Since you’re here, we’re willing to bet that you or someone close to you find airplanes absolutely fascinating, and of course, you want to fly one.
Thankfully, you’re not alone.😁
If you love flying (is that even still a debate?🤪), you’ll agree that airplane design, build, and functions are amazing. But the real thrill is in watching one move effortlessly through the skies like a bird without dropping.
There are many types of planes. But there’s one that you can get (or build) and fly all by yourself. Yep! They’re called Radio Control (RC) planes.
We’ll tell you how to choose the best RC aircraft later. But first, let’s walk you through the basics of RC planes and how they work.
This complete step-by-step guide for beginners on RC planes breaks down all you need to know about the subject.
If you don’t have enough time to read this guide, but you need to choose the right starter plane you can check our list of the best RC planes for beginners.
Dive in! 😉
What exactly is an RC plane?
RC planes are flying machines you control with a radio transmitter. They are usually small, but we now have some models that people can sit in. Flying an RC plane is an exciting hobby that you can learn after a few lessons.
An RC plane works in pretty much the same way as an airplane. All radio-controlled aircraft have:
- A transmitter
- A receiver
- Motors and engines
- Power source
The transmitter first sends radio waves to the receiver. Then, the receiver and power source drive the motors and engines, and the plane starts flying!
Types of RC planes and their differences
- Trainers: These are RC planes for beginners who want to learn how to fly. They are available in different shapes and sizes and have wingspans of 3 to 5 feet.
The best types of trainers take off and land slowly, and they are usually made from flexible carboard-like plastic. Most trainer planes are gas-powered.
What’s unique about Trainers: Trainers have their wings on top of the fuselage (high-wing design). So, they are stable in-flight. They also have tricycle-like landing gear to prevent hobbyists from crashing their planes.
- Aerobatic airplanes: As the name implies, these RC aircraft are suitable for hobbyists to perform aerobatic maneuvers. They measure between 3 and 9 feet wingspans and can be controlled anyhow the pilot wants.
What’s unique about Aerobatic planes: The wings are placed in the middle (mid-wing design). They also have large motors and control spaces to deliver enormous power to the plane.
- Pylon racers: These planes are one of the most exciting radio-controlled aircraft today. They are small and driven by their propellers. Their wingspan measures between 3 and 4 feet.
What’s unique about pylon pacers: Pylon pacers are quick and can fly as fast as 150 mph. This speed is almost the same as the bigger brothers have 🙂 Don’t be so serious, I’m joking, but they are fast.
- Sailplanes and Gliders: These RC planes do not have motors. While a sailplane’s design allows for sustained unpowered flights, a glider is an RC plane that can make stable and unpowered flights. But they both have a small number of components.
Although sailplanes and gliders do not typically have a power source, some models can be powered by an internal combustion engine. For such models, the blades of the propeller fold flat to limit drag when the pilot isn’t using the motors.
They are flown to give a friendly introduction to RC planes to beginners.
What’s unique about Sailplanes and gliders: Generally, these RC planes have thick wings that create more drag, which makes them reach high speeds of 80 mph. They can also be used as aerobatic planes.
By the way, we’ve made the complete guide about the best RC Gliders on the market right now.
- Jets: These are another popular type of RC planes. Ducted fans or microturbines power them. Although they come in small sizes, jets are not really beginner-friendly.
What’s unique about Jets: The fan unit is usually mounted inside the fuselage.
Powering an RC plane
Three things can be used to power an RC plane:
- Electric Power: RC planes that work on electric power are usually quieter than others. This electric power comes from batteries, and Li-Po (Lithium-Polymer) batteries are preferable over Ni-Cad (Nickel-cadmium) batteries.
Unlike other battery types, Li-Pos are lightweight and rechargeable. However, you’d have to charge the cells to about the same voltage and inside a flame-proof sack. Planes that have these batteries usually travel at lightning-fast speeds.
Electric motors of these planes may be brushed or brushless.
Pros of electric-powered RC planes
- Quiet operation
- Easy to fly
- Environmentally friendly
- Suitable for beginners
Cons of electric-powered RC planes
- Relatively less stable
- Nitro or Gas Power: Like conventional airplanes, nitro and gas can be used to power RC planes. Although some models are available for beginners, mostly experts fly these planes. As miniature versions of car engines, the engines in gas-powered RC planes are either 4-stroked or 2-stroked.
Two-stroke engines use a mixture of nitromethane and methanol, which also serves as a lubricant. Like in the movies, more nitro in the mixture implies more power. Two-stroke engines use spark ignition to start, and the engines generate power on the second piston stroke.
