Flying an RC helicopter is like making a well-stuffed taco for the first time😋: once you get it right, you’ll want to try it again! It takes practice and perseverance to be really good at flying an RC heli. But you also need a thorough learning guide.

This article contains what you need to get started with RC helicopters and much more.

Haven’t had a helicopter yet? No problem, you can choose the best one for your need from this list.

First, we’ll run through the controls and breakdown how to fly an RC helicopter into easy steps for you. Then, we’ll give you tips and tricks that’ll come in handy when flying. Finally, you’ll get a rundown of a couple of cool stunts you can waw your friends with.

Welcome to flight school 🤗!

Understanding the basic controls on an RC helicopter

Before getting to the flying process, we want to summarize the controls and channels in an RC heli.

Helicopters move in different directions, and the number of channels determines the available controls. Generally, RC helicopters can have two, three, four, or six channels. The basic controls are:

  1. Collective pitch control: This is on the left stick of your handheld transmitter. It controls the lift and descent of the helicopter by taking the swashplate up and down.
  2. Cyclic control: The cyclic is on the right stick of your transmitter. It controls your helicopter nose’s forward and aft movement. It’s also the control to use if you want to run into another helicopter at your right or left👺, like a fighter aircraft.
  3. Tail rotor control: The tail rotor (yaw) is on the left stick. It controls the left and right swaying of an RC helicopter, by providing antitorque to the motion (techie stuff!). Moving the tail rotor to the left, takes the nose to the left and the tail to the right.

Now, you might want to go with the airplane terminologies. Some helicopters also stick to these terminologies, so it’s worth noting them down.

RC helicopter controls and their plane terminologies

RC Plane controlsRC Helicopter controlsMotionStick
AileronCyclic (left and right)RollRight stick
ElevatorCyclic (forward and backward)AirspeedRight stick
RudderYaw (left, right)Left and right swayingLeft Stick
ThrottleCollective PitchLiftLeft Stick

If you have a two-channel RC heli, then you can:

  • Lift and descend your RC
  • Sway left and right

Three-channel RC choppers can:

  • Lift and descend
  • Sway left and right
  • Move forward and backward

If you’ve got a six-channel RC heli, then you can:

  • Lift and descend your RC
  • Sway left and right
  • Move forward and backward
  • Roll
  • Turn its gyro and make other adjustments
  • Tilt the main rotor blades

For newbies, we recommend using only the controls of a three-channel RC for your first few flights and read our RC helicopters for beginners guide. When you think you’ve gotten enough practice hours, then you can use the full functionalities of a 6-channel RC copter.

Another thing you should do is to start with the beginner mode. The control ranges are reduced to protect you from flying your helicopter to outer space👽 or drop it to earth abruptly when you see an alien.

The step-by-step process of flying an RC helicopter

Now, let’s get to the main event. How does a pilot learn to fly an RC helicopter? We’ve broken down everything you need to know in these four easy steps for 3-channel helicopters:

How to take off

The first, most exciting, and nerve-racking step in becoming an RC pilot is learning the proper way to take off. You’ll need three controls: the collective, tail rotor, and cyclic controls.

  • First, apply some collective pitch control by raising the left stick a little. Make sure you don’t move it past the half-stick position. You should see the blades rotating while it’s still on the ground.
  • While you’re at it, watch the direction of your heli to know if it is spinning. Your RC should counteract this spin automatically. But if it doesn’t, then apply some trim with the tail rotor control.
  • Check the right stick to make sure it works by moving it to the left, right, forward, and backward.
  • Apply more power with the collective pitch control. Move the left stick past the half-stick position. Finally, use the right stick to direct the nose of your copter as it leaves the ground. The RC takes off when the lift supplied is greater than its weight.

That’s the way to move it 👯!

How to hover

Once your RC heli is airborne, the next step is to learn how to hover. Now, hovering is pretty straightforward, but you really need to practice to get it right. Based on the position of your RC copter to you, you can do the following:

  • Tail-in hover: The tail faces you. Moving the cyclic control to the left takes the heli to the left as well and vice versa.
  • Nose-in hover: Here’s a tricky one🤔. In this case, the nose of the heli faces you. Moving the cyclic control to the left takes the heli to the right and vice versa.
  • Sideways hover: Moving the cyclic control to the left brings the heli towards you.

You’ll be working primarily with the cyclic and tail rotor controls.

For starters, make sure your RC’s nose is pointing into the wind. Remember that your focus is the nose, and not the tail boom.

Steps involved in hovering your RC heli

  • Start by tail-in hovering (that is, with the tail boom facing you). Nudge the cyclic stick a little to remain in one spot. Then push the stick to take your RC heli in all four cyclic directions.
  • Next, change from a tail-in hover to sideways and then nose-in hover. To do this, use your tail rotor controls on your left stick. Remember that moving your left stick to the left takes the nose to the left.

Keep on nudging your cyclic stick to make sure it’s on one spot.

