Getting started in RC airplanes is both exciting and a little nerve-wracking for some people. If you’ve never experienced the joys of RC hobbies—like RC cars and trucks, or RC boats—then you might not know what to expect. Of course, RC airplanes are different from other RC hobbies and they come with their own set of joys and frustrations. But trust us when we say that RC airplanes are really not that difficult to get into. Imagine the satisfaction you’ll get when your plane is flying high and you won’t regret spending the little bit of time it takes to learn about the world of RC airplanes.
This guide covers almost everything you’ll need to know to make RC airplanes one of your hobbies. It’s divided into four sections: Choosing your Plane, Preparing, Flying, and Links to other relevant websites.
But first, an important question:
Why RC Airplanes?
Well, because they’re awesome, obviously. But a better answer might be that RC airplanes are a passion for those of us who love flying. A lot of people get involved in RC airplanes because they’re interested in aviation and they want to be—or already are—a pilot. Some pilots love flying so much that they take up RC airplanes in order to stay connected with their passion. For others, flying was a childhood dream—maybe it was realized, maybe not. But with RC airplanes, you can fulfill that yearning to fly even if you aren’t up in the air. Many people feel that building and flying an RC airplane is a hobby, a sport, and also an art. It can certainly be a way to express your creativity. If you love to build or work with your hands, you’ll probably find that building your RC airplane is one of your favorite parts of the hobby. Of course, if you just want to fly and don’t want to build your plane, you can do that too. But most people who really love the hobby find that they want to spend as much time doing it as possible—building, flying, crashing…and then rebuilding their airplane.
So read on and learn all about the world of RC airplanes. You won’t regret it. Most likely you’ll find what the rest of us have found: that for those of us who dream of flying, RC airplanes are one of the most fun and fulfilling hobbies out there.
Choosing your Plane
The first question most beginners ask is “What kind of plane do I buy?” Well, it depends. First off, it depends what it is you’re wanting out of your RC airplane hobby. Some people want nothing more than to fly their plane and don’t care what it looks like. Others want to spend a lot of time with their plane prior to flight—they want to build it themselves, give it a name like “The Crusher” or even “Sparkles,” know how to repair it, as well as know anything else there could possibly be to know about their plane. If this is you, you’re going to want a kit that you put together yourself.
Here are some of the most common types of airplanes
Ready to Fly (RTF) – Ready to fly airplanes require no construction, so if you’re looking for an easy to assemble airplane, RTF’s are your best bet. All you have to do is install the batteries and do some very basic work and you’ll be ready to fly. These are great for beginners who don’t want to worry about building their plane.
Almost Ready to Fly (ARF) – Don’t want a lot of prep work? Get an ARF kit. Some of these come pre-built and others can be easily built by following the instructions. These kits come with everything you need—fuselage, wing halves, tail components, as well as all your basic hardware and landing gear. There are many different kinds, but they typically come in either wood or foam and fiberglass. Everything here will be already covered or already painted. Remember: these models leave you with very little to do. So if you’re excited to fly as soon as possible and want to do just a bit of work, start out with an ARF.
Almost Ready to Cover (ARC) – Want a unique plane but don’t want to spend a lot of time on prep? Go for the ARC. These planes come framed, which means most of the parts are ready to go, just like an ARF kit. The difference is that you cover and finish the ARC plane yourself. This means you can paint your plane an ordinary blue, add polka dots of every color, or glittery decals if you’ve named your plane Sparkles. A lot of people love ARC kits for this reason. Your plane won’t look like every other plane out there. You’ll need a few more tools for the covering process, of course, but it isn’t anything too difficult.
Build it Yourself Kit – Want to spend a lot of time with your plane and really know how to repair it? You’re going to want a kit. These are nothing like an ARC kit and you’ll know it as soon as you see it. These are all build it yourself. If you’re a beginner, you might be nervous about an all-wood kit. The truth is there will be a lot of construction. But for most of us, it’s totally worth it. Think about it: you’ll feel far more accomplished flying a plane you’ve constructed yourself than one that doesn’t take much time to put together. You’ll needto have some basic skills—cutting, gluing, sanding, and so on—but it’s certainly not as impossible as some people seem to think. Just make sure you read and follow the instructions and you’ll be on your way to flying your own RC airplane.
