Why fly a radio control model airplane anyway?
This hobby is one of the most rewarding and exhilarating hobbies to have!
Flying an rc model airplane puts you in control and can teach you model building techniques, basic airplane design and construction aspects, basic aerodynamics, electronic issues, engine issues. In fact, many of our military and commercial pilots started out in the RC hobby as kids!
This seems expensive, is it?
Yes and no. A beginner electric RC airplane or quad/multicopter can be bought for under a hundred dollars, and can be flown in almost any decent sized open space. So you can at least get going in the hobby without having to spend a fortune.
A good quality 3 or 4 channel electric or gas rc trainer or sport plane (or ARF with the engine and radio gear purchased separately) will cost you upwards of $150 or so, plus maybe another 100 dollars or so for any field equipment items and fuel etc. that you might need.
Quads or multicopters can also run several hundred dollars – and more with good cameras for taking video.
The great thing is that these days you can try the hobby for not much money at all, and if you don’t like it then you haven’t lost much (used rc stuff always sells very well on eBay or Craigslist). And if you do like it, you can always fly to suit your budget.
Don’t I need to join a club?
You don’t need to, but you should! These clubs provide a safe place to fly – to test and try out new things. If you’re completely new to the hobby then getting yourself along to a local club is probably the best thing you can do. Locating one shouldn’t be too difficult, just visit the website of your country’s rc flying governing body, or use the AMA club directory to try and locate a model flying club close to your home town.
RC airplane modellers (‘aeromodellers’) are a very friendly bunch of people and the majority of clubs welcome newcomers, even if it’s just to have a look at what’s going on.
Can I fly anywhere, whenever I feel like it?
This depends on where you live and, again, visiting the website of your national governing body should tell you where you can or cannot fly in general. For instance, flying in public places is usually allowed but in some areas might be prohibited because of local bye-laws.
Wherever you live, it is essential that you check beforehand whether flying a radio control model aircraft is allowed, or you may end up with a hefty fine. Furthermore, you need to be very aware of any possible frequency interference that could cause you to lose control of your rc airplane, with potentially disastrous consequences if in a public place.
So wherever you think you want to fly, always check first! And if you do plan on flying in a public place, read these do’s and don’ts first.
Check out some great RC flying eBooks
Ok, I want to try it – how do I learn to fly?
As with everything, it takes time. How you learn is up to you, but for anything other than a simple 2 or 3 channel electric rc airplane or rc glider, getting an experienced model airplane pilot to teach you is without doubt the best method, which would normally require joining a local model flying club.
Investing in an rc flight simulator is an excellent thing to do if you can afford it, as these are a superb training aid second only to side-by-side club instruction.
If you know an experienced rc pilot, you can use a Buddy Box system. This requires 2 compatible transmitters that are connected via a cable, one transmitter being the master and the other the slave. Complete control can be handed from the master to the slave at the flick of a switch, enabling you, the student pilot, to have full control of the airplane but allowing the instructor to regain immediate control in times of difficulty.
Glider, electric, gas, quad, airplane, helicopter…..how do I choose?
This really comes down to personal preferences. Most people know whether they want to fly a conventional airplane or a helicopter, it’s usually a question of whether to start with a glider, electric or gas powered one. Obviously gliding helicopters are few and far between, so let’s just talk about planes for the minute.
An rc glider is a good aircraft to learn on but you need to understand the ways to launch an rc glider. RC powered gliders, however, are a better option and give you the best of both worlds.
Note though; many rc airplane clubs don’t accept non-powered gliders due to their limited ability of sudden collision avoidance maneuvers. If you do want to fly an rc glider, it’s better to join a club specific to gliding and slope soaring.
Flying an rc glider is relatively easy and can be self taught if the glider is a basic high wing 2 channel type, so therefore is a very good introduction to rc flying. Of course, you may just want to fly something non-powered.
Radio control gas powered airplanes traditionally made up the largest sector of the hobby, but electric power has become hugely popular. With a gas powered plane, do bear in mind the amount of field equipment you will need; fuel, fuel pump, tool set, starter battery, glow plug battery, spare glow plugs etc. etc., although in your early days any fellow flyer will be able to help you out if flying at a club. Incidentally, the term ‘gas powered’ is often used in a generic context, in the radio control hobby, to describe all IC (internal combustion) power types, of which glow plug is the most common.
Electric rc airplanes have surged in popularity in recent years and have introduced thousands of people to the hobby. They eliminate the need to carry lots of accessories, and because of their quietness can be flown in public places such as school yards and parks – providing that flying an rc model airplane is permitted in the first place, of course.
Electric rc airplanes make the best introduction to powered radio control flight, and they cost less too.
Conventional (single rotor) electric rc helicopters aren’t as easy to fly as a plane, but in a way are more rewarding and many have the added advantage of being able to be flown indoors. The much more stable coaxial rc helicopters (dual rotor) are really suited to beginners and the good ones can be flown pretty much straight out the box.
Many of today’s electric rc helicopters are very stable and a lot more straightforward than their larger gas powered cousins; indeed, the majority of RTF electric helicopters have been designed with the complete newcomer in mind, and improved flight stability has been high on the manufacturer’s list of design features.
Gas rc helicopters are a step or three up from electric helis and require a completely different budget and mentality. Self-teaching isn’t really recommended, although I do know more than one person who has successfully taught themselves to fly a gas rc helicopter to a high standard.
Having said that, a local instructor and the investment of an rc flight simulator are more or less essential for first-time gas helicopter wannabes.
There are dozens of brands and types of quads/multicopters and the industry has exploded in the last few years. Following some users’ blogs or facebook pages may help you decide the kind that you want. While almost all of them are marketed as “Buy and Fly” we recommend you take the time to read the user’s manual, join our club, and test your equipment out in our safe environment. Trust us – it will save you time AND money to go it slow!
Where can I buy my plane?
If you’ve got a local hobby store, pop along there and ask for advice; they’ll be very happy to help.