How One of Us Did It

How Do You Learn To Fly? – One Man’s Story.

Well it all started back in October 2002, with a trip to W H Smiths for something different to read. While scanning the shelves, a copy of RCM&E caught my eye. I had been interested in model flying since I was a young lad, but it was quite an expensive hobby back then. A work colleague remarked ‘That’ll cost ya!’ when they saw the mag…. little did I know just how right she was… (So be warned.. it could cost you a lot more than a magazine)

After almost reading the print off the pages, my appetite was well and truly whetted. The glossy pages were full of ‘Easy to Fly’ planes of all shapes and sizes. Electric , Glow… Which way to turn? I surfed the internet during every spare moment I had, and probably read more about flying model airplanes in the next two weeks than anyone else on the planet. The one thing that seemed to run throughout the reading matter was ‘Don’t try to go it alone – join a club’. (This would be my TIP#1!) .

I resisted the temptation and checked the BMFA web site for any local clubs. They put me in touch with the chaps at Bromsgrove Model Flying Club. They sent me several A4 sheets detailing what type of model, engine and radio gear to buy. Armed with this information I set off ‘hot foot’ to the nearest model shop.

The model shop had a few models in stock and I came away with a WOT4. (Not ARTF and not the cheapest plane I could have had) As luck would have it, they knew their stuff and it turned out to be a VERY good choice. Upon getting it home I couldn’t wait to start building. I had never build a model before, and will say now that I am not the most dextrous of people.

Tip #2 – Read the build instructions all the way through (TWICE) before you start building. I soon learnt to read a little ahead and to ‘dry fit’ everything, before applying any glue(TIP #3)

As the WOT4 started to take shape, I visited the flying site as often as I could. On my first trip down, there was a young novice under instruction, and I was surprised to find that there was no buddy lead in use. The second surprise was how bloody fast they flew. I returned how with mixed feelings of, I can’t wait to try it, and I’m not sure if I want to put all my hard work into the air. On later trips to the flying site I witnessed my first ‘arrival’.

(TIP #4 – If you can’t afford or don’t want to risk your plane, this is not the hobby for you)

This hobby is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding you can get. Every time you take off, you are pitting your skill and all the components in your plane against gravity. A decent pilot will get it right more than 99% of the time and bring everything back safely, but one day, no matter who you are, you will loose that bet. Hopefully it will only be a bent under cart or something minor. By joining a club, you will get lots of tips and advice, that will help to keep any ‘incidents’ down to a minimum. (I will tempt fate now, and say that after 6 years, I still own my original WOT4 trainer, although it has suffered a couple of ‘dings’, it is still regularly flown with vigour!!).

I kept up the visits to the flying site and just after the new year, my WOT4 was ready to fly. It had taken about 6 weeks to build, working about ½ hour most nights. I was as keen as mustard, and trudged to the field come rain, snow, fog and sleet. Alas for about 4 weeks it was not flying weather and I was alone at the field. As the engine instructions said that some running in was required, I started it up and ran a tank of fuel through it. By week 4 I was very tempted to try some taxiing, but remembered tip #1, and waited.

The club then changed the location of the flying field so the next week was spent preparing the new patch. There was just enough time at the end for one of the members, (Kevin Walker), to test fly my WOT4. To my delight it took to the air and flew very well. I got the added benefit of a few hints and tips to make my plane safer. I was told to pin the hinges with bits of cocktail stick, and use little rings of fuel tubing to keep the clevises from springing open. All good sound advice.

The following week I got my first flying lesson. Kevin got the plane in the air flying straight and level and handed me the transmitter. (No buddy lead!) I was quite sure that all the plane wanted to do was flip on its back and head for the ground. I did manage to coax the plane around a couple of circuits with VERY sweaty and shaky hands. Upon handing the transmitter back to Kevin the plane instantly started to behave impeccably, performed loops and rolls and landed as sweet as you like. It seems that models have no respect for their creators!!

I for one cannot remember a time, when I have had to concentrate so hard, or a time when my knees knocked so much. For the next 6 weeks, Kevin made sure I had 3, ten minute flights per session, and each and every session ended with me having very sweaty, shaky hands and trembling knees. Each week I would look forward to the weekends flying and couldn’t wait to fly, but during the drive down to the patch, a feeling of dread would creep over me. I honestly thought that I would never get the hang of it. I can admit too that I did not start to enjoy my flying until the 6th week. Around week 3, I even considered giving it up! On week 6 however things started to turn around. The plane started to go where I wanted it to, and I could do loops, rolls and figure 8’s, (all be it, a bit rough) …. FANTASTIC!!

At about the same time I had a look at some of the flight simulators, and decided that they may just help ‘program’ my thumbs.

TIP #5 – Buy a Simulator! They really do help you program your thumbs. Several years on I can now say that it is not quite like the real thing, but it does help you learn which way to push/pull the sticks, (especially when flying towards you), without the aid of an instructor or risking your plane. One word of caution… just because you can take off and land on the simulator, don’t think that you can then just go to your local park and try it with a real model.

As the weeks progressed, so did my enjoyment. I started to relax while flying and I was taught to do loops, rolls, stall turns and spins. Then came my first take-off. (The nerves came back for that!!)

The only thing left to do then, was to practice for the landing. It started with low circuits, concentrating on getting the plane in line with the patch. (Its amazing how small a 15m x 65m strip of grass can be when you first try and land a plane!)

By the following week I was starting to get the hang of it all and at the end of the 3rd flight made my first ‘arrival’. A nice approach down to about 4ft off the deck, but I let the Wot4 slow down too much and it just dropped the last couple of feet. Even though I broke the prop, I was quite pleased with the landing.

The following weeks saw me doing all my own take-offs and landings and working towards my ‘A’ test. (That would show I am safe to fly solo) I made sure that each day I would practice on the simulator, and added gusty cross winds etc to make it as much like that weeks flying session as possible. I got to the point where I was flying the plane without any intervention from Kevin my trainer. I was ready!

I booked my ‘A’ test in June with the club examiner, and the instant I did that my nerves returned. When the actual test arrived, I managed to do the worst take-off that I had done in weeks… typical! I did manage to pull myself together for the rest of the flight and passed. I was passed safe to fly on my own… RESULT.

Now I have to say, that once you can fly on your own, the story doesn’t end there. It’s a bit like driving a car. You are continually learning. I have now been flying for 5 years and still practice manoeuvres, rolling circles, slow rolls, inverted stall turns etc, to get them as smooth as I can. You have to push that envelope and fly to the very best of your ability. Just for the record.. gravity has beaten me 3 times up to now. Happily I was able to repair the models on each occasion. (Another bonus of having built the model yourself.

I owe a BIG thank you to Kevin who put a lot of time and effort into training me, and to all the guys at Bromsgrove Model Flying Club for making me so welcome. This is certainly not the cheapest hobby in the world, or the easiest to get to grips with, but it has to be one of the most satisfying, if you stick at it.

Just for the record I was 44 when I started to fly. Time wise it took me about 5 months to pass my ‘A’ test. I have been helping to train others to fly in the last couple of years and have seen people pass the ‘A’ test in 6 weeks and some take 12 months or more.

So how long will it take you? It depends on your ability (which you were born with and cannot do anything about), how keen you are, and how often you can fly (which you can do something about) In my estimation it is more difficult to fly a model while on the ground than to fly a full size plane while you are sat in it.

My advice, is to join a club, enjoy your flying and not to worry too much about how long it will take you to fly solo.