The R/C Helicopter
BY: Cory Damon
Before anyone begins to try flying the helicopter, the person should first become
aware of how it works and how it was put together. We have acquired many contacts in
order to assist us in the training of a new pilot. I would suggest starting a first semester
student who is willing to pilot the aircraft start learning immediately. And preferably one
that will be around an extra semester after the two design semesters are up and hopefully
a summer between design semesters. This will eliminate the “hand-me down” continuity
problems we face with learning to fly the helicopter. An even better option, short of a
miracle, would be to find a ECpE that has experience with R/C aviation. This would be a
priceless asset to the project.
Microcart owns an R/C simulator called Real Flight. This simulator is an
extremely useful tool for learning to fly the helicopter. The simulator is installed on our
Dell 500 MHz computer in the SSOL lab. On that computer, the simulator has our
helicopter’s profile on it. It is just like any other video game with other options of terrain
and aircraft. The controller for this simulator can be any type of controller. I would
suggest using a controller like the one we use to fly the helicopter. We have on
backorder with Hobby Haven a computer simulator controller that models that of our
manual radio controller. Another option is to use our manual radio controller and
plugging it into the parallel port of our computer. The parallel port cable came with the
software and is found in the desk with the computer. I would not suggest keeping the
controller in that area unless it can be locked up due to the cost of $600.00 for a new one.
The student pilot should learn to use the simulator with proficiency prior to
beginning with the helicopter. I would suggest an estimated simulator time before actual
flying of at least 40 hours. As soon as someone begins to fly the helicopter they can use
the simulator to sharpen their skills, especially in bad flying weather.
LEARNING TO FLY
To learn how to fly with the actual helicopter after simulator experience, the
student should come in contact with the South East Des Moines R/C Flying Club. The
club costs $40/year to join. Since I only visited the club twice, I did not pay them the $40
this year, but I would suggest paying them the next time a team member starts training
again. The contact is John Leport. John will sit down with the student for a good amount
of time and just help them get familiar with how the helicopter works and the parts
incorporated in each operation. He will then begin to teach you basic movements on top
of our training pod. The training pod is a device with 5 long rods with wiffle balls on
each end. It allows the student to move the helicopter while still close to the ground. It
also can soften landings when a student is first starting out. The system is very
complicated to master, so the student should ask as many questions as possible. Another
possible contact, for flying help, is actually a student at Iowa State, Jim Herriot. I met
him once and he seemed like a very nice guy. He was also willing to help us in our
project. His help would prove much more convenient, since he does some of his flying in
In our project, there is one obstacle we cannot overcome no matter what we do,
that is gravity. There are going to be accidents and mistakes will be made, especially
with inexperienced pilots. Our first helicopter accident happened while I had the
controls. I was in Des Moines flying with John L. and he had just started me on the
training pod. I was getting an idea of what the controls actually made the helicopter do.
Then all of the sudden, we hear a sound sort of like “swoo!” The blades had come
unattached from the helicopter and went screaming in opposite directions. Luckily they
did not head for John and I and luckily the helicopter was on the training pod on the
ground. While looking for other parts that had fallen off, we also found three bolts we
did not recognize. Come to find out, those bolts had come loose from the engine block
mounts. It turns out the previous team that put the helicopter together did not use lock
tite or at least not enough to thwart disaster. Luckily, the parts it will take to fix this
mishap will run under $30.
When maintenance concerns pop-up, our contact is Rick Marble at Hobby Haven
in Des Moines. He can look over the helicopter and tell the team what they need to fix it.
The only downfall is the travel time to Des Moines transporting the helicopter, plans and
manuals. Hobby Haven is a complete hobby store and Rick usually has all of the parts
available. The downfall to this is the student must still go through the proper Senior
Design voucher channels to acquire these parts.
The following lists my personal suggestions for Microcart’s helicopter:
Start at least one first semester student that is willing immediately to learn how to
fly the helicopter. The student should be able to devote enough time to learn the
system proficiently. A student that can be available in the summer is also another
good asset to have. Due to weather conditions the summer is by far the best time
to get a good amount of flying hours in.
Reassemble the helicopter. At least Lock Tite all of the screws, especially in the
critical areas such as rotor shaft and engine mount. This will also help the student
learn how the helicopter was put together.
Research a smaller, cheaper helicopter in the future for training purposes and
maybe another comparable helicopter to back-up our original. As soon as the
sensors start going on the helicopter it probably wouldn’t be a good idea for a
beginner to start flying. Our helicopter cost $1200, but lesser versions can be
obtained for about $300. The same radio system can be used on all.
When ever there is bearable weather look into finding one of the contacts to fly
with. The Des Moines guys are always out there if it’s nice weather.
Keep all of the helicopter systems materials together at the same location. There
are a lot of items that cam with the helicopter including a nice tool kit. If a locked
campus location can be obtained, this would help if more than one person was
willing to take up flying the helicopter.
Des Moines, Iowa
ISU Student & R/C Helicopter Pilot
Southeast Des Moines R/C Flying Club
Des Moines, Iowa
cell (515) 971-0791