How It All Started…

It starts out innocently enough. Things happen, you look for something interesting, especially as the days get shorter towards the fall. You surf the web using the navigation skills afforded by Google, and stumble across a wealth of stuff related to the model aircraft scene. A thousand choices, a million opinions, many seeming to conflict. Happy flyers, grouchy flyers, disappointed flyers, opinionated flyers.. the list goes on. You forge ahead in this brave new venture, and after many false starts to the end of the diving board and back, you finally take the plunge. You decide on a micro electric to fly around the house. Should be small and easy for starters. Such innocence and naivety is required if one is to do this at all. Sort of like having kids. You need to know nothing at the outset, or you would be seriously challenged to take on such an undertaking. Corona, Piccolo, Hornet, so many variables. I chose the Piccolo. Only 280 grams to manage, you reason. How utterly absurd that seems to me now.

You find the supplier of choice, (in my case, Steve from Dream Hobbies) strike up a relationship, and order the cute little thing, with (of course) the mandatory extra tuning parts to make it fly at all. That’s pretty much the norm, and increases in importance as the size of the heli gets smaller. I call it the inverse law of heli-kits. As far as I can tell, it’s pretty much as reliable as the law of gravity.
While waiting for the kit to arrive, you join a bunch of online RC Heli Groups under the Newbie banner, and are soon set straight as to your status in RC Heli Country. This is about Alpha Dog power. By the end of the first day, you’ve ordered a $300 simulator, and wonder how you could have been so optimistically stupid as to order a heli without first dropping in on the Heli-Oracle of the month to seek solid advice. You deserve to crash, spend thousands, and be defined as an online idiot. If truth be known, the simulator advice turns out to be really good. This RC Heli stuff requires both hands and your tongue, as well as uncluttered mind and no booze for 24 hours. The simulator’s job is to manage the inflated expectations of your abilities. It is the reality check every idealist needs starting out on the heli highway. Just leave your ego offline, and you’ll be fine.

The heli arrives. By now the simulator has totally humiliated you, the simplest set-up sequence confuses you, and you really don’t know how to keep the @#$% CA from sticking your fingers together, or to the assembly, as you struggle with the build. Eventually, it all gets done, and you are ready to fire up. It is a thrill, and worth every minute of adrenalin rush. An expert on the simulator by now, you reason the heli will be an easy transition. Throttle up, the main starts to spin, and to your utter amazement, you find the heli 3 feet in the air before you realize that this is not the simulator. Fear overtakes excitement, and your brain-to-finger coordination has somehow digitized to on and off, and you are wildly over controlling. The dog leaves the scene, you have no choice but to throttle back, having run out of altitude and ideas simultaneously. Fortunately, the Canadian Tire Orange Ping Pong Training gear on carbon rod proves it’s worth, and the Heli boings off the carpet for a few oscillations and stops inches from the antique leg of the wife’s prized coffee table.

A far wiser soul now, you realize that this little Piccolo is a handful, precisely because of it’s featherweight properties. On one side, you are amazed at the cleverness of the whole design, the micro electronics and the fact that fixed pitch variable rpm is a wicked way to learn an already complex set of skills. On the other side, you are frustrated by the contrariness and demons it seems to possess. This realization comes home when one of your hot shot 3D Nitro acquaintances cowers in protest when you innocently suggest he try your Piccolo in a 12×12 foot room, with the training gear still on. You go outside for the first time. The coning angle and fixed pitch take on a whole new importance as you discover that what you thought was a calm evening is full of moving turbulent air, invisible to the normal sensitive human being. You use both sides of the street plus three lawns to reign the devil in. Of course, you make like that’s exactly what you intended, to the clapping of your neighbours hundreds of meters away. But in the depths of your soul, where the seeds of confidence live, you, and only you, know you were just trying to hover on the centre line.

