The Newbies guide to the GWS Slowstick
Compiled by Mike Forbes, AKA ‘Vanning’
This document can be had in an easy to print DOC form here
Welcome future pilot!
Ok, so your interested in getting an RC airplane. Excellent hobby choice. Waayyy more fun than golf - though not necessarily cheaper…
I’ve been flying almost a year now, largely due to the great help and advice I’ve received from the forums on RCGroups.com. After that first successful flight (no, not the very first flight!) I was totally hooked. Flying is now my favorite pastime, and I strongly recommend it to friends & strangers alike. In appreciation for all the help from the members of RCG, I’ve tried to compile as many of the helpful discussion threads as I could dig up, along with my own ideas and recommendations. In most cases, I’ve copied the posts and edited them together so it reads more like a book instead of a collection of forum posts. For all this material, it would be impossible to thank everyone individually, so instead I must simply thank you all collectively.
Your probably reading this because you asked the question that almost as old as airplane modeling itself: “What first plane should I get?” Well, I’ve compiled a nice neat little newbie primer here for those of you who are interested in the GWS Slowstick. There are certainly many other planes available that would also make great trainers, I haven’t flown them so I cant really offer much insight. Many of the tips here would carry over to any plane though. The humble, inexpensive Slowstick was heavily recommended to me when I started, and I’d like to share the reasons why. Hopefully, some of this will sink in and it will save you some of the money and headaches ive dealt with. She looks extremely basic because she is – but don’t let looks fool you. With her, you will learn most of the concepts of flying, especially the weird sensation of flying remotely. You wont spend a bundle. You wont get bored of her. You will be able to re-use some of your flight gear in future planes, and there WILL be future planes! This stuff is FUN, and there is no such thing as a ‘full’ hangar.
Here’s a brief outline of what makes her so special:
Simple to build. Take your time and it might take 2 hours. I can do it in about 45 minutes now.
Cheap. The airframe costs $35, and it uses simple, common, inexpensive radio equipment.
Versatile. She's by far the most versatile airplane ever made - modifications and uses are limited only by your imagination. The large wing and the lightweight make for possibly the best aerial photography plane available.
Flight characteristics. Graceful and relaxing at lower throttle, but capable of ultra-quick loops and turns when you wanna cut loose a bit or for flying combat competitions.
Convenient. The simple radio and battery installation will accommodate almost any size and brand radio equipment. Strapping in a fresh battery takes about 30 seconds so you can fly - almost uninterrupted - till your thumbs hurt.
With a pocketful of spare parts, propellers, epoxy and clear packing tape, pretty much any crash damage can be repaired on the spot in just a few minutes. The plane itself is quite durable, but nose-first crashes typically break the propeller and can sometimes bend the prop shaft or even break the plastic gearbox. Those three items each cost less than $3
Heres a short list off the top o’ my head:
Aerobird series of planes
Parkzone J3 Cub
Internal combustion “glow-powered” planes
Since I have little or no experience with most of these, I’ll keep it brief. Whether it’s the Slowstick or not, you WANT a full 3 channel (minimum) rc airplane. Some of the cheaper Ready To Fly (RTF) planes use 2 channels. You WANT a real throttle, rudder and elevator. Some cheaper planes use ‘thrust vectoring’ instead. You give it throttle and it climbs, you drop throttle and it descends…at least in theory. Some use twin motors and propellers instead of a rudder. To turn left, the left motor slows down and the plane turns…again, in theory. Reality is that these super-cheap toys need a massive flying field because you have no way of avoiding anything, and you quickly become unhappy with the sensation of uncontrolled flight.
Another minor thing to consider is standardization. Many of the less expensive RTF’s use a control board with everything built in. Servos and all. Individual parts of the system are not available. However, assuming that nothing breaks or fails, this isn’t that big a deal. I really wouldn’t pull a radio system out of a functional airplane to outfit a new one anyway. The more flyable planes you have in your trunk when you get to the field, the better! Just buy new gear with the new plane. However, be advised that if one little thing fails, you cant just go to the hobby shop and buy a new servo or whatever – you end up ordering a whole new board.
Glow planes are great, don’t get me wrong. I have a .40 trainer myself. But I don’t have space here to get into the pros & cons of electric vs. glow. You’re reading this because you want an inexpensive, durable trainer with a bare minimum of headaches. I’ll assume you’ve chosen electric. As I write this, I’m rebuilding my glow trainer for the second time. I’ve had 4 flights and two horrendous crashes. Though it flies wonderfully, it just cant compare to the Slowstick for crash-ability. It’ll take me a few weeks to repair. The Slowstick could probably have been repaired in the field and flown some more. Practice is what learning to fly is all about. A durable plane with a few spare parts will maximize your stick-time.
