Jotto's helicopter winter flying guide

Are you addicted to RC helicopters? If you are like me, you turn into a monster if you're unable to fly for a couple of weeks. So what do you do during a long winter? Dig yourself into a cave and hibernate until spring? Nah. You go flying, of course. There is no such thing as a "helicopter flying season" -- you can fly the whole year round!


Ready for flight!

About me

I'm a helicopter addict (who turn into a monster if I can't fly for a couple of weeks). Cold weather doesn't prevent me from flying, so I have gained some experience about flying during winter time. Of course, the fact that I grew up in Northern Norway and my Sami heritage does help on my winter survival skills!


You get kinda used to winter when you grow up here

About winter flying

Winter flying is as fun as summer flying. It may not be as comfortable, but at least you're not pestered by insects. You need proper clothing, and there are certain things that you need to be aware of. Oh, don't forget your thermos with hot coffee. If you don't have one, buy one!


All you need for a perfect day in the snow: helicopter, transmitter, lipos and some coffee!

The lowest temperature I've been flying in was -20°C (-4°F). Was it nice and warm? Errr... no. Was it fun? Hell yeah!!

Disclaimer

First of all, a little disclaimer: this page is meant to share my experiences with winter flying. Follow this guide at your own risk. Temperatures during winter will often be lower than the specified temperature range for your gear (not that care much about THAT).

How cold weather affects the helicopter

Low temperature affects your helicopter in several ways:

Clothing and gear

Clothing is very important. If you are freezing, your fingers won't react as precisely and as quickly as usual. Moreover, how fun is it to fly if you're shivering? Buy a good snow suit (like the one I have on the picture). Believe me, that is much warmer than having separate winter jacket and trousers!

Wear a warm wool cap, even if it doesn't feel like your head is cold. Your body will prioritize heat flow to your head. When it's starting to get cold, the blood flow to your limbs will be reduced in order to keep your head and viscera warm. If you don't use warm headwear, you will loose a lot of heat through your head.

Hand warmers

There are several types of hand warmers out there. Each have their advantages and disadvantages. They can be used for more than warming your hands, so they are worth having a closer look at:

Keeping hands warm

Keeping your hands warm is perhaps the most tricky part. I'm using a Raydiowarm. Some people just can't get used to it, but I find it invaluable.


Transmitter in Raydiowarm, with the Blade Holder TrickTM and the Hand Warmer TrickTM


I added a strap for a Zippo hand warmer to the Raydiowarm. Now I get warm on one hand and cold on the other. Perhaps I should add one on the other side as well!


Sticks with sanded shrink wrap. I was out of the black ones -- it had to be blue or pink!

The ultimate Raydiowarm solution

If you are serious about winter flying, you might consider doing some modifications to your Raydiowarm.


The Ultimate Raydiowarm SolutionTM

I have used HobbyKing tire warmers inside the pockets where the stiff pads are. The tire warmers produce enough heat to make it comfortable, even when they are inside the pockets. I have also used a thread bar to shape a stiff frame that prevents the window from collapsing onto the hands. The frame is bent into a wedge shape and fixed to the top with zip ties. The lipo fits nicely underneath the transmitter.
 
There is also a sheet of plexi glass in the front. This is attached with double-sided tape and further helps preventing the Raydiowarm from collapsing. The lower part of the frame also helps fixing the sheet onto the front wall.


The heater temperature controller and a lipo alarm on the outside.

I never really liked the arrangement of the straps on the Raydiowarm. I removed the strap that is supposed to go around the waist, fixed the other straps to the edge and sacrificed a transmitter strap to make everything more ergonomically correct for myself. The exact arrangement of the straps depend on how you prefer to hold the transmitter.


The outside. Note the thread bar which acts as a frame and prevents the window from touching the hands.

Lipos in the cold

Cold lipo batteries have lower voltage under load than warm batteries. You will notice that your helicopter has less "pop" than during the summer. On the other hand, the air will be denser when it's really cold, yielding better lift.


Heater box with lipos and and Zippo hand warmer

Field charging

As a rule of thumb, lipos shouldn't be charged fully in less than 10°C (50°F), as that will reduce battery life. I put the charger, PSU and lipos inside the heater box. When I charge at 1000W, the charger and PSU produce enough heat in the box to maintain room temperature, even if it's below 0°C outside!


Portable, self-heating charging station!

Nitro in the cold

I have limited experience with nitro engines. A few things worth mentioning are

How to contact me

Do you have any questions, comments, success stories, or the opposite? Email me at jotto@jotto.no or post in this thread at Helifreak!

 

Happy winter flying, and remember: there is no such thing as a "helicopter flying season"!

 

Last updated Oct 8th 2012
- Jahn Otto Andersen