If you know how to follow instructions, building your RC airplane shouldn’t be too difficult. If you don’t know anything about building, go with an easier to build kit or read up a little bit before trying it out. For the basics, it doesn’t matter which model you’ve chosen when it comes to building. Whether you have an ARF kit or an all-wood kit, the basic installation process is pretty similar. You’ll have all of the basic components of your plane–an engine, engine mount, landing gear, radio equipment, pushrods, and of course your fuel tank.
If you have an RTF plane, you aren’t going to do much more than fix the wing and maybe the tailplane into position. Depending, you might also need to fit the spinner and propeller and put the landing gear into place. But the basic rule is the same for any model you’re building: follow the instructions. Don’t try and do this on your own. Follow the instructions and your plane will soon be ready to fly.
Weight and Balance
One of the most important things you’ll need to do is to check your airplane’s weight and balance. Checking the weight is important if you bought a kit. If you bought an RTF it isn’t necessary. For your kit airplane, simply put it on a scale and make sure it matches the manufacturer recommendations. If it’s too heavy, you probably need a lighter battery pack.
Balance is important and the good news is it’s easy enough to check. Simply use a pen to mark the center of gravity on your wings. This should be about an inch or so from the fuselage. Next, put your fingers on the marks and then lift the plane above your head. Ideally, your plane should be almost perfectly balanced. But if it’s slightly off, it’s no big deal. Of course, if it’s heading nose first toward the floor, it’s time to do a bit of work. Try moving the battery pack either slightly forward or backward depending on which way the plane is tilting. If this isn’t an option, you can always tape a ballast onto either end of the plane to balance it out.
Last minute checks
Before flying, it’s best to make sure your plane is in proper working order. The last thing you want is for your plane to take off and crash–or, you know, not take off at all. The basic idea is to make sure everything on your plane is tight, secure, and working properly. If you’re not sure about this, have a more experienced person help you out.
Before flying, you’ll also want to do a range check to ensure that your radio signal is strong enough for your plane to fly. To do a range check, keep the plane on the ground, turn your transmitter and receiver on, collapse your antenna and walk backwards away from the plane about forty paces or a little less. Check to make sure that the signal is strong, and if it’s not, you’re not ready to fly. Make sure you fix the problem before attempting any sort of flight.
It’s a beautiful sunny day and a light breeze is blowing. You’ve purchased your plane. You’ve spent some time building it. At this point you might be pretty attached to your plane—you know how it works and you’ve even given it a name. Your friends and family are concerned that you’re losing it—or, if you’re lucky, they’re just as excited as you are about getting your plane off the ground.
Before you do anything else, first you need to decide where you want to fly your airplane.
Where to Fly
If you’re lucky, you have a nice, big open field just waiting for you and your airplane. Private property is typically the ideal place to fly because you don’t have to worry about other people who might not necessarily share your enthusiasm for flight. If you’re not sure, ask around. Maybe there’s a nearby farmer who wouldn’t mind you using the field–just make sure to get permission first.
If private property isn’t an option, look into using a public area. Make sure it’s safe and open. Use caution and determine whether or not it’s suitable. You don’t want to run any risk of causing a disturbance to public safety. As excited as you should be about flying your plane, caution and good judgment are an absolute must.
When you’re starting a new hobby, one of the best things to do is meet up with others who share your passion. There are rc airplane clubs in most parts of the world. This is one of the best things for beginners to do because you’ll get an inside look into the world of rc airplanes and also probably make some great friends along the way.
How to Fly
For a lot of people, flying the plane comes somewhat naturally. Of course if you’re not great at first, don’t worry. There are a few things to keep in mind when you’re flying the first time. Try and take it slow, letting your plane climb to an appropriate height. For your first time try and keep it somewhat low so that you can see your plane clearly–say, around tree-top height. After this, of course, you can let your plane climb higher than this, but for your first time you might want to take it easy.
Now unless you want your plane to head toward the next state, you’re going to want to turn your plane at some point. Reduce the power a little bit as you turn to make it smooth. For the smoothest flight, apply a bit of up elevator as you also apply rudder/aileron (for a detailed explanation of flight control surfaces, see here). This will allow your plane to have a smooth turn and not lose any altitude. Once you’ve turned enough try and fly it straight for a little bit, getting it level, and then try another turn. Once you get the hang of the basics, you can try some more advanced tricks. But for now, take it easy.
Keep practicing at this until you get the hang of it. If something does go wrong, make sure you stay calm, cut the motor, and try your best to fix the problem.