Gas RC airplanes (glow / nitro)
- good for the beginner?
The term gas rc airplanes is often a generic one used to cover all types of IC (internal combustion) powered radio control plane, but this page mainly talks about the most popular kind - glow plug or 'nitro' airplanes as opposed to gasoline (petrol) or diesel powered ones.
Glow, glow plug and nitro are just different names for exactly the same power type and generally speaking such planes account for the majority found at your average rc airplane club field; although electric planes are equally as popular these days, a glow plug powered airplane isn't as suitable for flying in public places such as parks, so they tend to be more restricted to club sites.
Buying and flying gas rc airplanes is easier than it ever has been in the past, with thanks going to the modern day RTF (Ready To Fly) glow plug trainers such as the Alpha Trainer DSM2 and the NexStar Select 46, both shown below:
Above: the Hanger 9 Alpha Trainer DSM2 and Hobbico's trusty NexStar Select 46
- two very popular RTF trainer gas rc airplanes
Both the NexStar Select 46 and the Alpha Trainer have proved to be two very popular glow trainer airplanes with beginners to the hobby, either looking to step up from an electric rc airplane or from scratch. Sold fully RTF, no construction work is needed on these airplanes, just some basic final assembly.
The innovative NexStar Select 46 is packed with many features not found on other trainers, all designed to make learning to fly as easy and as safe as possible, while the Alpha Trainer DSM2 was the first ever mass-produced RTF glow powered rc airplane to be sold with a 2.4GHz spread spectrum radio system as standard, now a common thing.
Both of these trainer airplanes have extremely stable flying characteristics - exactly what you need in your early days as an rc pilot.
RTF gas rc airplanes like these are letting more and more people take to the skies with a proper multi-channel glow plug powered model. This kind of plane is perfect as an introduction to IC radio control flying, either from scratch or as a natural progression from electric rc flying.
Ready To Fly glow plug trainer airplanes like the two shown above can be assembled in very little time and that's a great incentive for anyone looking to start flying gas rc airplanes with the minimum amount of fuss. Having said that, instruction manuals do need to be read, understood and followed thoroughly and the completed airplane should always be checked over by a competent modeller prior to flight.
If you intend joining a local flying club and getting one to one instruction then your instructor will (should...) check the plane over before he flies it. If you can't or don't want to join a club and are relying on an experienced rc pilot friend to teach you, it should be his/her job to check the plane over before its maiden flight.
If you can't get any personal help then consider joining an internet forum (such as mine) for help, but whatever you do you must be happy that your airplane is 100% safe for flight before it gets airborne.
Scale gas RC airplanes
The two trainer planes shown above are non-scale in that they are fictitious designs, but maybe you like the idea of flying scale gas rc airplanes? A scale model is one that has been modelled from a real-life plane.
The choice of scale RTF glow plug powered airplanes isn't nearly as large as non-scale, but they are available. Of course, Ready To Fly isn't your only option; assembling an Almost Ready To Fly (ARF) plane or building from a kit or plan greatly extends the range of scale gas rc airplanes available.
While building a model plane from a kit/plan is an involved process, an ARF rc airplane is an excellent compromise if you want a gentle introduction to model building techniques; the plane is 90% completed, you just need to buy and install the engine and radio gear and do some final assembly work. The variety of scale ARF airplanes available these days is huge, although quality between manufacturers does vary so do your research first!
Popular scale subjects for rc pilots include P-51 Mustangs, Spitfires and other warbirds, Piper Cubs, Cessnas and vintage planes to name but a few. The actual list is seemingly endless in fact, I doubt there's a full size plane in the world that hasn't been reproduced in radio control form!
An rc Piper Cub makes an excellent scale trainer and is very stable, forgiving and easy to fly. The real Cub is one of the most famous trainers of them all and is loved by pilots the world over - reasons why a radio control version is such a popular choice.
Ideally fitted with a 4 stroke glow plug or gasoline engine, a good quality Cub is always a pleasure to fly and offers a very relaxing experience.
