For most people, the beauty of an airplane's design lies in its lines and curves. For the flier, however, the beauty of a design includes what that design can do. That feeling is as true for R/C (radio control) pilots as it is for pilots of full-size aircraft. Their differencesaircraft size, and the fact that R/C pilots remain on the groundhave very little impact on the way given designs perform. As a result, R/C hobbyists have been able to model and fly aircraft that range from the Wright Brothers' first plane to the magnificent Space Shuttle.
How do I get started?
- Find out what youre getting into. Many helpful books
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 6.5! If you prefer to fly with a real model first, check
out our helpful Great Starter Planes section.
- 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.
A few things to think about.
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 Hobbico NexSTAR 46 Select RTF 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.
Aerodynamics: 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 Location: Wing placement, for the most part, falls into two major categorieshigh 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 flyand natural choices for trainers. A low-wing model is just the opposite. With its weight above the wing, it tends to be less stableexcellent for advanced fliers who want to perform rolls, loops and other aerobatic maneuvers.
Airfoil: 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: Dihedral is the upward angle of the wings from the fuselage.Dihedral increases stability and decreases aerobatic ability.
Wing Thickness: 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.
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.
1. Kits 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.
2. ARF (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.
3. Rx-R™/RR (Receiver-Ready) 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!
4. Tx-R™/TR (Transmitter-Ready)
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.
5. RTF (Ready-to-Fly)
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 stabilityplus easier visibility once aloftboth due to their larger dimension.
Choosing Your Type of Plane
What first attracts many would-be pilots to the idea of R/C flying is the thought of controlling a blistering-fast ducted fan jet or wicked WWII warbird. And there's no better way to put a quick END to your flying career than to start with such a model. They're simply not designed for anyone who hasn't yet developed sharp piloting skills. Model plane styles are available that duplicate virtually every kind of full-size aircraft. The best ones for the first-timers are, without question, trainers and trainer-like sailplanes. These are specifically engineered to fly slowly and smoothly. They'll keep you out of troublegiving you time to acquire the skill and confidence you'll need for those jets and warbirds.
Electric Motor System Advantages:
Electric motors run more quietly and are more environmentally friendly.
Electric motors are concealed inside the plane for more realistic looks.
An electric plane can be less expensive to make flight-ready and easier for novices to maintain and repair.
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
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 engineslightly 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 transmitterwhich stays with you on the groundplus 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 its enhanced with cutting-edge 2.4GHz performance and security!
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 speedsgiving 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 surfaceso mixing cups, mixing sticks and inexpensive, disposable epoxy brushes also come in handy.
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.
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
|AC vs. DC: AC units plug into 110V home outlets. DC units require a 12V battery or power supply. AC/DC units can use both, so you can charge anywhere!
||Capacity: How much energy a cell can store, in milliamp-hours (mAh).
||Capacity, Charger: How many cells can be charged. May be expressed as a range of cell capacities (100-1,300mAh), voltages (1.2-9.6V) or cells (1-8).
|Discharging: Draining energy from a cell or battery pack. Regular discharging conditions cells to perform better and last longer.
||Fixed vs. Adjustable Current: Fixed chargers have only one charge rate. Chargers with adjustable rates allow you to tailor the rate to the battery capacity.
||Lead-Acid/LiPo/NiCd/NiMH: Battery types. A charger may be suitable for only one type of battery or all four. Be sure your battery and charger are compatible.
|Timed vs. Peak: Timed units charge until time runs out. Peak units charge until the battery is fully charged and automatically turn off to prevent overcharging.|
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 Toolsincluding 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.
Field Box Basics
Like many other things in R/C, you can pretty much choose how much, or how little, you want to spend on your field equipment. The "Basic" packages below show how to cover those needs at minimum cost. The "Advanced" and "Deluxe" options show how easy it is to move up in both sophistication and convenience.
Tower Hobbies ready-made Deluxe & Standard Field Box Combos make it easy to equip yourself with all of the essentials by ordering a single item.
By now, you already know more than most people do when they decide to take up R/C flying! The next step is to order your trainer and suppliesand before long, you'll be a genuine R/C pilot. These special packages contain almost everything you need to complete an R/C trainer plane, from the model itself to finishing supplies and basic accessories. They're ideal for your first project (and make perfect gifts, too). Click here for a list of all Tower Hobbies Ultimate Combos. As you consider your choices for a model, be sure to check out the Easy Tote Deluxe Combo or Standard Combo.