R/C Flying: rec.models.rc FAQ


[Document Version: 1.02] [Last Updated: Dec_4_1994]

1. Preface

  1.1) About the Author

Author: Shamim Mohamed
E-Mail: shamim@math.isu.edu
Posted in Newsgroups: rec.models.rc,news.answers,rec.answers
Last-modified: Dec. 4 1994

Summary: A Beginner's Guide to Radio Controlled Flying

Greetings! This is the "Radio Control (R/C) Flying" help file, containing information of general interest to beginners. This file is posted regularly (every 28 days), and automatically.

If you are just starting out in R/C (radio controlled) flying, or just thinking of it, be sure to read at least the Introduction and the sections on Building/Buying, Learning to Fly and one of Gliders, Power or Electrics. I have tried to address all questions a beginner may have; if your question isn't here, please send it to me so I can include for the next person needing help.


  1.2) Glossary

  1.3) Acknowledgments & References


Wayne Angevine angevine@badger.Colorado.EDU
Gary Hethcoat gdh@dobbs.Eng.Sun.COM
Ken Summers cs3871aa@triton.Unm.EDU
John Pitman jrp@bohra.Cpg.Oz.AU
Greg Johnson johnson@nrtc.Northrop.COM
Shamim Mohamed shamim@math.Isu.EDU

Thanks to the following for comments and reviews:

Dave Burritt (drb@druwy.Att.COM), Jeff Capehart (jdc@reef.Cis.Ufl.EDU), Warren R Carithers (wrc@cs.Rit.EDU), and Carl Kalbfleisch (cwk@boomer.Ssc.GOV)

2. Introduction (Beginning R/C, radios)

(From Shamim Mohamed)

  2.1) Should I start with powered flight, or with a glider?

Depends on your preferences. I prefer gliders; that's where I started. The 2m (6 foot wingspan) class is a good size---large enough to be easy to fly but small enough for easy transport. Beginner gliders are lighter, fly slower and are more acceptable to the non-flying community than powered planes---no noise or mess. Gliders are also cheaper (at least the trainers are) than powered planes---no fuel, batteries, starter etc. to worry about. Electric Flight is silent and clean so finds greater acceptance from neighbours etc. at the flying field, although some people feel that electrics are not robust/easy enough for beginners. There is a little more paraphernalia - you may need spare battery packs, but you can fly from smaller fields. Power (with engines that use a fuel) will let you fly longer, and your model doesn't need to be as light as with electric (so it's likely to be easier to build); however, you may have to go to a field far from populated areas.

Whatever you pick, stay away from those sleek fast scale jobs! They look nice and fly hard, and those are the last things you want in your first plane. Stick to the trainers - they might not look as glamourous, but they will make you a much better pilot.

And the most important point - no matter what else, try to find an instructor! This is the one thing that may make the difference between a rewarding experience and endless frustration. R/C pilots are friendly, and most will gladly teach you for free.

  2.2) Are there any organizations etc. I can join for information?

Ask at your local hobby shop---there may be a club in your neighborhood. This is the best way to meet other pilots and find an instructor. Most pilots will more than glad to help you out. If you can find a club, for an instructor, choose someone who is smooth in flying his/her plane and that you get along with. Remember, the ones best at flying (hangar or otherwise) may not always be the best instructors.

For U. S. residents, an organization well worth joining is the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA). They are the modellers' main voice where it matters---they liaison with the FCC, the FAA and Congress. It is an affiliate of the National Aeronautic Association (NAA) and is the US aeromodeling representative of the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI). Membership in the AMA also gets you $1,000,000 of liability insurance, without which most fields will not allow you to fly. You also need to be an AMA member to participate in contests. Besides, you also get a magazine, `Model Aviation' which is rather good in itself, and it keeps you informed about the state of the hobby. So JOIN AMA!!! You can write to:

Academy of Model Aeronautics
5151 E. Memorial Drive
Muncie, IN 47302-9252
Tel: (317) 287-1256

Membership is $40 per year (and well worth it).

3. Radios

  3.1) Since a trainer needs only 2 or 3 channels, should I get one of the cheap radio systems?

Don't bother with the cheap 2 or 3 channel sets---get a 4-ch system. It will come with NiCad rechargeable batteries and (usually) 3 servos; this is the most popular and most cost-effective kind of system. You can put the main pitch control (elevator) and the main turning control (in this case the rudder) on one stick, which is how most people (and thus most instructors) fly. The cheaper systems come with the controls on separate sticks and you will have tough time finding someone willing to teach you with that setup. They also use non-rechargeable cells, which can get very expensive, and sometimes have corrosion problems at the terminals.

  3.2) What is a "1991" system?

