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Learn the Basics of Forward Flight
Written by: Dr. Bob Motazedi

Once you have learned all you need to know about hovering a helicopter, it is time for you to take to the air and start flying around. This will give you a whole new view (literally) of your helicopter and increase your awareness of the capabilities of RC helicopters.

This process will take time to achieve and must be learned by using another step by step process. As before, it is best if you can get help from an experienced pilot and use a buddy cord system for added safety. Simulator time is also highly recommended. To those of you who don’t have the luxury of either of these, don’t give up hope. I will show you how to achieve success though it may take a bit longer and you are willing to accept an increased amount of risk. I had to learn using these methods without any experienced help or simulators.

Pitch Adjustments

Pitch adjustments are covered in my book (see number at the end of the article to order). Adjusting the pitch for forward flight is important. If you do not do it, get some help from an experienced pilot.

Flying in Circles

At this time, I want you to return to the hovering maneuver where you take your helicopter into a hover and turn it to the left or right using the rudder. Now apply a little forward cyclic to get your machine moving ahead. You may need to decrease the throttle a bit once the helicopter enters translational lift.

Use the controls as needed in order to fly nice slow circles around yourself. After one circuit, use back cyclic to stop your helicopter from moving and be sure to apply some additional throttle to compensate for the loss of translational lift. Use the tail rotor control to turn the nose away from you and hold another hover. Repeat this many times in both directions.

Now it is time to increase the size of your circles. Allow your helicopter to drift further away from you when beginning these larger patterns. Go slowly; don’t take your ship further than 40 feet away with the first few attempts. Make your circles progressively larger in size.

Finish each circle with the helicopter close in as before. Stop the helicopter using aft cyclic and add throttle. Establish another good hover and turn the nose away from you and land. Once your circles begin to increase in size, it would be a great idea to buddy cord with an experienced pilot. This will give you the added safety and confidence that is needed at this point in your training. If no one is available, select nice calm days and slowly increase the circuits. As long as you have full control and perspective, continue increasing the size of your circles.

As you progress, you will find that you can also increase the speed of your ship as it moves around the larger circles. Be careful because when your ship is moving faster. It will take more aft cyclic to stop. You run the risk of a boom strike with increased cyclic controls close to the ground.

In order to prevent this you can do a couple of things. First, you can allow your helicopter to climb to a higher altitude during the circle. Stop the helicopter at this altitude, add collective and establish a high hover. Point the nose away as you practiced before and the helicopter is now at a familiar position. Remember your high hovers? Simply decrease the throttle and land as you practiced before.

The second method is a little more difficult but is what you eventually want to learn. While your helicopter is flying along the circle at a higher rate of speed, decrease the throttle a little more and add a small amount of aft cyclic. Use just enough aft cyclic to keep your ship at the same altitude so that you can bring it in more slowly and under good control.

The overall effect will be to slow your ship down while keeping it at the proper altitude. Problems can arise in using too much aft cyclic during these parts of the circles. The first is that the translational lift may quickly disappear and result in a quick descent to the ground. Be ready to react quickly using increased throttle.

The second problem is that your helicopter may actually end up stopping and with continued aft cyclic, begin to fly backwards! Because of these and other problems, you need to be ready to implement an emergency sequence in order to save your helicopter from unusual attitudes, backward flight and other problems.

Forward Flight

Hopefully you have an experienced pilot with a buddy cord available for your first few circuits. If not, progress as you have been doing with the larger and faster circuits in both directions.

Pretty soon, your circles will become quite large and you will need to increase your altitude in order to see your helicopter better and to provide for more ground clearance. After each circuit, bring your helicopter in as before using the high hover or the slowing methods.

Once you are comfortable with these larger circuits, it is time to take off and fly around. Be cautious and keep your speed down. Also, try not to get your helicopter too high or too far away from your position. Keep all of the emergency methods in mind before each flight.

Keep your flights short in the beginning. Constantly check your fuel and time. Also, keep track of your battery power in your transmitter and receiver packs using a voltmeter between each flight. It is also a good idea to check your trim tabs and switches before each flight in order to identify any changes that may have been made while handling your radio.

Your flights should consist of a few parts. First, begin forward flight by flying into the wind at a moderate speed and climb to around fifty feet. Level off at this altitude by reducing the throttle a little. Make a smooth turn to the right using right cyclic and right rudder.

Level off and make a turn to the left. You will find that you need less rudder during right turns. Continue making smooth and slightly banked turns in both directions. You may need to use a little up or down elevator in the turns to keep your ship at a constant altitude. Use what you need but don’t let the aircraft slow down and stop. If you need more up elevator, add a little positive pitch as well and /or decrease your banking angles.

After a few turns, head the helicopter in your direction and enter a path similar to what you were using to land your ship before when flying the circles. Decrease the throttle/collective to smoothly descend to a comfortable height. Use the amount needed to get the helicopter to a safe altitude once your ship reaches your position. Establish a good hover and land.

Fly around for only a minute or two and bring your ship in. You need to build up your confidence of being able to make an approach and land safely at any time you wish. The shorter flights also give you a chance to take some deep breaths and relax. You will need to do a lot of this in the beginning!


You will soon notice that your helicopter needs some trim changes to keep it on a straight path when it is in forward flight. The aerodynamics associated with forward flight are much different from those seen in a hover. My book (see end of article) details how to trim your helicopter for the best forward flight performance.

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