3D Flying Tips
By Dave Miles
Playing a musical instrument, beating a video game and flying a model helicopter take time and practice. These and many other tasks all have steps that you must follow to learn to play the right keys or chords, learn when to push the right buttons, or how to move the sticks in the right direction to get the result you want. It’s hard at the beginning, but success starts with knowing what to do.
Basic Building Blocks
The more we play a musical instrument, the more our minds internalize the moves. Once internalized, we can read music to play a new song on the fly, shoot grenades and aliens while reloading, running and ducking for cover while playing Halo, or make fine adjustments to our helicopter’s flight path and pull off radical moves without having to think about it.
Today’s equipment is so good that it is easy to try to run before you’ve learned to walk, but to master 3D, there are certain required progressions. First, you have to build the foundation and get your mind working with your fingers so you don’t need to think about all the little things you are doing while flying. No matter what your level, until a maneuver and the steps involved in performing it are completely hard-wired, you don’t own the trick; you are just doing it.
If you have to think about hovering, you need to work on it. If it is figure-8s in forward flight, inverted flight, backward circuits, snakes, rolling circles, or pirouetting flips that you have to think about while flying, they still need work. The good news is that learning new tricks to add to the ones we already “own” makes helicopter flying fun. My heart rate doesn’t increase as it used to when I’m hovering, so I work on new tricks. When I have to bail out, my heart still pounds and I’m as jacked up on adrenaline as I was the first time I tried to hover.
So, for the adrenaline junkies out there who have moved beyond hovering and forward flight and are pretty comfortable flipping their helicopters and are no longer confused and disoriented when they go upside-down, here’s a fun new trick to add to your repertoires—the Tic-Toc. It is not an incredibly difficult maneuver to learn, but mastering and perfecting it involves tremendous timing and skill.
In a perfect Tic-Toc, the helicopter swings back and forth like an inverted pendulum with the tail rotor acting as its fulcrum. To accomplish this, rapid changes to positive and negative pitch are combined with critically timed movements of fore and aft cyclic. The goal is to key the helicopter in the same place and same altitude as it swings back and forth.
Every helicopter does this maneuver differently. Head speed, blade design, available power and servo speed all play a role in the ability and timing required to perfect it. With some helicopter/ blade and power combinations, you’ll need to lead your directional changes with the collective stick; with others, cyclic will have to be fed in before you punch in the collective stick. If you’re short of power, collective management will become more critical.
Many first-time Tic-Toc’ers slam the collective and cyclic to their stops, which is not a bad way to do it on your first shots, but the side effect is reduced head speed, which will eventually cause you to lose altitude. Fortunately, there is a better, more controlled way to learn and, in the end, it’s a faster progression toward mastering the Tic-Toc.
Big, Slow Smooth, Method to Tic-Tocs
Get to a safe altitude that is far enough away from the flight line for you to have room to make one or two mistakes and not hit the ground—or, far more important, a friend who’s watching from the sidelines.
From a high-altitude tail-in hover, increase your collective so that you start to climb slightly, and then add aft cyclic to pull the helicopter’s nose over its tail. As the helicopter reaches vertical, start to decrease collective pitch; when the helicopter is almost in a nose-in hovering position, feed in enough negative pitch to stop it, and then add enough negative collective to start climbing slightly inverted, and add forward cyclic to push the nose over the top to return to almost a tail-in hover. Practice this, and as you become more comfortable, begin shortening the stroke between upright and inverted; as you progress, you’ll learn the many small corrections that will help you to maintain your altitude and position over the field. With practice, you’ll soon be doing impressive tic-tocs.
Variations on a Theme
The great thing about helicopters is that if they can do something tail-down, they can also do it sideways and tail-up. Add to your tic-toc repertoire by using the same method for aileron tic-tocs and nose-down tic-tocs. In aileron tic-tocs, your right stick will alternate between left and right while your collective stick will bounce up and down. In nose-down tic-tocs, your right and left sticks move forwards and backwards in a somewhat synchronized motion.
Practice, Practice, Practice
So, what does it take to become a topnotch 3D pilot? Well, I’m still learning, so don’t ask me, but I did ask one last summer. His reply: “That answer lies at the bottom of a 55-gallon drum of heli fuel.” I only burned about 20 gallons last summer, so I still have plenty more to learn!
Edited for the web by Jon Hull