Warbird Flying Techniques

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2007 Scale & Non-Scale Events



"Skill comes by constant repetition of familiar feats

rather than by a few bold attempts"- Wilbur Wright

Fighters are not totally aerobatic.  They are designed to travel long distances with heavy loads but be maneuverable enough to attack and escape.  This article describes six maneuvers necessary for most fighters—take-off, flyby, loop, slow roll, stall turn and landing.  There are many other tactical maneuvers too, of course, but they are mostly combinations of these six.  For example, a split-S is half of a roll followed by half of a loop.


Taxi into position and stop.  Exercise all control surfaces including the flaps. Most warbirds take off with flaps in the up position, but sometimes heavily laden planes on a short runway use a partially down flap position, never fully down.  The airplane in the video has a light wing loading, so the flaps are fully up on takeoff.

Before starting, note the wind’s direction and strength.  Have a plan for what you will do if the engine quits on take-off.  Advance the throttle slowly while concentrating on steering with rudder.  If your tail-dragger airplane tends to nose over on rough ground, hold full up-elevator at first, but release it slowly as speed increases.  The model may tend to weathercock into the wind, and engine torque will try to turn the model to the left. How much varies greatly from model to model.  Airplanes with large amounts of dihedral tend to roll away from the wind as the wind gets under the upwind wing panel.  Be ready to level the wing with opposite aileron.

Rudder corrections are needed mostly in the early stages of takeoff.  After many flights, you will learn how to anticipate the effect of wind and torque, and apply rudder before it is needed.  In this video, there is a slight crosswind from the left, so a slight amount of right rudder was immediately applied at the beginning of the takeoff roll and reduced as speed increases.  In this case, most of the initial rudder corrections compensate for the bumps in the runway.

Advance to full throttle, elevator in neutral, and roll on the ground until well above flying speed.  At most, a bump of up-elevator may be required to overcome the wheel drag in the grass in order to lift off (rotate, in pilot-speak).  Be ready to push down - elevator if the nose rises too steeply - this is no time for a surprise stall.

At the point of lift-off, the pilot’s attention includes the ailerons.  They are used only to hold the wings level at this point.  Meanwhile, the pilot continues to hold right or left rudder until the plane has completed the initial climb.  Warbird ailerons are not very effective at high incidence angles and low airspeed, so turns must be corrected primarily with rudder in this situation.

A warbird should be trimmed for a shallow climb at full throttle and a shallow glide with power off.  So, after lift-off, the pilot should be able to release the up-elevator as the plane gains airspeed and continues climbing.  In this video example, the landing gear has significant air drag that tends to lever the nose down, but the landing gear drag disappears when the gear is retracted.  Also, some compression lift is gained by closing the wheel wells.  At this point the pilot releases the up-elevator. 

Warbirds raise the landing gear immediately after lift-off in order to gain altitude and airspeed as quickly as possible.  Top Gun rules say to start the retract cycle at ten feet of altitude - flight judges listen for the click of the retract switch.

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