Sunday, July 16, 2017

RC Mayhem

   Radio controlled model aircraft have always held an attraction for me. I'm not sure what it is exactly about it, just one of those things that require your full attention, and not much chance of me hurting myself. It was an interest I managed to keep at arm's length for the better part of my life, at least up until my second childhood began about 15 years ago when I fell prey to the lure of a model airplane while shopping in the city. I was after something else there actually, but ran across this boxed-up little RC plane that just called out to me. What had got my attention was that it was powered by a re-chargeable lithium battery, a huge improvement over the noisy little fueled engines of before, and like many times in the past, I came back from town with something that I was managing quite well without before. I could hardly wait to get back to my airstrip to start enjoying it.
   The little plane was defiantly intended for entry-level idiots, with little in the way of assembly required, and the radio controller itself has but the simplest form of joystick and trim-buttons. After charging it up and a few exploratory taxi runs up and down the driveway I grew impatient and figured I had passed my flight training, itching to begin my flying career. I've been around real airplanes enough that I could get one in the air and back down again if the need ever arose, although I'm not so sure I would want to be along for the ride. Regardless,  flying a scale model from the safety of the ground was bound to be a piece of cake. The manual advised throwing it by hand rather than using up batteries to take-off from the ground. I stood out on my airstrip, making sure there was plenty of room around me, tree-wise anyways, the ground was always in the same place. I pulled back on the throttle toggle with my left and with the right gave the snarling plane a fling into the air.
  My first flying experience was that of a violent touch-and-go before I got my hand back on the flight control. It touched the ground so hard I thought the wings were going to come off. I jerked back on the first joystick I got hold of to get it as far from terra ferma as possible, sending it into a rocketing vertical departure.
Oh the joy of flight. The inverted loops and rolls, screaming hi-speed dives towards the ground, recovering at the last moment to straf the pilot out in the open, ducking and running for his life. Seeing that I was just trying to hold straight and level the whole time, I figured I should have done a few more taxi runs on the driveway, and read further in the instructions other than 'launching'. The excitement ended badly, about seven and a half minutes short of the expected battery life of eight minutes when I unexpectedly managed to tangle it in top of a tree. As if it hadn't suffered enough damage already, it then slipped from the branches and flopped to the ground below.
They say any landing you can walk away from is a good one.
I picked up the dangling remains of my new hobby, silently walking back to the workshop. 
   Over the course of a few evenings I managed to skillfully glue the numerous bits of the fuselage back together, using the picture on the box as an example. I couldn't wait to get out there and enjoy it again. Disregarding the instructions about launching by hand, probably due to the fact most people don't have an airstrip, I decided it would be safer to attempt a take-off. I figured I wouldn't hit the ground if I was on it to start with and only had to concentrate on the up. I hadn't figured on left and right though, the little plane veers from one side of the strip to the other, sending up a shower of cut grass and dandylions at the apex, then I hit something hard enough to launch my new hobby into the air, and the flying excitement began all over again. 
   A week later, it taking almost that long for all the glue and adhesive to dry after the not too surprising abrupt ending of flight number two, I was out on the strip again, ready for take-off.  By now it has so much glue and epoxy gobbed on, tape, band-aids and haywire and is so bent out of shape I wondered if it would even get into the air.  It was one of my finer flights actually, at least until the door covering the battery compartment fell off, the heavy lithium battery dropping out and flapping in the breeze at the end it's wiring harness. If the damn plane wasn't difficult enough to fly before, I really had my hands full now. Not too surprisingly, flight number three came to a quick but spectacular conclusion in the branches of a cedar tree. The plane emerged from the tree leaving it's wings behind, the fuselage with flopping battery arcs into the ground with an explosion of foam, plastic, band-aids and epoxy.
   I stewed about it for a year or so, thinking about my mistakes with the plane. I finally decided what I needed to do was fly helicopters, which are even more finicky, harder to fix, and more susceptible to hard contacts with the ground and stout vegetation growing around my flying area.
I had lots of fun with that hobby also, pretty soon I've got about four or five of the things in a box in various states of destruction. 
   So I stewed about that for a year or so considering my options.  I decided what I needed to do was get a radio controlled boat and avoid the hazards of flying. I've got the river right out front so what could be better than that, other than a net downstream. My first RC boat turned turtle in the current and disappeared down-river upside-down, the little prop spinning furiously and the rudder flipping side to side as I stood back on the bank trying everything on the joystick. Boats number two, three and four didn't fare any better, usually swamping while roosting up the rapids that you think someone my age would have enough sense to stay clear of, but that is where the most fun was of course.
After donating a fleet of jet-boats to the river, I figured maybe that wasn't the answer either.
   So I stewed about this for a year or two. I finally realized the safest idea financially was to invite someone out that had a radio control aircraft that knew what he was doing and watch him fly his.
An old buddy from my motorcycle racing days got into the hobby several years back and seemed the perfect candidate.
This is buddy Terry a few weeks back, and his new plane that he was rather proud of I might add, doing the pre-flight check. With nine successful flights and not a mark on it, I considered him a high time ace.
   The morning air was absolutely still, perfect conditions for an expert display of flying skill.
He was understandably a little apprehensive in what he called a 'confined area'. I assured him it was only confined where the trees were, several of which still bear the scars of past flights.
Due to my flying prowess I was appointed official video taker, to record the first successful flight at the Hotspringlodge RC Aerodrome, and I was eager to see how it was supposed to be done.
He pulled back on the throttle and the plane tore down the strip for what seemed like a few feet then leaped into the air, clawing it's way straight up to the heavens.
Oh the joys of aviation. The loops, barrel-rolls, and steep-banked turns, and to think that he was actually making it do those things on purpose! Quiet, powerful and responsive, I was thinking maybe I needed one too, but was going to have sell a motorcycle to do it. As is to be expected from any old buddies of mine sooner or later he began to show off, bringing the plane down lower and swooping past us and looping back in a spectacular fashion, which was making a lot better video and certainly added to the excitement. About forty seconds into the video I must of got a case of deja-vu, and you can hear me go "Oh Sh*t!", followed a split second later by that sickening sound as it impacted near the top of a tree. It was dead quiet there for a moment as we watched it slip from the branches and tumble down in chunks, white foam bits and radio servos littering the ground.

Fun while it lasted.
Gathering up the wreckage, which took two of us to carry, it was a silent walk back to the hanger.
 I guess it could have been worse, there was some salvageable parts to use for building the new one, like the tires, they survived, along with a few nuts and bolts. He took it as good as one could, but that's part of the territory, sooner or later your going to bend something, or worse. Terry will be back out soon enough with the replacement, but will probably stick to the club flying fields back in the Okanagan where there is considerably more elbow-room. This beauty was worth more than all the aircraft I've destroyed put together, and  have tempered most inclination I might of had to join the RC flying fraternity once more. For the time being anyways, but come to think of it, one of these on floats would sure be fun, after all I've got the river out front and all.
What could be better than that.



  

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