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Tower Hobbies Easy R/C Radio Systems
The radio control (R/C) system is the heart of our hobby. This magic box can turn a lifeless pile of balsa into a graceful soarer, a flashy acrobat or a snarling 150-mph pylon racer. Which radio is right for you? Read on as we lead you through the maze of features and technical jargon that make up the modern R/C system. Once you understand what all those buttons on the transmitter do, it will be easier for you to decide which radio and features meet your needs.


  • Radio Basics
  • Air Radio Systems
  • Surface Radio Systems
  • Frequency
  • How To Order

Control Channels

The first thing you need to decide is how much you want your model to do. For each control function, you need one channel of control. The usual uses for control channels are:


Radio Controls

Control Channel Usage


  • Control Channel*.....Rudder
  • Cars/Boats..............Throttle, steering.
  • Control Channels....Rudder or aileron, elevator, throttle.
  • Control Channels....Rudder, aileron, elevator, throttle.
  • Control Channels....Rudder, aileron, elevator, throttle, flaps or retracts.
  • Control Channels....Rudder, aileron, elevator, throttle, flaps or retracts.
  • * When a powered model does not have a throttle, it flies at full throttle until it runs out of fuel. The model is then glided-in for a landing.


When you have more than 6 control channels, you can add such features as bomb drops, dive brakes, parachute drops, sliding canopies or other operating parts to your model. The most common number of control channels used on a powered aircraft model is 4. Sailplanes, cars, and boats usually use 2-3 channels. Four-channel control gives you full acrobatic capability and will enable you to fly most airplane models.


Mode 1 / Mode 2

Refers to the stick configuration of an aircraft transmitter's control sticks. Mode 1 has the aileron/throttle on the right stick and the rudder/elevator on the left. Mode 1 is popular in Europe and Asia. Mode 2 is the USA standard and has the elevator/aileron on the right stick and the rudder/throttle on the left. Almost all radios used in the USA, Canada, Central and South America are Mode 2. All 4-channel and above aircraft radios sold by Tower Hobbies are Mode 2 unless otherwise noted.

Radio Modulation

AM: Stands for Amplitude Modulation which transmits by a variation in the amplitude of signals, it is subject to interference more than FM.

FM: Stands for Frequency Modulation which transmits signals by variations in frequency, reduces the risk of "glitches" due to signal interference.

PCM: Stands for Pulse Code Modulation uses binary code to digitize the signal, providing the most accurate signal possible.

2.4GHz: Simply by pushing a button, you link the receiver to a single transmitter -- each 2.4GHz FASST transmitter has been assigned a unique ID code at the factory. Once that link is set, the receiver responds only to that one transmitter. In addition, the 2.4GHz systems never stay on a single frequency for more than two milliseconds. You never have to worry about signal conflicts, and never need to wait for an open frequency

Secure Link Technology™ (SLT™)

 To get the most out of your model you need confidence in your radio, and that's where Secure Link Technology (SLT) shines. It's proven reliable, eliminating virtually any possibility of interference. An SLT transmitter encodes its signal, and then sends it using true frequency-hopping technology. Only the companion SLT receiver, linked by the push of a button, can capture the signal, decode its commands and relay them to your model. Secure Link Technology is the protocol used by Transmitter-Ready™ (Tx-R™) aircraft – today's fastest-growing aircraft category. SLT makes it easy to fly dozens of aircraft with the same radio. That's why SLT transmitters are popular with Receiver-Ready Rx-R™ pilots, too!

Servos

Tower Hobbies ServoA servo contains an electric motor and is the "muscle" that moves the rudder, elevator, or other control surfaces. For each channel of control, you need a servo. Most 4 or more control channel radios come with 2-4 servos. There is a wide variety of servo types depending upon their intended use. If your 4-channel radio only comes with 3 servos and you wish to fly a "full-house" airplane (one that has 4 controllable features) you'll want to purchase one additional servo.

Servo Shopping Tips & More

2.4GHz Spread Spectrum Technology

 2.4GHz Spread Spectrum Technology is among the most common ways to transmit radio signals. It's the fastest, smoothest, most reliable control possible; that's why it's ideal for R/C use. One common way that 2.4GHz systems operate is by hopping between frequencies, preventing same-channel interference. Secure Link Technology, or SLT, is among today's most popular 2.4GHz Spread Spectrum protocols. SLT is used in Tactic radio systems, along with select transmitters from Tower Hobbies and Hitec. SLT can also be found in the receivers of all Transmitter-Ready (Tx-R) models, as well as the Tactic AnyLink 2.4GHz Adapter. SLT systems feature fast, easy push-button linking…a feature that's also found in Futaba protocols. S-FHSS/FHSS, FASST™ and FASSTest are among their most popular. S-FHSS and FHSS are used in Futaba sport systems. FASST systems offer additional measures to improve dependability. The first is Continuous Channel Shifting, which switches broadcast channels several times per second. FAST systems also feature Dual Antenna Diversity, as well as exclusive Pre-Vision, which detects and corrects signal errors before they reach the receiver. FASSTest, the newest Futaba protocol, is the most sophisticated protocol of all – yet it can be used with S-FHSS and FASST electronics!

