Flying a brand new aircraft, be it a scratch build or an RTF, can be a nerve-racking experience. Here are some top tips.
Don't worry, we're all the same. When you're there, ready to launch a shiny new aircraft into the blue abyss of uncertainty, you're always going to be a little bit nervous. What happens if it crashes? To minimise the risk of that happening, there are some things you can do.
1. Check, then double check
On every flight, you should be checking your airplane. This involves checking the control surfaces and linkages for damage, checking your CG and checking to see that your controls are going the right way. Even if it's a new aircraft, systems can be set up wrong. If you take the time to look over your model before deciding it's go time, you'll be sure to catch anything out of line.
If you find it helps, bring along a checklist to the field. Sometimes it helps to have things written down so you don't forget. This takes us onto the next point!
2. Keep notes
If you're nervous about a first flight, write yourself a list to help you prepare. This way, all you have to do is follow it whilst out at the field. Once you've checked everything off the list, you'll know that you're as prepared as you can be to take off. Also, keep some paper handy to write down any notes at the end of the flight: instead of trying to remember how the plane performed for the next time, you can simply write it down for the future. This means helps you to fly the aircraft with more confidence in a shorter space of time. Hey, it's what 'real' pilots do!
3. Glide test at first
If you can, it's always a good idea to glide test a model. This isn't always possible, however, as some planes are simply too large and heavy to launch by hand. If you have a suitable location and suitable aircraft, always have a go. You'll learn a lot about a plane's performance and characteristics from a few seconds of glide without fully committing to a full flight.
4. Go for it! (but keep the flying simple)
When you're absolutely ready, get that plane airborne. If taking off from the ground, a couple of high-speed taxi tests might help you get a feel for your takeoff. Get flying and, if all is well, take your new plane up three or four mistakes high. Try flying a couple of circuits above you at this altitude. During this time, you can trim your aircraft to get it flying straight and level hands-off.
After a couple of these circuits, come in for a landing. Get the thing down in one piece ready for the next flight. You might have found you need to make some adjustments to your control linkages if you were applying a lot of trim. Make the modifications, slap in a new battery and go again for a round two. Flying several batteries will get you more and more familiar with your new plane.
If you crash, it's only an airplane. Even if it's a hugely expensive turbine powered jet, which it probably isn't, it's a machine that can be rebuilt and repaired. When you realise this, the sinking feeling from an unsuccessful flight won't be quite as bad. Write and talk about what happened. Trace your steps and work out what went wrong.
If you want to see an example of a maiden flight gone wrong and the subsequent rebuild of the airplane, check out this article.
Hopefully, this article helps you to get through that barrier a little easier when it comes to launching a plane for the first time. Remember, above all, take your time, breathe and take something from the experience whatever happens.
Article by James Whomsley
Editor of FliteTest.com