If you like the sound of picking up a very exciting hobby, flying RC planes might just be for you. There’s just something about maneuvering a control stick and seeing your own airplane soar through the skies. Plus, you can enjoy the thrill of flying from over a kilometer away. You can fly alone or with your buddies for a fun day of flying, talking, and laughing at a local field.
The RC hobby also provides an opportunity to learn new skills. Whether it’s figuring out a transmitter program or a new repair skill, learning new things keeps it exciting and interesting. It’s also something anyone can do—male or female, young or old. That’s very encouraging and attracts more people to RC flying. No wonder it’s often considered good, clean, family-friendly fun, though you can always pit yourself against other pilots and see how you measure up.
Getting started requires some research, though, because there are various RC plane brands in the market. From Ares and Art Tech to Cox, Dumas, and many others, many companies make RC planes for hobbyists and professionals alike. Then you have different types like giant scale, gliders, aerobatics, etc.
The aim of this post is to educate beginners looking to buy their first RC plane. We’ll look at various factors that should go into your purchase decision without getting too technical so you can easily understand what to look for. Of course, the final choice will depend on your design preferences and personal needs, but the things we list should help you identify an RC plane for long-term use.
A Little About RC Flying
Contrary to popular belief, RC planes offer much more than the thrill of flying. The RC toys have a racing and technical side, which satisfies hobbyists on different fronts. Some find joy in racing, while others love the technical part and spend time customizing, fine-tuning, and upgrading their planes.
RC planes also offer a way to socialize with other people. You can search for a flying club in or near your vicinity and visit on weekends. It’s a good way to de-stress yourself and spend time away from a digital screen. Plus, a few hours of RC flying are enough to make you feel like a kid again (remember those days of RC fun?). It’s fun on so many levels, and watching something you control taking it to the skies is downright satisfying.
Some other benefits associated with RC flying:
- The hobby can be as complex or easy as you like
- RC flying can be done indoors (bad weather? No problem)
- When outdoors, RC flying is a way to get fresh air
- You’ll improve your hand-eye movement and coordination
- An outstanding variety of planes is available
- People at flying clubs are a great bunch (friendships will be built)
- Unlike simulators in video games, you own a physical plane you need to maintain
- RC flying lets you be creative and improves your imagination
Types of RC Planes
RC planes come in different varieties, with each having its own purpose and features. Let’s look at the most common types of RC planes and identify which ones are suitable for beginners.
If you’re looking for beginner RC planes, there’s no better option than a trainer. Trainer planes are basic, with wings above the fuselage for maximum stability during flight. When a disturbance causes one wing to dip, the lower wing produces more lift, bringing the plane back into a horizontal position. You can power trainers with an electrical motor or a glow plug (nitro) IC.
Sport planes are the next level up from RC trainers, but you can also use them for training, especially low-wing training. They are more capable of doing acrobatic stunts than trainers are. RC sport planes are typically low or mid-wing, which helps them perform maneuvers with ease. Sport planes make up a very large sector of the RC planes market. They are designed purely for function, i.e., agility, aerobatics, and speed.
Gliders exist in two forms: pure and power. Pure gliders rely solely on the wind and hot air pockets to stay in the air. They typically have a slender fuselage and long thin wings, which helps them generate minimum drag for any given lift. However, you need to hand-launch them since they don’t have a motor or engine. Powered gliders, on the other hand, are gliders with a propeller. Their lightweight and aerodynamic properties make them easy to fly. Powered gliders are popular with beginners that want to achieve longer flight times.
Aerobatic RCs have larger control surfaces than trainers and warbirds, giving them more pitch, roll, and yaw rates. Most aerobatic RC planes have a mid-wing configuration, with the fuselage’s mid-portion connected to the wing. They don’t have self-correcting tendencies, allowing them to pull off advanced maneuvers with good precision. The asymmetrical airfoils on these planes also operate at low and high speeds.
Not necessarily designed for performance, scale planes have smaller control surfaces and wings than regular aerobatic and sports planes. Essentially, these planes are miniature versions of real aircraft—e.g., a 1:20 scale plane is 20 times smaller than an actual airplane. Some scale planes even replicate functional attributes of actual planes, such as having a working cargo door and sequenced landing gears.
RC planes wouldn’t have been what they are without warbirds—the nicest-looking planes on the market. Warbirds take inspiration from wartime planes like Corsair F4U and P-51 Mustang. These beauties have smooth flying characteristics and classic lines, making them particularly suitable for those with an aesthetic eye. However, not all warbirds are suitable for beginners, besides some RTF varieties built for first-time flyers.