Online or Hobby shop? Sure you can save a couple bucks online, but I always try to support my LHS whenever I can.
Some good online vendors ive used are:
and there are countless others, but pick up the phone book first. If you have an LHS nearby, check out his stock and his prices.
What to order
This part is confusing to a newbie. Fortunately, im very opinionated, so I’ll tell you what you want.
Plane: The Slowstick is available with the 100, 300, and 400 motor, as well as a ‘slope glider’ kit that has no motor. You want the 300 or 400. The 100 is too small, so forget it. The 300 series motor works well and is standard on sooo many planes, its easy to find replacements. The larger 400 is actually less powerful than the 300’s given the same battery pack. The advantage is that it can take more voltage. A 300 is limited to a 7cell pack, and even then its life expectancy depends on what prop, gearing, flying style, etc. The 400 just don’t care. It doesn’t really wake up until you run it on 8cells or more. So the choice is between lightweight performance using commonly available equipment or heavy durability that requires a bigger battery and you are less likely to find replacement parts locally. Either is a good choice, just select a battery accordingly. One other thing, ive heard that some 400 Slowsticks do not come with a gearbox, but instead use direct drive (the prop is connected right to the motor). Be sure you DON’T get a direct drive. They are much less efficient and poorly matched with a Slowstick.
Radio: not so easy. The good news is that there are very few radios available that are sub-standard today. The bad news is that there are hundreds to choose from. You want to order what suits your expectations. An inexpensive GWS transmitter works fine, but you’ll eventually end up buying a nice 6channel computer radio for your 2nd or 3rd plane. If you have the cash and you expect to be in this for the long haul, go with a sweet radio right off the bat. You wont have to buy twice. If your unsure, the lesser expensive radios will be fine. The only feature you really NEED at this point is ‘servo reversing’. More on that later. Just be sure to get a 4channel (minimum) and get it with an ‘air’ designated frequency. Here in the ‘states, that’s 72mz, and 27mhz. Given the choice, id rather have 72mh. The 27mhz band is used on every single cheap Radio shack rc toy there is, plus its very close to the CB band, so you have a better chance of getting hit with interference.
Please check around if you don’t live in the states to see what bands are designated RC ‘air’ and order accordingly. You usually have a choice between dozens of channels within the band. Just pick one. Doesn’t matter. If you live in Central NJ, just don’t pick channel 42….
Transmitters are generally sold with the frequency crystal. Receivers are not. You will need
Be advised: for the most part, transmitters and receiver crystals are brand-specific. A GWS receiver crystal may not work in a Hitec receiver…
Unless you are ordering a package deal, be sure to stick with a brand.
You may be confused by all the three-letter acronyms that are used to describe radio features. Here’s a list of some features and an opinion of their value. If you don’t care, please skip ahead to “The rest of the gear” section.
PCM = Pulse Code Modulation. Instead of sending the receiver simple commands like ‘up’ and ‘left’, everything is sent in an 8-bit code. If the signal that reaches the Rx isn’t precisely in that code, the receiver does nothing. This is the ultimate way to filter out noise. Unnecessary for the Slowstick, but hey, if ya got the scratch, it certainly wont hurt. This would only be found in investment quality radios, like $200 & up. Again, a simple Fm 4 channel radio will usually do the job fine.
EPA = End Point Adjustment. Can be used to limit the travel of the servos if you want. Not as useful as Dual Rates, but ok.
D/R = Dual Rates. A servo travels 60 degrees each way. If you set up the linkages to ‘throw’ the rudder & elevator as far as they go, then you will have an extremely nimble plane that can do loops in the blink of an eye and can do a U-turn in about 6 feet. The downside is that minor flight adjustments require much more practiced and sensitive thumbs. The plane feels like its going all over the place. Dual rates allow you to cut the throws to half, while using the full range of the stick. Typically you flip the D/R switch for takeoff, landing and for relaxing flight. Set to Full rate, your doing loops, stunts, combat etc. Gives you the option to mellow out or ‘kick it up a notch’.
