Instead of sitting on the couch watching television and waiting for spring to arrive, why not build or buy a set of snow skis, bolt them to your plane, and get out there and do some cold weather flying? Winter flying is great fun, and it restores the RC soul during those long, dreary winter months. You can fly with skis, or even use floats, from almost any open field. Just be sure to get the permission of the property owner. You can also fly from a frozen lake (but make sure the ice is safe and that you have enough room to operate your plane properly). Remember, when flying from a lake you’ll be sharing the space with snowmobilers, ice fishers, and other wintertime sports fans. Simply be respectful of others, and you will most likely gain a happy audience.
GETTING IN THE MOOD
Dressing warmly is most important for enjoying a day’s flying in the winter. It is even better if you can park your car near your flying spot or find a flying area near a shelter to warm up every so often between flights. A thermos full of hot coffee or soup is a must-have for between-flights enjoyment! If you’re lucky, you’ll find that some winter days can be simply outstanding. With little or no wind, bright sunshine, and milder temps, you won’t even need to wear gloves while preparing your aircraft. For flying, I use a tight-fitting pair of cotton gloves, which allows me to feel my radio’s control sticks. Mechanics’ gloves also work well.
Though I’ve never used them, there are commercial transmitter gloves you can purchase. Similar to Hippo Hands used by motorcyclists, these cold weather radio gloves have a clear panel so you can see your transmitter while your hands are protected from the elements. From my own experience, during the winter months there are many fine days just perfect for flying. The advantage of flying off a lake or a wide open field is that you can always take off directly into the wind, no matter what the direction is. My friends and I have a favorite spot to enjoy cold weather RC flying. Located in the village of Gores Landing, Ontario, Rice Lake is renowned for its fishing in both summer and winter. There’s plenty of room and the scenic panorama is inspiring.
In the winter, I fly my Aeromaster biplane (with floats), and my scratch-designed and built Sky Wizard. The aircraft seen in the pictures is my Sky Wizard, which is an easy-to-fly intermediate to advanced sport plane powered by a Zenoah G-38 gas engine.
You can find commercially available RC skis online and in hobby shops. Du-Bro has them in a few sizes. I scratch built and designed the skis for my aircraft. I use a tried-and-true method of setting up skis on aircraft that is not unlike that of full-scale aircraft. Check wires and bungees (elastics bands for models) are used to limit the amount of travel the skis have up and down. The elastics are used to keep the tips of the skis in the “up” position, while the check wire at the back limits the amount of distance the ski tips can travel up. The check wires on the front tips of the skis also limit the amount of travel the skis can go down. This is essential to prevent the ski from traveling down so far that it could break through ruts and divots your aircraft might encounter during its takeoff run or landing rollout. It is a very simple and effective way to set up your skis with a minimal amount of funds.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
• Small eyehook screws
• Elastic bands
• Strong wire (I used pull–pull cable purchased at my local hobby store)
• Short lengths of 1/8-inch diameter copper tubes for crimping the wire ends.
• 1/2-inch, 1/8-inch, and 1/16-inch plywood for upright mounts and ski bottoms. I go a step further and use fishing swivel leads for ease of removal. The skis are built using
• 1/2-inch aircraft ply for the upright mounts and 1/8-inch plywood for the ski bottoms. It is important to have runners on the bottom of the skis to help the aircraft’s tracking. For the tail ski, I use 1/8-inch plywood for the upright and 1/16-inch aircraft ply for the ski bottoms. Another system used to limit the up-down travel of the skis is the torsion rod system or spring system. This is found on Du-Bro and other brands of skis. I prefer my setup described above for its reliability. It has always worked for me.
I think what I like most about ski flying is the added performance of the aircraft due to the denser cold air. I also enjoy watching the way the skis work during takeoffs and landings. With all the beautiful winter scenery, and the extra time spent with my like-minded friends, there is really nothing better!
10 Easy Steps for Cold Weather Engine Starts
To commit RC aviation, you have to get your engine running. As the weather turns colder, it’s a good time to revisit cold-engine starting techniques. Here are 10 easy steps for flying when the temperature drops.
1. Turn on your transmitter and receiver.
2. Fully open the throttle.
3. Watch for fuel in the line and cover the throttle opening with your finger. Firmly grip the propeller, and rotate it until the fuel is just up to the carb. Don’t flip it! Now turn the prop over—twice, if it’s warmer than 40 degrees F; three times if it’s colder—to prime the engine.
4. With the glow plug disconnected, flip the engine over six to eight times.
5. Close the throttle and move the trim to fully up. This should open the throttle barrel a little more. The throttle should be about one quarter open.
6. Grab the prop firmly, and rotate the engine until it passes through the compression part of the stroke. You should feel the engine kick. If it does, it will now start on the first or second flip. Always use a chicken stick or electric starter for starting. If the engine doesn’t start, flip the prop a few times with the glow plug disconnected, and try again. If it doesn’t kick now, choke it one more time with the throttle fully open, flip the prop a few more times, reposition the throttle, light the glow plug, and try again.
7. If, when your engine starts, it just revs up and quits, turn the high-speed needle valve a half turn counterclockwise to open it, and try again. Repeat this if necessary.
8. If the engine starts, slows down and quits, and if a lot of smoke comes out of the exhaust, turn the high-speed needle valve clockwise to make the mixture leaner, a quarter turn at a time. Restart the engine.
9. When the engine has started, hold the throttle partially open, and let the engine warm up for at least a minute or two before making the final adjustments.
10. Most engines are harder to start when they’re hot. To start a hot engine, draw the fuel up to the carb, but don’t choke or prime it. Open the throttle to one quarter. Flip the prop hard. Use an electric starter, if you have one available.
Text & photos by Bill McIvor
Love winter flying. I’m running a 46 size glow engine in my winter plane. I
Find that I do not need any nitro in the dense air.
I’m also in Ontario, Ottawa
For seriously cold temperatures, prime a glow engine with a few drops of Ronsonol lighter fluid. Guaranteed easy start on really cold days, when the alcohol in nitro fuels doesn’t vaporize too well. Careful for kick-backs. It will do that!
Warm the engine and fuel on cold days. I have found that a warmup in the cab during ride to the field or using the muffler exhaust from my truck while at the field works just fine. Other techniques such as plug in seat warmers wrapped around the engine have worked for others. Whatever works in your situation. Just NO open flames and it doesn’t need to be hot hot! Just warmed. I’ve flown on 0 degrees F without any starting issues with this technique. Battery monitoring and maintenance becomes critical at these lower temperatures so don’t neglect them.
I too love winter flying but prefer floats to skis. Some tape on the bottom saves the foam floats from damage and can work well on all kinds of snow conditions. A transmitter pouch with tire warmers on each side and a 2 cell battery keeps the hands warm with no gloves which is a bonus with the radio battery as well. A peaked hat with sunglasses and you are good to go.
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