The complete radio control model airplane FAQ.
BEGINNER FAQ'S, for those interested in starting the hobby of RC, radio control model airplanes.
Where do I start?
Can I teach myself how to fly?
Are RC Flight Simulators worth the money?
What radio should I get first?
Should I get a flight simulator, like RealFlight or Dave Brown's RCFS?
Should I use my thumb, or forefinger and thumb on the transmitter sticks?
Should I start with an ARF (Almost Ready to Fly) or a kit?
What radio control model airplane trainer should I get?
What engine should I use for my trainer?
What is a good second plane?
What's a good ARF for your First IMAC competitive Aerobatic plane? NEW 9-15-01
What about Buying Used?
What size of a battery pack do I need for my plane or trainer?
Additional beginner's links
Been thinking about getting into RC planes or you are new to the hobby?
Bob Adkins' RC Beginner's FAQ
A beginners guide to RC Flight--rcplanet
How do I maintain my batteries?
Where do I start?
I strongly suggest you visit your local club before spending ANY money. There is a list of Chartered Clubs on the AMA web site. They will be able to help you pick out your equipment. The AMA membership (How Do I Join) is also required at all clubs, because of the insurance they provide. The club members will also suggest a good plane, if they have a local favorite (after all, the trainer has to be comfortable with your plane too) and they'll help you pick a radio brand. That is important, because then they can hook you up to their buddy box.
I made the mistake of buying a used .20 sized trainer, complete with radio and engine, that I found in a Recycler paper, before I talked to anybody at the club. The trainer was a mediocre plane, on the small size, and the radio was an Airtronics radio. Unfortunately, at that time, Airtronics wasn't so popular so I had a hard time finding somebody to hook up to the buddy box with me. The club owns an Airtronics buddy box, but it's locked in the clubhouse, and only certain officers had the key. (By the way, now Airtronics is a little more popular at that club.) Because of all this, I ended up going down to Hobby Shack and buying a complete package with a Right Flyer 40T, engine and another Airtronics radio--so I'd always have a buddy box. I could have saved myself the money of the first used plane had I done some homework first. Don't jump in with the lone ranger attitude. rcfaq
What Radio should I start with?
Again, I strongly advise you seek out some help from the local club, as far as brand goes. Keep in mind that if you use a Hitec buddy cord, you can connect Hitec radios to Futaba radios--just don't use the Futaba buddy cord. Those are the only two brand of radios that are compatible that way. The JR and Airtronics radios have unique cables. Also, the standard JR and Airtronics receivers are interchangeable, as are the Hitec and Futaba receivers. There are a few models that can transmit to all brands of receivers, but they are not so common.
As far as what model to get, I always suggest a four channel radio if you are going the inexpensive route. You can't go wrong, because the price of the radio is about the same as if you were to go buy a receiver, 4 servos and a battery. With this route, your money will not be wasted, and you'll have a radio that is good enough to learn on. If you can, get the cheap 4ch Hitec--it has some end-point adjustments that aren't on the other brands of radios.
If you want a step up, and Futaba or Hitec radios are common at the field, then get a Hitec Flash 5x radio. It's a good starter computer radio that has 5 model memories, and will last you a good while. It's very cost effective too, usually just over $150 or so. I don't recommend any of the $200+ computer radios, at any time. The reasons are simple--they don't have enough features to be worth the extra money for a starter radio, and they don't have enough features to work as a GOOD radio either, when you are flying the big planes.
When I bought my first computer radio, I should have listened to a friend. He told me to save my money, get a Futaba 8U, and skip the midrange radios all together. (Especially if you are buying new.) I didn't listen, and I outgrew my midrange radio (Hitec Prism 7x) within 6 months, at which time I ended up buying the 8u anyway. (For JR users, the 8103 is similar, I believe.) It's highly unlikely that you'll ever outgrow one of those much better radios. They can be bought NEW for $230 for the Tx alone, and you can often find them used for under $200...sometimes even lower. rcfaq
Should I start with an ARF (Almost Ready to Fly) or a kit trainer plane?
