Learning to fly your very own RC plane, whether you build it yourself or purchase one ready to fly, is a seriously fun and rewarding experience. Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can start focusing on acrobatics and other moves to impress your friends, family and any lucky onlookers.
Arm yourself with the knowledge in this ultimate beginners’ guide, and you’ll be a skilful RC pilot in no time.
Why You Should Get into RC Planes
In a world of mortgage payments, gas bills and constant talks about politics, we all need a break every now and again, and flying high in the world of RC planes provides a much-needed time out.
RC planes can be as advanced or as easy as you like. Smaller, electric planes are great for family days out, while the more advanced and powerful models can win you both money and respect at one of many RC flying competitions all over the country.
With RC planes, the fun never has to stop. Once you’ve mastered the basics, teach yourself some fancy acrobatics. When you’ve gotten as much fun out of your electric RC plane as you can, try a gas-powered plane for that extra zoom. Or, if you’re feeling creative, you can even build one yourself.
How to Fly an RC Plane
How you fly your RC plane will depend on the make, model and engine but here’s a few basics.
- Complete all pre-flight checks.
- Determine the wind direction. You want to, if possible, launch into the wind if you are a beginner.
- Slowly build up speed along the ground. When the plane is almost floating, bring the elevators up to between 20-30% and the plane should start to lift off the ground.
- Turn left or right by moving the control stick in either direction.
- Keep the plane as level as possible and if you stall, pull the nose down until the plane is flying fast downwards and can be lifted again.
- Practise your turns and keep the plane close to you when you start.
- Land the plane by reducing power slowly and, just like a real plane, stop the throttle when it’s about a meter from the ground.
- Raise the nose at the last second so that the wheel all touch the ground at the same time.
- If you’re a beginner, ask someone experienced to launch for you and help you with controls.
- Don’t go up too high on your first go.
- Never push your controls too far in one direction, stay calm.
- Flying clubs are a great place to learn to fly RC planes.
- Check your manual to see what wind speed your plane can be flown in – but it’s best never to fly on a windy day.
- Ensure you don’t fly your plane too far out of range or you will lose control.
Building-your-Own vs Ready-to-Fly
If you want to put your DIY skills to the test, a build-your-own RC plane is the best option. This allows you to get stuck into the mechanics and technicalities of RC planes.
These building kits will have the majority of equipment needed to build a high performance RC plane. The most powerful RC planes are usually in the form of build-your-own kits, so they are great for pilots with some experience.
If your RC breaks, you’ll have more experience to fix it yourself, and building your own is highly rewarding. You are also able to customize it how you like, perhaps making it more powerful or painting the body your favourite color.
Ready-to-fly RC planes are great for beginners or those who want to fly without any of that extra effort! They are usually electric powered,and can still pack a punch in the air!
Ready-made planes make a perfect present for kids as they’re ready to get going straight away. They are usually less powerful than the build-your-own kits but will be easy to use and allow you to get started without any fuss.
Gas vs Electric
Electric planes are the perfect introduction to RC flying. They are quiet, easy to control and come in many sizes. They are far cheaper than gas powered planes and usually arrive ready-to-fly straight out the box.
However, electric powered planes can lack the power (and sometimes the fun) of gas powered. They feel more ‘toy-like’ and the batteries can be unreliable. They generally don’t perform well in wind.
For beginners though, electric powered planes are perfect. They require very little maintenance and are great for perfecting your flying skills before you move on to something more advanced.
Gas or Nitro powered RC planes are perfect for more experienced RC pilots, and they feel far more similar to real planes than their electric counterparts.
Gas powered planes are large, powerful and have longer flight times. The sound will be similar to a real plane, and they have a range of extra features like retractable landing gears. They also cope well in bad weather.
However, gas planes are noisy, require a large amount of engine maintenance and can be hard to control if you don’t know what you’re doing. They are more expensive and require a larger take off area. They will also need to be broken in before use. They are perfect for experienced pilots, but beginner pilots or young children should opt for electric.
