Born To Fly - Winged Aircraft are Back!

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Written by Jim Graham Born to Fly Column As seen in the May 2019 issue of Model Aviation.

Bonus Video

Read more about the Horizon Hobby E-flite Pitts S-1S 850mm BNF Basic with AS3X and SAFE Select on!

the e-flite pitts s-1s biplane
The E-flite Pitts S-1S biplane from Horizon Hobby is exciting. It features good looks, a great size for back seat transportation, and it flies like a much bigger airplane thanks to AS3X!

You might have read the title to this month’s column and thought, "They never went anywhere, Jim T.," but I can tell you, as a guy who lives on one of the world’s largest RC forum (RCGroups), this is big news!

I have been working full-time in the RC world for more than 15 years. I predate outrunner motors and LiPo batteries. Although that makes me sound old, it has also allowed me to have an interesting perspective on our hobby.

Back in the day, 3D airplanes and 3D flying were just becoming popular. 3D flying was the hot button that evoked online rants that one day that flying style would "ruin the hobby!" The 3D market was the starting point for my hobby of watching RC trends. After 3D had its time in the RC spotlight, things shifted to electric ducted-fan jets.

You might ask how I made my personal observations about what was hot. When I worked at Hobby Lobby (the RC store, not to be confused with the Hobby Lobby craft store) as the marketing person, it was easy. I simply had to look at the sales numbers. When I moved on to run, the indicator was the activity levels in the different forum sections.

Although predicting what was next was not easy, seeing an upcoming trend usually was. Every few years, the focus would shift. When the current trend was in full swing, it was pretty easy for anyone to realize what it was.

The most ground-shaking trend—and the most obvious—was the dreaded word "drone." Now we all know that drone is not a good description of what was going on, but the trend was so huge it had to have a name. The difference with this trend was that it not only included RC hobbyists but also included everyday people who had never flown an RC aircraft in their lives. You could buy a drone at Best Buy. At the time, I was appalled.

jason cole bought the timber x 1.2m
Jason Cole bought the Timber X 1.2m when it was available. It has inspired him and the author to meet each week and wring them out!

The effect that the drone market had on our industry is a totally different topic. I own quadcopters and I love FPV, but this consumer drone thing was a different animal that still exists today.

I am spending so much time on this RC trend because it really shook our hobby to the core. It changed how factories in China operated. Factories that built all kinds of interesting RC aircraft were retooled to make only quadcopters. Soon, all of the factories were making them. Finally, the market was so saturated with them that the profit margin no longer made sense.

Couple that with the FAA’s interference and we, as a hobby, experienced a downturn. It was the perfect storm that swamped our growth as a hobby. Finding a factory to actually build your design was much harder than in the heyday of RC.

I mention all of that to say this—winged RC aircraft are back in vogue! If you are like me, you probably think that they were never out of style, but they certainly lost the spotlight to the aforementioned drone invasion. To fly a winged airplane, you need some skillsets that require practice, training, and time. I would argue that all of those things will increase your enjoyment when you have mastered them.

the author feels that the focus on winged aircraft
The author feels that the focus on winged aircraft, in part, has to do with the great scale airplanes that are offered by Motion RC. Here is Mike Hines’ Freewing F-4D Phantom II 90 mm electric ducted-fan model at the Edwin Warner RC field in Nashville TN. This awesome airplane could excite pilots.

Most of my time in the hobby during the last few years was spent creating various FPV aircraft. I started with quadcopters but soon realized I enjoyed flying FPV much more on a winged airplane. Then something crazy happened. I started to think that maybe I could just fly the airplane without the FPV. What? I had come full circle in my hobby.

Now, I don’t know if this is what is happening with other RC pilots, but for the past year, I have seen more activity, posts, and excitement on about winged aircraft. Companies such as Motion RC have really stepped up the warbird game, and now that is a big thing at the airfields I go to. What really got my attention was a recent release by Horizon Hobby. Of all things, it was a 3D airplane!

The Timber X 1.2m is a highly capable 3D airplane with huge flaps. When the feature story went up, I took notice but didn’t realize what was to happen next. That little feature story had more than 49,000 views in only 23 days!

This is exactly the type of indicator I was referring to earlier in the story. I had been preaching the gospel about winged aircraft being back on the rise for at least a year, but the public reaction to this airplane has solidified my belief that our newest trend is our oldest trend.

The thing that makes this a big deal is that after the drone invasion, we went a long time without the next big thing showing up. It was as though the drones had stalled out our hobby. I am super stoked to see a regained enthusiasm for a part of our hobby that is the core of what we are all about. This is great news for you, the hobbyist, and for all of the hobby companies that make the cool aircraft we like to fly!

I have mentioned a couple of the standouts in my eyes, but I want to give a huge thanks to all of the RC companies that continue to innovate and provide us with all of the various RC aircraft that we love. They propel our hobby.

Spring is on the way, and even more amazing winged airplanes will be released. I have a renewed excitement for the direction of our hobby and the growth it will experience in 2019!


RCGroups: The NEW E-flite Timber X 1.2m


Horizon Hobby

(800) 338-4639

Motion RC

(224) 633-9090

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