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.
Radio controlled scale model aircraft come in various sizes, some are very basic with the purpose purely on flight and manoeuvrability. Whilst for obvious reasons all do need these anyway, some are built to be highly detailed replicas of the original plane. This may be for the love of the aircraft and attention to detail, or to be used in photo or film shoots, which can be used very effectively in historical films or documentaries. (Although there’s no denying CGI technology is probably now more widely used.)
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.
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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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