Fail Safe(FS)

This feature automatically returns a servo or servos to neutral or a preset position in case of a malfunction or interference.

Dual Rates

A dual rate switch on the transmitter can reduce the amount of servo travel. This makes the controls less sensitive. The aileron and elevator control channels are the most common channels with this feature, although some radios will also have a rudder dual rate switch. Select low rate, and an over responsive model can be made easier to control. Since beginners tend to over-control the model, low rate can also tame their models.

NiCd (Nickel-Cadmium) Batteries

The most common and economical type of battery. The voltage of a typical NiCd (or NiMH) cell is 1.2V.

NiMH (Nickel-Metal Hydride) Batteries

While about the same size and weight as NiCd cells, NiMH cells offer a wider range of capacities. NiMHs are also more environmentally friendly, requiring neither cycling or recycling.

LiPo (Lithium-Polymer) Batteries

More costly than NiCd or NiMHs, LiPos also offer higher performance due to lighter weight (about half that of NiCds or NiMHs) and higher voltage (3.7V, or 4.2V for balanced cells.)

LiFe (Lithium-Ferrite Phosphate) Batteries

Lithium-based LiFe cells are flat and thin like LiPos, but offer less volatility and slightly lower voltage.

Trainer System

Some trainer systems – like those found on select Futaba transmitters – connect two separate transmitters by means of a trainer cord. This way, the instructor can pass control over to the student's transmitter so that he can fly. If the student gets into trouble, the instructor can regain control instantly. Wireless trainer systems – like those found on select Tactic transmitters – act the same way, connecting a teacher's transmitter to a student's. The only difference is that a trainer cord isn't necessary, since the wireless connection is built into the transmitter.

Servo Reversing

This feature allows you to reverse servo rotation. If a channel operates opposite of its intended direction, a simple flick of a switch corrects the problem.

Adjustable Travel Volume(End Point Adjustments)

ATV allows you to preset the maximum travel of a servo to either side from its neutral position. Such settings help tailor control action to suit your flying or driving style.

Exponential Rate(Adjustable Rate Control)

This feature smoothes responses between stick or wheel and the controlling servo movement.

Direct Servo Control(DSC)

This feature permits you to check servo operation without broadcasting a radio signal. A cable connects the transmitter to the receiver. Direct servo control is very useful for on-the-ground control checks.

Mixing(Coupling)

Two control channels can be coupled together so that they move together when only one control channel is activated. Many 1/4 scale models require a combination of aileron and rudder to turn. Mixing does this electronically at the transmitter. V-tailed models, where the two halves of the V-tail must move not only together but independently, are another use of control mixing.

Programmable or Computer Radios

These high-tech radios are not inexpensive but allow a full set of programmable transmitter features like multiple plane memory, preprogrammed maneuvers (rolls, loops, etc. at the touch of one button) and much more.

Airplanes/Sailplanes

  We suggest that you get a 4-channel radio with NiCds to start with. Even if you are only flying 2-channel airplanes and sailplanes, NiCd batteries are worth the extra money. Other useful features you’ll want to consider are servo reversing and a trainer system. Select from the other features to suit your future needs. You might not use them to start, but they will be there when you are ready. Be sure to match the radio system to the aircraft you intend to fly. Since there is such a large range of model types, you should select the type of radio to suit your particular tastes. If you’re going to be flying a .40-.60 sized trainer, a basic 4-channel radio with standard servos will be fine. You could easily buy more radio than what you’ll need, but save your money for things like fuel, glue and field equipment.

In a sailplane, space and weight are very important. Choose a radio with smaller size servos for all but the largest of sailplanes. Since most sailplanes use only 2 channels, a 2-channel radio is all that is needed. A sailplane with a 2-channel radio is just about the least expensive way to get into the hobby of R/C flying. If your budget allows, go ahead and get a 4-channel now and just install only two of the servos. This will give you the safety and convenience of rechargeable NiCd batteries as a bonus.

