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Ground School & Pre-Flight

While it is customary to begin a course with lots of various statements, this one will start with one major question. What is the most important decision a pilot can make? The answer is: When NOT to fly. The explanation for this is simple: If the pilot isn't ready; if the equipment isn't ready; or the conditions are not right than don't fly. While none of us want to say "don't fly" it is the safest thing we can say when conditions are not right no matter if it is remote control or full scale.

Every pilot is responsible for the overall safe operation of his or her aircraft. It is therefore essential that each pilot understands and follows the general safety guidelines established by the AMA as well as familiarizing yourself with local club rules and policies for frequency control, flying, starting, taxiing, spotting, no fly areas and dead line. While it would be impossible to cover rules for every field we will give a generalization of guidelines to follow and questions to ask the local field sponsor or trainer.

The following 10 items are crucial to the safe operation of every flying field and local rules should be obtained for each field you fly at from the safety officer or representative who has them.

  1. When packing your vehicle to go to the field, insure you have all your equipment including your AMA card (a check list to check prior do doing so is good to have) When loading your aircraft and transmitter in the vehicle, make sure all switches are off. Many times we have been working on them just before loading and have forgotten to turn them off. If the transmitter is left on not only may the battery be low when arriving, you could cause another plane that is already flying to crash. Always make sure you look and check your transmitter to ensure you have shut it off before leaving home.
  2. When you get to a new field for the first time whether you are a beginner or experienced, pilot, leave your equipment in the vehicle and find someone who can assist you with getting familiar with the field. Introduce yourself with your AMA card in hand to preclude your new friend having to ask you to see it. Let them know your reason for being there, such as a. new student, looking for a new field, on vacation checking out the field, etc. This new friend will most likely brief you or hook you up with someone who can inform you of field rules, frequency controls and their operations. If you have never flown or are not a soloed pilot, make sure you let them know in your initial conversation. This will cause them to give you more detailed information and probably introduce you to an instructor pilot to help you.As they explain frequency control make sure you understand it completely and if you have any questions, keep asking until you fully understand. If you cause a person to crash and you were not following the local rules, you owe that individual a new aircraft, engine, receiver or whatever was damaged. If on the other hand you are not following the rules and someone else causes you to crash they won't owe you anything because YOU were not in compliance with the local policy. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!!!
  3. This same new friend should tell you local rules as well. Can you start your plane in the pits or is there a designated starting area? Can you taxi or not taxi in specific places, where is the established dead line (the line behind which you cannot fly under any circumstances because you will fly over pits, people, cars, highways, etc.) spotter requirements, pilot stations, etc? It is always good to observe flying for awhile before joining in to make sure you understand all of the rules and see them in use. It's a good idea to go out and stand at or near the pilots stations and do a dry (simulated) flight, imagining a take off, flight and landing to the right and do the same to your left in order to familiarize yourself with local obstacles such as trees, buildings, highways, water, etc. and create visual reminders to assist with alignment of the field on approach and landing. At our Kingsbury field for example if you take off to the south (left), you have a fair distance to the tree line and notice a large oak tree that is at the dead line telling you to be in front or right of the tree as you approach the area. If you take off to the north (right) you will notice a windsock, 3 oak trees and a hanger. The trees at that end of the property serve as the deadline. Do not to get behind them or stay to the left. Under no circumstance should you fly over or near the hangar. Listen to your engine after take off so to ensure it is not going to fail early in flight. If it sounds at all worrisome, than land it immediately as there is ample room with the large runway. If you are into a turn when you hear a potential problem than be aware of the trees across the field to ensure you have enough height to clear or turn sharper to land in the tall grass. As you can see, it is always important to imagine all that can affect you during a flight and what your options might be. This is a good rule of thumb to use for every field you go to even if you are just there to observe.
  4. Once you are a soloed pilot, it is nice to have a flying buddy that has the same available flying time that you do. Flying alone is not a good idea and is against TCF club rules. You can get hurt, have a heart attack, get snake bit or any number of things requiring help. Someone may think if you?re alone that a cell phone would help but that is insufficient as you could be incapacitated to the point of not being able to dial the phone. If only you and a youngster who is unable to drive, perform CPR, etc. then make sure they know how to dial your cell phone and contact your spouse or 911. Many fields have a requirement to have a spotter during all flying. Generally that would be because the field is a full scale aircraft field shared with the modelers. Since we do not have radio communication with their aircraft, we need a spotter to tell our model pilot when a full sized airplane is in the area. In every case, in every country the full size airplane has the right of way! The spotter will advise and the pilot will avoid to the point of crashing his plane if necessary. Always have plenty of fluids with you and be ready to pack up in the event of stormy weather (lightning) in the area. After you have flown enough to have the "new" worn off of the experience, you will discover that going to the flying field is as much of a social event as it is flying.
  5. When you arrive at the field, select a nice open place to set up your pit operation. Don't put your equipment so close to another person's equipment that either one of you has to step over the other's stuff. If you want a particular place in the pits then get there first! Don't assume that it will be ok to move their stuff over to give you use of the space. When starting your airplane, first check in the prop wash area and see what you are going to be blowing dirt and oil on. Many times people get so caught up in their own world that they ignore or blank out those around them. Imagine how you would feel if you had a $1500 engine on a $3000 or more airplane and someone turned his trainer around, started it and ran it to high throttle, blowing debris over your airplane and radio. You can pit near someone and move to the start up line to avoid this. In fact most fields require it. Also, most fields, as ours do, won't allow you to taxi in the pits. Radios, engines and thumbs screw up occasionally and that can result in damage to people and equipment. You should taxi holding the tail or have a friend carry the plane to the flight line or active runway. NEVER RUN TO HIGH THROTTLE WITH PEOPLE IN FRONT OF THE PROPELLER! Props come off and throw blades on a fairly regular basis and they always come off and go forward (assuming it is not a pusher engine/prop arrangement).
