If you fly at a busy RC club field, then chances are you have heard the phrase, “I don’t have it!” bellowed from the flight line while you are working on readying your model for flight. This warning is typically followed by a loud thump or crackle as a plane hits the ground or trees. It is also not too uncommon to then hear a few non-“G” rated comments coming from the pilot as he realizes that his prize model has entered the RC afterlife. The pilot, who is usually the builder/owner of the model, will often have hundreds of dollars and many hours invested in that model and the best he can hope for now is to recover some of the internal components like the electronics and the engine.
Crash etiquette applies not only to the pilot of the model but to all spectators as well. As an example, you might not want to go up to the pilot and try to give him your opinion as to why his model crashed. I also do not suggest asking him for help or to borrow anything right away; at the very least you should wait until he/she has recovered their model from the crash site. Put yourself in that pilot’s shoes and before you say anything, ask yourself how you would feel. Would you prefer to be left alone to grieve for a little while? Would you want to hear everyone tell you what you did wrong? About the only thing I might suggest to ask that pilot is if they need any help recovering the model and all its pieces.
If the pilot lost his model; meaning that he flew it out of site, he/she will be bewildered and wonder where it went and what could have happened. With today’s 2.4GHz radio systems, it was probably not due to a loss of radio signal. The pilot could have become disorientated or lost the model in the sun. Perhaps a receiver battery died and left the model stuck at full throttle in a heading for the great beyond. I would not suggest to the pilot that you heard the model hit something hard, or wonder out load it if ended up hitting a house or a car. He/she is already going to be concerned; they do not need you to add to their anxiety. Again, offer to help look for it. Many times models are recovered stuck in a tree with very little damage. If you feel you must make some comments, then be encouraging and suggest that the model could be ok.
When and if the pilot does recover the model, help gather all the pieces and when you get back to the pit area, try and help the pilot determine what is salvageable; only if they want your help. If they are in a bad mood, then I suggest going about your business until they have had a chance to cool off.
Conversely, if you are the pilot of a model that just crashed, you must realize that everybody does it. You have not instantly become the most important person on the planet. You need to be aware of your actions and what you say. If there are children at the field, you do not want to be reciting every curse word you know in triplicate. You also do not want to be seen as a hot head, throwing things around or kicking stuff. You will not gain any sympathy or respect from other club members by acting like this. This hobby is supposed to be fun and is built around the camaraderie of fellow hobbyists. Don’t make yourself an outcast. If you can, try and stay positive and light-hearted. I like to personally make a joke at my own expense such as, “my thumb fell asleep on that one.” You knew the risks when you got involved in this hobby. We all fly in a massive war against gravity and sometimes we lose.
If your model crashed on the flight line or in the way of other pilots, be sure to remove your model as quickly as possible. Notify any pilots who might be in the air that you are “on the field” so they do not inadvertently fly into you. When you get to your model, remember that this is not the time to perform a full FAA investigation. If the model crashed out of the way from other pilots, then by all means take the time you need. But if you are in the way, gather everything quickly and remove it from the flight line.
If any of your fellow club members helped you with your recovery efforts, be sure to thank them for their assistance. Remember they came to the field to fly and have fun, not to play search and recovery. But they helped so be sure to say thank you. I had a case once where a plane of mine was stuck in a tree. I am afraid of heights so as far as I was concerned, that tree had a permanent ornament. But a fellow club member climbed the 40 feet to recover the model for me. The next time I saw him I gave him a gift card to the local hobby shop to thank him for his efforts. Gestures like that go a long way.
In summary, crashing stinks! There is no way to sugar coat it. But it is a big part of the hobby. Whether you are the pilot or the spectator, think twice before you act or speak as the 15-20 minutes after a crash are usually not filled with joy and glee. Give the pilot space if he needs it and offer to help. If you are the pilot, remember that no matter how mad you are, the next time you are at the field you will not be mad, but if you act like a lunatic, rest assured that everyone who was there will remember how you acted.
I have actually made some very good friends as a result of a crash that I made. It is definitely an ice breaker.