Congratulations! If you made it this far, you must be serious about soaring and willing to put some time and energy into learning more. This chapter will tell you exactly what you need to get flying, and a rough idea of what options are available for beginners in terms of planes, radios. We also tell you some good sources for more information.
2). Generally it will cost somewhere between $200 and $250 to get started with your first sailplane. This may sound expensive, until you consider that gas powered R/C aircraft can easily cost twice as much to get started. If you are on a very tight budget, you can save as much as half the cost listed by purchasing used radios and planes from intermediate fliers who are discarding their beginner equipment. The local sailplane club, and the internet are good places to look for used equipment. You can also spread out your purchases by first buying an airplane kit, building it, and then buying the radio. Similarly most of the building supplies and covering can be purchased as needed along the way. A traditional wood kit will take anywhere from 1-3 months to build if you work on it in your spare time. The traditional building season is in the winter months, with flying the rest of the year, so sailplane kits and radios are popular Christmas presents.
In addition to the items listed, you might eventually want to consider buying a high-start. Once you have mastered the basics, a high-start lets you launch and fly on your own so you don't have to depend on anyone else to launch your airplane. A good high-start will cost around $70-80, or you can make one yourself for $50-60. I'll tell you how to make one shortly.
In the next few sections we will go over the information you will need to make decisions and get started. One of the big problems is that there is a world of information out there, and no good guide for sorting it all out. Yet to get started on the right foot, you will need to sort it out. Its always good to find an experienced pilot to act as your mentor. If you don't know anyone, try to locate the local club and see if you can find some people there to help you.
http://www.modelaircraft.org/, and membership applications are available on the home page. The membership telephone line is toll free (800) 435-9262. Applications are also available in every issue of the Model Aviation magazine, and from the AMA directly at:
The Academy of Model Aeronautics
5151 East Memorial Dr
Muncie, IN 47302
If you want to become a regular subscriber to RCSE, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org the subject subscribe to subscribe to the exchange. Thereafter, sending mail to email@example.com post the message to everyone on the exchange. You can quit RCSE at any time by simply sending a message containing the subject unsubscribe to firstname.lastname@example.org. As long as you have subscribed, you will receive every message posted to RCSE. A digest version of RCSE is also available which packs 20 or so messages into a single email message to reduce your mailbox clutter. Rather than receiving 60 separate messages each day, you can get 2-3 digest messages which each contain 20-30 messages. RCSE is a great resource for beginners and experts alike.
Tip 3: Your local sailplane club is the best source of information, help and free flying lessons. Contact the local club through your nearest hobby shop.
Finding the nearest club is easier than you think. Open your phone book, look up the nearest hobby shop that sells radio control equipment, and call them. Alternately, the AMA at http://www.modelaircraft.org/has an extensive listing of US radio control clubs. Either source can give you the number or address of someone in the local club. In turn, they can then tell you when the club meets and where it flies. Hobby stores usually have announcements posted that tell about local club meetings as well. Sailplane clubs usually meet one night a month for a formal meeting, and have several sites in the local area which are used for soaring. Try to attend one of the local meetings to meet the members, and visit the local flying site to see the planes that are being flown locally. Different areas of the world and US have vastly different flying conditions. Local fliers can tell you which planes perform best in your local area, no matter what level of plane you are looking for. Local club members are a great source of information for all kinds of R/C soaring, and can help you, the beginner, get started on the right foot.
Tower Hobbies, and Hobby Shackoffer generic R/C equipment and kits at discount prices. These houses will often have the best price on off-the-shelf kits, radios, and accessories. They have large catalogs with a variety of planes and radios to choose from. If you are planning a large purchase, this is often the least expensive items.
Recently, several mail order houses have started to specialize in sailplane products. One of the largest is Northeast Sailplane Products (NSP) at http://www.nesail.com/ which has a very large selection of sailplanes and accessories, and a large home page on the internet. The major mail order houses carry primarily large quantity kits only from the major manufacturers. Specialized shops like NSP offer a much wider variety of kits, as well as custom made advanced composite sailplanes. If you are in the market for a more advanced airplane, or want a broader selection of intermediate airplanes, a specialized shop is the best place to look.