  6. Periodically range check your radio. Read the instructions for your specific radio and follow them. You'll find the frequency of your range checks will increase with the size and value of your airplane. The more expensive or lethal an airplane, the more important it becomes. It is good practice to range check every new airplane to the point of signal loss with the antenna collapsed. Then count the paces back to the airplane and either commit them to memory or write them down. Then check the airplane with the engine running and see if or how much the range is degraded. With a glow engine, expect 90% or better with the engine running. With a gasoline engine, expect 75% of the range with the engine off. Knowing that range is good for future purposes as well. If you notice a sudden reduction in range from previous day's range checks, the airplane is telling you something?.. LISTEN TO IT!
  7. Preflight (check) your airplane, preferably at home where you can repair any problems in good light and a cooled/heated environment with all of your tools and spare parts. Field repairs are generally done quickly. This will increase the chance of error and may well be done with less than perfect parts or the correct glue or without the tools that could do it better. Plus, we are so eager to fly we just might accept less than proper work just so we can fly. Start your preflight at the spinner and work to the rear of the plane. You are looking for loose or damaged parts. Check all screws (especially engine mounting screws and servo screws), pull on all hinges, verify wing mounting system and check landing gear and wheels.
  8. Make it a habit to always keep your antenna on your transmitter collapsed while starting and tuning the engine. There have been several antennas broken off by the propeller and people have been struck by the antenna as someone suddenly turns around with the antenna out. Leaving the antenna collapsed can create a problem if you don?t pull it out before take off. Therefore have a check list to go through before every take off. The acronym for the checklist is CAWTT and it stands for Controls, Antenna, Wind, Traffic and Time. "Don't get CAWTT taking off without going through your checklist!" Below is a description of each element. You must use this or some other form of checklist to ensure safe flying for a lifetime. You can be lucky for a while without it but eventually something will jump up and smack you. Full size pilots use checklists and so should we! Run through your checklist while on the taxiway before taking the active runway to reduce the amount of time you have to occupy the main runway.
    1. Controls. Check every major control to ensure not only that they move but that they all move in the correct direction. There has been many an experienced pilot take off with a control reversed and destroy a nice airplane. It is very easy with today?s computer radios to have airplane 1 started and running and airplane 2 is called up on the radio. Most likely, every control is working but very likely not every control is moving the way it is supposed to and the trims and mixes are unlikely to be the same either. Be very methodical and think about each movement of the surface. On a new plane it is a good idea to have another pilot verify control direction and travel volume as a safety check before the first flight. While checking the controls, make sure any manual trims are in the correct position and that the engine idle is where you want it. Touch every dual rate switch and mix switch to verify that they are in the position you want for takeoff. If you are flying another's airplane, try each switch in all positions so you are familiar with what each position does for the airplane. Some people have dual rates so that the position toward the top of the transmitter is high rate and others have that as low. Some airplanes have quad flaps or flap mixing or other peculiar functions. Make sure you are familiar with all of them and that you have the correct switch positions for takeoff.
    2. Antenna. Extend your antenna to its full extent prior to taxiing out unless you?re using 2.4 ghz. If it is 2.4, get in the habit of touching or adjusting the antenna at this point to keep you in the habit for the next time you fly something on 72mhz.
    3. Wind. We always takeoff and land into the wind. The reason you normally extend your antenna before this step is that we normally have a red flag on the antenna to indicate 72MHZ aircraft only in use. That flag can be used as a wind sock.
    4. Traffic. We do not have an air traffic controller so we must communicate our intentions with all other pilots on the flight line. Ask loud enough for all other pilots to hear for permission to come out. That way you are sure all pilots are aware of your intent to take the runway and therefore they are not surprised by your taxi to the active runway. Further, if they have a problem and need an empty runway, they can ask you to hold until they get on the ground.
    5. Time. Either set the timer or check your watch before takeoff. You need to know how long the airplane will fly on a tank of fuel and use that as your guide for setting your alarm or watch.
  9. While flying, keep all flight over the approved flying areas and stay close enough to other pilots to communicate your intentions to them. Announce your intentions like high speed low pass left to right, or touch and go from the right or full stop landing. Most fields require a spotter when more than 2 pilots are in the air. That spotter will help you watch other aircraft and help protect you in the event another pilot declares an emergency. Pilots declaring an emergency such as dead stick (engine out), loss of control, or other problems requiring immediate attention to landing have the right of way. You must clear the runway and fly away from runway center to facilitate their safe arrival. It is a good thing to climb to a comfortable altitude and get your airplane straight and level because the natural tendency is to watch the airplane that has the problem both from curiosity and self preservation.
  10. While the AMA Safety Code provides general safety guidance and specific guidance for Free Flight, Control Line and RC flying, most fields have additional rules, such as TCF, and it is important that you know and follow those rules to avoid embarrassing or dangerous situations. Safety is more important than having fun. We can assure you that the fun ends when you have to take a fellow modeler to the hospital. You are NOT allowed to fly a model airplane within 8 hours of consuming alcohol. DO NOT PUSH THIS RULE! It is taken seriously and will result in your removal from most airfields.

Remember that modeling is intended to be fun and entertaining. If you and your flying friends are not having fun... Figure out why and solve it.

Tri City Flyers welcome's you and we hope all your experiences in our club are fun, entertaining and most importantly... SAFE!