Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Thunderbirds are go!

Radio control planes, Why would anybody get involved in such a demanding, expensive and generally pointless hobby? I've spent more than a thousand dollars on aircraft and radio gear for a net result of around 60 seconds of flight time.

I started a number of years ago with a balsa glider kitset from galtech models (www.galtech.co.nz) and great ambitions of spending hours gliding around the blue skies over Palmerston North after visiting a few RC events with my uncle and his Radio controlled helicopter. I made a good start on constructing the tail and rudder, but thats as far as i got, close to $500 of expenditure and nothing but a box of balsa bits to show for it! (I believe i've lost the plans now, and probably a few critical bits of balsa, so i'd have trouble finishing this one off even if i wanted to!) . My dream was over, radio controlled flight was not for me.

One day while running around Te Whiti park recently I spotted members of what i have discovered to be the Wellington Model Aero Club (WMAC) launching and flying gliders and my long lost interest in radio control flight was sparked again. With a week off work and good weather finally upon us, I decided to visit the local model shop and see if i could buy myself a ready build aircraft and skip the modelling time that had so fatally doomed my earlier attempt.

A short drive into wellington and $270 later i was the proud owner of a new Hobbico Mini Ventura
Made of plastic and foam and requiring only the application of a few rubber bands and the charging of the bright green battery back to be under way, it looked like i was finally going to get airborne.

My first setback came on reading the instructions for the 12V cigarette lighter battery charger, Apparently this could only be used while the car was not running, there went my idea of charging the battery while driving back to the hutt, or did it?, After all, how much extra current could really be supplied? I decided to risk it and plugged the charger in for the drive home. The wisps of smoke coming from the charger within a few minutes convinced me of the error of my ways however (luckily it appeared that there was still enough magic smoke left for the charger to work).

On arriving home and completing my battery charge (with the car engine switched off) I went for a walk down to the local school field, switched on the plane and transmitter, turned the throttle to full and tossed the mini ventura into the air. The plane dove towards the ground immediately but, remarkably, appeared undamaged. I picked it up, adjusted the elevators for what i hoped would be more level flight and repeated my launch, this time i started to gain altitude and a little control, albeit wobbly, control over the aircraft. My glee was short lived however as the plane repeated its dive bombing performance and upon reaching the plane to collect it i discovered smoke pouring from the quite noticably warm cockpit. I quickly disconnected and removed the battery, but i had a sinking feeling in my stomach. On detailed investigation it appeared i had burnt out the Electronic speed controller (ESC) when the motor had stopped turning on hitting the ground (excessive current draw) - To be fair, this was mentioned in the manual as something to beware of. I discovered that i could purchase a replacement component from tower hobbies in the states, but including shipping i was looking at over $50NZ and potentially six weeks for delivery, and no guarantees i hadn't damaged any other electronic components.

While still smarting over the ease with which the gods of disillusionment had effectively destroyed my first aircraft, i decided that the best approach was to get back on the horse as soon as possible (and i wasn't really patient enought to wait the potential 6 weeks for the delivery of a new ESC for the mini ventura) and i began looking into alternative aircraft, preferably durable and easy to fly!

I started looking into EPP Foam planes (www.canterburysailplanes.co.nz and other suppliers) and was very tempted by the F27 Stryker EPP Foam wing (www.airsailmodels.co.nz), but the general consensus appears to be that, firstly, a wing is not a very good 'first aircraft' and that EPP Foam aircraft do not fly or glide as well as plastic/balsa craft. Finally, after a vist to J&N Books and Hobbies in upper hutt, where i got some good advice on various paths to take through the sport, i brought another Hobbico aeroplane, the Aero Voyager


Costing me $230 i think this was a significantly better purchase than the mini ventura with the motors and props located away from the front of the plane i was much less likely to encounter the same problem i had with the mini ventura, and apparently, VTail planes are easier to fly than traditional tails... So i might be on to a winner here.

This plane was again easy to assemble, yet again it came with a car charger only to be used when the vehicle was switched off (not particularly usefull in my opinion), but after brief assembly and charging the battery i was off to Te Whiti park to get my flying fix.

I noticed upon reaching the park that there was a bit of wind about. I had been strenuously warned by the owner of the model shop i purchased the aircraft from not to fly in the wind, But my enthusiasm would not be dampened, so without further ado, i set the throttle to full and threw my latest plane into the sky.

Remarkably it began climbing and appeared to be under the control of my radio. This was an entirely new sensation and for almost 30 seconds i was able to enjoy the rush of flight. Perhaps this is what it was all about! Then it happened, a gust of wind tipped the plane inverted and into a dive well beyond my limited ability to arrest. I could but watch in horror as yet another aircraft plummetted towards the ground and i approached the crash site with some trepidation.

I found that the Vtail had been snapped off the aircraft but otherwise, aside from a few minor dents, no damage appeared to have been done and from my discussions with the hobby shop owner i recalled that the VTail was cheaply replaceable ($16.95 from airsailhobbies). Currently I'm awaiting the delivery of my new tail (It should arrive today) and a calm windless day (I may be waiting a while in windy wellington) at which time, I firmly believe, I will finally get my flying fix.

So why would anybody get involved in this hobby? I'll have to get back to you on that.


Alan Howard said...

After having spent around a thousand dollars to destroy that which you seem to love, I'm a little surprised that you don't spend that money instead on something that's going to last a bit longer than a few seconds.

I've been fascinated by the hobby myself - back when I was a kid - but never got into it. Why not? Because I always saw people's planes diving into the ground and exploding in a shower of balsa wood and bits of engines. While I didn't know the cost, I knew that this kind of hobby was something I could never be happy with. Why go to so much effort and expense to create things that are only going to be destroyed? I felt that the people who do this have more money than good sense. ;-)

NightFallTech said...

I think, Unless i am greeted with unprecedented success and become an ace pilot (always on the cards :), that this will be the last money i spend on this hobby for a while!