How to Rescue Your RC Plane from a Tree

Through painful personal experience, I’ve learned the best techniques for freeing your RC airplane from the evil clutches of mother nature’s best weapon against pilots: trees. Read on and I’ll share with you the pearls of wisdom that helped me libreate my HobbyZone Super Cub after 3 long days of arboreal bondage.

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Last Friday, I decided to tape my digital camera to my HobbyZone Super Cub and do some aerial video. I had done this in the past with great success, so I was natually quite excited. I taped the camera to the side of the fuselage directly under the left wing, set the radio to full throttle, and hand launched it into the wind. I had trouble climbing at first, so I piloted the plane in a wide clockwise circuit around the field trying to gain altitude. After about 20 seconds of flight, disaster struck. In this case I am defining “disaster” as “pilot error”. To be specific, I should have pushed the stick to the right, but did the exact opposite. This unexpectedly pointed my Cub directly at the tallest tree on the perimiter of the field, and simultaneously caused me to loose about 20 feet of altitude. At this point, the plane was about 300 feet away from me, which would soon provide me a valuable lesson about depth perception. I thought that the plane was well clear of hitting that big, looming tree, but I was wrong. The plane was in fact on a collision course with the leafy tree tops.

The impact was suprisingly soft. The plane landed (crashed) into the thinnest of the upper most branches, which cradled it like a baby about 60 feet up. No problem, I thought. I can just spin the prop and wiggled the tail until it falls free. No such luck. Mother nature had claimed its sacrifice and was not about to relinquish with a little tail wagging.

What Not To Do

The first thing you may think to try when your plane is stuck 60 feet up in a tree is to throw a stick at it. There are usually plenty of sticks around parks, and you’ve got a pretty good arm, right? Wrong. Throwing a stick 60 feet into the air, hoping to hit a plane that is securely lodged in a tree will likely not work. Plus, you are not as strong as you think (at least that was my experience).

The second thing you may think to do is return home to get some rope, which you can tie around your trusty stick, hoping to latch it onto a branch close to the plane and shake it free. This will also fail, but you will get a great upper-body workout.

Failing the stick-and-rope trick, you may think the stick is just not heavy enough, so you get a piece of brick, tie the same rope around it, and try to lob it over a tree branch. This also fails, because, again, you just haven’t got that much arm strength. Then you get clever. Maybe you could swing the brick around in big circles (a la David and Goliath) and, using your college physics knowledge, hurl the brick-and-rope up and over a tree branch near the plane. This will also fail, because your brain will simply refuse to let you lob that brick straight after it’s been orbitting your head for 30 seconds (again, that was my experience anyway).

At this point you are getting tired, but you decide to repeat the last two paragraphs about 10 times before finally giving up for the day. So you say good night to your plane, and go home for the day. The next day, in desparation, you replace the brick with a tennis ball, and the rope with fishing line. Your arm is sore from the previous day’s efforts, but you are confident that a new day will bring new hope. This is where you are wrong again, and you give up a lot more quickly than the previous day.

Then it rains.

Finally, Some Hope

After a good nigh’s rest and lots of sighing from a supportive, patient wife, you come up with two more ideas. The first involves about 50 feet of 1/2″ PVC pipe and lots of duct tape. The second involves a sling shot, lead weights, and fishing line. So you go buy 6 9-foot lengths of PVC pipe, 700 yards of fishing line, some lead weights, and a sling shot, and you head off to the field with new found confidence.

The pipe idea ends up failing for two reasons: 1. PVC is very flimsy, and at 50 feet, you can barely control it, let alone knock a plane out of a tree. 2. 50 feet is not actually enough pipe, apparently.

