Beginners Guide To Choosing Your 1st Heli.

Nothing beats the thrill of helicopter flight, and in this present day, it's the ultimate time to be an RC heli pilot.

Why's that, you ask?

Not only is the selection of helicopters diverse and vast, but the technological leaps that have been made over the years have opened the doors wide for all manners of RC pilots, bringing forth performance and learning aids to make your heli dreams an ultimate reality.

So, sit back and relax while we lay out some information to help guide you down the path toward your perfect heli, allowing you to choose the exact machine that fits your skills & needs!

Fixed Pitch vs. Collective Pitch

So, what's the difference between these two options? Let's break this down and give these two systems a closer look to better define what works best.

Fixed Pitch Rotor System

With a fixed pitch helicopter, the rotor blades are at a "fixed pitch," and lift is changed by varying rotor r.p.m. The main advantages of this system are:

- Simplified setup
- Reduced parts count
- Greater durability
- Gentle handling characteristics
- Fewer parts to damage in a crash
- Lower overall costs
- Easy repairs

With this design, the aircraft is geared towards ultimate simplicity and gentle flight characteristics. This allows a beginner pilot to make mistakes & crash without paying the price in terms of damage, replacement costs and aircraft setup & repair.

The downside of this setup is the fact that the aircraft is not aerobatic - i.e., you won't be performing any inverted flight maneuvers, or any other "3D" type flight. However, this is usually not an issue for beginners, as the goal for a beginner pilot is specific in regards to learning the basics of flight.

Collective Pitch Rotor System

With a collective pitch rotor system, the main blade pitch is dynamically adjustable, allowing advanced flight characteristics, such as inverted flight and other "3D" flight characteristics.

Unlike a fixed pitch system, r.p.m. usually remains a constant while the pitch of the main rotor blades is adjusted to increase / decrease lift throughout the flight. And to achieve advanced aerobatic flight characteristics, the rotor system has the ability to utilize negative pitch for maneuvers like inverted flight. Benefits of a collective pitch rotor design include:

- Increased levels of power
- Greater levels of aerobatic capability
- Ability to grow with the pilot
- Increased tolerance regarding wind

Regarding collective pitch heli's, with the increased level of performance comes an increased level of complexity & cost. More parts are involved with the main rotor system, and as such, there will be more parts to replace after a crash with more complexity regarding the repair.

The good news is that collective pitch helicopters no longer remain solely geared towards intermediate & advanced pilots. With the advancements of flight controller systems with stability aids, rescue features and other such crash prevention wizardry, even a novice pilot can take on the challenges a collective pitch heli has to offer.

So, Which One's For Me?

If you have zero heli experience and this is your first crack at true heli flight, the fixed pitch route will serve you well. The low parts count, simplicity and gentle flying characteristics will allow you to get your feet wet without paying the price when it comes to repairs.

Better yet, when flown in an area that provides a soft cushion (such as a park with tall grass), a crash usually equates to little or no damage due to the lower rotor r.p.m. and low aircraft mass.

Fixed Pitch Options:

Blade mSR S RTF w/ SAFE Technology - BLH2900 ($119.99)

Have some basic experience? Been practicing on a flight simulator? If so, a collective pitch option will more than likely be your best bet, allowing the helicopter to grow with your skill level and further your aerobatic prowess.

Collective Pitch Options:

Blade 130 S RTF w/ Safe Technology - BLH9300 ($249.99)
Blade mCP S RTF - BLH5100 ($169.99)

RTF vs. BNF

Choosing between a RTF (Ready To Fly) helicopter versus a BNF (Bind N Fly) helicopter depends upon a few key issues - namely, do you already own your own transmitter? If so, the noted helicopters we have been focusing on are the "Blade" brand, which exclusively use Spektrum transmitters.

Other brands exist that offer "BNF" solutions, but the Blade brand offers the largest array of helicopters that are geared towards new pilots, so we will stick with this brand for now.

If you're quite new to the heli scene, a "RTF" (Ready To Fly) heli will make the most practical sense, as RTF helicopters include everything you need - most specifically, the transmitter, battery and charger. Even more, these aircraft arrive already programmed and setup, allowing you to get in the air quickly without the normal setup procedures required with a "BNF" machine.

If you feel you would like to take on the challenge of a BNF aircraft and the associated transmitter programming, a BNF kit will be the choice to make. By going this route, you can choose from a wider range of aircraft available, and if you plan on purchasing your first transmitter, we will detail a few options below.

Below are two Spektrum transmitters to choose from. As noted, we are staying within the Spektrum ecosystem since these are compatible with the helicopters we have been discussing. Other transmitter options exist, but we will focus on some more practical options at this time.

Spektrum Transmitter Options:

Spektrum DX6e 6-Channel DSMX Transmitter Only - SPMR6650 ($149.99)
Spektrum DX8 8-Channel DSMX Transmitter Gen 2 - SPMR8000 ($299.99)

The benefits of choosing a BNF option with your own dedicated computer transmitter include a higher quality setup with greater levels of transmitter customization. Purchasing a separate transmitter together with a BNF kit will provide the following benefits:

- Higher quality transmitter layout
- Greater levels of customization
- Increased level of functionality & features
- The ability to purchase more BNF aircraft down the road and use the same transmitter
- Personalized features pertaining to your desires
- Better flight characteristics and capabilities

If your budget allows, and you are up for the additional work with a BNF setup, you will quickly learn how beneficial it is to have your own dedicated transmitter, which will grow with you as you adapt to new aircraft. Even further, setup is not overly difficult when staying within the Blade helicopter lineup, as the manufacturer provides clear cut instructions when it comes to setup and usage.

Should I Invest In A Simulator?

