If you watch a lot of movies (heck who doesn't!) 😜, then you must have thought about what it feels like to own and fly a helicopter. Well, there's a type you can get and fly after only a few hours of practice (Yep! You read that right! A newbie owning and controlling a helicopter😲). These choppers are called radio-controlled (RC) helicopters.
Now, if you're looking for a comprehensive article that contains everything you need to know about RC helicopters for beginners, then this piece is perfect for you.
You'll learn the technical and cool stuff😎, how to buy RC helicopters, the best ways to maintain them, and (drum roll! 🥁) how to fly your first RC helicopter!
By the way, here we've compared and categorized the best RC helicopters available on the market right now.
What's an RC helicopter, and how do they work?
First, let's start with the answer to this basic question.
RC helicopters are choppers that are controlled by radio signals (pretty simple, hey?). Like any other radio-controlled toy, these helicopters have:
- A transmitter: Transmitters send radio waves out, and you use them to control choppers. The general design has two joysticks, but there's another one you only have to grasp with one hand.
- A receiver: This receives the waves from your transmitter. Then, it converts it to pulse width modulation (PWM) that tells the servos and other components like the blade what to do. Generally, they receive signals from 27 to 49 MHz.
- A Power source: The power source is placed in the RC chopper.
- An engine or electrical components
Common components of any RC helicopter
No two RC helicopters are identical (even if they come from the same mother brand😜). However, some components are common to most types of RC helicopters:
- Swashplate: This connects the non-rotating and rotating components of a helicopter. It takes input and converts them to blade inputs. So, it is the primary communication device. You can't use any control without the swashplate.
Swashplates have two main parts: stationary and rotating parts. While the stationary swashplate controls collective and cyclic controls, the rotating components move with the rotor mast.
- Main rotor: Don't confuse this with a motor. The primary rotor produces the force that the helicopter needs to fly. So, it is attached to two or more blades of the RC chopper. Generally, they are shaped like an airfoil and are placed above the body of the helicopter.
- Tail rotor: If you've ever used a hula hoop before, you'll know that you can only rotate the hoop in one direction at a time. That's pretty much the same for the fuselage of a helicopter. The tail rotor prevents the body and tail from rotating in the wrong direction.
- Servos: The work of an RC servo is to position the helicopter in a way that matches the controls of the transmitter. An RC servo consist of the following parts:
- Gears and a case: These transmit motion and shields the servos
- A motor: This offers the force the helicopter needs to move.
- Feedback pot: This part makes the servo measure the actual position of the helicopter
- Amplifier: This helps to increase the radio signals.
- Fuselage: This is the body of RC helicopters. The fuselage can be made from plastic, aluminum, carbon fiber, or glass-reinforced plastic (the tough guy among the lot 💪).
- Tail Boom and Landing skid: These parts make your RC chopper stable in the air and easy to land.
- Propellers: As you must have guessed, the propellers are the primary rotating part of an RC. Without them, your chopper is just a box with fancy components.
Most RC choppers have propellers with two to four blades.
Understanding the major controls in an RC helicopter
There are three main RC helicopter controls:
- Cyclic control: This tilts the swashplate and alters the angle of the blades. With cyclic controls, you can tilt the helicopter to the left, right, back or front.
This control is called cyclic because each blade changes its pitch angle in each revolution.
- 2. Collective control: This lifts the entire swashplate. It changes the blade angle when they are all rotating at the same time. With the collective control, you can move the helicopter up and down.
- Yaw: This counters the torque of the helicopter's main blades. A left command will pull the tail boom to the right and the nose of the helicopter to the left.
Types of RC helicopters
There are five types of RC helicopters, and we'll go through each type with a fine-tooth comb:
- Toy RC helicopters: A toy RC helicopter is the basic type of beginner RC helicopter you can get. They have only a couple of controls but are still fun to fly.
- Coaxial RC helicopters: These RCs are more sophisticated than toy choppers. They have two rotors that are mounted on each other. These rotors cause the two-blade propellers to spin in opposite directions.
Coaxial RC helicopters do not have tail rotors.
- Single-rotor fixed-pitch helicopter: These models are best suited for anyone who has a few hours of experience under their belt.
Pitch (also known as the angle of attack) refers to the angle that the chopper's primary rotor blade is inclined at. In fixed-pitch copters, you cannot adjust this angle. So, you'll have to use the throttle to lift these RC helicopters from the ground.