EXPO = Exponential servo travel. Not unlike D/R, with this feature you can set your servos sensitivity to your input. With expo enabled, you can have very fine, precise control of your elevator and rudder, while still maintaining ability to do stunts. This is a nice feature. Without expo, the servo moves the same amount for every little bit of stick travel you give it. 0=0, ½ = ½, full = full. With Expo, 0=0, but if you move the stick say ¼ of the way, the servo only moves say 15%. Move the stick ½ way and the servo moves to say 33%. Move the stick up to ¾, and the servo starts increasing its throw to maybe 66%. Move the stick all the way, and the servo goes to 100%.
Dual Conversion. A dual conversion receiver filters the signal twice. Less interference. More money. Not generally necessary on a little electric plane unless you live in an urban or industrial area where you will experience lots of the dreaded Radio Interference (RFI).
Very important for a larger glow or gasoline planes. Little electric planes might hurt somebody if you lost control, but internal combustion planes can kill.
Shift. This is REALLY important. You MUST order a transmitter and receiver that have the same shift. Futaba, GWS, and Hitec transmitters use a NEGATIVE shift. JR and Airtronics (sold as Sanwa in some countries) use POSITIVE. A (-) transmitter and (+) receiver wont talk to each other. Since you will probably be ordering both from the same supplier, just ask him to be sure they work together. Neither is better than the other, just be sure your equipment matches.
AM/FM. Turn on your car stereo. Hit that ‘AM’ button. Now try FM. Whaddya think is better?
Trainer Compatible. A VERY nice feature IF you have someone who can train you. By simply running a cable between your radio and your instructors, you can fly until you get into trouble and with the flick of a switch, the instructor can take over control of the plane. If an instructor is available to you, find out what kind of radio he has and be sure to order one that’s compatible. Many different radio brands cant ‘talk’ to each other, or at best, an adapter cable is hard to find. You will probably also have to order the trainer cable as well, unless your instructor already has one.
Servo Reversing. Its hard to find a radio these days that doesn’t have it. Ok, so you’ve built and installed everything. You read my section about pre-flight checks. You were a good boy and actually did one. Unfortunately, you see that your rudder moves right when you move the stick left! What to do? Flip a tiny little switch somewhere on your transmitter. Simple. Some computer radios don’t have little switches, instead, you have to scroll through menus and hit ‘enter’ buttons or some such thing.
Receiver: the gws 4 channels’ are ok, but spend the extra $2 and get the 6channel. It has twice the range. Cheap insurance. There are many other rx’s out there, but I haven’t used them or felt the need to. Futaba’s are nice generally, but you pay a premium price. The Hitec Feather is rumored to be glitchy, so avoid it. You don’t really want or need a full-sized receiver that was designed for a glow plane because of the weight and size. If you scored one cheap from a friend or in an auction, it’ll probably be ok though. Again, the Slowstick can carry a lot more weight than most electric planes.
Servos: The GWS ‘Mini’ servos are the best for the Slowstick. Cheap & durable.
The ‘nano’ & ‘pico’ servos are too small. The weight savings isn’t necessary for the Slowstick. You want the durability. “Standard’ size servos can be rigged to fit, but they really are overkill, and they aren’t cheaper.
Speed controller: Your Electronic Speed Controller (ESC) performs two vital functions. First, it varies the speed of your motor depending on how fast you are telling your plane to go. Second, it has a voltage regulator that feeds 5 volts of power to your radios’ receiver and servos. You want an ESC that is easily capable of handling the current that your motor draws. On the Slowstick, typical current draws are between 7 and 9 amps. The GWS ICS 300 can easily handle that. The ICS 100 can just barely do it, and has been known to burn out sometimes. Go with the 300. The 400 and 480 are designed for much larger airplanes, and though they will work fine, they are unnecessary weight and expense. More expensive speedos like the Castle Creations Pixie line and Jeti’s are well known to be quality stuff, but feel free to save a few dollars and go with the ICS300. On a typical electric plane, you only have one battery to run both the motor and the radio gear. What happens when the battery goes dead? The ESC senses when the battery voltage is getting too low and it will turn off the motor, leaving enough battery power to operate the radio. This is called the Low Voltage Cutoff, or LVC. Some nicer ESC’s have an adjustable LVC so you can use different types of batteries. You can typically run a Nicad or Nickel Metal Hydride battery pack down to 5v or so, but a Lithium Polymer battery would be ruined if you discharged it that far. More on batteries later. Should you be interested in possibly getting Lipo batteries later on, then start with the CC Pixie 20. Once again, you wont have to buy twice.
Battery: There are three categories to choose from.
