"The Best Way to Get Started in R/C Planes"
Today's selection of R/C airplanes is huge. With so many to
choose from, picking the right one for you can be difficult. The following guide is
written to give you the some ideas; what to look for when you choose your next (or
Kits You Build & Cover Yourself
Kits are popular because you build it so you can truly call it your
own When you
purchase a kit, you'll get actual blueprints of the model, all the wood and other
materials to build the airframe. Most kit makers today also include a detailed
instruction manual to guide you through the construction. What you will not see is a
complete hardware package (hinges, pushrods, wheels, etc.), glue, and covering
or paint. Most beginner and sport aircraft only need simple wood tools to work with
because they use balsa wood and plywood construction.
Estimated time to finish: 20 to 50 hours.
Goldberg Eaglet 50 .09-.25,50" $50-$60
Goldberg Eagle 2 .29-.45,63" $65-$75
Great Planes PT40 MKII Trainer .35-.46,60" $60-$70
Sig Kadet Senior .29-.40,78" $60-$70
Tower Hobbies Tower Trainer 40 Kit .35-.46,55" $50-$60
Almost Ready-To-Cover Airplanes
Almost ready to cover (ARC) kits have built airframes that are sanded
for final assembly and covering. Many customers say they can't even build from a kit with this level of
quality. Best of all, you can finish an ARC airplane with any type of materials and
colors you want, giving it your own style. Just like a kit, most ARC's do not have a
complete hardware package and they will not come with glue or covering.
Estimated time to finish: 8 to 24 hours.
Almost Ready-To-Fly Airplanes
Almost ready to fly (ARF) planes are the most complete form of kit available.
plane will be built, covered, and will come with complete hardware and a detailed
instruction manual. Unlike ARFs of yesteryear, ARFs today are built from balsa
and plywood, molded plastic and fiberglass, some are even covered with regular
iron-on covering like Ultracote. ARF planes are absolutely the quickest way to get
into the air.
Estimated time to finish: 4-16 hours.
Great Planes PT-40 ARF Trainer .35-.46,60" $115-$135
Hobbico SuperStar .40 MonoKote 35-.46,60" $100-$120
Sig Kadet LT-40 ARF .40-.46,70" $110-$130
Tower Hobbies Tower Trainer 40 ARF .35-.46,60" $90-$100
This style plane usually has a high mounted wing with a Clark-Y airfoil
of the wing is flat, providing more lift and slower speeds). Trainers have tricycle
landing gear (single wheel in front) which provides easy ground handling and more
stable take-offs and landings. Trainers are built with the beginner in mind so the
assembly and flying directionsare more detailed. If you choose a kit plane, the
construction will be simplified.
Sport is a word found all around the hobby. Usually, products categorized
use" are designed for intermediate pilots that have built a model before and have
some flying experience.
Sport planes usually land slowly and will perform most aerobatic maneuvers. Many
sport planes have low mounted wings (wings are below the fuselage), and they
have semi-symmetrical airfoils (both top and bottom surfaces are curved, but the
bottom is less curved than the top).
If you have ample flying experience, and not only know what a "Lomcevak"
how to perform one, get an aerobatic aircraft.
Many planes of this type are modeled after full-size aircraft Aerobatic planes will
sharpen your skills and excite yourflying day. Most are mid-wing or low-wing, have
fully symmetrical wings (the airfoillooks the same top and bottom), and really big rudders
for "point" maneuvers and knife edge flight. A special kind of aerobatic plane is the "fun-fly".
These planes have short fuselages, and thick, short wings. Fun fly planes are also very light. This
combination makes them very maneuverable, predictable-just a whole lot of fun.
Scale planes come in two levels, sport scale (there's that word again),
A sport scale plane will have some slight modifications to the design to maintain
its looks but make it easier to fly and build. Scale planes are directed toward the
most experienced builder. Their goal is to make the most accurate scale replica of
the original full size plane. Usually, this requires hundreds of hours of building time
and master craftsman skills. Many people love scale planes, but for most, sport
scale is the better place to start.
Choosing Your First R/C Airplane
Many first-time plane buyers try to start with an advanced plane. Let's
face it, a
Mustang P-51D or a Great Lakes biplane looks really cool, but your first plane
should be intended for a first-time pilot..
Every plane has a speed where the wing simply stops flying. Trainers have very
slow stall speeds. The low stall speed is due to the flat bottom airfoil shape. When
a trainer does stall, it recovers quickly and with little control input from the pilot.
Every mistake a beginner makes causes the plane to change altitude (height
above ground) before the plane can recover. A trainer takes very little altitude to recover. Trainers are stable and
tend to right themselves. This stability makes the trainer easier to fly and smooths out mistakes.
