The Runway

11/9/2005 by Gary Katzer

Copyright:© 2005 Horizon Hobby, Inc.

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New Entry A New Cub in the Air

If I haven’t mentioned it before, I have a really cool job and am very fortunate to do what I do and work with the people I work with. Occasionally, I’ll have the chance to see products in their developmental stages through when the actual production model rolls in; at other times, I see the end product only. One product that has come out recently, that I must admit I am very impressed with, is the new HobbyZone Super Cub.

Just a few days ago, I had an opportunity to see this new Cub fly in the capable hands of Eric Johnson, one of the HobbyZone product managers. What struck me most about this plane was how stable it was in the air (the winds were between 5–10 mph). Eric had taken the Super Cub up to demonstrate it to someone, and I was just amazed that he was able to fly it with one hand while having a very in-depth conversation with someone at the same time. He flew the Super Cub in a way that allowed the ACT to kick in, and sure enough, the ACT kicked in perfectly each and every time. The Super Cub looked graceful and stable in the air, even as it was taken through several loops. I was never more sold on a plane than when I was watching the Super Cub fly—it’s that impressive.

New Entry Pylon Racing Anyone

Each time I take my ParkZone® J-3 Cub up in the air, I gain more and more confidence with it. I’ve tried to stick with it as much as possible and not fly my Firebird Commander® 2 quite so much to basically force myself to get better. I recently headed out to the site of the up-coming USRA race in Rantoul, IL. This is the same site I flew at last year and loved it for a number of reasons. There’s enough open area that I can fly without having to worry about trees, buildings, or disturbing anyone. I think it’s my favorite place to go fly.


When I last went flying here, I started looking at the area to see where everything was going to be set up in the next few weeks. While I was picturing the upcoming races in my mind, I noticed there were a couple light poles in an empty section of the parking lot that could actually serve as pseudo-pylons. I immediately went and grabbed my J-3 Cub and took to the sky, making a bee-line for that section of the lot. Once I had maneuvered over there, I started to “turn laps” around the poles. I started with large, sweeping turns and gradually began to tighten up my line to try to improve my lap times. It was the weirdest sensation for me. I used to race Oval for years before moving to on-road, and I found myself changing my lines and such around each pole to take either an early or late apex in an attempt to turn the fastest laps. After a couple battery packs I headed home to let the dog out and call it a night.

New Entry There’s more to parks than jungle gyms

With warm weather comes longer days outside, more get-togethers, and of course, more trips to the local park. This part of central Illinois is lucky to have what seems to be a park on every corner with play equipment for the kids to play on. I’m especially lucky I have a wide-open park within walking distance from where I live that I can take my daughter to. On a recent trip to the park, I started to notice a few things about it; few trees, tons of acreage and not a telephone pole to be found. This was a perfect spot for me to fly.

My daughter loves going to the park, making this particular trip a perfect excuse to get some flying in as well. The weather here has been picture perfect with low wind, low humidity, and temps in the mid 70’s or so. With my daughter playing on the jungle gym, I gave my Firebird Commander® 2 a gentile toss in the air. My daughter stopped playing to watch me fly, as did several of the other kids. I was very careful to make sure I did not fly over their heads just in case I had a problem. It was cute to hear all the kids ask their parents what it was, what it was doing, and more. It was especially gratifying for me when my daughter came by my side and gave me a hug around my leg while I was flying. As the sun began to set, I came in for a landing, swapped batteries, and clipped on the X-Port ™ Night Flight Module (HBZ3510). I took off again and toggled through the LED options of the module until I came to one I liked. It was a perfect, peaceful way to end an evening

New Entry Wind Surfing!

With the warmer weather that has graced us, people are more apt to head outside, to parks, get-togethers, and more. That also means more and more people heading out to enjoy RC hobbies. I know I’ve enjoyed being able to go to the local park with my daughter and not having to bundle her up in 18 layers of clothing. I’ve even been able to de-winterize my 1/8-scale Buggy and Truggy too, burning some nitro fuel. Spring is officially here.