RC floatplanes bring another level of novelty and excitement to the hobby. These planes are amphibious, i.e., they can land and take off from both ground and water. The skills required for water landing and takeoff are different from doing the same on the ground, but you can master them over time to engage in truly sensational flying over lakes and rivers. Water surfaces are also much more spacious and accessible than flying strips.
Cool, agile, fast—these are a few traits of the RC jets sold in the market. These planes typically use propellers to generate thrust, but some RC jet models rely on turbine and EDF (Electrical Ducted Fan) for the same. One thing that makes them incredibly streamlined is a mid-wing configuration with a sweptback and/or trapezoidal wing design. Plus, their small/short wings give them lower wing loading, something that significantly enhances their maneuverability.
Based on their characteristics, we can classify these RC planes as entry-level, mid-level, and high-end.
|Entry-level RC planes||Mid-level RC planes||High-Grade RC planes|
|Trainers||Scale planes||Aerobatic planes|
What to Consider When You Choose Your RC Plane
Many factors determine whether a specific RC plane would be suitable for your needs. Below are some considerations before you splurge the cash on a toy aircraft.
Most beginners choose EP (Electrical power) for power. That’s because EPs require less assembly and are more fuel-efficient. The other option is an engine with Internal Combustion Power and a glow plug (IC). Typically, ICs are messier, noisier, and less fuel efficient than their electric counterparts. They can fly faster, higher, and further, however.
Many hobbyists are tempted to buy an RC plane with a cool look and high speed without considering how they will control it. Don’t make that mistake—go for a wing trainer, and look for under-cambered, symmetrical, and unsymmetrical airfoils.
Additionally, look at the dihedral, the “V” angle of the wings, when you look at the aircraft from the front. Choose an RC plane with a greater dihedral because it will be more stable. High wing + more dihedral = more stability and the capability to level flight without intervention.
Because RC plans depend on the rudder for turning around the vertical axis, the dihedral helps the aircraft achieve a balanced turn as they tilt in that position.
The number of channels
This depends on how many controllable functions you prefer. You can go for a 1-gear flyer with just one mode or a 3-channel model that allows you to control the rudder, elevator, and engine. Beginners are advised to stick between 1 and 3-channels, as more options can make it complex to maneuver the aircraft
Spare part availability
Crashes are imminent as you learn how to fly an RC airplane. Therefore, it’s vital to have an off-the-shelf supply of spare parts. When shopping for your plane, check whether its spare parts will be easy and cheap to source. Generally, parts for trainers are quite cheap, whereas parts for an RC jet or scale plane can be expensive to source.
Purchasing RC planes without good parts’ backup can put you in for dodgy repairs that impede the performance of your aircraft post-crash. So always consider parts availability before buying.
Most hobby-grade RC planes are made of foam. While there might be differences between the foam types, the durability is pretty much the same. The more important aspect is the landing gear, which comprises the wheels on which the RC aircraft will touch the ground.
Some landing gears are lightweight and rated as “single-use.” Others are solid, permanently affixed, and last as long as the life of the aircraft. As you might guess, permanently-affixed landing gears minimize the chance of gear replacement.
Speed and distance
Most hobby-grade RC planes can fly at 25-30 mph speeds. If you go with a complex aircraft, the speed could reach 200 mph. However, we don’t recommend purchasing the fastest plane on the market as a beginner. The faster it flies, the faster it crashes. Choose a speed that you’re comfortable with instead.
Additionally, consider how far you want the aircraft to fly. Most RC planes can go up to a range of 1 mile, but you’ll want it to stay closer to keep your visibility and control over the plane. So it’s safe to choose a model that can reach up to one mile in the distance.
Drones are often used for aerial videography, but did you know some RC planes come with HD cameras that can capture amazing footage? You can record breathtaking views in the air, then upload the footage to your computer or phone.
However, these cameras add to the weight and price tag of the toy. Plus, certain areas restrict flying RC planes with a camera. Moreover, the battery life of camera-based RC planes is less than standard RC planes.
Flight stabilization technology helps prevent RC planes from flying into an undesirable altitude. The latest version of this technology is SAFE, which stands for Sensor Assisted Flight Envelope.
It’s important to ensure that your RC plane comes with SAFE because the technology enables the following:
|Auto-landing||Pressing a button will bring the plane to the ground|
|Panic Recovery||Automatically position the RC plane to level flying.|
|Virtual Fence||Confine the RC plane to a predetermined area. This is handy for new flyers who may not know the plane’s distance.|
|Holding Pattern||Call your RC aircraft back to a predetermined GPS point.|
Typically, a 3-way toggle switch on the transmitter allows operators to activate or deactivate the SAFE mode.
