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Flying RC helicopters cerainly works the brain, par ticularly during the learning curve when lots of crash damage intensifies that labor.
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Radio Control Helicopters

Strengthening the connection between my eyes and hands

Text and photos by Tom Hintz

Posted – 3-16-2013


About 30 years ago I took up flying radio control airplanes. For much of that time I worked at a hobby shop that in many ways subsidized my flying so I was able to devote considerable time to the hobby. I learned quickly and progressed to the point that I was often test flying (trimming out) planes for other flyers as well as teaching new RC pilots how to fly. I attributed the short learning curve to a very good hand to eye coordination that I had depended on much of my life.

One of the things that led me to believe that something was wrong with me now was that same hand to eye coordination that seemed to be failing me. I was knocking things over and not catching them before they fell and simply dropping things for no apparent reason.
After being diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer's I started looking for ways to “exercise” my hand to eye coordination and remembered the radio control flying. Along with the hand to eye thing, controlling a flying object takes considerable concentration so I thought this might be a good way to help my brain stay sharper longer. It also has the advantage of being fun (when it works) which helps goes a long way towards maintaining the interest.

Because I am not driving these days getting to an RC airfield to fly planes safely is difficult but RC helicopters could be flown in my yard. I am still looking into joining an RC club and getting to a real RC flying field but with helicopters I can do a lot in my yard until then.

In addition to forcing myself to focus my concentration while flying and exercising the hand to eye coordination helicopters crash quite a bit, especially early in the learning curve. That means repairs to a machine that sometimes appears to have been devised by someone going through a Rube Goldberg phase.

With all of the little parts working on these helicopters (left) takes focus and dexterity. I use photos on my computer (right) as cheat sheets on how things go back together. what my brain can;t remember the computer does.
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Because the only thing I am liable to remember about what I did an hour ago is that I don’t remember doing it, getting things back together can get a little interesting. I have found a false memory though using my photography skills and equipment. I take detailed photos of the assembled helicopter to serve as my memory and the comprehensive instructions that never come with things anymore. Then I can refer to them when I am putting the helicopter back together and a bunch of frustration is averted. Contrary to one misconception is that Alzheimer's doesn’t make you stupid – it makes you resourceful.

Overall, flying and maintaining RC helicopters forces me to focus my concentration. I not only have to remember which control stick movement does what but also reversing those movements in my head when the nose of the helicopter is facing me. Many of the parts I have to work with are very small which forces more concentration during the many maintenance and setup operations.

Keeping myself motivated in the face of these difficulties would itself be hard to do if flying the RC helicopters was not so much fun. It is also gratifying to work on the helicopter and have it do what I wanted when it gets in the air. I am in this fight for the long haul but maintaining the higher level of concentration and coordination required by RC helicopters can only help if I am consistent in using it to exercise my brain.

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