How R/C Works
The letters RC stand for Radio Control. You'll often see model airplanes referred to as remote control, but this is an incorrect name.
Radio control is the correct term, because the airplane is controlled by radio signals that pass through the air from the transmitter to the receiver. The transmitter is the main box that you hold in your hands, the receiver is located inside the airplane.The radio signals are sent to the model in exactly the same way as television and radio broadcasts are sent (or used to be, before the world became digital...). The signals are generated whenever you move a stick or flick a switch on the transmitter, and are emitted via the antenna. All radio signals operate on a frequency that is measured in mega hertz (MHz). The transmitter and receiver must be on the same frequency for them to work together.Once the radio signal is picked up by the receiver, via the receiver antenna (a thin wire), it is converted into physical movement by the servo. Servos are connected to the control surfaces of the airplane by control rods, so any movement of the servo is passed directly to the control surface that it is linked to.
How the airplane moves and turns
So now you know how radio signals are sent into the airplane when you operate the transmitter, but why does the model do what it does when you move the sticks? All controllable airplanes have control surfaces, and different control surfaces do different things.
The primary control surfaces are rudder, elevators and ailerons. The most basic rc airplanes will only have rudder control; the rudder is the moveable section (hinged) of the vertical stabilizer, or fin, at the rear end of the plane. It controls the directional movement of the airplane - when the rudder moves left, the plane turns to the left and when the rudder moves right the plane turns to the right.The elevators are the moving section (hinged) of the horizontal stabilizer, or tailplane, also at the rear of the plane. Elevators control the pitch attitude of the airplane - whether the nose of the plane is pointing up, down or level. When elevators are moved up, the airplane will point upwards and thus begin to climb. If the elevators are moved down, the opposite happens. When the elevators are held level, then the airplane will fly level.The ailerons are the moving sections (hinged) of each wing and are located on the trailing edge (rear) of each wing towards the outer end, or wing tip. Ailerons always come in pairs, one left and one right, and they move in opposite directions to each other. That is to say, when one moves up, the other moves down and vice versa. Ailerons control the roll of the airplane; left aileron up / right aileron down causes the plane to roll to the left, right aileron up / left aileron down causes the airplane to roll to the right.Ailerons used in conjunction with the elevators have the same effect as the rudder ie directional control.
Number of channels
Every operation that is controllable on an rc airplane is referred to as a 'channel'. So, the most basic model will be just one channel which could be either motor on/off control (electric) or rudder movement control. A standard nitro airplane will be 4 channel - you have control over 4 things; the motor, elevator, rudder and ailerons. A more complex model will have those 4 controls plus retractable undercarriage and landing flaps, making it a 6 channel model.For the majority of rc pilots 2,3 or 4 channel models are the most popular.
Different types of power unit
With the exception of rc gliders, all rc airplanes need a motor of some kind to generate the thrust that pushes the model through the air.
The main two types of motor are glow plug (often called 'nitro', 'gas' or collectively 'IC' [internal combustion]) and electric. There are many many different choices of both glow plug and electric motor available, and the size of the motor depends on the size and weight of the model RC airplanes powered by glow plug motors are faster and bigger, but they require certain items of field equipment to get them started. Electric motors need only the battery pack, and are quieter and cleaner making them a very popular choice, especially with beginner rc pilots. Traditionally, glow plug airplanes were more common but these days electric ones are rapidly catching up in terms of popularity.
Trainer RC airplanes
Learning to fly rc airplanes is done on a trainer. These are planes that have certain in-built design characteristics to make them nice and stable in the air.The biggest giveaway is the position of the wing in relation to the fuselage. If the wing sits on top of the fuse, then the chances are that the model is indeed a trainer. High wing airplanes always make the best trainers because they are very stable and forgiving. The weight of the fuselage underneath the wing means that the airplane will always want to naturally level itself out if left to fly on its own (providing that it is correctly trimmed by the pilot).Another giveaway is the amount of dihedral - the upward angle of the wings when looked at from the front of the model. More dihedral means more stability in the air, and easier flying.When learning to fly rc, always go for a trainer style airplane before any other.
RC Flight simulators
RC flight simulators are a great way of learning to fly radio control airplanes without having to actually buy one yet. The flight simulator is a replica radio control transmitter that plugs directly into your home computer. The software is generally very realistic and allows you to customize the settings to suit your model or weather conditions etc. Particularly helpful for budding rc helicopter pilots, rc flight simulators mean that you can gain confidence and reflexes before you fly for real, and it really doesn't matter if you crash a virtual model!
Joining a club, learning from an instructor
Without doubt this is by far the best way of learning to fly rc airplanes! The majority of rc airplane clubs will have at least one instructor that can teach you, and some clubs even have a club trainer airplane, so you can 'fly before you buy'.RC airplane clubs are very popular these days and rc pilots are a friendly bunch. Even if you don't have a model and you're just thinking about learning to fly, getting along to a local club is a great idea. You can talk to modelers and gain lots of useful tips and advice.
Buying your first RC airplane
This is a decision that shouldn't be taken lightly, but the time will come when you're ready to start learning to fly rc airplanes for real.
You now know that trainer airplanes are the best ones to go for, but what about the size? This largely depends on where you'll be flying it, and this has to be one of your primary concerns.If you're thinking of flying it in a public place such as a park or sports field, then a small-medium size electric model is a good choice. Buying an RTF airplane will save you a lot of time and trouble, and also money because rc airplanes are nearly always cheaper to buy as a package deal rather than buying everything (model, engine, radio control gear and accessories) separately.Glow plug airplanes can only really be flown at proper flying club fields, not only because of the noise but also because the amount of airspace that they need is larger because of their faster flying speed. Of course, you may own or have access to privately owned land (such as farmland) where you can comfortably fly a larger model away from the public. This is great and will give you more options when considering which model to buy.Throughout this web site, you'll see links to particular rc airplanes (and other models). All of the models mentioned in this site have been carefully chosen because they are perfectly suitable for anyone learning to fly rc airplanes, and indeed have been designed for exactly that.But if you're not happy about buying a model on line without seeing it first, then the best thing to do is to get along to your nearest hobby shop and talk to someone face to face. Hobby shop owners have a lot of knowledge when it comes to their products, and will be only too pleased to help you make a decision on a suitable model, especially if the corner of your wallet is poking out of your trouser pocket.
Max Blose will have traning classes every Wednesday for Beginners. If you are interested in learning but do not have a plane Texas Model Aeronautics Foundation has a trainer so you can 'fly before you buy'.
If you have any questions give Max a call at Waco Hobby Stop 254-776-4991