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  1. #1
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    How To Select Your First Radio

    How To Select Your First Radio
    by Ed Anderson
    If you go through the beginner section on any of the major forums you will see this question, or some version of it over and over again. And you will see it in the advanced flying sections too. That’s because the radio is the single most important tool you will use to fly your model aircraft. Without the radio control system there is no radio control flying. So, how to choose?
    If you are totally new, never flown, and if you are going to learn without using a buddy box, I usually recommend an RTF,ready to fly package that includes the airplane, radio, all the electronics already installed in the plane. It usually includes the battery and charger too. This eliminates so many decisions and considerations and points of confusion. This lets the pilot focus on learning to fly. Which RTF? That is a question for another discussion but there are lots of good ones out there. They all come with a radio that should be adequate to the task of flying that plane. And the value of the radio, in that package, is typically so small that even if you never use it for anything else, that’s OK.
    Once you have your basic flying skills down, NOW we can start to discuss what you want and need in a radio that will carry you forward. You will have more time to read and talk to other pilots so you will have begun to learn about the aspects of RC flying. You will be better prepared to understand the information below and to address the questions we will ask as we try to guide you.
    Standard vs. Computer Radios
    A standard radio is one without model memories and usually very little, if any mixing capabilities. The Spektrum DX5e or the Hitec Laser 4 would be examples of standard radios. Standard radios are fine when you get them in RTFs or if you plan to have a dedicated radio for each plane. Otherwise get a computer radio that has model memories. Enough on that topic.
    Brands
    There a lots of good radios out there but the major brands in North America are Futaba, JR, Spektrum, Hitec and Airtronics. All others have relatively small market shares. The major brands are all safe bets and all have great service. You will find those who love one over the other and those who hate one vs. the other. But in the end, they all have good products. If you go outside these brands you may get a great radio too, but these are your safe bets.
    Budget
    How much are you willing to spend? As you shop for radios notice that radios often come packaged with other stuff. That might be receivers, servos, cables, switches, etc. When you evaluate the price of one radio vs. another you MUST take into account what is included in the package. A $150 radio is not cheaper than a $180 radio package that comes with a $50 receiver.
    The more you can spend, the more capable radio you can buy and the less important the rest of the questions become. Once you get over $400 for the radio alone, they all pretty much can do what you are likely to need to do to fly almost anything, as long as they have enough channels. You will get all kinds of opinions from advanced pilots as to what is better for what, but they are talking shades of gray here. If you can spend $400 or more on a major brand radio, then buy whatever you like or whatever your friend has or what you see in the champion pilots is flying.
    If you don’t have $400 for a radio, then you have to be more selective. But you can still get a very capable radio for under $200. You just have to be a little more specific as we start finding limitations. Of course these limitation may not matter to you so don’t feel you are buying junk. Just maybe you are not buying a lot of stuff you don’t need.
    Asking for an inexpensive radio means nothing. When considering my needs, I consider $250, for the radio alone, an inexpensive radio. How about you? No matter what it is, start with a number. Does it have to include a receiver? Servos? State a number and then define it.
    Naturally there are lots of used radios. Buying used is like buying a used car, it may be great or it may be a dog. When you buy used you take a risk. As long as you accept that, you can consider used.
    Last, forget about the “best” radio or the one that will last you the rest of your flying career. There is no best and we all tend to want to trade up after a while. But even a basic 6 channel computer radio can serve you for decades of flying fun if your needs are basic. I have friends who have been flying for decades, who are instructors and who are flying radios that they love but that would not meet my needs at all.
    Trainer Port
    Will you be working with an instructor using a buddy box? If so, what radios will work with your instructor’s radio? Buying a cool radio then not being able to get flying instructions really doesn’t work well.
    Types of Aircraft
    Computer radios typically have some level of software for airplanes and most include some type of helicopter software too. This software can go from basic to advanced and usually the more advanced the software the higher the price of the radio. Many do not include specific software for sailplanes/gliders which are the same thing for the purposes of this discussion. That does not mean that you can’t use them to fly gliders. Gliders are just specialized forms of airplanes. What it means is that the radio’s software will not include the special mixes that many gliders pilots want. So, if you plan to fly gliders you may wish to look for a radio that includes glider mixes.
    There are also quad copters, aerial photography and first person view as other forms of flying. They may require special software of they may require extra channels. Before you buy a radio, talk to people who do this kind of flying. It would be very disappointing to buy a radio only to find it can’t fly the aircraft you just purchased.
    How Many Channels?

