As spring starts to take hold, the changing weather pattern brings with it the type of outdoor activity I’ve been looking forward to. I’m preparing to get out and enjoy some long overdue fresh air and a bit of model aviation (maybe with some motorcycling tossed in) and I can’t wait.
This will be an interesting season. Last year the major distributors each released a version of what Dennis Andreas has dubbed “helper tech.” Helper tech is the package of sensors that takes control of a model airplane away from the pilot. The result is a newcomer who learns very little, in some cases absolutely nothing, and in the long run he becomes a danger to spectators as well as himself.
At the club level there’s been more than a lot of discussion on this topic. Back in the day when we all had to walk five miles — barefoot, in the snow — to get an education, we first learned free-flight, and then control line. If any of today’s modelers want to learn how to trim an airframe, free-flight is the way to go. Either it is in trim or it’s in pieces; there’s very little in-between those two scenarios. Regardless of what we did in the good ole days, today’s consumer of hobby products has become rather over-dependent on the stabilization packages, many times advancing to the next level way too soon, which is all too often also beyond his skill.
It’s only been about a dozen or so years ago that the process was one of selling the customer a kit, which he built at home on his own, or perhaps with a little help from a friend. The process that I’ve described before, and will describe again, is we built the airplane, learned, crashed, repaired, learned a little more, and continued to repeat the cycle over and over. We were committed to being successful in the hobby, both financially and emotionally. Many times thoughts of, “I’ll beat this yet” crossed a whole lot of minds.
Towards the end of last season I was spotting for a pilot when during the flight I suggested, “Vic, it might be prudent for you to land.” The other pilot in question had purchased too much airplane as his second foray into the hobby of model aviation. He was completely surrounded by family and friends, preventing any chance of anyone else quickly taking control of the aircraft. It was very shortly thereafter the model was turned into a pile of foam pieces, thankfully away from the pit area, parking lot or any of the spectators.
During a casual conversation about this topic, Dennis A. stated that at his club the helper tech must be turned off, and if possible, completely bypassed. In extreme cases, where the technology can’t be turned off, the receiver must be replaced by a standard unit that does not contain stabilization software. This is a shame, as I know of several modelers who are actually fairly good pilots, but age and eyesight has taken its toll, and a little help from technology is keeping them in the air and active in the hobby.
Is technology going to regulate the helper tech airplane away from flying clubs and into public parks, where model aviation is in many areas of the country already banned? I have no immediate answer, but it will definitely be an interesting season.
My January editorial sparked a lot of controversy from the distributing community. I love a confrontation; however, I do need to clarify that not every distributor treats hobby stores badly. Quite the opposite is true. Many owners can relate stories of when the recession hit how a few distributors did everything in their power to help stores get through the crisis, and they are to be applauded for their efforts.HM
Until next month,