Latest StoriesHow-To
    Building A Cheap RC Glider, Part 2: Flying

    In the first article of this series, I showed you how to add RC controls to a common toy store chuck glider, the Air Hogs Titan. It may not be pretty, but it has elements that most budding RC pilots truly need: simplicity and affordability. This time around, I'll illustrate a few techniques for using the Titan to learn how to fly. You'll probably get some exercise while you're at it!

    No matter what model you are using as your primary trainer, the learning curve is always eased when you have an experienced pilot who can show you the basics. Most RC clubs have a process ironed out for training new pilots. The Titan probably doesn't fit that traditional training template. However, it would still benefit you to enlist the aid of a seasoned pilot to get you over the initial hurdles. If you don't have access to a pilot, any eager helper with a decent throwing arm and tireless legs is a useful alternative. Kids seem to enjoy it and there are plenty of opportunities for hand-on physics lessons.

    Gentle hand launches of the Titan will provide a low-stress path to grasp the rudiments of RC flying without much crash risk.

    As you go through the process of learning how to fly, you will make a lot of mistakes…that's okay. The airplane will be flying slowly and close to the ground most of the time. So you're not dealing with much energy. Additionally, the Titan has several ways of dissipating energy when it hits the ground. It isn't likely that you will break anything.

    In most minor crashes, the wings will pop loose from the fuselage. Just put them back in. A harder impact may cause the battery to rip free of the Velcro. Again, just put it back in place and keep on flying. If you do manage to break the Titan, repairs can be made with white glue or even tape. So go forth with no worries about breaking the airplane. It's no big deal.

    Building a Cheap RC Glider. Part 1: Assembly

    I'm sure that most of you are familiar with the foam "chuck" gliders that you can buy from toy and craft stores. They are lots of fun in their intended role, but I've always enjoyed modifying these inexpensive airframes into RC models. My knotted "Airplane!" model from 2014 is a recent example. While my chuck glider projects lean toward the whimsical and unusual, I figured out early on that these same models can also serve as low-stress trainers for new pilots.

    The traditional path to earning your RC pilot's wings is to purchase an almost-ready-to-fly kit and then have an experienced pilot provide instruction over the course of several weeks or months. Even though prices for these types of models are as low as they've ever been, the cost of entry is at least $150 dollars…usually much more. That's a significant investment for someone who probably isn't quite sure if RC flying will be something they want to stick with.

    The Air Hogs Titan is a great starting point for creating a DIY RC trainer model.

    Modifying a chuck glider for RC will probably cost about $50 for the airborne components. That is still not an insignificant sum, but it certainly relieves a lot of the crash anxiety that most new pilots feel. Furthermore, you can complete the conversion in a single afternoon. So there isn't much sweat equity required to get off the ground.

    How To Get Started with RC Sailboats

    I know what some of you are thinking: At a time when the RC hobby offers excitement such as speedy FPV racing quads, 20-pound gas-powered dune buggies, and even robots that fight to the death, how can anyone get jazzed about a silent sailboat meandering across a pond? I get it. I used to think the same thing. Although I've known about the existence of RC sailboats for decades, they never captured my attention enough to actually give one a try. I really should have known better after my similar experience with rock crawlers. I soon discovered that even though sailboats are not fast (relatively speaking), they offer abundant technical and skill-oriented challenges that keep drawing me in deeper.

    RC sailing clubs are a great resource to get started in the hobby. Don't be afraid to ask for help.

    Diving In

    Once I had decided to give RC sailing a try, I didn't think twice about going at it by myself. After all, I was fairly competent with the Sunfish sailboat that I had as a kid. Plus, RC sailboats only require 2 channels to control. So how hard could it possibly be? As I'm sure you've guessed by now, the reality of my introduction to RC sailing was much different. It involved a few missteps, some humble lessons, and plenty of help from experienced sailors.

    One of the things I learned early on is that there is a lot is specific terminology used in sailing circles. I'm still learning the meaning of most of these foreign-sounding words. For any of you experienced sailors who may be reading this, I'll ask your forgiveness in advance since I'll endeavor to use layman's terms whenever possible here.

    Even though I knew that RC sailboats were only 2-channel machines, I lacked a fundamental understanding of how the controls worked. The various rigging that I had seen on some sailboats caused me to envision their control systems to be much more complex than they actually are. It turns out that most of the visible rigging on a sailboat consists of static lines that only serve to stabilize the sail mast.

    RC sailboats have simple control systems. But until I had one of my own, the various rigging had me convinced otherwise. (Lewis Dunn photo)

    The two main controls of a RC sailboat are the rudder and sail trim. The rudder is used to control the direction of the boat in the water. A single servo actuates the rudder through direct linkages.