Indoor vs Outdoor
Indoor RC planes boast a number of advantages. First of all, they don’t rely on the weather! Planes designed for indoor use are often easier to control and electric powered. They can be flown in any large room and there’s meet ups for micro-size indoor plane enthusiasts. RC planes are smaller and less powerful, but easier to use. They are great for beginners and often arrive in ready-to-fly form.
Outdoor RC planes can be as advanced or as simple as you like. Smaller electric models are perfect for sunny days spent in your backyard, while larger, more powerful models are also available. These can reach greater heights and can be controlled from a greater distance.
Powerful outdoor planes are usually expensive and can be dangerous in the hands of an inexperienced pilot. Crashes can cause accidents to people, cars and property, so it’s essential you don’t buy more than you’re capable of controlling.
Types of RC Planes
RC planes are available from micro sizes designed for beginners to RC jumbo jets. Check out the most common types:
These are small electric RCs which are perfect for beginners. They come ready to fly and they can be flown virtually anywhere. These aren’t just for inexperienced pilots however – many park flyers can get up to some serious speeds.
These are designed specifically for beginners and are larger RCs constructed from balsa wood. They are usually powered by either an electric motor, but some are gas powered. They are ideal for beginner pilots looking to learn to fly a bigger model with a trainer on hand to help them.
Sport planes are great for acrobatics and, once you master the control, can do some impressive manoeuvres! They’re a great step up from trainer planes and are generally stable and easy to fly. They are powered by either an electric or a glow engine.
These are neat and compact, small enough to be flown in large rooms like warehouses. These are seriously fun and not at all weather-dependent! They have extra small servos, receivers and batteries. Micro RCs are generally easy to control and have recently become very affordable.
As replicas of full-size planes, scale planes feature impressive designs. A huge amount of time and effort goes into making these RCs look as close to the real-deal as possible, so you will pay more for them.
RC jets are loved all around the world, by both the pilots and anyone watching! They are extremely fast and require skill and experience to fly properly. There’s easier jet RCs built specifically for beginners, but ensure you start with someone experienced. These provide the ultimate adrenaline rush and even use the same fuel as full-scale jets.
RC Plane Safety
While RC planes are extremely fun, they can also be extremely dangerous. RCs falling from a height can cause damage to property and people, and in some instances have been fatal. Follow these tips to keep yourself and others safe, as well as preventing damage to your plane!
- Always buy an aircraft that matches your ability. The most powerful RC planes can be hard to control if you lack experience.
- Obey any rules and regulations surrounding RC flying in your state or area.
- Keep up to speed with any insurance needed in case your RC damages property.
- Carry out all pre-flight checks to ensure your RC is ready to fly.
- Write your contact details on your aircraft in case you get separated from it.
- Don’t fly too close to built up areas, cars, roads, people, power lines or trees.
- Pay attention to the weather if you are flying outside. If your RC cannot handle winds then save it for another day.
RC Planes vs Drones
While the RC community has a loyal following all over the world, drones have started to grow in popularity, now often used by the military and other organizations.
Drones provide less of an adrenaline rush than RC planes and require less hands-on flying. They have cameras attached meaning they can get quality footage and are used more by those interested in photography and the environment. Drones are impressive gadgets, but when it comes to hands-on flying, nothing tops an RC plane.
RC planes are more likely to be flown for fun, while drones are specialist gadgets that go beyond a family trip to the local park!
Flying at Night
Flying at night brings a whole new challenge to RC planes. This has become increasingly common, and there’s a range of bright lighting available to illuminate your plane.
If you fancy going a little more DIY, use glowsticks to illuminate the area from which your plane will take off. LEDs can be attached to your plane so you can spot it in the dark. These make creating a night-friendly plane a total breeze, and multi-colored strips are impressive looking!
While flying at night can be a little disorientating at first, you will soon get used to it. Fly in an area familiar to you so you know any dangerous obstacles such as trees or powerlines.