    While there are some interesting four and five channel computer radios, I am going to recommend you get a computer radios with six or more channels. I don't see any real benefit for having less than six channels, as the cost difference is small and the benefits of 6 or more channels is high. Even if you are flying a rudder elevator glider or small electric today, next year you may be adding ailerons and flaps and landing gear. So get a radio that can handle at least that, and that would be 6 channels.

    Why would you ever need more? Here is a typical channel breakdown, regardless of whether you are flying electric, glow, gas or gliders, giant scale or highly detailed scale models. Jets, advanced Helis, First person view may have other needs, but it still comes down to channels.

    Rudder – 1 or 2
    Elevator - 1 or 2
    Ailerons - 1 to 4
    Spoilers - 1 or 2
    Flaps - 1 to 2
    Tow hook - 1
    Landing gear - 1
    Motor – 1 to 2
    Smoke, lights, Other – 1 to ?

    That makes 4, 5, 6, up to 18 channels depending on what kind of aircraft you have and how you set it up. So how many do you need?

    In my opinion, most sport flyers will be well served for a long time with a 6 channel entry to mid level sport computer radio but more channels could come in hand in the future. If you are planning to become a more serious competition pilot, plan to fly giant scale, full house sailplanes, jets or are very interested in having cameras, lights, smoke or other things on your plane that you can control from the radio, 6 may not be enough.
    Basic Features

    Most currently available new computer radios offer the following features. Regardless of what you are flying, I highly recommend your radio have these features.

    * Model Memories (at least 10)
    * Low Battery Warning
    * Trims on the channels controlled by the stick(s).
    * Timer – highly recommended but not required
    * End Point Adjustment/Adjustable Travel Volume
    * Subtrim
    * Dual Rates and/or Exponential on ailerons and elevator.
    If you are flying 3D you want it on the rudder too.
    * Elevon/delta wing and V-tail mixes
    If it doesn’t have these, don’t buy it!
    Model Memories
    How many planes do you plan to own and fly? Twenty years ago, when everyone was building kits, when electronics were costly, you might have 2 planes flying and maybe 3 in the hanger without servos, receiver or a motor. Oh, there were always guys with 30 planes, but if you had 3 models flyable then 3 model memories were plenty. Today, I would consider 10 the minimum. Planes are cheap, electronics are cheap and “Bind and Fly” types are so easy to pick up and take flying. Some radios will now let you save models to a memory card or to download them to your computer. If you can save aircraft profiles outside the radio, 10 model memories are probably plenty to hold what you are currently actively flying. If you can’t save them then I would consider 10 an absolute minimum. More is always better.
    Type of flying and surface mixes
    After model memories, surface mixes are one of the great features that computer radios bring to the game. Input to one control can move 2 or more servos in a coordinated fashion to create the kind of surface control you need. I use some mixes that move 5 servos at once. This can reduce the pilot's workload while providing very consistent behavior. In some cases these mixes can be overridden during the flight or can be turned on and off.

    Where two surfaces are listed, the first is the master and the second follows, sometimes called the slave channel. The following list is what I would consider the minimum set I would want in even an entry level radio. They may be named mixes or they may be able to be created by “user mixes”.

    * Flapperon - requires two aileron servos on separate channels
    * Aileron to rudder mix (coordinated turns)
    * Flap to elevator mixing for landing and glide path control.
    * At least 1 user defined mix

    You should find these on even the most entry level computer radio. If it doesn’t have these, I would recommend you don’t buy it.
    For many pilots this is all they will ever need. But if you plan to get into full house sailplanes, competition pattern flying or other advanced forms of flying you may need other mixes. Talk to friends and people on the forums to ask them what mixes they use. Some are only available in those much more expensive radios so don’t put them on your required list unless you have the budget and REALLY need it. Remember, people flew RC aircraft for decades with 4 channel radios without any surface mixing, and so can you.