If you’re looking for a high-quality, 4-channel airplane radio, then look no further than Futaba’s own 4YF 2.4GHz FHSS Computer Radio. It has all of the features you’ll need. It's perfect for sailplanes, electrics and park flyers.

Air Radio Shopping Tips & More

Helicopters

What’s the difference between a helicopter radio and an airplane radio? If you are considering trying helicopters you should not attempt to start off by using an airplane radio. Considering the overall expense and specialization, your flying success will come much quicker with the aid of a specialized helicopter radio. Some of the features may be overwhelming at first, but if you get a good beginner/intermediate radio system you will quickly realize the need for these features and learn to use them.

Controlling Your Heli

Heli Controls

Though heli radios look like airplane radios, there are some very basic differences. For instance, most heli-capable radios include special mixing functions to simplify set-up, perform aerobatics and fine-tune performance. But the bigger difference between them is the number of control channels. Some sailplanes require just two; many airplanes can get by with four. Most helis, however, require at least five and sometimes six.

  1. Left-Right Cyclic (Roll) - Makes the heli lean or tilt to either side.
  2. Fore-Aft Cyclic (Pitch) - Moves the heli forward/backward. Push forward to move forward. Pull back to go backward.
  3. Throttle/Collective Pitch - Controls engine speed and/or makes the heli go up or down.
  4. Tail Rotor Pitch (Yaw) - Changes the heli's direction by moving the nose left or right.
  5. Gyro - Tail rotors can be hard to control, even for experienced modelers. Most pilots and manufacturers recommend using a gyro (scope) to help the yaw axis.

What comes with an Air Radio System?

Most Aircraft Radio Systems come with: Transmitter (Tx) - The hand-held radio controller. This is the unit that sends out the commands that you input.

Receiver (Rx) - The radio unit in the airplane which receives the transmitter signal and relays the control to the servos. This is somewhat similar to the radio you may have in your family automobile, except the radio receiver in the airplane perceives commands from the transmitter, while the radio in your car perceives music from the radio station.

Servo - The electromechanical device which moves the control surfaces or throttle of the airplane according to commands from the receiver. The radio device which does the physical work inside the airplane.

Batteries - 2 and 3 channel systems generally do not come with batteries and extra Alkaline "AA" batteries will be required. However most 4 or more channel radio systems will come with NiCd rechargeable battery packs for your receiver and transmitter and will include a charger. Check the requires section of the radio system you have chosen to make sure what is included and what is not.

Even though surface systems are used for boats, motorcycles, cars and trucks, we suggest the same thing for all: a 2-channel radio. And here, you have a choice between stick and pistol (wheel) styles.   Stick radios are square and flat and named for their primary control. In addition to (generally) lower prices, stick fans also note that 2-stick flight systems and 2-stick surface systems require the same skills — a plus if you plan to become a pilot down the road.   Despite those facts, pistol radios are far more popular. The trigger finger on the hand that holds the pistol (usually the left) controls the throttle and brake. The thumb and fingers on the free hand steer the wheel. Fans claim that pistols are easier to hold and less tiring to use. Extras: NiCds, a high-torque steering servo (for larger vehicles); BEC receiver and ESC (for electrics); and steering dual rates, exponential and ABS braking. Here's another: a 3-channel radio, which may allow you to adjust or remote-start an engine, shift gears or control a timer.

Surface Radio Shopping Tips & More

Pistol-Grip Radios

The pistol-grip radio with steering wheel offers the unique feeling of real driving control and is the more popular option for cars, trucks and boats. Turning the wheel of the transmitter duplicates the steering techniques of full-size automobiles and boats. The shape of the transmitter is similar to that of a pistol; the wheel is located on the right side of the radio and the throttle is controlled by the left index finger in the trigger position. It's a very comfortable and convenient method of control.

2-Stick Radios

The two-stick radio is easy to use in cars and boats - even though they aren't controlled by a steering wheel. The two-stick radio helps you develop the same automatic reflexes for steering and throttle as with airplane radios. This enables you to make an easier transition if you choose to fly airplanes later on. (With a pistol-grip radio, some relearning will be required.) In addition, the two-stick radio is also the least expensive of the two types of car/boat radios.

Important: Please Read:

Tower Hobbies supports the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) in its efforts to make R/C modeling safer by reminding everyone that there are specific, reserved channels for aircraft and surface (car/boat) use.

Why separate channels?