    Sail trim refers to the angle of the sails in relation to the boat hull. Both sails can pivot side to side about their leading edge. Rather than a rigid connection, the sail servo is connected to a pair of rope-like lines that terminate near the midpoint of the booms along the bottom edge of each sail. The servo controls the length of these lines, which subsequently determine how far out the sails can swing. At its shortest length, the sails may only have a few degrees of sway. With the line fully relaxed, the sails could approach 90-degrees of travel. Based on the direction of the wind and the orientation of the boat hull, sail trim is adjusted to harness the wind and keep the boat moving forward.

    How to Build a Foam Cosplay Helmet

    For his E3 costume builds, Frank worked with foam fabricator Evil Ted Smith to make three awesome cosplay helmets. Ted joins us this week to show how he turns sheets of cheap floor foam into shapely sci-fi and fantasy helms. It's not too difficult!

    The Best Alternative Home Screen Apps on Android

    From the earliest days of Android, alternative home screens have been one of the most interesting app categories. So much of what you do on your phone starts with the launcher, and Android let's you completely change it. The top replacement home screens have changed a lot over the years with old classics like Launcher Pro falling into disrepair. At the same time, new home screens like Nova appear in the Play Store to fill in the gaps. Let's take a look at the top Android home screens and see what they offer.

    Nova Launcher

    Nova is considered by many to be the most customizable and fully fleshed out launcher for Android. It's a true chameleon among launchers that can be made to look almost any way you want with an intimidatingly long list of features. Once you get acclimated to Nova, you'll probably find a lot to like here.

    I think Nova probably adheres the best to Android ever-changing design guidelines. As soon as Google has a new quirk, Nova is updated with a matching option. And it usually is an option. Almost every visual element in Nova can be tweaked to your heart's content. There are dozens of ways to display folders, a ton of home screen scrolling effects, at least 15 or 20 ways to display the Google search bar, and that's just scratching the surface.

    Some of the distinctive features in Nova include an automated night mode that makes most of the launcher less hard on your eyes, an extremely comprehensive gesture system that lets you operate almost every function with a swipe, and icon scaling that makes oddly sized icons fit in with everything else. I'm particularly impressed with how accurate the icon scaling is. Nova's gestures are cool too, but they can make you phone almost completely unusable for someone else. If you control everything with a gesture, no one will know where anything is. Maybe you want that, though?

    Because Google has not opened the search features up, you won't get easy access to Google Now. The closest you can get is opening the search app with a gesture. Nova Launcher is free to try with a limited feature set, and you can upgrade to the full version for $4.99.

    How To Slush Cast a Prop Helmet

    This week's special project is all about casting! We're in Frank's shop to show you how to create a hollow resin cast of a helmet using slush casting. Here's how slush casting compares to other methods, a demonstration of the full process, as well as tips for your own projects!

    Shop Tips: Respirators vs. Dust Masks

    This week, Frank explains the difference between a dust mask and a respirator, and shows us the proper way to put them on. It's a simple yet essential tip--safety never takes a vacation! Post your own shop tips in the comments below!

    How To Create Custom Fasteners for RC Projects

    My time as an engineer in the aerospace business taught me that using the right fasteners can have a huge impact to the functionality and serviceability of an item. Sure, a common pan head machine screw will work to hold an access panel in place. But using a custom screw with an oversized Rosette head allows an astronaut in a spacesuit to quickly remove the panel without tools. I'm sure you can imagine what a tremendous advantage that is.

    I often find that specialized hardware can provide similar benefits with my RC projects. The main difference boils down to a question of availability. If the specialty fastener that I want is even manufactured, it is usually prohibitively expensive or is only sold in large quantities. Other times, I need a special fastener "right now". Ordering online or even driving to the hardware store just won't cut it. More often than not, I end up making my own specialty fasteners by modifying common nuts and bolts that I already have in my workshop.

    Making a thumb screw out of a Phillips head screw requires purposeful cutting of a plastic tab.

    In this article, I will illustrate my techniques for creating three different types of custom fasteners.

    Thumb Screws

    Whether I'm going on a week-long vacation or just an afternoon trip to the flying field, I tend to be a minimalist when it comes to packing. I take only the bare essentials and try not to weigh myself down with accoutrements to deal with "what if" scenarios. This probably means that I'll be among the first to succumb to a zombie apocalypse. Until that brain-eating day, I'll live happily unencumbered.

    Translating my streamlined packing approach to RC means that I aim to carry very few tools with me. If a specialty fastener lets me do a job without tools, then I'm game. That's why I often find myself turning normal screws into thumb screws. If you're not familiar with thumb screws, they are fasteners that are designed to be turned by hand rather than with tools. Thumbs screws are super-convenient as long as you don't have high torque requirements…which I almost never do for RC applications.

    Transforming a slotted screw into a thumb screw is often as easy as gluing a scrap piece of plastic into the slot.

    Converting a common slotted machine screw into a thumb screw is very easy. You just make an appropriately-sized tab out of scrap material and glue it into the slot of the screw. The tab becomes your grip for turning the screw. I have a sheet of 1/32"-thick Kydex plastic that I typically use to make tabs. I have also used craft sticks, thin plywood and scrap aluminum for the same job. You're bound to have something that will work. GOOP adhesive is great for gluing the tab to the slot.

