One of the questions we hear most often on RCU is, "How should I start out?" We wish there were a simple answer to this, but the fact of the matter is, there are so many different ways that it can boggle the imagination. So, in an attempt to unclutter your mind a little, here are five things for you to consider before purchasing your first or next airplane or piece of equipment.
Goal - Budget - Time - Facilities - Personality
Now let's take a brief look at each item.
you have a goal, and if so, what is it? Are you hoping
to eventually fly big, expensive gasoline-engine planes,
turbine jets, 40-size glow-engine or electric planes,
or do you just want a little airplane that you can fly
around your local park? It is not vital to have a goal,
but it can be helpful in deciding where to start.
much can you afford to spend? This is actually more complicated
than it seems on the surface. Do you have limited funds?
Maybe your funds are limited, but you always have SOME
extra money each month. You may have a good deal of expendable
income or maybe you have tons of money burning a hole
in your pocket.
you looking for a hobby or a sport? In other words, do
you just want to throw an airplane in the car and go fly,
or are you looking for something to occupy a few hours
of your time at home every evening as well?
do you plan to do this? Except for a few cases, your backyard
is not a good choice (Unless you live on a farm or you
have 20 acres of open field as your backyard). If there's
a large park near you, then you can consider "Park Flier"
type airplanes, but larger planes are far too dangerous
to fly in public areas. For anything larger than a Park
Flier, it's best to find a sanctioned "Flying Field".
There are also "Indoor Fliers" which are made for flying
indoors, but you still need a good deal of room for them
(Like a gymnasium). More on the different types of planes
and fields later.
kind if person are you? If your toaster breaks, do you:
it away and buy a new one?
it apart and try to fix it yourself?
big consideration is how dedicated are you? There are
far more people who start this sport than there are people
who stick with it. This is due to a variety of reasons:
Maybe it was more difficult than they thought it was going
to be and gave up, or maybe, after several crashes they
decided that it was too expensive. Maybe they were just
getting interested and the stork came along and zapped
up all of their extra time and income. You can see how
quickly people can lose interest or get involved with
other things and you can forget about selling your stuff
to get your investment back. You'll be lucky to get 40
cents to the dollar selling used equipment, even if you
never opened the box.
the five elements above will help you decide where to
start. For example, if your goal is to fly Park Fliers,
you would obviously start there but if your goal is to
fly glow planes, you probably want to start with a glow
plane if your budget will allow.
If you are completely new to radio-controlled flying, you should become familiar with some terms that we will be using.
Park Fliers: Park Fliers are small planes, which are usually powered electrically, that can be flow in a small area like a local park or field.
Glow Plane: The term "Glow Plane" is what many people outside of the sport would call a "Gas-Engine Plane", but in reality, they do not burn gasoline. They run on a mixture of alcohol and oil with a small percentage of nitromethane added. Instead of using a spark plug, they have a "glow plug", which has a filament that glows red-hot (Similar to a light bulb) and since there are now some large planes with engines that DO burn gasoline, we have dubbed these alcohol-burning engine "Glow Engines". Glow Planes usually require a lot more room than Park Fliers and should only be flown at a club-sanctioned flying field.
Gasser: These (usually very large) planes use gasoline-burning engines similar to those you might find in a weed-wacker or chainsaw. Gassers are generally advanced planes, which are usually reserved for experienced fliers.
Radio: The term "Radio" is an all-encompassing word for your radio system, which includes:
Transmitter: The transmitter is the proper term for the "Control Box" you hold that is used to control the plane.
Receiver: The receiver is the device that goes inside the plane to receiver the signal from the transmitter and route that signal to the proper control (Up, down, right, left, etc.)
Servos: A servo is a device that mechanically moves each control surface (Rudder, elevator, etc.). On a Glow or Gas engine, a servo is also used to control the throttle.
ESC: An Electronic Speed Controller (ESC) is used to regulate the speed of an electric motor. On an electric plane, the ESC controls the throttle.
ARF: Almost Ready to Fly: These are planes that are mostly pre-assembled and only require a few hours to complete. Usually you must purchase the radio, motor/engine separately and install them yourself.
RTF: Ready To Fly: These only need a few final assembly steps (Like attaching the wing and charging the batteries) and you're ready to fly. They usually have all radio gear and motor/engine preinstalled.
Stuff you need to know
Some new park fliers on the market include everything you need to fly for under $100. To get into a glow plane, you?re looking at closer to the $300 to $400 range. So maybe you WANT to eventually fly glow planes, but right now, your budget will only allow for a park flier. But what is your income over the next few months? Is it worth spending $100 now for a park flier so you can fly right away, or is it better to save that $100 to put toward a glow plane 6 months from now? Neither choice is right or wrong, it just boils down to what works best for you.
While park fliers are a great, inexpensive way to get your feet wet, their downside is that most of the radio equipment will not transition to glow planes. In other words, if you have a park flier, you may have a transmitter, receiver and servos, but you will not be able to use them in a glow plane for a variety of reasons, the two biggest being they are too small and often lack the range you'll need for a glow plane. You can, however purchase an ARF park flier and purchase a better radio than what comes with some of the inexpensive RTF packages. Then if you later decide to move up to bigger things, you only need to upgrade the servos.
By the way, if big "Gassers" or turbine jets are what you eventually want to fly, start with either glow or park fliers and work your way up. You will probably experience a few crashes while you are learning, and breaking those big planes will put you in the poor house quickly!
Types of Planes
We honestly do not mean to use the word "Toy" as a derogatory term, but these are they type of planes which are usually found in the toy section of department stores. In the past few years, the progression of these planes has been nothing less than astounding, but they are not intended for the serious flier. Many kids (and dads) are delighted to see one in their stocking on Christmas morning, only to have it inoperable long before New Years Eve. They are however, a great way to whet someone's appetite for something a little more substantial.
