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Intro to Hovering
Written by: Dr. Bob Motazedi

Learning to Hover

This will be your most challenging learning experience. Hovering takes a lot of time, patience and practice. There are many things to consider before you actually start practicing. Your ship should be properly set up so seek the help of an experienced pilot to make these initial adjustments. This will make things a lot easier for you.

Next, you need to consider using some sort of training gear. Several types are available. Some very expensive and intricate stands and others are very simple, inexpensive and very easy to use. Actual hovering techniques will be covered in detail. All of the hovering and controlling forces are explained in order for you to become more successful in less time.

Simulators are quite popular for training and many are available. We will cover these great tools in another chapter. You may want to start your practice on one of these instead; if the simulator’s helicopter crashes, it instantly gives you a new fully trimmed ship to use for your next round of practice.


There are a few things you need to know about the radio. First, you need to get familiar with the controls. The left gimbal or stick, controls three helicopter functions. Moving this stick left and right causes the tail rotor to change its’ pitch and results in the nose of your helicopter to move to the left and right.

Moving this same gimbal upward or forward or towards the top of the transmitter causes the throttle to be increased. The collective pitch simultaneously increases in a positive direction. These two processes together result in the helicopter lifting up into the air. Bringing this gimbal back to its’ lower position results in the opposite reaction and the helicopter willsettle to the ground.

The right stick directs the cyclic controls. If you hold the transmitter flat to the ground with the gimbals pointing straight up you can get a better idea of how to control the helicopter with this right stick. If you move the stick forward, the helicopter will move forward. If you move it to the left, the helicopter will move to its’ left.

You get the basic idea. Use this gimbal to position the helicopter in a side to side or forward and backward direction. Remember, this thought tip will only work if the helicopter is in front of you with the nose pointed straight ahead. This is why it is most important that you learn how to control the tail rotor first.


If the wind is stronger than five miles per hour, it will be better to wait for another time. A small gust of wind can result in your helicopter moving quickly across the ground. It can also cause the helicopter to go into translational lift and shoot several feet into the air. A small amount of wind can be detrimental to your progress especially in the beginning.

A suitable location to practice can also be difficult to find. You need to keep a couple of things in mind when deciding on a location. A lot of the official club fields now have special areas set aside for the helicopter pilots. These usually include one or two practice pads which are located at a considerable distance from the pit area. These are great for practicing your hovering maneuvers.

Some of the best practice areas I have found are empty parking lots. A large paved lot that is relatively free of light poles with no traffic can be perfect. Be sure to get permission from the owners or operators before you use these lots. Many prefer to practice on flat grassy areas. Advantages include plenty of nice soft areas to set down quickly when needed. Any practice area you use should be free of any persons or property that can be damaged by a helicopter that is out of control.

Place your ship in the appropriate location with the nose of the helicopter pointing directly into any prevailing wind. Stand about ten to fifteen feet behind and a couple of feet to the side of your helicopter. Slowly increase the throttle until the helicopter becomes light on the skids.

Use just enough throttle to get the helicopter moving close to the ground without actually getting into the air. Concentrate on keeping the nose of the helicopter pointed away from you into the wind using the rudder or tail rotor control. Think of controlling the nose of the helicopter. If the nose drifts to the right, use left control to move the nose back to neutral and vise-versa. As soon as the helicopter begins to move too quickly, gets higher than ground level or you begin to lose control of your model, bring the throttle lever back to idle immediately. The helicopter will then settle to the ground. If you have even a little doubt about your control, throttle back to save your machine and try again. Continue practicing this until you are able to keep the nose straight even if the helicopter slowly drifts across the ground.

Now it is time to learn how to use the cyclic controls. As you learned above, the right stick controls all of the cyclic helicopter movements. Think of your helicopter sitting on top of the right gimbal with the nose of your ship pointed away from you. When you move the right stick in any direction, you helicopter will first tilt that same direction and then begin moving the same way soon afterwards. If you keep this relationship in mind, it will be much easier for you to learn to control your helicopter. Get your ship light on the skids and keep the nose pointed straight away from you using the rudder control as before. Soon after, the ship will begin to move in a direction. Use the opposite cyclic control to stop its movement. Use only a little amount of control in the beginning.

When the helicopter moves one way, say to the right, begin by giving a cyclic command in the opposite direction or left. Watch the model slow its movement very carefully. At the moment that it stops moving, immediately level the model by giving it a little cyclic command in the opposite direction, in this case to the right. This should just be enough command to bring the helicopter back to a stable hover in the neutral position. Just what is the neutral position? If you have seen someone hover a helicopter before, you will notice that the helicopter is tipped or leaning to one side. This is called helicopter lean. A hovering helicopter that has a clockwise or right rotating head, will be at its neutral and balanced position with the right skid sitting a little lower than the left. This is also the same reason that you will probably notice your helicopter begins to drift to the left when you get it light on the skids. Once you get it a little higher and add a little right cyclic, a low stationary hover is easily achieved.

If you learn these theories and understand them well, you will be able to hover in a much shorter time and have a decreased chance of crashing. At this point in your training, you still want to keep your helicopter close to the ground. The right skid should barely contact the ground or only be and inch or two above it at all times. Keep in mind, if you even think you are getting into trouble, don’t wait for trouble to happen. Decrease the throttle and immediately land your ship and start again.

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