General RC Helicopter FAQ
How fast can a radio-controlled model helicopter fly?
Top speed during straight and level flight is approximately 50 mph. However, some fliers using streamlined fuselages designed for aerobatic competition claim that their models have hit speeds of over 100 mph!
How far can a radio-controlled model helicopter go?
The model's range is limited not by its radio equipment, but by the pilot's ability to follow and control it. Therefore, you can fly an R/C helicopter as far as your eye can see. The radio will control it from up to approximately one mile away.
How hard is a helicopter to build?
What attracts lots of people to helicopters is the fact that there is really no gluing, sanding, covering, etc. It's all just a bunch of nuts and bolts with a few precision machined parts thrown in! You might say it's sort of an advanced "Erector set." Just as anybody can fly one, so too can anybody build one, that is anyone who is willing to follow the instructions. If you can build an R/C car you can build an R/C helicopter. Generally it should take a beginner about four to five evenings to assemble a .30 size heli and get it ready ready to fly. Your local flying club or hobby store can help you if you run into trouble.
How do you control it?
As with full-sized helicopters, radio controlled helicopters are controlled with five functions:
- THROTTLE and COLLECTIVE PITCH of the main rotor blades is mixed together. As you advance the "throttle" stick of the radio controller, not only is the engine power increased, but the pitch of the main rotor blades is also added collectively to make the helicopter go up (or down as the "throttle" stick is brought back). Ideally, the proportion of throttle and rotor blade collective pitch is mixed so that the rotor head speed is always the same.
- The TAIL ROTOR BLADES are there in the first place to counteract the torque created by the engine power used to turn the main rotor blades. Without a tail rotor the helicopter would just keep spinning around out of control. The pitch of the tail blades is controlled by you in order to tell the helicopter which direction it "faces." Technically, the axis about which the tail rotor turns the helicopter is called the "yaw" axis (this would be a line drown straight down through the main shaft).
- The FORE-AFT CYCLIC control changes the pitch of the main rotor blades only at one point around each 360 degree revolution of the rotor blades in cycles or cyclically. When this happens the helicopter will "nose up" or down in order to move the helicopter forward or backward. The axis about which the helicopter "noses up" or down is called "pitch" axis.
- The LEFT-RIGHT CYCLIC is the same as described for fore-aft cyclic except that the pitch of the main rotor blades changes at a different point (90 degrees later) throughout each 360 degree revolution in order to "bank" the helicopter to the right or left. The axis about which the helicopter banks is called the "roll" axis.
Imagine all this going on around 1,6000 times per minute! If this seems complicated, don't worry. You don't really have to understand it because the controls will do their job and the helicopter will fly with or without your technical knowledge of how they operate. You get to do the fun part!
What types of things can an R/C helicopter do?
Just about anything you can think of (that involves flying). That's another attraction that helicopters seem to have. They can hover in one spot, fly backwards, sideways, or do pirouettes while in forward flight, stall turns, loops, rolls, standing loops and rolls (a loop or a roll with no forward speed), tumble, and most amazingly to the laymen (and even to most accomplished fliers too) they can fly upside down and hover inches off the ground! Let's see an airplane or a full size helicopter do that!
Where can you fly it?
This again is up to your common sense. It is strongly recommended that you check with your local hobby store, the AMA (Academy of Model Aeronautics), and IRCHA (International R/C Helicopter Association), to see if there is a model club in your area. A club flying site is usually the best area to fly. Otherwise just look for what might be a suitable flying area keeping in mind the size of the site, who owns the property, electrical lines, houses and neighborhoods, kids, etc. Use good judgement. When learning, you will find that you are most comfortable and relaxed when you are all by yourself. A well-lit parking lot at night is even a good place for just learning to hover.
How hard is it to fly?
Of all the radio controlled vehicles out there, no question about it, helicopters are the hardest to fly. Don't let this scare you! Many times you will hear some clever analogy of how hard it is to fly a helicopter . . . "It's like standing on a beach ball on one foot while trying to balance a broomstick in the palm of your hand on a windy day." Clever, but these people probably have not even flown a helicopter themselves. Yes, they are difficult to fly, but anybody who really wants to learn to fly one can do so with some time and perseverance. The nice thing is that you can learn how to fly all by yourself, though it is highly recommended that you have us at least help you set up your machine. All you have to do is progress at a rate that you are comfortable with. Soon you will be hovering, and then into forward flight, and then loops and rolls, and then who knows what!
How long does it take to learn to fly?
This all depends on how hard you work at it. Generally, it will take most people two or three weeks of practice maybe three to four evenings a week to learn to hold a fairly solid hver. After another month or so, you will be comfortable with forward flight. By the end of the third month you can be performing loops. It all depends on your personality, interest level, and how much you enjoy flying. We have seen many people doing loops and rolls within a month's time! The key point to remember is to have fun along the way. You may have fun just flying around, or you might be the type who always wants to get the most out of your machine so you will work very hard at executing maneuvers with precision. It all depends on you.
Do you have to start with R/C airplanes first?
NO! With helicopters you start flying from the ground up. Having flown an airplane certainly cannot hurt, but as far as hovering goes, it is completely different from an airplane anyway. Vice, versa. If you started out on helicopters you probably would pick up airplane flying a little quicker, too.
Who will help me fly it?
Most hobby stores that sell helicopters offer flying lessons, or they can help put you in touch with a model club in your area that can help you.
Are helicopters dangerous?
At a glance a helicopter may appear to be harmless, but when the engine is spinning the blades at over 2000 RPM (275 mph), you can easily see how much energy this model has. Helicopter pilots must be very careful to choose a location that is a safe distance from spectators, buildings, trees, and roadways. To avoid accidents, they must also pay attention to the condition of their machine.
Do you have to use a helicopter radio? How many channels?
Highly recommended, but not necessary. A helicopter radio has special throttle/collective-pitch/tail mixing functions that are not available on airplane radios. These mixing functions make the helicopter much easier to set up and fly. Special features such as "throttle hold" and "idle up" also increase ease of aerobatics. The helicopter will fly with a minimum number of 4 channels by directly linking throttle and collective pitch on one servo or channel. The minimum number of channels available on a helicopter radio is five: throttle, collective pitch, tail rotor pich, fore-aft cyclic and left-right cyclic. More channels may be used for other purposes: gyro switching, lights, landing gear.
Do I have to use a gyro? What does it do?
Yes you have to use a gyro (if you really want to learn at a quick rate with less crashes). Just as you will buy a helicopter radio sooner or later, you will end up buying a gyro even sooner if you don't right at the initial purchase. Until you know the difference, you can't really appreciate how much one will help you. What a gyro does is act as automatic pilot for the tail rotor (the function that tells the helicopter what direction to face). When learning, it is important that the helicopter is always facing the same direction as you are (the nose pointing away from you and the tail pointing towards you). This way every input that you give to the helicopter will be the same direction you are facing. Right is right, left is left, forward is forward, etc. If the helicopter is sideways to you or facing you, until you are ready to control the machine in this orientation, you will be very confused. The gyro will help the helicopter always face the same direction. It compensates for wind and over controlling the function. It dampens the "twichiness" of the tail.
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