The classic image of sailplane flying is that it's very relaxed and very quiet. After all, most sailplanes have no engine. So they're less exciting than powered models, right? Hardly! Some can fly at high speeds and perform dramatic aerobatics. Sailplane contests, such as cross-country and thermal duration, give pilots the opportunity to match skills against those of their peers. Modern sailplane flying involves speed, endurance and many other challenges. Yes, it's clean and quiet—and lots of fun.
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| Characterized by a standard rudder and a stabilizer mounted on the fuselage. Found on the majority of R/C sailplane kits, it's easy to build and works well.
|| A compromise between the conventional and T-tail, the mid-tail has many of the T-tail's benefits and is also easier to build.
The stabilizer is mounted at the top of the rudder, where it is less affected by the wake created when air flows over the model's wing. This design can be difficult to build.
The stabilizer is bent into an upward V shape, and there is no rudder. A radio with mixing capabilities is usually required.
Sailplanes can be excellent trainers. Often less complex and expensive than powered models, their stability and slow flight are perfect for beginners. R/C sailplanes can feature several different tail configurations. The conventional tail is recommended for new hobbyists.
Most fall into one of two types:
Thermal Sailplanes & Slope Soarers
Thermal Sailplanes ride on the continuous currents of warm air that rise from the land. They seem to float across the sky. Pilots must be able to detect invisible thermal currents and take advantage of them (rising warm air is often found over such terrain as freshly plowed fields and paved parking areas). With experience, pilots can keep their craft in the air for 15 minutes or even longer.
Slope Soarers get their lift from wind that rises when it meets a hill or upward slope. The lift lasts as long as the wind blows. Because they fly in stronger wind conditions, slope soarers are faster than thermal sailplanes, and the extra speed gives them excellent aerobatic capabilities.
Some sailplanes are better suited to first-timers than others. Look for a model in the 2-meter class that requires only 2-channels of controlpreferably a Thermal Sailplane rather than a model designed for slope soaring. If you select a kit, choose one that's sturdy and comes with good building instructions. Like powered models, a sailplane will require some accessories, although the list is generally shorter.
The smallest sailplanes in the thermal category feature wings that span up to 59-60 inches and can be launched with a hand-toss. Such small models may require miniature radio equipment, which costs a bit more than standard size. Thus, you might prefer to start your R/C career with a 2-meter model.
Spanning 72 to 79 inches, these are the most accessible type of sailplanes for beginners. The added size gives them greater stability, and they will usually accept standard 2-channel radio equipment. Launching is best done with a hi-start or winch (explained later).
"Open Class" encompasses all sailplanes with wingspans exceeding 100 inches. Because of assembly difficulty and slow control response, they are not recommended for beginners. Like Standard Class models, however, they can carry a lot of additional weight for options - and are absolutely majestic in flight.
For easier launching and thermal chasing, some sailplanes are designed to include electric (battery powered) motors and propellers. The motor may be turned on and off during flight to power the sailplane from one thermal current to the next.
Depending on the sailplane you select, you can launch it in several ways:
- Discus-Launch More and more modelers are gravitating to this Discus-Launch (DLG) gliders, because DLGs do not require special equipment – or even a strong throwing arm – to get a model airborne. Just spin the glider like you would a discus, release the grip and watch it soar!
- Hand-Launch If you have a small model or slope soarer, simply stand at the top of a hill or slope and throw it into the lift. No additional equipmentother than a good armis needed! Small sailplanes can also be "hand-towed," like a kite, into the air.
- Hi-Start This is basically a very long slingshot, consisting of 50-100 feet of surgical tubing. One end is staked to the ground...the other is fastened to approximately 200-400 feet of nylon line. A parachute and ring are attached at the farthest end of the nylon line. After hooking your sailplane to the ring, you stretch the surgical tubing tight and releasewhich quickly sends your model up to altitude. When the tension is gone from the tubing, your model simply flies off the line. Then the parachute opens and gently lays the line out on the ground, downwind.
- Power Pod A fourth method of launching uses an electric motor or glow engine, mounted into a pod on the top of the model. The engine carries the sailplane to very high altitudes and then is either shut off or runs out of fuel. Due to the additional weight, gliding performance will suffer.
R/C sailplanes are controlled by a radio system that consists of a transmitterwhich stays with you on the groundplus a receiver, servos, and receiver battery (all of which are "on-board" components, mounted inside your model). Most aircraft radio systems come with everything you need, including a rechargeable battery pack.
First-time pilots should always seek the help of an instructor. And an important part of working with an instructor is making sure that both of you use radios with "trainer box" or "buddy box" capability. The trainer box allows you to connect your radio to your instructor's, using a cable. You'll still be the one controlling your model, so long as your instructor holds down the trainer switch on his transmitter. But if you start having trouble, all the instructor has to do is release the switch to take over full control.
Most entry-level sailplanes require a radio with only two channels of control, but you're better off buying a 4-channel systemyou'll probably pay less for it in the long run.
See the Radio System section for complete information and great sailplane starter radios.Click HERE
Tools and Adhesives
Regardless of what sailplane you choose, some building tools and workshop accessories will be needed to make it flight-ready. These include such common items as a hobby knife, T-pins, screwdrivers, pliers, sandpaper, masking tape, and perhaps a drill. Building a kit also takes some specialized equipment like covering tools. Follow the Accessories Required links for the model you choose to see a list of the tools needed.
R/C model building adhesives are also required, and differ from the white glue and model airplane cement you may have worked with in the past. Cyanoacrylates are commonly used. These are glues specially formulated for working with wood, which provide a range of curing speedsgiving you as little or as much time as each assembly step requires. "Thick" cyanoacrylates also help to fill slight gaps between parts.
Modeling Epoxies are two-part adhesives, consisting of a resin and a hardener. At steps where very strong bonds are critical, a plane's manual will often recommend epoxy. The resin and hardener must first be mixed, then applied to the surfaceso mixing cups, mixing sticks and inexpensive, disposable epoxy brushes also come in handy.
Relatively few field accessories are needed to fly an R/C sailplane. If your model is a Slope Soarer, you may need nothing more than a few tools for minor repairs and adjustments.
Thermal Sailplanes will require a few additional items, depending on your choice of launching method. When using a hi-start, nothing beyond the hi-start itself is necessary. If you choose to use a power pod, you will probably also need an engine (most 2-meter sailplanes require a .049 engine), paint or finishing supplies for the pod, plus fuel, a starting battery, wrench and glow head clip.
Electric-powered sailplanes often include a motor and propeller as part of the kit. The only additional accessories you might need would be a battery and charger. Again, follow the Accessories Required links for the model you choose to see a list of the field accessories needed.