Modern day flight simulators provide ultra realistic flight simulation, allowing pilots of any skill level to learn all manners of maneuvers without the painful costs of crashes. From a brand new pilot who has never flown, to a seasoned veteran with years of flight experience, a flight simulator provides the perfect opportunity to attempt new flight regimes in the virtual world, without risking a crash.

Considering a flight simulator can cost half as much as some of the aircraft we have noted, it's easy for people to side step the sim option and invest in a helicopter instead. However, it cannot be stated strongly enough at how beneficial a flight simulator is, as not only does a sim build confidence and allow you to explore all aspects of flight without fear of crashing, but even better, they're a lot of fun as well!

Considering weather and nightfall will limit your flight options, a simulator is a perfect option to brush up on your skills and practice as you await your next flight. Further, a flight sim will pay for itself when referencing what a few crashes will cost, and learning the basics before you take your first few flights will keep you safe while providing you with the best opportunity possible to have a successful flight.

Simulator Recommendations:

RealFlight 7.5 w/ Tactic TTX610 (1 Free TR624 6 CH 2.4GHz Receiver) - GPMZ4526 ($119.99 - Requires Transmitter)
RealFlight 7.5 w/ Interlink Elite - GPMZ4520 ($159.96 - Sim Transmitter Included)

Be sure to check your PC that you plan to use to make sure your hardware is up to the processing tasks. Due to the intense levels of processing these simulators require, slower PC's will suffer, making the sim function poorly, thus negating the benefits of learning.

Who's Your Buddy

Know someone who is already flying helicopters, or have access to a local club with helicopter pilots? If so, a buddy box option is an awesome way to take your first flights with a great safety net in the form of an experienced pilot ready to take over when things go wrong.

A "buddy box" is simply linking (2) transmitters together via a cable, or with some of the newer Spektrum transmitters, wirelessly. This wired or wireless link is setup with (1) transmitter as the "master," with the other transmitter set as the "slave." In this layout, the master transmitter has control, and the instructor can transfer control of the aircraft to the slave transmitter with the push of the button, and correspondingly regain control by releasing the same assigned button. This back and forth control is instantaneous, allowing the instructor pilot to provide control (and take back control) during any aspect of the flight.

Utilizing this system is an excellent way to learn, as the more experienced trainer can easily take over control when he / she feels the aircraft is in danger of crashing. Further, guidance can be given throughout the flight, allowing corrections to be made that a novice pilot may not be aware of.If you have a friend that flies heli's or have access to a local RC flight club, check into getting setup with a buddy box on your 1st few flights, as this is an excellent way to learn the ropes and advance forward with far fewer crashes.

Batteries & Chargers

Depending upon what aircraft you choose, the aircraft may come with a battery, and if you have chosen an RTF option, your aircraft should come with everything you need, including the battery and a LiPo battery charger. Typical BNF aircraft do not come with a battery or charger, so be sure to order a battery & charger, if need be.

If the budget allows, be sure to pick up some spare batteries, as this will allow you to perform multiple back to back flights, which will massively benefit your learning ability. If you only have one battery to use, you will have a short flight, followed by an extended charging time. This will relegate you to spend most of the day watching your charger blink away as you crave your next flight - no fun at all.

Extra batteries allow the additional flight time necessary to learn & have fun. Although additional cost to the aircraft itself, extra batteries are always worth it, as we have yet to meet a pilot who has too many batteries when it comes to flying!

Spare Parts / Crash Parts

Although a somewhat painful thought, a crash will take place at some point, so spare parts on hand are always a good idea. This will prevent you from having to wait days for new parts to arrive, allowing you to repair your heli right after the crash. Further, knowing you have spare parts waiting will decrease the level of stress when it comes to flying.

Since every crash has its own dynamic, unless you have every last part available to make the repair, you may end up having to order or pickup a part you did not expect to replace. However, the "usual suspects" in most crashes are listed below, which should aid you in picking up a few spares in hopes of a quick turnaround after a crash takes place.

Common Replacement Parts:

- Main & Tail Rotor Blades
- Main Shaft
- Feathering Shaft (CP Rotor System)
- Linkage Rods
- Main Gear
- Landing Skids
- Tail Boom

Your 1st Flight

You've done your research, chosen your heli, and the delivery guy just made the delivery - woo hoo! Even though it's nearly impossible to contain the nervous joy of your first heli, do your best to take it slowly and read through all the manuals included with your equipment. Taking it slow will keep you from missing crucial details that can be easily overlooked, so give yourself time to assess everything you have before you begin to fly. Patience is the key!

If you ordered a flight simulator with your heli, good for you! Start practicing right away, getting used to the dynamic flight characteristics of helicopter flight, and practice till you can barely keep your eyes open. Believe us - this will make your first true heli flight an absolute success!

Assuming you have carefully read the manual, charged your battery, and are now ready to attempt flight, it is paramount to fly in a location that is wide open, clear of trees and obstacles, and most of all, clear of people. You never want to attempt your first heli flight near people (or animals), as the likelihood of a crash is quite high. Even small heli's can pack a punch when impacting a person, so be sure to stay well clear of both animals and people when you fly.

With smaller heli's, wind is an issue, so do your best to choose a calm day with as little wind as possible. Wind will make flight more difficult, so resist the urge of flying in excessive wind, as the chance of crashing your heli will be far greater with higher wind speeds. If the weather is poor or you are losing light as evening sets in, resist the urge (at all costs) to fly indoors. Even though these heli's are small and light weight, they can get out of control very easily (and rapidly, too!), and can damage all manners of things upon impact - including the heli itself. Simply put, indoor flight is a very bad idea - especially for new pilots!

Enjoy!

We hope this article has been of help to you as you venture into your first RC helicopter. However, if you still have some questions you would like to be addressed, feel free to give us a call at 877-439-4354, as one of our techs would be more than happy to assist!