When I was brand new to the world of RC airplanes I thought the hobby of RC airplanes was just about flying airplanes. Flying a mini model of a plane, which task was to entertain you by staying in the air due to the movements you did on the radio control. And that’s it I thought. Man, I was wrong…!
a guest post by Issac Dimmer
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The model airplane hobby consists of so much more than just flying a plane.
There are lots of different sections and genres, and you would find out there are a lot of different interests presented within this hobby as soon as you look a bit more into it. However, in this guide, I will do my best to help you choose a simple and very stable model, ideal for getting started.
How to Choose Your First RC Plane
What makes an RC Plane Ideal for Beginners – Quick Checklist
A wise decision would be to start with an affordable plane, one that will not make you regret the money in case you crash it during the first flights. This may happen, so be careful your first investment is not that big. It takes skill through practice to fly RC planes and you want to start out with one that is as easy to fly as possible.
However, you can start with an easy-to-fly model of helicopter or airplane, but better quality electronics. This way, you will upgrade only the aircraft itself while keeping your transmitter and other electronics. After all, part of the enjoyment of the hobby is containing costs so if you can do that, in the beginning, there will be more money left for upgrades and larger aircraft in the future.
Also, the friendship of an experienced pilot is pure gold. He can give you instructions, he and make sure that your airplane is balanced and trimmed correctly. He can take it off, fly it high enough in the air so that you have plenty of time to get the feel of the airplane. He can then land it for you. Otherwise, you will probably crash it right away and then be done for the day without having learned anything.
Any newcomer in the RC airplanes world needs a design that is forgiving. It should be easy to maneuver on-air and stable for it to remain aloft without you struggling a lot. So if you are a beginner, as you probably are, your first RC plane should be a trainer. But, what makes an airplane suitable for beginners?
- a remote control airplane for beginners should be stable and forgiving. The high-wing design, meaning it has the wing placed on top, is ideal for learning purposes. High wing planes tend to be more stable than the low wingers and that makes them the best choice for beginners. Electric-powered gliders are also great for learning the basics of RC flying.
- when an airplane has more wing surface and the airfoil is more under-cambered, the airplane will have more drag, more lift, and thus will fly slower. If you give it more power it will tend to climb rather than an increase in airspeed.
- go with a three channels RC plane if you are a complete beginner. What does that mean? Well, the channels are actually the controllable functions of a plane. The 3-channel planes usually allow pilots to control motor power, elevator, and rudder. Another option is to make the aileron controllable instead of the rudder. As they gain more experience, beginners can opt for a 4-channel configuration where all the main functions are controllable: motor power, elevator, ailerons, and rudder. The simple ‘Park Flyer’ electric remote control airplanes are 3 channel planes and suitable for self-teaching purposes; they allow you to control the engine, elevator, and the rudder or the ailerons which are more common on faster planes used by intermediary and experienced flyers.
- For your first time flying, you don’t need a kit that is complicated to assemble. Choose a plane that comes completely assembled with an installed radio and motor. All you have to do with this type is install your battery pack and attach your wings if they are not already set in position.
- ARF (Almost Ready to Fly) and RTF (Ready to Fly) kits are some good options for beginners who want to be introduced to the RC airplanes flying and building simultaneously. RTF, particularly, will allow you to jump straight into flying without wasting time with assembling it. If you really want to go for an ARF version, then make sure it has the MonoKote or UltraKote covering – getting supplies and repairs will become simpler.
- Opt for aircraft made of Balsa or plywood, as they are easier to fix and repair. Most of the trainer aircraft use Balsa wood or light plywood in combination with a box frame or a stick building technique and are then wrapped up in a heat-shrink plastic film that is generally made up of MonoKote, UltraKote, or a similar product.
- beginner-friendly technologies – make sure your first plane has some of those listed below
- light stabilization technology
- SAFE™ (Sensor Assisted Flight Envelope) technology
- AS3X™ (Auto Stabilisation 3-Axis)
- Propeller Saver Technology
These characteristics allow a slow and stable flight and ensure that your plane is stable to give you fun in your flying attempts even with first-time use. You don’t need a configuration that crashes your plane every time you attempt to operate it.
RC Planes for Beginners – Some Insights and Tips
To a beginner, the RC airplane hobby, first of all, starts with gaining knowledge on how an airplane works. The best way to learn this is by driving to a hobby shop and purchase an ARF model. ARF means Almost Ready to Fly.
An ARF kit is already 90% finished. The only thing left for the pilot to do is to assemble all the parts, using some glue. Mount the servos and the servo rods. Install a battery pack and install the engine. The first part with a new model plane is a hobby in itself for people who like to have small projects to work on. – Simple building.
While building your first model airplane, you will naturally learn how a plane is working. A model airplane works in the exact same way as a big, real plane does. It turns, takes off, and lands by using different types of rudders. You have the main rudder, the aileron, and the elevator. It’s a good idea to learn the difference between them before you start your flying lessons 🙂
When your ARF model is all finished, it is time to fly. And it is the joy of seeing your model in the air, and to control it, which makes out the basics of this hobby. For many of us, or maybe even most of us, flying planes is the greatest part. After all, a plane is built for the purpose of being flown.