The slingshot idea, however, shows some merit. If you tie a lead weight to the end of some fishing line, unravel about 50 feet of line on the grass, and shoot the lead weight toward the plane, you will find (suprisingly) that you can shoot that line really close to the plane. What’s more, you can actually get the line to wrap around a branch pretty close to your plane. This brings new found hope! What you soon discover, however, is that the fishing line breaks very easily when you tug on it. Not to worry. This is where you head back to Wal-Mart and buy line that is rated at 50-lbs. Spider Wire, they call it, and it is tough. But it’s green and very difficult to see on the grass, so you are careful not to drop it. At this point, you’ve recruited a co-worker with good aim (though not required) and lots of patience (strictly required). Maybe this co-worker is named Steve. Steve’s got good aim with a sling shot and knows that you will let him fly your plane if he helps you get it down. Steve has such good aim that he shoots the lead weight right up and over the plane, with the 50-lbs fishing line in tow. He slowly pulls on the line until it wraps around the plane. If you are lucky (and apparently Steve is very lucky), the line will not only wrap around your plane, but also secure itself crane-like on a neighboring branch. At this point, Steve gives the line a few good tugs, and is able to free the plane from its leafy captor and lower it to the ground, where you stand with outsretched arms like a giddy girl at a weddinng boquet toss. If Steve considers himself pretty funny, he may even jerk the plane back up right before you can reach it, but you’ll forgive him since he got your plane down.

And that, my friends, is how you get an RC airplane down from a tree using fishing line, lead weights, and a slingshot. Total cost: under $20.00.

Oh, by the way, unless your hands are made of steel, you’ll also want some gloves so your fingers don’t get burned by the fishing line as you pull on it.

For those of you wanting a damage report, here are the details: After 3 days of tree captivity and one night of rain, the camera still works, and the only damage to the plane was a broken prop and a small incision in the wing where the fishing line cut into it. 30 minutes with my favorite 5-minute epoxy had the Cub airworthy again.

And now, for those of you morbid enough to want to see first person what the on-board camera filmed as it crashed into the tree, here’s the video. You can skip the first 1:30 because it’s just me taping the camera to the plane. The tree crash happens at about 2:00. At about 10:00, you can hear me trying to spin the prop to free the plane, and then the prop breaks against a branch. Enjoy!


78 comments to “How to Rescue Your RC Plane from a Tree”

  1. Hi, for Christmas I received a sweet 42 inch RC helicopter. I began my first test flight the next day and within 20 seconds of flight a big dog was trying to eat it. for 10 seconds this did not appear to be a problem and I just kept my baby in the air – then the wind blew for the first time that day… 10 seconds later I had the dilema: land the copter and let the dog eat it or let the wind take it further and further away. I thought I could control it… 5 more seconds passed and the copter was over a roof, above a road, next to a high tree and spinning round and round completly out of control. 5 seconds later the wind took it higher and higher. This was my first flight so a crash land was almost inevitable and I was determined to bring it back above the grass to at least give it a chance of survival. I kept pulling at the controls and it kept going higher and higher and round and round until it made friends with the tallest tree in the park, about 4 stories high. So my first flight lasted less than 1 minute and my Christmas gift was now up a tree. I tried tennis balls, block and tackels etc etc. I went to the tree every hour when the wind picked up in the evenings and also checked the area at 4:30am in the mornings before anyone walked their dogs (I live in Australia and its summer time right now). Then I found this forum. Adopting the fishing wire method I invited my frined round with his fishing rod and using his strongest line we tied a Y shaped branch and cast the line over and over again trying to snag the highest branch. Over 1.5 hours we snaged the branch only 5 times in the ideal spot and were able to shake the hell out of it before the line broke. Eventiualy on the 6th sucessfull snag we managed to shake the copter out of the tree. It fell through the tree so I had just enough time to figure out its direction and caught it in my hands about 2 meters off the concret ground. Suprisingly, after 3 days of extreem Australian summer heat the copter still works. Thanks 2 everyone for all their advice, hope my method helps someone else.