In today's crowded urban areas, it is not uncommon to find R/C cars being run within radio range of a model aircraft flying site. Without channel separation, the possibility of interference would usually exist. Most of the crashes that have occurred were caused by people unknowingly operating on an improper channel and they were also unaware that any R/C flying was taking place in the area. It's not just an airplane problem - a runaway electric car at 30 mph (or a nitro car at 50 mph) is no laughing matter. Remember that our Broadcast Channels were granted to us by the FCC and we are able to obtain and keep our R/C exclusive channels thanks in part to the excellent safety record of R/C modelers. In other words, this channel system is not just an AMA guideline for members, it's the law of the land that applies to all R/C users. So please, be aware of the aircraft only/surface only channel system. The model you save just might be your own.

There Are Four Different Frequency Groups To Choose From

Aircraft Use Only (72 megahertz, Channels 11 - 60): This is the most popular choice for flying models. Most radios designed for model aircraft and helicopters will be available on these channels.


Channel Frequency
 
Channel Frequency
 
Channel Frequency
 
Channel Frequency
11 72.010
12 72.030
13 72.050
14 72.070
15 72.090
16 72.110
17 72.130
18 72.150
19 72.170
20 72.190
21 72.210
22 72.230
23 72.250
 
24 72.270
25 72.290
26 72.310
27 72.330
28 72.350
29 72.370
30 72.390
31 72.410
32 72.430
33 72.450
34 72.470
35 72.490
36 72.510
 
37 72.530
38 72.550
39 72.570
40 72.590
41 72.610
42 72.630
43 72.650
44 72.670
45 72.690
46 72.710
47 72.730
48 72.750
 
49 72.770
50 72.790
51 72.810
52 72.830
53 72.850
54 72.870
55 72.890
56 72.910
57 72.930
58 72.950
59 72.970
60 72.990

Surface Use Only (75 megahertz, Channels 61-90): Cars, boats, and other non-flying models must use one of these channels. Radios designed for cars/boats exclusively with a steering wheel or pistol grip control are only available on these channels.


Channel Frequency
 
Channel Frequency
 
Channel Frequency
 
Channel Frequency
61 75.410
62 75.430
63 75.450
64 75.470
65 75.490
66 75.510
67 75.530
68 75.450
 
69 75.570
70 75.590
71 75.610
72 75.630
73 75.650
74 75.670
75 75.690
76 75.710
 
77 75.730
78 75.750
79 75.770
80 75.790
81 75.810
82 75.830
83 75.850
 
84 75.870
85 75.890
86 75.910
87 75.930
88 75.950
89 75.970
90 75.990

All Uses (27 megahertz, Channel Code A1-A6): Although legal for all models, we suggest that you use 27 megahertz only for surface models. This is because of the possibility that some unseen operator may innocently be operating a surface model on the same channel within range of your model airplane which would cause interference and a possible crash.


Channel Frequency
 
Channel Frequency
 
Channel Frequency
 
Channel Frequency
A1 26.995
A2 27.045
A3 27.095
A4 27.145
 
A5 27.195
A6 27.255
00 50.800
01 50.820
 
02 50.840
03 50.860
04 50.880
05 50.900
 
06 50.920
07 50.940
08 50.960
09 50.980

2.4GHz Spread Spectrum Technology One of the most exciting new breakthroughs in hobby radio technology is the use of 2.4GHz spread spectrum technology -- which gives modelers of ALL skill levels the fastest, smoothest, most accurate and most reliable control possible. Futaba's 2.4GHz radio equipment in particular has advantages that greatly benefit new R/Cers. Simply by pushing a button, you link the receiver to a single transmitter -- each 2.4GHz transmitter has been assigned a unique ID code at the factory. Once that link is set, the receiver responds only to that one transmitter. In addition, Futaba 2.4GHz systems never stay on a single frequency for more than two milliseconds. You never have to worry about signal conflicts, and never need to wait for an open frequency when you're eager to enjoy a day of racing or flying with other modelers!

Note: that countries outside the United States may offer different frequency allocation schemes

How to Order Your Radio

When you order an item that has a frequency channel choice (such as radio systems, receivers, modules, crystals, etc.) the last 2 digits of the stock number will be asterisks. For example, the stock number of a Futaba 4YF 4-Channel radio is FUTJ40**. To order a radio on a particular frequency channel, check the chart below. Once you've clicked the BUY NOW button a screen will appear that will allow you to choose frequency. Simply pull down the SELECT A FREQUENCY menu to select one. To select the best channel number (frequency), first consider what you are using your radio for. Some channels are reserved for aircraft use and some are only for surface model (Boat/Car) use. Choose your channel number accordingly. Check your local area and talk to the people you fly or race with - some channels in certain areas are subject to interference because of other radio broadcasters on nearby channels. Tower Hobbies How To Order

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.




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