    Receiver Selection
    Without the receiver, the radio is useless, so receiver selection is important. If you are flying larger planes you may have lots of room for the receiver, but if you are flying small planes, the size and weight of the receiver can be critical. Putting a 1 ounce receiver in a 6 ounce plane just doesn’t make sense. And if you are into indoor flying or micro planes you want them really small and light. Some brands offer “bricks” that are ultra light packages that combine the receiver with the ESC and perhaps servos. If this is your interest, make sure your radio brand has these available.
    If you have a 6 channel radio you can use a receiver that has more than 6 channels. Sometimes we use those extra slots for things that the radio does not control, like plane finders. So having receivers available with more slots than your radio can control might be useful.
    Most 2.4 GHz radios have very specific protocols that are used for the radio to talk to the receiver. In many cases you must buy the same brand of receiver as radio. And in some cases there are different protocols within the brand. For example, Futaba has FASST and FHSS radios in their line. The receivers are specific to the protocol. So a Futaba FHSS radio can’t fly a Futaba FASST receiver even though they are both 2.4 GHz.
    In the 72 MHz days it was common to find “compatible” receivers. For example, you could buy a Hitec or Berg receiver to use with your, Futaba, JR or Airtronics radio. That went away with the dawn of 2.4 GHz, but compatible receivers are now becoming available. Today there are compatible receivers for Spektrum/JR DSM2, Futaba FASST and Hitec AFHSS 2.4 GHz radios. There may be others as well. If the cost of receivers matters to you, and you would consider compatibles, then this may help influence your choice of radios.
    Bind and Fly/TX-R/?
    In the old days, 10 years ago, you purchased a plane and put a receive in it that worked with your radio. Today you can buy planes that are all set to go including servos, and receiver. But you have to have a matching radio in order to fly them. Horizon Hobby has a huge line of BnF, Bind and Fly planes. If you have a Spektrum or JR DSM2 or DSMX radio you can just buy these planes, bind them to your radio and go fly. Hobbico has come out with the transmitter ready, TX-R, planes. In this case they sell an external module, the AnyLink, that will work with many radios. Once you have an AnyLink module can fly any of their TX-R planes.
    If BnF or TX-R matters to you, then you want a radio that will work with these aircraft. Not everyone cares, but if you do, take this into consideration.
    Other Features
    There are all kinds of special features appearing on radios. Telemetry, touch screens, the ability to update the software over the internet and so on. How important are these? You decide. Talk to those who love them and those who laugh at them, then make your decision.
    The Best and the Last
    People ask which is the best radio. There is no best. The best is the one that you can’t afford or that will be released 6 months after you buy the one you bought. So don’t worry about the best, concern yourself with what will work for you, your budget and your flying style. All of the major brands are good. And there are many “off brands” that are pretty good as well.
    Some people want to buy that radio that will last them a lifetime. Well, any of these can fulfill that if your requirements never exceed the capability of the radio. But the fact is that we all get the bug to upgrade. So my suggestion is to look at something you feel will last you 3 to 5 years. Who knows what you will want in a radio 5 years from now. Ten years ago who knew that there would be 2.4 GHz radios or radios that could be upgraded over the internet. So forget the forever radio. In the world of computers and electronics, 5 years is forever.
    Now we can get into specifics, but it is important you understand the above topics so you are prepared to have that discussion. Read the boxes, talk to friends and ask your questions. We are all here to help.

    Let the questions and the discussion begin!
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  2. #2
    Moderator aeajr's Avatar
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    RE: How To Select Your First Radio

    Anyone need help in sorting through the maze of radio options?
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    RE: How To Select Your First Radio

    Actually the primer you posted is really very well done and self explanatory. I like the totally UNBIASED information there. I personally fly Spektrum and have enjoyed the brand so far and my system has been very reliable, not only with Spektrum branded receivers, but also with some chinese Spektrum clones I won't mention here. In any case, an excellent primer. Thank you.

  4. #4
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    RE: How To Select Your First Radio



    Chuck,

    Thanks for the comments.I tried to make it brand and model independent.

    Personally I am a Futaba guy flying a matched pair of Futaba 9C Supers with modules for 72 MHz, Futaba FASST, Spektrum DSM2 as well as Tactic AnyLink.  There is a lot of good stuff out there and the prices have never been lower for all the features you get.

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    RE: How To Select Your First Radio

    Here is an article that appeared in RC Soaring Digest Magazine.  While it talks about sailplane radios it is really about upgrading 72 MHz radios to 2.4 GHz.  There are a lot of good used radios out there on 72 MHz.   You can get some super capable radios at a bargain price, but how do you bring them into the 2.4 GHz world, and is the conversion really worth it?   

    Upgrading 72 MH Sailplane Radios to 2.4 GHz
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    RE: How To Select Your First Radio

    Is it true that 2.4ghz has less range potential than 72mhz?

