RC Airplane/Choosing a plane
Selecting the proper plane for a budget, experience and purpose can be key to enjoying the hobby. If you get the wrong thing, you will only end up with frustration and disappointment.
Ready to fly
Ready to fly (RTF) models are popular amongst park fliers. They come ready made, with all the electronics and radio equipment installed for you. All that needs to be done is charge up the batteries. Whilst they can be useful for learning the basics of how to fly, they can quickly become boring to the pilot as his/her skill progresses.
However, is worth watching out for cheap, mass produced, poorly constructed models.
Almost ready to fly
Almost ready to fly (ARTF) models have become very popular, especially for trainers. These come mostly built, and it is only a matter of assembling the major components (i.e. joining and attaching the wings and tail surfaces to the fuselage) and installing your radio equipment and engine.
Kits vary enormously in the demands that they make of the builder. Some require considerable expertise and investment of time, while others (like the recent breed of interlocking laser-cut kits) can be assembled as quickly as a simple jigsaw puzzle. The choice of materials is almost unlimited. Traditionally, kits mainly used balsa and a few plywood parts. Polystyrene foam then became common, as did countless combinations of glass-reinforced plastic (GRP), expanded polypropylene (EPP), carbon fibre and other modern materials.
The assembly of kits requires an extensive range of adhesives, with cyanoacrylate being popular, as well as two-part epoxy, PVA and others.
Any type of model can be built from a plan. Plans can be highly detailed or basic in the extreme, requiring all different levels of experience. It is common for RC airplane magazines to include 'free' plans as a selling point, often on a monthly basis. Most larger publications in the hobby also maintain back catalogues of plans, which can be ordered by those who wish to build from them, or refer to them. Many plans are also available for free online, though quality is extremely variable. Hobbyists must also be aware that a significant number of plans available for download have been scanned and made available in breach of copyright.
A relatively recent developement, SPAD stands for Simple Plastic Airplane Design. Whilst it is primarily a method of model airplane construction, SPAD is more of a design philosophy that goes like this:
"Spad is the simple concept of offering free plans and ideas for designing very cheap, great flying airplanes made from Coroplast, gutterpipe, aluminum, or anything else we can find that works! The Spad concept is also the world wide sharing of these ideas and most of all, having fun with our hobby!"
This is a quote from spadtothebone a vast resource of plans and information on spads.
SPAD is a reversal of the trend towards better looking, very complex and very delicate models. SPADs are often extremely ugly, built out of materials such as waste plastic, PVC downpipe, correx (or coroplast in the USA - more on this later) or aluminium channel. Although they may not look beautiful, they can be made to fly extremely well, and are unbelievably tough.
Electric or Glow (gas)
Years ago gas airplanes were the norm. Most fields which fly gas airplanes require membership and registration with the AMA. However, recently with the advent of LiPo batteries and brushless motors, electric parkflyers are becoming common place. Electric parkflyers can often be flown in local parks or fields and often are less expensive than a gas plane. When it comes to very large scale airplanes, gas is far more prevalent.
A simple, high winged trainer is the best thing to get if you are new to the hobby. ARTFs are very popular, since your trainer will probably suffer the odd bump.
A large rudder/elevator soarer or simple aileron trainer are the best things to get. Almost indestructable expanded polypropylene (EPP) models have become very popular for learning.
Flying wings (often referred to as Delta Wings due to their triangular shape) are generally more for experienced pilot who enjoy high speed flying. These airplanes are capable of very high speeds and are usually are more controllable in windy conditions. The motor is often a rear mounted (some gas models have a front propeller) high rpm motor which turns a relatively smaller propeller. Most of these have no landing gear and require special channel mixing of the ailerons/elevator.
This is the common term referring to WWII era aircraft. Most Warbirds are for experienced pilots who like scale detail. These planes are often quite fast and execute most aerobatic maneuvers gracefully.
Very light, highly maneuverable aerobatic airplanes. These planes perform aerobatic maneuvers and flight patterns at minimal speeds. Some of these are even flown inside gymnasiums! Often made of flat, uncontoured Styrofoam these planes usually offer little or no scale detail. These are usually for experienced modelers, however the ParkZone Typhoon 3D and the Great Planes U-can-Do 3D offer intermediate pilots an entry level start into 3D.
If you have joined a club and have tuition, a larger trainer is probably the best solution. They will be easier to see and fly slower, making learning that much easier. However, they will be more expensive and will guzzle more fuel or batteries.
If you do not wish to join a club, do not get a large plane. Large planes can be extremely dangerous! You are probably best off getting something similar to a park flyer. If your interest is sufficiently captured, you may well find your attitude to organized flying changes.
Other things to consider:
- Will it fit in your car?
- Do you have enough space to build it in?
- Electric or gas?