Electric RC airplanes.

How they've changed the hobby!

Without doubt electric rc airplanes (Electric Power or 'EP') have been responsible for bringing a huge number of people in to the radio control flying hobby in recent years, and it's easy to see why.

When I started creating this website back in 2002, Ready To Fly ('RTF') electric planes were only just becoming readily available and affordable. Just a few companies were mass-producing them, mostly from foam, and traditional builders probably saw them as a flash-in-the pan novelty!

But electric power had truly arrived and the relative low cost and convenience of EP bundled in to an all-in-one package proved irresistible to the beginner. At the time it was hard to imagine just how popular RTF EP planes would become, but with hindsight it's not at all surprising!

Instant hits!

Manufacturers quickly recognised a keen market and it didn't take long for RTF electric planes such as the now-famous HobbyZone Super Cub to become established products in the hobby.

HobbyZone Super Cub LPThe E-flite Apprentice 15e trainer electric rc plane

The Super Cub LP, above left, and the Apprentice 15e, two very popular electric rc trainers and solid benchmarks in EP flight.

Incidentally, foam construction has become the industry standard material for electric RTF planes, although of course traditional balsa/ply model planes are widely available as kits and in ARF form, and to a lesser degree in RTF form.
Indeed it's fair to say that foam RTF EP rc airplanes (man that's a lot of abbreviations! ) have flooded the market since their introduction, forcing traditionally built planes to take a back seat.

The quality of such electric rc planes has improved dramatically to the point where mass-produced scale foam airplanes, like warbirds for example, are nearly as impressive as a scratch built one made by an experienced modeller over many months! And they can be bought for a fraction of the cost, too.
The North American P-51 Mustang is an example that's been modelled on a huge scale and is probably one of the most popular scale electric planes out there. Shown below is an example from E-flite, although this particular one isn't RTF.

The P-51 is a well modelled electric rc plane

P-51's have to be the most popular warbird,
and perfect candidates for the MrRCSound Aspire!

It's a good reflection of how the top manufacturers have really raised their game, and brands like HobbyZone and E-flite (along with ParkZone) are big names in EP flight these days; HobbyZone being aimed at the complete beginner with their foamie range while E-flite target the more experienced flyer with a mix of foam and balsa electric aircraft.
Of course, there are numerous other great manufacturers churning out electric planes, such as Multiplex, Art-Tech, FreeWing and Great Planes to name a few.

EP planes from such brand names offer great value and have brought countless people in to the radio control flying hobby; people who probably wouldn't have bothered if IC power (internal combustion) was the only option.

The power of electric.

In the very early days of EP (pre mass-production), electric rc airplanes were underpowered. Brushed motors and gearboxes were the order of the day, along with heavy nickel-cadmium batteries. It all made for a pretty poor powertrain setup, unless you really knew what you were doing!

Thankfully those days are gone and EP planes are now at the point where they can match - even exceed - an IC powered plane in terms of flight times and performance. As a case in point, members of the UK RC Aerobatic Team have mostly swapped to electric power now!
Electric power in the radio control flying hobby has exceeded all expectations, there's no doubt about that.

Such is the popularity of electric power now, some manufacturers have even taken their most popular IC trainers and converted them to electric Ready To Fly planes.

Several favourite 4-channel RTF glow powered trainers became available as electric versions, two examples being the E-flite Alpha 450 and the HobbiCo NexStar Select EP, although both are now discontinued.
Both these planes had similar performance to their IC cousins.

E-flite Alpha 450 electric trainerHobbico NexStar Select EP

Above: traditionally for IC power, these two trainers
were reborn with electric power.

But not only are manufacturers producing IC-equivalent electric planes, aeromodellers are converting IC planes themselves.

Converting IC rc plane to EP is easyPictured right is my own 60" span Edge 540 intended to take a glow plug engine, but I converted it to electric power. This kind of EP conversion is very commonplace now, and again it just goes to show how much the hobby has progressed in recent years - roll the clock back just a few years and converting such a plane to realistic electric power would have been a real struggle, and very expensive.

Small is beautiful?

Electric power has, as previously mentioned, transformed this hobby and the ongoing electronic revolution has resulted in smaller and smaller rc planes being produced.

HobbyZone ChampGenerally speaking, bigger is better when learning to fly rc (up to a point...) but today's micro rc planes have made a huge impact on the hobby.
One of the most popular planes for learning on has been the HobbyZone Champ which has sold in its thousands. The Champ, pictured right, is a 3-channel plane with just a 16 inch wingspan. Although now a bit dated, in terms of micro rc planes, it still continues to sell well and introduce new flyers to the hobby.
If your budget is tight and your flying space limited in size, it's certainly one to consider!

The E-flite UMX range of micro electric rc planes is very impressive and many feature Horizon Hobby's trademark auto-stabilisation technology, AS3X™. This greatly reduces the inherent twitchiness of smaller planes (less mass makes them more susceptible to wind gusts etc.), making them handle more like larger planes in terms of stability.

A bir powerful brushless motorAt the other end of the scale, electric motors can be bought large enough to power huge scale rc planes, so there really is no limit to what can be achieved with electric power in the rc flying hobby these days.
Imagine how big the plane needs to be to use an electric motor like this one shown!

Points to note when choosing an electric RC plane.

With so many EP planes available nowadays, choosing a suitable model does need some consideration.

Fortunately the process of selecting the right plane for your needs can be kept simple so long as you keep a few basic guidelines in mind. Many RTF electric planes are designed for the beginner, but there are also many that are not.

Here are a few of those thoughts that you should remember when choosing and buying your first electric rc plane:

The above pointers only scratch the surface, but my e-book The Beginner's Guide To Flying RC Airplanes will answer all the questions you have about getting started in radio control flying with an electric plane.

Sound systems for electric RC planes

It's probably fair to say that many aeromodellers like the noise of an internal combustion engine in a radio control plane, but these days you can make an electric powered rc plane sound very realistic.

RC airplane sound systems have been around for some time, but only for larger IC planes due to their size and weight.
Thankfully now there is a great system available for smaller foam (and traditional balsa) electric planes. You can read about it on the MrRCSound system page, but here's a video of such a system in an electric P-51 Mustang, a very popular choice of radio control airplane...

Andrew Lawrence, who has developed this system, has single handedly made yet another exciting change to the face of the rc flying hobby by producing these units, at a very affordable price. This is the first time that your average electric 'park flyer' size rc plane can feature authentic engine (and gun) sounds, so hats off to Andrew for achieving that!

Well hopefully this page has introduced you to EP within the hobby. Learning to fly an electric rc plane is a fun and exhilarating experience but you do need to simplify the game as much as possible in your early days.
Keeping the above points in mind should help you do that, and once you've got a few hours flying under your hat and built up some confidence then you can consider moving on to larger and faster planes.

My Beginner's Guide To Flying RC Airplanes e-book will take you step-by-step all the way!

 

Electric RC airplane shopping.

If you have a local hobby store then please help support it whenever you can. If you're buying online, Amazon is brilliant for RC products these days, as all the big names sell directly there now. Click any of the product images below to go there...

 

 

Related pages

Related pagesBeginner rc airplanes.

Related pagesRC trainer planes.

Related pagesThe Beginner's Guide To Flying RC Airplanes.

Related pagesRTF rc planes.

Related pagesRC powered gliders.

Related pagesRC flight simulators.

Related pagesLearn to fly rc planes.

Related pagesHow to fly rc planes.

Related pagesGas vs. electric rc flying.

Related pagesMrRCSound system.

Related pagesMy Art-Tech AT-6 Texan.


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