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The Two Finger Solution

Transmitter Handling Tips To Maximize Flying Consistency And Proficiency

Opinions vary regarding the best transmitter handling techniques, but if you could compare them all based on the results obtained within a oneweek time period, you would quickly discover that certain techniques promote faster and better rates of learning than others. This article features the transmitter handling techniques that have proven during 1st U.S. RC Flight Schools four- and five-day primary solo and aerobatic courses to produce flying consistency and proficiency in the shortest amount of time.

Note: The techniques presented here apply to precision flying, e.g., takeoff, procedure turns, landing, precision aerobatics. Understand that 3D stunt flying involves entirely different approaches to transmitter handling, flying technique, as well as airplane and radio setup.

CAUSE AND EFFECT

Most people learn to fly at the side of a recreational instructor with minimal preflight preparation. As a result, the majority of RC pilots base their flying primarily on reacting to the airplane, rather than proactively controlling what the plane does. Consequently, most pilots think that getting better at making corrections, fast reflexes and large amounts of stick-time are the keys to better flying, so little thought is given to how they fly, or whether they are flying correctly.

As a result, most fliers make three to four times more control inputs than what the maneuvers require when optimally flown. The problem with that is learning slows dramatically when pilots reach their saturation point from having to make thousands of split-second decisions reacting to what the plane happens to be doing. A higher quantity of inputs also increases the likelihood of errors and a different result each time a maneuver is performed. These issues tend to be greater for pilots who fly with only their thumbs on top of the control sticks, owing to the unsupported thumbs natural tendency to jerk or snap the controls, especially when the pilot is excited or anxious, e.g., flying a new model, when its windy, etc.

Reactive thumbsonly fliers skills often plateau because they remain too busy responding to deviations to learn how they might be prevented in the first place, and their lack of consistency prevents them from making the connections between their inputs and the responses of the plane that is so important to securing a solid foundation on which to build. Consequently, like the golfer who looks to buy new clubs in the hope that they will improve his game (actually, correct for his faulty technique), many pilots end up looking to equipment to improve their flying. Specifically, they often employ large amounts of radio exponential (expo) in an attempt to dampen the consequences of making too many inputs and jerking the sticks (figure 1).

EXPONENTIAL TRADEOFF

While its true that large amounts of expo have the potential to make flying smoother, it doesnt address poor technique, and consistency and precision control are sacrificed. For example, among other things, large amounts of expo make it more difficult to fly well in wind. Despite what most people think, wind does not cause nearly as many deviations as it seems. See for yourself; the next time it feels like youre fighting the wind, stop making corrections for three seconds and youll be amazed by how the wind suddenly seems to all but disappear. The principle effect of wind is that it tends to exaggerate the deviations and improper techniques that pilots can otherwise get away with in more benign calmer conditions.

Figure 1
 

Skillfully flying in wind is a lot like precision driving, in that the earlier a deviation is corrected, the smaller the correction input is and consequently the fewer corrections the driver needs to make overall, a.k.a., the good guys make it look easy! Conversely, if the deviation is allowed to become larger, a larger correction input is required, which itself needs to be corrected at some point. The main reason why a good driver can keep a car going precisely where he wants with minimal effort is his inputs have an immediate effect on correcting deviations while they are still minute because the steering wheel corresponds directly to the response of the car.

On the other hand, anyone who has ever driven an older car with slop/play in the steering knows how hard one has to work just to keep the car going straight. Thats because the slop or lag in the steering response makes it more difficult to correct deviations while they are yet small, thus prompting the operator to make larger corrections that often result in getting more response than what he was expecting or needed.

Pilots who attempt to mask their overcontrolling tendencies or poor technique with large amounts of expo run into the same problems as the operator of an old car with an irregular control response, except fliers have to contend with the wind, further exaggerating the deviations owing to the delayed or sluggish control response and the pilots subsequent larger corrections. Of course, there are people that fly very well with lots of expo, but usually only after countless hours of practice.

If you pay close attention to magazine content, you may have noticed how the average recommended low-rate expo value these days is down around 20 percent, even though the same authors were recommending 40-percent-plus just a few years ago. Thats because pilots are rediscovering that while good equipment and a reasonable 10- to 20-percent expo is helpful, nothing has as great an impact on flying as much as a pilots flying skills. i.e., theres no substitute for applying the proper control inputs in the first place!