  2. Coxy, that is an epic story! I am so glad to hear you got your heli back.

  3. LOL nice read and video. I like your sense of humor. Anyways … I recently recovered my double horse 9053 heli out of a tree with a bobcat forklift, and a rake. Needless to say, it wasnt fun standing on the forks holding a rake with one hand … But it got the job done. Now that I think about it, ill try something different next time. Perhaps using fishing line, lead weights, and a slingshot ?

  4. Got my FPV-equipped plane stuck 75 feet up in a tree after the motor cut out. I tried so many things, including a bow and arrow, slingshot with twine tied to 3/4oz. sinker, giant homemade slingshot with the same sinker, pellet gun, disc golf discs and my paintball gun (which wouldn’t work right) and I had no success for 72 hours until I switched my slingshot setup up. I used an $8 slingshot and a $3 spool of 50lb. test fishing line, along with a 3/4oz. egg-shaped sinker, to finally dislodge my AXN. The key was bringing a blanket to spread out on the ground so the line wouldn’t snag on the grass and weeds. With the thin twine attached to the sinker, I lost about 30 feet of range. I should have used the fishing line from the beginning. The amazing part of this story is that both of my LiPo’s are charging just fine after being completely drained.

  5. Stewart, that is an epic story! Did you find this blog before or after rescuing your plane?

  6. Matt Arrington says: -#1

    I have a Radian stuck about 50′ up in a tree. It sucks seeing your fully intact plane stuck and no way to retrieve it. I laughed as I read your failed attempts because I tried everything you did with the same results. PVC pipe is the biggest waste of time if you are more than 20′ up. Thanks for the sling shot idea. You gave me hope! I’ll be buying a bow next if this doesn’t work!

  7. My Champ was thrown up on top of a gum tree due to a gust of wind today.

    Tried throwing various things including branches but no luck

    Went home and tried attaching a line from my kite to a tennis ball, and after several attempts, managed to dislodge it.

    The trick was to throw it over the plane and then lift it up with the tennis ball which was able to move it enough to let it fall.

  8. What happens when you get the RC helicopter with the sky hook stuck. I might have to try some helium ballons with a good fish hook on it as mine is too close to the neighbors house to use slingshots and fishing weights

  9. Got my mini super cub in a 45Ft dead tree.
    Tried a multi segmented pole with a pvc pipe on the end. hit the plane a couple of times but could not do more.

    I will try your sling shot and fishing line approach and also hope for strong winds.

    thanks

  10. Just wanted to confirm the slingshot method. Landed my super cub 60 feet high in a tree. Took me an hour with a 10 dollar slingshot, 50 lb test line and 2 oz weight to get it down.

  11. So I read the other writers and went to walmart and got the sling shot, the fishing line and weight. I also took my handy buddy who is good at fixing things!! 40 minutes, later my Hawk Sky that was in the tree for over 8 days came down 50 feet from cotton tree. Oh man I was so excited. The battery had swelled up like a balloon, but the plane works! I couldn’t believe it.
    Thank you so much for the information given. That helped me get the plane down….

  12. what a great article, my first rc flight in small park back yard, plane ended up in tree about 100ft, tail lodged in tree branch
    got the fish line to hook branch but could not dislodge plane
    2 days later, 25 tries, got it perfect line over back tail pulled plane out
    I got so good with slingshot I could hit withn a couple of ft of where aiming at 100 ft
    thanks for the article

  13. In my case, my Hobby Zone Champ Champ RTF got stuck in a 30 feet pine tree, aprox., and I waited to recovery it. I cut a 26 feet long small tree to get up to the branch where my plane got stuck again after 6 hours.

    It is the second time that my plane got stuck in a tree.

    This time, no damage!!!

  14. So my HobbyZone Cub spent 5 nights 60′ up a spruce tree. The slingshot idea is what finally got it down. Took me about 2 hours of slinging until I had the perfect shot but I recovered the Cub with just a broken wing strut. And despite 2 days of moderate rain, the electronics were all dry. The Cub still works perfectly. Thanks for the tip!

