How do I learn 3D?
The best combo for learning 3D is a durable 3D capable plane (like the TufFlight Bouncer) and a computer flight simulator.
Fly as much as you can, and fly the sim when it rains. There is no substitute for practice. You've heard it before, and it's true.
The "gold standard" for flight sims has arguably always been the RealFlight series from Knife Edge Software. There are other simulators available and most of them are very good. Really any simulator will speed your learning, but Realflight is the cadillac.
The stock Realflight Yak 54 is a good plane to use when learning to fly 3D. There isn't much point in using trainers on a simulator-- if you can handle the sim, you're that much closer to mastering real life. Since there's no penalty for crashing, you may as well challenge yourself with a more capable plane. The stock Realflight Yak 54 is set up to have a good power to weight ratio, has no bad habits and good control authority without needing to adjust anything -- just like our Bouncer!
I was thinking of getting a video section on the web site for learning to practice basic 3D moves, with video showing stick movements and corresponding plane motion. The problem is that it really doesn't take a lot of stick deflection to make the plane perform many of the 3D maneuvers UNTIL you get into trouble, then you jerk the sticks around. If you watch someone's thumbs while doing a harrier or a torque roll, only very small control inputs are needed unless radical direction changes are demanded. The large control throws (40 to 50 degrees of throw on all surfaces-- ailerons, rudder and elevator) and use of EXPONENTIAL radio transmitter programming allow this. Expo (up to 50%) "softens" the controls around the centers, but preserves the radical throws you'll need for wild stunts-- and recovering the plane when you get into trouble. This is a key component to 3D flight and very few pilots fly 3D without some expo.
To start, I can advise you to first master the harrier. A Harrier is when the plane pitches up around 45 degrees, and stops flying entirely on the wing-- in fact, the wing is "dragged around" -- the prop thrust is lifting the plane, and you are largely vectoring the thrust with use of elevator and rudder. Key to performing a harrier is maintaining constant altitude. Learn to balance the throttle and elevator. Steer it wherever you like in all directions using the rudder, with some aileron input to keep the wings level. You don't need to mix any spoilers to do it, although you can if you wish. If you notice ANY wing rocking at all, make sure your ailerons are not pointing down (like flaps) when your aileron trim is level as it should be rock steady in the harrier. If you want to get fancy, you can progress to inverted harrier (rudder action is reversed inverted, just like the elevator). The Bouncer is an excellent inverted harrier trainer, because it does not drop its tail and lets you concentrate on steering and less on balancing the elevator and throttle over a good speed range.
Flying a harrier allows you to fly in smaller spaces, because forward airspeed is slower, and you can steer to avoid obstacles easier with a smaller turning radius. With practice, accomplished 3D pilots fly in many places not before accessible (ie, back/front yards) but this should be done only when skill and safety concerns allow.
Knife Edge flying is one of the Bouncer's prime fortes. While traditionally knife edge flying isn't a 3D maneuver, when done at slow airspeed it becomes by definition a "high alfa" maneuver and the prop provides more of the lift. However, the fuselage provides some lift by deflecting oncoming air to keep the plane from falling (as a wing does in a harrier). The "zero coupling" traits of the Bouncer means you will need very little aileron or elevator correction to maintain straight flight. You can concentrate on throttle and rudder setting to maintain altitude and speed, and steer a course around your flying area using the elevator. High alfa low altitude knife edge stunts are mesmerizing and very fun to perform in still air.
Snap Rolls are also not traditional 3D moves, but because of the Bouncer's large control surfaces, with the application of full controls it will enter a very "deep" stall and lose almost all forward momentum, so snaps are a quick way to enter the "high alfa" 3D regime and make exciting entries to harriers, torque rolls or whatever other slow flight you imagine. We like to do them on takeoff. Simply have some forward speed (mid to full throttle), then quickly give full up elevator, right or left rudder, and full aileron in the same direction as the rudder. Then quickly bring the throttle down as the snap and stall ensues. Depending on how much speed and control throw you have, you may need more or less aileron, rudder or elevator input. Practice with sufficient altitude to see what varying the amount of each control does. Timing the entries and exits can be important when flying low.