Four-stroke engines use the same fuel as two-stroke engines. However, they provide greater torque for the propellers. The power from four-stroke engines is generated on the fourth stroke, and they recreate the experience of flying an airplane.
Pros of nitro of gas-powered RC planes
- High speeds
- Fun to fly
- Sophisticated landing gears
Cons of nitro or gas-powered RC planes
- Relatively expensive to maintain
- Gravity-powered RC planes
These planes have only electric motors. The propellers do most of the work of climbing slopes, and RC planes that are powered by gravity are usually lightweight.
Pros of Gravity-powered RC planes:
- Suitable for beginners
- Silent flights
Cons of Gravity-powered RC planes
- Relatively slow speeds
- No landing gears
Common components of an RC plane
Here are the basic components of every RC plane:
- Servos: These are the motors that control the throttle, rudder, and flaps of your RC planes, and there’s usually one for each function. Servos are connected to the receiver by a three-conductor wire and have ratings that indicate the torque they can produce.
Gas-powered RC planes use standard servos, while the electrics use nano-sized units. But in general, servos have three specifications:
- Torque: The torque of a servo is its most important specification. Air passing by a plane always tries to induce the surface of the plane to move. The torque in a servo fights the resistance. So, if the plane is large, then more air resistance acts on it, which means more servo torque is needed to overcome said resistance.
Apart from the size of the plane, the flying style, and type of RC plane determine the torque that is needed from the servos.
- Speed: The speed of RC planes is measured by the time it takes the arm to move through 60 degrees when operating at maximum torque. Generally, the speed of an RC servo you use in landing an RC plane should be slower.
- Servo weight and dimensions: The weight and dimension of a servo is proportional to the torque requirements. There are servos for almost every type of RC plane out there.
- Body of the RC plane:
The body of most RC planes is divided into five;
- The Nose: This is the front part of RC planes. When an aircraft crashes, they are the first to be affected.
- Fuselage: This is the main body of an RC plane. The other components are housed in the fuselage of the plane.
- Wings: They are attached to the fuselage and may be curved, round, elliptical flat, or triangular.
- Tail: The tail is the back of the fuselage.
Airframe material: Radio control planes are made from different materials. Some of the common ones are:
- Balsa wood: This material has two of the best features of any material needed to fly; lightness and strength. They are easy to cut, and the heavier pieces of balsa wood can be used for parts of the plane that bear load. On the other hand, the lighter grades of the wood may be used for the wings and the nose.
- Plastics: These are some of the most popular items used in making hobby airplanes.
- Carbon fiber: These polymers are stronger and stiffer than steel. They might be used to build the entire plane or components.
- Polystyrene foam: Foam planes are durable and strong, which makes them suitable for building RC planes.
- RC Radio: The radio is the communication device for the pilot, which includes the transmitter and receiver. The standard operating frequency is 72 MHz. However, some electrics can operate at 27 MHz.
Planes that work on 27MHz have two to six channels. While those with 72 MHz operate on 11 to 60 channels.
Control functions in an RC plane
RC planes have different functions, and the ones you can control are known as channels. So, a three-channel RC plane has three functions, and a five-channel RC plane has five functions.
There are four primary controls in an RC plane:
- Throttle: This controls the engine’s speed. It’s referred to as ‘motor power’ in electric RC planes.
- Elevator: The elevator controls the altitude of your RC plane.
- Ailerons: They control the roll of your RC plane about its longitudinal axis.
- Rudder: Rudders control the direction of the plane.
Three channels vs. four channels: What’s the difference and which is better for beginners?
The choice you’d have to make as an RC plane beginner is between a three-channel and four-channel airplane. While an RC airplane with more functions will be too complicated for beginners, planes with one or two channels are toys.
3-channel RC planes: Three channel planes allow you to control the rudder, the elevator, and motor power. Some three-channel RC planes have ailerons instead of rudders.
4-channel RC planes: These planes control the rudder, elevator, ailerons, and motors.
A three-channel RC plane is easier to fly, but a four-channel aircraft is more fun to control.
RC plane technologies
Here are the common technologies in these aircraft:
SAFE (Sensor Assisted Flight Envelope): This is useful for beginners because the planes are aware of the altitude on their own.
AS3X (Artificial Stabilization – 3-axis): This technology smoothens out turbulence and torque.
Learning how to fly an RC plane
Goodness, gracious! Now that we finally got all of that technical jibby-jabber out of the way😪, let’s move on to the f-u-n part: how you can fly an RC plane.
Hol’ up! Don’t get too excited that you now miss out on important and very critical info at this point. So, r-e-l-a-x!
