This is usually a scale aircraft model (the exceptions are reconnaissance aircraft purpose made); controlled remotely using a hand held transmitter, which in turn sends a signal to a corresponding receiver which controls the servos on the aircraft to adjust the necessary rudders and wing flaps.
There are various clubs and organisations around the world dedicated to this hobby, and as all enthusiasts generally very helpful (and passionate). At a glance one may easily incorrectly assume that this is a simple toy, but if you stop and think about the aerodynamics and precision that needs to go into these machines; it may not always be for the faint-hearted. For example if you were to build a scale model aircraft from scratch, (or even kit form), after many hours and money spent you take it for its maiden flight. If that flight should go wrong and end in a crash, this would equate to a long and frustrating task of putting it all together, not to mention examining what went wrong.
Lets take for example someone who decides to build a scale model aircraft from scratch, an exact replica of his favourite plane. This would involve researching the plans of the original aircraft, deciding on a suitable material with which to build it, which would have to be light and strong, as well as able to be shaped easily. (As with real aircraft manufacture the person has a limited budget, so he has to consider the cost.) After much research you then need to construct the plane, critical issues like the angle of the wings and body need to be accurate as these variations will affect the aerodynamics and thus the in flight performance.
After all of this, you still need to decide on how to power the aircraft; electric, jet, internal combustion? Again weight and size to fit into your model will be crucial as will cost. (Weight to size ratio will also affect aerodynamics). As you don’t have a miniature pilot you now have to find space to accommodate your radio receiver and servo. All through this journey you will encounter problems which you need to overcome, and ingenuity and home engineering are pretty much your only options.
When you see some of the finished products you can only admire the beauty and attention to detail, but spare a thought for the engineering that would have gone into cleaver piece of kit.
Another stage is of course actually flying them; I often used to think that they generally didn’t perform as well as they could. I have since realised, that beside the difficulty of flying remotely, external factors like wind are a far greater than that of a full sized aircraft.
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