When time passes by, and you are getting better and better, and you feel that your first plane (very often a cheap trainer) has given you as much fun as it can possibly give you. You most likely will start thinking of buying yourself another plane. This time you probably would like a more advanced model. – A model that requires higher skills from the pilot to be kept in the air. Again, it’s time for building.
If you have a real interest in building stuff, you should consider purchasing a kit consisting of nothing else than just chips, and build your plane from the grounds up. You could use the wintertime to work on your new baby. Maybe you are lucky and have a spare room in your house that could be turned into a hobby room dedicated to a model airplane building. This way, you can sit inside your house, looking out on the cold weather while dreaming about flying your new plane by springtime. But be aware that building a plane from the ground up is time-consuming. Simple models could be done in 150-200 hours. Bigger projects can take you several thousand hours to complete. This is your decision, but it will at least take more time to finish a kit full of chips than it takes to finish an ARF model.
OK, so the winter has passed, the temperature allows you to be outside again, and your plane is finished already? Great! Time for the maiden flight! If you are lucky with this flight, it’s quite possible you don’t have to spend any time in your workshop this summer. If you are not so lucky, or maybe too daring, chances are that you will be in your hobby room real soon to repair the broken wing or the landing gear that fell off. Don’t get scared, it’s lots of fun anyway!
If you are still flying model airplanes by this time, there are no questions, whether you will continue this hobby or not. Because you will! By participating in different events, watch or participate in contests you might see another guy’s model that really steals your attention. Some day you might want to build this model yourself.
Maybe you also see some people doing some real stunning tricks with their planes. Very often this would be 3D flying. Is this something you should look more into? 3D refers to any maneuvers beyond the basic patterns, basically all the stuff that takes tons of practice to do at all. Let alone well. Not all planes are suitable for the acrobatic maneuvers you do when you practice 3D flying. There are special models for this, called acrobatic planes, or just acro planes. These models have slightly different construction than ordinary RC planes. For one thing, the rudders can be moved in much larger angles, something that makes the plane react more quickly and gives you the ability to maneuver your model faster and more accurately. This is if you can manage to fly them at all. In addition to this, a 3D plane often has bigger engines installed which makes them easier to handle when you want it to perform some kind of trick. There is no way one can possibly mention all the tricks you can do with an acro model. It is only imagination and skills that limit this, but here are some common ones: Hovering, snap roll, harrier, barrel row, knife-edge, and torque roll.
You have all kinds of people piloting model airplanes, but some of them, or should I say some of us, are especially interested in model airplanes with cool effects installed. Don’t you think it would be fun to be the only one in your club to have a model that glows in the dark? Of course, the lights are connected to a servo that makes it possible to turn the lights on and off from your radio. Maybe you like to draw some extra attention by having your plane make a lot of noise. This is very possible if you just do a little modifying to the plane’s exhaust system. You can also mount an extra servo working like a switch for a camera. This way you can use your radio to take some nice “sky view” pictures. Of course, the camera has been placed inside your plane too, so you better know what you are doing, you don’t want to crash your plane with your $1000 camera installed. Another effect that is quite common to install on model airplanes is smoke. Lots of smoke! You wouldn’t think that smoke and airplanes was such a great combination, would you? Well, you are absolutely right. Smoke and airplanes is not so good unless when the whole situation is controlled and predetermined. Then it’s just ‘plane’ fun. The use of smoke allows your showoff to look a lot cooler, e.g. when you take your plane into a loop or roll.
A genre within model airplanes not mentioned in this article is scale building. Scale building is left outside on purpose as both scale building and scale flying is such a big subject within the hobby, it would almost be rude to cover it in just a few words. But the main point of scale building is to build planes from grounds up using drawings and ‘walk around pictures’ from a real model.
The model is built after this original plane, and every bullet hole, paint scratches, and other defects should be transferred to the scale model. The paintwork is also exactly the same as the original plane.
When you first start out with the model airplane hobby, there are tons of information out there. And there are loads of different paths to explore. What you like the most and what your interests are all about, only one person can tell. You! But you can be sure of one thing though, it is always smart to learn how to fly a model plane prior to take the action to do any of the other stuff that has been said in this article. This way you will know if the hobby suits you before you spend too much money and time on a thing that you later find out isn’t any fun after all. Start out slow, and grow with baby steps. That is great advice.
If you love to play with electronics, or if this is one of your interests, maybe building planes with special effects would be the most enjoyable thing for you within the big world of model airplanes. If you are really passionate about old planes or warplanes, maybe building scale models is the right genre for you. Or if you are a person who really likes to perform, show people what you can do, and trim your skills near to perfectionism, you should definitely look twice on acro models and 3D flying.
No matter what you choose, the most important thing is to always have fun and to have the pleasure of being able to relax with the hobby you are into. And model airplanes hold such a large category of different interests and hobbies that I’m sure it can bring most people fun, terrified, relaxing, exciting, and joyful days, whether it is in the hobby room, or down at the runway.
Here is wishing you a bunch of great experiences, and oh yeah… Good Luck!