« What makes a successful personal experiment? | Main | Personal Development, Self-Experiments, and the Future of Search »

The best worst hobby

(Here's a fun little story I thought I'd take a chance and share. I hope you enjoy it. -- matt)


If you ask around about having a hobby, many people will say it's a good idea. Dig further and I bet you find that 90% don't have one themselves - too busy. There is plenty of advise on the web about they're being beneficial, though (develops the brain, relieves stress, are fun, etc.) - such as Importance of hobby and Benefits Of Having A Hobby. As an adult I've never had one, but a recent slump got me thinking about starting one. (I mountain bike but that doesn't count. Here's a riddle: What's the difference between a sport and a hobby? One makes you get plumper the more you do it ;-) I wanted a challenge, and I've always been fond of helicopters (probably influenced by having a VertiBird as a kid), so I thought I'd jump into remote control models. The story reads like a drug habit.


I bought a Blade mCX2 RTF (a tiny hobby-grade coaxial heli complete with batteries, charger, and transmitter - AKA "Ready To Fly") and absolutely loved it. (Amazon link here.) These are hobby grade ones that are far better than the inexpensive toys you can find at big box stores (more fun, more durable, and finer control).

phoenix-stockholm_outrage550BIGI absolutely loved it. Zipping around our kitchen, practicing different orientations (tail-in, nose-in, side-in), precision landings, and staging rescues - great fun. At the same time my brother and I decided to buy the Phoenix RC flight simulator. As a Mac user I had to upgrade Boot Camp, buy and install Windows, then install Phoenix. Not for the faint of heart, but I was motivated. The graphics and physics are stunning, we play online at night, and it's a hoot, not to mention a comfortable way to stay in touch.

After lots of research, I decided to take the plunge and buy a full collective pitch helicopter, and here's where we get into my title. "CP" helis are:

  • Complex machines,
  • extremely difficult to fly (100 hours on the simulator before I could do it confidently),
  • expensive, and
  • easy to break.


Needless to say, it's not for everyone. It's also why you'll see one helicopter pilot for every dozen or so airplane ones. You'll know the former by the tears. I again decided on RTF, this time a Blade 400.

Flying these is exhilarating and frightening. The sound they make spinning up usually causes your taking a few steps back, and controlling one is a rush. All that simulator work paid off, but it was still hard to control, and I crashed it twice (the first on only my fifth flight), which moved me from the hobby's challenge of flying to the the inevitable need to learn how to repair them. Again, not for the faint of heart. Fast forward two more crashes and painful, expensive repairs, and I know had the RC heli bug pretty bad, leading to my next step of...

trex-450-kx015074_1... buying an ALIGN T-REX 450 Pro Super Combo. This is the industry standard for high-performance CP helis, and comes as a kit. Putting it together was another major challenge (it took me two weeks, lots of tools, and many mistakes lessons), but I got it together and set up, and amazingly - it flew! I had my new helicopter friend John fly it for me, and what a reward seeing the result of transforming a box of 200+ parts into a mechanical marvel. A very important side benefit is the feeling of a tangible, relatively short term success, especially with a string of multi-year challenges and struggles under my belt.

I had my first destined crash of my T-rex yesterday, and the Blade 400 is still on the bench, but that thrill of flying keeps me going. To be in control of one of these good-sized "birds" zipping past me is such a thrill that it makes me actually giggle a tiny bit, and that's a gift. They're expensive, complex, and difficult machines, but I'm hooked. A few success factors are having a local hobby shop (yes they still exist), getting to know local people who fly rc helicopters (I discovered the old-school activity of rc flying clubs - definitely a new experience for me), and utilizing the many smart and helpful folks in online forums. I'm fortunate to have been able to try this hobby, for which I'm profoundly grateful.

I'm curious

  • Do you have a hobby?
  • What is it, and what's your story?
  • If not, what's holding you back? In my case it took some searching before I found something that sucked me in. In fact my 10 year old daughter suggested I look through our library's non-fiction section for inspiration, which worked.

