Flying Flight Simulator

Sky-High Adventure with the Macintosh, Amiga, & Atari ST
by Charles Gulick

Chapter 18

Until now, your R/C flying has been something less than realistic, except for your actual time in the air in R/C TRNR FREMNT and in your practice sessions when you created R/C TRNR DWNWND. In takeoffs from Runway 31, your model was carefully positioned to point straight down the centerline so that you didn't have to contend with steering. R/C TRNR TEST is a useful lab situation but not designed to be realistic. And R/C TRNR FINAL is a packaged situation designed to let you try some landings and experiment with your throttle, back pressure, and views.

In real life, however, R/C modelists don't have such niceties. Only a novice would place an airplane carefully on the runway (if a runway such as an abandoned strip of road exists). A serious flyer, very much a realist, will taxi the model into position and then steer it through the takeoff run and into the sky. After the flight and landing, the serious flyer will taxi the plane back to where he or she is standing and ready it for the next flight (if it's mostly in one piece). If the flying field has no specific facility that can be used as a runway, the flyer will taxi to any likely looking spot, head into the wind, and take off.

This is how you should fly R/C too. Follow one flight with another and improvise as you go, instead of recalling R/C TRNR RDY 31 with its perfect conditions. You are free to change the wind direction in ENVIRO and to take off on 13, 31, or the grass. R/C is a sport and a hobby, created for fun and challenge, not a rigid discipline. The only formal regulation in actual R/C flying is that you don't fly when someone else is already flying on your radio frequency. All actual radio control units are fitted with highly visible colored flags that identify the frequency each flyer is using. You don't have that problem in simulated R/C, but imagine a yellow flag is on your transmitter anyway.

One problem, however, with flying, landing, and then flying again freely is determining the elevator setting. If you experiment a bit while you fly, the elevator is bound to come into play. During a landing, you'll want to use back pressure as appropriate, and you're certainly too engrossed to be counting notches. So, if you've just landed your airplane and you want to fly it again, how do you trim for takeoff without any reference to guide you? Radio units for real R/C models have an elevator trim control, and every experienced hobbyist knows exactly where to set it for each specific aircraft prior to takeoff. With nothing visible to guide us, we have to simulate that control. Here's how to do it:

If you're flying Amiga/Atari, after you've landed and prior to your next takeoff, press up elevator 10 or 12 times in quick succession. Although you can't see your trim indicator, be assured that the needle will move to the top of the gauge or to full up elevator. (You'll get a stall warning, but that has no significance when you're on the ground.) Once you know you're at full up elevator, you have a reference for elevator trim control. To trim down for takeoff, apply five quick presses of down elevator. That's all you need to do to be ready to take off again.

If you're flying the Macintosh, you can approximate takeoff trim with forward pressure on the mouse, but for the greatest precision your only recourse is to temporarily raise the instrument panel, reveal the top portion of the trim gauge, trim down, and then deep-six the panel again.

Another way to go, regardless of the computer you're using, is simply to go. Add power and your model will take off. If you get a stall warning before it leaves the ground, you know to trim down. And once you're in the air, judge your trim by the model's flying attitude. You may find this method the most satisfying of all. It's certainly the most dynamic.

You'll always need a recall situation, of course, to get you on the ground at Fremont and in R/C mode. Use either R/C TRNR FREMNT or R/C TRNR RDY 31. The former is the more flexible because you must taxi and line up to use either runway.


I'm sure you'll do a lot of R/C flying on your own if, like me, you find it one of the most fascinating diversions the simulator provides. The trainer model will help you get used to the idea of R/C, but you can modify it to suit yourself. Trimming down from the more or less fixed elevator position you've used so far will increase the model's speed and thus its performance.

Experiment. For instance, while climbing with full power, try some turns with a steeper bank than usual, and practice rolling out of them. Then, get into a glide and try some steep turns that way. Use your throttle (and elevator too if you need it) to pull up if you start to head for the ground. If you get a stall warning, get the nose down if you have room to recover, and add some power. In short, fly the model for all you're worth. You don't really want to crash it, any more than you want to crash the prototype. And the way not to crash it is to fly it.

Finally, wherever you are in the sky, try to land the airplane straight toward you, using banks and turns and power as required.

Although you flew by certain specific parameters, known to be valid, early in your R/C experience, every flight is different, and you're bound to lose touch with those parameters. If you were always to fly at a relatively “safe” altitude, always to turn with moderate banks, always to reduce power by the numbers for a known straight and level rpm, always to know precisely your elevator trim and exactly how much pressure is left to use in flaring and “holding off” to the point of touchdown, you'd be flying too conservatively. You also wouldn't really learn much. So, although I took you through some aspects of R/C “by the numbers” to get you started and give you a few points of reference, now I encourage you to fly creatively and intuitively…to experiment and sometimes fail…to learn what the airplane can do by doing it…and to push everything to its limit—including your luck.

That's the fun and challenge of R/C. Who knows? You may become as addicted to your R/C model as those weekend zealots are to theirs. You may soon find yourself considered an “old-timer,” showing a nervous novice how it's done.

Table of Contents | Previous Chapter | Next Chapter