  15. My Bixler powered glider is stuck 20m up a tree on our nearby oval thanks to a swooping magpie taking chunks of foam out the top of the wings and distracting me on final approach. I’ve tried almost everything in this list before finding this page. I just bought a cheap slingshot wth some 50lb line and some large sinkers and will try it out tonight. Although its only a $100 setup, and its suffered critical injuries including broken wings and a broken tail section, I’m not letting the tree win. I’ve invested too much time already throwing rocks and hurling fishing line to be beaten now.

    Thanks for the ideas

  16. Thank you! Our 6 year old received an Air Hogs helicopter for his birthday. We took him out to a local BBQ restaurant that has a big area in the back where kids play, but bordered by tall oak trees. Wouldn’t you know, within 5 minutes the helicopter was stuck at the top of a 40 foot Oak!

    I used your advice but subbed in kite string instead of fishing line as I had it handy and it has a little more elasticity to it to prevent snapping. I must have channeled Steve’s mojo because the 1st shot went right over the top of the helicopter and with one pull on the string we had the helicopter out of the tree. I looked around to see if anybody but my kids saw me do it on the 1st shot. Nope. My kids weren’t even impressed but I was jumping up and down and cheering.

    Great advice! Thanks!

  17. Yay! This worked for me too! Got my Super Cub stcuk in a 40ft high tree. Nose in deep. Slingshot with a golf ball wrapped in plastic and attached to 40lb fishing line. Too about 7 shots to get the aim right, but eventually I snagged a branch close enough to the plane. Initiated a swinging and swaying with the tree and the plane eventually fell out!! As this was over the course of a week, the poor LiPo battery was wiped, but I managed to salvage the plane!!

    Great advice, it worked for me too!!!

  18. Hey I have still got a Sbach converted into a local birds nest. I am going to use your “rope and weight” technique to recover whats left!

  19. Just starting the flying hobby and really excited about it. Bought a Hobby Zone Super Cub DM RTF, and have been flying it often the last two weeks. My first tree landing I was able to climb the tree and get it down. So when I got home I thought .. you should put a ladder in the car. So off I go back to fly some more and sure enough another tree landing. This time …. I needed the ladder to get up to the branches that would support me. Success again. But while in the tree I was thinking.. Man, I should have a stick to knock it out.. so next I got the expandable 15ft stick that you can get around this time at Home Depot to put your Christmas lights on your shingles. Now with stick and ladder in the truck, off I go again.. several more tree landings at different fields that have less and less trees around.. but still I find a way to land in them!… So far have been very successful with the ladder and pole trick.. Until TODAY!!!.. she is way way up in a very tall tree.. even I wouldnt think to even try to climb it. My wife was with me and she said .. Dont worry Honey.. I’ll buy you another one for Christmas.. whatever you want under $300!… BONUS!!.. gonna get the sling shot tomorrow and get my old faithful down from that 60ft tree.. and also get that new Christmas present.. Im a lucky man if that slingshot works!!.. will follow up tomorrow.

  20. Mine Syma 18 inch copter was stuck in a branch about 45 feet up. I tired all of the above and finally got it down with three helium ballons tied to stong kite string. It took a while and it has to be calm but I eventualy was able to get the 3 balloons stuck on the same branch as the copter and was able to shake it lose. It was up there for over two weeks but still works perfectly

  21. My plane got stuck in a palm tree, tried to use a pool skimmer and now my plane and my pool skimmer are stuck in a tree.

