Hand a copy of this list to your spotter before your next maiden flight.
I have done a lot of maiden flights of experimental model airplane designs. From hard experience, I have built a mental checklist of everything that I need to check and do during every phase of this critical first flight.
Below is a checklist that can be printed out and brought out to the field. Give it to your spotter and have him keep you honest.
The order of the tests in each section was very carefully chosen. Sometimes there are dependencies between tests. Safety was a huge driving factor in deciding what to put in the list and in what order to put the items. The flight tests are listed in decreasing order of importance.
These are the absolute minimum set of items for a maiden flight. If the model does well on the set of flight tests listed, feel free to add more. Loops, rolls, and inverted flying would be good.
Using a stopwatch to make sure you land before you run out of power is very popular. Landing a model airplane that you are not very familiar with and whose transmitter is not setup to your liking is hard enough. To have to do so without power is even harder. Figure out a very conservative maximum flight duration. Have your spotter tell you periodically how much time you have left.
You have to assume that you can lose power at anytime. This is always a good idea, anyway. But it is specially important on a maiden flight. I would get high and within easy gliding range to the runway and stay there for the entire maiden flight.
Knowing what the airplane feels like when it is coming in for a landing is critical. Take-offs are optional, but landings are not! You do not want to be two feet (0.5 m) off the ground when you learn about some nasty low speed handling problem. Yes, it has happened to me. That is why simulated landings are at the top of the list of flight maneuvers. Do these high up and parallel to the real runway.
Similarly, the stall characteristics of a model airplane can be very hard to predict. You want to get a feel for those as soon as possible. I have seen way too many unplanned stalls on maiden flights.
As you fly the model around, make mental notes of changes that you want to make to the transmitter programming. After you land and before you forget, make them. Frankly, I do this on every single flight. But after a maiden flight the mental list is bound to be long.
Did I leave out some critical step? Do you disagree with my list? Please let me know in the comments.
- Check the lateral balance
- Check the center of gravity
- Turn on the transmitter, then the receiver
- Radio system range check
- Check the control surfaces for loose hinges and control connections
- Confirm control surface movement direction and range
- Landing gear ground roll test
Take-Off and Climb
- Left side of runway clear of obstacles
- Take-off flaps (15 degrees)
- Spotter announces take-off
- Tell spotter to start timer
- Check wind direction and speed
- Smooth up throttle until full power
- Climb high
- Throttle back to cruise airspeed
- Remove flaps
- Trim model for level flight using transmitter
- Simulated landings (low power, landing flaps)
- Straight ahead stall
- Idle/power-off handling qualities test
- Full power handling qualities test
- Dive test for checking balance point
- Spotter tells you gas/charge is running low
- Runway clear?
- Spotter announces landing
- Landing flaps (45 degrees)
- Check wind direction and speed
- Proper landing pattern
- Land with good speed margin
- Congratulations! High fives all around!
- Adjust transmitter programming as appropriate