Beginner RC airplanes
- what you need, and why.
There's a massive selection of beginner rc airplanes to choose from these days which is great news for the newcomer to the hobby, but the large choice can be a bit overwhelming to begin with.
But what defines a 'beginner' rc airplane? There are no hard rules but essentially an rc plane that's slower flying, stable, durable and relatively simple to operate certainly goes right in to the beginner category.
And as for construction a 'Ready To Fly', or RTF as they're more commonly known, rc airplane is your best choice if you just want to get flying without having to do any building work first.
Two classic examples of good beginner rc airplanes can be seen below (images © Horizon Hobby Inc.), the very popular Super Cub LP (left) and its smaller cousin the Champ, both from HobbyZone. Many beginners who visit my forum have learned on these and planes like them.
Both of these rc airplanes are popular choices for beginners and offer great self-teaching opportunities without too many complications.
The Super Cub LP is still one of the top sellers for newcomers to the hobby and is a great package to go for, whilst the more recently released Champ makes self-teaching very straightforward indeed and can be flown in a much smaller area than the larger Super Cub.
Below is a video of the Super Cub, you can see how gentle its flight characteristics are...
Trad RC trainer alternatives
As previously mentioned there is an alternative to the classic high wing style trainer that suits beginners, and that's the electric powered glider such as the ParkZone Radian shown below (image © Horizon Hobby Inc.)...
Electric powered gliders like this Radian are generally very stable and forgiving, 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.
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 airplanes. 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.
Another type of rc plane ideal for beginners is the 'pusher' type, like the Multiplex Easy Star shown right. Other examples include the Dynam HawkSky and Hobbyking Bixler.
Such planes 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, although not much beats the traditional high wing trainer for stability!
Beginner rc planes 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).
What's important in a beginner RC plane?
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 'trainer' type 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 glow plug ('gas'). EP (Electric Power) means convenience and lower costs - always good news for a beginner to any hobby!
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 rc airplane 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) that beginner rc airplanes have will vary from model to model but to get a true taste of proper radio control flying you should look for planes with three or four channels.
A two channel electric powered rc airplane, although easier to master and fly (such planes typically have motor and rudder control), does have greater limitations in terms of flight performance capabilities; you will quickly learn the basics with such a plane, but you will likely get bored once you have learned to fly it.
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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 eBook "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 and 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 - these are shown further down the page. But club instruction should be made a priority, more accessories are required and a higher level of maintenance is needed because of the engine.
A glow plug powered trainer will typically be four channel i.e. have throttle, aileron, elevator and rudder control and self-teaching isn't as practical an option as with, say, a three channel EP plane - hence the reason why club instruction should be sought.
RTF beginner RC airplane examples
Shown below are just a few examples that are suitable as first-time models that you might like to consider. At the time of writing this page, they are some of the most popular sellers.
Shown roughly in order of complexity, they are all RTF and meant for the novice entering the hobby of radio control flying. Images are property of Horizon Hobby and HobbiCo.
A newer 'breed' of beginner rc plane, and unusually a twin motor configuration. Electronic stabilisation technology and break-away wing make this plane about as beginner-friendly as they get!
A very popular and much cloned design, the Multiplex Easy Star is an excellent beginner's plane with gentle flight characteristics and long flight times, extended by the folding prop blades and a good glide ratio. A real winner!
Super Cub LP
Following on from the hugely successful HobbyZone Super Cub, the Super Cub LP is a li-po powered version. One of the biggest selling beginner rc airplanes to date, the Super Cub is a definite favourite.
Another electric Cub, this one is another popular choice for beginners. 3 channel with very stable and reliable flight characteristics, and a powerful brushless motor. Not quite as popular as the Super Cub LP, but not far behind!
Moving up in to serious rc territory now with this popular 4 channel trainer. Sold with a 2.4GHz radio system, this is a great package for beginners who want to do more than just dip their toes in the water.
Modelled from the successful NexStar Select 46 glow powered trainer, this four channel trainer is another option for those serious about learning to fly rc airplanes.
While the above beginners rc airplanes are electric, shown below are a couple of currently popular glow plug powered examples. As previously mentioned, such planes aren't as straightforward and convenient as electric ones and club membership along with proper instruction should be seriously considered, unless you have good access to private land and know someone who already flies a glow plug powered plane.
Alpha Trainer DSM2
A nice basic four channel trainer sold with 2.4GHz radio system; 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.
The beginner rc airplanes shown throughout this page are just a few popular examples out of many RTF airplanes that are currently available.
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!
Shopping? Free ebook offer
Certain links in the above text go to either Red Rocket Hobbies or RC Planet online stores, because my website RC Airplane World is associated with both. If you buy a plane from either store through any of the links on this page, you qualify to receive my popular ebook The Beginner's Guide To Flying RC Airplanes for free!
To claim your ebook just e-mail me via my contact page and let me know your order number. I'll verify the transaction with the store and send you the ebook, free of charge!
Furthermore, if you shop at Red Rocket Hobbies you can also save $5 off any purchase, just use coupon code RCAPW at the checkout. This discount has kindly been set up by Matt of RRH and is unique to my website, rc-airplane-world.com.