Story and Photos by Gordon Broadfoot
Dioramas bring life to your helicopter operations.
From the first week that I flew a small co-axial helicopter, I knew that I wanted to fly more authentic-styled helicopters and have proper landing zones (LZ’s) for the missions I intended to fly indoors with micro-sized helis.
I can certainly appreciate a big open floor with a soft rug to land on, like a big open field of deep grass. That is actually desirable if I am checking out on a new model of helicopter or setting up trims where I need lots of air space and plenty of room to land quickly. I have also had plenty of practice with pinnacle landings using box tops or the seats of chairs, but there is more risk and more fulfillment to your flights when you get to make your approaches to various custom-built, realistic landing zones that require precise control of your machine to master.
There is a unique thrill in making an approach to a mountaintop pinnacle LZ that is so high above the surrounding terrain that even a minor miscalculation will send your helicopter tumbling down a mountainside to be destroyed as badly as in a real situation. The more realistic the surroundings and terrain in your flight arena, the more you can enjoy the experience.
Any flight arena for RC helicopter operations will require various LZ’s with differing challenges, such as pinnacles and heliports, hospital pads and confined openings in a forest or surrounded by cliffs. It’s also nice to have specific “point of interest” areas or purpose built dioramas to give realism. When I built a Quonset-style hangar, a restricted mountaintop LZ and a base for Heliski tours, my missions became more detailed as a result. I even designed a series of helicopter work procedures and adventure scenarios that reflected the intensity of flying in a realistic scale manner that is nerve-racking, but very fun to master.
DOES SIZE MATTER?
The actual size of your flight arena is of less importance than the flight requirements or the variety of distinctive mission LZ’s available. Since this is all about indoor flight arenas, we can assume you already have some very vertical hard points that you need to avoid in your flights, namely the walls, and the tighter that the area is then the better you are going to learn to fly—or crash your machine in the process. Walls tend to mimic a steep mountain flight environment and the mountains can give us many good reasons to be there working our helis, so a variety of LZ’s should be available.
In very tight quarters you will only have room to fly micro helis, but there are some very nice scale models available, in many different air-frame designs, that are very realistic to fly and are flight ready right out of the box. They are economical and sometimes amazingly tough and are able to take the miscalculations that a bold pilot will inevitably make. I have 4-channel, single- rotor fixed-pitch models from Nine Eagles and Xieda that take a beating and just keep getting back up to fly another mission.
If you want to build a flight arena for something big like 700-series helis, then obviously you will need an appropriately large building and this could allow far more detail in the diorama landing sites as well as the surrounding terrain. You may have help from a club of like-minded pilots and, with a little cardboard and paint, you could have a dry warm area that inspires you and adds a thrill factor to your flights because of its intricacy and built-in challenges.
BUILDING YOUR OWN FLIGHT ARENA
Anyone can build an exciting flight arena, just do your best and be ready to accept your work as fun rather than trying too hard and getting frustrated. Your building skills will only improve with practice, the same way your practice flights give you muscle-memory which results in smoother control of your helicopter. Whatever size area you have to work with can be made challenging and inspiring and a very nice flight arena can be built for very little expense by just about anyone.
If you have some scrap wood and some screws you are halfway there. A little white glue and free newspaper gives you all the papiermâché you will need. Big cardboard boxes from appliance stores are free as well. You can build an eight foot (2.5m) mountain with trees and a lake for the cost of a meal in a good restaurant… but that’s for a future article! You can go a long way with very little money, but it will probably take morework. The work is okay if you have fun with it and vent some creativity at the same time. Don’t worry about how perfect it is, after all, those trees you spent so much time on may be chopped into kindling in seconds by your first helicopter crash; so don’t invest more than you can bear to lose—whether in money spent or time lost.
With a little practice and a lot of familiarity with your helicopter and with some realistic-looking and feeling surroundings, anyone can be performing helicopter operations that are so intense you will lose a few seconds off your life every time you crash.
See PART TWO.
Edited for the web by Jon Hull