- Start Here
- What to consider
- Airplane Basics
- Size & Type
- Starter Airplanes
- How To Videos
- How To Order
Find out what you're getting into. Many helpful books and DVDs are available about airplane modeling. Or, before attempting the "real thing," you can try your hand at one of the R/C flying simulators available for your PC. There are a number to choose from – one of the best is Great Planes RealFlight 7! If you prefer to fly with a "real" model first, check out the helpful Starter Airplanes tab above.
Find an instructor.
With an instructor, you'll learn faster and with more confidence than if you start out solo. If your instructor's radio has a trainer system, you can buy a compatible radio, connect the two, and fly with less risk to your plane. To find an instructor, check with hobbyist friends. Check the phone book for flying clubs. Attend fun fly events (announced in newspapers and free circulars) and ask around. And consult the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) by calling 1-800-435-9262, writing 5161 East Memorial Drive, Muncie, IN 47302, or visiting their website at www.modelaircraft.org. Ask for the locations of clubs near you.
Let Tower Hobbies Help.
Tower Hobbies Phone Sales Staff and Technical Support Staff give you access to years of R/C modeling experience and information. Just call our toll-free number, 1-800-637-6050. They'll help you select a plane and accessories.
Pick Your Power.
Traditionally, R/C planes have been powered by 2-stroke engines that burn a methanol/nitro-methane/oil mixture called "glow fuel." But there are other power sources to consider: 4-stroke engines and clean, quiet electric motors.
How much does it cost?
A lot depends on your budget. You can spend as little as $100 or as much as $1,000 on the basic equipment. Average cost for a complete (but no frills) beginner package runs around $200-$350.
How fast does a model go?
Trainers usually cruise at 25-30 mph and can land at speeds as slow as 12-15 mph. However, there are also unmodified, off-the-shelf airplanes that can deliver speeds of up to 200 mph!
How far can a model fly?
The range for a modern R/C system is about a mile. But to maintain control, you need to have your model close enough to tell what it is doing. Even a plane with a 5-6 foot wingspan looks tiny at half a mile.
What happens if I run out of fuel in flight?
Contrary to popular belief, you have control even if your engine stops running. You just glide your plane in for a "dead stick" landing. The radio system has its own batteries for power.
After reviewing the "Flying Basics" below, you should have a good idea of the design characteristics you will want in your first plane. Tower Hobbies offers many trainer models from numerous reputable manufacturers. The Tower Hobbies TOWER Trainer 40 MkII ARF actually guarantees that you will learn to fly successfully. After practicing the basics of flying and gaining some confidence "behind the sticks," you will want to explore the many other exciting styles of R/C aircraft.
To fly, an airplane's wing has to overcome gravity by developing lift greater than the weight of the plane. Since it can't do that standing still, airplanes use thrust...force directed backwards...to drive the wing forward through the air and generate lift. However, thrust has its own opposition to overcome in the form of dragthe resistance of the air to a body moving through it. If lift and thrust are greater than gravity and drag, you have the potential for flight...and fun.
Wing placement, for the most part, falls into two major categories—high wing design and low wing design. In a high wing design, the weight of the model is suspended below the wing. When the model tilts, the model's weight tries to return it to a level position. As a result, high-wing models tend to be more stable, easier to fly—and natural choices for trainers. A low-wing model is just the opposite. With its weight above the wing, it tends to be less stable—excellent for advanced fliers who want to perform rolls, loops and other aerobatic maneuvers.
If you face the wing tip of the plane and cut it from front to back, the cross section exposed would be the wing's airfoil. The Flat-Bottom Airfoil will develop the most lift at low speeds and helps return the model to upright when tilted. This is ideal for trainers and first-time pilots. A Symmetrical Airfoil's top and bottom have the same shape, allowing it to produce lift equally whether right side up or upside down and to transition between the two smoothly. This is recommended for advanced pilots. Lastly, a Semi-Symmetrical Airfoil is a combination of the other two and favored by intermediate and sport pilots.