For your first radio control model airplane, always suggest that you start with an ARF, but that is not the only way to do it. The reason I suggest an ARF is simple...with a kit, you have a lot of blood, sweat and tears that go into building, especially if it's your first model airplane. If you really want to build a kit, I suggest you start with the ARF trainer, and as soon as you get it ready to take to the field, then buy your second plane in kit form. That way you get the best of both worlds--flying while building. Personally, I built a kit about five years before I ever learned how to fly! That plane sat in storage until I got around to buying another trainer to learn with.
Sure, you will probably get a slightly better flying plane if you build a kit, if you build it straight. However, it will take you considerably longer to get the plane to the flying field. Not only that, because there are so many new skills to learn, sometimes people get discouraged before they even get their new plane to the field. Again, I have personally bought some partially finished kits that have never flown, two of them trainer planes.
All of the above is written on the assumption that you are going to start with a .40 sized trainer. The Right Flyer 60 is another good trainer plane. It's an ARF with a larger wing--and larger planes just fly better. They are easier to see, too. I'm not aware of any ARF trainers besides the Right Flyer. rcfaq
What trainer should I get?
For the most part, almost all of the current ARF radio control model airplane trainers that are currently available are more than adequate. They are all so similar that it really doesn't matter much. There are a few that have some notable extra features, like a two-piece wing that isn't glued together, which makes portability easier, or a bolted on tail. The covering material is usually a very poor quality shelf-paper type material that doesn't repair well. It's not critical, but if you can find one that's covered with Monokote or Ultracote, you'll be better off. (Desert Sky Model Aviation is the only company that I know of that offers one.)
The second thing that I would watch out for is to make sure the fuselage is constructed of all wood. The Airmaster 40T is an attractive plane because of its price, but the whole top of the fuse is made of plastic. That type of construction makes the plane weaker, heavier, and more difficult to repair. rcfaq
What engine should I get for my trainer?
This has been debated, but I believe there are two paths to go here. If you are unsure about whether you will really enjoy this hobby, and money is very tight, then a cheaper engine may be in line. If this is the case, then I strongly suggest the Thunder Tiger .42GP, at around $50 or so. It's a light engine that's very strong for its size and weight. I've heard very good things about it, and had good experience with TT quality. This engine will last quite a while, and has a good enough power/weight ratio to work well in a fun-fly type plane.
If money isn't a very very big issue, then I recommend the Thunder Tiger .46 Pro. It's usually available for $70-75 from National Hobby Supply, who has some of the best prices, and offers excellent service also. (Because they are a smaller mail order company, you should ask them to make sure everything is in stock when you order.) The TT.46 engine has power that matches the $115 OS .46FX engine (some claim it has more than the OS, some claim less) and it's a fraction of the price. The TT .46 Pro is a very friendly engine that will have plenty of power for both your trainer, as well as your next plane or two. It is near the top end of the power spectrum for .46 class engines. This is a real bargain, when you are talking about something that is so affordable. Not only that, but the OS has a stain on it's reputation--there were numerous reports of the cylinder peeling it's plating, and losing power. Supposedly that's been fixed, but since OS would never actually acknowledge that there was a problem, we can't be sure until more time passes and see that there are no more problems.
I do not recommend the OS .40 LA or OS .46 LA for any reason. The LA line of engines from OS are adequate engines. Some people have complained that the .40 barely had enough power to fly their trainer. The important thing is, however, that they cost a lot for what you get. The Thunder Tiger Pro engine is about the same price as the cheap .46LA engine, but it's a LOT more engine. The TT will definitely be strong enough for your second plane.
For what it's worth, I bought a Magnum .40XL, a cheap bearing engine, with my trainer, a Right Flyer 40T. That engine was fine for the trainer, while I was training. However, I quickly grew bored with it, and it only actually was used for about a month or two. Get a good engine to start with, and then it will be used in the future. Use your throttle, and DON'T fly full throttle while you are learning. (Not even if your instructor tells you to!) Use throttle management, and fly nice and slow until you are ready to solo.
