My R/C Helicopter

I've had my Piccolo R/C model helicopter for a couple of weeks now. I've had a total flying time of about 60 seconds. The average flight lasts two or three seconds, and many of them end in a "crash", which I define as "a landing that makes me wait for glue to dry before I can fly again". But they say any landing you can walk away from is a good one, and I've walked away from them all.

I've spent about $50 for replacement parts over these two weeks (I've broken the swashplate, the tail rotor, the main rotor and one of the push rods). I've also preemptively purchased $50 worth of additional parts that I expect to need in the coming weeks. I was grounded for four days waiting for parts to arrive, so I'm planning ahead.

It's been a lot of fun. I haven't built any models since I was a teenager, so putting this thing together was almost a new experience. The instructions were clear enough to follow, but also cryptic enough that I had to figure out many things for myself. I had to develop my own assembly techniques for manipulating small parts; I never thought I'd be able to get the 1.5-mm-long bolts screwed into the right places with my normal-sized hands and tools, but I did it.

The one thing I haven't quite figured out is the Piccoboard, a little printed-circuit board that handles the mixing of main rotor and tail rotor throttles. It has a couple of potentiometers to be adjusted, and I'm not sure I'm doing it right. It seems that any adjustment either has no effect or has a disasterous effect. More experimentation is needed.

Most of my flying has been inside my apartment, which is really too small for a beginning helicopter pilot (hence the frequent crashes). The chopper hasn't done much damage to my walls or furniture. There is a nice open area in the parking lot where I have flown a few times, but it has been pretty windy lately.

I don't quite have the hang of stable hovering yet, but I'm pretty sure I'll be able to do it pretty soon. Using the computer simulator has helped me get accustomed to the controls, but controlling a real helicopter in front of me is a lot different from controlling an onscreen copter. I never have to worry about flying the helicopter into my own body with the simulator, whereas that is a constant concern with the real one. But the real one is actually a little easier, because I can use binocular vision and my ears to get a better sense of what the heli is doing and where it is heading.

Having a little helicopter is really cool. I've found that I get a lot less frustrated at work these days, because I'm always thinking about that next flight.

© 2003-2023 Kristopher Johnson