I have experience with only one GWS battery – my first one that came with my package deal. A 7cell 730mah nimh I think. It really didn’t work out well. Between the high drain stresses and my crappy charger, I had nothing but problems. Upon the advice in the forums, I then picked up a couple KAN packs and had great success. KAN is a brand name, and they make two different NiMH cells that’ll work – the 1050mah and the 650mah. The smaller 650 is better suited to some of Gws’s other planes that are more weight sensitive. Since the Slowstick actually flys better with a little weight, the 1050 is the way to go. The ‘mah’ part is the batteries capacity, in Milli-Amp-Hours. Example: a 1050mah battery can run a 1.050amp load for theoretically 1 hour before its dead. The math is proportional too. If your load is 10 amps, it’ll run 1/10th of an hour, or 6 minutes.
If your load is way too much, say 20 amps or more, then the battery is being overworked and will not live very long. You will see very often batteries will have their discharge limits described by a ‘C’ rating. A KAN 1050 cell is rated for 15C, meaning it can be safely discharged at 15 times its capacity. (1.050a x 15 = 15.75amps) If you were to place a load on the battery greater than 15.75 amps, you would shorten its lifespan. Fortunately, the average Slowstick only ever really draws 7-10 amps at wide-open throttle. Typically I get 10-12 minutes of runtime at full throttle out of one pack, and they are barely warm when I land.
A battery also has a charging rate expressed in “C” as well. The higher the ‘charge C’, faster you can charge it. Nicads can be charged really fast, at like 4C or so. Nimhs and Lipo’s don’t like much more than 1 maybe 2C. So if you get a 1050 battery, set your charger between 1 and 2 amps. I prefer 1amp. Takes twice as long to charge, but your cells will get fully charged and they will live longer.
So in short, I recommend the KAN 1050 pack for your Slowstick. If you get the 300 motor, go with 7 cells. For the 400 motor, go with 8cells. These packs can be bought at www.cheapbatterypacks.com, and like the name implies, they are very cheap! About $17 each. Buying several packs means you can fly longer.
Optional: GWS speed controllers & batteries have always come with the little red plugs called “JST connectors”. They are really not rated for much current, but they usually do the job. Cheapbatterypacks will build your packs with any connector you choose, including the JST. If you want a little extra reliability and performance, and you don’t mind doing a little soldering, then I suggest ordering the batteries with quality Deans Ultra plugs right from the start. You will also need to order a couple loose Deans Male plugs to solder onto your ESC and your charger. Again, this is optional. The JST’s will do, and you can always upgrade to Deans plugs later. Getting them from the start will save a bit of work later on.
Charger: Again, lots of options here. There are three things you absolutely MUST have.
Many chargers are available in DC only. A few are AC/DC – but generally cost more. A DC charger typically runs off your car battery or cigarette lighter, but you can also buy or build a 12v power source so you can charge from the comfort of your workbench. If your handy with a soldering iron, you can hack the power supply from an old computer (what I did) for almost no cost. Junk computers typically line the streets on garbage day, just grab one. Note: big computers have bigger power supplies. Little desktops may not be big enough to run your charger, plus they are harder to get your fingers into to work on.
Go to www.rcbatteryclinic.com and scroll down to the bottom on the left side. All you need to know.
I recently junked my lousy MRC 959 charger and bought a Hobbico 12v Quick Field charger MKII. I’m very happy with it. It can charge two different batteries at once, has adjustable current, can be set to charge Nicad, Nimh or lipo, and was affordable at $60. You will need a power supply though or your stuck charging from your cars cigarette lighter. The only charger I know of that can do everything and runs on AC or DC is the Hobbico Accucycle Elite, but its $150. It also can do two batteries at once, and it has a nice display readout that tells you what’s going on. I’ve heard good things about the affordable Wattage PF-12 ac/dc charger too. All the features you really need, nicad/nimh only, for $60. The GWS 12volt charger seems ok from what ive read, but I have no personal experience with it. Consider it a decent option if your on a budget and don’t mind the 12 volt issue.
I have nothing nice to say about the MRC line of chargers though. They claim to do all sorts of things, but my old 959 is a pain to use and false-peaks often. The newer 969 is supposed to be Lipo compatible, but it doesn’t peak-detect lipos, causing a potential overcharge and fire. Avoid.
Generally speaking, I do not like wall-wart style chargers. They take forever to charge and they don’t stop once the pack is full. These are a good example of “You get what you pay for”.