Waterfalls are relatively easy to learn. Climb to a comfortable height, enter a hover(ing) attitude, then give full power and full down elevator. If you have enough power and down throw (50 degrees is good), it will flip right over. You can either let it keep flipping like this, or catch it for a single waterfall flip. Practice high at first. You can do tighter waterfalls by giving full power initially, but backing off the throttle as the nose points down, and then give power as the nose comes up again. This vectoring the thrust (to avoid giving thrust when pointed down) is the key to NOT losing much altitude.
Pinwheels are similar to waterfalls but they are done with the rudder. With the right power combination, the bouncer does them well. It's very important to time the application of throttle to make a pinwheel look nice and tight.
Walls can be exciting to perform and watch. A wall is basically fast level flight with the sudden application of full up elevator and then adjusting the throttle to maintain altitude (often followed by a hover or torque roll attitude). Good walls will happen suddenly and result in very little altitude gain. Quickly stalling the wing is key.
Parachutes are basically power off dives with the application of full throttle and elevator "at the last second" to avoid hitting the ground. A parachute is like a "wall" maneuver, but the plane has to rotate farther so a strong motor with a prop having good thrust and a LOT of elevator throw are key to enabling this maneuver. Practice high of course to avoid hitting the ground during the first trial runs.
Flat spins can be tricky to sustain with a plane designed for 3D. Spin entry is easy, by applying full left or right rudder, some aileron, and up elevator to initiate a stall and spin. Then, you need to finesse the ailerons to flatten the spin -- with opposite aileron, and adjust ALL the controls to keep the spin going, and the wings flat. Non-3D planes often do flat spins easier, as you can just jam the sticks in the corners and hold them there, but 3D planes with big control surfaces and control throws need a lot of finessing. You can do rising flat spins, inverted or upright with practice. It's pretty mesmerizing to do flat spins on a calm day a few feet off the deck.
Knife edge spins are also among the "finesse" maneuvers which can be tricky to perform. Basically, you need to climb to high altitude, enter a spin and get the plane to have zero forward airspeed and point a wingtip down. Then apply full rudder and throttle to keep the knife edge attitude as though you're trying to point the nose "up" but at the same time apply full down elevator to force the plane to pivot around the pitch axis. The plane will fall vertically rapidly, spinning around the wingtips. Entering the spin to initiate the correct attitude is by far the hardest part of the maneuver and exact controls will vary depending on flight trim and travel adjustments, but KE spins are fun once you get the knack.
Rolling Harriers are a lot like 4 point rolls, or slow rolls, with the controls blending into one another. The difference here, is you need to have lots of throw. If your thumbs "know how" to do a 4 point roll, you can work them into a roller, and they often "remember" how to do a roller to the left or right after a lot of practice without you thinking about it. Just be careful you don't rely on the timing of the motions-- you need to synchronize what you see to what each thumb does. The sequence of rocking your thumbs back and forth, up and down will always be the same, given your roll direction remains the same. You always need to give top rudder, and elevator to keep the nose pointed up to vector the thrust, and keep the ailerons deflected to keep the plane rolling as it slowly moves forward. You'll often hear pilots "pulse" the throttle during rollers, as it's a bit easier to combine throttle to be simultaneous with the rudder actions to better modulate the thrust needed for horizontal flight trajectory. All controls must be finessed to hold constant altitude, and once you master that, you can work on steering it around in circles or whatever other patterns you like (even loops!) Be sure to practice rollers rolling both left and right, so your thumbs won't get locked into one direction only.
