*See Pete's popular Beginner's Guide ebook here.*
RC flying FAQ (on getting started)
This page contains some common rc flying FAQ that you might be wondering about, with regard to getting started in the exhilarating and addictive hobby of radio control aircraft flying and building.
The rc flying FAQ covered on this page are...
- Why fly a radio control model airplane anyway?
- Radio control or remote control, what's the difference?
- But it'll cost me heaps, right?
- Will I need to join a club?
- Can I fly anywhere, when I feel like it?
- How do I learn to fly?
- Don't I need some kind of insurance?
- I don't understand all the rc 'channel' talk.
- Glider, electric, IC, airplane, helicopter.....how do I choose?
- So what makes a good first rc airplane?
- Do I buy a plan, a kit or a Ready To Fly rc airplane?
- Where can I buy my first rc plane?
"Why fly a radio control model airplane anyway?"
Having been personally involved in building and flying model airplanes through the years, from the simplest rubber band powered balsa kits to multi-channel rc, I can recommend the hobby of aeromodelling as one of the most rewarding and exhilarating hobbies to have.
Flying an rc model airplane puts you in control (most of the time) and can teach you all kinds of interesting stuff; model building techniques, basic airplane design and construction aspects, basic aerodynamics, electronic issues, engine issues.... the list goes on and on.
And on top of all that, the hobby will take you from the comfort of your 'hobby room' to the great outdoors, mixing with all kinds of like-minded folks from all age groups and backgrounds. Or if you prefer complete solitude, you can fly alone and still have heaps of fun!
"Radio control or remote control, what's the difference?"
Basically, 'radio control' is the correct term. However, rc models are often referred to as 'remote control' because the true definition of this term is 'to control something from a remote (separate) location'. But traditionally, models that are genuinely remote control are joined to the transmitter by a cable, through which the signals pass. True 'radio control' means that the model is controlled by radio signals from a completely separate transmitter.
"But it'll cost me heaps, right?"
Yes and no....
These days, a beginner electric rc airplane can be bought for under a hundred dollars, and this kind of plane can be flown in almost any decent sized open space. So you can at least get going in the hobby without having to spend a fortune.
A good quality 3 or 4-channel electric or gas rc trainer or sport plane (or ARF with the engine and radio gear purchased separately) will cost you upwards of $150 or so, plus maybe another 100 dollars or so for any field equipment items and fuel etc. that you might need.
On top of that you might have club membership and insurance fees, but these costs are quite low - probably under a hundred dollars spread over the year.
At the top end of the scale, you can spend as much money as you earn, and beyond. A serious rc airplane, top of the range radio set and all the trimmings can cost many thousands, but by the time you're spending this kind of money the hobby has become a way of life, and you won't mind buying such stuff with all your hard earned cash.
So it can be an expensive hobby if you want it to be, or it can be a very cheap hobby if you want to keep it simple.
The great thing is that these days you can try the hobby for not much money at all, and if you don't like it then you haven't lost much (second-hand rc stuff always sells well). And if you do like it, you can always fly to suit your budget.
"Will I need to join a club?"
Ideally yes, but it's not always necessary. If you're completely new to the hobby then getting yourself along to a local club is probably the best thing you can do. Locating one shouldn't be too difficult, just visit the website of your country's rc flying governing body, or use the RC Airplane World club directory to try and locate a model flying club close to your home town.
RC airplane modellers ('aeromodellers') are a very friendly bunch of people and the majority of clubs welcome newcomers, even if it's just to have a look at what's going on.
If you can't find a local club, it's not the end of the world. A simple 2 or 3-channel electric airplane can be flown in a public park or any large open space, so long as it's permitted (see next question)...
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"Can I fly anywhere, whenever I feel like it?"
This depends on where you live and only local knowledge can help here. For instance, flying in public places is usually allowed but in other areas might be prohibited because of local laws.
Wherever you live, it is essential that you check whether flying a radio control model aircraft is allowed, before you go flying, or you may get in trouble. Furthermore, you need to be very aware of any possible frequency interference that could cause you to lose control of your rc airplane, with potentially disastrous consequences if in a public place. OK, this isn't such an issue nowadays with 2.4GHz rc systems being commonplace, but it is definitely something you need to think about if using a MHz system.
So wherever you think you want to fly, always check first. And if you do plan on flying in a public place, please read these do's and don'ts first.
"Ok, I want to try it - how do I learn to fly?"
As with everything, it takes time. How you learn is up to you, but for anything other than a simple 2 or 3-channel electric rc airplane or rc glider, getting an experienced model airplane pilot to teach you is without doubt the best method, which would normally require joining a local model flying club.
Investing in an rc flight simulator is an excellent thing to do if you can afford it, as these are a superb training aid second only to side-by-side club instruction.
If you know an experienced rc pilot, you can use a Buddy Box system. This requires 2 compatible transmitters that are connected via a cable (or wirelessly), with one transmitter being the master and the other the slave. Complete control can be handed from the master to the slave at the flick of a switch, enabling you, the student pilot, to have full control of the airplane but allowing the instructor to regain immediate control in times of difficulty.
Check out the different ways of learning to fly radio control.
"Don't I need some kind of insurance?"
Usually yes, but it's not always mandatory.
Most model airplane clubs require that you have a good third-party liability policy, and this kind of insurance generally comes with membership of national rc flying governing bodies, if not included in the club membership itself.
