that I’m either far more meticulous than most model airplane builders, or that I’m just plain slow. I’m pretty sure it’s the latter.
But I did finally get it built. I initially set it up four-channel: elevators; ailerons; rudder; throttle. The Bixler 2 can also be set up for flaps, but four channels was already more than I could handle. In the afternoon, I took it out.
Flight 1: The Bixler is a hand-launched plane. You face into the wind, throttle up, and toss it into the air at a slight angle. I did all these things, and suddenly I was flying! Or rather the plane was. But it was obviously nose heavy. I had to keep applying pressure to the stick to keep it in the air. When I throttled down, it had a horrid glide slope, close to 4:1. I brought it around the field a couple of times, then took it in for an only slightly cartwheel landing. I’d done it! I’d flown, and not crashed! Total time in the air: ~180 seconds.
Flight 2: After adjusting the battery to bring the center of gravity aft, I launched again. In retrospect I can see I launched with too little throttle, and added back-stick without thinking. I stalled. It rolled left and lawn-darted into the ground. In the process I ripped off one of the wings. Total time in the air: ~4 seconds. End of day 1.
When I got home I learned the wonderful art of EPO foam repair. The plane is pretty easy to fix after a crash, but I vowed I’d do whatever I could not to crash again. After the wing was glued, I went over the fuselage, checking for damage. Control surfaces all survived. Servos all survived, too. Motor, ESC, everything fine except for the wing spar. In addition to the damage to the wing’s foam, I’d cracked the carbon fiber spar that runs through both wings. Luckily it’s a 6mm tube, similar to many kite spars. I had a spare in my kite spar collection.
By afternoon of the next day, the glue had set and the wing was whole. I put everything back together to check it out. This time I put the airplane on a balancing stand and double-checked the COG. The new location of the battery was perfect. I loaded everything into my car and drove down to the Kohala Coast. It’s not the best place to fly since the ground is mostly dead grass and large rocks. But it’s got some of the cleanest low-speed air on the island, and gobs of space.
Flight 3: After checking the plane one last time, I ran the throttle up to 75%, held it at a slight up-angle, and threw it into the wind. The launch was perfect. “Get the plane three mistakes high,” was my first thought. My second was, “What’s that gawdawful noise coming out of my airplane?!” When I saw the propeller fall off the plane, I knew full-well what that noise was. The prop had come loose! Thank goodness I got the COG right this time. The Bixler 2 is a motor glider, meaning it has a motor. But more important it means it’s a glider. This time my glide slope was closer to 10:1. I got it into flat, level flight, and did my best to bring it down gently. Total time in the air: ~15 seconds.
Unfortunately this meant it flew out of sight, over a gulch, and nose-first into a boulder. But by golly my wings survived! After some rock scrambling I was able to recover my plane. With the exception of a seriously torn up nose and an utter lack of propeller, it came away without a scratch. When I got home I broke out the cement (again) and repaired the foam where it had split. But the prop was lost forever. So then I ordered two new prop adapters and eight new propellers. And six new wing spars. I’m just trying to put off having to order a whole new plane!
The Lesson: If there is one, I guess the lesson is that flying a model airplane is a heckuvalot harder than it looks. I have a lot of respect for people who can fly these planes and make it look effortless, with hundreds of hours of flight time to their name. But I can only guess how they got there: by crashing just like I did, and eventually learning how not to.