Piccolo Electric Heli, flight tips pageI was stubborn and figured that since I could fly just about anything with wings, I should be able to fly the Piccolo (my first heli). WRONG! In retrospect, if I had a perfectly trimmed Piccolo and a LARGE space to try it in, I might have managed without resorting to a simulator. But the Piccolo is MUCH happier that I gave in and bought a copy of RealFlight Deluxe. Please note that there are other heli sims out there, and I am not specifically recommending RFD... it's just what I use.
I don't feel qualified to be giving flight advice, since the Piccolo is my first heli. But I will pass on a couple tidbits that I have learned....
Flying a helicopter has been described as balancing on a ball. That is a very apt description, with the added variable that the heli can (and will) rotate in yaw too (the gyro helps but not completely). Since you will be working very hard just to keep it upright and level when you start out, it is crucial that it be neutrally trimmed in pitch, roll and yaw so that keeping it level is a manageable task. See the sections on trim and balance in the Hints and Tips section before attempting to fly!
I do strongly recommend crashing a simulator instead of the Piccolo (and no, I didn't take my own advice.... why do you think I have such a large "repairs" section, eh?). If you are using RFD, try the Finch or the Whatt Not. They are both fixed pitch models and while they are nowhere near as quick as the Piccolo, they do simulate some of its characteristics. Start with zero wind, and practice hovering in all orientations. When you are comfortable with all orientations, start dialing in some wind and gusts until it is hard to control.... and work at it until you can control it easily (again, in all orientations). Now, you are ready to try the real thing!
First flightsFirst of all, see the trim and balance tips in the Hints and Tips section. The Piccolo should be trimmed and balanced perfectly before ever trying to fly it for the first time.
After trimming and balancing, find a large space and if you have the guts, hit the throttle and get it off the ground at least a foot. Do NOT try to gently lift off... the Piccolo will likely scoot in an unexpected direction in any case, and this tendency is magnified near the ground. You will find that the Piccolo becomes much more predictable once it is a foot or so off the ground.
If you manage to get it off the ground and relatively stable, concentrate on learning how much control input is needed to keep it level. At the same time, use the rudder to keep it pointed the same direction so that your pitch and roll inputs have predictable effects. You will also probably have better results trying to fly the rotor disk instead of trying to make the heli itself respond. It is the rotor, after all, that you are flying... the heli just comes along for the ride. The difference is that the rotor will react to your control input much faster than the heli itself, and you will overcontrol a lot less if you concentrate on making the rotor stay level and stationary.
If you can do this for 30 seconds or so, I'd recommend landing and resting for a bit. It can be exhausing for the first flights, and your nerves can get frazzled to the point that it is difficult to fly.
Forward flightForward flight seems to be possible with the Piccolo, but not easy. The faster the airspeed, the more the nose wants to rise. You can hold forward cyclic (down "elevator" in airplane terms) and counteract this, but the faster it goes, the more abrupt the upward pitch will be when/if you relax the forward pressure. Modifying the main rotor (see "Rotor blade modifications") helps a bit but does not cure this tendency.
DescendingBe careful, especially if descending in a wind gust! If you have risen to an uncomfortable altitude in a gust, it can be difficult to descend with full control since it is a fixed pitch machine and you have to slow the main rotor to do so. This reduces control authority at the very time you need it most. Descend gently, and be sure to slow your descent so that you stop before meeting the ground! This may seem like a dumb piece of advice, but particularly near the end of a battery pack you can find yourself in a position of having enough power to hover but not enough to stop a descent quickly. Don't ask me how I arrived at this bit of wisdom...
Walls and grassFor different reasons, walls and grass (and trees, bushes, animals, furniture, people, cars) seem to attract the Piccolo. I find that if I get too close to a large object like a wall, the Piccolo wants to move towards it. Something to do with rotor wash? Grass seems to attract it too. I'm guessing that grass diffuses the ground effect unlike a solid surface like carpet or concrete. The end effect is that if you fly from concrete to grass at a low altitude, the Piccolo can suddenly drop when over the grass.
LandingLanding the Piccolo is not easy, especially with stock blades. As you get into ground effect, the heli wants to scoot all over the place, making it hard to set down where you are aiming. My best advice is to get close, and then set down rather abruptly, and most importantly, throttle down quickly. If you gently throttle down the heli can start to tip over because it still wants to go sideways but can't due to the friction of the skids.
Space requiredI recommend a 20' X 20' space as a minimum for the first flights, especially if you have not flown a heli before. I achieved a stable hover for the first time in my two car garage, which is a handy and sheltered flying spot for those first flights.
After you get to the point where you can hover reliably, you can try it in smaller spaces. I fly in my family room (approximately 10' X 15' clear space), but this is a minimum for me and there is not a lot of "oops" room. Be careful... the Piccolo can be easily affected by its own rotor wash in a small space. Even the furnace blower will affect it in the winter.
Visual orientationI have found that coloring the rotor blade and flybar paddle tips helps a great deal with visual orientation. The black rotor blades and paddles are very hard to see in flight, and having colored tips allows you to see the rotor disk as it tips and tilts in flight. I find that I can hover and maneuver much more solidly when I can see the disk.
Outdoor flyingFirst tip... cut the rotor blades! (See the Hints and Tips section) The Piccolo is very marginal outdoors in anything but the calmest conditions. With cut rotors, it can be controlled in moderate winds, but it is still very sensitive.
Second tip.... there are several people selling an aluminum rotor hub that retains the bearings with small screws. Check the posts on the Ikarus Piccolo BBS. This is an ESSENTIAL upgrade for outdoor flying in my opinion. Without it, you WILL lose the bearings, and at US$6 each, they can get expensive. With the upgraded hubs, you will never lose a bearing.
Third tip.... Be prepared! You should be able to fly the Piccolo in all orientations before you try it outdoors. It will get blown around outdoors, and will end up in attitudes and orientations that you might not be prepared for. On the other hand, it is very handy to have all the room you need outdoors.
Outdoors in windIf a gust catches the heli, it will lift the nose. Get it back down immediately, or you can end up in a very tail low attitude that can be difficult to recover from if you are down low. This is normal for a heli such as the Piccolo with its large coning angle.
Coning angle (as I understand it) is the angle of the blades relative to horizontal and has an effect similar to dihedral in an airplane. However, in a heli the effect acts in all directions including forward and causes a pronounced pitch up as the relative airspeed increases in response to either increased wind speed or forward motion. However, in a hover, coning angle acts to make the heli more stable (relatively speaking). The blades on the Piccolo are horizontal at rest, but as soon as they begin to generate lift, they deflect upwards from horizontal and the total deflection is the coning angle.
Also, don't try to fly in wind unless you have a good power margin. Near the end of a flight, you may have enough power to hover, but you will not have enough to stop a sudden descent due to a wind gust (or sudden lack of one).