Radio Controlled Flight

Flite Fest

I’ve blogged quite a bit about the guys over at They’re almost my sole source of information as I’ve leanred the RC hobby. Over the last 6 months, I watched every single one of their 400+ videos on YouTube.

There are lots of radio controlled plane/helicopter airshows around the country. The Flite Test crew travels to a lot of them, but they also decided to start their own this year. They decided to fund it with a Kickstarter and timidly asked for $5000. The hordes of fans smashed down their doors waving money in the air and they were fully funded in less than a day. They kept adding stretch goal after stretch goal. At the halfway point of their month of fundraising, they were at $32,651!

They wisely had quite a few options for fans to back them even if they couldn’t make it to Ohio for the Flite Fest event. I joined that group and pitched in some money. I can’t make it this year but I would absolutely love to visit them sometime in the future. It also got me excited to look at local RC airshows and possibly visit one here in Washington.

So kudos to the Flight Test guys on a massively successful Kickstarter campaign! I’m hoping that this outpouring of support will convince them to sign up for something like to help fund their twice weekly videos too. I’ve written to them about it and it sounds like they’re investigating. They provide us so much value that we’d like to give them some value in return!

FT Delta Maiden Flight

My second RC plane is an FT Delta built from a kit from the store. This one uses the same “power pod” as my first plane. The power pod consists of most of the electronics – motor, speed control, receiver, and battery. The pod just pops off the first plane and straps onto the second plane. That saves a lot of money and makes it really easy to try multiple planes.

This plane only has two control surfaces at the back of the wing. They’re either ailerons or elevators depending on your perspective, but on the transmitter, you set the two to be combined. It’s called “elevon mixing.” So whether you’re going left, right, up or down, those two control surfaces do whatever they need to do to point you in the right direction.

While building this one, I covered the whole thing with Minwax to protect it from getting wet and also filled in the edges of the cut foam with hot glue. I made an attempt at painting the plane too. It looks ok from a distance.

So how did the first flight go? I made it about 10 feet and crashed. Second flight? Same thing. Turns out I had left and right reversed on my setup and didn’t notice it. Luckily this plane is a tank and other than some broken props which are cheap to replace, the plane was completely fine. I crashed a few more times that day. Some of them were because I was trying things I wasn’t ready for (like inverted flight) and later in the day the prop seemed to be popping off. My theory is that the motor got some mud in it and wasn’t spinning properly so I took it home and gave it a good cleaning.

Hopefully I’ll get this back out to the park soon and spend some more time with it. It’s significantly faster than the FT Flyer and it’s a lot more nimble too. It’s a good next step in my RC learning process.

RC Radios

One of the most confusing parts of getting started with RC airplanes was trying to figure out which radio to buy. First of all, you don’t even have to buy one. You can just buy planes that come with cheapo radios. I knew I didn’t want to go that route because it ends up costing more and you don’t get to use a quality radio along the way.

If you decide to buy one that can work with lots of planes then you have to figure out which brand you want: Futaba, Hitec, Tactic, Spektrum, etc. Not knowing much about the differences, I assumed they were all kind of the same. Wrong. In general, each brand only works with it’s own brand of receivers and if you want to hook two radios together for teaching purposes, they have to be the same brand.

The simulator I bought came with a Tactic radio (Tactic TTX600.) While there’s nothing inherently wrong  with this radio, I later realized I want to invest in Spektrum. A huge number of Bind And Fly models come with Spektrum receivers in them. So if you have a Spektrum radio, you’re good to go. That meant that I ended up rebuying a similarly inexpensive Spektrum radio (DX5e) and then later on I’ll get a nicer computerized model (DX9?)

The detour through the Tactic radio only cost me about an extra $70 but it’s still something that you can avoid. Take some time to understand the differences between the brands, talk to friends who fly, look at planes you want to buy, and then make a brand choice. Simulators can work with a variety of brands.

It sounds like people sometimes end up with multiple brands of radios as they progress in the hobby, but to start with, you probably don’t want to keep spending money on radios.

Blade Nano QX Review

A newfound RC addiction in the middle of the rainy season in Seattle is a tough combo. Thankfully, indoor RC has been making tremendous progress in the last couple years. One of the products near the top of the list right now is the Blade Nano QX. It’s a tiny little quadcopter that flies extremely well. You don’t need much space to have a lot of fun. If you’ve been to our house, I regularly fly it in the man cave and downstairs in the living room/kitchen. I’ve even taken it outside a couple times when there is no wind.

The Nano QX comes in two packages. One is the RTF (Ready To Fly) and it includes a transmitter. The other option is BNF (Bind aNd Fly) which requires you to have your own Spektrum transmitter. If you’re just getting this as a one-off toy, then the RTF is probably the model for you. But if you’re buying other planes and helis  that use Spektrum receivers then BNF can save you money since you don’t need to keep paying for new transmitters.

My previous favorite in this area was the Syma 107 helicopter. That is a lot of fun for a very low price, but it doesn’t take too long to master it and then you’re a bit bored. Plus, I flew mine so much that I wore out the motor. The Syma has throttle, rudder and pitch. The Nano QX adds aileron so you can move side to side as well. It gives you a lot more control but it also is more of a challenge. Don’t worry about the learning curve though. The Nano can stand up to a beating, but if you do have some trouble, a second set of blades is included in the box. You can also replace everything else piece by piece if needed.

The awesome guys over at have a video about the Nano QX as well. Give it a look and I bet you’ll want to buy one!

GoPro FT Flyer

Now that I’m an expert RC pilot (translation: I flew about 10 minutes without crashing), I decided to strap a GoPro onto my plane and take some video. GoPros and RC planes are a very popular combination. You can even set them up to feed the video live straight into goggles on your head so you can fly the plane as if you’re sitting in the cockpit. For this first test, I simply zip tied the camera to the bottom of the fuselage, right at the center of gravity. The camera was pointing straight down so the video is nothing wonderful, but I was thrilled that it worked. As I build bigger planes I’m looking forward to doing a lot more with this type of thing.

That day of flying also had a couple other firsts:

  • I got to go flying twice. (I need more than two batteries so that I can just have one longer trip!)
  • As I was flying, I saw something float down to the ground. A quick flyby showed me that one of my wheels had fallen off. That made for an interesting landing.
  • I hand-launched the plane a couple times since the landing gear needed some attention.
  • I completed my first loops.

I’ve included the video below, but like I said, it’s not that amazing. I did fly overhead a few times though. I’m standing right next to a picnic table along the edge of the field. You can spot me for the first time around the 20 second mark in the video. This plane only has three channels (throttle, elevator and rudder) so the turns end up sliding the plane around strangely. I have a couple more three-channel planes waiting to be built but then I’m looking forward to getting/building a four channel model.