Though mail order houses offer nice glossy catalogs, and discount prices, they cannot meet all of your modeling needs. Many times you want to actually look at the kit, thumb through a book, or purchase modeling tools and accessories. For these items you will likely not go to a mail order catalog, but instead visit your local hobby shop. There is something to be said for actually seeing the kit, radio or accessory you are about to purchase. Though the local shop may charge a little more, the difference in price is often small. If you need another roll or covering, another bottle of glue, or some hardware its usually not worth paying the shipping charges and waiting a week or more to receive mail order. The local shop fills the gap by providing exactly what you want, right now. The local shop is also a great place to learn. Local shop owners are usually dedicated hobbyists. They have a wealth of knowledge, and can solve your most pressing problems right now. They can help you determine which plane to buy, what you need to build it, and who can help you fly it. Its a good idea to visit your local store often and establish a good relationship with the people there. They can often help you solve your toughest modeling problems.
You should use all three major sources to purchase R/C soaring equipment. When you start out, order catalogs from the major mail order houses, soaring specialty houses, and visit your local hobby shop. Purchase large, generic equipment such as radios and beginner kits from the large mail order shops to save money. As your skills improve, you will probably find yourself drawn to specialty R/C soaring shops like NSP for the broader selection of advanced sailplanes. Finally, you can always purchase material from your local shop. Though the local hobby shop will likely not have a wide variety of sailplanes available, they will have a complete selection of radios, accessories, and building supplies, all of which are important to your modeling success.
For a beginner, the decision is fortunately well bounded. The features a beginner looks for are well defined, and a large number of kits are available which are designed specifically for the novice. The most popular beginner kits are two meter, flat airfoil, 2-3 channel polyhedral airplanes. Two meter trainers are popular because they are strong, responsive, but still large enough to provide good performance. Flat airfoils provide for slow flight speed which makes it easier for a beginning pilot to keep up with the airplane. Slow flight also makes for slow landings, which minimized damage on the inevitable training crashes. Two channel (rudder and elevator) polyhedral planes are inherently stable, meaning they will literally fly themselves if left alone. Many beginner planes allow for optional spoilers on a third channel. Its always a good idea to build in the spoiler option, even if its not needed initially since it will make your plane easier to land once your skills have improved.
Features to look for in your first airplane:
Dozens of beginner sailplane kits are available, and all have roughly comparable construction and performance. One way to distinguish a good kit from a poor one is to look at the instruction manual. If you have never built a model airplane before, the instruction manual will be the most important part in the kit. If you can, go to your local hobby store, and take a look at the manuals that come with the planes. A good instruction manual will list each step, and have plenty of detailed pictures. A poor kit will have a few xeroxed sheets with vague instructions. I've noticed a strong correlation between the quality of the instruction manual and the quality of the finished beginner airplane.
Tip 4: Choose a beginner kit with a detailed instruction manual.
Why build? Well, there's actually many reasons to do so. If you have never built a model airplane before, building your first beginner sailplane provides the knowledge and experience needed to build more advanced aircraft. It is much better to make building mistakes on your trainer than a several hundred dollar high performance sailplane. Building itself is a relaxing and enjoyable hobby. Some modelers enjoy building more than flying, and will spend hundreds of hours building detailed scale sailplanes. Many people use building as the link to their hobby during bad weather. If you can't fly, you go your workshop and work on the latest creation. In the North, you usually spend the dark winter building your plane for the next year's flying season.
Building skills are important for repairing planes, and as a beginner you will need to make repairs, because you will eventually crash the airplane. If you have built the plane, you are familiar with every aspect of it, and can typically make repairs more easily and even rebuild major components after a major crash. Emergency repairs skills are not just for beginners. During the 1997 US F3B team selection finals in Albuquerque, former world champion Joe Wurts crashed his all composite F3B eagle on launch due to a radio problem the final day. Rather than give up on the splintered plane, Joe and his team worked tirelessly for an hour, cutting strips of metal from coke cans to patch the plane back together. Joe went on to finish first at the US team selections, and will compete in 1997 at the world championships in Turkey.
