Awesome, I love RC. I’m tempted by drones, but the route I’ve gone is called discuss launch gliders or DLG. I love, love it. Please indulge me for a bit…
I started with powered planes, joined the local RC club, even scratch-built a few. I personally find airplanes more elegant than helis; proof can be found by turning off the motor at altitude :). My club has a runway and setting up an approach and nailing a soft landing is very, very satisfying, as is my 90mph performance plane, a T-28 Trojan.
I learned about gliders and then DLG on the forums and finally pulled the trigger a year or so ago. The model I hace is cal Neo, a carbon deal. DLGs need to be very strong in certain directions for launching, so it’s only been with affordable carbon-fiber that the hobby has taken off. No motor, you launch the plane the way a discus launcher throws a disc. I can throw it to 140 feet pretty consistently, the guys in competitions, with moulded planes, can get into the 160s, even 180 for a few.
Once in the air you control it just like any other glider: ailerons, elevator, and rudder. They fly amazingly well. The performance of the wing in air is unique, as the Reynolds numbers and flight envelope (low speed gliding) don’t exist elsewhere in aviation. Except perhaps hawks circling in a field…
Usually your objective is to keep it up as long as you can, though sometimes you do loops for fun. You fly gently and learn to read the air, looking for the slightest signs of lift, like a twitch in the wing or a nose-up. When you find it, you circle back and try to find it again, every foot of lift keeps you in the air that much longer. You circle using the rudder, careful not to drop your wing too much, the turn itself comes with a penalty. You might actually counteract your turn with your ailerons, unless you’re in a hurry to get back, it all depends. You set up your plane with flight modes: launch, speed, cruise, lift. You use flaps to slow it down so you can hand-catch. The lift… sometimes it can be hard to find, you might see a bird gliding over the trees and head over there. Sometimes the hawk won’t like you there and try to scare you away. You might think our glider can’t fly as well as a hawk… but you’d be surprised. Others have reported that after visiting the same field enough times, the hawks realize that you know where the thermals are just as well as them. They’ll join you and get in sync, around and around. The best lift is on those days with intense sun and scattered clouds, light breeze. At one point I found lift so strong that my plane was sucked up into the sky… I had a panic moment as I couldn’t bring it down, thought I might lose it in the clouds. When I got it back, thankfully, I checked my altimeter and it had reached almost 500 feet. Braver pilots let it go higher. I’ve flown for four hours on a single AA sized battery and could have gone longer.
I won’t get bored of just throwing and gliding, but there’s a whole competition angle to DLG as well. Events basically combine the skill of staying up with the skill of controlled descents, bringing it back to hand, and launching again. Timed events such as Poker, you announce your target time, and if you reach it or exceed it you get the points and launch again, within an overall time limit. I’ve practiced but haven’t gotten into competitions yet.