RTF RC airplanes
- radio control flying's "quick fix"
RTF stands for Ready To Fly and RTF rc airplanes offer the beginner the easiest, quickest and often cheapest option for getting started in radio control flying.
Ready To Fly planes can be IC powered (internal combustion eg glow plug) or, more commonly, electric power (EP). They can be traditional balsa/ply construction or, more commonly, foam.
Whatever they are, RTFs need no construction or installation work done to them to get them flying, only some very basic final assembly stuff such as attaching the wing to the fuselage and fixing the tailplane and landing gear in place. Essentially, anything that makes the airplane difficult to put in a box at the factory is left off for you to fit at home, otherwise the plane is complete.
Having said that, the smaller RTF rc planes - such as the Ultra Micro™ ones - do come fully assembled because their wingspan is only around the 16 inch mark - plenty small enough to fit in a box.
The picture below shows a typical electric foam RTF rc airplane as purchased, straight out the box, in this case the popular HobbyZone Super Cub LP (Img.©RCM&E magazine).
RTF rc airplanes have introduced thousands of people to the hobby of radio control flying, but it's only in more recent years that they have become so widely available, affordable and popular.
Manufacturers have been quick to catch on to this popularity, with foam EP planes ('foamies') quickly developing from basic high wing trainers to very advanced planes and jets with superb detailing on scale models; indeed a big manufacturing advantage of foam over balsa/ply construction (other than lower production costs) is that detailing such as panel lines and rivets can be put in to the moulds very easily.
One downside to foam RTF rc airplanes is that any scale appearance is slightly ruined not only by the obvious texture of the foam surface itself, but also the numerous injection moulding marks left behind - but neither of these things are seen when the plane is flying!
A second downside to foam is that because of its soft nature it is easily damaged if handled carelessly. 'Hanger rash' is always an issue with foamies that are not well cared for.
The completeness of electric RTF rc airplanes means that the only thing left for the buyer to get are the batteries for the transmitter, but there are manufacturers that offer a complete one box purchase that includes the batteries, notably ParkZone and HobbyZone rc airplanes for example.
Non-foam RTF RC airplanes
While the majority of RTFs are electric powered foam planes, as previously mentioned there are traditional balsa/ply and IC powered ones available.
Two very popular RTF glow powered trainers are the Alpha Trainer DSM2 and the NexStar Select 46, both shown
Both of these trainers have taught many beginners to fly IC planes, especially at club level.
Above: two very popular balsa/ply RTF glow plug trainers.
But the balsa/ply RTF market is a very limited one and if you're looking for a specific airplane then you might be out of luck. The ARF rc airplane choice is much much larger for traditionally built planes.
While a true RTF rc plane comes complete with its own radio control system, there are some brand-specific variations on the RTF theme. The level of assembly of the airplane is the same and the variation is with the radio side of things.
Most notable are the Bind-N-Fly (BNF) and Plug-N-Play (PNP) rc airplanes from Horizon Hobby brands ParkZone, HobbyZone and E-flite.
BNF models come with a DSM2/DSMX compatible receiver installed so all you need is your own DSM2/DSMX compatible transmitter, while PNP models come with no receiver at all - just motor, ESC and servos installed. With PNP airplanes you're free to use whatever radio gear you can lay your hands on i.e you're not tied to any specific brand.
Other than the radio gear, these planes are exactly the same as RTF rc airplanes - just the price tag is different.
Above: the E-flite Hawker Hurricane, available in BNF & PNP, is testament
to what's been achieved in 'readiness to fly'. RTF-based rc airplanes are getting
bigger and better all the time, as this superb example shows
RIP traditional building?
With the advent of affordable RTF rc planes, a noticeable but almost inevitable decline was seen in the sales of traditional built-up kits.
Of course RTFs weren't solely responsible, indeed ARF rc airplanes played an equal and probably larger role in the traditional kit demise.
This was to be expected because not everyone who wants to fly a radio control plane wants to build one, and the temptation to rush out and buy something that is ready to fly is hard to resist. But it seems that more recently traditional building is making a comeback, with retailers noticing a marked increase in trad kit sales.
The logical line of thought here is that RTF rc airplanes have brought a huge number of newcomers in to the hobby over the years and those newcomers aren't newcomers any more - they're now intermediate and experienced rc pilots who want to get in to the model building side of the hobby.
So it's probably fair to say that while RTF and ARF planes knocked the wind out of traditional building for a while, they've actually healed the wounds that they once inflicted - a strange irony there, I think. But good news for the hobby, whichever way you look at it!
Love 'em or hate 'em, RTF rc airplanes make up a huge number of models across the hobby and they're here to stay, indeed it's fair to say that they're just getting better and better as the manufacturers learn new tricks in the ongoing effort to outsell each other!
So while an RTF can be a basic foamie trainer perfect for the complete beginner, it can also be a complex multi-channel scale aircraft that the experienced rc veteran is happy to be seen with at the flying field. Whichever way you view them, RTF rc planes have done wonders for this hobby!
The Beginner's Guide To Flying RC Airplanes e-book talks more about learning with an RTF plane.