Single-rotor fixed-pitch helicopters are more stable and can withstand more crashes than a toy and coaxial helicopters.
- Single-rotor collective-pitch helicopters: These RC helicopters change their pitch for better take off. They are quite similar to single-rotor helicopters, with only a few differences.
- Multi-rotor RC helicopters: These choppers usually have four rotors for each propeller. Most aircraft that fall under this category can take off vertically.
How are RC helicopters powered?
RC helicopters don't glide (but that would be fun, don't you think?). So, there are two categories of RCs based on how they are powered:
- Gas/nitro-powered RC helicopters: These helicopters are available in mini to large sizes. You'll not find a micro RC helicopter that's powered by gas or nitro because their designs are too small to take an engine. The size of the primary rotor blade of gas/nitro-powered copters is proportional to its engine size.
It's important to note that there's a slight difference between gas and nitro choppers. Nitro engines use nitro fuel and glow plugs. Alternatively, gas engines ignite when you use a spark plug on 2-stroke fuel to make the helicopter move.
- Electric-powered RC helicopters: The second thing you can use to power an RC helicopter is electricity (no! you don't have to connect them to a power outlet 😆). They work on batteries (LiPo or NiMh), motors, and speed controllers. Electric RC helicopters operate quietly and are available in micro to large sizes.
Understanding the different sizes of RC helicopters
Now, let's look at the sizes. Some RC helicopters look like real-life choppers, and you can hold others in one hand. So, here are the categories that techies group RC helicopters into:
- Micro RCs: We are sure you can picture what a micro heli looks like. Any radio-controlled chopper with a primary rotor diameter size that's between 7 and 15 inches falls under this category. Fixed-pitch and coaxial copter generally come as micro RCs, and they are all electric-powered.
Micro RCs are affordable, and they don't get seriously damaged when crashed. However, you can't fly them far away (except you want to take them to outer space, though😜). They have low wind resistance, and their blades measure any value below 7.85 inches.
- Mini RCs: Again, your guess is as good as ours on how big these RCs are. In this case, the rotor diameter measures 15 to 25 inches. Most mini RCs are collective-pitch units. But it is not uncommon to find a few fixed-pitch mini models. The blades of these helicopters measure 9.5 to 16.5 inches in length.
- Medium-sized RCs: The rotors of medium-sized RCs measure between 25 to 45 inches, and most models are collective-pitch units. Medium-sized RCs can either be gas-powered or electric-powered. The only sad bit is that they aren't the best fit for indoor flights.
The blades have a length of about 16.75 to 21.65 inches.
- Large RCs: These are the elephants of the jungle: big and ready to crush anything that stands in their way. Any RC heli with a primary rotor that measures more than 45 inches in diameter is considered large.
Although they require more maintenance after use, flying a large RC is definitely fun. Their blades measure any value above 22 inches in length.
Learning how to fly an RC helicopter
Finally, we're done with all the technical stuff. Now, let's see how to fly a helicopter.
Since you're just starting, we'll give you the basics. But you can learn more about how to fly an RC helicopter from this guide.
General steps to flying an RC helicopter
- Determine where you want to fly the chopper. If you choose to test your copter indoors, then you have to be close to it every time you want to fly it. Flying, in this case, might be easier since there's no wind. However, you'll be able to reach high altitudes if you take it outdoors.
- Pick a good type of helicopter. You've seen the best ones available. So, pick the size you think would be comfortable for you. If you want to demolish your home with an RC helicopter, then you know you should get a large chopper 😛.
- Master the controls: The controls are pretty easy to learn. So, you should have no trouble here.
- Practice taking off and hovering: Hovering and taking off are the major aspects of flying an RC plane. So, you should spend quite some time learning these skills.
- Try out some aerobatics and other cool skills: When you feel like a pro, then you can start flying like one. There are many cool tricks you can try out with your RC helicopter like spinning it, facing the tail boom to yourself, among others.
- Learn how to safely land: Haphazard landings are some of the easiest ways to crash your RC chopper. So, make such you dedicate enough time to this aspect.
How to maintain a gas/nitro-powered and electric-powered RC helicopter
So, you've finally gotten your RC helicopter, and you love every bit of it. But, how did it get damaged so easily? Well, you probably didn't maintain it properly!
