This is not a step-by-step guide for breaking in a gas or glow engine. This article discusses safety techniques for properly starting a combustion engine for radio control (rc) airplanes. Refer to your engines manual for proper break-in procedures.
Safety is paramount with radio control airplanes especially when they are running idle before you taxi to the runway Too often people develop unsafe practices for handling rc aircraft and in turn teach these unsafe techniques to new pilots. In this article I’m going to talk about safe starting techniques for gas or glow engines using an electric starter. While you can get your engine to start using a “safety stick” I’ve realized that an investment in an electric starter and battery has been invaluable for my safety and sanity. An electric starter gives you the ability to smoothly turn-over the engine in rapid succession and in a controlled manner. Electric starts reduce unwanted stress on the air frame caused by manually “flipping” the prop and also keep your fingers at a much safer distance from the dangers of a running engine.
Gear I use to start my rc engines
1. Prepare the night before
Murphy’s Law is when you get to the field, set-up, and find your batteries are dead. Be sure to charge all of your equipment the day before you plan on flying. Plug in your electronics and top-off any charges you have. Additionally make sure you have extra glow plugs on hand as well as the engines manual should you have issues with keeping the engine running or idling.
2. Secure your airplane in place
Before you do anything with the engine, tie down your airplane. I secure my plane with a bight orange long-neck screwdriver and bungee cord. The bright orange makes it visible and helps to avoid tripping hazards. Place your starting gear nearby being sure that it is not directly to the left, right, or forward of the airplane propeller. Doing this prevents possible injury if a propeller breaks loose or becomes dislodged during the start-up.
3. Secure the propeller
Before every flight check to ensure that your propeller, spinner, and lock nut are securely fastened to the engine. Spinners and lock nuts will loosen over time and you risk serious injury if a propeller comes off while you’re idling on the ground or during flight.
4. Perform a radio check
With all items secure set your transmitter throttle to idle and then turn it on. Begin a pre-flight radio check and make sure all of your control surfaces are responding and working properly. If there is any hesitation on the control surfaces or if your gut is telling you “something just doesn’t feel right”, you’re probably right. You should never fly unless you are 100% confident you have a solid connection to your airplane.
5. Turn over the engine
If possible, always attach your glow plug starter from the back of the engine and stay clear of the propeller. An engine with a glow plug starter attached is “hot” (literally) and can turn over without your assistance. Staying clear of the propeller and holding the planes fuselage with one hand, firmly place the electric starter over the spinner. Do not turn on (i.e., spin up) the electric starter before placing it against the spinner or lock nut as this may result in an engine backfire or possible damage to your engine or airplane’s frame.
Turn on the starter and even after you hear the engine turn over, keep the electric starter going for a few more seconds to ensure that the engine is fully running. Pull the starter from the spinner and place it away from the path of the propeller. Walk around to the back of the airplane and remove the glow plug starter. Do not remove the glow plug starter by reaching over a spinning propeller.
6. Final run-up
Ensure that all your gear and any people are clear to the left, right, and forward of the airplane. Go around to the back of your airplane and begin your engine testing. Never stand in front of an airplane during a run-up session. To add a level of safety for those around me, I stand behind my airplane with the elevator and rudder between my feet. This ensures that the airplane will stay in place until I’m ready to taxi to the runway.