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Interested in R/C Aircraft?

By Garret Hultgren

Updated by Garret Hultgren and Dave Dust: 2017

When first interested in the hobby of remote control aircraft, there are many decisions to be made. In addition, there are many key points to follow to allow you the freedom of flight without a ”buddy” system. These points can also help you enjoy that freedom without returning home accompanied by a truckload of spare parts!


The first decision to be made is:

What type of aircraft am I interested in?

The four main divisions of aircraft are the airplane, the powered/non-powered glider, the helicopter, and the multi-rotor copter or “drone”.

Model aircraft may be constructed from a range of materials and powered in a number of ways.  Entry-level airplanes and gliders may be constructed of foam or balsa/plywood (with a fuel resistant plastic covering).  High end airplanes and gliders may also be constructed of fiberglass and carbon fiber.  Helicopters and multi-rotor copters are constructed of wide range of materials including carbon fiber, a range of plastics, and/or a range of metal alloys. 

However, there are some general rules regarding the material used to construct the aircraft and how it may be powered: i) Entry-level fuel-powered airplanes and gliders are typically constructed of balsa/plywood, with a fuel resistant plastic covering; ii) All airplanes and powered gliders constructed of foam are electric powered; iii) Helicopters may be electric or fuel powered; and iv) all multi-rotor copters are electric powered.

The second question to ask is:

Of the types of aircraft listed above, am I interested in electric-powered, nitro-powered, or non-powered (gliders) models? 

An electric powered model has many pros, such as: little or no prep and set-up work and no messy cleanup. Most electric models are generally smaller than fuel versions and are easier to load into your vehicle.  The electric model has its disadvantages though: unless you have many batteries, you can only fly for ~10-20 minutes without a lengthy recharge, whereas fuel powered models can have numerous flights.

If interested in gliders, you also have “choices”: some gliders have electric motors to power the plane to a high altitude, while others rely completely on “catching a thermal.”  You can also use a “high start” which “launches” the glider to a high altitude via an elastic cord.


The third decision is:

Do I want to join a club?

The smartest decision is “yes.” If you know of a club with a nice field in your area, spend the extra money to pay club dues. In addition to the use of the field, the help, advice, and of course, instruction, is definitely worth the extra cash. Clubs also require that you be a member of the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA).  This nation-wide organization provides insurance to all of its members.  This insurance covers or helps to cover any accidental injury or property damage.  To find more information, visit the AMA’s website:


The fourth and probably most important question is:

Should I ask for training from an instructor in the club to fly one of these models or just try flying it by myself?

I will answer this one for you – ask for instruction. Never try flying one of these aircraft by yourself without the proper training or without an instructor holding the master transmitter. Unless you have super powers, it will 99.9% of the time get off the ground, MAYBE complete a full corner, then…SMASH! After that, your $350+ airplane or even more expensive helicopter will be nothing more than kindling. It is definitely worth it to ask an instructor, “Will you help me?”


Most instructors carry along with them a buddy-box and trainer cord. The “great wise one” handles the master transmitter while the student controls the second transmitter (which is a dummy controller). When the instructor feels that it is safe, he holds the trainer switch that will then give control to the trainee. Just as fast as the trainer depressed the switch, he can resume control in case of a death spiral!

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