Tools: You need some basics; small screwdrivers, sharp Xacto blades, a drill with some very small bits. Ruler, pliers, needlenose pliers and diagonal cutter pliers, unless your needlenose already have cutters built in. You should also have some clear 2” packing tape, 5minute epoxy, and thin cyanoacrylate “CA” glue. Be advised, CA glue will dissolve the foam that the wings and tail are made of. A Digital Volt Meter is nice – especially if you like to fiddle & modify things, but not necessary. A good 45watt or higher soldering iron comes in handy too but is not needed for the basic build.
Spares: Though quite durable, the slowstick is not indestructible. Fortunately, most crash damage tends to be concentrated about the propeller & gearbox area. Having the right spares in your field box will usually save the day.
These parts are cheap, so this shouldn’t be a deal-breaker here.
I recommend this for your initial order:
and finally, batteries from cheapbatterypacks.com:
(the A7KAN1050FT listed partway down – you want AT LEAST two packs, I have seven!)
Waiting for Mr Postman: Your eager as hell now and wishing you’d paid an extra $50 for Fed-Ex overnight delivery. But there is still a way to satisfy that flying Jones. Go to http://n.ethz.ch/student/mmoeller/fms/index_e.html
And download FMS flight simulator. It’s free! You can control the planes with your keyboard or go to Toms ebay store and get an adapter cable so you can plug your transmitter right into the computer. http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&category=34056&item=5916731698&rd=1
He also has good prices on the radio equipment itself, so keep that in mind.
One nice thing about FMS is that there are countless different planes you can download for it. Just do a google search. Here’s a few, including the Slowstick: http://gunnerson.homestead.com/files/fms_models.htm
Unpacking: clear yourself a nice large area, free from wives, teething infants, and general clutter. You will want unfettered access to cold malted-barley beverages, bathrooms, and ideally enough room on the table to accommodate a large pizza. Check for the obvious stuff like missing parts, dents or damage, etc. The first few pages of the manuals typically list all the included parts for reference. Check your transmitter and receiver to be sure they sent you the same channel. Now would be a good time to begin charging your flight battery and your transmitter battery if it’s a rechargeable. Read through the assembly instruction manual. The Chinese translation isn’t perfect, but mostly acceptable. If you cant figure something out, a quick post on the RCGroups forum will usually get your question answered.
The assembly is not really difficult and the instructions are adequate, but I’ve listed some pointers and modifications for you.
Bench-test. Turn on radio and plug in battery, while holding the fuselage in case the motor roars to life. Move your rudder stick (usually the right stick). The rudder should move the same direction when viewed from the back of the plane. Now move the right stick down. The elevator should go up. That’s right, pulling the stick down makes the plane go up and vice-versa. Holding the plane, apply a little throttle and the motor should fire up. If anything doesn’t work, consult your radios manual. Usually you just need to flip a servo-reversing switch somewhere. Also, see the little trim sliders below and next to the transmitters sticks? Make sure the throttle trim is pulled all the way back. Most ESC’s have a safety start feature; they wont allow power to the motor until they see a throttle signal of 0. If you accidentally bumped your throttle stick while you are assembling the plane at the field, the motor would not take off screaming the moment you plugged in the battery. If the throttle trim is not all the way down though, the ESC will never arm the motor. That took me forever to figure out…
Also check the neutral position of the elevator & rudder. They both should be perfectly straight. If they are just a little off, then adjust it with the trim sliders on the transmitter. If they are way off, then remove the screw in the top of the servo horn and rotate the horn till the elevator or rudder is straight. Don’t forget to reinstall that screw!
One last thing: check to be sure your propeller isn’t on backwards. If you look closely at the shape, you will see that there is a definite ‘front’ and ‘back’ side. To be sure its on correctly, look for the tiny letters ‘1180’ facing the forwards. If you put a prop on the wrong way, it’ll still create thrust, but barely enough to move the plane.
Often debated in the discussion forums is whether or not newbies can teach themselves to fly. You have selected a plane that is very inexpensive, sturdy and relatively easy to fly. That allows you the option of trying it solo. If you were about to fly a big glow powered balsa trainer, I would insist that you ONLY fly assisted by a trainer. You wreck those, and it’ll take weeks to rebuild. So, should you get assistance for your Slowstick? I’m of the opinion that if an instructor is readily available (brother, neighbor, friend) then by all means! They will save you some cash, frustration, and repair time. If you’ve asked around and the only person you can find is at a club field 40 miles away/doesn’t like electric planes/has an attitude/never available, then to hell with ‘em. Chuck the plane in the air and take your lumps like a man.
Getting excited now? Before you go up, you must sit through the standard safety rant first.