Along with all of the typical spring-type activities that I have been able to do so far this season, I also took to the skies this past week with my ParkZone J-3 Cub once again. I must admit I was more nervous to fly it this time than I was even on its first flight—for a number of reasons. Perhaps it was the fact that when I took to the skies the first time with the J-3 Cub, I “didn’t know what I didn’t know.” Perhaps it was the fact that I was thrown from the saddle with the Cub on the first couple of flights. Whatever it was, it’s been keeping me from flying the Cub as much as I could and really should. With a calm breeze at my back, I hand-launched the Cub and it slowly climbed into the air. Learning from previous mistakes, I waited until it had climbed to a significant enough altitude before giving it any rudder input. When I did, it felt as if I had given it too much as the J-C Cub turned hard to the left. Mental note: small transmitter inputs are all that’s needed. To help reassure myself, I simply flew in an oval pattern, and then a figure-8 until the battery felt like it was dumping. I brought the Cub in for a landing and it came to a tumbling halt in the grass. When I inspected it, there didn’t appear to be any damage, but the screws that hold the wing tethers in place had backed out by about two turns. But other than that, it survived.

New Entry Time to go Cub-in’

Things have been very rainy and windy here as of late, making flying quite a challenge. I’ve had a problem with my flying, and it’s a situation that many of you might find yourself in from time to time. I admit that I have been…nervous would be the best way to put it…about moving up to larger, faster, and more complicated planes. I think that’s one of the reasons why I have flown my HobbyZone Firebird Commander 2 so much. Flying the Firebird Commander 2 is like slipping on an old pair of shoes. It’s a plane that I have gotten very comfortable with and, quite frankly, it does everything I want it to. I don’t have any aspirations of competing in events, going to a race, or anything like that. For me, flying is more about simply going out and enjoying the fact that I am actually successfully flying. But this attitude has made me complacent. No longer!

I am rededicating myself to advancing my piloting skills. I think flying my E-flite Blade CX has helped me get more acclimated with using more than simply two- or three-channel air radios. With this in mind, I have been spending more time with my ParkZone J-3 Cub that, while I had gotten more comfortable with, I must admit that those early crashes did shake my confidence. The key thing to remember though is that an airplane will occasionally crash. There’s not a current top pilot out there who never crashes. If you don’t crash from time to time, are you really trying?

New Entry Back to the Planes

I think it’s pretty safe at this point to say that winter is officially over and spring is really here. Thank goodness for that. Not that it was an incredibly harsh winter for the most part; I’m just a wuss when it comes to cold and prefer warmer temperatures as well. It has been nice not to have to grab a heavy jacket and gloves to take my dog Max for walks too. I’ve been able to get up in the air outdoors over the last week or so and, while I did fly during the winter, it’s so much more enjoyable when your fingers aren’t frozen to the sticks.

On a recent trip to the local park with my daughter, I decided to take a plane with me that I haven’t flown in a while: my Firebird Scout. Thanks to its smaller size, it can be flown in more confined areas than larger planes require. While my daughter played on the park equipment, I gave the Firebird Scout a gentle toss and it was in the air in no time. It was really different flying the Firebird Scout now that I’ve flown bigger, faster, and more complicated planes. What felt like a challenging little plane when I first flew it (those many months ago now) seemed much easier to fly and maneuver. It really seemed rather effortless to fly the Firebird Scout now. Maybe it was just because I was more relaxed and not so worried about crashing. I made sure to keep it far enough away from the jungle gym so that, in the event of a crash, I wouldn’t have to worry about any of the kids, but that didn’t keep them from cheering it on and enjoying watching me fly.

For me, I am going to be returning to my roots for the weekend. I am going down to Memphis for the Tamiya Championship Series Regional Event, which will be held at the HobbyTown USA in Germantown, Tennessee on April 30th. If you’re in the area, stop on by and say hello and watch some cool racing. I’ll see you all when I get back.

New Entry Sharpening my Blade

The rain and high winds haven’t really lightened up much over the last few days, which has made outdoor flying particularly challenging. This is one of the biggest reasons why I couldn’t wait to get my hands on an E-flite Blade CX, and I’ve been having a blast with it since last week. Before I had even gotten home with my new prize, I had charged up two batteries in the office—not that I was looking forward to flying it or anything. Once I did get home, I tore into the box faster than a hyperactive child that’s been eating Pixy Sticks all day long. I did slow down long enough to read through the instruction manual, and I am really glad I did. While I knew quite a bit about the Blade CX from training sessions I’ve been able to attend and from talking with Jason Merkle, one of the lead designers of the Blade CX, there was still a lot of information I was able to pull from the manual. This is a complicated piece of machinery; fight the urge to simply watch the VCD and not read the manual.

