Beginner RC airplanes
- making the right choice.
Choosing your very first radio control plane is an exciting process, no matter what age you are! It can also be overwhelming, but this page will break down the barriers and introduce you to beginner rc airplanes without making your head spin!
The choice of beginner planes is big, but what defines a 'beginner' airplane?
There are no hard rules but essentially one that is very stable, slower flying, durable and relatively simple to operate can certainly be put right into the beginner category. Incidentally, a beginner plane is also known as a trainer airplane.
And as for construction type, a 'Ready To Fly' (RTF) rc airplane is your best choice if you just want to get flying without having to do any building work first. You can read more about construction options further down the page.
High-wing trainer favourites.
When an airplane has its wing on top of the fuselage, it's said to be high-wing. Such planes are always more stable than low-wingers and so make ideal rc trainers to learn on.
One such example that has been widely modelled is the Piper Cub, or variants of. Indeed, one of the biggest selling beginner rc planes in recent years has been the Super Cub from HobbyZone, a brand belonging to North American radio control manufacturer and distributor Horizon Hobby. Many a newcomer to the hobby have cut their teeth on this now iconic trainer!
The original HobbyZone Super Cub has since been updated, and more recently it has been upstaged by its slightly smaller cousin, the HobbyZone Sport Cub S RTF, now a very popular choice for beginners. The Sport Cub is shown below...
The Sport Cub S is proving to be as popular as its predecessor.
The Sport Cub S has already proved to be as popular as the original Super Cub, and features SAFE™ stabilisation technology to help make learning to fly a radio control plane easier to fly than it ever has been.
Moving down in size, another hugely popular trainer has been the Champ, from the same company. It's low price and small size has proved to be a winning combination and many members of my forum learned to fly radio control on one of these.
In truth, small isn't always good when learning, but if your budget is tight and your flying space limited then the Champ comes highly recommended!
Both these planes are modelled from real-life planes, the Piper Super Cub and Aeronca Champion respectfully. Both were designed for pilot training and so have inherently friendly flight characteristics.
The two model versions are said to be "semi-scale" - in other words they are not 100% accurate reproductions of the full size plane, but are somewhat simplified versions. A truly "scale" version rc plane would be much more accurate in the detailing.
Both of these beginner rc planes, because of their high-wing configuration, are very stable and are three-channel, which means you have control over motor power, rudder (steering) and elevator (up/down). Your alternative to learning on a three channel rc airplane is to learn on one with four channels...
Beginner planes - 3 channels or 4?
It's a common question - should newcomers to the hobby opt for a three or four channel rc plane?
The number of channels means the number of controllable functions the plane has. A three channel plane will generally have control to motor power, elevator and rudder, although an option is to have aileron control instead of rudder.
A four channel plane will have control to motor power, elevator, rudder and ailerons. A very popular four channel beginner's rc airplane is the E-flite Apprentice S 15e, shown below:
Apprentice S 15e, a very popular 4ch. trainer
also with SAFE™ technology.
Essentially, a three channel trainer lessens the learning curve slightly. The downside is that you won't have as much fun with a three channel rc airplane once you've mastered the basics. The exception to that are the planes that have aileron control instead of rudder - these are more aerobatic, and generally more fun to fly. But generally speaking, your average three channel rc trainer will have rudder control and no aileron control.
There are pros and cons to each, as always. Three channels gives you an easier time when learning, four channels gives you more fun afterwards!
You can learn more about rc airplane controls here.
Traditional RC trainer alternatives.
Electric powered gliders like this have lots of inherent stability, giving you plenty of time to react to your control inputs. The (usually) larger size makes them easier to see at a distance, but of course this larger size isn't as convenient for transportation purposes.
The Conscendo is particularly beginner-friendly because it also features the SAFE™ technology.
As far as flying an rc powered glider goes, such a model will give you a gentle introduction to the hobby and they can make ideal beginner rc planes. But with that said, don't confuse an electric powered glider with the very similar looking 'Hotliner', which is effectively a powered glider with muscle!
