If you’ve come into the radio controlled hobby in the last year you are in for a treat flying in winter.
For those of you who have been here for a while – it’s that time of year again! I’ve aimed this article at those newer pilots who have not had winter flying experience but the common sense pieces below are timely reminders for the rest of us as well!
Think of winter and you’ll start to think about snow, wind, ice and frost. All of those don’t sound like they will play well with the hobby but the colder, calmer days with bright sunshine can provide some fabulous flying experiences and the landscape you’ll be flying in will look very different. It’s that moisture and coldness that cause the majority of the extra things to consider if you are flying in this weather but there are a few extra checks and considerations, let’s look at them now.
Let’s start with the fact that everything, including the local flying field, will be wet. Even on bright clear days, the extra moisture in the grass will get everywhere including inside the model. Pack a small towel in the bag to dry off the models after a landing and pick your landing area with a little care. If the ground is frozen then treat any grass landing like landing on a broken tarmac and think about using belly landing to protect the gear (if fitted).
Snow is actually a fun surface to land on, I pull out something like a Bixler or a flying wing and the snow provides an excellent cushion for the touchdown. Those little snowflakes will get sucked into all of the air ducts and open areas on a model though so make sure you remove all of the snow before it melts. I often pop some tape over the lowest openings as the airflow isn’t as needed in really cold conditions and it helps keep that snow out of the inside of the model.
The cold will affect the way the model flies and behaves. Plastic gets more brittle when cold so always check the model thoroughly after a ‘hard landing’ as damage that a model may have shrugged off in the summer may crack a prop, mount or servo connector in the freezing weather. Make sure you’re covering your pre-flight checks before every flight to catch anything that is starting to show signs of damage.
If it’s not wet or frozen then it’ll be muddy!
It’s tempting to pull the towel from the bag and start to remove the mud at the field. My advice is, if possible – don’t. That moisture in the mud will push soil and small dirt particles into the spaces between the foam beads on a plane and it’ll be tricky to get it looking new again. I remove the large pieces of soil and mud at the field then dry the model out by keeping it in the house for a day then the mud can be removed easily and cleanly with a soft brush. Make sure to brush off the soil and take care to stop it from falling into motor bearings and other places you don’t want it.
For those models, you are not flying then thing about storage. Store models in a dry place and make sure to remove batteries, action cameras and anything else that might have a battery inside. Make sure where you store then is dry and warm and that way they will be ready for spring when you pull them for flying!
LIPO batteries hate the cold. Just like all batteries, they rely on a chemical reaction to release the electrical energy stored inside. Chemical reactions are dependent on heat so if it’s too cold then the reaction is slower and less efficient.
The result of this is shorter flight times.
If you’re getting 10 minutes out of a battery in the summer, expect to get about 8 minutes from the same pack in the winter. I’ve had a few older packs that have given faithful service through this year give up the ghost in this recent colder weather so watch those battery voltages when you fly.
Consider the batteries in the action cameras you’re using too as I’ve also had one of the batteries in a RunCam 2 action camera stop recording after 3 mins after working flawlessly in the summer. If in doubt, get new packs and treat them well in winter.
LIPOs are handy hand warmers as they are usually warm after a flight so I often hold them afterwards to get some of the heat back into my fingertips!
If you’re not using the batteries over the winter (or you have a while till the next flying day) then use the ‘storage charge’ function on the LIPO charger to store the battery with a charge of 3.8v per cell. Store them somewhere cool in a safe container as the cold works in your favour and helps slow any self-discharge.
Tips for flying LOS
You tend to get two kinds of skies in winter – those beautiful cloudless skies with a low bright sun or its grey with more grey on top and a light that almost seems to come from all directions at once.
Orientation can be trickier in winter if you’ve not got that sunshine and models without bright decals and colours can quickly start to look the same grey as the sky and start to disappear. Consider adding decals or even better, add LEDs to the model.
They are easy to install, I usually wire them into a balance tap connector so I can plug that into the flight battery for those days when the sky isn’t clear. Adding LEDs also help extend your flying day a little too as flying in dusk is possible with the orientation aids.
Watch for lower cloud cover and haze too. It can be lower than you think and it’s a little scary to see your model disappear for a moment at the bottom of a low cloud. Be aware of this and be ready to drop to a lower altitude as soon as you see any problems. Flying under the legal limits in your country will usually keep you safe but you’d be surprised at how close some of that ‘grey’ stuff is!
Tips for flying FPV
If you’re planning on flying FPV then still add LEDs to the model. If you have a problem with the FPV kit then you can use the LEDs for orientation to fly it back to you safely and if you crash then LEDs (along with a lost model buzzer) can make all the difference in finding a model is a muddy field, or even better in a snowy one!
My first ever FPV flight in winter many years ago ended up in a crash – my goggles steamed up (this was before things like anti-fog fans were common) so things you don’t expect can catch you out. Goggles and cameras can steam up and obscure your view, keep the lenses warm and this will help it from happening. Don’t keep the goggles in the boot of the car and keep them inside your coat when you’re not using them to stop the lenses from getting too cold.
Moisture can affect the FPV kit so make sure you are capable of flying line of sight (LOS) in case something happens to the FPV image. If you can’t fly LOS then this winter is the perfect time to practice!
Consider using an FPV screen in winter instead of goggles, in overcast days they work great and your flying buddies can see the view too. They have the added advantage that they don’t steam up.
The last consideration is the FPV camera you use.
The good news is that pretty much any decent camera bought in the last year will feature wide dynamic range (WDR) that will allow the camera to be useful in winter flying conditions. Lower sun can cause some cheaper cameras to underexpose the ground when that sun is low in the sky but, as you can see from these images; modern cameras can handle looking directly into a low winter sun and still expose the rest of the image well.
If you have a camera that doesn’t cope with this then look at things like the Racer and Eagle from RunCam (pretty much any from RunCam actually!), the Foxeer Monster and the FXT Mars Pro V2, check that any camera you are looking at has WDR.
And finally – you!
So far I’ve talked about how the weather can affect the model and technology but winter weather can have a far greater effect on the pilot. When flying we can stand (or sit) still for long periods and the cold weather can affect concentration.
As well as the normal things you think about – cold fingers and feet – there are lots of things that will break your concentration when flying. One of the most common is a runny nose! Be prepared to land or have a buddy who can take over in case you need to sort something like that out mid-flight!
Wear layers and gloves and sturdy boots. When flying we normally only move our fingertips, head and eyes and the rest of the body slowly cools. Take a warm drink with you and be prepared to stop if you start to get too cold and your fingers start to become less flexible. Radio ‘gloves’ are available that can help with this but I just use regular gloves when I’m not flying and make sure I’m keeping warm when I’m watching others fly.
Flying in winter can be amazing and the views of the local landscape glittering with a hard frost or covered in snow are truly magical. Winter doesn’t mean you have to stop flying – you can get yourself a little indoor model to maintain those skills (or work on new ones) – or with a few common sense things you can fly safely and have a lot of fun through these winter months. Fly safe and Happy flying!
Written by Painless 360