3D Printing and RC
Printing and building your own RC plane is easy, all you need is a 3D printer which are now relatively affordable. Various websites allow you to purchase parts and then 3D print them. You then create your own RC plane, buying the motor, battery, transmitter and other parts separately.
People love the challenge of 3D printing but don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s the most cost-effective way of building a 3D plane. The parts can be expensive and if you’re after power, you’ll pay more for high-end parts.
Disorientation can be dangerous. This is where the pilot is confused about the direction the aircraft is going, and this can happen to both beginners and experts.
It’s caused by flying your RC too far away, flying in bad light or across the sun, or flying directly over your head. Try to be aware of what your plane is doing at all times, and ensure your plane has two contrasting colors for the top and bottom.
Slow or Unresponsive Throttle
Throttle issues are usually due to a worn-out motor, ESC or battery. Check for signs of wear and tear. If you’re unable to work out what’s going on, swap the battery and see if that makes a difference. If that doesn’t work, it’ll be your motor or ESC that needs changing.
Unlevel in the Air
If your RC pulls up or down when it’s in the air, the motor thrust angle or the center of gravity are the issue. Adjusting the motor angle is relatively simple but you will need to test it in the air. If center of gravity is an issue, you can move the battery pack further forwards or backwards – which is the heaviest item. Or, if you can’t reposition anything, you can add a ballast to either the nose or tail of the plane.
The RC won’t Start
More often than not, an RC that won’t start is due to a very simple problem. First check your batteries. Make sure they are installed properly, and if they are old or worn you will need to replace them.
If you are using a gas-powered plane, empty the fuel tank and replace it with fresh fuel. If the engine starts and then dies, there may be an issue with your fuel links – check for kinks or blockages.
How to Improve Battery Life
A short battery life is hugely frustrating, but prevention is the best cure. To stop your battery life from decreasing in the first place, wait 20 minutes after the battery has drained before charging. It should be cool to touch.
Take care not to overcharge your battery as this can also decrease its lifespan. If you are still finding your plane runs out of charge quickly, remove any dead weight to make the plane as light as you can. If this still doesn’t work, your battery can be easily replaced.
Where to Find New Parts
Replacing a part on your RC plane is easy thanks to the array of online forums and stores. While eBay and Amazon are good for new parts, there’s an extremely active online community and you’ll find other hobbyists are regularly selling parts they no longer need. You’ll also find people selling parts on forums like RC Groups or RC Universe.
If you’ve got a competitive streak and want to show off your RC to others, contest flying is for you. There’s a few ways you can compete with your RC plane, and one of them is pylon racing.
Pylon races are great for pilots and spectators alike, with flying just a small part of the event. The race involves flying between 3 pylons which form a triangle. Pilots fly their RCs around the course counter clockwise.
Each pilot has an assigned lane, and there are stations around the course for the judges, where pilots can refuel and timers. There’s generally 3 classes in varying speeds.
While pylon racing is undoubtedly one of the most popular ways of racing your RC plane, there’s a bunch of other competitions around the country. Check out the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) for their full list of events.
Joining the RC Plane Community
Luckily for any beginners, there’s a wealth of online forums filled with other RC plane enthusiasts just waiting to give you help and advice. The best websites will have forums containing helpful hints and tips, blog posts and even online auctions. There will also be information about community meet ups and races being held around the country.
If you’re struggling with anything as an RC plane beginner, an online forum should be your first port of call (okay, after you consult your instruction manual). RC Groups, RC Universe or Hooked On RC Airplanes are just a few of the fantastic online forums. Get involved in the community. You’ll find other RC enthusiasts a friendly and helpful bunch.
Becoming an RC pilot is easy provided you take measures to stay safe and learn the basics. Take it step by step, and don’t rush through the fundamentals to learn tricks faster. Master the foundations both in flying and maintenance; and you’ll be rewarded with an enviable set of skills and an aircraft that lasts a long time.