ARF RC airplanes
- a gentle intro to model plane construction
ARF rc airplanes are a great option if you're looking for a gentle introduction to traditional balsa/ply model airplane construction and assembly, rather than having to build the whole airplane from a box of pieces and a plan. ARF's are also a nice option if you just don't like the idea of building a kit, but don't like foam rc airplanes either!
ARF stands for Almost Ready to Fly (ARF is also called ARTF in some countries) and such airplanes are all very similar in terms of completeness.
The airplanes come almost fully built and covered, and the majority of work to be done by you is related to radio control gear and engine/motor installation, both of which are purchased separately from the airplane - few ARF planes include these components, although some shops will offer 'combo deals' that do include these items with the plane. But with that said, it's not uncommon for electric powered ARF rc airplanes to come with motor and ESC already in place, leaving you even less work to do!
Powertrain components and radio gear installation aside, the amount of final assembly work left for you to do will vary from model to model but the overall 'factory completeness' is roughly the same between manufacturers. The photo below shows a typical ARF plane as purchased and awaiting completion, in this case an IC Extra 330...
ARF rc airplanes have absolutely rocketed in popularity in recent years and the vast number of ARFs on the market, from an ever-increasing number of manufacturers, reflects this trend.
Quality varies between manufacturers so it's worth doing some serious research before buying (internet forums, video sites etc.) but names like Seagull, Hanger 9, Black Horse and Great Planes to name just a few are very reputable brands producing high-quality ARF rc airplanes.
The photo below shows one of my own completed ARFs, a Seagull Edge 540...
ARF planes - final assembly
Installation of engine/motor and radio gear aside, other things you might need to do to complete an ARF airplane might be hinging the control surfaces, fitting the landing gear, tailplane and fin assembly, fuel tank installation if you've bought an IC plane and the fitting of other peripheral hardware items, and of course all servo linkages.
Control surface hinges in today's ARF kits are typically CA hinges; both edges will be already slotted and you just need to glue the hinge in place with thin cyanoacrylate glue.
The better manufacturers provide comprehensive instruction manuals with their kits, to give you step-by-step instructions aided by clear photographs. So even if you have no modelling experience whatsoever, you should be in with a fair chance of completing your ARF successfully by reading through and carefully following the manual, although if you have any doubts then consulting a fellow modeller, hobby shop staff or seeking advice on a forum would be the best thing to do.
If you already have modelling experience then completing an ARF rc airplane shouldn't prove too much of a challenge!
It's probably fair to say that a larger proportion of ARF rc planes were internal combustion (IC - glow plug, petrol etc.) powered in the early ARF days but nowadays electric power (EP) has become equally as popular for ARF lovers.
Indeed, many ARFs originally intended for IC power are being converted to electric power (EP) as electric powertrain components become more powerful, readily available and cheaper to buy than ever before. My Seagull Edge 540, in fact, is intended for a 46-55 glow plug engine but I converted it to electric power without too many complications.
There are of course also EP-specific ARFs available, a very nice example is the E-flite Beechcraft Bonanza, shown below...
With flaps, optional electric retracts and cockpit detail kit this is a really nice looking scale ARF airplane and is a popular plane.
ARF kits also include gliders (the non-powered type) and there are some great ones out there. The obvious beauty here is that you don't have to worry about which suitable powertrain components to purchase! I recently bought a Great Planes Spirit Elite ARF which is an excellent kit that went together very well. Here's a pic of the glider out the box awaiting assembly...
As mentioned earlier an option these days is to buy an ARF combo deal - this is the airplane in ARF form sold with a suitable engine/motor and radio gear. This just leaves you to do the installation and finishing work, without having to worry about which motor and rc set to buy. This is a great way to purchase an ARF airplane because it ensures a perfect match across all components, and almost always works out cheaper than buying the kit, motor and radio gear separately. Not all sellers offer combo deals but it's always worth asking.
On that note, don't be fooled in to thinking that buying an ARF rc plane is a cheap way of entering the hobby. The purchase of an ARF kit, separate radio gear and then the powertrain components will rarely cost less than a Ready To Fly rc airplane. Indeed, the cost of all necessary items to complete an ARF plane can potentially be more than the plane itself, and that's an important point to remember when considering which type of kit to buy.
Whether you buy everything separately or in some kind of combo package, ARF rc airplanes are an excellent introduction to understanding basic model airplane building techniques, without jumping in at the deep end and building from a kit of parts and a plan.
If you like the idea of a traditionally constructed balsa/ply radio control airplane over a foam RTF one but you don't have the time or skills to build one yourself, an ARF plane is indeed the perfect answer!