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Beginners Guide to Radio Control Airplanes

By Andrew Burgon /
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October 19, 2014

RC planes hobby
Image by NASA Langley Research Center (NASA-LaRC); edit by user:AzaToth [Public domain]

Radio Control Planes Offer You a Chance to Indulge in Your Avionic Passion

Radio control airplanes allow you to dip into your passion for aviation at a very reasonable price. Imagine the fun and excitement of controlling your very own airborne plane with your controller and have it soar into the sky above you and do cool aerial maneuvers. The hobby offers a great deal of variety. Plenty of different models to choose from. Airplanes that are ready to fly right out of the box to others that require a lot of assembly. Let’s take a closer look at the hobby.

Price of  Radio Control Airplanes

This is a hobby you can get started in for as little as $US30. Most of the models I’ve seen on Amazon can be had for less than $US300.

Radio Control Airplanes:  Trainers

It takes a lot of skill to fly an agile and responsive model plane capable of acrobatic maneuvers. Planes designated as trainers are designed to be durable and very stable in flight giving you a chance to learn the ropes. Some of them even employ ACT (Anti-Crash Technology-TM) which helps prevent crashing by monitoring the ground and the sky. Trainers are a safe first choice.

Types of Radio Control Airplanes: Kits and Construction

Ready to Fly

These RTF planes come pre-assembled and may at the most require wing attachment or some other basic assembly. They have everything you need including the transmitter, receiver and battery.

Almost Ready to Fly

ARF planes do require some final assembly amounting to 10 – 20 hours of labor. Typically you are given the airframe and some accessories which need to be installed. These might includean engine / electric motor, fuel tank, speed controller and a battery. Certain things like the power system and radio system may have to be bought separately.


BNF aircraft do not come with their own transmitter. They are for flyers who already own one.

Keep in mind that there are several radio standards out there that are incompatible. The most common ones are BNF and Tx-R.  So make sure if you buy one of these planes that your transmitter and receiver can work together. BNF models are compatible with DSM2/DSMX standard transmitters. The Tx-R models with the Tactic/AnyLink standard.

If you think you’re going to get into the hobby in a big way a programmable transmitter which can store custom parameters for multiple models is the best way to go.

Receiver Ready (RX-R) models gives you flexibility allowing you to add your own receiver and battery so you don’t have to deal with transmitter incompatibilities.

Seniorita radio control model aircraft of balsa construction

Seniorita radio control model aircraft of balsa construction

Image by John Miller Crawford (Own work) / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Wood Kit airplanes

The wood in these kits is typically balsa and light ply. They come with all the raw material needed to assemble the airframe as well as a construction manual and full-size plans. Advanced wood kits can require many hours of work to complete and must be done well if the plane is to fly as intended. The airframe has to be assembled. The engine and radio equipment has to be installed as well as control surfaces and pushrods. It has to be covered and sometimes painted. Tools need to be purchased separately.

A number of small kits require you to coat multiple times the tissue paper covering the airframe with plane dope which coats and strenghtens the fuselage and wings in a plastic-like covering. Other planes are covered with heat-shrinking plastic films that are backed with heat-sensitive adhesive.

From Plans

Some enthusiasts build planes from published plans which often come with full-sized drawings and included instructions. The parts are usually cut out from sheet wood using the supplied templates.

A Controller’s Channels

The controller transmitter you have has a certain amount of channels. These allow you to control certain aspects of a plane. A simple plane may just have one channel (joystick) to operate the propellor and another one to operate the rudder to turn the airplane left or right (Yaw).

A three channel transmitter will allow you to control the throttle, rudder and elevator. The elevator found at the very back of the plane makes the plane go up and down (Pitch).

A fourth channel gives you control of the ailerons which are found on either side of the wings of the model. Most model airplanes have 4 channels.

Serious enthusiasts may have even more channels controlling the flaps to produce drag upon take off and landing or to control the landing gear.

Flying Area

Ideally, you’re going to want to find a decent sized area and have it all to yourself. Ovals, baseball and soccer fields are good options. You may wish to go there at a time of the day when few people are about. Places with very hard surfaces are not ideal as you might end up damaging the plane.

If you are tempted to fly it at a large park say during the early hours of the morning when few people are about check out if their are any signs restricting this kind of activity.

Joining a club and getting involved with other enthusiasts will no doubt help reveal some good spots for flying your plane which may include the use of private property that has been made available for this purpose.

Always keep uppermost in mind the safety of others. Accidents have been known to happen. People have been blinded or even killed by remote control helicopters and planes because adequate precautions were not taken.

Transmitter Range

If you fly a plane off into one direction it will eventually go outside of your transmitter range. Some planes will simply stop and make their way down to the ground.

Getting Started

It’s a good idea to read up on the hobby before you dive in and especially have a good look at all the different kinds of models there are. Otherwise, you may end up regretting your first purchase because you saw another model you liked much better. Check sites on-line, the local library or buy a magazine that covers the RC world of model airplanes.

The second step is to make an informed purchase. Visit your local hobby shop, check out their range of planes and get some advice. Then come home and check to see if you can get the plane on-line for cheaper!

If you are in the United States consider joining the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA). They can assist you in getting started in the hobby and insurance coverage comes with membership. Not only that but many clubs will require you to do so if you want to join them. The AMA publishes a monthly magazine called Model Aviation that covers contests and events throughout America.

The counterpart of AMA in the United Kingdom is the British Model Flying Association (BMFA).

A large (~40 inch wingspan) scale remote control P-51 Mustang.

A large (~40 inch wingspan) scale remote control P-51 Mustang.

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One Comment

  1. James says:

    nice detailed article about Remote control airplane
    thanks for sharing

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