Thou shalt determine that it is safe to turn on your radio. Are you within 2 miles of a radio control club field? Is anybody else flying an RC plane nearby? If you have a 27mhz radio, then is anybody operating ANY kind of RC model nearby? You must be certain that no one else is using your frequency BEFORE you turn your radio on. If you don’t, they are going to crash.
Thou shalt perform a range check. With everything powered up, collapse your transmitter antenna and start walking away from the plane. You should still have full control with no jitters up to 75ft away or more. Anything less might indicate low batteries, bad receiver or crystal, or heavy RF interference.
Thou shalt fly in the biggest field you know of with NO obstructions (trees, cars, buildings) and NO PEOPLE. A man named Murphy wrote a law about this. Applied to RC airplanes, it would read “If there is even ONE person within a ½ mile of you when you fly, you WILL crash into them. And its very likely that the person will be a lawyer.”
If you wish to have a buddy at the field with you, that’s fine. Just have them stand close to you and be sure they are ready to jump out of the way.
Thou shalt understand that thou hast no idea what thou art doing, and make decisions appropriately. If there are bystanders, don’t fly. If there are active streets or parking lots nearby, go elsewhere. If there is wind more than 4-5 mph, don’t fly. No wind at all is preferred, but a little should be ok. To decide, set the assembled plane on the ground. If the wind can actually move the plane, then its too strong. If it just lightly rocks the wingtips, you should be allright. It takes practice to deal with wind. Taking your maiden flight on a breezy day is like picking up some kitchen knives and teaching yourself to juggle.
Thou shalt be free from troublesome potions including - but not limited to - alcohol (save that for later), caffeine, and antihistamines. A quick shot of JD to settle your nerves will do more harm than good. Ask me how I know….
Here are some basic principles first. Planes stay in the air because of lift. When air flows over the wing, it creates a low-pressure area above wing that ‘sucks’ the plane upwards. The faster the wing moves, the more lift it gets. Go too slow, and the plane falls. This is called a stall. The nice thing about the Slowstick is that she has a very gentle and predictable stall. If you pull back on the stick too hard (point the plane upwards), she just noses up, and the nose falls right back down. As it falls, it gains some speed and resumes normal flight IF you let off on the stick! If you panic and hold the stick back, the plane will just flutter to the ground. If you are on your toes, then a quick bit of DOWN elevator will level her right off. Remember, the stick does go both ways! You cant ‘will’ the plane to rise by just holding the stick back, you need airspeed too.
Turning. While the rudder is primarily what causes the plane to turn, it doesn’t do the job alone. If, for instance, you just moved the rudder only hard to the right then the plane would bank hard to the right, turn a little bit, and fall to the ground. Why? By turning the rudder, you are increasing the planes drag – slowing it down. The harder you turn, the more speed you bleed off. Now, if you were to turn the rudder to the right a little AND add just enough UP elevator to keep the plane level, you will make a very nice turn.
Maneuvering. Your ultimate goal here is to make the plane do what you want, or to fly it. It takes mucho practice to achieve that, but you can speed that up if you know what to look for. A delicate touch on the sticks is essential. Make your fingers move more like a heart surgeon with a scalpel instead of a teenager on prom night. Over-controlling is a classic newbie problem, and it makes for very clumsy, out of control flying. Instead of waiting till the last moment and turning hard, plan which way you want to go and begin the turn very gently well ahead of time.
Altitude. Planes tend to crash into the ground, so logically you should stay as far away from it as possible. Flying too low is begging for trouble. The old expression “Three mistakes high” when applied to the Slowstick equates to about 150-200 feet up. That gives you plenty of time to correct, and besides, the Slowstick doesn’t really hit the ground any harder from 200’ up than it does from 20’.
Orientation. THE hardest part of learning to fly. If you were sitting inside the plane, it would be easy. Move the stick to the right, the plane goes right. Not the case when your flying remotely. When the plane is approaching you, turning right makes the plane go to its right – your left! When flying across the field (like from your right to left) its even more complicated. Two things that are helpful are gentle, early input and turning your body. When your not sure of which way it’ll go, give it a very slight turn in the direction you think you wanna go. If the plane goes the direction you didn’t expect, then you can easily turn the other way. Note that in a small field, this isn’t an option. Turn the wrong way for an instant and you’re in the trees. Also, it’s usually helpful to twist your body a little bit so you can imagine that your facing the same direction as the ‘pilot’. You obviously can’t turn all the way around when the plane is coming straight at you, but turning halfway really does seem to help. You can even limit your first flight to left-hand only turns by flying a counterclockwise ring around the field. That way, you always know which way to turn.