For the person who wishes to go no farther than park fliers, you have many fewer decisions to make ? but you still have a few. Do you want to start out inexpensively to see if you like it or do you see yourself getting very involved? The difference can affect your initial purchase.
If you're just looking for something to take out and fly, you can get an all-inclusive RTF package. All you need to purchase aside from the package itself are eight "AA" batteries for the transmitter. All of the electronics are not only included, they are also pre-installed. The only thing you need to do is snap it together, charge the receiver batteries, put eight batteries in the transmitter and head out to the field. One word of caution however: If you have never flown, it is a good idea to get help from someone with experience. Flying looks easier than it is. Granted, a slow-flying park flier is about as easy as it gets, but you can still get into trouble quickly (so it's not a bad idea to buy a few extra parts).
world of electric flying has advanced in leaps and bounds
in the past few years. With the advancement of battery
technology and the increased usage of brushless motors,
"Electrics" now rival "Glow Planes" for performance and
duration (They are much cleaner too). If you would rather
jump in a little deeper than a basic park flier, you could
choose to buy a more advanced electric plane. These usually
require more assembly, including installing the motor
and radio components, and these are often purchased separately.
being a bit more complex, the advantages to these setups
are many. One example is that you can buy a better radio,
which is more reliable and has better range than what
comes in the lesser packages. These radios also come with
a full compliment of rechargeable batteries (No more replacing
those "AA" alkaline batteries in the transmitter).
advantage is that you can transfer the equipment to another
plane, or just purchase a second "Flight Pack" (Receiver,
battery and servos) for your second plane and fly them
both with the same transmitter. You can also more easily
upgrade the motor, ESC or servos. Not to mention the
fact that if you really enjoy it, you may decide to move
up to glow planes (or big electrics or gassers) after
all and you'll already have a usable radio! In fact, many
manufacturers are now designing some of their new planes
(as well as updating older designs) so they can be configured
as either Glow or Electric powered.
word of caution: One of the things that has made these
electrics so popular in recent years is the advent of
LiPo (Lithium-Polymer) batteries. "LiPos" are batteries
that pack a lot of power into a small, lightweight package
but there are two things to be aware of. The first is
the price. While prices are getting much better as more
companies are competing, a LiPo pack can easily run $50
to $100 or more. Another thing about them is that they
can be very dangerous and must be charged according to
the manufacturer's specifications. A special charger is
usually needed for this. Charging with a non-specific
battery charger can result in the battery catching fire
or exploding, so stick to the proper method!
see some of these advanced electric models, check out
the following RCU Magazine reviews:
Another area of electrics that has started
in recent years is an indoor flier. These small, light
airplanes are designed to be either tiny or incredibly
light or both and as such they are so hindered by the
slightest breeze, so they are often flown in large indoor
arenas. They vary so much in skill level, sophistication
and price so much that it?s difficult to put them in the
Another type of Indoor flier is what
has become known as the "Foamy". Foamies are planes, which
are made from a thin, flat piece of foam insulation board.
These planes are designed to perform beautiful aerial
ballets in the hands of an expert flier.
For more info on Indoor flying, check
out these articles:
Standard procedure for glow plane progression
is to start out with a basic or intermediate glow trainer
(40 or 60-size), find and join your local club and start
your instruction. I want to emphasize here that these
larger planes are a lot less forgiving than park fliers
and considerably more dangerous to both the user and the
people/houses/cars/etc in the surrounding area, so it
is STRONGLY advised to seek out the nearest club in your
area and get proper instruction and insurance!
Many people are under the impression
that their town has no club and then they are surprised
to find out that they do! This is because most clubs do
not fly in populated areas, so they locate their field
in a remote section of town. To find the club nearest
you, check the AMA Club Finder, or check the phone book
for a local Hobby Shop that specializes in R/C and ask
them. Chances are some of the people who work there belong
to the club.
Talking to the club members is a great
first step. When you begin your training, you will start
out on what we call a "Buddy Box". This is where your
transmitter is connected to another transmitter via an
electronic cable. Your instructor will fly the plane with
one transmitter and, with the flip of a switch, divert
control over you the transmitter that you are holding.
If you get in trouble, he just releases his switch and
takes over for you. This method has prevented MANY of
those initial learning crashes. The reason I bring this
up is that your transmitter needs to be compatible with
your instructor's transmitter for the buddy box system
to work, so talking to the guys at the club can help you
to decide exactly what type/brand of equipment is better
Like park fliers, glow planes are also
available as ARF and RTF, as well as kit form. Here we
get into the "Hobby" aspect of the sport.
Is this a "Sport" or a "Hobby"?
It is what you make it. Only a few years ago, if you wanted to fly a model airplane, you had to build one. That alone kept many people away from flying. Now, with the high-quality ARF and RTF models on the market, virtually everyone can enjoy the sport of flying. Many of us also take it into the realm of "Hobby" in that some fliers also enjoy building their own planes from a kit or just a set of plans. Others like to tinker with adding electronic gadgets to their planes that send telemetry data, or shoot video. Their is virtually no limit to the myriad of ways you could waste time in your basement, I mean, avoid spending time with your spouse, I mean........... well, you know what I mean.
We hope this article has shed some light
on the many ways to get started with, what to us, is the
greatest hobby in the world. Whether you want a great
father/son or father/daughter project, or you're looking
for something just for yourself, any way you look at it,
R/C flying can be an exciting venture for anyone. And
if done right, the cost can be kept to a minimum.
So if you're the kind of person who can't
keep his eyes on the road every time you drive past the
airport, it's time to start thinking about yourself an