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Flying The Circuit

RC airplane landing circuit

The landing process

Before you begin your downwind leg, the altitude of your airplane should be constant at, as a very general rule of thumb, 10 metres (30ft.) or so. At least that's what works for me.
There's no hard and fast rule to this height and a lot depends on the type and size of airplane that you're flying. You'll get to know how high to fly the downwind leg with practice and experience.

So to commence the landing process, fly your airplane downwind until it passes you by up to 50 meters or so (again, this distance is going to depend on a few things) before smoothly turning it through 180 degrees so that it's coming back towards you (remember that reverse control!). Keep the turn shallow and, as you turn, slowly reduce motor power at the same time but be ready to increase it again quickly if the plane drops too much, too soon.

Once you've completed the turn, you are now on your final approach. Use rudder to keep the plane in a straight line and use motor power to control its rate of descent. You can use elevator also, but the proper control for rate of descent is in fact motor power; while elevator will certainly make the plane go up and down, it also directly effects the airspeed of the plane and ideally you want to keep this as constant as possible and as slow as possible without stalling.

As the airplane nears the ground, reduce the motor power completely and gently apply up elevator to slow the plane's speed and reduce the rate of descent, until the plane touches down. This very final stage is called the flare and timing the flare is crucial to a good landing - flare too soon and your airplane might stall and crash, flare too late and it will touch down too hard and fast and more than likely bounce all over the place, perhaps even breaking the landing gear or worse.
Flaring your plane at exactly the right moment is something that only comes with practice, and the more landings you do the better you'll get at it as you get to know your plane's flight characteristics.

Below is a short video of how you should set yourself up for a nice landing, with a right to left wind direction...

The glide approach

For many rc pilots, turning on to final approach and then just cutting the motor power right back is normal procedure. There's nothing wrong with gliding your plane in to land, but personally I feel it's better to fly it in.

By utilising the motor power correctly, you'll have better control over the airplane's rate of descent and airspeed, and a propeller that's turning slowly under power generally creates more drag than a free-wheeling ('windmilling') prop that just turns as the air flows through it.
Depending on the rc airplane that you have, this drag can be used to great effect in slowing the plane down on final approach.

But as with everything in this hobby, just suck it and see. You might find that a glide approach works better for you and your plane than a powered approach does. Or you might just want to do it because it's fun to do!

Missed approaches

A missed approach is when you've set yourself up for a landing, have it all under control but then at the last minute something goes wrong, or you lose your nerve, and so you open up the motor to full power to climb out and have another go.

There's absolutely no shame in missed approaches, and even veteran and professional rc pilots still need to do them now and again.
It's far better to do five missed approaches and land your airplane safely in one piece, than to rush a landing and bring your airplane home in pieces. But with that said, if you're flying an electric powered rc plane be very aware of time and your battery pack voltage! I have crashed a plane while doing a missed approach, because the low-voltage cutoff (LVC) beat me to getting the plane back on the ground!

As I said at the start of this page, landing your rc airplane is without doubt the hardest part of radio control flying, and the part that needs the most practice when you're learning to fly radio control.
But stick at it and learn to land well; don't just accept a bad landing without trying to improve on it the next time. With time, you will be landing without a single bounce!

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