I'm learning to fly fixed wing model aircraft via an RC simulator. I can control the aircraft well in Chase mode, where my viewpoint follows the aircraft. However, in Fixed mode, where my view is from the pilot on the ground, it's hard for me. I believe the cause is that it's difficult to tell the direction of the aircraft's velocity.

Mathematically, from the ground, I see only two dimensions, azimuth and elevation. There's not enough information to determine the x, y, and z positions. The only way to do this is to judge the distance r from the aircraft by its size. This is hard to do when the aircraft is distant.

How do pilots flying RC planes tell the direction angle? How do you tell it if it is parallel to runway, getting futher from runway, or getting closer? How do you tell roll, pitch, yaw to keep it stable?


3 Answers 3


The main way is through 'situational awareness'; if you are flying the aircraft, you should have an idea of what is it doing based on what it has done, and what you have commanded it to do. For example, if it is flying from right to left as you look and you command a right turn, then when the plane appears to have no horizontal movement it is going away from you.

However, it is common and easy to briefly lose this awareness. In this case, I would take what I can see and attempt a manoeuver that I know the outcome of:

  • If the aircraft looks like it is either coming towards me or going away, I will roll slightly - if I command 'right wing down' and the right wing goes down, I am looking at the aircraft from behind. If the left wing (as I see it) dips, it is 'backwards' - i.e. coming towards me. (Of course, you could also use yaw and see which way the silhouette goes.)
  • If the aircraft is possibly flying inverted, I will use either elevator to lift/dip the nose or rudder to yaw the plane:
    • If it is flying left to right and I try to push the nose down but it goes up, the plane is inverted. (I would not expect to see a yaw movement very well in this case.)
    • If it is flying away from me and I try to yaw left and it goes left, it is the right way up. (Up/down movement would probably be visible in this orientation, but I prefer maintaining altitude.)

I've also used simulators, and find that it is also slightly easier to work this out in real life as things like depth perception help a lot.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that if you are flying in a country that requires you to keep the aircraft in "Visual Line of Sight" (or VLOS), if your aircraft is so far away that you cannot easily identify it's orientation visually, it is probable that you are no longer flying in VLOS conditions (as you cannot see what your aircraft is doing, even though you can see the aircraft.)


Attempting to fly a distant speck of a model in a simulator is a common beginner mistake but it's really just evidence that you need a bit more practice at keeping the model closer to you.

As you get better, you'll stop making the mistakes that let the model get so far away, better at planning manoeuvres, and better at anticipating when the wind is pushing the model away. (When you think you've mastered the simulator, turn on some wind!)

You can practice the techniques in Kralc's answer in the simulator, and they might save your model one day, but they should not be part of everyday flying. Don't spend too much time trying to rescue a distant speck, just count it as a crash, reset the sim and try to do better next time.

It generally takes an hour or two of practice to keep a trainer model under control, and about the same to learn to land it on (or near) the strip.


First of all, I see how the plane acts to micro inputs (I use this technique when I'm not sure anymore how it lies). But I mainly go for Rudder-positioning and different colouring on the underside.


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