How to Launch an RC Glider

I love flying Radio Control Gliders with my son. We go out to the local field and fling them into the air and guide their descent until they land at our feet.

I prefer the two channel gliders (rudder and elevator) as it is easy for my son to control. Heck, it's easy for me too! The three channel gliders are fun too, but certainly more challenging with the ailerons.

We are limited in how high we can fling the gliders and were looking for some alternatives to get some extra height and longer flight times. Listed below are the various options we found.

At the end of the day, the simplicity of the discus launch is my favorite (and it is a pretty good workout!)

Discus Launch

This is my favorite launching technique by far! Frankly, it is just a lot of fun!

A Discus Launch Glider is specially designed with a throwing peg built into the wing. It is easy to grab between your pointer and middle fingers and gives you great control as you spin around.

To be fair, you don't need to be a superstar athlete to launch it high. I have seen plenty of folks just swing it with a good sidearm throw (without spinning around) and get it up pretty high.

Of course, the skill in flying the glider is the most important factor. A good pilot can overcome a bad throw, but a bad pilot can't take advantage of a good throw!

The peg is used for good control during the launch
The peg is used for good control during the launch

A Hi Start is a bungee launch system with approximately 100' of bungee and 400' of light line attached to it.

An Up Start is similar, but with 50' of tubing and 150' of light line attached to it.

A Zip Start is best for smaller gliders. It uses about 10' of tubing and 25' of line. It will give about the same height as a really good hand launch (with a lot less effort!)

Bungee Launch

How much fun is this? The concept is simple. Drive a peg into the ground and pullback on a bungee cord to build the energy to launch your glider high into the air.

The RC airplane should have a backwards-facing hook secured to the fuselage. There is no servo or other electromechanical system attached.

The bungee cord can vary in length, but should always have a light line securely attached to the end of it. The light line will be terminated with a simple ring that slips on the backwards-facing hook on the plane. Most RC pilots also attach a rag to the line, about two feet away from the hook. The rag not only creates a bit of extra drag in the air which helps the ring slip off the hook at its terminus, but it also makes it easier to find and pick up when it falls back to the ground.

Note: The most common question when using this system is how to tell how hard to pull the cord back. The answer is to pull it back to about five or six times the weight of your model. If you have a 1lb model, pull back the cord until you have about five or six pounds of pressure. Use a fish scale to calibrate your pull-back.

Always take off AND land into the wind! Controlling the glider is a lot easier.

Overhand Throw

This is easy and fun. It works great for an RC glider that has a motor and a collapsible propeller. With an unpowered model, a simple overhand throw may not give you the height you need for an enjoyable flight.

There are exceptions, though. Slope gliding and gliding in a windy environment are the primary times when hand launching an unpowered glider will work well. Typically, slope gliding on a hill takes advantage of thermals and upwards air movement. A hand launch over the side of the hill is all it takes for the glider to find some favorable air and gain lift.

Launching into a stiff breeze with a larger glider will also provide lift and allow your plane to gain some altitude. Smaller gliders just won't do that good in the wind, so be careful if you haven't attempted this before.

When launching a glider, make sure to use a little up elevator to give your model some height during the launching phase. Use too much elevator and it can impede the momentum of the plane.

Forces Acting on a RC Glider
Forces Acting on a RC Glider

Winch Launch

If a bungee launch is good, a high-powered winch attached to a motor can only be better, right? As Tim Allen would say "More Power! Ah, ah, ah!"

This system is pretty straightforward and can be cobbled together with virtually any motor. Our local RC flying club uses a riding lawnmower motor, but it really doesn't matter.

This system works when the motor engages a winch which wraps the launch line around a cylinder extremely quickly. This pulls the model through the air until it reaches its maximum height and the slip ring falls from the hook on the plane.

I don't like this system as much as others. I don't use a motor on my glider because I enjoy the peaceful flights, so why would I want a loud motor pulling models into the air? It's just not for me.

Aerotow

This technique is flat out FUN! Grab a buddy and have him tow your glider into the air using his RC plane. Once it reaches altitude, activate a servo to release the towline and your glider is free to fly.

Make sure you are standing right next to your friend who is flying the tow plane. Good communication is key. Don't think that you can sit back catch a free ride though. You will need to keep the glider in a straight line behind the tow plane. Try not to make any severe movements as it can make the tow less efficient.

Tip: Watch very carefully for any slack in the line. This will most often occur during turns. A slack line can become fouled in the planes or cause damage if it retightens too fast. It is much better to release the glider prematurely to avoid a potentially expensive situation!

Piggyback Launch

I have never seen this one in action and it makes me a bit nervous. You'll need a friend with an RC plane that is much bigger than your glider. The glider affixes to the back of the plane and is released by activating a servo when it gets to the desired height.

I know they used it for the space shuttle, but I keep envisioning the glider being released and falling back to damage the plane's rudder.

If you have used this successfully, please leave a comment below. I would like to hear about your experiences.

Just Like the Space Shuttle on a 747!
Just Like the Space Shuttle on a 747!

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