Flying off of water can open up a lot of new areas to fly and expand the enjoyment of the hobby. Your nearest lake can now be a go to spot for that perfect flying day. To me nothing beats that nice smooth landing into the water and taxiing up on shore. As an added bonus for me the backgrounds you find around a lake are generally much more photogenic then your average RC field. Living in Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes, means I have plenty of opportunities for new flying site and new places to explore.
There are some things to consider before dropping your RC airplane into that lake. First off is waterproofing your aircraft. When playing with water your going to get wet. It’s important to make sure your electronics will stay dry. Placement of radio gear can be the best solution. Do your best to keep servos inside the structure and off the lower parts of the plane. The receiver should also be placed in an area where water will not splash onto it or pool around it. You can also use a number of different things to help waterproof your gear. One of the more popular things to do is use corrosion X on your gear. http://www.corrosionx.com/corrosionx.html Applying this to your electronics will help repel the water and keep the connections from rusting or corroding in the case of water contact. Other methods would be to wrap your RX and other gear in ballons with just the wires coming out the opening. Some people have even tried dipping parts in plasti-dip but heat can become an issue then. In any case making sure water does not get on to your electronics is key.
When flying off a lake you also need to be mindful of a method to retrive your plane in case it goes down or flips upside down out in the water. There is nothing worse then being unprepared for a mishap that leaves your plane floating upside down out farther in the lake or sinking into the lake with no way to get to it. Having a full sized boat like a canoe is the best best but in case you don’t have access to one consider having an RC boat or another float plane that can taxi out to the downed airplane and push / tow it back to shore. Another option is a fishing pole with a hookless lure and a bobber that you can try to cast over it to snag it and reel it in. If nothing else bring a change of clothes as you might get wet wading out to save your plane. If possible fly on the downwind side of the lake. That way your plane will more likely be pushed back towards you at the shore instead of farther out into the water. You’ll also want to have a good idea of your running time for each plane. Give yourself a couple minutes of extra run time so you dont’ find yourself landed on the water but with no power to get back to shore.
When it come to flying off of water it might take a couple times to get used to the water handeling. Your plane will not taxi quite the same as it would on land. It will weathervane into the wind and drift around under low power. If you have a flying boat with tip tanks it may want to turn in the direction of the lower tip tank so be ready to compensate with aileron input as well to help keep that wing level. When at speed you find that the plane may sometimes veer one direction or the other quickly. This can happen if your floats are not aligned well or if your tip tanks drop. You might also notice that the plane wants to stick to the water and your first few take offs you might see the plane drag along then just jump out of the water. It’ll take some practice to get a nice scale looking take off.
Once you are in the air depending on the plane you may feel a difference in how it flies with big floats hanging off the bottom. You will notice more drag and you might notice a pendulum effect. Making coordinated turns with rudder input is a great skill in minimizing the pendulum effect so practice using that rudder all the time! The rest of the flight should be no different then flying off of ground but as with all flights good or bad it’s not over till your back on the ground and that means we have to talk about landing.
Landing on water is different then landing on solid ground. How your plane hits the water really depends on your speed. Hit it too fast and it’s like bouncing a ball off of concrete. Hit it to slow and you’ll sink right in and risk flipping over. You really need to fly the plane onto the surface of the water and then ease off the throttle to let it settle in. Each plane will have a different sweet spot of speed and angle of attack on the landing. You’ll want to flare to avoid digging in the tips of the floats but you also want to slide onto the water and not smack onto it. You can practice this at your regular field with conventional gear by really mastering a smooth touch down on the pavement or grass. Don’t just cut the throttle and let the plane drop on the ground but get it to touch down and roll smoothly. This will help you when landing on the water and avoid the rock skipping landings that can happen when you plop it in.
When the day is done it’s good to clean off the plane before packing it up. This will keep your airframe and electronics happy plus keep your car clean. Make sure to plan ahead and bring some towels and even a can of compressed air to make sure you blow out any electronics that may have water on them.
My recent flights at the pond
I recently took out a couple airplanes to fly at a local pond. It was a cool spring day but the winds were low and the sun was out. The first airplane I brought out was the Drake from Park Scale Models. http://www.parkscalemodels.com/shop/item.aspx?itemid=73 Unfortunately this plane ended up upside down instead of in the air. I had my spare plane ready for a rescue but a nearby canoe saved the plane for me and we had a quick chat about the hobby and how they could get into RC flying.
After brushing off my dignity I brought out the Dynam PBY for it’s maiden flight. http://www.nitroplanes.com/60a-d8943-catalina-arf.html A quick checkover found that the elevator control rod had slipped and needed some adjusting. But after that it was ready for the water. After a couple taxi tests to get used to it’s handling I powered her up and took off. THe plane flies great and was easy to land. I found it best to keep the turns shallow on the bank and pull it around with the rudder. Landings were slick as the plane floats in like a glider nice a shallow with just a little power left on the motors. It was a great first flight for this plane.
Don’t be afraid to get your feet wet in RC floatplane flying. It’s great fun and opens up new areas for flying RC!