Strongly recommended! A "1991" system is so named because in 1991 the radio control frequency regulations changed, which effectively made the "old-style" radios unusable. The "old-style" radios have a separation between channels of 40 kHz. Today, a separation of 10 kHz is needed, even though R/C channels will still be 20 kHz apart---because the FCC in their infinite wisdom have created channels for pagers and such between the R/C channels, i.e. 10 kHz away from our frequencies. The Airtronics VG4 FM series is an inexpensive example, and is about $120 mail order. [U. S. specific]

If you can afford it, a system that has a "buddy box" is a really good idea. This is an arrangement where the instructor's radio is hooked up to yours, and he just has to release a button on his radio to take over control, rather than wrestling the radio from your grip. If you do this, be aware that you need to get the same (or compatible) radio as your instructor.

  3.3) What about R/C rocket powered airplanes?

Rocket power for R/C aircraft is strictly regulated by the AMA; however, R/C rockets are a popular hobby. You should contact the National Association of Rocketry (NAR), and read the rec.models.rockets newsgroup. The FAQ list for that group may be obtained from sunsite.unc.edu by anonymous ftp; get /pub/ftp/pub/archives/rec.models.rockets/RMRFAQ/rmrfaq.*. Part 3 contains information on R/C rockets.

4. Buying and Building (Kits, ARFs and Scratchbuilding)

(From Shamim Mohamed)

Q: Should I start with plans and build my own plane from scratch, buy a kit plane with wood and plans included, or go with one of those everything included ready to fly planes.

There are a few good trainers that are ready to fly (or almost ready to fly, aka ARF). ARF planes are usually heavy and hard to repair. The new generation of ARF kits is all wood and better built but more expensive. The better kits have parts that are machine cut, the somewhat cheaper ones are die-cut. You'll probably have to so a little more work with a die-cut kit, mostly in separating parts and sanding them.

ARFs vs. kits: this is a matter of opinion, but more people seem to think that kits are a better idea for beginners. Pro kits: you get valuable building experience and are able to do repairs. Moreover trainers are good planes to learn to build as well as to fly, and most of them are cheaper than most ARFs. Pro ARFs: you can be flying sooner, and you have less emotional investment in the plane so when you crash you don't feel as bad.

However, regardless of what you chose, your chances of a painless education are greatly improved if you have an instructor - both for building and for flying.

Remember, the plane you buy doesn't have to be good looking, it just has to teach you to fly! Many pilots after building a beautiful model are so afraid to crash that they never fly. Far better to have a scummy looking plane that you don't mind crashing again and again and learning to fly than to have a slick model that you can only mount on a stand! After you are proficient you'll have plenty of time to build good-looking planes.

It seems to be the general consensus that there are enough decent kits around that building from scratch is not really worth the effort unless you are into design or obscure scale models. If this is what you really want, you may find the "plotfoil" program (available from the rec.models.rc ftp site and from comp.sources.misc archives) useful.

The most important thing you can do while building is to make sure that everything is straight and square. This will result in a plane that flies consistently, predictably, and according to what you do at the transmitter instead of constantly trying to turn! This means: make sure the fin and the stabilizer are at right angles; make sure the wing and stabilizer are at right angles to the fuselage (viewed from above); looking at the side view, the wing, stabilizer and engine (if any) are all at the angles specified on the plans; and that the wing is built on an absolutely *flat* surface, to make sure it doesn't have any warps or bends.

For now, stay with Monokote. It's reasonably easy to apply, not too heavy, and fuelproof. (The label gives directions.) Also, if you screw up a bit and find that the wing is warped, sometimes you can fix it by twisting it and re-shrinking the covering to hold it in place.

There seem to be as many opinions on this as there ways of hinging! The important thing to watch out for - they should be strong enough so they won't pull out, and the gap between the surfaces should be as small as possible. This is yet another place that an instructor is invaluable.

5. Learning to Fly (Instructors, Pre-flight checks)

(From Shamim Mohamed and Gary Hethcoat)

The most important point, one which cannot be overstressed:


Here's what one beginner had to say:

I just started doing RC planes myself. In fact, yesterday I flew my plane for the first time (with an instructor). He took off for me, got the plane at a real high altitude and then gave me the controls. I did OK (in my opinion) but did have to give him the controls twice in order to get the plane into stable flight again. I figured the controls would be sensitive but I did not realize HOW SENSITIVE. I only had to move them about 1/8 of an inch to turn.


By the way I am a full scale pilot. That did not help me at all. In fact I think it hurt. I didn't realize how much I use the "feel of the plane" when flying a real one. Obviously you have no feel whatsoever with RC planes.

You probably won't have any really bad (i.e. irreparable) crashes. (Of course, you'll still crash.) Also make SURE you have your instructor check your plane thoroughly BEFORE the first flight - as someone said, "it is much better to go home with no flights and one airplane than go home with one half a flight and many little pieces." This is really, REALLY important.

Please check attribution section for Author of this document! This article was written by filipg@repairfaq.org [mailto]. The most recent version is available on the WWW server http://www.repairfaq.org/filipg/ [Copyright] [Disclaimer]