Wing Area/Wing Loading:
Wing area is the amount of wing surface available to create lift. Wing loading is the weight that a given area of the wing has to lift and is usually measured in ounces per square foot. Generally, a light wing loading is best for beginners. The plane will perform better and be easier to control.
Dihedral is the upward angle of the wings from the fuselage.Dihedral increases stability and decreases aerobatic ability.
Wing thickness measured from top to bottom determines how much drag is created. A thick wing creates more drag, causing slower speeds and gentler stalls and is ideal for beginners. A thin wing permits higher speeds and sudden stalls desirable for racing and certain aerobatic maneuvers.
Landing Gear Location:
Tricycle gear includes a nose gear and two wing (main) gears, making takeoffs and landings easierideal for beginners.
R/C Airplane Basics
In electric aircraft, the propellers are turned by a motor powered by a rechargeable battery pack. An electronic speed control (ESC) regulates the motor's output for throttle control. The motor, battery, and ESC are all installed on-board the model. The first electric R/C models were equipped with brushed motors — in which brushes carry current and spin the rotor — and nickel-cadmium (NiCd) rechargeable battery packs. They provided flight times of around 5-10 minutes.
A glow engine plane of similar weight and power, however, would allow nearly double that flight time when fully fueled. Electric systems have now been developed that take advantage of brushless motor technology for much better results.
In a brushless system the ESC energizes the motor's electro-magnetic field, and that causes the motor to turn. Compared to brushed motors, there's less friction, waste heat, and wear. Brushed motors are only about 35-40% power-efficient...brushless motors improve that to 80-90%! And the recent improvements in motor technology are only part of the story behind electric models' surging popularity.
Rechargeable battery technology has made enormous forward leaps, too. First, the higher-capacity nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery chemistry appeared as an alternative to NiCds. Flight times improved. NiMH performance was soon surpassed by lithium batteries. With lithium batteries and brushless motors, electric flight times and power can approach — even exceed — that of glow engines!
Choosing an electric motor.
You'll find electric options for everything from trainer planes to park flyers to scale giants. Today's brushless electric power systems even provide enough pinpoint control and instantaneous, all-out power for jaw-dropping 3D aerobatics! Of course, the Tower Hobbies web site gives very thorough and specific completion item recommendations on every aircraft product page. That's an excellent resource for anyone new to R/C flying, period. If you decide to select a motor on your own, you'll notice that the motor requirement is indicated by a "kV" number, such as "800kV". That number indicates the power output, expressed as rpm per volt of input. Running an 800kV motor using 6V of input means that the motor will turn at 4800 rpm.
Brushless motors by ElectriFly include that kV number in their product names, preceded by two other numbers — for example, "42-50-800kV". The first is the motor's can diameter in millimeters; the second, its length in millimeters. Match the motor size that your model will accept with the power output required, and you've made an appropriate choice for your plane.
Depending on the airplane, you may be advised to buy an inrunner or an outrunner brushless motor. What's the difference?
Inrunner Brushless Motors:
"Inrunner" motors are the standard type in which the motor can is stationary and the shaft spins inside. The motor can is longer and thinner, allowing higher rpm and making them better for ducted fan planes, racing planes, and planes with thin noses. Some applications might require pairing the inrunner motor with a gear drive, which adds to the cost and installation effort.
Outrunner Brushless Motors:
As the name implies, "outrunners" work the opposite of inrunners — in this case, the shaft is fixed and the can spins around it. An immediate benefit of this style in R/C use is that they can turn larger, more efficient propellers without needing gearboxes. That makes them a simpler, lighter weight, less expensive power option suitable for all sizes and styles of aircraft.
The rest of the electric power system.
- Rechargeable battery (NiMH or Lithium)
- Electronic speed control
- Motor mount
- Prop adapter
Once your aircraft is chosen, built and covered, there's only one thing left to do...fly it! To do that, you'll need what we refer to as "flight line equipment"—such as fuel, a fuel pump, engine starting equipment and a few other basic tools. Except for the fuel, most flight line supplies are one-time purchases. You can use them throughout your modeling career, with as many different models as you fly.
