|A BEGINNER'S GUIDE|
Newcomers to Electric
Flight frequently have a feeling of 'being lost' or not knowing where to start, here are
few suggestions to guide the new electric modeller.
Download the BEFA Beginner's Guide (an Acrobat .PDF File)
Unfortunately the printed version of the Beginner's Guide
is no longer available
Please print it yourself using the above link or ask a friend to do so for you.
Welcome to the world of electric flight. This document aims to provide a few general directions about learning to build and fly electric model aircraft. Such models encompass virtually every type and style but share one thing in common, electric power. No one publication can ever hope to cover in any depth the many aspects of Electric Flight. But, by careful study of books, videos, magazines and practical 'hands on' experience, the option(s) that suits you best will be found. A detailed explanation of electric flight terminology and methods can be found in the list of books, etc.-, suggested for in-depth study. However, such is the pace and progress in electric flight that many of these quickly become dated so, do read the numerous model magazines (home & abroad), for the very latest in developments. You can also help yourself by joining a club or association, such as the British Electric Flight Association (BEFA). The latter offers many benefits and useful services to the newcomer, such as free technical advice and information.
So, here to start you on your way are a few signposts. Good luck and Happy flying.
"I'm a complete novice, I haven't built a model aircraft before"
Read - You will find that most of the major model publishing companies feature a wide range, of magazines and text books covering every aspect of construction, flying and related topics. Specific articles for newcomers appear from time to time, and back numbers are often available via classified adverts, second-hand sales etc. Most magazines now feature an electric column(s) and some publishers now produce dedicated electric flight magazines. These provide up-to-the-minute detailed information. Also, remember your local public library. They should have some aeromodelling books (these may be a little dated, but basic theory and principles remain very valid).
View - Videos - Available from model publishers and specialist companies who advertise in the model press. These cover all aspects and types of model building and flying
Visit - Model Shops, Flying Fields and talk to flyers of ALL types of model. Join a local Model Club if possible and find an experienced mentor/instructor-, ideally someone you find helpful and comfortable with to guide and assist in your learning. You will hear many opinions and see many types of model, take time to decide which approach/style suits you and your needs best. Keep things simple to start with. The scale 'Spitfire' or 4 Metre Elektro-Glider you fancy can come later as they are not ideal beginners projects, both in terms of construction and flying skills required.
"I've been flying I.C. power and/or glider models for 'x' years, I wish to try electric".
Again, read and study as much as you can, with emphasis on the specialist electric books and magazines. Observe and, if possible, sample flying an electric model. Which type(s) do you prefer? The choice is immense, though do try to remember your first attempts with an I.C. or glider model. Be prepared for your first electric model to receive the odd knock and rough arrival while you convert to type. Keep things simple as you master the technique and style of electric. Ultimately you can tackle that '12-engined Scale Flying Boat' Or anything else that takes your fancy. It's straightforward with Electrics...and... yes, it has been done, several times, both Radio Control and Free-Flight.
Fixed wing or Rotary (Helicopter), on Land or Water, Indoor & Out, the electric model is environmentally welcome. It can often be flown where other types are not allowed due to their noise and exhaust pollution. The school or sports recreation field (subject to obtaining permission and observing safety rules) can often now become a practical flying site.
Whichever route you are taking, beginner or experienced modeller/flyer, there are specific items to acquire which are exclusive to electric flight and its maintenance. As in all forms of modelling, (or any hobby for that matter) the level, sophistication and consequent financial outlay varies from the modest, cheap and cheerful, to the very latest in high tech, probably high cost, professional quality item(s). If you are at all serious about modelling and electric flight, then investment in durable quality products is a very worthwhile consideration. Do study the options and merits of different equipment. Here are some lists of the basic items you might consider. These are by no means complete or exhaustive, as the ingenuity and inventiveness of modellers, and manufacturers ensures that there is always some new item to add to or improve your model.
Free Flight (F/F)
Model (from a kit/plan/own design etc.) plus glue(s), covering material, paints, dopes, construction tools etc. Motor & Propeller, Flight Battery, Battery Charger, Motor Timer, De-Thermaliser (Optional), On-Off Switch, Charge socket, Tracking & Locator equipment (Optional).
Round the Pole (RTP)
Model, Motor, Propeller, Power Supply (Battery or Mains Transformer), Power Controller or regulator, the 'Pole' and flying power lines.