Here are the steps to take good care of gas/nitro-powered RC helicopters for beginners:
- Clean your RC helicopter: No, it's not that stressful. Before and after you fly your RC helicopter, make sure you give it a good wipe down. An alcohol-based cleaner and a rag should do the trick. But we must warn you. Don't dip your chopper in water. It's not a diver! 😅
- Check the fuel gas filters, glow plugs or batteries: For your RC to start effortlessly, you also have to clean it properly.
Inspect the filters, plugs, or batteries every time you take it out for a spin. Also, refill the tank or charge the batteries before you start flying with your RC chopper.
- Inspect the heli for broken parts: You'd likely crash your first RC helicopter, especially on your first few flights. So, don't forget to inspect the components after each use for anything that's broken. Now, we must warn you. If you're not sure of what to do, it's best to take your copter to a service center to have it checked.
- Take your copter for periodic service checks: Somethings are best left to the technicians. So, just to be double sure that you are doing the right thing, you should take your RC heli to a service center often.
Factors to consider before getting an RC helicopter
Now, for the last bit. If you're thinking of getting ownership of the models, then you should consider the following before buying RC helicopter:
- The type of helicopter: By now, you should know the different types of RC helicopters and the features of each type. Deciding this factor is a good way to start when thinking of which RC helicopter to buy. The reason you're getting the whirlybird (as a new hobby, choosing RC copter for a kid, or to improve your coordination skills) should influence the type you eventually go for.
- The size of the RC helicopter and where you can fly: When you're sure of the type, the next thing to decide is whether to go for an indoor and outdoor RC. Again, keep the reason you want to get an RC helicopter in mind. The size of the RC also plays a huge role in determining where you can fly it.
- Flight time: An average flight time of the default RC heli is 6-8 minutes, some of them can fly 16 minutes and more. If it's the most important feature for you we've made a list with the models with the best running time.
- Gas-powered vs. electric-powered RCs: Next, choose between a gas-powered or electric-powered RC chopper. There are models for absolute beginners in both categories.
- RTF vs. ARTF vs. Kit: RTF means ready-to-fly while ARTF means almost-ready-to-fly. The choice is entirely up to you. However, let your confidence in the workings of an RC helicopter lead you.
So, if you think you know enough about RC planes to assemble it yourself, then go for a kit. People with mechanical backgrounds opt for this option and most large RC helicopters fall into this category. However, if you feel you can’t put all the parts together, then go for RTFs. You can pull them out of the box and start flying almost immediately.
ARTFs are in the middle. You should pick them if you can't make up your mind between RTFs and Kits.
- Price: Next, consider the price of the RC helicopter you intend to get. Beginner RC choppers are affordable. You can get a mini RC heli for as low as $31.98 and a large one with lots of features for $299.99.
- Warranty and availability of replacement parts: Finally, consider the warranty and what it covers before buying an RC helicopter. Most brands offer a one to a two-year warranty on their products. Also, check to see if the RC helicopter you want to get has spare parts.
FAQs about beginner RC helicopters
Q1. What's the best type of RC helicopter?
The choice is really up to you! But won't we look cruel if we didn't give you some advice?
Since there are many types to choose from, your best bet is to first get a list of top-notch RC helicopters. Then, with the buying guide, strike off models from the list. The last chopper standing is the perfect chopper for you.
Q2. What's the difference between an RC airplane and an RC helicopter?
Although they are both radio-controlled aircraft, pretty much every other thing about these two types of RC toys is different. For one, airplanes don't have tail booms, swashplates, or overhead propellers, which are all fundamental parts of beginner RC helicopters.
Also, the controls and method of flying are quite different.
Q3. Where can I buy an RC helicopter?
RC helicopters are sold at supermarkets, popular B2C sites, and hobbyist stores. When you eventually decide to get one, we bet you'll find the buying guide we've included above useful.
Q4. Where can I fly my RC helicopter?
First, you don't need a license to fly your RC. You can take it for a spin outdoors but definitely not on private properties.
Now, you can boast of knowing a couple of things about RC helicopters. You're probably itching to get one for yourself, seeing that they are really cool.
So, if you're thinking of flying RCs as a new hobby or getting one for your kid, then everything you need is contained in this article.
Tell us, aren't you entertained?