As a beginner, we recommend you start flying with a small trainer before you take on a larger plane. Although you can learn how to fly in only a few minutes, there are training programs to teach you how to fly.
There are also RC flying clubs supported by the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) that you can join.
Here are some steps to follow on your first RC flight:
- Make sure you choose the right weather
Flying an RC plane is pretty much the same as flying a regular plane like a pilot, but without the complicated controls. Air resistance can affect how the plane moves. So, the first step is to determine the right weather condition to fly. An open space or gymnasium will work when flying your first RC plane.
- Check the controls to see if they work
If your RC plane has different modes, make sure you choose the beginner option. Then, carry out some preliminary checks on the ground to see how everything works. Make sure your:
- Rudder moves left and right
- Ailerons come up on both sides
- Elevators move up and down
- Throttle arms the motor, which makes the propeller to start spinning.
- Take off
Once you check that everything works well, the next thing to do is to take off. Keep a straight line while your plane picks up speed on the ground. So, if your plane starts wandering left or right, return your throttle to zero and start again.
During take-off, you’ll be steering the plane with your right hand if it’s a 3-channel plane, and your left hand if it’s a 4-channel RC aircraft.
Try not to fly your RC plane to the sun, unless you want it to escape into space!🤣
You should also throttle at full speed when taking off.
- Try out all functions on the plane and see how the plane moves
It’s exhilarating, all the things you can do with an RC plane. So, make sure you try out all the functions.
- Land your plane
When you’ve had enough fun, the next thing to do is to land the plane.
You need to reduce the speed of your plane and its altitude gradually to land it successfully. Finally, steer it to your position.
Congratulations! You’ve successfully flown an RC plane. In addition we want to share this amazing tutorial.
Skill building and aerobatics
People don’t make flying an RC plane their hobby just because they can take off and land! After you’ve learned how to do these, it’s time to switch things up with some aerobatics.
You can perform aerobatics with your trainer, but that’s not what they are made for.
Here are the common aerobatics you can do with an RC plane:
- Loop: This is one of the most popular maneuvers. All you have to do is move your plane in circles.
How to perform the loop: To perform the loop: first make a straight and level take-off. Add throttle to the airspeed and elevator so that the plane is flat. Then, increase the elevation and throttle intermittently to begin the loop. Add some throttle when the plane is heading out and maintain the elevation.
- Roll: After mastering the loop, the next aerobatic move to learn is the roll. It only works on 4-channel RC planes, though. Take note!
How to perform the roll: First, make a straight and level take-off. Then apply full ailerons on both sides. Apply the down elevator slowly then remove it while you maintain the aileron. Then, release your aileron stick.
- Spin: Spinning an RC plane means rotating it about its vertical axis.
How to perform the spin: After take-off, stall the wing before rolling and hold the controls before releasing.
Buying guide: Making your first RC plane purchase as a beginner
We don’t want you to get cheated when you buy your first RC plane. Apart from getting cheated, it’s very easy to pick an airplane that doesn’t really meet your needs/requirements. So, we’ve compiled this list of things you should consider before you go ahead and buy one. We hope this helps!
- Size and type of the RC plane
This is a no-brainer. You wouldn’t want to get an RC plane that you can’t keep in your house or one that’s complex to use. So, our first advice to you is to get a small RC plane for beginners. Choose between a trainer and an aerobatics.
The size of an RC plane is measured in wingspans. Anything between three and nine wingspans should work.
- The configuration
Next, you should examine the design configuration of the plane. Here, our advice is that you shouldn’t get a plane because it looks cool. While reviewing the design configurations, here are a couple of things to look out for:
- High-wing vs. Mid-wing vs. Low-wing: RC planes for beginners can have any one of these designs. By low-wing, we mean that the wings are located on/close to the bottom of the fuselage, and so on. High-wing airplanes are the most suitable for beginners because they can stabilize and turn by themselves.
- Presence of dihedral: When you look at some planes from their nose, you’ll notice that the wings are V-shaped. This is referred to as a dihedral. A plane with a lot of dihedral is more stable, and suitable for beginners.
Like we mentioned earlier, you can get a gas-powered, electric-powered, or gravity-powered RC plane. Most beginners start with either gas-powered or electric-powered RC planes because of their many advantages.
- Number of controllable functions
Another decision you have to make is whether you should get a 3-channel or 4-channel RC plane. 4-channel RC planes provide a more rewarding flying experience but are not as comfortable as 3-channel planes, especially when you’re just starting.
- Availability of spare parts
As a beginner, you’ll likely crash your RC plane often, especially on your first few flights. So, it helps to have an RC plane with spare parts.