Control Line (C/L)
Model, Motor, Propeller, Flight Battery, Control Handle & lines.
Radio Control (R/C)
Consisting of a Radio Control Outfit: Transmitter (TX), Receiver (RX.), Servos, RX Battery, Mains Charger. Note: Micro/miniature servos and receiver can be very advantageous but are not absolutely essential except in the smaller model. Model (from Kit/Plan/Own-Design/Ready-Built etc.) Plus Glues/ Covering material, Paints, construction tools etc. to build & complete model. Electric Motor (Various types include Ferrite, Samarium Cobalt, Neodymium Magnet , Brush & Brushless types) Motor On/Off Switch or Electronic Throttle - BEC/Non-BEC types. BEC = Battery Eliminating Circuit; this allows the flight battery to power the radio, dispensing with the need for a separate RX battery. Helicopter Models require a Gyro and possibly a special type of electronic throttle. Electric Flight Propeller - specialist type(s) differing from I/c power e.g. folding blades, special shape, etc. Ducted Fan Models for jet style aircraft require specialised Fan Units. Propeller Mounting - (Assembly/Hub & Spinner) various styles include collet, grub screw and prop-saver types. Rechargeable Flight Battery Pack(s) - different types & size (physical dimension-and capacity in mAh) are, available to suit model. High quality wire to connect all electric items using high quality connectors - both wire & connectors must be, capable of carrying flight current (Amps). A safety fuse with holder or electronic resetting type. Flight battery charger (many available include timer, peak detect & temperature cut-off types). A 12 V Portable 'leisure' type Battery (to power flight battery charger / or use your Car battery, don't flatten it though or you may not start the car!).
USEFUL TOOLS & ACCESSORIES
Multimeter (Digital type preferred) for measuring Volts/Amps/Resistance
A dedicated Ammeter, capable of measuring high currents (50Amps) is also invaluable. Alternatively a unit such as the Astro Whattmeter, which simultaneously measures voltage, current and displays these with the battery capacity consumed (Ah) and power from the battery (in Watts). It is designed to measure up to 100A and 60V and to display power up to a total of 5kW and battery capacity to a total of 9Ah.
A Tachometer (normally optical) - Measurement of propeller rpm is very useful for the Electric Flyer.
Soldering Iron - a quality, high power type (50 Watts+) for assembling flight battery pack, using Quality Solder & flux Paste.
Heatshrink wrap/sleeving for covering assembled flight battery packs and wires.
OBTAINING ELECTRIC FLIGHT EQUIPMENT. MODELS & Products.
Few model shops cater exclusively for, or have detailed knowledge of, Electric Flight and its special requirements. (This is rapidly changing fortunately!). If you've read up on the subject as suggested, you'll know the good (and bad) points of items that general model shops just happen to have in stock.
Wherever you reside, choice need not be a problem. Mail order of goods, from overseas as well as at home, make all products, including rather specialist items, readily available. Once again, read the books, study the magazines, see what modellers are actually using and contact the specialist electric flight retailer/manufacturer for details of their products and services.
Use of an Electric car/buggy - "Can I use its motor, cells and speed controller?"
Yes BUT.... It is possible, with care, to make use of surplus components from an 'electric car' in an aircraft. Generally, though, the requirements and operating demands are different. Beware of suggestions and practices used by 'car/buggy' operators, they almost always do not offer efficiency, success and longevity in electric flight operations. Many start electric flight using the moulded 'Tamiya' style connector popular with the 'car' driver. These can be very inefficient at best and, at worst, dangerous. The higher current levels (Amps) drawn in most types of model flying can cause these to melt & weld together! Use specialist electric flight connectors, there are a wide choice of style and brand available. 'Car' Speed Controllers can be, heavier, less efficient and have less current capability than purpose built 'Aircraft' types. Cells - Yes these can be used, though do ensure high quality connectors are fitted and that individual cells are joined with substantial metal strips or wire or braid capable of carrying normal flight currents. Most buggies/cars use a six or seven cell battery pack, requiring use of a simple charger. These can be used until experience is gained and more efficient or sophisticated chargers are required. (Note: charging 8 or more cells from a 12 Volt supply requires a more elaborate and expensive charger). If in any doubt seek the advice of experienced electric fliers. Again, study the books etc., but DO NOT OVERCHARGE CELLS; see next line!
