Easy Start to Radio Control Model Planes
by Keith Lightbody
last updated 5 March 2007

Success Factors: When starting this hobby avoid complex, expensive or cheap products that are difficult to build or fly. I spent a lot of time watching other RC fliers to identify value in this potentially expensive sport. Look for model planes that match your flying level - you need air time to develop good stick skills - so pick something that will have you up in the sky as much as possible. Make sure you have a look at a RC simulator - although expensive it will save you a fortune and improve your flying skills fast! I believe electric RC park flyers are a sensational development - they are neighbour friendly, a great source of local entertainment, economical and allow flying before or after work rather than waiting for the weekend. However it is essential to fly safely in public places - your local park is not recommended for learning - practise away from the public until you can consistently takeoff and land safely.

Things for Success

-stable (much easier to fly)
-slow (easier to land)
e.g. Max shown above
-robust (cope with poor landings)
e.g. Aerobird
-less aerobatic

-saves a fortune (free crashes)
-allows regular practice (rain okay)
-learn characteristics of many models
-need a modern computer
-require good graphics card

-answer silly questions
-know about clubs
-share fun of flying
-help with technique
-show repair tricks
-have to work
-large, clear, flat area
-avoid trees, power lines, fences
-practice spot landings
-start with light, smooth winds
-avoid thermals, gusts when learning
-use websites showing wind strength
(e.g. SeaBreeze.com)
-lighter batteries
-longer flight times
-more expensive
-test controls before flying
-recommend computer based
(easy to adjust sub-trim, travel)
-use long range (less worry)
-buy quality equipment
-firm connection
-totally reliable
-label clearly
-same as mates if possible
-put selection of tools in a case
-include spare parts, tape, etc
-take case to flying site
-find cheap replacements
-consider a prop saver
-folding props have low drag
-recommend reliable models
-rear facing good for beginners
-start with economical models

-enjoy time outdoors
-helps parent child bonding


-smart charger Pb/NiCd/NiMH/Li
-know how much charge added
-relax while charging (set & forget)
-relatively expensive
-charge in a safe location


-I fly for fun! In the park out the front of my house there are some friendly magpies that often follow my planes around the park. I also enjoy the greater flying skill required to take clean catches with my gliders.

Basic plane e.g. Aerobird ARF
Good points:
pusher prop - engine does not hit
dihedral wing - more stable flight
robust body - take a few crashes
spare parts - can buy replacements e.g. wing
Bad points:
non standard - custom servos, radio
V tail - good but not highly manoeverable

Basic batteries e.g. 600 mAh NiMH
Good points:
widely available
Bad points:
short flight times - around 10 minutes

Basic charger e.g. 12 V car outlet
Good points:
charge in car on way to flying
Bad points:
slow charge - around 1 hour

Better plane e.g. Wattage Max series
Good points:
greater control - rudder, elevator, aileron (optional)
standard parts - wide choice of servos, receivers, props, etc
Bad points:
less robust - requires reinforcing (I have used light weight 1 and 2 mm carbon fibre rods with great success)

Better batteries e.g. 1200 or 2400 mAh LiPo
Good points:
much lighter and smaller batteries
much longer flight times with less weight
Bad points:
more expensive

Better charger e.g. Swallow
Good points:
safer - intelligent charging, auto cutout
multiple battery types - Pb/NiCd/NiMH/Li
flexibility - charge/discharge/cycle options
adjustable charge rates -
charge at flying site - use spare 12 V car battery
Bad points:
only 12 V input - requires transformer for charging at home

Terms Used in Radio Control Model Plane Flying
ARF - Almost Ready to Fly
Computer Radio - suits airplanes, helicopters or gliders - offer model memory, adjustable travel and trim, reversible servo direction, etc. One major advantage is it avoids the need for physical adjustments of control rods or servo arms.
LiPo - Lithium polymer
mAh - milli Ampere hour (measure of power capacity or how much 'charge' is available for use in a battery - 1200 mAh is twice as powerful as 600 mAh)
NiCd - Nickel Cadmium
NiMH - Nickel Metal Hydride
Pb - Lead

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