You should always fly with your back to the sun and ideally the wind in your face. Stand at one end of the field, not in the center. You will have enough problems with orientation, so avoid flying over or around you – that’s very confusing. Do a quick last-minute check to be sure everything is in order AND YOUR ANTENNA IS EXTENDED. I usually recommend rising off the ground (ROG) launch, but if your field doesn’t have a paved or hard packed dirt area, then just hand launch. Takeoff is a simple affair. Point into the wind (if any) and floor it. She will usually lift off in about 5 feet. If your hand launching, hold the Tx with your left hand, give it full throttle, and toss the plane straight and level into the wind. You need not throw very hard, but be sure its level and you get your right hand back to the Tx immediately. Earlier, you’ve adjusted the trim so that both the rudder and elevator are perfectly flat, but you don’t know until its airborne how much additional trim it will need. That’s the scary part. The second you take off, it might veer left or climb hard for instance. You will have to hold the stick so that the plane levels out for a few seconds, then try to adjust the trim sliders with your left hand so it flies level & straight. Easier said than done, I assure you. Typically, my planes like a little ‘down’ and ‘left’ trim, but not much.
Do not immediately try to maneuver. Concentrate on getting it trimmed and gradually gaining altitude first. I recommend staying at full throttle for the climb-out. Assuming all has gone according to plan so far (and it rarely does), you should be at 30-40 feet now and running out of field. Gently begin your turn, applying elevator as needed to keep her level. If you feel she’s banking too hard at any point, then briefly countersteer and she’ll level right off. If your comfortable now, then back the throttle down to about 75% and cruise around, gradually gaining altitude till your roughly 150’ high. Try some Figure 8’s, concentrating on not gaining or losing altitude. Feeling brave? Try a loop! Its easy, provided you have enough airspeed and control throw. Just fly level at full throttle and pull the elevator stick all the way back. She’ll go right up and over. Just return the stick to neutral at the bottom of the loop so she doesn’t start up into another loop. At this point, your battery may be getting low so start to think about landing. Set it up so that the plane is downwind of you and about 30’ high. Don’t be concerned about landing anywhere in particular, just be sure there are no obstructions in the landing path. Reduce power to half or less. You can even land it with no power- she actually glides better than she flies! Using a touch of down-elevator, try to glide it down at a slight angle to keep up your airspeed. Be prepared with the elevator to correct for wind/balance/speed variables that may be preventing a nice glide. Ideally you need just enough speed so that air is flowing over the control surfaces. Too slow and the controls don’t do much. Down elevator will help keep up your airspeed (fast walking speed at least) Just before touchdown, level off and glide off all your excess airspeed, then give it a touch of up elevator. With no airspeed remaining or power to actually make the plane rise, you will simply stall the plane gently and fall out of the air onto the wheels. This is called ‘Flairing’, and is the key to landing on grass. If you just glide in, the wheels will hit the grass too fast and you may nose over. As with flying in general, avoid over-correcting, that will cause porpoising. Remember that the rudder is sometimes necessary on approach to level her out, but be gentle. If you cant get her level & straight on approach, or if you seem to be overshooting the landing area, gun it and fly around for another attempt. Eventually you will be able to fly until the motor shuts off and you will be able to land her at your feet every time.
Ok, so it didn’t go as smoothly as you’d hoped.
Buck up soldier! My first few flights were only 10-15 seconds long each.
Its rare that any self-taught beginner flies perfectly. It’s imperative
that you understand what went wrong and learn from your mistakes to
avoid repeating them. Keep at it, it gets
better - i will promise you that. You WILL crash again - we all
do. But as your thumbs get used to communicating with the sticks the
crashes become further in between. Crashing can beat hard on an ego if
you let it.
Make repairs as necessary. The wing and tail typically can be repaired with clear packing tape. A bent fuse can be cut at the bend and spliced with the plastic piece that came with the kit or just a 3/8” x 3/8” square of wood from Home Depot. Propeller can be replaced and the prop shaft can often be straightened with pliers. After you’ve straightened it, just plug it in and give some throttle to see if it turns perfectly true. Any wobble will dramatically rob power.
A shattered gearbox often can be fixed with some CA glue.
If you’ve done any reading on the forums, you’ll see that there are countless modifications that can be done. You may be wondering how the stock plane can fly at all if people are so involved in modifying it. I’ll try to clear up some of the confusion and give my opinion on what mods are really worthwhile.
