Beginner RC helicopters
- how 'newbie-safe' are they?
Beginner rc helicopters simply didn't exist when I got in to rc flying. Buying and flying a radio control helicopter was an expensive and involved hobby indeed, and simple electric helicopters just weren't around. Sadly, an rc heli was way out of my reach!
In the late 1990s the Ikarus Piccolo started to appear in hobby shops and was the first 'affordable' (although not for me...) mass-produced electric Ready To Fly helicopter, being a 4 channel fixed pitch (FP) model. This little heli set a trend and immediately identified a massive marketing opportunity - there were lots of wannabe rc helicopter pilots out there who couldn't justify spending all their cash and spare time on an expensive glow plug powered helicopter, but would be very happy to buy a simpler RTF electric one.
Since then electric rc helicopters have really become mainstream, and finding a suitable beginner helicopter isn't at all difficult - in fact most toy shops even sell them these days! And prices have fallen drastically compared to the early Piccolo days.
Beginner helicopter types
The majority of beginner rc helicopters are of the coaxial variety, like the little Blade mCX2 shown (you can read my Blade MCX review here). That's to say that they have two sets of main rotors, one mounted above the other.
The rotors turn in opposite directions to one another and cancel out any reactive torque (a natural force created by a spinning object) otherwise produced by a single main rotor. If there is no torque then no tail rotor is needed on the helicopter, and that makes learning to fly the thing easier.
Coaxial rc helicopters, like the mCX2, are inherently very stable machines and the learning curve is shallow - in fact it's pretty flat!
Single rotor rc helicopters are, traditionally, a lot harder to master. Of course, the attraction of single rotor helis over coaxial ones is that of visual appeal - single rotor helicopters look like proper helicopters. Coaxials don't appeal to everyone simply because of the dual-rotor look. A tad superficial? Perhaps, but you have to be happy with what you're flying!
The other big difference between the two types is that of flight performance and agility in the air. Although a coaxial helicopter is easy to fly, you can't do much with them compared to a single rotor helicopter, in terms of more advanced flying and aerobatics.
RC heli commercial success
Electric rc helicopters, whether intended for the beginner or not, have meant big business for the manufacturers.
North American company Horizon Hobby certainly led the way for a while (and probably still do) with their Blade range, and some of the most popular beginner rc helicopters around have been produced by Horizon.
Their helicopters range from the micro size Blade mCX2 coaxial helicopter to the advanced collective pitch (CP) Blade 450 - not a beginner's helicopter by any means but certainly an entry level aerobatic one, if you want to jump in at the deep end.
Above: the 450X is Horizon's flagship Blade helicopter.
Mastering a fully functional single rotor (i.e. not coaxial) radio control helicopter isn't easy; they have a steep learning curve and crashes are commonplace for the newcomer. Don't let that put you off though, because such helicopters - particularly collective pitch (CP) ones - are ultimately very rewarding to fly, but starting out with an easier beginner rc helicopter is a sensible and easy option these days.
That said, my e-book, The Beginner's Guide To Flying RC Helicopters, does walk you through each stage of buying and flying such a heli, so check out that link if that's the kind of helicopter you want.
You may or may not like the look of a coaxial rc helicopter but they are easy to fly and you need no prior rc helicopter experience to more or less have a successful first flight. And a micro-size coaxial like the Blade mCX / mCX2 that you can fly indoors in complete safety can be an excellent introduction to learning the primary helicopter controls, and even more importantly the more demanding skills such as nose-in hovering.
The video below shows my own mCX and just how stable it is in the air...
The single rotor compromise
Between the coaxial helicopters and the CP helis are the fixed pitch (FP) helicopters which are almost always marketed and sold as beginner rc helicopters. Be careful, though, because even these have a steep learning curve if you have no prior experience.
Such helicopters originally included the Walkera Dragonfly FP series, such as the 4#3 range, the Venom Night Ranger and the eSky Honeybee FP to name just a few. All of these are very reminiscent of the early Ikarus Piccolo and they all share the same basic design and component count.