Once I had my first pack installed into the canopy, I took a few moments to make sure that the Blade CX was properly balanced front to rear per the instructions in the manual. I didn’t need to change the position of the battery much in order to get it to level out and I was soon ready to fly. I decided to fly the Blade CX in my den, as that room has the tallest ceilings in my house. I slowly increased the throttle until the Blade CX leapt off the ground and into the air. It held its position quite nicely about 4 or 5 feet off the ground. I gave the right stick some input and the Blade CX slowly rotated to face me. I played around with the right stick as well, to pitch it side to side and front to rear. After about ten minutes of flight time, I noticed that the battery was starting to run down. I landed and inspected the Blade CX, mostly curious as to how hot the motors would be. Even with the heat sinks installed and the optional heat sink compound, the motors were still very hot. I’m glad I checked this instead of just slapping a new battery in and flying again. Excessive heat can shorten the life of the motors, so I simply waited about ten minutes before I flew the second pack. I also removed the front canopy to allow the heat to radiate out, and it worked perfectly. Since the first night, I have flown for about half an hour each night. This thing is a blast!

New Entry It’s a Wrap!

I don’t know if the weather has been as moderate around the entire country as it has been here, but I love the fact that I’ve been able to fly most of this winter. Granted, the 30’s and 40’s aren’t exactly balmy, but it’s better than the low-teens with 2 feet of snow on the ground. Once again, I was able to go out flying over the weekend, but it was not entirely without incident.

I loaded up my car with my Firebird Commander 2 and my yellow lab Max, and we headed to a local “Bark Park” to let him get some exercise while I tried to get some flying in. I was glad to see when we pulled up that the park was empty, so I wouldn’t have to worry about disturbing other people or animals, and I let Max out to get rid of some energy and run around a bit. With one eye on Max, I took to the skies with the Firebird Commander 2, just to get rid of some more of this “transmitter rust.” It was rather breezy, but I was able to fly without too much trouble. That is, until it was time to land. How many times have I promised not to fly in excessive winds? Too many, but I once again just “had to fly” and was punished appropriately for it. I’ve said “everything was going fine until…” too many times. This time it was until the battery started to die and it was time to land. I ended up staying up a little too long and had a problem fighting the wind, which caused a less than ideal landing. It wasn’t a crash per-se, but for some reason the landing gear had been inexplicably pulled off of the plane when I went to grab it. Max sat down next to the downed plane with a dopey look on his face, almost as if he was laughing at me. I put him back on his leash, grabbed the Firebird Commander 2 and headed home.

With that flight session under my belt, I turned my attention back to the Tribute 3D. I now have all of the servos installed, the receiver is mounted, and all it needs now is a speed controller, motor, gearbox, and battery. With the weather like it is, I am hoping to get my first flight with it within the next week or two.

New Entry Nearing Completion

I had to keep saying it, didn’t I? I had to keep commenting on how nice and moderate the temps had been and how I loved the fact that we didn’t have any snow. Well, the cold paid us a nice visit this week, but thankfully it’s warmed up to the low 40’s over the last couple days. This gave me the opportunity to hit the skies for some time this past week, and I am glad I did. I haven’t flown with the Sonic Combat Module in some time, and I’ve wanted to improve on my flying skills. Being able to just fly and keep a plane from crashing can be a challenge in and of itself, but actually flying a desired pattern can take some time to be able to do. With the SCM mounted to my Firebird Commander 2, I grabbed my Sonic Target and stand and hit the sky. There was a light wind that helped me get up in the air quickly but also made keeping the plane tracking straight interesting on my “bombing runs.” I found that if I tried to pull in tight and make a run versus taking a bigger run and larger arch towards the target, that it was much more difficult to record “hits” consistently. If I took a longer approach, however, I was able to hit the target more times than not. After a couple packs, I packed up and went inside. (My hands felt like they were frozen to the transmitter. Gloves would be a good idea next time.)

To update you on the Tribute 3D, I plan on having the servos, control horns, and rods installed this weekend. That simply leaves me with the ESC, motor, prop, battery, and gear to install. Things are going along quite well and I am really looking forward to flying this plane. For me, I enjoy building a kit almost as much if not more than actually using it, and the Tribute 3D has been a lot of fun thus far.

New Entry It's A New Year

There’s something odd about the beginning of a new year that I can’t put my finger on. I don’t know if it is that I need to remember to change the year when I date something or making New Year’s Resolutions, but there’s just something about it. I think it’s having a fresh start again. All in all, I think that 2006 will be a better year in many facets, including hopefully my flying skills.