Figure 2

The 2-finger technique reduces the need for expo,
thereby maintaining a more direct correlation between
the control inputs and the response of the plane that
is vital to developing the precise control and
timing required for precision and wind flying

 

2-FINGER ADVANTAGE

More than 1400 pilots of all skill levels have attended 1st U.S. R/C Flight School. During that time, a comprehensive system of accelerated flight training has been developed resulting in a 98-percent solo success rate and more than half of the solo students returning the following season for aerobatic training. However, even if everything else remained the same, the flight school wouldnt be here today if not for utilizing the technique of pilots placing the tips of their index fingers on the side of the control sticks for additional support (figure 2).

To more precisely control the size and pace of your inputs and reduce over-controlling, place your thumb on top of the control sticks and the tips of your index fingers on the side of the sticks near your thumbs for added support. To further improve your ability to feel the neutral stick position, the type of control inputs you make and reduce the likelihood of applying unintentional inputs, increase the stick tension in your transmitter as high as possible.

In the same way that two hands on a steering wheel improves control, supporting the thumb and the stick with the index finger naturally causes pilots to apply smoother inputs, resulting in greater consistency/proficiency and less over-controlling, especially during pressure situations.

Figure 3

Typical Precision Flying Expo:

Aileron: 5-10-15%

Elevator: 5-10-15%

Rudder: 10-15-20%

Add 5% for planes featuring

grossly oversized 3D surfaces

Figure 4. Taking one or both fingers off the stick results in jerking or taking jabs at the stick, thereby making impossible to fly with consistency or precision. By keeping both your thumbs and index fingers on the sticks you will feel more connected to the plane.

Most importantly, utilizing the thumb and index finger, a.k.a., 2-finger technique, enables pilots to precisely manage the size and pace of their control inputs, thereby reducing the need for expo (figure 3). Consequently, pilots are able to maintain the direct correlation between their control inputs and the response of the plane that is so vital to developing the precise control and timing required for precision flying and wind proficiency. Pilots using the 2-finger technique also feel more connected to the airplane; that is, rather than the airplane just responding to inputs, theres the sense that its responding in ways that more closely match your exact inputs and intentions, thus making correct inputs easier to repeat, and incorrect inputs easier to modify, correctly (figure 4).

TURN EXAMPLE

As most pilots do not make or utilize the connection between their actions and the responses of the plane, the typical reactive pilots approach to turning is to enter the turn applying aileron and elevator and then start adjusting the bank angle in response to seeing the turn becoming too wide or tight. As the amount of elevator required to keep a turn level (not lose altitude) varies with bank angle, the elevator must be constantly adjusted throughout the turns, as well. When variables such as different planes, setups, wind, etc., are introduced into a reactive fliers busy turn technique, consistency is difficult to achieve.

A proficient 2-finger pilots consistent turn inputs reinforce the musclememory that enables him to perform consistent turns without thinking. When a wider or tighter turn is required, rather than relying on adjustments and reflexes, he pro-actively changes the size of the inputs he initiates the turn with.

A proficient 2-finger pilot uses his ability to precisely manage his inputs to pinpoint the aileron input that results in the bank/turn with which he is comfortable. He then pinpoints the exact amount of elevator that keeps his standard turn level with little or no additional adjustments needed (figure 5). After repeating the favorable inputs a few times, hes able to consistently perform level turns without even thinking. And when a situation calls for a wider or tighter turn than standard, he simply changes the size of the inputs that he initiates the turn with. His consistent turn inputs reinforce the muscle-memory that enables him to perform consistent turns without thinking.

Standard turn procedure: Set the bank, neutralize and pull

Thanks to this foundation, when a proficient pilot flies a new airplane for the first time, he intuitively knows immediately after takeoff whether to use more or less aileron during the first turn based on whether the ailerons seem more or less responsive than what hes used to. Thus, hes still able to achieve his efficient standard turn despite the different control response. If his first turn with a new airplane climbs or descends, instead of trying to react faster to altitude changes for the remainder of the flight, he simply changes the amount of elevator that he inputs at the start of the next turn and hes rewarded with a level turn on only his second try (figure 6).

Exhibit A: Climbing start to the turn.

 

 

 

 

Exhibit B: When a proficient 2-finger flier experiences a climbing turn, rather than trying to react faster to altitude changes during subsequent turns, he repeats the same aileron input (and bank) but inputs less elevator to start with, and from that point, hes able to achieve level turns with little or no further adjustments required.