All of the above is written on the assumption that you are going to start with a .40 sized trainer. Of course, if you are starting out with a different size trainer (larger is better) then you need an appropriately sized engine. I would suggest that you go with the largest engine that is recommended for the plane and the largest you can afford.
Although there are a lot of happy MDS and ASP owners out there, I wouldn't advise you get one of those, because they seem to be a little less consistent. The Super Tigre's are especially good engines, but they have the reputation for being difficult to tune. I'm not saying you won't be happy with one, but it will take more work. General consensus on the GMS .47 is that it's a good engine; Magnum brand engines are decent but lower on power. The K&B .48 is a screamer, but isn't as common now that K&B has been bought by RJL. rcfaq
What should I get for a second plane, after my trainer?
Here's a link to a page that took one of my newsgroup responses and added pictures.
There are a lot of planes that are suitable for a second plane. One of the most popular is the Stick-type planes, like the Big Stik, Ugly Stick, Super Stick, Lucky Stick and Tiger Stick. I personally chose the Tiger Stick, because it's wing is significantly larger than the wing of all of the other .40 sized Sticks. (Next to the Hangar 9's Super Stick .40, my Thunder Tiger Tiger Stick looked like a .60 size plane!) The larger wing helped with visibility--just make sure to get yourself some dark blue trim to put some stripes on the bottom of the wings. It also helped with stability, and larger planes are easier to fly. The Tiger Stick flew very very well for a second plane--it was actually easier to land than my trainer plane was. Although the price was the last thing on my mind for choosing this particular Stick for my second plane, it has the advantage of being up to $30 cheaper than some of the other offerings--National Hobby Supply has them for about $90.
A good second plane has several important features that help to make it fly easy enough for a new pilot, yet still be more aerobatic than your trainer. A shoulder wing plane is preferred, but you can go with a low wing too, if it is a mild plane. You will want a semi-symmetrical or fully symmetrical airfoil, and a constant cord wing. (The airfoil is the shape of the wing, as you are looking at the wingtip. The cord is the distance from the Leading Edge (LE) to the Trailing Edge (TE).) The constant cord wing will help with stability. This is not absolutely critical, because a plane with a slight taper, like Sig's Somethin' Extra, would make an excellent second plane if you keep the control throws down to a controllable level. (The SE also would make a great first kit to build, because of it's good design and quality laser cutting.) Other popular second planes are similar low wing planes, like the SkyVista, Tiger II, or Sig's 4-Star 40 planes (or any of the four-stars, they make several sizes.)
It is usually NOT recommended to get an aerobatic plane (such as a Cap, Extra, Edge, Sukhoi, etc.) as your second plane. While the Extra and Cap planes look fun, and fly very well, they are not the most stable and can easily get out of control when in the hands of a pilot with little experience. You should work up to those planes, making them your third plane at the earliest. rcfaq
Buying Used Equipment
When you are first starting out, it may be tempting to buy used equipment due to the cost savings. This is a double edged sword--you might get a good deal that allows you to afford more equipment...or you may end up with a pile of useless junk. I have bought used and some of it was good, but most of the equipment that I bought in the beginning was, in fact, useless junk--despite the fact that the equipment looked good and had been stored well.
There are several factors to look at when buying equipment. First of all, I would recommend to a beginner DO NOT buy used radio equipment from a total stranger that will not fly at your field. You are at least one step ahead of where I was...I decided to begin RC flying, and just jumped out and bought a pile of used equipment. At least you are reading about it ahead of time.
For starters, ANY BATTERY that you buy used should be counted as useless. The reason is that stored batteries frequently die. ALL of the used batteries (both Tx and Rx) that I've bought were bad. Even the ones where the guy charged it up and "saw that it was good" were bad. The are few exceptions to this...if the battery is under one year old, and the seller has been using it regularly, or when you are 100% certain that the previous owner had a well defined system for determining the capacity of a battery. This could be as fancy as the $280 Alpha 4 battery charger, or a home made system as simple as a light bulb with a couple relays and a clock. If the seller can't give you the capacity (in mAh, or "milli-Amp-hours") and the method they used to acquire that number, AND that number is not less than several weeks old, then I'd discount the battery all together.