I hope I am not the only one who is absolutely thrilled that the weather this winter has been unusually mild. While I am sure that we’re going to pay for it come February or March when we get buried under 8 feet of snow, I am using this unusually warm weather to get some extra flying time in. I’ve been spending some time lately not only with my Firebird Commander 2, but also with the J-3 Cub. The more I fly with it, the more confidence I gain in the air. It definitely flies differently than the HobbyZone planes I have most of my experience with. The biggest difference I notice between the two is how much more sensitive the J-3 Cub is to throttle inputs . Where I would normally fly at 3/4 throttle with my Firebird Commander 2 rather comfortably, I have found that I need to keep the throttle pretty steady at 85% or above to maintain altitude without having to pull back on the right stick. Overall I must admit that without my previous experience with the HobbyZone planes I’ve flown, flying the J-3 Cub would be literally over my head.

New Entry Transmitter Time

It’s been about a month since I’ve been in my new home and all I have to say is that whoever thinks moving to another state is fun needs to have their head examined. It’s a laborious task that I wouldn’t recommend to anyone at anytime. Thankfully, my wife kicked me out of the house recently and insisted that I go drive or fly something. It’s been tough to do either with the winds and snow we’ve had around here recently, but on that particular evening the winds were calm without a trace of the white stuff in the air. I grabbed my Firebird Commander 2 and my J-3 Cub and headed to an open field.

Since it had been a little time since I had a chance at the sticks, I was especially glad that I’d decided to take the Firebird Commander 2 along. It helped me find my comfort level in the air before I moved to the more advanced J-3 Cub. Once I landed the Firebird Commander 2, I decided I was going to perform my first rolling takeoff with the J-3 Cub. Each time I do this with a new plane it is more exciting than the last, and this was no exception. I needed to adjust my flying style with the J-3 Cub as its larger control surfaces help it react faster to my inputs. After a total flying time of about 45 minutes, I was sufficiently chilled and less crabby, so I packed things up and headed home.

With the last few postings, I have referenced different indoor projects to keep you involved in the hobby over the cold months. Well, I have two new projects to start on myself. Over the next few weeks I, along with good friend and co-worker John Spencer, will be building a pair of E-flite Ultimate 3Ds and an

E-flite Tribute 3D. Both planes are considerably more advanced than what I have flown in the past, but it should be an interesting learning curve.

New Entry Enough Crashing, It’s Time to Fly!

Repeated crashes can make anyone second guess themselves, and I must admit that my confidence has been shaken lately. I sat down and mentally went through each of my recent flights and the problems I incurred in each one. I found that there were several recurring themes that were repeated in each crash. First, I was trying to fly when it was much too windy out; cardinal sin #1. Next, I have been guilty of being overconfident in my recent flights, attempting maneuvers that are still over my skill level; cardinal sin #2. Third, I have been attempting to fly a new plane in the same manner as my previous planes. Since each model flies differently, I found myself guilty of committing cardinal sin #3.

OK, so now that I’ve admitted my mistakes, what am I going to do about it? Well, I snagged my Firebird Commander 2 and the J-3 Cub and headed back to the Rantoul airport. Instead of just jumping into the Cub with both feet, I took the Firebird Commander 2 up first. I’m very comfortable flying this plane at this point and it’s a fun plane to fly too. After flying through two battery backs in the Firebird Commander 2, I had managed to restore some of my confidence. Instead of flying with my 7-cell packs that I had been using, I went with the 6-cell packs to more closely approximate the speed of the J-3 Cub. After my final pack through the Firebird Commander 2, I grabbed my J-3 Cub and hit the sky. This time, however, I performed a rolling take-off and took it very easy on the controls until I reached a safe cruising altitude. Instead of the big stick movements I had been trying to use, I used much more subtle and refined ones to help prevent myself from overcorrecting. And you know what? I didn’t crash! I ran two packs through the J-3 Cub without any incident. I spent a total of about an hour and fifteen minutes in the air between both planes, and it was about the best medicine I could have gotten.