Treat electricity with respect - Observe all Safety measures & precautions - READ THE INSTRUCTIONS - Follow safe cell charging procedures - The Cadmium found in most cells is Highly Toxic - If you abuse a NiCd cell it can explode - READ THE INSTRUCTIONS Follow the guide-lines - Be safe - Balance Propellers and stay behind the prop arc - Replace damaged/chipped/cracked prop blades - Fit the correct value safety switch/fuse to your system. READ AND FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS. - SAFETY IS NO ACCIDENT.
"Where do Electric modellers fly?"
Often a potential 'electronaut' is on his/her own, with no club or fellow electric flyers to observe and gain experience from. Where to go for help? First call should be the national body e.g. BEFA for Britain, (recognised as the official body for electric flight in Britain by the BMFA). A request in the BEFA magazine 'Electric Flight UK', for contact with other local flyers may well prove successful. Attend one of the numerous and widespread electric flight meetings held throughout the flying season. There are varied events to suit all tastes, sport or competition. Here, the favoured and successful products & models can be seen in action and you will be able to meet like-minded enthusiasts who are usually only too willing to lend the newcomer a helping hand.
To Summarise - 'REV UP'
Read - Everything you can on electric flight.
Experience - Electric flying.
View - Videos, attend electric meetings.
Understand - options, choice(s) available.
Practice - Fly electric.
SUGGESTED READING - Books & Magazines
New to model building/flying:
Basic Aeromodelling by R. H. Warring
Building & Flying Radio Controlled Model Aircraft by David Boddington
Radio Control Primer by David Boddington
Scale Aircraft by Gordon Whitehead - RM Books (1980)
Radio Control Guide by Norman Butcher - RM Books
Rubber Powered Model Airplane Models by Don Ross (Free-Flight Techniques)
Glossary For AeroModellers includes Conversion Tables by Merv Buckmaster - Samaria Concepts, Australia
(1993) - Metric & Imperial measurements.
Electric Flight Text Books / Leaflets etc.
The BEFA Beginner's Guide by Ken Nixon (Regularly Updated) - Available from BEFA
Electric Free Flight, An Outline Guide (Leaflet) Available from BEFA
Guillow's Rubber-Electric Conversion (Leaflet) Guillow's (USA)
Fly Electric by Dave Chinery. Nexus Books(1995)
Electric Flight by Dave Day - Argus Books (1983)
Introduction To Electric Flight by Ian Peacock. Argus Books
Building & Flying Electric Powered Model Aircraft by Mitch Poling - Kalmbach Books, USA
The Quiet Revolution by Bob Boucher - Astro-Flight, USA
Electric Motor Handbook by Bob Boucher Astro-Flight, USA
Modeller's World Issues 8 & 13 - Traplet Publications (Now out of print)
Electric Model Flying by Phil Stevenson, Australia
Introduction to Electric Flight (Radio Modeller Supplement Sept 1993) Argus Press
Entering Electrics by Harry Higley - Higley Books - USA
The Beginner's Guide To Flying Electric Powered Airplanes by Douglas R. Pratt - TAB Books, USA
Silent Power - A Primer in Electric Flight by Ted Davey, RCM Publications, USA
Elektro-Segelflugmodelle by Helmut Meyer, MTB 9, (German Text)
Electricity & Electronics
Basic Skills Electronics by Tom Duncan
From Atoms to Amperes by F. A. Wilson
Principles of Electricity by A. Morley & E. Hughes
Teach Yourself Electricity & Electronics by Stan Gibilisco
Electric Flight UK (EF-UK) - British Electric Flight Association, UK - NOW DISCONTINUED
'Quiet & Electric Flight International' (QEFI), 'Radio Control Model World' (RCMW) - Traplet Publications, UK
'Radio Control Modeller & Electronics' (RCM&E) - Nexus Publications, UK
'Aviation Modeller International' (AMI) - Model Activity Press, UK
'Model Flyer' - ADH Publications, UK
'Sailplane & Electric Modeler' (S&E Modeler) - Kalmbach Publishing Co., USA
'RCM' (Radio Control Models), USA
'R/C Model Report', USA
'Model Airplane News', USA
'Model Builder', USA
'Flying Models', USA
'Model Aviation', USA
'FMT Elektroflug', Germany
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