  • Move the right stick to all four directions when doing sideways, and noise-in hovers. Did you notice you aren’t using the collective controls? For now, touching it detonates an atomic bomb💣.
  • Finish up by staying on one spot and making a 360 spin. Start from a tail-in hover, then move to left-sideways hover, then nose-in hover, right-sideways hover, and back to a tail-in hover. You’ll get cool points if you can do this in 5 seconds😎!

Don’t beat yourself if you can’t get the orientation for a nose-in hover. We’ll show how to work your way around it in the tips and tricks section.

How to trace out ovals and figure 8s in the air

The next bit is just as fun as the previous steps😉. We’re still waiting for the bomb squad to disarm the collective pitch bomb. So, for the meantime, use only the cyclic and tail rotor controls.

Here’s how to trace out ovals if the wind is blowing towards the tail of your heli:

  • Start by tail-in hovering (pretty easy now, yeah?)
  • Apply the tail rotor control at an angle upwards and to the right. Continue nudging the right stick to stay balanced. Your RC should be moving along a diagonal now.
  • Hover a few feet on your RC’s side to the right. Then, apply the tail rotor control downwards at an angle to the right. Your RC should be nose-hovering now.
  • Continue alternating between the different hovering positions until you get to your starting point.

Although the collective pitch bomb squad isn’t around yet, you can use this control if you notice your RC is falling or rising😀.

Figure 8s are pretty much the same. The only difference is that you’ll make two joint ovals.

How to land your RC helicopter

When you’ve had your fun, the next thing to learn how to bring your RC down to our planet🌎.

  • Hover on a spot for a while. We recommend you don’t land while nose-in hovering.
  • Back off from the right and left sticks for a few seconds.
  • Apply the collective pitch a little more before your helicopter hits the ground.
  • Shut off the power when it has gotten to the landing spot.

So, that’s it, folks😄!

Safety and setting up your RC for flights

In this section on how to fly an RC helicopter, we’ll go over the pre-flight set-ups and steps to safely use your RC.

Pre-flight checks

  1. Check and adjust the center of gravity of your RC chopper. The best way to do this is to add some weights to it and see if the heli would tilt or not. A balanced copter won’t tilt.
  2. Check the blade’s grip and ensure they are tightly fastened.
  3. Make sure you thoroughly understand how to use your transmitter.
  4. If you have an electric heli, ensure the batteries are charged and ready to go. Otherwise, make sure the tanks of nitro/gas helicopters are full

Safety tips and tricks

  1. Attach a training gear to the bottom of the heli if you think you need one. It’ll help you master how to hover. Moreover, using a training gear will protect you from crashing into obstacles.
  2. Fly in an open space. Make sure there are no flying objects in the vicinity before you go take-off (that includes similar models to your RC helicopter). A hawk can take your RC heli away😂, so beware!
  3. Abort any skill if you think it might lead to you crashing your RC helicopter.
  4. Here’s something you can think of if you feel you’re not getting the orientation of a nose-in hover. Imagine your RC heli is your evil twin brother👺 that mimics everything you do. If you move your left hand outward (turn any stick to the left), your evil brother will do the same, which is actually to your right!

RC helicopter aerobatics

Here are some of the common stunts you can try out when start feeling like a pro:

  1. Funnel: To nail the funnel, you need to trace out an oval, as we showed you before. When you’re done, hover downward and then go back up to complete the shape of a funnel.
  2. Death spiral: There’s hardly any skill more satisfying to accomplish than the death spiral. Here’s how to get it right.

Take your RC helicopter as high as you can get and hover it on its side. Then, zero the collective pitch while pushing the right stick up (cyclic forward control). This will make the heli to spin and fall. Just before it lands like a meteorite hell-bent on destroying the world😲😢, apply the collective pitch😄!

  1. Tail slide: Another fun aerobatic to try is the tail slide. In this case, hover the heli at its side, and then push its nose up, until it faces the sky🚀. Let it fall tail-first quickly.

Use the cyclic controls to get a more dramatic effect while this is happening.


Q1. Where can you fly an RC helicopter?

You can learn to fly an RC helicopter at parks, open fields, and any other public place. Don’t take your RC heli to private properties if you don’t want it to be shot at.

Q2. What’s the best RC helicopter to learn how to fly with?

We recommend any single rotor, three-channel RC heli for learning how to fly. You can read more about that in our previous article about the best RC copters for beginners.

Q3. What’s the difference between flight modes?

The primary difference between the modes on a transmitter is their control range. Beginner modes put a box over how you can move the control sticks.

Q4. Can I fly an RC helicopter upside down?

Yes, you can. But we advise against doing this. The rotors can bend to the skids and cut the tail off.

In conclusion

Well, this is the end 😫😖!

We hope you enjoyed our RC heli flying guide and put all the tips we’ve listed to good use. For whatever reason you decide to learn how to fly an RC helicopter, it’s a great way to relieve stress and practice hand-eye coordination.

Now, before you run off to try everything we’ve discussed in this piece, here’s our last tip. Small moves are the best moves.

Good luck😀!

About the author

David Adeyemo

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