New Entry First Flight with the J-3 Cub

I couldn’t wait to finally get the ParkZone J-3 Cub up in the air. The winds have been very gusty during the days lately, but the early evenings have been quite a bit calmer. I grabbed the new plane and headed out around 4:30 with Eric Johnson, experienced pilot and HobbyZone/ParkZone Product Manager, at my side. The skies were getting pretty dark, but I felt like there was more than enough light for what I anticipated would be a short initial test flight. Unlike the HobbyZone planes I had flown, I didn’t have to arm the motor prior to takeoff. I hand launched the J-3 Cub, heading directly into the wind. I moved my left hand quickly back to the transmitter and began to climb with the Cub. I started to get a bit nervous as the wind picked up while I was climbing for the first time. A gust of wind came along and made the J-3 Cub pitch to the right, and I quickly gave the radio some left input. I must have given it a bit too much as it started rocking back and forth until it got to the point where I couldn’t keep up with it and the J-3 Cub crashed into the ground. A less than stellar first attempt, but I was glad Eric was with me. My first response to the crash was to say “Tell me what I did wrong.” Eric noted that I was over-controlling the plane instead of just letting it climb and fly itself. I needed to relax and let the J-3 Cub fly itself so to speak. We walked over to the crash site and noticed that the prop had broken. It was my own fault, and I headed back in for some minor repairs. My next flight would be more successful, I was sure of it. But now it’s time to go eat some birthday cake, as today is my daughter’s 3rd birthday and she has a few more presents to open.

New Entry Another First Time

Before I took to the air with the J-3 Cub (PKZ1100), I had a rather unique opportunity that presented itself. Several production samples of the new E-flite Blade CX (EFLH1200) found their way into the office and a few of us were given the chance to test fly them. Needless to say, I was completely geeked to do this. I’ve seen a few other people fly this new heli and have really wanted to try it out for myself.

Several people flew before I did and, as we progressed from one person to the next, I became increasingly impatient; I wanted a turn! I finally had my chance at the sticks, and I couldn’t wait to try this bad boy out. I must admit I was only half-listening to the instructions that 2005 World Micro Heli Cup Champion Jason Merkle was giving me. That could have been disastrous, but since the Blade CX flies so well it wasn’t an issue. Soon enough I was in the air and I quickly found a comfortable throttle level for the Blade CX that would allow it to maintain its altitude without rocketing up to the ceiling. It was weird flying the Blade CX. Maybe weird isn’t the right word, but it was absolutely effortless. The Blade CX wants to fly level and straight, it’s built into its design. With my background in cars and trucks, it took me a while to get used to the idea of turning the nose of the Blade CX with the left stick, while the right stick controlled front to rear and side to side pitch. I flew for several minutes before it was time to hand the transmitter off to someone else. Once I landed, I repeated the same thing those who flew before me said: I’ve got to get me one of these!

New Entry Don’t Get Too Big For Your Britches

With daylight savings time over, the time I have to fly after work has been reduced more and more with every passing night. Toss unpacking from my move into the mix, and you get a situation where flying time is very limited. With the amount of time that I have spent flying since I started this Blog, there have been occasions when I have admittedly flown when I shouldn’t have. Last night was just one of those times.

I had my Aerobird Challenger with me when I left work and headed to the park at the local college. It was dusk when I arrived at the park and the winds were pretty gusty. With the daylight all but gone, I was thankful that I had my Night Flight Module (HBZ3510). Once the module was attached, I hand launched the Aerobird Challenger, confident that this would be yet another successful flight. I was wrong. As soon as I was in the air I noticed that the Aerobird Challenger was being severely buffeted around by the strong winds. It was nearly impossible to hold course, let alone get the plane to respond to my transmitter inputs. I tried to land almost as soon as I was up in the air, admitting to myself that I had taken the plane up in conditions that were way too windy. I was about 25 feet from touchdown when all of a sudden the wind kicked up, made the plane climb rapidly, and just as quickly it was nosed into the ground like a lawn dart. As I walked over to inspect the crash-site, I was angry at myself when I assessed the damage. The battery had been ejected from the canopy; the wing had broken near its centerline; the epoxy that held the tail boom in place in the fuselage broke, allowing the boom to slide in and out and rotate. And worst of all, I could have prevented all of this by simply being smarter about when to fly.


While my Aerobird Challenger is out of commission for a bit, there is a new plane that will be taking off from The Runway. All of the votes have been tallied, and there is a clear winner in the J-3 Cub vs. Super Decathlon race. In a last minute flurry of ballots, you voted the J-3 Cub as your choice for the next Runway subject plane. The winds are supposed to die down tomorrow, so I will give you a first flight report in a couple of days.

New Entry Home At Last

Sorry about the extended absence, but it’s good to have my family together in a new home. For those of you considering moving cross country, there are less fun activities; I just can’t think of any right now. But the hard work was well worth it. Sure, I’ll be tripping over half-empty boxes for a while, wondering where my hammer or screw drivers disappeared to, and trying to remember where my wife moved things to for the ump-teenth time, but those are the joys of moving.