Don't fear the wind! You'll sometimes hear that 3D pilots only like to go out on perfectly calm days to fly. Flying in still air is certainly a nice option, because you get to see EXACTLY what the results of your control actions are in practice. A 3D flyer being "afraid" of the wind it is quite unnecessary, considering the skills for mastering 3D are far in excess of what's needed to control a plane in VERY windy conditions.
On a calm day torque rolls and spins can be stationary in space and will not drift with the wind like they do on windy days. However, windy days are actually very good for practicing rolling harriers! With the Bouncer, you don't need to worry about crashing, so you can bring the plane down in front of yourself facing into the wind, and roll it to the right or left, angled upward, and give the correct rudder and elevator inputs as the plane rolls through knife edge, then inverted, then to knife and then upright and so on. I found my 3D roller skills increased the greatest after long practice sessions in wind. It gives you a "platform" to keep the plane at a comfortable distance and you don't fear so much if the plane starts to slide towards yourself like it might in still air doing torque rolls. Your recovery options are "safer" because the plane should always be pointed AWAY from you in this practice mode.
The wind will usually throw you some turbulence, so you'll find the plane "lunges" up or down, so you'll need to compensate with throttle AND varying degrees of elevator and rudder. It's good to be downwind of an open area devoid of tall structures (trees, houses, etc) so the air will be smooth and the turbulence will be less.
If you're new to 3D in the wind, start with a hovering harrier in moderate wind (5-15 mph is good, but you can fly in nearly anything that won't blow off your hat), and then practice sliding left and right steering with rudder, and leveling the wings with ailerons. Then try holding a knife and keeping it level. This will be harder, and you'll often wish to recover inverted-- that's good! Work on recovering "on" and "off" the wing and get used to knowing how to work the elevator inverted. Once you can reliably roll through the knife edge attitude with the nose high, keep the roll, going, and get your left thumb to learn the rhythm and blend things together. I find a LEFT rolling harrier is an excellent entryway to a torque roll, as a torque roll often degenerates to a LEFT rolling harrier if you want to keep the plane stationary on a windy day.
return to top How do I torque roll?
By far, the most difficult 3D move for most people is learning to torque roll. A torque roll is a special kind of hover, because the plane points straight up, and the torque of the engine will always want to rotate the plane to the left (like left aileron was given). It's the signature "holy grail" of all 3D moves, and even guys who do it well find they like to practice it, because it gets very addicting once one gets "over the hump". It's fun to do tail touches, and exhibit ultimate control in what looks to be the most impossible stunt of all time.
Learning the torque roll is always the result of a lot of practice. You need to train your left thumb to know which way to correct the plane no matter how you look at it. Your right thumb should already know what to do by now. I fly the sim a lot at night and in bad weather to augment my real life stick time. At the time I was first learning to TR I remember logging about 30 minutes each and every night on the simulator and real life practice about an hour each session at least 3 sessions each week. Even at this rate, mastering the TR could take several months. Your mileage may vary. Don't get discouraged! Your Bouncer will survive with minimal repairs.
A rearward CG will help, but keep in mind, it will NOT fly normally anymore on the wing, and will always want to harrier -- doing weird things like ballooning on landing, and going out of elevator trim at different throttle settings. You should be able to handle this after a while, but a rear CG takes a lot of attention.
Practice LOW to the ground where you can see the plane! This is perhaps the most important tip when learning to torque roll. As the plane starts to auto-rotate and present the belly to you-- that's the critical moment you're going to need to discern which way to move your left thumb as needed. You'll need to cue off subtle motions in the wing tip, cause you can no longer see the tail motions well as the wing points toward you and that means you simply must be down low to be able to detect those motions. Another benefit of low 3D practice is any crashing will happen at relatively low speed because the plane doesn't have time to dive very far. By far the biggest concern in flying low is safety-- and that means concentrating on giving objects (like yourself) a good margin of space until you get comfortable. Start flying low with a simulator, and graduate to "real life" once you learn the proper reactions.
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