Most modelers go to the field equipped with the following, all stored in a "flight box" for easy transport:
Power Panel — the centralized power source for electrical field equipment.
12V Field Battery — to supply power to the power panel.
Charger — to recharge starter, motor or radio batteries.
Charger Shopping Tips & More
Glow Plug Clip — an electric device that gives your engine's glow plug the initial heat it needs to burn fuel.
Fuel Pump — to move fuel from your gallon can or jug to the plane's fuel tank, available in hand-crank or electric-powered styles.
Fuel Line, Filters & Cap Fittings — to connect your fuel to the pump, and the pump to the plane's fuel tank.
12V Electric Starter — a device for quick, easy engine starting, powered from the power panel (a small wooden dowel or "chicken stick" can also be used).
Miscellaneous Tools — including a 4-way glow plug/prop wrench.
Glow Plugs and Propellers — it's always a good idea to carry extras...without a spare, you might be forced to stop flying early.
The glow fuel used for a model engines carries a percent rating, which indicates its nitromethane content. For trainer aircraft, 10% or 15% is recommended. Use a good quality fuel with a blend of castor oil and synthetic lubricants to protect your engine. Avoid "cheap" fuels, which sometimes attract moisture and cause engine parts to rust.
Model planes can use several different types of power sources. Electric models carry battery-powered motors to turn the propeller. Gliders or sailplanes ride on thermal air currents (some also have electric motors for quick launching to great heights). Most R/C models, however, are powered by Glow Engines.
The most economical are basic 2-stroke engines with brass bushings supporting the crankshaft. For a little more power, you might choose a 2-stroke that uses ball bearings to support the crankshaft. The ball bearings also extend the life of the engine, so you can continue using it to power future models. The cost, however, is nearly twice that of a bushing-equipped engine.
Finally, there's the 4-stroke glow engine—slightly less powerful than 2-strokes of the same size and higher priced, but offering more torque, swinging bigger props, using less fuel and sounding much more realistic.
R/C planes are controlled by a Radio System that consists of a transmitter—which stays with you on the ground—plus a receiver, servos, and receiver battery (all of which are "on-board" components, mounted inside your model). Most aircraft radio systems come with everything you need, including a rechargeable battery pack.
As mentioned earlier, first-time pilots should always seek the help of an instructor. And an important part of working with an instructor is making sure that both of you use radios with "trainer box" or "buddy box" capability. The trainer system allows you to connect your radio to your instructor's, using a cable. You'll still be the one controlling your model, so long as your instructor holds down the trainer switch on his transmitter. But if you start having trouble, all the instructor has to do is release the switch to take over full control.
Most trainer planes require a radio with at least four channels of control, to operate the throttle, elevator, rudder and ailerons. But not all 4-channel radio systems come equipped with the necessary four servos. Make sure your system has as many as your plane requires.
One "ideal" first 4-channel radio is the Futaba 4YF 4-Channel 2.4GHz Sport FHSS . Futaba quality, FHSS technology and an economical price make the 4YF 2.4GHz Radio an excellent choice for cost-conscious modelers wanting an interference-free spread spectrum system for sport flying. The 4YF has always been a great value – and now it's enhanced with cutting-edge 2.4GHz performance and security!
When you buy a model airplane, you'll probably also need to buy a number of additional, inexpensive accessory items to make it flight-ready (those items are listed under the Accessories Required links for the plane you choose). These parts are traditionally left out of kits because the appropriate sizes depend on your choice of engine; also, experienced hobbyists may have a brand preference or already keep those parts in their workshop. Required accessories often include the following:
Covering — The adhesive-backed, plastic or fabric "skin" that surrounds a model airplane's structure, applied by a process of heating and stretching.
Pushrods — Rods that link your radio system's servos to the parts of the model that those servos move. They're often made of wire or a firm piece of balsa, fiberglass, or plastic, with a clevis fastener at the end.
Control Horns — A bracket, mounted on a part of the model, where the pushrods are attached.
Hinges — Connect the moveable surfaces of a model to the main, static structure.