One of my main concerns in moving was actually with my RC equipment. After all, I have a number of different chargers, battery packs, tools and, of course, cars and planes. So how exactly do you move all this stuff safely? To be completely honest with you, it’s all in the preparation. With my cars, I have hauler bags and boxes to lug everything around in, but my airplane equipment was a little more interesting. There aren’t any battery carriers or anything similar to what I have for my car batteries, but there are ways to safely carry and transport your battery packs. I keep the boxes from my planes, as they provide a great place to store your plane for transport to the field or store it while protecting the wing and tail from potential damage. Also, there are a number of nooks and crannies inside the foam boxes from the Firebird Scout, Firebird Commander, Firebird Commander 2 and, of course, the Aerobird Challenger that can hold battery packs and chargers securely and protect them from potential puncture or damage.

Now that everything has been packed and moved, I’m feeling the itch to get out and do some flying…before the winter weather arrives!


With the voting coming to an end, the J-3 Cub is leading in the voting for the next plane to be used here in The Runway. The winner will be announced on Friday. To vote, simply e-mail me at with "Plane Choice" in the subject line.

New Entry Broadening Your Horizons

When you first enter this hobby, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut and fly in a hole. Not literally a hole, but where you are only flying by yourself instead of flying with others. I know some people are intimidated to fly with more experienced pilots, but the truth is that there is nothing to be intimidated about. Every single experienced pilot started with absolutely zero previous experience. Everyone starts somewhere.

So the question is, how do you get to meet other people to fly with? Your two best sources of information will be your local hobby store and the AMA. You’ve presumably already had one positive experience at the hobby store when you bought your plane. Your hobby store will generally know where the local flying fields and clubs are and what kinds of equipment people are flying. The AMA ( Academy of Model Aeronautics; is the largest sanctioning body of model aircraft flight in the USA and provides modelers everything from educational materials to insurance. By joining the AMA, you join a community of people who already share your interest in model flight. You’ll receive regular newsletters, and have access to fly at AMA approved flying fields. There are a number of great reasons to join the AMA.

My next posting won’t be until Wednesday, November 2. I’m spending the next few days finally making that move from Wisconsin to Champaign. See you next week!


The voting for the next Runway subject airplane is tied right now between the Super Decathlon and the J-3 Cub. With only 10 days left in the voting, make sure you send an E-mail to and let me know which plane you’d like to see flown next.

New Entry Passing on What You've Learned

One of the neat things about the radio control hobby, be it air or surface, is that you have the opportunity to not only be a student, but you also have the opportunity to become the teacher and pass on the knowledge that you have gained. This is one of the reoccurring themes that I hope rings true throughout “The Runway” —that as I learn and grow, through the sharing of my experiences, you feel like you can grow and learn side-by-side with me. I want to share one particular experience I had recently with someone who was just starting out.

A friend of mine, that I have raced with for a number of years, was much like I was before I started writing The Runway: interested in flight but intimidated at the perceived cost and difficulty. He came with me as I headed out to fly one day, curious to see what this flying thing was all about. I took three planes with my, my Firebird Scout, my Firebird Commander 2, and my Aerobird Challenger. The winds were pretty calm, so I felt pretty comfortable letting him take something up in the air. I took the Firebird Scout up first, talking with him the whole time as he watched not only the plane, but my hands on the controls as well. He thought that the Firebird Scout looked cool and easy enough to fly, but unfortunately I drained the battery down all the way by the time he asked if he could try. Next up was the Firebird Commander 2 which I brought along specifically for him to fly, since it was equipped with ACT. This time, I didn’t take it up initially, I simply armed the motor for him, checked the control surfaces, and handed him the radio and plane. He had that “deer in the headlights” look on his face, but I told him to trust me. I grabbed my Aerobird Challenger and hand launched it, encouraging him to do the same with the Firebird Commander 2. He pushed forward on the throttle stick and successfully hand launched the plane. He quickly became acclimated to the third dimension involved with flying, and we spent the next fifteen minutes or so talking back and forth as I gave him flying tips and answered his questions while we just flew together. Once the battery packs felt like they were getting a little flat, I landed first to show him how to do it. He brought in the Firebird Commander 2 next as I talked him through it. He brought it in a little fast, but overall it was a successful first flight and landing. We went through a few more battery packs before we called it a day. The next day he called me up to tell me he had purchased a Firebird Commander 2 of his own from our local hobby store. To me, that’s what this hobby is all about, sharing the experience and fun of just going out with a couple of buddies and flying or driving.

