Please contact one of our instructors to set up an appointment for a free lesson:
Gary Funkhouser: 951-858-2568
Flying radio controlled airplanes is probably one of the most challenging segments of the radio-controlled hobby. Unlike driving an R/C car or boat, there is no way to save an out of control airplane. Flying an R/C airplane takes discipline and skill. However, with proper training and a positive attitude, any individual can fly an airplane. As a newcomer to the hobby, you might at times become frustrated but rarely bored. There is always something on the market that fits your tastes and style.
To reduce the chances of frustration, a new modeler should always attempt to discuss the hobby with someone who is already involved in the hobby. Technology, materials, and building techniques are always changing the face of this hobby and there is a lot of information that has to be digested before flying for the first time. This task can be accomplished by simply visiting our local flying field and talking to some of the experienced members of that club. Making arrangements to have a flight instructor will insure a proper introduction into this hobby. Should you attempt to fly a plane with no help from anyone, it is most likely you’ll have about 1 to 2 minutes of fun before the plane will meet an unfortunate fate.
A person who is new to this hobby must realize that a radio-controlled aircraft is not a toy. Model airplanes have sophisticated moving parts and require a certain level of respect for the airplane. A basic model airplane can weigh between 4 and 10 pounds and can travel as fast at 60+ MPH. That is a lot of force if it crashes into someone or something. The propellers can spin as fast at 10,000 RPM and demand the up-most care and respect when operating.
Before purchasing any equipment, the beginner should ask themselves “How strongly do I want to commit to this hobby? Do I want to see what it’s like before I buy the expensive models? How long do I think I’ll want to stay in the hobby?” If you think you might want to stay in the hobby for many years, it is advisable to purchase some of the better-quality components that are on the market. Otherwise, a beginner should try to keep their initial investment low. A beginner can start out in the hobby for less at $200.00. However, it’s important to remember that you get what you pay for. Rarely will you find really cheap hardware or materials that are substantial in quality. At the other end of the price spectrum, a beginner can spend as much at $800.00 if money is no object. A realistic amount is closer to $400 to $500 dollars to start out with good quality equipment.
Your First Plane
Most likely a person who has an interest in flying R/C airplanes has seen an R/C airplane fly prior to entering the hobby. This person has probably seen some of the more advanced types of planes such as World War fighters to specialized aerobatic airplanes. With his/her interest piqued, he/she thinks to themselves “I must have one of those planes”. This is one of the most common mistakes a beginner will make. Many hours of training and practice are involved before a beginner should ever consider moving on to a more advanced airplane. It is advisable that a beginner start off with an airplane that is classified as a “basic trainer”.
Trainer class airplanes are a great beginner aircraft. A trainer is a specific type of model aircraft that is designed to be stable and generally easy to fly. It will usually have an inherent ability to correct itself and keep itself flying straight and level. Most trainers also are designed for slow speed flight, so they are easier to land. Trainers might not always be the “sexiest” of the planes on the market, but most people have started out flying with one for one undeniable fact; they are easy to fly.
There are many trainers on the market that make a great first airplane. These range from kits (planes that arrive as a bunch of precut sticks and wood) to ARF’s (Almost Ready to Fly). There are also planes that are referred to as RTF’s (Ready To Fly). These planes come with everything including the motor and radio installed and are just about able to fly out of the box. ARF’s are the most common and can usually be assembled in a day or two. They come between 90 and 95 percent pre-built and only require some simple assemblies to finish the airplane.
All airplanes sold on the market will have an engine class designation to help the buyer understand its general size and what type/size of motor it’s going to require. They range from a 20 to a 60-size engine class. 40 size class airplanes are the most common and are a great place to start. Engine class directly translates to the amount of cubic inches the motor must have to make the plane fly. For example, a 40 sized aircraft must have a minimum 0.40ci motor.
It is highly recommended that you do not attempt to fly an R/C airplane for the first time without the oversight of an instructor. The Corona R/C Club publishes a list of club sanctioned instructors. It is recommended that you will also need to download and print out a copy of our Flight Training Handbook and carry it with you at all times when you are receiving flight instructions.
Types of Propulsion
Glow engine: Glow motors range in power and price. Be sure to buy the appropriate sized motor for your airframe. There are three main types of engines on the market; gasoline, electric, and glow powered. Of the three, glow powered engines are the most common. Glow engines are a type of engine that is designed to run on a mixture of Methanol and Nitro-methane. These types of engines are fairly inexpensive and can cost between $50 and $150 dollars depending the size and manufacturer of the engine.
Electric engines are not exactly new to the hobby, but only within the last 5 years or so have they started to gain in popularity. Their primary benefits are no loud engine noise, fairly simple to set up, and doesn’t produce any waste exhaust on the airplane. Electric engines will require a slightly larger investment because you’ll need additional items such as a battery charger, additional battery packs, and miscellaneous support equipment. However, the trade off to the higher initial costs is that some of the equipment can be used on multiple airplanes which will lowers the overall cost once multiple airplanes are considered.
Gasoline powered engines aren’t practical for trainers simply because they are too large and/or heavy for most trainer airframes.