Foam Rubber — Used to cushion the on-board radio equipment to protect it from engine vibration.
Wing Seating Tape —Applied where the wing fits onto the fuselage, to cushion the wing and prevent exhaust oils from entering the fuselage.
Wheel Collars — Small metal collars which keep the plane's wheels positioned correctly on the axle.
Wheels — Available in several styles, such as treaded, non-treaded, scale, and air-filled.
Spinner — Plastic or aluminum cone mounted at the "nose" of the plane to improve looks and aerodynamics.
Engine Mounts — Reinforced structure, often made of nylon or aluminum, that allows your engine to be attached securely to the plane.
Fuel Tank, Tubing & Filters — The size used depends on the engine you select; therefore, these often are not included with the model.
Engine Accessories — Propellers are usually not included with the engine or the plane; also, your engine may or may not come with a muffler and glow plug.
Tools & Building Equipment
Regardless of whether a model comes in kit form or prebuilt, some Building Tools and Workshop Accessories will be needed to make it flight-ready. These include such common items as a hobby knife, T-pins, screwdrivers, pliers, sandpaper, masking tape, and perhaps a drill. Building a kit also takes some specialized equipment like covering tools. Follow the Accessories Required links for the plane you choose to see a list of the tools needed.
R/C model building adhesives are also required, and differ from the white glue and model airplane cement you may have worked with in the past. Cyanoacrylates are commonly used. These are glues specially formulated for working with wood, which provide a range of curing speeds—giving you as little or as much time as each assembly step requires. "Thick" cyanoacrylates also help to fill slight gaps between parts.
Modeling Epoxies are two-part adhesives, consisting of a resin and a hardener. At steps where very strong bonds are critical, a plane's manual will often recommend epoxy. The resin and hardener must first be mixed, then applied to the surface—so mixing cups, mixing sticks and inexpensive, disposable epoxy
Kit, ARF, Rx-R™, Tx-R™ & RTF: What's the difference?
You'll see these terms with every R/C aircraft in our catalog. They give you an idea of how complete the models are, in both assembly and accessory equipment included.
You'll do most or all of the building, and will need to buy and apply finishing materials. A radio system, power system and support equipment will be required.
(Almost Ready-to-Fly) Largely built and completely finished, ARFs can be flight-ready in a few hours. Most will still require you to buy the same accessories as kits do, except paint and covering.
Rx-R/RR models come fully built with servos installed, but let you use your own receiver and transmitter — even the same ones you use to fly other airplanes, to save money!
Any aircraft that is largely prebuilt; factory finished and includes a power system, servos and a preinstalled 2.4GHz SLT™ receiver. Electrics sometimes include a battery and charger.
Fully built, RTFs always come with a radio and engine (or motor) installed. Some even include "AA" batteries for the radio transmitter!
Choosing the Size of Your Plane
The "size" of a model plane generally refers to the size of engine, in cubic inch displacement, required to fly it successfully. The most popular sizes are 20 (requiring a .20-.36 engine), 40 (.40-.53 engine) and 60 (.60-.75 engine). Many other sizes are available, too, ranging from small, .049-powered craft up to massive, giant-scale gasoline models. Most trainers fall into the 40-size category. That's because 40s are fairly stable, with enough heft to fly well in breezy conditions, but still small enough to be affordable for new hobbyists. Many 60-size trainers are also available, and offer the advantage of even greater stability—plus easier visibility once aloft—both due to their larger dimension.
Choosing Your Type of Plane
Practically every full-size airplane that's ever graced the skies has also been reproduced as an R/C model. That's one of the hobby's biggest draws. Though most of us will never actually pilot an Air Force Thunderbird or Blue Angel, we CAN fly an R/C model that looks exactly like one! Of course, real jet pilots go through a tremendous amount of training before they're qualified to handle such a powerful machine. Again, there's a parallel in the R/C world. Some models are just too demanding for beginners to fly successfully. When you browse through Tower Hobbies airplane offerings or visit your local airfield, you'll see R/C models that fit into all of the following groups. Stick with the hobby and eventually, you'll be able to take your pick from them all—and it'll be some other newcomer whose jaw drops when YOU take off!