An rc model airplane can potentially cause serious damage to people and property, even death, (but fortunately that's very rare ) so check local flying requirements before you fly. Don't underestimate the importance of insurance, particularly when flying in a public area.
Even if you don't join a club and so don't need insurance, it's a very good idea to have it anyway. Personally I say don't fly without it, because it's a small cost for a lot of peace of mind.
"I don't understand all the rc channel talk."
In radio control, 'channel' has two meanings; one refers to the number of channels that a model has; for example, a 2-channel airplane has control to, say, motor and rudder while a 3-channel plane has control to motor, rudder and elevator etc. The other refers to the frequency channel that your rc system operates on. Have a look at the rc frequencies page for more info on this second meaning, although this meaning is becoming less important as 2.4GHz radio systems replace the traditional MHz ones.
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"Glider, electric, IC, airplane, helicopter.....how do I choose?"
This really comes down to personal preferences.
Most people know whether they want to fly a conventional airplane or a helicopter, or both, so it's usually a question of whether to start with a glider or powered model. Obviously gliding helicopters are few and far between, so let's just talk about planes for the minute.
An rc glider is a good aircraft to learn on but you need to understand about launching rc gliders to be able to fly one. RC powered gliders, however, are a better option and give you the best of both worlds.
Note though; many rc airplane clubs don't accept non-powered gliders due to their limited ability of sudden collision avoidance maneuvers. If you do want to fly an rc glider, it's better to join a club specific to gliding and slope soaring.
Flying an rc glider is relatively easy and can be self-taught if the glider is a basic high wing 2-channel type, so therefore is a very good introduction to rc flying. Of course, you may just want to fly something non-powered.
Radio control internal combustion (IC) powered airplanes traditionally made up the largest sector of the hobby, but electric power (EP) has become hugely popular. With an IC powered plane, do bear in mind the amount of field equipment you will need; fuel, fuel pump, tool set, starter battery, glow plug battery, spare glow plugs etc. etc., although in your early days you should be able to borrow some of these things if flying at a club.
Electric rc airplanes have surged in popularity in recent years and have introduced thousands of people to the hobby. They eliminate the need to carry lots of accessories, and because of their quietness can be flown in public places such as school yards and parks - providing that flying an rc model airplane is permitted in the first place, of course.
Electric rc airplanes make the best introduction to powered radio control flight, and they cost less too. Learn more about IC vs. EP.
Conventional (single rotor) electric rc helicopters aren't as easy to fly as a plane, but in a way are more rewarding and many have the added advantage of being able to be flown indoors. The much more stable coaxial rc helicopters (dual rotor) are really suited to beginners and the good ones can be flown pretty much straight out the box.
Many of today's electric rc helicopters are very stable and a lot more straightforward than their larger IC powered cousins; indeed, the majority of RTF electric helicopters have been designed with the complete newcomer in mind, and improved flight stability has been high on the manufacturer's list of design features.
IC rc helicopters are a step or three up from electric helis and require a completely different budget and mentality. Self-teaching isn't really recommended, although I do know more than one person who has successfully taught themselves to fly such a helicopter to a high standard.
Having said that, a local instructor and the investment of an rc flight simulator are more or less essential for first-time IC helicopter wannabees.
"So what makes a good first model airplane?"
For your first plane, don't rush out and buy a scale model Fokker Triplane or a Stealth Fighter - save that for your more experienced days later on.
The classic 'trainer' design that you should buy will have high wing, flat or semi-symmetrical wing section and noticeable dihedral, all adding up to good stability in the air. You can see some suitable trainers on this page.
"Do I buy a plan, a kit or a Ready To Fly aircraft?"
This is really down to personal preference and how eager you are to get flying. Many aeromodellers, myself included, see the building of a model airplane as the major attraction, and it certainly gives you a lot of self satisfaction. Or you may not be bothered about the building aspect but just want to fly.
For a beginner, buying an RTF (Ready To Fly) or ARF (Almost Ready To Fly) airplane is the best option, as they will enable you to be flying in the quickest possible time and they don't require much model building knowledge.
Building a model aircraft from scratch using balsa wood and working from plans is a time consuming process and needs a medium to high standard of model building skills and knowledge, although the task is ultimately very rewarding.
Something else to bear in mind is the 'repairability' of the airplane; damage usually occurs to a plane sooner or later and the easier the original construction was, the easier it is to repair. Fortunately most of the popular RTF and ARF models, such as the HobbyZone and ParkZone range of airplanes for example, are backed up well by a good supply of spare parts such as wings, tailplanes, props etc. So if something horrible does go wrong at the flying field then at least you know that you can replace the part properly and have your plane back to flying status in a short time.
A kit-built balsa rc airplane is going to take a lot more repairing and will be out of action for longer.
"Where can I buy my plane?"
If you've got a local hobby store, pop along there and ask for advice; they'll be very happy to help, especially if you flash some cash. Also, local hobby stores need all the support they can get in this cut-throat market.
If you're buying online, buy from reputable and well known sellers. Unfortunately a lot of independent rc sellers have gone out of business in recent years, so choice is more limited than in times gone by. Sad times :-(
If you have decided that you want to give rc flying a go, make yourself a bit of time and browse this website. There's heaps of valuable Getting Started information contained within, and you'll soon become familiar with many aspects of the hobby just by reading these pages.
Learn to fly RC planes.
RC flight training methods.
RC flight simulators.
How to fly rc airplanes.
RC flying do's and don'ts.
RC flying glossary.