PLUG ‘n PLAY or PLUG ‘n “OUCH” (or worse)? Check out your understanding of rc airplane safety!
Hey, electrics are fun, right? You bet they are, and the rc electric airplane technological goodies that are hitting the shelves are mind (and wallet) boggling – counter-rotating props, reversing props, eTurbines, RTF helis… and, easy? Out of the box and into the air with scale warbirds, 3-D hotties, in the time it takes to charge the batteries..this IS good!
But just like you were told when you were little, you never get something for nothing, and in the case of rc airplane safety, there are some new hazards that you have to avoid or else!
We’re pretty used to handling fuel-powered aircraft, and understand that the fuel and sources of sparks don’t mix. We know that until a battery is applied to the glow plug and something is used to flip the prop, that the engine is not going to start by itself. The batteries we were accustomed to using in those planes and helis were just overgrown flashlight cells and charging and discharging them required no special care or handling.
Electrics, as we now are learning, have some additional requirements for rc airplane safety operation. Even with the very advanced electronic throttle controls (ESC’s) now in use, they ARE prone to glitches, meaning that once the battery is connected, the motor and prop should be regarded as a loaded gun, ready to go off. I have an electric Micro Heli, that on several occasions has spontaneously spooled-up on the workbench! Fortunately, both times I had a firm grip on the skids and no damage occurred.
Another surprise of the same sort happened with an e3D-TYPE when the prop flew off during a bench session setting up the plane for an afternoon’s flying! This caused a bit of excitement to the cat and to the bits and pieces of modeling stuff on the workbench, but otherwise just a close call to bodily harm!
LiPo batteries themselves can have a nasty habit of spontaneous combustion, and even explosion under the right set of bad circumstances. Charging and flight discharging needs careful monitoring and dedicated equipment – special chargers and ESC’s must be used for rc airplane safety and even then, don’t charge/discharge in the house or anywhere that such a hazard can’t be controlled.
In the air or trying to get there often involves a hand launch – pilot and launcher need to agree on a procedure for the launch that doesn’t involve the mixture of the fingers and the prop!
Dealers and Manufactures talk mightily about flying in your local schoolyard or park, but because these aircraft – even small ones – are moving through the air, they are potentially dangerous to the bodies of people and pets around us. You must be able to control your flight, through previous instruction, and understand that even if you are an AMA member, that there is NO insurance provided if you are flying in such a public place! You’re always better off flying at an AMA Club field.
Well look, when thinking about rc airplane safety don’t be scared, just be wary! Like other potentially hazardous endeavors/sports, you can often reduce the risk by observing some basic rules of operation:
1.Get trained to fly, and if you are already, learn about electrics
2.Wear protective eyeglasses when working on your aircraft
3.Keep the prop facing away from you (and anyone else) whenever a battery is in place.
4.Learn to use LiPo batteries properly, if not, don’t use them at all
5.Learn to launch and retrieve safely – keep fingers and eyes safe!
6.Don’t fly around other people or pets
7.Expect that your motor will start by itself, that the prop will fly off, the battery will self-destruct and don’t be caught by surprise if they do!
DISCLAIMER: These are the opinions of the author and are not a substitute for proper training in the use and operation of electric-powered model aircraft. Before you attempt to fly model aircraft, always seek the assistance of an experienced instructor through your local AMA flying club.