The questions listed below are the first questions I had regarding the model airplane hobby. I made sure to get the answers to them before I decided to buy my first model airplane. Hopefully, you, and all the beginners too, can gain some knowledge from reading the answers.

a guest post by Yong Havermale

How much does a model airplane cost?

Well, it’s all relative some guy said once, this rule applies to model airplanes too. You don’t need to be a millionaire, in fact, you don’t have to be very rich at all 😉 To get yourself started you could buy a cheap trainer for less than $150 including the engine and radio. Although you will probably have much more fun learning to fly if you put a little more cash into it. Say around $400, also included engine and radio. Even though I say “learning to fly” it doesn’t mean that you have to throw it away as soon as you have learned the basics.

A trainer can be just as amusing even after you manage to take off, fly in circles, land the plane, and such. Don’t purchase the cheapest one you find, and don’t get the most expensive one. Ask the guy in your local hobby store, and he’ll find you a great model airplane that will last for a long time, give you plenty of fun, and at the same leave your wallet with a couple of dollars left. (You need those two bucks to buy fuel for your plane) 😀 Remember those model airplanes at this price most likely are trainers, which is good really.

A trainer is exactly what you want if you’re out looking for your first plane to buy. Most of the trainers come as ARF models (Almost Ready to Fly), so you don’t have to spend your time building the plane, you can focus on flying it. When you feel there’s time to let go of your trainer, you can sell it and buy another type of model. Now you can start thinking about money again. This time it will probably be more expensive. You might want more channels, then you need more servos, maybe you’ll need another radio.. and so on. But this will be your decision when that time comes.

So just to sum it up: Use somewhere between $300 – $500 on a trainer for your first model airplane, gain some experience, and see if you like being a pilot. Then start thinking 🙂

How much can I afford to spend on this?

Obviously an important point. Model helicopters tend to cost the most to get started with. The next most expensive would be a fixed-wing powered model aircraft, and the cheapest to learn with would be a 2-meter model glider with either a bungee launch or used at a slope.

What do I need to get started?

A lot of things! First of all, you need to decide what type of model you want to buy. Browse through some hobby catalogs, surf the internet, visit your hobby store and see if you can find a model you like. But be sure the model you choose is suitable for beginners. You don’t want a plane that is nearly impossible to fly for a novice, this will just make you lose your interest.

Look for high-winged “trainers” – There are plenty of them out there. Most of the trainers can be purchased as packages, containing everything you’ll need as a beginner.

If you don’t like the idea of purchasing everything you’ll need as a package, but rather buy all the parts separately, this is what you’ll need:

  • A model airplane
  • An engine
  • A Radio controller with the receiver and servos
  • Some Propellors
  • Hand-driven Fuel pump (or an electric one, your choice)
  • Fuel hoses
  • A ‘glo starter’ to work with the spark plug
  • Some glue
  • Rubber bands
  • A battery pack to run the servo’s and the receiver
  • A charger to charge your batteries
  • Oh.. and model airplane fuel

That’s all I can come up with right now, but for you getting started, this is pretty much it.

If I were you… I would consider buying a beginner package. This will often be the cheapest and simplest alternative, and in a complete package, the parts are put together to fit one another. In other words: You don’t want to fly your plane with a boat engine running it – it won’t work 😉

TIP Don’t even think about scale model aircraft yet. You are almost certain to come unstuck. Be patient & earn your wings first. The exception to the rule being planes like the Piper Cub which fly like a training aircraft anyway.

Should I build the first model myself?

Do you like DIY, if so you will probably enjoy building your first model aircraft kit. If not, don’t bother and just buy an RTF (Ready To Fly) or ARTF (Almost Ready To Fly) Model. They cost more than a model in kit form, but you don’t need the tools or flat building board.

What space do I have available to build and store my models?

Don’t overlook this consideration. Helicopters score well here. You can build them on the kitchen table or in the garden shed. Fixed-wing aircraft are more difficult to find room for especially to build. I use a 6′ 6″ Sapele door covered with MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) for my building work and wouldn’t want anything smaller to work off.