Hotliners are very quick in the air and demand good reactions from the pilot, something that most beginners take a while to develop properly. The Multiplex Blizzard is one example of a popular hotliner.
Such airplanes have become very popular and are a perfectly good alternative to the standard high wing trainer configuration or electric powered glider. Generally speaking they have friendly flight characteristics and are very stable in the air.
Beginner rc airplanes of this configuration are also popular with those wanting to use video cameras or FPV (First Person View) equipment, since there is an uninterrupted view over the nose of the plane (i.e. no prop in the way of the camera).
Beginner RC plane technology.
The radio control flying hobby has changed enormously in recent years thanks to electronic advancements. One such change, hugely beneficial to (and aimed at) the beginner rc pilot, is the introduction of stabilisation technology.
Horizon Hobby has always led the way here, their beginner rc airplanes have long featured 'ACT' (Anti-Crash Technology™) whereby the plane recovers itself from a potentially dangerous attitude.
But more recently the technology has become very advanced and the company now offers SAFE™ (Sensor Assisted Flight Envelope) technology in certain planes, as I've mentioned previously on this page.
SAFE technology gives the beginner pilot three options - beginner mode seriously limits pitch attitude of the plane and offers a self-levelling feature whereby the plane will level itself if the transmitter sticks are released to their neutral positions. Intermediate mode does away with the self-levelling and reduces the pitch attitude limitations, whilst Experienced mode just turns all the stabilization aids off and so the plane can be flown normally.
The three SAFE modes are activated/deactivated by a three-way toggle switch on the transmitter.
A second type of technology is their AS3X™ (Auto Stabilisation 3-Axis). This isn't intended to help the beginner rc pilot as SAFE is, but it dampens out any unwanted interruptions to the plane's flight path (i.e. mainly from wind gusts). AS3X doesn't actively interfere with the pilot's control inputs as SAFE does, but instead just constantly works away in the background to ensure a smoother flying experience.
RC airplanes equipped with such technology obviously really help the beginner pilot, especially so if you're going down the self-teach route.
Some argue that manufacturers are taking the learning out of learning with this type of technology, and I see that point of view, but if it helps get someone flying an rc plane safely and in a shorter time, then that's no bad thing in my books!
But with that said, perhaps the technology is getting out of hand. Let's face it, traditional "techno-free" rc flight training involves learning how to move the sticks correctly and in co-ordination to fly the plane. But now, the beginner still has to do that but also has to understand how to use the new technology accordingly. So really, although the technology might have made the newbie's life a bit easier at the sticks, it hasn't really simplified the game a lot - especially for those not-so-techno-savvy amongst us!
And how far will it go? Indeed, some beginner rc planes now take things one step further and can land themselves at the press of a button. Personally I'm really not a supporter of this, since so much is learned by the pilot at the landing stage of a flight. Take this essential part of training away and the newbie pilot just gets lulled in to a false sense of security, in my opinion.
What's important in a beginner RC airplane?
First and foremost, the design of the airplane is very important for beginners; when learning to fly a radio control airplane you need a plane with stable and forgiving flight characteristics - a high-wing configuration is best for this although there are other options available, such as the powered glider type shown above.
Power type is also an important thing to consider and these days the majority of beginner rc airplanes are electric powered as opposed to internal combustion. EP (electric power) means convenience and lower costs - always good news for a newcomer to any hobby!
It's probably fair to say that the majority of newcomers to the radio control flying hobby do start with an EP plane, but there are some internal combustion (IC) powered trainers available. Such planes aren't as straightforward and convenient as electric ones, due to the presence of the engine.
Club membership and proper instruction should be seriously considered, unless you have good access to private land and know someone who already flies an IC plane and who is willing and able to teach you.
Something else to consider when choosing a beginner rc airplane is the availability of spare parts, as well as the construction of the plane i.e. how robust and durable it is. For example, a foam plane can take more knocks than a traditional balsa wood constructed one and suffer less damage and, generally speaking, is much easier to repair.
Spare parts availability is important because your airplane will suffer some degree of damage sooner or later, and being able to replace a part that's broken beyond reasonable repair is important to safe flying. So when shopping around do check the supply of spares - brands such as HobbyZone, ParkZone and E-flite all back their aircraft up with a complete range of parts.