One of the more expensive items that you’ll buy is a radio transmitter/receiver (package) with servos. Your level of commitment and availability of funds will dictate how much you’ll spend on a transmitter. To start, you’ll need a transmitter that is at least 4 channels (Aileron, Elevator, Throttle, and Rudder). As you advance to more complicated aircraft, you will need many more channels. It is advisable to start with a radio that has a minimum of 5 channels. There are many manufacturers on the market and not all the equipment is cross compatible with each other. It is advisable to discuss what is recommended from your instructor or someone who is proficient in the hobby.
Until recently, almost all the transmitters on the market operated in the 72 MHz frequency range. In the 72 MHz range, there are 50 available channels. It is important to NEVER turn on your transmitter if you live within 2 miles of a flying field or while you are visiting a flying field until you have taken the necessary steps to ensure you are the only person operating on that channel. All flying fields will have a Frequency Board that is used to control who is operating on what channel. Normally this is handled by placing a pin with the pilot’s name on the corresponding channel. This lets everyone know what channel that pilot is using. Should you turn on your transmitter and there is someone currently using that channel, you will inevitably crash their plane.
One of the recent leaps in technology are transmitters that operation in the 2.4 GHz frequency. These radios have the unique ability to be independent of other transmitter frequencies. They do not have the same channel restrictions that 72 MHz radios require. If your budget allows for it, it is recommended to make your first radio a 2.4 GHz radio. This is the predominantly agreed technology that is superseding the 72 MHz systems.
Depending on what type of plane you buy and its method of propulsion that is required, there will be some miscellaneous support equipment that will be needed. While the list of products that are available are far too numerous to list here, there are some items that should be purchased.
Glow Powered Plane:
Fuel – Naturally, this is the most important item to purchase. Glow fuel comes in a variety of fuel compositions and there isn’t a “one type for all” fuel. Glow fuel for R/C Airplane motors will usually require a certain percentage of Nitromethane. The amount of Nitromethane will vary from 0 percent to 20 percent. It is important to check with the manufacturer of the engine for their recommendations on the percentage of Nitromethane that is required. Too little of Nitromethane will rob your engine of power and too much can cause damage.
Fuel Pump – There are two types; electric powered and manual. What you purchase will depend on your budget. An electric pump will cost more than a manual.
Glow Plugs – Consult with the engine’s manual for the type of glow plug that is recommended. Don’t forget to buy a Glow Wrench too!
Glow Igniter – These are relatively inexpensive depending on the type you buy. They will range in price from $10 to $30.
Starter – There are three different ways to start an engine. The first is the “Hand Start” technique. This isn’t recommended for beginners simply because the hand will be in the path of the propeller if done incorrectly. The second method involves using a “Chicken Stick”. This is a stick with leather or some other material wrapped around one end of a thick stick and is used to crank the engine. The third method involves using a battery powered external starter. This is the preferred method because it doesn’t require a lot of effort from the user to start the engine. A battery powered starter runs off a 12 volt battery so don’t forget to pick one up.
Electric Powered Plane:
Battery Charger – Get the best charger your budget can allow. Batteries for electric powered planes can be a healthy investment and you wouldn’t want to damage your investment by an inferior charger. Also, there are capacity issues (the number of battery cells it can handle) that might limit future aircraft battery requirements. There are too many types on the market to list, so it’s recommended to speak to someone who has experience with this subject such as a Hobby store or an experienced R/C pilot.
Wattmeter – This device is critical to understand if you are over stressing your electrical setup. Items such as propeller size/pitch, number of battery cells, and other variables can impose load on the system. Without a wattmeter, the only way you can know if you are over stressing the system is when a component burns up.
Additional Batteries – While not required to have more than one, it’s advisable to have more than one battery pack. Some batteries can take in excess of one hour to charge a battery which leads to less time being able to fly.
Field Box – This isn’t required but it sure makes transporting out all your miscellaneous support equipment easier.
Glue – The two main types of glues you’ll need are epoxies (5 and 30 minute) and cyanoacrylate (also referred to as “CA” for shorthand). CA comes in different thicknesses. It is recommended to buy at least one bottle of “thin” and “medium” CA.
Propellers – Get more than one! The size and type will be dictated by the engine manufacturer.
Most ARF’s will have a more specific list of additional items that will have to be purchased separately.
With the leaps in technology, it is easier to learn how to fly. Like the fighter pilots of today, using a simulator will make sure you are less likely to make a mistake when flying for the first time in real life. Products such as RealFlight® and FS One® make learning to fly even easier. A decent simulator will run between $100 and $250 dollars and usually includes a transmitter that will only work with your computer. These simulators have some computer hardware requirements so be sure to check out the requirements before purchase.
Simulators can assist new comers to the hobby and veteran pilots as well. Since there is no real danger, it is possible to perfect maneuvers without concern for the plane. Simulators also can allow you to fly when the weather outside makes it impossible.
It is possible though to become overly confident after flying with a simulator. Flying with a simulator can give the false impression that you are ready to try to fly a real R/C plane without the assistance of anyone else. In an R/C simulator, you are flying a plane that has been perfectly setup, has perfect balance, no construction flaws, etc. In real life, you must contend with other planes in the air, wind coming in variable directions and speed, trim problems, etc.
Simulators should be used as a supplemental to regular flight instruction and should not to be used as a direct replacement.