R/C Trainers, with their high wing mounting and flat-bottom airfoils, are specifically designed for first-time modelers. They fly slowly, giving you extra time to think and react. If you momentarily lose control, you can simply release the transmitter sticksyour trainer will return to straight, level flight. Trainers also have a very slow stall speed, which means that their wings can generate enough lift to stay aloft even when just creeping along. Kit versions deliberately avoid complex building techniques, and many trainers are available in prebuilt (ARF) or Ready-To-Fly (RTF) form.
A staple of aerobatic airshows, two-winged biplanes never fail to win over an audience. R/C versions deliver the same barnstorming performance, making them a favorite of experienced hobbyists who are in the mood for something different.The lure of the bipe is something that most sport fliers experience at least once. And building an extra wing is a small price to pay for the pleasure of flying a small piece of aviation history.
Scale models recreate full-size aircraft. Some are intended only to look reasonably close to the real thing. Deviations are made to keep assembly and performance within the abilities of a particular skill level. Then again, there are also scale kits created expressly for very serious craftsmen. The reward, after plenty of painstaking effort, is a model that's nearly a photo-perfect reproduction of the real plane. Scale kits are not for first-timers, but the Top Flite Cessna 182 Skylane shown here can be an exciting "next step" after you've built and mastered a trainer.
A sub-category of Scale Models, R/C warbirds bring dogfight excitement directly to your local flying field! Some of aviation's greatest advances came during war years—and some of the most colorful plane nicknames, too (such as "Whispering Death" and "Butcher Bird"). Through R/C warbirds, experienced modelers can join their love of history with their favorite hobby.
Giant Scale models, like the name suggests, combine lifelike detail with immense size—imagine controlling a model whose wing spans as much as seven feet or more! As you'd expect, such aircraft are higher priced and demand a great deal of time, patience and skill...they are not for beginners.
Generally, Sport Models are any planes designed to perform aerobatic maneuvers. Most have wings mounted at the middle or bottom of the fuselage, and symmetrical airfoilsmeaning that the top and bottom surfaces of the wing are curved to allow greater maneuverability, at the expense of the stability that first-time fliers require. Sport Trainers are available that combine characteristics of basic trainers (such as a wing mounted above the fuselage) with sport planes (such as a semi-symmetrical airfoil). These make a good step up after youve mastered your basic trainer.
If you want to fly -- but without a lot of effort or special flying site requirements -- Park Flyers are the answer! They offer all the fun and excitement of larger R/C airplanes, but in a smaller size that has several advantages. They're very affordable. Kit assembly is quick and easy (some Park Flyers also come in ARF form and can be flight-ready in just 10-12 hours). Because of their compact size and clean, quiet electric power, you can fly them almost anywhere: at a park, in a football field, or even in your own backyard.* How well do they fly? With recent advances in electric technology -- and the use of ultralight materials for construction -- Park Flyers perform like champions!
*To ensure safe operation, always fly Park Flyers at a site at least five miles away from established radio-control flying parks.
R/C sailplanes ride on rising masses of warm air, called thermals. Their slow flying speed and stability makes them a good choice for first-time hobbyists. The challenge is learning to locate those invisible thermals and use them to your advantage. Some sailplanes are equipped with power pods (electric motors) for easy, powered launches. Others are launched by tossing them from a hill or slope...by using a slingshot-like device called a hi-start...or by towing them in a fashion similar to launching a kite. See the sailplane section for more information on this type of plane.
How do you know what trainer plane to choose?
Below are some proven options—planes that customers have told us gave them an excellent start in the hobby.
Find everything you need to get started right in R/C
The Tower Hobbies web site makes it fun, fast and easy to join the exciting radio-control hobby. With a few clicks of your mouse, you can find a suitable model AND make sure you have everything needed to operate it successfully. No products are added to your shopping cart unless you click on the bright yellow "Buy Now" graphics — and no orders are transmitted until you sign in and complete the checkout process.