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Landing Your R/C Plane Safely

Published: July 4, 2019


Categories: R/C Planes

Taking off may be optional, but landing is mandatory – and much harder. Here are our tips on the perfect, safe, R/C plane landing.

Approach and Landing Circuit

There are two possible approaches. The first one involves a full landing circuit. The pilot navigates a crosswind leg and then shifts to a downwind one. The last step before turning the aircraft back in to wind is the base leg.


The second approach – and the more popular one – is where the pilot does away with the crosswind leg. The circuit starts directly on the base leg or on the downwind leg. It is preferable to fly part or all of the downwind leg because the pilot has more time to get ready for landing. The downwind leg is the place and time to put features like retractable undercarriage and flaps in use.

You’d need to fly in the same direction as the wind if you start with the downwind leg. For the final approach, you need to turn the aircraft against the wind (180 degrees).

At this point, you can fly a gradual, continuous turn from downwind leg to landing or fly a straight base leg with a 90 ° turn at each end.

What Should I Know about the Descent?

Ideally, you’d imitate ‘real’ planes’ landing pattern. Begin by flying into the wind and away from you. The shape of the landing pattern will be rectangular with four clear 90-degree turns. As the first turn comes, the plane should be about 100 feet up. The second turn should position the downward leg so that the craft is flying on the opposite side of the field parallel to the runway away from you.

Keep the craft level and straight until it is right in front of the location, then start descending and reduce the throttle by about 25 percent. There should be a third 90-degree turn in the same direction. Start navigating the plane into the crosswind, downwind, base leg descent. Reduce your throttle by another 20 percent (it should be around 50 percent now) and have the plane drop to around 60 feet.

Now, you can proceed to the last turn. Don’t forget to use the elevator to control the speed and the throttle to control the rate of descent.

What Do I Need to Know about the Landing Process?

Your plane’s altitude should be around 30 feet before you begin your downwind leg. However, this guideline is not set in stone. The size and type of your R/C plane will have great bearing on this. With practice and experience, you’ll learn how high to fly the downwind leg. Just make sure the altitude is not excessive because the plane will be moving too fast as it makes its final approach and might miss the landing area.

To begin the landing process, navigate the craft downwind until it passes you by a maximum of 150 feet or so. Then, turn it 180 degrees via reverse control. It should be coming back towards you. As you make the turn, keep the bank angle shallow and reduce the motor power slowly. If the plane drops too soon and too much, be prepared to increase the power again quickly.

The Effects of Wind

While trying to land the plane, keep in mind you’ll need more power if you are landing into wind. If that’s not the case, you’ll need less power. Even R/C planes aren’t immune to turbulence, so trim your plane (details below) with a bigger throttle and more power if you see a strong air current. Normally, turbulence occurs when there is a formidable uprise in front of the spot for landing. Big trees or multistory buildings can lead to such problems in strong current. Make sure your approach is stable as you try to land.

What are the Advantages of a Trimmed Airplane?

Some of the main ones are listed below:

·         Smooth control inputs

·         Plane approaches at reasonable speed and height

·         During approach, power setting remains constant

·         Only minor control changes required during approach

·         You make stable and small turns

What is the ‘Flare’?

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Reduce the power to slow the plane down until you land it. This is the last stage of landing, also known as the flare, performed just before touchdown. The point of a good flare is making sure the plane lands softly and doesn’t bounce back up. The flaring altitude depends on your R/C plane.

More specifically, pull back on the elevator and pull up the plane’s nose a bit to slow it down. After that, do a stall with the plane’s wheels a few inches off the ground. If you do it right, the plane will greet the runway softly, with a smooth rollout.

Flaring too late might lead to the plane’s hitting the runway hard and bouncing back up with no or insufficient airspeed, which isn’t desirable. If this happens, increase the power and try landing again after hovering for a while.

Flaring too soon isn’t recommended either because you risk having a wing come into contact with the runway before the wheels, leading to the plane’s doing a cartwheel of sorts. Alternatively, the plane might bounce back up, as with flaring too late.

Should I Fly In or Glide?

It’s normal for many R/C pilots to move to final approach and cut the motor power. You can either fly your plane in or glide it in to land. Using the motor power the right way means you have more and better control over the rate of the plane’s descent and its airspeed. What is more, a windmilling (free-wheeling) propeller that turns with air flow creates less drag than one that turns slowly under power.

Final Thoughts

As you’ve learned, landing an R/C plane is tricky, but it’ll get easier if you try our tips. Never underestimate expert advice. Follow user manual instructions closely and, if possible, get a trained pilot to help you learn the ropes if you’re a novice.