Reader Comments (13)

Our hobby is a reflection of who we want to be in our natural state. When we let go of our office dress, when we are relaxed and just living our life, when we are all natural and raw. We take on a hobby that makes us feel different but all natural.
May 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterIyabunmiM
Awesome comment, IyabunmiM.
May 25, 2011 | Registered CommenterMatthew Cornell
Hobby is our activity or interest that is undertaken for pleasure. We are happy on what we do.
I wasn't very familiar with remote control aircraft, but came across this interesting article in Air & Space Magazine about being a virtual pilot with the use of an on-board camera. http://bit.ly/m1LEAj

Have you thought about putting a camera on your helicoptor? The following site says that the t-Rex 450 is a good model for starting out with FPV. http://bit.ly/qhW9QN There's some amazing videos using FPV on Youtube too.
July 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobert
Thanks for your comments and pointers, Robert. I very much enjoyed reading the comments on the Air & Space article. I am an AMA member, and I agree with the safety concerns that were brought up. I am going to get a copy of the book mentioned, Inviting Disaster: Lessons From the Edge of Technology http://www.amazon.com/Inviting-Disaster-Lessons-Edge-Technology/dp/0066620821

For me, FPV (i.e., flying it like I'm looking forward out the cockpit) has no interest, but I'm convinced I'm in the minority. Most people I share the hobby with suggest putting a camera on it. I think it'd be far easier to fly, but that's a good argument *against* doing it :-) You might be interested in http://ardrone.parrot.com/parrot-ar-drone/usa/ - a well-known quadracopter that uses the iPhone as a controller and video monitor.

I continue to get rewards from my hobby. In fact, this week I've had a confidence breakthrough on the very basic flying I've been doing. The sense of accomplishment was keen, and these things are a blast to fly. Great stuff.
July 7, 2011 | Registered CommenterMatthew Cornell
Matthew, it’s great to hear that you found your calling in the hobby of RC. I too found RC as a wonderful hobby some 30 years ago and still can`t seem to get enough of it to this day. I fly airplanes although I have dabbled some with helies. I like the airplanes because they give you wider variety of ways to compete; pylon racing, scale aerobatics, fun fly ins, pattern, etc.
If you wanted to take the next step in the hobby you should consider competing with the helies. It`s heart pounding adrenaline stomping excitement and you don`t have to be an expert to start competing. Depending on where you live, there should be some local contests that you could take part in to see if you like it. Start out as a novice, but I think ounce you get your feet wet you are going to love it.
You mention that you joined AMA and if you go to their site you will find a whole directory of contests for your area.
Just a suggestion.
G Wells
Skymasters Club
Lake Orion, Mich.
August 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterG Wells
Thanks so much for writing, G Wells! I'll check out the contests. I hadn't thought about that before. I'm still enjoying the hobby, though I had a series of crashes lately that have shaken me up some, along with a (temporary) loss of confidence. But I'm back in action now, though I admit it's still scary exciting every time I lift off.
August 9, 2011 | Registered CommenterMatthew Cornell
Amazing Hobby...Exicited to see all those remort control helicopters...

Really enjoy reading your article :)
January 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAdam Vogas
Thanks, Adam.
January 12, 2012 | Registered CommenterMatthew Cornell
It's my stress reliever, whenever i'm upset in always looking for diversion and that is reading (mostly current events) it's my hobby. The news interest me the most above everything and my most favorite topic was about the environment including the industry that involves in this such as http://blackhawk-mining.com
May 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterblack
I tie decorative knots. just a piece of string can absorb so much stress. And you can carry it in your pocket and have it handy whenever you have a few minutes of "down time" here and there.
August 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDonb
My hobby is unicycling. I got into it by accident, it was my birthday and people didn't know what to get me so I jokingly suggested a unicycle would be fun. Turns out they were selling them at Aldi that week so guess what I got. Anyways, now I unicycle nearly every day and it is great fun.
Like most hobbies, once you get into it, you find out there is so much more to it than you first realised. Like most hobbies there is a good mix of learning and mastery, two things which are great for making you happy :)
September 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRyan
Thanks, guys. Both are creative hobbies. Good stuff!
October 2, 2012 | Registered CommenterMatthew Cornell

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.