  22. LOL yes the damn trees like to eat my models also. lets see… embarased to say this but four tree crashes this year. my wife says I should take up another hobby (no sympathy at all). first one was easy only about 8 meters up (I like archery so the Bow method was a natural) . second time was 15 meters and the bow and arrow and line worked again. As if I need greater challenges to make my life interesting they get higher and in denser branches. Third was a waiting game for wind and then the bow. Today however is the king of all tree crashes (I swear if I get it back I will never fly any where I can even see a tree, I think I will move to the prairies). I was thermal hunting, a big gust of wind out of nowhere and nasty inversion. she looped twice and dissapeared nose first, must have dropped 200 feet or more right in to the (yes you read this right) forest… took me an hour and a half just to find it, totally invisible could only locate it from the time it took to aquire a signal when I turned on the transmitter and then the servo noise when I got close . so now I need to figure out how to get my 2 meter baby out of the tallest pine in the forest, I can not even see it the branches are so dense . oh and did I mention the 35+ meters (100+feet) part? I’m seriously thinking about risking jail time and cutting the sucker down but I’m pretty sure it will completely destroy the model, Sling shot and fishing weight eh?? not sure I can get any thing past all those branches other trees and junk, any body with a helicopter want to do me a favour?—shit what a day.

  23. Well just thought I’d check in and tell you how it went.
    I have to endorse the sling shot and fishing line method.
    I was not hopful but gave it a try.
    The arows would never have made it through the dense branches but the lead shot went though finally and even came down so I could tie a heavier line on and pull it back.
    I layed the spool down face up and pinned it to the ground using a screw driver so it acted like a spinning rod (way beter than coiling!) so to make a long story short shook the heck out of the tree, it said uncle and spit my glider out. I then had to convince it’s neighbour to let go also but the method worked for a second time and I caught my disshevelled and broken bird.
    However a day of repairs later… I went for a trip to the local soaring hill.
    I saw trees several hunderd meters off but took a deep breath, told my self to be brave and had a great 3.5 hour session.
    So happy ending!
    good luck people, may the force of the sling shot work for you.

  24. Your slingshot, fishing line, and lead weight technique worked like a charm for me. I had an 50mm edf electric jet stuck 30ft high in a tree and with the help of a club member was able to catch a branch with the fishing line where the plane was a shake it down. Thanks!!

  25. The Plane Dog says: -#1

    My Hobbico Superstar EP was coming in for a perfect landing. I cut the throttle for a nice gentle glide in. I thought I had cleared the trees and then all of the sudden my plane disappeared. I guess when your plane if far away, it’s hard to get an accurate perception of its height. I gave it some throttle and pitched it up – even though I couldn’t see it. Then I heard that sound – whack!

    My plane is stuck in a tree, nearly 100 feet tall. It’s been up there for almost 2 weeks. I’ll try the slingshot thing at some point. The wind brought it down about 8 feet, but now it’s more tightly gripped by the tree.

  26. I just spent 2 hours throwing a ball and shooting at the plane with paintballs. After talking to the cops that wanted to know what the heck I was doing at 9 o’clock at night, I gave up for the night and found this. Going to get a slingshot tomorrow!

  27. Funny how great minds think alike, I was just trying the slingshot method prior to giving up for the day & coming home & reading this. Some tips: forget the fishing weights, just find a nice big nut(eg. 1″ or 3/4″), they are plenty heavy and easy to secure to the line. Spectra 60# braided line worked pretty well but I still ended up snapping it and giving myself rope burn. Bow&arrow works well for really tough ones. With good aim you can skewer the plane & tie something on the loose end and pull the arrow end, sort of thread it thru. Meijer stores around Cincinnati sell a 15lb youth bow + 2 arrows for 19.99

  28. Hi All,

    Just got back from rescuing my quad from about 35 foot up a tree.

    I had 50ft of nylon cord that i used for camping to hang washing etc. Tied one end to a rucksack as weight, on one end a fist sized stone, square is better for tying the cord to.

    Rather than throw i swung the rock like a pendulum and released towards the branch where the quad was, 3 tries and bam, hooked the tree branch. I shook the branch and it fell out after 1 minutes of pulling. No damage to the quad or tree, bonus!

    The cord was a 5mm thick and can probably take 300lbs+

    Thanks for the ideas, thought i would share my rescue

    Jim

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