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Old Dog Learns New Tricks

By Dan Grunloh, Editor, Light Plane World

Dan Grunloh

I just bought a new ultralight. Not a full-size man-carrying version, but instead a tiny 0.6-ounce indoor radio-controlled model airplane. Years of flying weight-shift trikes had lulled me into forgetting all the forces that can be unleashed when you have a propeller in the front, a tail in the back, all-flying tail surfaces, and plenty of power. Simply avoiding the hangar walls is a humbling experience at first.

According to various polls, about half of you already fly model airplanes and will understand why EAA has established links with the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) to promote aviation. It’s a great way to introduce kids to aviation. The other half of our readers might not be fully aware of the revolution that has been going on in radio-control model aviation. It’s easy to see the technical improvements in electric motors, batteries, and electronics that make the new generation of electric-powered models possible. More significant is the giant leap forward in accessibility, usefulness, and fun!

I quit flying RC airplanes more than 25 years ago when I discovered ultralights. For more than two decades I said I don’t have the time, don’t want to spend the cash, and am too busy flying full-size aircraft to bother with the little ones. All of that has changed. A complete outfit including transmitter costs little more than a weekend hamburger flight and comes with a handy carrying box. The indoor versions can be flown in empty hangars, parking garages, basements, or any large room. Anyone can do it. There is no excuse for missing out on the fun and it’s a good way to stay sharp and be challenged.

I find myself challenged in ways I had not anticipated. Thanks to a moderate case of tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and the normal loss of hearing that comes with age, I cannot hear the little electric motor and prop if there is any other ambient noise. Controlling the power level without a tachometer or any other sensory input requires some additional brain activity devoted to visually analyzing what the plane is doing in flight. I can safely say that every ultralight I have flown was easier to control than this little airplane called Night Vapor. Learning to avoid crashing into the walls is easy but trying to do smooth figure eights at a constant altitude and turn radius can be quite a handful. With practice I hope to be able to match the average 14-year-old on YouTube.

The original announcement of the collaborative agreement between EAA and AMA, published May 26, 2010, asked local EAA and AMA chapters to work together to promote participation in aviation and actively encourage their members to participate in each other’s activities. The AMA has well-established procedures to ensure safety when radio-controlled models are flown in the vicinity of full-size aircraft and RC model activity has proven popular at local EAA chapter events. It has been suggested that we try to include RC model airplane demonstrations as part of the activities “down on the farm” in the ultralight/light plane area at AirVenture Oshkosh. The idea is reportedly under consideration.

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