Perseverance. it’s the key to getting there from here. It works for this game as well. Eventually, your hand/eye coordination gets more subtle, and you get to the point where centreline hovering outside seems pretty simple, even broadside in ground effect in a recognizable light breeze. It’s time to take off the training gear. This is the point where you’re hooked, although you may not yet admit it. You order up a few more battery packs. Those new Lithium Ion performers look nice, because one pack a day flying doesn’t do it anymore. You begin to haunt the chat rooms again, without necessarily admitting to your conscious mind that you need a full collective machine, with 3D capabilities. Even fast forward flight would be nice… The seeds of “bigger-disc-itis” have been sewn, and it will take time for them to fully germinate. You carry on, oblivious to this internal battle for your spare time. Luckily, the wife has no inkling of the future implications .. yet. All she sees at this point is the little boy in the old man, and encourages you further.

You get better. You know that by the fact that the dog begins to ignore the whirling dervish that invades the den from time to time. You offer the wife free ceiling cobweb cleaning services, and she chuckles. You also realize that the family who cleans together, stays together, and congratulate yourself at picking the Piccolo house pet as the entry point into helis. All the crashes, all the frustrations evaporate like the morning mist as you execute a perfect spot landing on the stereo speaker. But lurking in the shadows of your mind are bigger fish to fry. You’re on the hunt again.

A little more savvy now, you have a set of criteria to work with for the next phase. Bigger is better outside. CCPM is mandatory. You’ve talked to the Nitro crowd, who have their own set of ideas. But the electrics don’t smoke, they don’t smell.. wellll.. rarely smell. There’s no offensive noise, and they fit in with the parks around the city. It resolves to a matter of taste, and both have their place, but we now know electrics, ESC’s, Brushless motors and so on. So one strikes up conversations with various on-liners, and in my case, I happened on Glen Peden, who seemed to be a pretty good head. He was helpful and patient, and guided me into reducing my initial ego choice from a Logo 20 to a more realistic Logo 10. Looking back, it turned out to be a brilliant second opinion.

I searched the web for Logo 10 kits, radios, servos, motors, including the sites recommended by others. In the end, because I’m from Canada, and desperately dislike the gouging we get in shipments from the USA (UPS here), I went with CyberHeli out of Hong Kong. Stephen, the big cheese there, happens to hail from Vancouver, so I had confidence in the whole transaction. It was the best price by quite a bit, and the service was incredibly fast. I guess it helps to have a heli flyer at the other end. Words can’t describe what it feels like to get a Logo 10 after dealing in Piccolo parts for your entire RC heli life. It seems so big, so professional, and downright intimidating by comparison.

You’ll notice that there are observable differences between the Logo above and the one on the right. Clue: the one on the right is called Phoenix, having risen from the ashes of the first big crash. Turns out I wasn’t as good as my ego thought I was. What you’re looking at here is a humbler heli hover-er, phase II. That first crash is tough to take. You bring the plastic bag of wreckage home, and swear that this is it. You were never meant to do this, and it was a silly idea to waste such money on such a frivolous folly. That lasts for maybe three days. Recovering from the wounded pride, you absently shuffle thru the pieces of the wreckage. Hmmm.. the motor and ESC are OK.. so is the gyro.. and the servos work!.. You’re baaccckkk!

At some point in your practice, the movement of the heli ceases to be tail in- ‘do this’ to nose in – ‘do that’. It reminds me of the transition you take in learning another language. Magically, you stop translating back to English, and at that point, you own the new language. It’s the same with this. Although I am a commercial pilot, and cerebrally know what has to be done, I had to start out translating to RC, from the outside, looking in. The point comes, quietly, where you simply fly the heli, and at that moment you take over ownership. Until then, it’s a tug of war between you and the untamed beast.

Of all the great things one does in life, this game of total involvement with a small machine built by yourself, flown by yourself, with all it’s complexities, is right up there on the satisfaction scale. It transcends the generation gap in ways few other things do these days. Go to any Fun Fly, anywhere, if you doubt this truth, which is well understood by RC’ers all over.