    How to Paint a Latex Zombie Mask!

    Frank walks us through the painting of this great latex zombie mask made by his friend Tim Shea. There are many different ways to paint it, and Frank shows us how to use rubber cement paint to bring out the sculpture's details and layer on a fun color scheme. (This video was brought to you by Premium memberships on Tested. Thanks to our members who've supported us. Learn more about memberships here.)

    Shop Tips: Mixing Superglue and Baby Powder

    This week, Frank teaches us a tip he learned while working for toy companies. By mixing different amounts of superglue and baby powder, you can make a putty that can be used to patch resin castings, almost like makeshift body filler!

    The Best Android Smartphones for Your Network (June 2016)

    There have already been some big device launches this year, and several of 2015's Android flagships are starting to get a bit long in the tooth. So, what are you supposed to do if the time has come to upgrade? You can get something a bit older that costs a bit less and appeals to you more, or pick up the latest and greatest. And of course, there's always something big just around the corner. Let's get the lay of the Android land.

    Carrier Phones

    On the carrier side, I think there are only two devices to seriously consider; the Galaxy S7 and the HTC 10. If you're on AT&T, that decision is even easier, which I'll get to shortly. First, the Galaxy S7 has some strong points regardless of the carrier you're on.

    Samsung is using a metal and glass unibody design for the GS7, which feels extremely solid. However, you will collect fingerprints like mad and you could damage the body of the phone if you drop it. The designers took an unusual step this year. Samsung made the GS7 about a millimeter thicker than the GS6 so the camera hump is flush with the back, and there's more room inside for a bigger battery. The glass panel on the back also has curved edges to make it more comfortable in your hand.

    The slightly thicker frame means the regular GS7 has a 3000mAh battery, and the GS7 Edge has 3600mAh. Both phones are also water resistant, which is a feature Samsung dropped from the GS6. There's also a microSD card slot in these phones, another improvement over the Galaxy S6, but it doesn't support adoptable storage in Android 6.0.

    The Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge have new Super AMOLED panels at 2560x1440 resolution. The GS7 is 5.1-inches, while the Edge variant has a larger 5.5-inch display. The Edge, of course, has a screen that curves down on the left and right edge. The Edge phone does look very nice, but it's not as comfortable to hold thanks to the larger size and narrower metal band around the perimeter due to the Edge screen. None of the software features that are supposed to take advantage of the Edge display really do anything special. Most of them would work on the regular phone too. It's just an arbitrary attempt to justify the design.

    Tested Builds: Foam Propmaking, Part 5

    We finish this week's build by painting our foam weapons and adding some leather handles. They turned out wonderfully! Thanks to Bill Doran for coming by our office to give us this tutorial, and thanks to all of you for following along with the build. Hope you learned something! We'll be back next month with another fun week of building, so stay tuned!

    Avoiding RC Transmitter Switch Mistakes

    At the most recent meeting of my RC club, several pilots got into a discussion about the embarrassment of accidentally flipping the wrong switch on their radio transmitter. The consequences of this mistake ranged anywhere from scuffed paint to a full-bore crash into the turf. Given the complexity of modern radios and the forest of protruding switches, it's easy to understand how even a seasoned pilot could mistake one switch for another. It is even more understandable when you realize that many pilots are reluctant to take their eyes off of their aircraft. The myriad switches are often navigated purely by muscle memory and feel.

    Nearly everyone had a story to share about causing damage to a favorite model from an absent-minded switch throw. Most stories were followed by a description of what was done afterward to mitigate the risk of future mistakes. The majority of pilots chose to modify a critical switch in order to differentiate it from its neighbors.

    Modern RC transmitters are often complex. Hitting the wrong switch can cause an embarrassing and costly mishap.

    For many pilots, their target switch to modify is the one which activates retractable landing gear. Obviously, you want to be able to easily locate that switch so that you can safely lower the gear when it's time to come in for a landing. This is especially true if you're already dealing with an in-flight emergency such as a dead engine.

    Correct operation of the landing gear is also vital when the model is on the ground. One pilot relayed an incident where he intended to retract the wing flaps while taxiing his expensive jet model. He inadvertently hit the landing gear switch instead. As the landing gear tucked itself away, his jet belly-flopped onto the hard runway, causing considerable mechanical and cosmetic damage. Another flyer talked about the time he accidentally retracted a model's landing gear while the engine was warming up. His transgression ruined a very costly propeller.

    You want to be able to quickly identify switches by feel.

    Many multi-rotor models have switches that control flight modes and/or the 'return home' function. Changing either of those could fundamentally alter how the model responds to your control inputs. Correct positioning of the switch is vital.

    Whatever your hot-button (or two) may be, the intent of modifying the corresponding switch is the same. You want to be able to quickly identify that switch by feel so that you can move it when you need to and leave it alone when you don't. What follows are three proven methods to modify a critical switch.