Dogfighting with Combat Wings

[Wild Wing Combat Wing] When Dave and I were getting into electric planes, we flew a lot. Like, all the time. Too much, as it turned out, and I burned out and took a year off where I didn't fly at all.

Dave had no such issue, and continued to fly every day. Every now and then he'd pester me to come out, but it just didn't grab me any more ... I didn't have the drive to go out there and practice hovering and "3d" flying, or to practice the more standard aerobatics of "pattern" flying.

What lured me back? Dogfighting. That's really the kind of flying I always liked best anyway. The dogfights Dave and I used to do with the PCWs was fun, except we never actually made contact -- a PCW is too small, too fast and too erratic to be able to be able to hit another small, fast and erratic target with any regularity. What had been more fun was dogfighting our Pico Sticks, which were slow and controllable -- but also, unfortunately, fragile. The first contact between Pico Sticks usually means the end of the session, and what breaks most is the difficult-to-replace plastic forward wing holder. Either way, nobody else who flies around here seemed to have much interest in dogfighting.

Anyway, fast-forward a couple years, and Dave and a bunch of his friends are dogfighting almost every day with lightweight wings, about 31" wingspan and 6-7 oz. That sounded like a lot more fun!

Excuse me -- I mean they're "flying combat". I've been informed that "dogfighting" is a term to be avoided, since now it makes everybody think of Michael Vick and other people who illegally stage fights between real dogs. Me, I still think of biplanes when I hear the term.

Anyway, whatever you call it, it's fun. The wings are light enough that they can fly quite slowly and fairly predictably (nothing like a PCW). Slow is actually good for combat -- it means that you can keep the planes in a small area, close to where the pilots are standing, which increases the chances that they'll actually hit each other.

Because it turns out that hitting each other is actually quite difficult with R/C planes, even when you have a bunch of planes in the air and you're all trying to make contact. That's still a lot of sky volume compared to the size of the planes, and as anyone who's flown R/C knows, it's hard to tell exactly how far away your plane is even if you can see it in the other two dimensions.

Although combat wings are light, they're also quite fast and maneuverable. They have brushless outrunner motors and great big elevons with high control throw. These things fly wonderfully -- you can do normal aerobatics with them too, but flip to high rates and give it some throttle and you can reverse directions in barely a wingspan. Part of why I like combat so much is that the wings are so beautiful to watch as they twist and dive.

Wings you can buy in 2020

[Zorro combat wing] Now it's 2019 and the Wild Wing is no longer made. Today, there are tons of EPP wings, mostly sold as "FPV", or "First Person View", planes: they want you to build them big and heavy for slow and steady flight, and put a camera on them. It's possible to turn them into light, agile combat wings, but many of them aren't very well suited to the task.

The best combat wing we've found that you can buy in 2020 is the Crashtesthobby Scythe 2-pack. The Hobby King Bonsai is also good. Whatever wing core you start with, the key is to build it as light as possible. You don't need all the extra reinforcement or covering material, and if you buy a core that has cutouts that would put the servos out near the outer edge of the wing, ignore those and put the servos as far inboard as you can, so they're lined up with the inside edge of the elevons, and as far forward as you can get them. The important thing is that to get the weight of servos, batteries and electronics as far forward as you can, to balance the weight of the rear motor. Otherwise, you have to put a lot of extra weight in front to make the plane balance, and then you have to fly it too fast to keep up your airspeed; it becomes a rocket rather than an aerobatic plane. For engines, I don't have a good recommendation; Dave likes winding his own motors and has wound the motors for all our wings, and he isn't terribly fond of anything you can buy off the shelf right now.

I'm still flying my old Wild Wing, plus a Scythe and a Bonsai. I still have the Boomer, but EPP gets soft and brittle after a while and the Boomer can't take a hit the way it used to. Dave has a Scythe, a Bonsai and a Zorro, pictured at left with a chunk out of its right elevon from a spat with my Wild Wing's prop earlier that day. Both planes continued flying after that hit, and we only noticed the missing elevon chunk after landing.

Here are some videos of a combat meet in '08 at Sunnyvale Baylands.
Pete's blog also has some good combat movies, like this one of ten wings in the air at once.

Wild Wings and Boomers

(No longer available, alas.)

[Boomer-based combat wing] The plane at the top of this page is based on a much-modified "Wild Wing" kit. She's named "Notch", after my favorite squirrel, because of the notch in one vertical stabilizer, a souvenir from someone's prop during her first big battle. Here's an article by Pete Johnson about Building Wild Wing combat planes. And here's a later article by Mike Bowns: How to Build a Wild Wing for Combat Flying.

[Boomer with a prop embedded in its shoulder] The other plane, the one with the "skunk cap" and a dark fuselage, is a modified version of a "Boomer". The Boomer was intended as a flight trainer, oddly enough. It starts with a Wild Wing then adds a fuselage and a different, rather fragile tail structure. Combat Boomers like this one dispense with the trail structure and a lot of the center of the wing.

On my first outing with the Boomer, I tangled with someone's Wild Wing and ended up with the other plane's prop embedded in the Boomer. It counted as a "kill" -- the Boomer was still flying, the other plane wasn't. I left the prop fragment in for the rest of the session -- it was fairly firmly embedded, as you can see from the photo.

The Boomer has flown with worse damage than that, though. The long nose is prone to breakage. One day, a hit on another plane broke the nose so that it was pointing 90° to the right. But nothing else was wrong, so I just kept flying. I wish I had a photo of that -- it looked remarkably strange, and the plane's flight characteristics weren't so good either with that big draggy nose hanging off to one side.

Some other important design factors for combat planes:

There's more discussion and a photo or two on the BayRC Boomer thread.

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