Merely charging a Tx battery and leaving it on is sufficient--you should see about one hour of life from it. That doesn't work with Rx batteries though--the servos require a lot more current to move the control surfaces of an airplane when it is flying. Just turning the Rx on and moving unloaded servos will not give you an accurate battery capacity. If you buy a used beginner radio system, saving yourself $50...but the batteries are bad, then you can cut your savings to about $20 because Tx batteries are about $20, and cheap Rx batteries are about $10.
Do NOT buy a used battery pack that was assembled by a private party, unless you KNOW FOR A FACT that his craftsmanship is high quality--and a pretty wrapping does NOT assure this. Sure, some people can assemble a pack properly, but I would not trust MY planes to most of them. The problem with home assembled batteries is that they are often soldered--and the heat from that is very likely to damage the seal of the battery. In addition, there are more hobbyists who CLAIM to know how to solder properly than actually do. Because batteries are such a large heat sink, the solder connections are likely to be cold joints. Also, if the batteries are loose and not held together well, then the solder joints will be in risk of mechanical failure.
For more battery FAQ's, see our page on Radios and Batteries.
Definitely, do NOT buy a used transmitter without consulting a local club first. First off, you need to make sure it will work as a buddy box with what is available at the club. Secondly, not all radios are even LEGAL to use at a club. All radios manufactured prior to 1991 must have a Gold Sticker that has the date that it was narrow band certified. Unfortunately, I just jumped right in and bought one from a guy who hadn't been flying for about 6-8 years. Unfortunately, the rules had changed since he last flew, and about a month later I learned that the radio needed to be upgraded. That cost me another $50 or so (which is no longer legal to do...) and between that and the batteries that had gone bad from sitting, I was not doing well with my new radio that was supposed to have saved me money.
more transmitter FAQ's, see our page on Radios and
Batteries. Here are some good questions to ask, if you do decide to proceed
with buying used radio equipment:
How old are the batteries?
How long have the batteries been stored? (If over a year, forget it.)
Did you measure their capacity with a precise measuring system? (If not, forget it.)
How often did you cycle the batteries? (If never, forget it, unless they have been in use all year.)
Have you ever (EVER) left the batteries on until they were totally dead? If yes, all the time, then forget it. If only once, and the batteries aren't that old, then ok.
What standard is the radio legal to? (If you don't know the current standard, then find out! Right now, all radios must be narrow band, and older radios must have a Gold Sticker--Silver Stickers are illegal.)
Will the radio hook up with a buddy cord to the prevalent brand of radio at your field? (If you don't know what brand that is, then go find out!)
What size battery do I need for my trainer, or other plane?
Most trainers will do fine with a standard AA pack that has 600-700mAh of capacity. You can safely fly your plane with a smaller pack, like 250mAh, just make sure to check your battery voltage before each flight. Trainer planes do not load the servos very much, not to mention they only have four servos to start with.
My 1/4 Scale Laser (72" wing) has six servos in it. When I fly it for three 10 minute flights with my 650mAh pack, there is about 450 mAh left in it. That's a very large safety margin, which will be even larger with a trainer. My 27% Midwest Extra 300s with six high torque servos uses a 1100mAh pack--but more for surge current capacity than a long life. I haven't cycled it after flying, but I know I can safely get more than three flights out of it.
From Alan Tong, off of the rec.models.rc.air newsgroup:
Where to start? Electric, Power, Thermal, Slope, Park Flyers etc..The sites
listed below should give an unbiased look at most aspects. If you just want something ready to go in about 15 minutes, quiet, great fun
and almost unbreakable then check the following Model Airplane News review on the Sky Scooter =
http://members.home.net/tminger/mdoctor.htm (Model Doctor = hints & Tips)
http://www.geocities.com/~rc-soaring/#top (Many Hints, Tips & Links)
Check out the Ezone and other sites for electric flight as follows =
The Ezone search ..
Flying off water =
All of the information on
this web site is copyright 2000 by rcfaq.com. All rights reserved.
Revised: January 27, 2002 .