Motor: Installing a 350 motor is extremely easy to do and only costs about $12. The performance increase is noticeable, though it really doesn’t draw much more power at all. Order it with a 10 tooth pinion: http://www.gws-online.com/products.php?mc=Brushed%20Motors&sc=370C&dtl=EPSC-1DX%20370%20C&offset=0&pid=EPSC-1DX%20370%20C
You could also switch to a 400 size motor, but they are designed to run slower and are much heavier. For any increase, you would need to get a 8 or 9 cell battery to get it running at the same speed. The advantage is that the 400’s last much longer. You will also need the 400 size gearbox, gears, shafts etc.
Brushless motors: These offer huge advantages at a huge price. You’re looking at $120 for a Himax motor and a brushless speed controller. Because there are no brushes to wear out, they will last theoretically forever - though overloading them can often ruin their magnets. Advantages: more power, longer runtime, nothing to wear out. Disadvantages: cost, requires an expensive brushless speed controller. Though this is a very nice improvement, you should improve your skills a bit first. Losing your plane in a tree/lake/busy street/flyaway is bad enough, but much worse when you have some sweet equipment onboard.
Wing reinforcement: Everybody has their own methods and their own particular needs.
A stock SS with a small battery doesn’t usually need anything. Start adding big batteries, brushless motors, cameras, etc, and your needs increase quite a bit. With a standard setup and a 1050mah battery pack, I do recommend that you replace the aluminum wing joiner tubes with brass tubes. A simple 12” length of K&S 5/32” dia. Brass tubing from your hobby shop might cost $2, and its enough to do two sets of wings. Simply saw the tubing into 3” lengths and bend them to match the original tubes. That’s it. Though not actually made from a stronger material, the brass tubing is thicker and more ductile – which means that it bend instead of snaps. If you do not have the time or ability to do this, then at least use heavy rubber bands to hold the wing on. Two #64 bands on each side will go a long way to preventing a wing failure. In my opinion, all the other strengthening methods are really only needed for high performance setups or aerial photography planes.
Wheels: The stock ones work fine, though I’ve heard of a few people breaking them on hard landings. I wouldn’t consider it necessary, but lets face it: the stock GWS ‘flowercart’ wheels are just plain UGLY. The Gws 2” (50.8mm) lite foam wheels work nicely for $3.
Fuselage reinforcement: I often see where people will jam a length of 3/8” square balsa into the fuselage tube for greater strength. I’ve never done it, and have only broken two fuselages in several hundred brutal flights. File this one in the “If its handy” category. If you do, only reinforce the front half of the fuse. Tail weight is a killer, and it’s rare that anyone ever bends the rear of the plane anyway.
Thrust line mod: some folks claim that angling the motor down and to the right by 3 degrees improves some such directional whatever. I never felt any need for it, so I hadn’t tried a ‘proper’ thrust mod. Once I did have a fairly bad bend in my fuselage, so I bent it back to approximately 3 degrees down & right for a test. I didn’t notice any difference. To be fair, It wasn’t exactly a scientific approach to testing, but I personally don’t feel that a thrust angle modification is anything a newbie should worry about.
Carbon fiber rods: extremely strong, flexible and light, this wonder material can withstand any abuse that a Slowstick can bring on. Typically used to stiffen the wings and tail. Necessary? Not really. Doesn’t hurt.
Propeller selection: For the 300 and 350 motor with the “D” gear ratio (6.6-1), the most suitable propellers are the stock 1180, the 1170HD or the 1260 from GWS. I prefer the 1180 or the 1170HD. The 1260 works fine, but I thought the 1180 had the nicest balance between speed and thrust of the bunch. APC propellers are widely used, but their additional strength means only that your going to break something else when you crash.
Also, I believe APC props have a bigger shaft hole and require an adapter. Never tried ‘em, so ask before you buy.
Conclusion: I could go on and on but I’m afraid that I am already overlapping the “Intermediate Flyers Guide to the Slowstick” that hasn’t even been composed yet. The most important things at this point are practice and determination. Don’t allow the big wrecks to get you discouraged, its all part of the game. Maybe take a few friends out with you to the field and let them try it a bit. If you can convince a few buddies to get Slowsticks, then you can try combat.
When you’re perfectly comfortable with the SS, I recommend a nice aileron trainer such as the GWS E-starter, but your options are plentiful. Just remember to do your research first! I wish you all the best of luck and clearest of skies.
Mike A.K.A “Vanning”