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Building Your Custom Flight Arena (Part 2)

Building Your Custom Flight Arena (Part 2)
Snow covered peaks are full of adventure.

See part 1 here

Dioramas bring life to your helicopter operations.

Plan and build a dedicated flight environment to fly RC Helicopter Work Operations and Rescue Missions in any weather and at any time.


Building a flight arena is the same as building a set for a scale model train. Of course the terrain will necessarily be more vertical in nature, as suits a helicopter’s workplace, but the intention is the same. We are trying to provide a realistic area to fly the machines, and have as many diverse work sites as possible for the maximum amount of situations and scenarios.

When you have chosen an indoor site to dedicate as a flight arenasome preparation and planning will be needed before you can get serious about building any terrain features, such as mountains. It’s a good idea to leave enough floor space unobstructed by terrain features or point-of-interest dioramas to allow for full access to all areas. This will help in the maintenance and building of the arena and give you room to move around freely when flying missions. For example, you may need to get closer to a feature if you are attempting to approach a landing zone (LZ) from a tough angle.

To add atmosphere, literally, paint the ceiling and the tops of walls a bright blue to look like a sunny day. Some white clouds can be daubed in with a rag to add substance and depth. If you make the clouds two-tone, remember to keep the slightly darker shade on the bottom of the clouds. You could get creative with a stormy-looking sky, but that will take a little more painting skill.

Extend the “sky” down the walls several feet to give a distant feeling and make it easier to meld the land with the sky. Instead of a straight cut line, make the skyline rolling, with peaks and valleys to look like the silhouette of distant, high-altitude mountains.


Having a small workshop and the opportunity to build an indoor flight arena for cold, windy days, I decided to design a high-alpine valley with mountains towering over the confined flatlands of the valley floor. Equally exciting arenas could also be built as cities, as a butte-filled desert with cliffs and canyons for hazards, or anywhere else that a helicopter can find plenty of work to do. I went with a high-alpine environment because that area is so inaccessible, but also very attractive for many varied activities, so the work available for a helicopter is almost limitless.

It would be easy to build an arena landscape of flat prairie with a few trees here and there, but I can’t imagine a lot of work there for a helicopter, and what there is must be awfully boring.

Building Your Custom Flight Arena (Part 2)
Mountain climbers in trouble on the south face of the Pharaoh, Smokey Mountains of British Columbia.
Building Your Custom Flight Arena (Part 2)
Pinnacle LZ and relay antenna with propane gas tanks that need to be lifted out to be filled for winter.

There are beautiful murals available online in a full selection of sizes. They are printed on durable backing material and you can find any scene imaginable. If your budget allows, and you don’t feel too artistic, then these could be used on the walls as an enhanced background or you could glue them to cardboard sections cut in the correct shape to build terrain features. Glue the mural to a cardboard cutout shaped like a mountain or a building or whatever landscape you are building.


To build a mountain feature that includes point-of-interest dioramas built specifically as helicopter LZ’s, we will obviously need more depth and contour than wallpaper glued to flat cardboard can give us. They will need proper LZ’s, strong enough for your helicopters to land hard sometimes. Several per mountain would be nice, and these need to be flat, reasonably level areas or protrusions that have enough clearance for your rotor disk. A valid use for these areas would be nice, or why else would you risk landing your valuable heli there?


Some possible uses for mountain LZ’s would be firefighting, refueling point, radio or cell phone relay towers, recreation, forest service cabins and campsites, search-and-rescue operations, mining and prospecting, heli-skiing, photography or survey work, industrial accidents, access to cutoff areas, or just sightseeing with a picnic lunch.

On the valley floor or in a city you would want hospitals, airports with hangars and helipads, highways with accident scenes, office buildings with rooftop helipads for busy executives, or maybe an isolated farm where somebody is always getting hurt and needing a quick flight to the emergency ward.


Building Your Own Custom Flight Arena (Part 2)
Isolated farm hidden in the bottom of a narrow, twisting valley.

When you have a good idea of the type of operations you want to be performing with your various models and sizes of helicopter, and the type of terrain and features where you find this work, you will be better prepared to decide what you want to build and how it will be laid out to best advantage. I design and build dioramas and major terrain features to be lightweight and easily movable, and in this way my flight arena can be customized with many different layouts. I can circle the mountains to have one wide valley or place them face-to-face to form tight alpine ravines or narrow twisting valleys.

This versatility makes each piece more useful and keeps the whole enterprise fun and invigorating, just like it should be.


Stay tuned for part three: The mountains rise. Construction techniques and details.

LINKS: R/C Helicopter Adventure Scenarios


Edited for the web by Jon Hull