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in the first article of this safety series, I wrote about shop safety
and the five levels of defense we must practice to keep ourselves and
others free from injury during model construction: proper attitude, prechecks, backup, isolation, and barriers. I'll refer to those in this
month's discussion of model-aircraft flight-preparation safety and
As far as attitude is concerned, I will assume
that you have achieved that first level of safety defense; you are not
hurried, stressed out, tired, distracted, or afflicted with unjustified
overconfidence when you arrive at the flying field. You are well rested
and ready for the interesting process of preparing your aircraft for a
I will also assume that if you are a beginner you have made
arrangements for flight instruction. I'll go into detail about that next
month when I review safety in flight operations.
This discussion will
center on the precheck level of defense, which in this case is the
preflight check of your aircraft. I will cover completing a thorough
preflight check, getting the engine running, and taking the aircraft to
Most organized flying fields have six physical areas
dedicated to model-related activities. Arriving at the field and
starting from the outside these are the parking area, spectator area,
flight-preparation area (also referred to as the "pit"), taxiways,
runway, and overflight area.
A boundarya fence, railroad ties, or other
markingthat clearly separates the various activities normally
identifies the first three areas. The taxiways and runway are apparent.
The overflight area for RC operations will not be marked, but it must be
understood and used by all RC fliers.
AMA defines the overflight area as
an imaginary box with a ground-level footprint that is roughly 2,000
feet long and approximately 600 feet across, with the runway centered at
the edge of one of the long sides. This box is surrounded by a safety
zone that extends 250 feet beyond both ends and beyond the side opposite
the runway. All flight operations are to be conducted in this imaginary
This flight-operations box is usually considered to be 400 feet
high to avoid any interference with full-scale aircraft. There can be no
people, buildings, major roadways, or full-scale aircraft operating
within the RC flight-operations box.
This kind of layout for a model
flying field physically isolates the overflight area from areas
containing people. This lowers the safety risk from aircraft control
failures. If control of a model is lost for some reason, it will likely
crash in an area away from pilots and spectators.
If the various
sections are not clearly identified at the flying field where you intend
to fly, ask a modeler who is familiar with the field what defines the
The first point
of field etiquette is that if you are
unfamiliar with the flying field, ask if there are any restrictions or
special rules for flying there.
Flying at any model airdrome chartered
under the auspices of AMA requires you to have an AMA membership, to
establish that you have met the insurance requirements for flying at the
Most sites have specific rules such as restrictions on sound
levels from operating engines, starting and taxiing restrictions for
certain aircraft, or prohibition of alcoholic beverages. You should
learn what the rules are before flying rather than be told, in no
uncertain way, after you violate one of them.
Click on photo to view large image with caption
The second point
flying-field etiquette is ensuring that you have authorization to turn
on your radio transmitter. However, this is more than etiquette; it is
an essential point of safety for control of RC aircraft at every AMA
chartered flying field.
Each site has some method of controlling
radio-frequency usage. Only one model at a time can be flown on a
specific frequency. Energizing a second radio transmitter on the same
frequency will jam the operating signal for the flying aircraft, causing
it to be uncontrollable and crash.
There are 50 discrete radio
frequencies in the most-used 72 MHz radio broadcast band for control of
model aircraft. Each broadcast frequency is referred to as a "channel."
The channel number appears on a label on the back of your radio
The use of these frequencies is controlled by the
employment of frequency paddles you obtain and clip onto your
transmitter antenna. The first step in preparing your model for flight
when you arrive at the flying field is to obtain the appropriate
Go to the staging area for the frequency paddles and
place your AMA card in the slot when you take one. Only turn on your
transmitter if you have the frequency paddle for that frequency attached
to your antenna.
A secondary benefit of placing your AMA card in the
slot comes into play if someone else would like to use the frequency you
are on. He or she can look at your card to see who has the use of the
Be thoughtful. After your flight, turn off your radio and
store the transmitter, return the paddle to the frequency control board,
and retrieve your AMA card.
Most modelers will hold you responsible for
equipment replacement or repair costs if you cause a crash by operating
your radio transmitter without authorization. Even worse, doing so
places everyone at the flying field and in the vicinity at risk by
interfering with the control of an airborne aircraft. All our safety
precautions based on attitude, precheck, and backup would be voided with
one simple flip of the transmitter switch. Please make sure you have
authorizationthe frequency paddlebefore turning on your radio
Once you have the paddle for your channel and have placed
it on your radio antenna, turn on your transmitter and then the receiver
in your model. You are ready for the preflight inspection of your
There are four necessary checks for a radio-controlled model
before flight: a bolts-tight and visual inspection of the model's
exterior, a control-function check, a battery check, and a
radio-reception check. It is better to perform these before you fuel the
aircraft. You may need to turn it upside down for some of the checks,
and if it's fueled there may be a spill.
The types of prechecks are
detailed in the following.
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