The number of channels (controllable functions of the plane) has been talked about earlier in the page, and this is something to consider. Three or four channels will give you a true taste of flying a radio control plane; don't go for less than three unless you just want to dip your toes in the water for not much cost.
New to the hobby? Check out my popular
e-book The Beginner's Guide to Flying RC Airplanes. With 135 pages of essential info, including a full rc flight school section, the e-book will get you started safely and quickly, and will help you avoid some nasty beginner mistakes that could hurt your pride and your wallet!
It's very reasonably priced and you'll get the e-book via instant download; a small price to pay for learning how not to crash your plane on its maiden flight!
Why buy an RTF beginner RC airplane?
So, what is RTF and why are such planes so popular?
RTF stands for Ready To Fly (read more about RTFs) and means that the model needs virtually no work done to it apart from some very basic final assembly, such as attaching the wing. In fact, in the case of smaller beginner rc airplanes even this job might not be necessary because the wing may be an integral part of the airplane.
RTFs are so popular because many folks don't like the idea of building a radio control model plane, they only want to fly one. A Ready To Fly rc airplane sorts out this issue very well indeed - there's a lot to be said for RTF ease and convenience!
The picture below (© RCM&E, used with permission) illustrates a freshly unpacked RTF, in this case the trustee HobbyZone Super Cub LP; as you can see, there's little to do to get the plane ready for flight...
So, final assembly work aside, what do you need to do to get an RTF beginner's rc airplane airborne? Generally speaking, two things...
- Install the batteries for the radio gear
- Charge the motor battery
Well, maybe that's a bit of a generalisation and the reality is a little bit more involved if you know nothing about rc airplanes, but you get the idea. RTF rc airplanes are, quite literally, ready to fly! Incidentally, my e-book "The Beginner's Guide To Flying RC Airplanes" takes you step-by-step to get safely airborne with your new electric RTF plane.
Electric or IC power for beginners?
When learning to fly powered rc airplanes you have two choices - you can have an electric powered airplane such as those shown above or you can have an IC (Internal Combustion) powered plane, typically this would have a glow plug engine.
There's no doubt that electric is more popular for beginners; it's cheaper, cleaner and quieter. Furthermore, electric planes can be flown in public places whereas an IC powered plane is limited to a club field or private ground (read more about glow plug powered planes).
But inevitably some newcomers to the hobby will know that they want to fly a glow plug airplane and fortunately there is a choice of such beginner planes available - two popular examples are shown below. But club instruction should be made a priority; more accessories are required and a higher level of maintenance is needed because of the engine.
Great Planes Avistar
A nice basic four channel trainer sold from a popular manufacturer; quickly ready for flight and stable flight characteristics.
NexStar Select 46
This trainer has been popular for several years now, and still continues to be so. Loaded with features to help the beginner pilot, many newcomers have learned on a NexStar Select.
A glow plug powered trainer will typically be four channel i.e. have throttle, aileron, elevator and rudder control and self-teaching is made slightly more difficult because of having to know about tuning and running the engine correctly. Again, belonging to a club will help you greatly in this area - the knowledge and help of fellow modellers is invaluable.
Regardless of power type, if you are new to the radio control flying hobby, choosing an airplane that is designed for beginners can make a big difference to your initial enjoyment of and success in the hobby. Buying and trying to fly an advanced model will almost certainly end in disaster, putting you off rc flying for life!
Maybe your first rc plane won't look exactly how you'd like it to but learning to fly safely is the prime factor to think about. Once you've got a few hours under your belt then you can move on to bigger and better things.
And before you do take to the skies for the first time, please check out my ebook "The Beginner's Guide To Flying RC Airplanes" - it might just save you some money and trouble!
Buying beginner RC planes.
The radio control marketplace is highly competitive these days, so if you have an independent local hobby shop then please try and support that where you can.
If buying online is your only realistic option, Amazon is as good a place as any. All the top suppliers sell direct there now and there are some good deals to be had. Use the links below to click through...