In the not too distant past, it was impossible to be a competitive flier without also being a reasonable skilled builder. This is not so anymore. Many of the very high performance composite sailplanes come pre-built, requiring only a few hours of radio installation. One could conceivably start with a ARF trainer, and purchase enough intermediate and advanced planes to become a very skilled pilot, given enough money. However, simply writing a check to purchase a plane does not even come close to the thrill of finishing one by hand, and feeling that moment of sheer terror when the plane safely completes its first flight. The emotional attachment to a hand built plane simply cannot be compared with that of a pre-built.
If you are in a big hurry to get into the air, buy an ARF or ARC to get started, and select a suitable intermediate plane to start building by hand. If you have the time, and patience, a traditional sailplane kit will certainly teach you more and develop the necessary building skills you will need to mature as a pilot.9).
Several other popular kits are very comparable to the Gentle Lady in design and performance. These include the Wanderer, Easy Answer, 2X4 and others. My first plane was a Mark's Models Wanderer, which is virtually identical in design and performance to the Gentle Lady. I helped a friend build and fly a Global Easy Answer, and it too had design and flying characteristics similar to the GL. The Easy Answer is also available in an ARC and ARF version. Some ARF planes include the Wanderer ARF, and Easy Answer ARF.
If you have an experienced pilot available to help you fly, you might also want to consider the Spirit 2M. This plane, unlike the Gentle Lady, has a slightly faster Selig 3021 airfoil as well as optional spoilers. It has strong wood construction and very detailed instructions, suitable for a first airplane. It also has a price tag around $40 in most hobby shops. The main difference between the Spirit 2M and planes like the Gentle Lady is the airfoil. The Selig airfoil is not flat bottomed, but rather semi-symmetrical, which provides for a broader speed range. While the additional speed is a liability to the rank beginner, you will quickly grow into the additional performance it provides. This lets the Spirit 2M and planes like it (the Kestral) serve both as a beginner plane and as an entry level intermediate plane. I have built and flown the Spirit 2M extensively, even in local competition, and found it to be a very well behaved intermediate plane. If you do build one, be sure to add the optional spoilers for easier landings. Unfortunately, I would not recommend the Spirit or any other Selig 3021 based sailplane to a rank beginner unless you have an experienced pilot available to train you. The extra speed is great to have in the air, but makes the plane a little more difficult to land without assistance. If you have an experienced trainer, they can teach you how to land these faster planes in a relatively short amount of time. If you do not have someone to help, you are better off starting with a slower GL class plane.
Another beginner plane from the nostalgia days of sailplane is the Olympic II. Designed by the legend himself - Lee Renaud - and kitted by Airtronics in the mid to late 70's and is a joy to fly. Very recently, a company called Whyte Wings has re-kitted the Olympic II and started selling them. The Olympic II is a standard class sailplane (100" span), which makes it a little slower to react and easier to fly for the beginner than a 2-meter. Standard class planes also usually outperform 2-meter planes, giving you more stick time. The Olympic II is probably has better overall kit quality and strength than most wood trainers on the market making it a good choice for the beginning pilot.
Another great choice for beginners, and recent innovation, is the series of foamie thermal sailplanes. Most pilots now recommend you buy a foamie as your first plane to cut your teeth on while you construct a wood plane for later lessons. Foamies are made of EPP foam, a very resilient material that lets the model resist the bumps and bruises dished out by the typical starting pilot. While EPP ships are not completely indestructible, you can smash an EPP ship into a light pole, or stall it on landing with no damage. I was once training a small child to fly on my TG-3 foamie and for no apparent reason he pushed the stick full down while we we're flying it back for a landing. The plane did a golden arch from 40 feet into the hard ground and bounced five feet into the air after impact. I have no doubt the impact would have completely annihilated a wood trainer. Total damage was two broken nylon arms on the rudder and elevator linkage. It cost about $1 and only took 5 minutes to repair. There was no damage to the radio, fuselage, wings or tail.