While a Piper Cub makes an excellent trainer, a warbird like a P-51 Mustang or Corsair generally doesn't and is better suited to a 2nd or 3rd model after you've gained some experience. The faster flying speeds and lower stability of rc warbirds make them more exciting in the air, but more of a handful for a beginner to the hobby.
Having said that though, one exception to that rule is Hanger 9's PTS Advance Trainer Mustang, shown below:
Above: A P-51 isn't good for a first-time plane but this PTS Advance Trainer Mustang
has actually been designed with beginners in mind.
This particular glow plug powered airplane features a few neat gizmos to make it as stable as possible in the air and easy to control at slower flying speeds. So if you don't want to take the normal option of learning to fly on a high wing trainer, the PTS Mustang would be a nice choice of plane.
As previously mentioned, scale gas rc airplanes are made all the more realistic by using a 4 stroke engine instead of a higher revving 2 stroke. The quieter, deeper sound made by a 4 stroke engine is much nicer to hear in a scale model plane, especially at lower throttle speeds.
Points to remember when choosing a gas plane
Typical glow plug rc trainer airplanes ('trainers') generally follow a basic pattern; they are of a high wing design with noticeable dihedral, which is the upward angle of each wing panel when viewed from the front of the plane.
Trainers typically vary around the '40' or '46' size, that's to say that they are built to take a 40 or 46 (.40/.46 cu.in) 2 stroke glow plug engine, and generally speaking they have a wingspan of around 60 inches (the two trainers shown at the start of this page are typical examples).
This style of high wing trainer is the most stable in the air, which is exactly what you need when learning to fly. So it's best to start with this shape airplane and work your way up to faster, more aerobatic (low wing) airplanes as you gain experience.
A few other points to bear in mind when thinking about buying a glow plug rc airplane are:
- Flying gas rc airplanes might restrict you to flying at a model flying club if you don't know anyone with, or have access to, any private land (access with permission, of course!). Use the rc club directory of this website to try and find your local club. Only electric rc airplanes are acceptable in places like public parks.
- Gas rc airplanes do require certain items of field equipment because of the engine. You can read about these essential accessories here.
- Gas planes are not as simple as electric ones, the engine alone means a higher level of maintenance is required.
- Flying gas planes is more 'involved' than electric, but can be more satisfying if you're mechanically minded.
But with those points said, bear these further things in mind:
- 1. Joining a model flying club is a good thing to do and an excellent way to become quickly involved in the hobby; you'll make new friends, learn heaps of stuff and be able to share your enthusiasm with lots of folks who will actually understand your new found passion!
- 2. Although some accessories are essential, many of them can be lent to you by fellow modellers that you fly with, this is especially true if you do join a club. So in your early days you can get away without buying everything in one hit. Or you can save some money and buy the essential items in a field pack instead of individually.
- 3. Higher levels of maintenance and involvement is never a bad thing; you get to learn a lot more about your plane and how it works, and as a result you'll know more about the hobby.
Gas rc airplanes will bring you lots of fun and excitement but do be aware that they are a few steps up from simple electric powered rc airplanes, both in terms of learning and cost.
Having said that, prices are falling and a fully RTF trainer with a 2.4GHz radio system for just a few hundred dollars is a very good sign of things to come.
So even if you're only slightly thinking about getting into this exciting sector of the hobby, why not try and contact your local club, pop along to their flying field and chat to some pilots to see how it's done.
Gas, glow & nitro - what's in a name?
It's inevitable that different people in different parts of the world call the same things different names, and while 'gas' is short for gasoline in North America it's also often generically used to describe IC (internal combustion) powered rc models in general. You might also see such planes referred to as 'gassers'.
Glow plug is actually the 'correct' term for the planes talked about on this page and nitro is just another name that's been adopted from the radio control car world - cars (and boats) were marketed with the name 'nitro' because it made them sound faster, even though they're still glow plug powered. The word nitro is also a reference to nitromethane, an ingredient used in many rc glow fuels.
The likelihood is that if you see rc planes described as 'gas or nitro powered' they will in fact be glow plug powered. Petrol (true 'gas') rc airplane engines are widely available but are used more in larger models, not your average trainer.