Trainers are slower than other aircraft types. Lower speed gives the student pilot more time to think and react.
Trainers are also not very aerobatic; they simply will not do some of the more complicated maneuvers. This keeps
a student's mistakes from turning into out-of-control disasters.
So, do yourself a favor and postpone that Raven or P-47 Thunderbolt,
P-51 Mustang for your second plane. You and your
instructor will be glad you did.
R/C Airplane Engines
When deciding what airplane you want, you need to know what engine to get.
Numbers like 25, 40, or 60 after the name of a plane refer to the class of engine
the airplane needs. A 40-size plane uses a 40-class engine which has a
displacement between 0.40 and 0.53 cubic inches.
Trainer-style planes usually fly best with smaller displacement engines
.40-size engine will work fine with "40" size trainer). Sport planes usually need a
displacement size from the middle of the recommended range. Many aerobatic
planes use the biggest engine possible which necessitates more throttle control
from the pilot, but can result in better aerobatics.
.40 size trainers are good and by far the most popular, I think .60 size are better
because they are more stable in the air and easier to see at a distance.
The draw back to these size planes are; that they cost more, and the engine
are a bit more also. expect to pay about 25 % more.
the fx series is the "high line" of the O.S. line you get what you pay for here!
The LA is the lower end of the O.S. line and is made for the entry level flyer
they don't have as much power or last as long as th FX line but they are about 40% less.
Most model engines have a simple, two-stroke, diesel-like ignition system which
uses a glow plug rather than a spark plug. A glow plug will cause combustion by itself once the engine is running.
Glow plugs do not require an on-board battery or ignition system and make model engine operation easier.
The carburetor in model engines is very simple compared to full-size cars or planes. All model engines have:
A venturi to allow air into the engine
A needle valve to control the fuel flow (and therefore, the fuel to air mixture)
A rotating throttle "barrel" or valve to open and close the venturi
Correct air-fuel mixture adjustment is important not only for performance,
but also for engine life because glow fuel
for a model engines contains lubricants. Model airplane fuel is made up of mostly methanol (a type of alcohol)
with about 16-20% oil and 5-15% nitromethane (for more power and better acceleration). Consistently flying the
engine with a lean setting (very little fuel) will prematurely damage an engine. Most engines come with detailed
directions. Always refer to those directions before operating the engine.
2-Stroke vs. 4-Stroke
Two-stroke engines fire on every revolution. They are easier to adjust, less prone to failure from high stress or
misuse, and offer more power for their size and weight.
Four-stroke engines fire every two revolutions. This equates to more torque, less propeller RPM, and a quieter
running engine. However, four-stroke engines need more maintenance and are harder to adjust. They offer better
fuel economy but produce less power for their size. For example, a Magnum XL46A two-stroke and an FS52A
four-cycle weigh about the same and produce similar power. However, the .46 uses more fuel. The .46 also
swings a slightly smaller propeller at a higher speed, thus giving higher top speed but less climbing ability.
Most trainers work great with a two-stroke engine. Also, because they are easier to operate (less adjustments
and less moving parts), buying a two-stroke for a first engine is a good place to start.
Just like military aircraft, R/C airplanes require ground support equipment.
engine needs fuel and a pump to put the fuel into the fuel tank. Engines needs a
1.5-volt battery and a special connector to ignite the glow plug. While many
engines will start by hand-flipping the propeller (kind of like push starting your car),
we highly recommend an electric starter and 12-volt battery. The electric starter
keeps your hands clear of the propeller and can help get a new (slightly out of
adjustment) engine started.
you will need a tote box, an electric fuel pump, an electric starter, a 12-volt battery
and charger, a glow plug clip, and a power panel to allow the pump and the glow plug
to all run off of the 12-volt battery. While this certainly isn't the only way to outfit your tote box, when
you visit the flying field, most pilots rely on these same items for their ground
Suggested Items (in order of importance)
Tool box / Flight box $20-$60 ( depends on how fancy)
4 way socket wrench $4-$5
Glow plug driver with charger
Fuel pump ( 2 kinds; manual $10-$15 and electric $13-$20)
12 volt battery $13-$20
Power panel $18-$30
Tx and Rx Battery tester (Expanded Scale Voltmeter ) $13-$30
misc small Srewdrivers, pliers,etc...
Aircraft radio systems consist of a transmitter (or controller), a receiver,
servos, and most often, rechargeable batteries. Servos are the part of the airborne
radio system that convey mechanical movement. Each moving part will need a
servo to make that part move. Radio systems are available with a wide variety of
features. However, they all share similar quality and basic functions.
