As with any remote-controlled and similarly operated hobby, there is a slight learning curve associated with remote-controlled gliders. Some activities in the hobbyist world are slightly easier to grasp, like the control of a remote-controlled land-based vehicle, and some are tough as nails to master, like the flawless operation of a very fast remote-controlled airplane.
The hobby of “flying” remote-controlled gliders is neither too easy to learn, nor too difficult to master. It is often thought of as a pastime that people partake in to relax and wind down. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a difficulty curve that needs to be overcome, or that certain weather conditions won’t make controlling a glider a lot harder, but it is definitely more of the type of hobby that hobbyists like to participate in to have fun rather than show off their skills with a remote control.
Getting into the World of Remote-Controlled Gliders
If you’re not sure the glider hobby is something you would enjoy, it’ll help you make a decision if you know more about the hobby and what it entails. Flying gliders is not the same as flying a helicopter, a quadcopter drone, or even planes that look very similar to gliders. This is because gliders are missing the one thing each of those machines possess; an engine.
Traditional remote-controlled flying machines have a motor or engine to provide thrust. This engine and the strength of its output can be directly controlled via the remote control you’re using. This allows every other remote-controlled flying machine to be able to take off and sustain itself in the air by itself. Such is not the case with gliders.
Gliders require a manual throw to take off, and also need constant adjustments to their flight path to keep them in the air and prevent them from crashing. You might be wondering how this is supposed to be a relaxing way to pass the time if you need to constantly babysit the glider, but the fact is that once you’ve understood the glider and how it works, keeping it airborne will become second nature to you. If you’re interested in getting to understand how gliders work and how they “fly” at all, you’ll find an extensive explanation in our post discussing what the hobby of glider slope soaring is.
Getting the Takeoff Just Right
To begin playing around with remote-controlled gliders, the first thing you’ll need to learn is how to get the glider airborne. Gliders require a manual takeoff, specifically, literally throwing the glider with your hand. Gliders also cannot be flown anywhere you desire. They always need to be thrown off the edge of some sort of slope. This is because, in a nutshell, gliders need to catch an updraft of wind coming up that slope under their wings so that they can ride the current of wind and gain altitude.
The first thing you need to be aware of when prepping a glider for takeoff is that it needs to either be thrown vertically, or with its nose very slightly pointing down. If thrown with the nose facing upward, you are more likely to stall the glider’s ascent, and have it fall down shortly after.
Secondly, you would need to position yourself a few steps away from the edge of the slope. It is crucial during the initial takeoff period that the glider catch the best and strongest bit of updraft coming up across the slope. And obviously, this cannot be done if the glider is launched from the absolute end of the slope’s edge, as it would miss most of the wind current sweeping up the slope.
Third, you need to put some strength in to the throw. If you feel you cannot provide the glider with adequate throwing power, use both hands and hang the remote control from your neck or wrist using a strap. Remember to instantly switch to the remote control as soon as the glider leaves your hands. If holding and launching the glider with one hand, the best place to grab it from would be the bit right under and slightly before the wings. If using both hands however, you will have to grab the ends of each wing and throw it like that.
Once you have launched the glider in to the air in front of you, you will need to assume control via the remote control as soon as possible. If launching the glider with one hand, keep the remote control in the other hand and your fingers on all the throttles or knobs, so you can instantly take control as soon as the glider leaves your hands. If using both hands, be aware of where the remote control is so that you can grab it as soon as possible after the glider takes flight.
Once the glider is in the air, you’re going to have to use the remote control to maintain a pitch and flight level so that the glider can continue to climb the air. If the glider begins to climb insanely fast, do not panic and pitch it so far down that it ends up crashing. A successful glider launch is supposed to gain altitude really quickly. But don’t pull the nose of the glider up either. In fact, it will continue to try to pitch its nose up after taking off, and you will have to maintain a horizontal pitch so that it can continue to climb until the optimal altitude is reached.
All of this happening successfully heavily depends on if the slope you used is correct for a glider to take off from or not. Some basic rules to keep in mind are that the slope shouldn’t be too steep, but not too flat either. Generally, an angle of 30-degrees suits glider takeoffs just fine. Another thing to keep in mind is that there should be no obstructions in the wind’s path near the edge of the slope. Some obstructions, which can include boulders and trees, are fine near the base of the slope if the slope is a long one, but are a big no-no near the edge from where you’re taking off. The area around the base of the slope should also be free of obstructions so the wind can pick up some proper speed before hitting the slope.
Keeping a Glider Airborne and Controlling Its Flight
Congratulations! Your glider is now up in the air and subject to your whims. What now? For starters, don’t stray too far from the slope. The only thing keeping your glider in the air is the wind making its up the slope. If you let your glider fly too far, it will lose that upward thrust and pummel towards the ground. Keeping the glider close and parallel to the surface of the slope is the best way to keep feeding a healthy amount of updraft.
Furthermore, to keep the glider close to the slope, you’re going to have to learn how to turn the glider around. With no engine to power it, you need to make full use of the wind when making a turn. The best way to help your glider turn without issues is to turn it in such a way that it banks away from the slope’s surface. This means it banks right in to the current of wind and that helps it turn much more easily. Also, don’t rotate the plane’s axis too much. Ideally, you just want to give it a gentle nudge to help it bank in to the turn by itself.
Lastly, when you keep the glider turning and going in circles with the wind, it will gradually keep gaining altitude. You’ll have to wait till it is at a safe height before you should try to attempt any kind of stunts or other fast moves. Generally, letting a glider climb really high and then taking it in to a controlled dive is a surefire way to give it the velocity it needs to carry out moves like barrel rolls and loop de loops. As you experiment with your glider and get to know its workings better, you will learn just what makes your glider tick. And before you know it, you’ll be having a ton of fun with the sky as your playground.
Landing a Glider
When the day is coming to an end and it’s time to put the glider away and go home, you’ll have to obviously land the thing first. Landing a glider can be tricky, especially if you’re a newcomer to the hobby. It is recommended that you practice glider flight and landings on safer and gentler slopes before taking your glider to a cliff with a steep drop.
The landing of a remote-controlled glider is done in two stages. In the first stage, you bring the glider down and close to the edge of the slope until it’s not too high up anymore. But this time, instead of turning it around to let it catch another gust of wind, you continue to bring the glider towards you, over the edge of the cliff and above the flat bit of ground you’re standing on. Be careful not to bring your glider too low when crossing the edge, as it would just catch some more wind and try to climb again.
The second stage of the landing process is trickier, and might even require multiple tries before you finally get your glider safely on the ground. After the glider is soaring over the flat bit of ground, you will have to turn it around once more towards the edge of the slope. But this time you will need to keep letting the glider descend, usually by controlling the rear flaps, so that it gently hits the ground and comes to a stop. Be aware that sometimes a particularly strong current of wind might be spewing more gusts of wind over the edge and across the flat portion. This can make landing difficult, and in such a scenario you will need to bring the glider further back from the edge before turning it around and trying to land.
Practice makes perfect, and that holds true for remote-controlled gliding as well. The tips shared above should be enough to get you started with gliding, but it will only be through regular flights and practice sessions that you properly learn the control of a glider inside and out. Keep practicing and before you know it, you’ll be riding the skies with the confidence of a professional pilot. Looking for some other type of flying contraption to read about? We have a fun post on sailplanes, explaining what they actually are and what they’re used for.