Obviously, you should get the spares parts for RC planes from the same manufacturer if it doesn’t come with the aircraft.
- Stage of Completion (Kits vs. ARF vs. RTF)
RC planes can either come as a kit, an Almost-Ready-to Fly (ARF), or a Ready-to-Fly (RTF). If you get a kit, then you’ll have to put everything together before you start flying your plane. You’ll need to know where each part goes (which might not be the easiest thing to do for a beginner), but the satisfaction of getting the plane to work is second to none.
ARFs come 90% complete. You’ll only need a motor, radio gear, and an electric speed controller (ESC) if you’re getting an electric RC plane. Only a little knowledge of the structure is needed.
With RTFs, immediately you get them out of the box, you can begin flying.
The choice of purchasing either an RTF, an ARF, and or a kit is really up to you!
Some flight crashes are terrible, and installing spare parts won’t do you any good. So, you should look towards getting an RC plane that has a warranty.
How to build a simple RC plane?
Building an RC plane isn’t rocket science. With only a few tools and materials, you can have your hand-made, radio-controlled flying machine built in no time.
You’ll need a knife, pliers, a screwdriver, a ruler, felt-tip markers, safety glasses, a drill, grease, heat gum, and all the components we’ve listed above.
Easy steps to build an RC plane
- Fabricate the deck, fuselage, and wings: Get your airframe material and cut out the shape of the deck. This is where most of your components will be placed on, so it should be strong.
- Attach the servos: Apply stick tapes to the side of the servo and make sure they are clean before you place them on the deck. Usually, you’ll need three servos; one in the middle and two at the sides.
- Mount the propeller and power source: Next, fix the batteries or internal combustion engines on the RC plane. Then, connect the power source to the motors and the motors to the propellers.
- Install the radio: Next, install the radio and electronics. You can get the electronic schematics for RC planes here.
- Add a personal touch: Lastly, include any accessory, component, or design you want as long as it won’t prevent the RC plane from functioning properly.
Troubleshooting an RC plane
Sometimes, even after following all the instructions, your RC plane might develop a fault. Here’s how to troubleshoot the aircraft.
- What to do when the engine fails
First, don’t panic. It can happen to even the best of hobbyists. When the engine fails, the throttle won’t work. Your RC plane is now a glider. So, allow it to descend on its own. All you should consider is how to steer it to your landing area.
Do not use elevation to keep your RC plane longer in the air.
- What to do if the radio glitches
A radio glitch means a temporary loss of control, which means the signal from your transmitter isn’t getting to the receiver. It happens when there’s a radio with a similar frequency that is interfering with that of your RC plane’s.
There’s not much you can do here. But after a while, you should regain control of your RC plane.
- How to deal with orientation problems
Newbies experience a lot of orientation problems, especially when their RC plane is headed at them. The rudder controls work in reverse when the plane is coming towards you, but the throttle and elevation remain the same.
The easiest way to overcome orientation problems is to imagine you are a pilot in the cockpit. Remember that the airplane turns in the direction you move the control stick. If you want an airplane that’s facing you to turn left, then move the control stick to the radio’s left, and so on.
How to maintain an RC plane?
If you want your RC plane to last for many years, then you need to maintain it. Here are the steps to follow:
- Make sure you recharge your batteries or refuel the planes as and when due: You can fly a regular trainer for 10 to 30 minutes on a full battery. However, you still need to recharge or refuel them so that they don’t crash.
- Clean your RC plane regularly: Use water or an alcohol-based solution to wipe down the parts of the plane. For the motors, controller, and servos, don’t use any liquid. Instead, give them a good dust.
Frequently asked questions about RC planes
Q1. Is there any difference between a drone, an RC plane for beginners, and a helicopter?
A drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). So, an aircraft that flies without a pilot is a drone. Some may have radio controls, and others are autopilots.
Helicopters and drones are examples of vehicles similar to RC planes. But they’re not RC planes.
Q2. Can I fly an RC plane anywhere?
It depends on where you live. But generally, you can fly your RC plane in most public places but not on private properties.
Q3. Are radio-control planes and remote-control planes the same?
If you go by the definition, remote-control devices usually have transmitter cables that the signals pass through to the receiver. Radio-control devices have separate transmitters and receivers and no wire or cable connecting them.
RC planes are your personal airplanes, and you can race with your friends with them. The satisfaction of flying one is exciting, and we’re pretty sure it’ll be your new hobby.
We hope this RC planes for beginners guide has given you a complete overview on how to fly, build, and maintain one.