New Entry Stomping Grounds

Over the last number of months as you have read along with me in The Runway, I have made a number of mentions of flying in Rantoul, IL, Champaign, IL, and even in Milwaukee, WI. Well, it’s almost time for me to find some new stomping grounds as I pull up my roots in Wisconsin and get ready to move into a new home here in Central Illinois. As I am still waiting to get into my new home with my family, I have driven all over the area where I will be re-relocating, looking for areas where I can fly. Using all the recommendations from the HobbyZone product managers that I have received to this point, I found a nice large field to fly in within walking distance of my new home. Let me rephrase that; I will be able to fly in the field from my front porch if I’d like. It is going to be too cool. Look for some postings in a month or so as I set up my new work space in my new basement (it’s currently unfinished). I have some interesting ideas that, if they pan out, are going to make my new work area absolutely awesome. I’ll keep you informed.

So as I sit here getting ready to move (an experience I don’t highly recommend FYI), I have thought about progressing to a ParkZone plane. After all, moving is stressful and a new toy would help me de-stress and relax. In discussing the idea with a number of experienced pilots, I’ve narrowed my choice down to two planes: The ParkZone J-3 Cub (PKZ1100) and the ParkZone Super Decathlon (PKZ1400). These two planes are very similar in size and performance, but I can’t decide which to go with. Here’s where you come in, as I’m going to leave the decision up to you, the readers of The Runway. Between now and November 4 th, e-mail your choice to with “Plane Choice” in the subject line. I will announce the top vote getter on November 9 th, and I will begin flying that plane and posting it in the days that follow. This is your opportunity to shape what you see here; I’m relying on all you guys and gals out there. Vote now and let your opinion be heard!

New Entry Cold Weather Blues

Ok, so I’ve told you over and over how patience is not a virtue of mine, and I hate to wait, right? Here’s something else about me: I despise winter and the cold. It’s not winter so much that I dislike, as I like snow, unless I have to shovel two feet of it off my driveway. Add in that I’m always bummed when there isn’t snow around the holidays. But temperatures in the teens and I just don’t get along well together. Let me put this in context for you; I’m sitting at my desk typing this with my jacket on right now because it’s 72 degrees in the office and that’s cold to me. When it comes to the cold, I’m a wuss, but I’m ok with that. That being said, when the first bit of cold weather blew through here (ok, it only got down to 40, but I really, really dislike the cold), it reminded me that I do live in an area that has hot and cold seasons and that the time I had left to fly outdoors was coming to an end. This being said, I needed to start a game plan for the winter to see what I was going to do to keep flying and learning.

As I began my research on how to occupy my winter, I came upon an article on indoor flight on I felt like this article directly spoke to me and my experiences. From the mention of the consistent warm temperatures, the inexpensive cost of the kits (I am notoriously cheap), to the slow speeds—this all seemed very appealing to me. So it looks like I’ll potentially move in that direction once the cold weather hits us for good. Until then, there are still plenty of moderate days left in fall for me to get out with my Firebird Commander 2 and Aerobird Challenger and keep flying.

But speaking of indoor flight, I am really jazzed about a product that was just announced this past week. The E-flite Blade CP has intrigued me since the first time I saw it, but I didn’t think I had the skills necessary to fly it successfully as of yet. Well, E-flite announced this week that the new E-flite Blade CX will be available soon and it looks like something I need to get my hands on. I haven’t had a chance to fly one yet, but I’ve seen Jason Merkle fly the Blade CX in our break room here in the offices, and all I can say is I need one of these. Plus, it flies terrifically indoors, too, which would help me get through the coming winter months. (Santa, if you’re reading this, I’ve been very good this year, I promise!)

New Entry Getting Kinda Loopy!


I decided to take a break from building my new touring car to spend some time flying my Aerobird Challenger. While I love building and wrenching on different cars and trucks, there can be times when enough is enough and I need a break. Lately I’ve been playing around on a friend’s flight simulator, and it has a plane on it that is very similar to the Aerobird Challenger. I’ve been able to make the plane on the simulator perform a number of loops and tricks repeatedly, and I wanted to see if I could do this in the real world.