The first popular EPP thermal trainer was the Scweizer TG-3 Foamie by Dave's Aircraft Works at http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/DavesAircraftWorks/. The TG-3 is a 71" span semi-scale foam plane based on a WWII trainer aircraft. At 36+ oz, it weighs more than a Gentle Lady, and flies faster, but it is very rugged. Another popular model is the 2M Beater from Trick R/C at http://www.zagi.com/. This aircraft is not a scale plane, and has a planform similar to other popular planes. It has a 2M wing span, and weighs in at 44 oz. Both aircraft are in the $70-100 range, and both require minimal construction compared to a wood aircraft. The foam panels are precut, so construction is a matter of installing the wood spar, your radio, and then wrapping the plane with strapping tape and covering it with low temperature covering such as Ultracote. I believe that thermal foamies are a great value for the beginner, because you will ultimately spend more time flying and less time repairing your plane.
Tip 5: In a trainer, rugged construction is more important than weight or performance. You need to learn to fly before you can soar!
An important feature for a beginner radio system is a trainer switch. This is a flip switch or button on top of the transmitter that lets you transfer control to another transmitter, using a trainer cable. The trainer cable plugs into the back of both transmitters, completing the control connection. The trainer system operates in a very simple way. The instructor holds the primary transmitter, and usually flies both the launch and landing of the plane initially. When the instructor has the plane trimmed in stable flight, he slips the switch, transferring control to the student who is on a second transmitter. A trainer cord, and an experienced teacher is the safest, fastest way to learn to fly your sailplane. When looking at which radio to buy, consider which type of radio other club members have. Unfortunately, most manufacturers trainer systems are not directly compatible with each other, so you need to find someone with a compatible radio at the flying field to use as a trainer.
If you can afford to spend a little more, and believe you may be into sailplanes for the long term, you can consider a new or used computer radio. Used computer radios can be purchased for prices that are very competitive with new non-computer radios. Some full function sailplane programmable radios, like the JR 347 are available used for under $200, if you are willing to shop around. Your local club, and several internet R/C pages can be checked for low priced used sailplane equipment. Again, consult your local club members to decide which to buy. Most computer radios are tailored to gas powered model fliers, and do not have dedicated sailplane programming. Some used models that are sailplane programmable and low priced include the JR 347, JR 388, and Airtronics Vision. Many sailplane fliers prefer JR and Airtronics low end computer systems for their sailplane versatility. Preferred high end systems include JR, Airtronics and Futaba. However, manufacturers create new models all the time, so today's preferences may not be the best choice by the time you read this. As always, the best source of current information is your local club.
Tip 6: Used computer radios can be purchased for little more than the price of a new non-computer radio. If you intend to stick with flying, a few extra dollars up front might save you hundreds later.
Another long term factor to consider is what your next radio might look like. Again, all manufacturers radio components are not compatible. For example, if you purchase a four channel Futaba system, and later decide to purchase an Airtronics computer radio, you won't be able to use your new Airtronics radio with the old Futaba receiver. If you think you might want a particular manufacturer's computer radio when you upgrade, you might want to buy that manufacturer's low end four channel FM system so you can use the servos, receiver and battery with the computer radio. Take an informal poll at the local club, and again at the flying field. You will probably find that everyone flies similar manufacturer's and models. Purchase a low end or used high end system from the same manufacturer so you can easily upgrade as your skills improve.
The number, and type of servos is a final factor to consider. Most radio systems come with very inexpensive standard sized servos. Purchase three servos for your first radio, if possible, since this will allow you to outfit both your two channel beginner plane, and possibly your first intermediate plane. If you can afford it, some radios come in a sailplane version, with smaller micro-servos. Micro-servos are used commonly in more advanced sailplanes to drive ailerons and flaps. Purchasing a set with your first plane may save you a few dollars later. Be cautious, however, since manufacturers sometimes charge substantially more for the sailplane version with mini-servos than it would cost to purchase the servos separately. Compare the difference in price for the radio with micro-servos against the price of generic micro-servos. In some cases, you are better off ordering the radio with standard servos, and buying micro-servos later.
