Your first beginner RC (radio-controlled) airplane can determine how long you’re into the hobby; so, choose wisely. While there is no “best” beginner RC plane out there, there are several key factors that could make or break the experience. Here are 5 things that will help you make the best decision.
From civilian planes to warbirds, and from floatplanes to jets; there are many types of RC model airplanes available in the market today. However, not all are suitable for beginners. If it looks cool, it may not be for you (just yet). What you really need is a trainer RC airplane designed for beginners. They generally have a high wing placement – wings mounted above the fuselage – with both wing panels slightly angled upwards; this upward angle is termed dihedral.
The high wing and dihedral architecture give the trainer aircraft greater lateral stability. If a disturbance (such as a gust of wind) causes one wing to dip (or roll as it is known in the realm of aeronautics), the lower wing will produce more lift that will push your aircraft back into horizontal equilibrium. This auto-leveling mechanism makes flying much easier and even real commercial aircraft are designed this way.
There are primarily 2 materials to choose from when it comes to remote control airplanes: foam or balsa. Balsa – a light but sturdy wood – is pricier and geared more towards the intermediate to advanced RC pilots as they require more assembly and demand a certain degree of craftmanship (otherwise known as patience). Whereas foam planes (AKA foamies), require less assembly and could hit the skies much quicker – making it the obvious choice for a first RC plane.
What’s more, if you hard crash your plane, your balsa aircraft will most likely get totaled. Even if your balsa somehow survives, scavenging for 20+ pieces of wood scattered across the field on your first flight will lead to your premature exit from the hobby. A foamy – in the same crash – would absorb the impact much better and reduce the damage. It may break into pieces, but it can be easily glued back together making it much more durable and beginner-friendly.
If you went to your local RC club 20 years ago, most of your fellow hobbyists were probably flying internal combustion (IC) – gas, nitro, or glow - planes. Today, electric RC planes are the norm (at least for beginners) and have become much cheaper and stress-free to fly, thanks to technological advances.
Owning an IC plane is like owning a real plane. A lot of time and money is needed for maintenance, fuel, cleaning, and repairs. And while you are scrub off the oil from your engine and carefully store your fuel, your electric counterparts might squeeze in a few more flights. It is just much easier (and cheaper) to own an electric plane: when catastrophe strikes, you can always get a new battery or motor, plug them in, and you’re ready to go again.
Kit (Build) Level
You may have seen various 3 letter acronyms such as ARF, BNF, PNF, and KIT thrown in randomly at times – but what do they mean? At first, they may seem confusing, but, as a beginner, they are precisely what you should be looking for. These acronyms tell you 2 things: the hardware included and how much assembly is required.
As a beginner RC plane enthusiast, you will want an RTF (Ready to Fly) or PNF (Plug and Fly) model. An RTF plane comes with everything out of the box –no additional purchases are required. While a PNF plane will require you to buy your own transmitter, receiver, batteries, and charger. At first glance an RTF kit may seem like the better choice; we recommend going with a PNF model as it will ultimately help you get used to the different components and mechanics of the RC hobby quicker.
Channels refer to the number of functions – or control surfaces– of your RC plane you can control. They go from 2 channels all the way up to 20 channels. You may think great, let’s just start with 20 channels and fly this baby right out the stratosphere. You will be lucky to even get your baby off the ground. Remember, the more functions you control, the more you will need to master.
For the beginner pilot, we recommend going with a 4-channel RC aircraft. 2-channel planes are pretty much toy-grade while 3-channel planes lack full manipulation making it harder to fly in some situations. A 4-channel RC plane will allow you to control the throttle (speed), ailerons (roll), rudder (yaw), and elevator (pitch); these are collectively known as the primary controls.
We know that buying your first RC airplane can be a bit intimidating. So if you want an easy start, take our word (30+ years of experience) and buy a 4 channel electric PNF foam trainer. If you still don’t know where to begin, you can check our H-King Bixler 1.1 or H-King AXN Floater Jet. Both are great trainer planes and includes all the benefits discussed in this article.
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