That's my Dragonfly 4 shown above and in its day was hugely popular, along with its cousins. But as the hobby progresses, such relatively simple helis have been replaced with more technologically advanced ones and flybarless single rotor helicopters are now the norm. The flybar is the short bar perpendicular to the main rotor (not easily visible in that photo), and is there to aid stability.
Flybarless single rotor helis use advanced electronic wizardry to aid flight stabilisation, and such a helicopter is merely the modern day answer to the trad single rotor ones mentioned above. They are still way more agile and able than coaxials, but not quite as complex as collective pitch helicopters.
Going back to Horizon Hobby's Blade rc helicopters, the 200S is a fine example, loaded with beginner-friendly technology to help make learning to fly it as easy as possible. Horizon's trademark SAFE™ technology even includes a 'panic button' function that will return the heli to a stable hover if (/when...) the pilot starts to lose control!
If you're on the fence between an easier to fly coaxial or a more complex collective pitch helicopter, something like this 200 is an excellent choice. It's a fine testament to what's happened in the radio control heli hobby in recent years, that model helicopters like this are so widely available and relatively easy to fly.
Beginner RC helicopter instruction
Obviously the type of beginner rc helicopter that you buy is going to determine how easy your life will be when learning to fly it; a coaxial helicopter will give you a very easy ride, whereas a CP model won't.
Myself and John Salt (rchelicopterfun.com) have jointly written The Beginner's Guide To Flying RC Helicopters, a comprehensive e-book that takes the complete newcomer through the process of choosing and learning to fly an electric radio control helicopter.
Our e-book covers all the important topics that any beginner to the hobby should know, and has a complete flight school section to get you airborne safely. Just click the above link or the image for more info on this popular and well-received e-book.
If you are self-teaching and you've bought a complex helicopter, getting one-to-one tuition and/or using an rc flight simulator are great ideas - in fact a flight sim is almost essential for safe learning with a more complex CP helicopter.
The Phoenix sim is a high quality simulator and one I can highly recommend, indeed it features several beginner rc helicopters from the Blade range as well as the more complex aerobatic and 3D machines. Several Phoenix helis can be edited to take training gear (extended landing skids) and so the early lessons of the rc helicopter flight school chapters outlined in The Beginner's Guide To Flying RC Helicopters e-book, shown above, can actually be practised in complete safety on a Phoenix sim.
Beginner RC helicopter training gear
Training gear might look ugly but it's an essential part of your early rc helicopter flying days. Not only does it do its primary job of preventing the helicopter from tipping over and the main rotor blades striking the ground, but it also acts to stabilise the helicopter in the air, thanks to the extra mass it provides.
Above: rc heli training gear might not look too sexy, but it'll save you money!
For the sake of a few extra dollars (training gear is cheap on eBay or you can even make your own), it's well worth having. Even easy-to-fly coaxial rc helicopters can be tipped over during a bouncy beginner's landing and training gear is very generic in that 'one size fits all'. Whatever type of heli you learn on, do yourself a big favour and fit training gear to it!
Well hopefully this page has given you an introduction to beginner rc helicopters, and what's available.
I've concentrated on the Blade ones simply because they are some of the most popular hobby grade rc helicopters; they represent excellent value and are backed up by readily available spare and upgrade parts, and often good technical support should you need it.
My own rc heli journey included a Blade 400 CP heli, and it was an excellent product indeed.
And if you're seriously thinking of getting in to this exciting and exhilarating sector of radio control flying, do check out The Beginner's Guide To Flying RC Helicopters e-book shown above, and take your time in choosing a helicopter that's suited to your flying needs. Everything you need to know is in the book.
Buying RC helis online
Please support your local model shop where possible, otherwise Amazon just about has it all these days!...
I've recently and reluctantly removed the majority of my heli pages, but here's what's still related:
Electric rc helicopters.
Coaxial RC helicopters.
RTF RC helicopters.
RC helicopter controls.
RC flight simulators.
Beginner rc airplanes.
Beginner RC drones.