A standard high-start consists of nothing more than 100 feet of latex surgical tubing, and a 300 feet of nylon or monofilament line. A small parachute or streamer and tow ring is attached to one end, and the other end is staked to the ground. You can purchase a good high-start for $60-80, or make one yourself for as little as $55. The most expensive component is the latex surgical tubing. The main advantage of making your own high-start is that you have better control over the components used.
High Start Components:
The quality and thickness of the surgical tubing used determines the pulling ability of the high-start. Surgical tubing is sold using three measurements, inner diameter, outer diameter and wall thickness. Wall thickness determines the strength of the pull of the tubing. Unfortunately, many manufacturers today use very cheap, thin 1/16" wall or less surgical tubing that is barely adequate, even for two meter sailplanes. Thicker tubing provides a much stronger pull, which translates into higher launches when flying. Thick walled surgical tubing will also let you fly larger sailplanes from your high-start. If you build your own high-start you can choose tubing to match the sailplanes you are flying.
Latex surgical tubing can be stretched to approximately three times its unstretched length. For example, a 100 foot section of surgical tubing can be stretched about 300 feet. A good rule of thumb is to stretch your high-start one pace for each foot of latex rubber you have. Though latex can actually be stretched farther, doing so may reduce the lifetime of your high-start. Following the rule of thumb will result in solid launches, without over-stretching your high-start.
Tip 7: Stretch your high-start one pace for each foot of surgical tubing.
There are several hundred styles and sizes of surgical tubing available commercially. How do you choose the right one for your sailplane? The answer depends both on the weight and strength of your sailplane. For lightly constructed sailplanes, you want the fully stretched pull of the latex to be approximately three times the weight of your sailplane. If you have stronger, carbon reinforced wings, you can afford to use a much stronger pull. Of course, if you go overboard and get latex too strong, it will take two people just to pull the high-start out and may break the wings of a lighter aircraft. Table2, provided by WACO, gives pull strength and recommended model size for several commonly available latex rubber sizes.
The size tubing that comes with many inexpensive high-starts is 3/16" OD with 1/16" or smaller wall. Unfortunately this tubing is barely adequate for launching even a two-meter plane, creating a bad reputation for high-starts in general. The motivation for the manufacturers is purely profit, since a good piece of 1/8" wall tubing costs 50 more wholesale than the 1/16" wall tubing. You will pay more to buy a high-start with 1/8" wall tubing, but believe me, it is worth the extra expense. Before you purchase any high-start or tubing, always ask what size latex tubing it comes with. Don't be fooled by manufacturers selling inadequate high-starts. Several manufacturers, including WACO at http://www2.ari.net:80/home/waco/wwwhome.htmland NSP at http://www.nesail.com/ sell both tubing and complete high-starts at prices only slightly higher than the cheap imitations.
Tip 8: Choose a high-start with 1/8" wall latex tubing - don't buy a cheap imitation.
A variation on the standard high-start is the mini high-start , sometimes also called an upstart . The miniature high-start consists of 50 feet of surgical tubing and only 150 feet of monofilament line. This high-start can be used from very small soccer and football sized fields, and is great for developing light thermal flying skills. Note you need not purchase a separate miniature high-start. Instead, simply cut your 100 foot surgical tubing in half and insert a small caribiner style connector from the local hardware shop. Get a second electrical spool with 150 feet of line on it, and simply move the 50 feet of tubing, parachute and tow ring back and forth to configure either a full size high-start or an upstart.
Tip 9: Configure your standard high-start to be a mini high-start as well. You can get more flights, and rapidly improve your flying skills using a mini high-start.
I'm a big fan of the mini high-start. It is a fantastic way to develop all of the beginner and intermediate thermal skills you will ever need. The small high-start forces you to concentrate on good launches, because a bad launch will result in an instant landing. Since you can only reach 200 feet (maybe 275 feet once you learn to zoom launch) you gain valuable practice detecting and flying very light lift very close to the ground. Since flight times are short, you get lots of landing practice. If you practice spot landings each time you will quickly be beating the competition in the landing circle. Finally, since flight times are short and it is a short walk to retrieve the high-start, you can get more flights in. You can fly 20 flights in a day using one of these high-starts versus perhaps six or seven with a standard high-start or winch.