There's been a run of correspondence relating to model helicopters in the last two weeks, so I've put it together as a little item.

It all started when Ross Batten made contact and said that he was looking to get a model helicopter some time in the future. Right now, Ross's only experience in radio-controlled fun has been with a car. His starting point with planes has been to obtain a transmitter and practice on the computer with a flight simulator, holding out in the meantime before committing himself to all the other gear.

I told Ross that I had also started radio-controlled model flying by going straight into helis. From everything that I had read beforehand, I realised it would be essential for me to get some help, though, and since I couldn't find a local club where I could receive instruction, I enrolled in a course of lessons with ATS, a model flying school which just happened to be in my locality. I don't know if everybody would agree with me, but it seems to be extremely difficult to find clubs which can offer heli instruction as compared to the situation in respect of fixed-wing training. I guess heli-only clubs might do so, but I have yet to come across any club offering buddy-box heli tuition.

My course with ATS was not cheap - I had 10 to 12 hours instruction which cost me almost £400 (I think their rates are a bit lower now), and that got me to the point where I was competent and confident in the hover and able to fly a lazy-eight sort of circuit! Thereafter I was on my own, and managed to progress to slightly bolder manoevres until I scared myself to death when a nose-in hover took charge, which certainly set me back a bit!

I must confess, though, that although I thoroughly enjoyed it, in the end I found it just too expensive to keep up the repairs! Crashes are inevitable - every expert tells you so - and it doesn't take much of a bump to require the basic repair kit of main shaft, feathering spindle and blades at a cost of at least £40 (probably more)! A slightly heavier knock, and you may be talking about the tail boom and some of the bits that go on the end of it, linkages and flybar, not to mention the possibility of a canopy! That's not a good enough reason to put you off, though - just be aware of it from the start!

There's always the debate as to whether previous experience with fixed wing flying is an advantage before going for helis. I have read books that suggest not, but having now seen a few guys at my own club who have decided to have a go with a model helicopter, I am inclined to think it is. One chap, Justin Stables, has taken to it like a duck to water. He has had one or two repairs along the way, but in what seemed a comparatively short time to me, he is now flying his Raptor with amazing confidence - high, fast and verging on the acrobatic. He puts his success down to spending a lot of time on his simulator and plenty of practice. Neil Scratchley, a BMFA 'B' Certificate holder, has also taught himself. Neil's approach was slow and steady, and he is the first person I have ever seen taking his initital steps with his heli tethered as well as being equipped with a training undercarriage. So far, I haven't seen Neil go beyond the hover, no longer tethered or with the training undercarriage, but I think his keen and developing interest in fixed wing aerobatic competition flying is now taking up most of his flying time!

John Lee has got back into helicopters of late, and his experience would also suggest there's something to be said for a background of fixed wing flying. John has dabbled in helis before - as far back as a Micromold Lark in the 70s and a couple of second-hand Shuttles which he bought, played with for a month or two, and then sold on.

Three years ago, John bought another Shuttle kit at the Woodvale Show - one of those bargains you just cannot resist, he says. He built it, fully kitted it out with an old OS28 and Quest mechanical gyro, and promptly put it in storage in the loft! Last summer, he decided he had better do something with it and thought he would give it a go, rather than let it gather dust for ever.

Probably because he felt it owed him nothing - plus his little bit of past experience with helis and 35 years of fixed wing flying - he just got hold of the helicopter by the scruff of its neck and made rapaid progress. John's guiding principle was, "If you get into trouble, just open the throttle and then sort it out - you only crash when you hit the ground!" [If you haven't flown a heli before, you might not know that throttle means height! On a variable pitch heli, it increases the pitch of the blades and that means lift.] John says the machine flew 'out of the box' and as winter approached he was starting to stretch its capabilities, with the odd loop and 540° turn. In my book, that's amazing progress!

So for Christmas, Santa kindly left John a TT Raptor, like the one on the left, with a new OS32 engine, JR Piezo Gyro and decent servos. First flights were over the first weekend of January. "Wow!", says John, "By the end of the day, I had done my first chopper roll, plus loops, stall turns and general flying about. It's great fun and I'm looking forward to learning a lot more." From a fellow club member who, having just splashed out, has decided to give it up, John has also just acquired a Robbe Millenium with Webra 75 digital servos - in fact, the lot. That's staying in the hangar until the warmer weather and more experience with the Raptor. John's bargain at Woodvale has led him to his most expensive model buying spree ever!

Johny Hollinshead is another fixed wing flyer just taking up helicopters. A late outbreak of foot and mouth disease in his locality has meant his club was only able to return to their field in the last week of 2001. In the meantime, Johny had been practising in his back garden, hovering only! Having now got back to the field for some progress lessons - here's a club with heli instruction! - his instructor was pleased with his progress. Amongst his instructor's suggestions was that Johny should check, adjust and tighten any loose connections. When he came to it, Johny was surprised how much tweaking was actually required, which prompted him to do the same for his other models! Important as it is with all our 'toys', it is absolutely vital with helis - just one inexpensive link coming adrift will soon bring you down to earth with a bump - literally - and could cost a small fortune!

If you've got some help, it's certainly perfectly possible to go straight into helis, and if helis are definitely your main ambition, then you might feel you were wasting your time and money if you went for fixed wing purely as a means to an end - it's certainly not a guaranteed road to success and the advantages may not be that great. On the other hand, if you are already an experienced fixed-wing flyer, that experience could well give you a flying start. I tell you this, though, either way you will find it demands your constant attention and concentration, but it is extremely satisfying when it goes well!

Please feel free to comment on this piece and if your a successful heli fan, please tell us about the training path that worked for you!


Irvine engines? They serve you right!

I heard a heartening tale from Pete Nicholls very recently. He was having some problems with his Irvine ·53 2-stroke engine - the engine was very tight and he believed there was some play in the big end to crank pin connection, giving rise to a tendency for the engine to stop at top dead centre.

Pete 'phoned Irvine to see what help or advice they could offer. 'Pack the engine off to us, together with your cheque for £5,' they said, 'and we will check it over and see what needs to be done.' Pete followed their instruction, despatching the engine in the post at 4 p.m. on Monday 7th January. It was delivered back to him in the afternoon of Wednesday 9th with a new piston, liner and con-rod having been fitted and no further charge!

Service like that is impossible to fault - but often hard to find! Companies that provide it deserve recognition and our custom, don't you think?

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