September 19th, 2004


it's not a question of if, but of when

For me, the when was just now. I knew that when you're flying a radio controlled airplane, you're going to crash it sooner or later. I went out to fly it around for a bit while there was still daylight, since I couldn't do any real flying this weekend.

I plugged in the battery, turned on the transmitter, checked the flight controls and throttle operation, cranked it up to full throttle, and gave it a good toss into the wind. The propeller is kind of noisy, so it's easy to hear while it's flying. Strangely, the engine cut out for a fraction of a second a few times once I got it up to higher altitude. I thought that was strange, but didn't think there was anything wrong. Suddenly, as I flew overhead, it was cutting out for a second or more at a time. When it cut out I also apparently lost flight control, not just power. Well, to summarize the next few seconds, I ran it into a tree. Fortunately it didn't get stuck in the tree but fell straight to the ground, and there didn't seem to be much damage. The wing was tweaked a bit sideways (it's held on with rubber bands), so I straightened that out. There was also slight damage to the leading edge, and I tried to massage that out as best I could (the wing is plastic covered styrofoam).

Then I realized what the problem was: I had failed to extend the antenna on the transmitter. Add that to the preflight checklist.

So after I had straightened everything out, and extended the antenna, I tossed it back into the air. I flew around for a bit, but things didn't seem quite right. I ended up getting too low in a bank, lost altitude, and crash landed in the open. The wing broke in the middle and folded over itself.

I figure at least part of the reason was the damage to the leading edge of the wing affected the flight characteristics. Pilot error was also a factor.

A new wing is about $15, so that's not bad. Fortunately, the propeller is behind the wing so it is reasonably well protected from damage and was not affected. The tail, which is where all the flight controls are, does not appear to be damaged either. So, a trip back to the store should get me back in the air reasonably painlessly.

Now I just have to make sure I don't do stupid things like that again.