When you first look at a radio system, you'll see how many channels
it has and then
what channel it's on. The word channel is used two different ways: firstly, an
airplane radio is very often a 4-channel radio. This means that it controls four
functions on the plane (ailerons, elevator, rudder, throttle); secondly, it refers to the
actual radio frequency the radio transmits. There are several frequencies legal to
use for R/C airplanes and each one has been assigned a channel number.
When deciding on a radio, it is important to decide on how many channel
you want. Most airplanes use four channels. However, some aerobatic, scale, and sport planes use five or six
channels (adding flaps and retractable landing gear). So, you may want to think about the future and what plane
you want next, and buy a radio that will control all anticipated functions.
The FCC has set aside 50 frequencies in the 72 MHz band (channels 11-60)
dedicated to aircraft use only. No
license is needed to operate these radios. However, if you have an amateur (ham) radio operator's license you
may be able to use a radio in the 50 MHz band. Also, there are six frequencies set aside in the 27 MHz band that
are legal for any kind of model use (surface or air). Just remember, whatever channel your radio is on, check the
field where you fly for any other radios on the same channel and do not use your radio when theirs are on!
Many fields have a frequency control system. Before you use your radio,
be sure you understand the system and
are using it correctly.
AM vs FM / PCM vs PPM
This refers to the signal type (or modulation). A radio wave of any frequency can have different signal types.
PPM (pulse proportional modulation) is usually
an analog system. This is very precise (but not digitized).
This equipment is more economical than PCM.
PCM (pulse code modulation) signals are digitized and provide the most accurate signal. A dedicated
computer in the transmitter and receiver actually use binary code (pulses) in the signal.
AM signals are always PPM. AM is more subject
to interference than FM and is seldom used for R/C
FM signals are either PPM or PCM. Usually, only pilots flying competitively in precision aerobatics or scale
The following features can be found on many economically priced 4 and 6 channel units:
Due to servo rotation and control linkages, control inputs can end up reversed (i.e. moving the transmitter
stick to the right, viewed from behind, the rudder moves to the left). To remedy this, transmitters have servo
reversing switches. Just flip this switch and everything moves the right way.
Adjustable Travel Volume (ATV)
ATV limits the amount of total servo movement. This eliminates excessive control travel and stress on the
These switches, usually found on the TX face, allow two different total travels for ailerons and elevator and
can be switched in flight. For some aerobatic maneuvers, planes need increased control movement, but for
normal flight they don't, thus dual rates.
End Point Adjustment (EPA)
EPA is an advanced feature that allows each direction of movement to have a different travel. For example,
if your plane banks too quickly to the left, turn down the left aileron EPA dial. This will not change the amount
of bank control to the right.
Some planes (especially racers) need more control travel at low speeds and less at high speeds where
control response can be overly sensitive. Exponential changes the relationship between transmitter stick
motion (linear) and the control servo response (non-linear). This feature can be used to "soften" plane
response near the center of stick motion without lessening the overall amount of control at full stick
Many planes benefit from mixing two functions together. In fact, for planes like flying wings, mixing is
mandatory. For example, a flying wing's elevators are also its ailerons (these are called elevons). When the
radio has mixing, one servo will be installed for each elevon. Mixed together, these servos will respond
correctly to both the elevator and aileron inputs.
Computer Radios vs. Standard Radios
A computer radio allows more adjustments and channels to be mixed in
a more precise way. Computer radios
also have more trims and setup adjustments making the radio installation and flight trimming process of the plane
easier and more precise. Also, the settings can all be saved to memory and settings for more than one plane can
be saved. In more advanced computer radios, the mixing is programmable, actually allowing custom
combinations of channels and movements (and even control inputs). Competition pilots find this kind of
adjustability a must.
Standard radios sometimes have basic mixing but never advanced mixing.
What mixing they do have is not as
precise nor as adjustable as a computer radio. Also, the setting cannot be saved for more than one plane.
However, these radios are simpler to use. Many beginners simply find computer radios too complicated.
Futaba 4VF 4 Channel FM $140-$170
Futaba 6YF 6 Channel FM $160-$190
Futaba 6XA 6 Channel/4 S3003 $200-260
Learning to Fly R/C
We strongly recommend learning to fly at an established R/C flying field
others fly and can help you. Many fields have radio control clubs. The club may
even have members dedicated to instructing. If so, by all means join the club and
take advantage of the training.
Academy of Model Aviation (AMA) membership may be required before you
be allowed to fly with the club on a regular basis. AMA supplies supplemental
insurance coverage that most flying field owners insist upon for field use.
For membership info, telephone AMA at (800) 435-9262, extension 296
or 297, 8
a.m. to 5 p.m. (Eastern) weekdays.