Remote control helicopters get quite a bit more advanced than the little machines you see hovering around in the mall.
On any clear day, you might find Ryan Sams, of Fort Dodge, out at the mini airfield at the north end of John F. Kennedy Memorial Park with a copter of a completely different nature.
He does a careful pre-flight check on the 12-pound helicopter. He steps back a safe distance, and lets the 28-inch rotor spool up to 2,150 rpm. Then he launches it.
For about 3 1/2 minutes, the helicopter twists and dances so fast it can be hard to follow. The helicopter can fly sideways and upside-down. By rocking back and forth, it can seem to balance vertically on its tail. It rolls in any direction, somersaults, and can reach speeds of 113 miles per hour.
Sams has been learning to fly for about eight years and has gotten good enough to earn some international attention.
He will compete in the 2014 Extreme Flight Championships (XFC) June 13-15 at the National Aeromodeling Center in Muncie, Ind.
“They invite what they consider the top 15 in the world – both airplanes and helicopters,” Sams said.
This year will be a learning year for him, he said.
Sams will have to complete three different 3-minute flights. One includes five known movements everyone will have to do. The second is choreographed to music.
“The last one is what they call a smack flight, basically just straight-up freestyle,” he said.
Sams got into helicopters because of his dad, LaDon Sams.
“Dad flew airplanes when I was younger, so I was always interested in planes,” he said. “Then one day I just decided to try a helicopter.”
Sams now flies a Rush 700. They’re one of the larger copters out there.
“They do have one that’s bigger, but not a lot of people use it because it’s impractical,” he said.
One of these helicopters set up like Sams’ costs about $2,500 to $3,000.
“You’re always better off starting with something a little cheaper,” Sams said. “You’re going to crash. It happens.”
Sams has seen the most improvement in the last three years, when he got more serious about it. He’s not sure how many models he’s had.
Learning is easier if you use a buddy box, he said. A novice flyer can link his remote with a more experienced RC pilot.
“That way if you lose control of your helicopter, I can take it back and save it,” he said. If you fly with someone who’s more experienced your progression’s going to be a lot faster.”
Sams didn’t learn this way.
“So my progression was really slow,” he said.
Sams also has a flight simulator on his computer, complete with realistic controls, which he said helps a lot.
“You lose your fear of crashing.”
Even now, Sams said crashes can still happen, just not as frequently.
“It does hit difficult orientations,” he said.
When the helicopter’s flying straight towards him, moving the stick right will make it turn left. When it’s moving to the left or right, the orientation also changes accordingly.
And everything is backwards once you flip it upside-down.
Sams said he’s always learning, figuring out new maneuvers that haven’t been seen before.
It’s a big adrenaline rush, “Especially when you pull off a maneuver you haven’t done before,” he said.
Many of his flights are on YouTube, but not the one he’s been practicing for the XFC choreography flight.
“Not that there’s anything super top-secret, but I don’t want anyone stealing my ideas,” he said.
Sams does a lot of flying over in Rockwell City, with mostly RC airplane pilots. He also tries to get down to Marshalltown at least once a month, where there are quite a few who fly helicopters.
He has five company sponsors, including the makers of his current helicopter.
He spends the time and money, quite simply, because it’s fun.
“And all the friends I make along the way with it,” he said. “Also, Dad and I do it together.”