Where am I going to fly the model when I’ve got it?

Hopefully, you have a good local model aircraft flying club near you. If not a friendly landowner will be highly useful. Fixed-wing models require a surprisingly large area free of trees, pylons, cables, hoses, etc… Model helicopters can get away with smaller areas but still leave plenty of distance from the previously mentioned obstructions, especially when still learning. What’s more, they don’t need a take-off strip…No lawnmower…

How am I going to transport the aircraft to the flying field?

If you’ve got a nice patch of Arizona desert or Ozzie Outback greeting you when you open your back door, then you have no worries about this score. Otherwise, you will probably need a car. Better yet an estate or van. Still, if you are really keen and fit you could walk it to your chosen field. When I was a kid learning to fly models I used to walk over three miles carrying my first trainer. I was lucky that I had some help with the box of support equipment though.

What flight training method will I use?

Your options here are:

  • Teach yourself.
  • Get a buddy to teach you. Preferably with a training lead.
  • Use a computer software product that simulates model aircraft flying.
  • Buy a model aircraft training course (no kidding).
  • A combination of the above.

From the top, teaching yourself is risky, not recommended but possible (I managed it) with a 45″ span high winger powered by a 2.5cc diesel with no throttle and 2 channel radio I plucked out of my R/C car. I’m sure however the radio control car experience helped me greatly.

TIP Don’t try it this way. It will cost you.

Modern model flight simulators are superb pieces of work. I can vouch for the accuracy they exhibit. Quite recently I learned to fly model helicopters by using a pc simulator. It really did the trick. I also used a training undercarriage when flying the actual model though. These simulators can train you for both fixed-wing and helicopter model flying.

Is it difficult?

Nothing is easy when it’s the first time you’re doing it. If you have a license, try to remember how it was like the first time you sat behind the wheel, trying to adjust the clutch and the gas pedal to get the car running. Was it easy? Probably your answer is “No, It wasn’t!”

Do you still think it’s difficult to drive a car? Most likely not.

This is what it’s like with model airplanes too! You don’t know what you’re doing until you’ve made a few mistakes. And making mistakes when flying your model airplane IS going to happen – But that’s OK! I’m sure you’ll still have some glue left from when you put it together the first time 😉 But making big mistakes can be expensive sometimes. That’s why it can be a good idea to practice using a Flight Simulator. (You can find an article about Flight Simulators here)

So to answer this question more precisely, Yes it’s difficult in the beginning. But once you get the hang of it you’ll be able to relax more, and value the times when you’re out flying!

Where do I find help?

Great! You already know that you’re going to need some help. Best start ever! Don’t walk into the trap believing that this is something you can learn by yourself… Well, you could, of course, learn it by yourself, but it would be very expensive as you’d had to visit your hobby store very often to buy new parts for your plane. It’s not recommended.

Almost all over the world, there are model airplane clubs. And you’d have really bad luck if it isn’t one nearby you. Even though you’ve never seen anyone flying a model airplane where you live, they are there! But they don’t know that you want to learn how to fly, so you have to go and tell them. Check with hobbyist friends, check the phonebook or search for your “location” + “model airplane” on google. I’m sure you’ll find a club nearby! Call them, or visit them, and ask if they know someone who could teach you the basics.

Once you’ve found your instructor, he will help you to get your plane in the air, he will show you how to handle the radio controller, he will comment on your flying, and he will land it safely for you the first times. Then he will stand next to you, ready to take the radio if something is going wrong. So, one of the best things about a model club is the access to experienced modellers, who by and large will positively enjoy helping you get your wings. This is probably the best way to learn model flying. It has the added benefit of getting you integrated into your local flying club.

What are you waiting for? Go look for a model airplane club now!

What’s the range of the radio controller?

No need for a long answer here so:

A modern RC system will have a range of about a mile (1.6Km). But the golden rule here is to have your plane close enough to tell what it is doing. You always want to maintain control, and when you can’t observe your plane anymore, this could be a little hard. Even a model with a wingspan of 5-6 feet (150cm – 180cm) looks tiny at half a mile (2.4Km).

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