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    RE: How To Select Your First Radio

    I have read the arguments about range between 72mhz and 2.4g radio. I have no hard data but my own two eyes. I have yet to fly beyond the limits of my eyes with either 72mhz and 2.4g radios. I have a plane we use to lift sailplanes up. We go as high as we can safely see them. When a 2.3 meter wing span sailplane sitting on top of a 90 sized low wing plane, looks like a tiny dot, you know you have distance between the Tx and Rx. We were flying Airtronics RD6000 72mhz, RD80000 2.4g and a budget 9x 2.4g. We never lost any type of control with either radio. If you need to fly farther away then that, you will need binoculars and some one doing serious spotting.

    Just my experience.

    Buzz.

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    RE: How To Select Your First Radio


    ORIGINAL: wga22

    Is it true that 2.4ghz has less range potential than 72mhz?
    Range potential? What does that mean?

    Are you asking if one can go twice as far as I can see and the other can go 3 times as far as I can see?Maybe, butnot really sure that Icare.

    I fly gliders with 11 foot wing spans to 1/2 mile out and 1/2 mile up and have never had a range problem so ... not an issue.

    Naturally there are short range receivers that have limited range, but there are also full range receivers that will go as far as you can see with model aircraft.
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    RE: How To Select Your First Radio

    The question comes from idea of maybe getting into fpv at a later time

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    RE: How To Select Your First Radio


    ORIGINAL: wga22

    The question comes from idea of maybe getting into fpv at a later time
    I would only fly FPV under AMA rules which would mean that the plane would still need to be in visual range of another pilot on a buddy box so that if I were to loose link or control he could take over.

    So I would never exceed visual range.

    If you plan to fly in some other manner then I would probably suggest you go to some other RFsystem that is intended for long range flight. Our hobby radios are intended for visual range flying.
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    Anyone have any suggestions for first radios, and why you would recommend that radio?
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    Well I would suggest either of these two radio's.

    Airtronics RD8000 if you want a name brand with good support behind it and years of good service. There are not many radios out there that have the features for the price.

    Next would be the budget priced 9x. It gets a bad rap from people who have never touched it, used it and only parrot what has been said on other forums. Mine has been every bit as reliable as I could want. Never a glitch, brown out, or loss of signal. It does have a few issues, when you turn it on, "mode" is really "model" There are 3 other typos in the programming. Yet, if you do an upgrade to the firm wear, you get double the model memory and a ton more features.

    With any brand, there are those that do not like them. I flew with a group and I was the only person to fly Airtronics. They cliamed mine was only good enough for "sport" flying. Yet in the two years I flew with them, Futaba and the Jr radios went back for service a couple times and my RD6000 just worked. HMMMM Wonder what that is all about.

    People always say to go to the club and buy what they fly. This is based on if you need help you will have it. That is very narrow view for a reason to buy a radio. If you need help, there are forums all over the place. Well if I am at the field, how do I go to a forum, you have a phone right? Does it have net access? The "need" to fly what every one else does used to be a big reason to buy the same radio as others. I watched 6 people work on a Futaba 10 channel trying to get it to program some function. After almost 2 hours, they still could not figure it out. So even at the field, you may not get the help you need. The new radio are so much easier to program than the old ones.

    When you talk about a radio, it is like trying to talk about football teams. People can get down right nasty about it.

    Buzz.

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    blvdbuzzard,

    where did you get your information on upgrading your 9x?

    thanks

  14. #14
    Moderator aeajr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by subzJC View Post
    blvdbuzzard,

    where did you get your information on upgrading your 9x?

    thanks
    You can find everything you need in this thread:

    9X -
    FlySky/iMax/Turnigy/Eurgle FOR DUMMIES


    Quick summary that will explain a
    lot

    http://www.rcgroups.com/forums/showthread.php?t=1616229
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    thanks Mr. Anderson

  16. #16
    I've flown 0 channel (rubber powered) and 1 channel (U control) but that was 55 years ago and I've forgotten a lot. I'm about to get back into model flying and these threads are FABULOUS!

    I have a chance to get a package, Spektrum DS6i and Phoenix 4.5 simulator, for about $200. comments, please. (The local club leans toward Spektrum...)

  17. #17
    Moderator aeajr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by elstroko View Post
    I've flown 0 channel (rubber powered) and 1 channel (U control) but that was 55 years ago and I've forgotten a lot. I'm about to get back into model flying and these threads are FABULOUS!

    I have a chance to get a package, Spektrum DS6i and Phoenix 4.5 simulator, for about $200. comments, please. (The local club leans toward Spektrum...)
    Comments about what? If you read the article on radios you know what the points of consideration are. Does the DX6i meet your objectives? Only you can say.

    A simulator is always a good investment.

    If they are both new, that is a good price.
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