Akkana and Dave Crash Electric Planes

I'd been eyeing the electric radio controlled planes at Rancho San Antonio (near Los Altos, CA) for years, whenever I hiked there. I flew powered R/C planes years ago, but gave it up because I didn't like the noise, the mess, or the hassle of finding a place to fly.

The electric revolution got me back into flying: electric planes are quiet, small and fun. My husband couldn't resist the lure, so he decided to learn to fly as well. We crashed a lot while learning, and we cast about trying to find the right plane to learn on. So we've been through quite a few planes.

Most of the planes on this page are from the early "aughts" and aren't available any more. But that's okay -- current planes are much better, and I'll gradually add some of them. We're now living in New Mexico, where we fly most Sunday mornings (and sometimes other days) at Overlook Park in White Rock. Come join the fun!

Later on this page I have a bit of of advice for beginners.

Planes I'm Flying in 2019:

Planes from 2008 and before:

[ Flipper ] [Edge-2 Xtreme] [Ultra micro 2-Site]
Flipper Edge-2 Xtreme Ultra Micro 4-Site
Wild 3D street flyer The most aerobatic $25 sheet of foam you'll ever see. Indoor aerobatic biplane -- set it up right and it's a pussycat.
[Split] [mini Weasel] [Pocket Combat Wing]
Split Tweety Mini Weasel and
Tips for Slope Soaring
Pocket Combat Wing
It does everything! Boink-Zoom. Fantastic fun. Fast and cute! Intense dogfights!
[Pico Stick] Lil' Hornet [GWS tiger moth]
Pico Stick Lil' Hornet Tiger Moth
Simple, cheap. Great small-park flyer. Dogfights, too! Strong and competent; a fully aerobatic slow flyer. Slow, graceful, and pretty. Nuff said.
[Crazy Stick] [Wind Buster] [Triangle]
Crazy Stick Wind Buster Triangle
Amazingly precise for a $30 bunch o' spare parts. Teeny. Cute. Tip-stall demon. Lightweight, wild, fun, fragile.
[Sporty] [Formosa] [Blucore Foam Bipe]
Sporty Formosa 23" Foam Bipe
Tip-stall demon. But pretty. Big porky aerobat with not enough motor. Fun experiment, but an IPS wasn't enough.

Advice for Beginners

For beginners thinking about trying electric R/C flying: I hesitate to suggest any particular model, since individual tastes and abilities vary greatly (though if you have plenty of space, if you can find something like a T-Hawk that's a great way to start. The T-Hawk isn't made any more but there must be some equivalent). Do get something fairly rugged, or else cheap and easy to fix. You will crash. Or get something that's so light, slow and gentle that it can just drift down to an easy landing without hurting itself, like the UMX Radian.

If you don't have an instructor, if you just take off and try to fly around then land, you'll probably crash a lot and get frustrated. One suggestion that helps with this: try launching the plane away from you, with the motor either off or going very slow, and just try to glide it in to a smooth landing. Do that a bunch of times. Get the transmitter trimmed so the plane can glide straight with your hands off the sticks. If you have to fly off a grass field and can't do the take-off part, try flying the plane out of your hand (or out of a helper's hand, if possible) and bring it in for a slow belly landing.

When your landings are pretty smooth, then you can start adding some up elevator to fly a little higher before coming down, and you can try making a gentle turn to the left or right to make sure you can still land. Keep the motor off or very slow and the flight times and distances super short through all of this. Landings are what you need to practice; everything else is much easier. You also need to get the airplane and transmitter trimmed so that it flies straight and level and doesn't react too violently to stick input, and that's hard to do when you're just learning. This technique will get the hard parts -- the trimming and learning to land -- out of the way while the plane is going low and slow, so any crashes (yes, you'll still have crashes) will be relatively gentle.

Aside from landings, the other part that's hard to learn is how the left/right controls reverse when the flying toward you. Different people have different solutions. I've heard some people recommend thinking about the aileron stick propping up one of the wings, e.g. move the stick right, the wing that you see on the right (which is really the left wing) goes up and the plane goes to your left (the plane's right). That works well for some people. But for me, it worked better to try to imagine myself in the cockpit of the plane.

I do have a couple of suggestions about the other equipment.

On batteries: in 2008 I had a paragraph recommending lithium polymer batteries, but in 2019 that's a no-brainer and I don't think you can buy anything else. Do get a good, safe charger: li-po batteries can be fire-prone if they're charged wrong.

On transmitters: I expected I'd want several planes, so I bought a general 4-channel transmitter rather than a plane that came with its own dedicated transmitter. But I soon found out that with several planes, you really want a transmitter that can store different settings for each plane. So I ended up having to buy a new transmitter anyway. But then I wanted to try combat wings and other elevon planes, and the second transmitter didn't have proper elevon mixing, and it didn't have settings for enough planes, so I had to upgrade yet again. After several more upgrades, I currently have a Spektrum DX6e that I expect will last me quite a few years. Except I just heard that the next model up would let me do cool things with telemetry. So ... see what I mean?

So don't stress too much over whether your first transmitter will meet all your future needs. It won't, so start with something cheap if you want to, and if you get deeply into flying, you can upgrade later. A used Spektrum on ebay might be the best bet.

What about the dedicated transmitter that a lot of modern planes come with? I'd recommend against that unless you're pretty sure you're only buying just the one plane. If you think you might buy even two planes, consider buying a low-end Spektrum or similar radio, perhaps a used one on eBay if you want to save money. Of course, you do want one of the modern 2.4 GHz spread spectrum radios, not the old-style 27 or 72 Mhz that were tuned to a single channel.

What about gyros and "safe mode switches" and all that?

"Safe mode" sounds like such a great idea. If you get into trouble, the plane just flies itself. How could that be bad?

The problem is, I've seen so many planes crashed because of safe mode. In fact, practically every flight I've ever seen that involved safe mode -- certainly 90% or more -- ended in a crash.

Why is that? Well, there are lots of ways safe mode can go wrong. For one thing, it limits how much control throw you can give the plane, which sounds like a good idea until you're in a dive and can't pull out because safe mode thinks that's too much up-elevator. I saw one plane fly away on a windy day -- we have no idea where it ended up, probably miles downwind on the San Ildefonso reservation -- because safe mode wouldn't let the pilot dive to get back to the ground when it was clear it was being blown away.

And then there was the hilarious incident where the pilot plugged in the battery with the plane upside down, because she'd been working on the gear, and safe mode decided to calibrate itself that way. So when she took off with the plane rightside up, safe mode decided the plane must be inverted, righted it, and flew it straight into the groun.

The "AS3X" auto-stabilization on the little UMX planes is fine. It does a wonderful job of compensating for wind and letting a tiny, lightweight plane fly outdoors, something that would have been impossible just five years ago. The important thing is that it doesn't limit your control inputs like Safe Mode does.

Dave's Early Planes

I'm not trying to keep up with Dave's current hangar, but here are some pages I made for some of Dave's early planes, years ago, that aren't on Dave's own plane page.
[Slow Stick] [Baby Bee]
[T-Hawk]
Slow Stick Baby Bee T-Hawk
Blue Maxi Stick
[E-Starter] [GWS flying fish]
Maxi Stick (Mini Blue Max)
E-Starter Flying Fish

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