LOOP EXAMPLE

Whereas a reactive flier typically enters a loop and immediately start adjusting the size and shape, a proficient (efficient) pilot has learned that the amount of elevator he applies at the start predetermines the size of the loop, and thus he targets the specific amount of elevator to pull at the start that corresponds to the size of the loop he wishes to fly (figure 7).

Figure 7 – A proficient 2-finger pilot is able to predetermine the size of the loop by the precise amount of elevator he applies at the start.

As hes not preoccupied with making constant adjustments, he able to see that holding a fixed amount of elevator results in a round loop up until it becomes tighter or pinched as the airplane loses speed approaching the top, owing to gravity. Aware that hell have to reduce his elevator input over the top of the loop to keep it round, hes able to closely predict how much elevator he needs to take out next time based on the severity of the pinch, e.g., small pinch equals a little elevator reduction, etc. (figure 8).

Altogether, thanks to his 2-finger proficiency, hes able to consistently perform round loops by pulling a fixed amount of elevator at the start (the amount determined by how large he wants the loop to be), smoothly reducing the elevator input over the top between 10:00 and 2:00, and then smoothly returning the elevator to its original position to match the back side radius to the front side. The result is a round loop requiring minimal effort and without any visible signs of when the elevator adjustments were made.

Figure 8 – A proficient pilot can closely predict how much elevator to take out over the top of his loops to keep them consistently round after noting the severity of the pinch over the top of his initial loop.

Note: The reason why reactive fliers continually hunt with the elevator and end up performing irregular segmented radius loops is the same reason pilots over-control at all skill levels: they want to see their inputs doing something. Often complicated by a lack of correlation between their inputs and the plane response owing to excess expo, many pilots remain too busy making adjustments to realize that they are actually correcting many of their own corrections!

ENHANCING FEEDBACK

Increasing the stick tension as high as possible in the transmitter further helps to minimize over-controlling and improve consistency by improving the pilots feel for the types of control inputs he applies. Increased spring tension also reduces the likelihood of accidently applying unwanted inputs along with the intended inputs. In fact, 1st U.S. R/C Flight School found these benefits to be so substantial that it installs stiffer aftermarket springs into all of its radios.

STRAPS, TRAYS, OR FREE-HOLDS

Pilots must guard against developing the bad habit of taking their fingers off the control sticks, which results in a tendency to take jabs at the controls and therefore making it impossible to fly with consistency or precision.

This habit is especially common when using a transmitter strap or tray. True, they look really cool, but when the transmitter is supported by a strap or tray, the pilots grip on the transmitter tends to move around as hes applying inputs, thus making it harder to determine where the sticks are positioned as theres no consistent grip-point to gauge his movements.

Furthermore, theres nothing holding you back from transferring the weight of your hand and/or any tension youre feeling directly to the controls. Consequently, overcontrolling and inadvertently applying unwanted inputs along with the intended inputs occurs more frequently when using a strap and especially when using a tray. These tendencies often cause pilots to develop the unconscious habit of letting go of the controls to reset things or buy a moment to catch up. Of course, if a pilot was able to remain relaxed in all situations, these issues wouldnt be quite as critical, but that usually doesnt occur until after achieving consistent success.

A fixed grip on the transmitter naturally provides a base from which to better gauge the size/position of the controls, while also helping to steady your inputs and therefore reduce over-controlling, especially when feeling anxious. Free-holding the transmitter also enables a pilot to use some transmitter body English in pressure situations to prevent all his stress from transferring directly to the sticks.

CONCLUSION

Practice makes perfect applies only when its correct practice. The 2-finger technique, increased stick tension, maintaining a fixed grip on the transmitter and not getting carried away with exponential enables a pilot to make the correlation between his actions and the airplanes response that leads to a solid understanding of proper control. Consider that when the control inputs are applied correctly to start with, the need for additional corrections may not even exist. Thats when a pilot is able to stay ahead of the airplane and thereby join the elite ranks of fliers that efficiently and confidently control what a plane does rather than reacting to it. Enjoy!

Dave Scott is a winning full-scale aerobatic competitor, founder of 1st U.S. R/C Flight School, and author of several training manuals. His books and articles feature the accelerated training techniques that he developed instructing over 1,400 RC pilots during his schools 4 & 5 day courses. More information about his books and flight school can be found at www.rcflightschool.com