August 19, 2013

Finding A Place To Fly

So once I had a plane, the next obvious question was "where do I go to fly it"? Now I have to stop here for a moment and point out that at virtually every step of my RC journey, my friend, the one who recommended the simulator, was there to tell me some advice that I would later come to take. But every time, I rejected it because either it was going to cost me more money (in the near term) or more time (or so I thought). Almost from the beginning I had heard him talk about the advantages of joining the local RC which boasted a 600 foot paved runway, and an unobstructed span of acres in every direction. No, that would cost more money.

Okay, so there was a faction of enthusiasts who hung out at the local hobby shop who frequented a spot known as "Avenue G". It was 20 minutes from my house, and it too was acres of open space. It actually was adjacent to a game reserve. The downside was that the ground was composed of a rocky soil, one that was very hard on landing gear, and despite the efforts of volunteers like myself, it was subject to an infestation of thistles and weeds. I would periodically go out with my weed eater and try and knock them down, and go through a whole container of Round Up, but the reality was, the weeds were winning.

But as a starting point, I learned to take off, "fly in the box", shoot approaches for landings, get the feel for the distances of the glide path, and the amount of throttle needed to keep coming in without stalling. I had constant problems though with the Corsair's landing gear design. The plastic mounts in the wing, into which the wire struts snapped, had prongs that went deep into the foam of the wing. So with hard landings, the plastic would come out, and pull a lot of foam with it. This made re-gluing the plastic plate increasingly less satisfactory. One of the hobby store guys suggested making a balsa template that the plastic plate could glue onto. The balsa was epoxied in place for strength, and for the plastic plate I used CA glue. It tends to be more brittle, and if anything the plate would break away from the balsa, but the balsa would stay in place, thus protecting the integrity of the wing. This is a trick I have used ever since and still use as my Corsair has survived all this time!

So Avenue G was a start, but the leading edge of my wings were green and sticky from the weeds, and the constant repairs on my struts were getting old. There was also the fact that since the area was so open and unobstructed, there was always a wind blowing through that made things difficult for me. I was always told by pilots that I needed to make friends with the wind, And I can say that I feel that way now, but I assure you, as a beginner, I quickly learned that the wind was something that could rob my enjoyment in a heartbeat, and discretion was almost always the better part of valor.

My next stop was a Little League baseball complex. It was a central parking lot, nicely groomed out of crushed granite, and surrounded on all sides by playing fields. There were a couple of angles at which I could come into the parking lot, depending on the wind, but even then I had to dodge light posts, and come in over dug outs, fences, electrical boxes, 50 gallon drums, trees, and other obstacles. But after all the hassles of the rocky, rough ground at Avenue G, this lot was pure heaven! At least for a while.

I certainly didn't have near the problems with my gear as before, but I got stuck in a tree once, dove into a chain link fence (on take off as described in an earlier post), and many times misjudged the flare and broke a prop because I was not level enough, quickly enough. And again, there was the wind!

I constantly drove around looking for spots to fly. There were several subdivisions that were not there were just streets, lamp posts and sometimes power lines. But cars would inadvertently come out of nowhere, and there were often kids hanging around that wanted to chat and ask questions. I never really found anything workable.

Grass didn't seem to be an option for me. My planes didn't do well at all on grass. I suppose if it was cut right to the bare bone, it would be okay, but no public place I could find was that way. I see photos of some clubs that keep their runway on trimmed grass, but I have never found it here. So that would limit you to hand launching and belly landing, and as I said before, landings are the most fun part for me.

Almost every time I loaded the car with my plane and accessories, I would drive with expectation, studying the flags on flagpoles, or the streamers on car lots, or the tops of trees....always wondering how strong the winds would be. It was so frustrating to realize that yet another time it would be too windy for me to fly, but again, I had learned that trying to tough it out, only resulted in crashes and repairs, and not much flying time to show for it!

So after a few months of this, I went back to my friend to learn more about joining the club. There was a 3 month free trial period, so I signed up. You had to join the AMA (Aeronautical Modelers Association) which was about $50 annually, and then the dues themselves were another $50 annually. I don't think it took more than one trip to the club's field to realize that it was a bargain! Little did I know just how much joining that club would benefit me, not only in terms of a safe place to fly, but also the incredible kindness, generosity, and wisdom of the members I came to know there. As the commercial says, "priceless"!

So my advice to you is that if you have a club nearby, one that supports a field, join it! And if they don't require a membership with the AMA, I would get one anyway. The AMA is like the NRA for gun enthusiasts...they work to promote the hobby around the country, and when there are those pesky misunderstandings in Washington D.C., they are there to lobby congress to get things on the right path. Not to mention they put out a KILLER that has beautiful shots and a ton of information.

So next time I'll discuss another recommendation made by my friend that I resisted at first, but came around to appreciate....radios!