I headed to the same deserted airport where I’ve been flying as of late after work. I had planned ahead and charged up several batteries ahead of time on my Prophet Pro at work. All I needed to do was re-peak each pack before I used it. I took off into the wind, which was thankfully calmer than what we’ve had here over the past number of evenings. I gradually climbed to an altitude of around 150 feet before I began to recreate the stick movements that I had used on the simulator.  I cut back on the throttle, pushed the right stick forward to drop the nose, and the Aerobird Challenger began a steady but controlled dive. Once I dived about 70-feet, I applied full throttle and pulled back on the right stick. Just like on the simulator, the Aerobird Challenger pulled itself through a nice controlled loop. I climbed back up to the same approximate altitude, began the dive, and was able to once again loop the Aerobird Challenger. I wanted to try an outside loop, but I wasn’t confident enough in my piloting skills yet to pull this off safely. However, in addition to loops, I was also able to pull off some nice stall turns, tail slides, and several touch-and-go’s.


I shared my experiences with a few people at work the next day, and one person mentioned that he’s had problems recently with runtime. We spent several minutes talking about battery maintenance, and I’ll share that conversation with you next time.

New Entry A New Challenge-r

Man, why does it always have to be rainy and windy when it’s time to break-in a new plane? Sheesh! The remnants of Hurricane Rita just blew through the area and dumped a ton of rain. But, I’m happy to say that I did just get back in from flying a few packs through the Aerobird Challenger, and I must say “WOW!” Once I launched the Aerobird Challenger, it was like a whole new world had opened up to me.

Much like my first flight with the Firebird Commander 2, I took to the sky with a 6-cell battery initially in order to get a grasp on the flight characteristics of the Aerobird Challenger. I slid the throttle switch all the way forward, and hand launched the plane into the air. Just like on the Firebird Commander 2, the Aerobird Challenger still uses the throttle to control your altitude. Think of the third channel as being there to assist with altitude, but it’s more for performing loops and tricks. With the Aerobird Challenger, I was able to fine-tune my flight trajectory with some subtle movements of the right stick in combination with changing the throttle input. Flight time was nearly fifteen minutes per pack, and I flew long enough to go through about five battery packs. I felt more comfortable flying the Aerobird Challenger with each passing minute. Now, I’m not saying that I should have started with the Aerobird Challenger; far from it. I am glad I started with a 2-channel aircraft. It provided the foundation and taught me the basics I needed before I progressed to a more complex and aerobatic plane. But now I am past the basics,, and with the Aerobird Challenger I have even started trying some basic aerobatics, which I’ll share with you next time.

New Entry Back to Basics

There are few things that can compare with the satisfaction of a successful weekend of flying. Well, having Chicago trounce Detroit is nice too, but I think you know what I mean. As I continue to fly and become more comfortable in the air, I have found myself really looking for that third channel on my radio in order to control the pitch of the airplane. I know that I can change altitude through the throttle input, but there are times when I would prefer to leave the throttle set where it is and simply change direction. I am proud to say I have recently taken the plunge into the world of 3-channel planes with my newest purchase, the HobbyZone Aerobird Challenger.

There are a number of reasons why I went with the Aerobird Challenger. I strongly considered advancing to something in the ParkZone series of planes, but the third-channel operation can take some time to get used to, and as most ParkZone Planes are faster and more nimble than a HobbyZone planes. I felt it would be better if I took one more step with a HobbyZone plane instead of rushing to a ParkZone model, saving myself frustration and possibly money in the event of a possible crash. The size and speed of the Aerobird Challenger is very similar to the Firebird Commander 2, making the transition a little easier. I can also use many of the same accessories I already have, such as the X-Port Sonic Combat Module or the X-Port Night-Flight module, with the Aerobird Challenger. Additionally, the Aerobird Challenger also has what’s called “Multi-Mode” featuring software called Flight-Trak. Flight-Trak has been designed to make the transition from 2-channel craft to 3-channel craft easier. With the default Sport Mode, the software automatically adds some up elevator when you turn in one direction to help keep you from losing altitude during a turn. When you progress and turn off Sport Mode and enter into Expert mode, the tail surface movement will actually be mixed. This means that when you move one control surface up, the opposite control surface will angle down. This will make the Aerobird Challenger a much more responsive ‘Bird. Finally, the Aerobird Challenger’s altitude is still primarily controlled by the motor speed and thrust, while the third channel provides a more aerobatic flying experience. Pitch can be somewhat controlled by the right control stick too.

The assembly was identical to the previous HobbyZone planes I’ve built, such as the Firebird Scout, Firebird Commander, and Firebird Commander 2. Just as the battery came to a full charge and I had completed assembly, the skies really opened up and it started pouring outside. This storm was pretty severe too; I wound up losing power for a number of hours. I guess I’ll have to wait for a day or two before I get back up in the sky.