[Can model aircraft save lives?]
I build and fly models for fun, and sometimes for competition (which would be even more fun if I ever won). Some people are into aeromodeling for scientific purposes, and others use it to make a living.
Sport and recreational modeling are great, but since the earliest days of aviation, full-scale aircraft have almost always been tested as models for safety purposes. There have been some pretty screwy designs throughout the years, and using a model lessens the wear and tear on test pilots. Modern aerospace companies test their designs with models to save money. If they have to go back to the drawing board, at least it was only an inexpensive model that crashed.
NASA is currently using more models than ever. I saw some of its flying machines on display at an air show. These little airplanes can gather valuable data at a bargain price. Those who design, build, and fly them take their work seriously, but they also appreciate having such a fun job. The NASA workshop staff appears to get a kick out of using off-the-shelf technical and hobby products to accomplish cutting-edge missions.
Sold on Models
Another use of models is for sales or promotion. A gorgeous model of SpaceShipTwo/Virgin MotherShip Eve on display is intended to encourage people to purchase tickets. It worked great on me! Who could resist a trip to outer space in such a beautiful spaceship?
This design, created by AMA member Burt Rutan, was first tested in the form of inexpensive, safe-flying models. It uses a classic FF DT device to safely re-enter the atmosphere. One day I hope to see this feature in operation from inside the aircraft.
Meant Well, Did Bad
James Wolfe, who operates Dark Matter Blades, sent me a story that didn’t end safely. Long ago, he was a young fellow learning how to fly RC airplanes. James wrote:
“My instructor was a World War II pilot. He was tuning the needles on my mid-wing trainer for the first flight of the day. I had seen his buddies hold planes down by standing in front of the horizontal tail stabs.
“I thought I would do the same, but I accidentally kicked the tail, sending a high-rev prop into his finger. He was already holding the plane with no problems and didn’t require my poorly timed help. Thankfully, he did not need stitches.”
Good intentions can go wrong without communication, planning, and teamwork. A helper is one of the best things you can have at the field, but in this case, overeager clumsiness led to trouble. Many times an experienced friend has saved the day by warning a pilot of some forgotten or overlooked detail.
An instructor has to keep an eye on the model as well as the student, and that’s a lot of watching!
Reversal of Misfortune
Sabrina, a loyal reader, is not an inexperienced beginner. She’s nearly 70, but she got nicked by a rotor blade just the same.
Sabrina was being cautious and methodical as she set up a secondhand collective-pitch RTF RC helicopter. The instructions said that the throttle channel should be reversed. She wrote:
“I connected the battery, and held the helicopter down to the bench with my fingers on top of the skids. When I flipped the throttle-hold switch on, the motor went full speed with the throttle stick all the way down. It got loose from my fingers and started beating the rotor blades against the tools at the back of the bench.
“No matter what I tried with the transmitter, it just kept running. Finally, after several seconds, in my attempt to grab it and subdue the beast, the rotor blades hit the top of my hand and made two pretty serious cuts in it.
“Later research revealed a technical bulletin from the manufacturer that said the throttle channel was not reversed, but left in the Normal mode. I purchased this machine from an Internet dealer well after the technical bulletin was issued, but no printed copy of it was included in the shipment to me. Needless to say, I was a little irritated.
“So I think I’ll make a jig to hold my helicopters stationary while bench testing them, and then it can try to do the funky chicken and I can stand safely out of the way.”
The lesson here is not “don’t follow the instructions; they might be wrong!” How is anyone supposed to know that the factory issued a technical bulletin with such a serious change? I never thought to look up a machine online before trying it. I will from now on! Sabrina’s story might save someone else from being in a similar mess.
If you have information or a useful story, please email me and share it with the world. I’ll only publish your name if you give permission. You can also tell me if you think I’m off base about something, because sometimes I might be.
A reader let me have it for publishing gory injury photos and how I’m always yammering about propeller hits. He was right about that subject frequently popping up here.
I’d be glad to quit discussing propeller injuries, but those incidents are still way too popular among RC pilots. I won’t lay off until modelers quit sticking their hands into moving propellers.
Off the Hook
Bud Matthews avoids propeller strikes by flying FF Towline Gliders. I caught up with him at the notorious Grassy Knoll FF area in Los Angeles. He said that he was still able to find a way to get injured, even with such a gentle, non-powered model.
Bud showed me the sharp music wire towhook on his new glider, and said that he was tired of getting his fingertips poked while handling and working on the airplane. His solution was basic: a small block of balsa stuck onto the hook. It stays there until launch, and then Bud simply sticks it in his pocket and attaches the towline. That’s much better than bandages!
Shades and Sun
A subject that doesn’t get mentioned often enough is eye protection. We all know that proper safety glasses are required when using power tools in our workshops, but what about when we’re at the field? Careful pilots protect their eyes when servicing or starting model aircraft.
Fifteen years ago, Bruce Holden from Zurich International (the sunglasses company, not the Swiss city) not only sold me a great pair of shades, but sold me on the idea of wearing protective lenses, even at times when I might not have thought to do so (such as outside at the flying field). In addition to providing excellent protection from the sun, Zurich sunglasses exceed American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z87.1 safety standards for impact resistance.
My pair of Zurich sunglasses is still in use, so I recommend them with confidence. Mine are the kind that wrap around your face (so flying objects can’t bounce in), and my daughter calls them “old guy glasses.” Zurich has now added some cool-looking styles to its line for the young, hip crowd.
Although I am partial to that brand, other reputable manufacturers also offer fine products. No matter which company you choose, please make it a priority to pick out a pair of impact-resistant sunglasses to protect your eyesight outdoors. An RC pit area is the type of place where you might be glad that you wore them.[dingbat]
Dark Matter Blades
NASA model aircraft research
Virgin Galactic (SpaceShipTwo)