The smallest RC plane models take over 1 square foot of storage space, while the standard hobby-grade planes take around 26 * 26 inches. There are also larger planes that require 3 ft * 4 ft, but professional flyers typically use those. This could be a consideration if you live in a small apartment.
Kit Readiness Level
RC plane manufacturers offer a variety of kits, many of which include everything you need to start flying straight away. Here’s how they are generally described:
- RTF (Ready-to-Fly): RTF planes are ideal for beginners because they require minimal assembly. To utilize RTF planes, you don’t have to construct a kit or be a professional model builder. You need to charge their battery and get down to action.
- ARF (Almost Ready-to-Fly): These are a good option for being introduced to RC flying while experiencing the challenges of building your own RC aircraft. You can purchase a gas-powered or electric ARF plane.
- PNP (Plug-N-Play): If you prefer using your own radio system, a PNP plane might be the best option. With PNP RC planes, all you have to do is plug in your radio system receiver. Once it’s set up, you can start flying. PNP planes generally cost less than other varieties and are a good way to save money.
- ARC (Almost Ready-to-Cover): Although much more involved, an ARC plane offers you more avenues than other planes. With the core assembly already done, these planes just require your selection of covering materials along with the final assembly.
- ARFC (Almost Ready-for-Combat): These models are built for field and park combat fun flights.
- BNF (Bind-N-Fly): If you’re looking for an RC plane without a transmitter, BNF planes should be your go-to choice. However, ensure you have a compatible radio transmitter capable of binding with the receiver supplied. Horizon Hobby is the trademark owner of Bind-N-Fly planes.
- Package deal: Some manufacturers offer packages that include the engine and the airplane (kit or ARF), but you buy the radio individually. This enables you to choose the model and brand of the radio. Mail-order and internet hobby retailers typically offer this option to customers.
Shopping For an RC Plane for The First Time
As a beginner RC flyer, you might want to start your shopping journey at a hobby shop. Good decision—reps at these shops are usually kind and offer free advice. Don’t be shy to ask them questions about an RC plane. If something they say goes over the head, go home and search about it online. Understand your own needs and flying preferences before committing to a purchase.
Some local stores will allow you to test-fly an RC plane before purchasing it. Although you can read online reviews to get an idea of the experience offered by a specific aircraft, nothing competes with flying and controlling one in real life. When you experience how a particular airplane or category of planes looks and feels, it’s your decision whether to buy it online or in-store.
Popular RC Plane Brands
Cheap RC planes can break quickly, so buying aircraft from reputable brands is your best bet. Here’s a list of some of the most popular RC plane brands in existence (including US and European brands):
Since its humble beginnings, HorizonZone has become a leader in RC accessories and products. The brand sells RC planes of all types, along with carrying a full line of replacement air tools, chargers, accessories, and batteries to complement hobbyists’ passion for RC flight.
HobbyZone’s most popular RC planes is the Sport Cub S RC Airplane. It’s ready-to-fly and includes a proportional 4-channel control. In the BNF category, HobbyZone’s Sport Cub S 2 RC Airplane is a hit budget buyers, but there’s also a better BNF available in the shape of AeroScout S 2. The latter is extremely durable yet lightweight, making it perfect for first-time buyers.
E-flite allows beginners and experienced pilots to experience the thrill and joy of radio-controlled flights. Its extensive lineup of RC planes includes trainers, jets, warbirds, and aerobats. Planes like UMX Turbo Timber BNF and Air Tractor 1.5 BNF come fully assembled. Then we also have the Valiant 1.3m BNF Basic, which boasts functional flaps and a wide flight envelope with sporty performance. The UMX Pitts S-1S BNF Basic is a great option for those who love the color red and want their plane to be aesthetically appealing.
All you need to fly these planes straight out of the box is a fully charged battery and a transmitter. In other words, the brand offers something for everyone. The optional SAFE system makes E-flite planes a good choice, which can be switched off as you gain experience with time. Moreover, E-flite offers LED navigation and simulated strobe lights powered by the battery.
GoolRC is an internationally renowned brand that offers top-quality, well-designed RC models, from planes and UFOs to accessories, tools, and parts. The whole company is as passionate about RC hobbying as their customers, so naturally, they are proud of their creations and strive to offer reliability and quality. Initially catering to RC hobbyists in the general category, GoolRC has seen its product line grow thanks to quality products like FX635 RC Airplane and Flybear FX-820. GoolRC’s planes are lightweight and ready to fly out of the box—no assembly required. Plus, models like Flybear FX-820 are constructed with super tough EPP foam material.
FEIHTENGDA is known for making super easy to fly planes. Their top models come with only a few controls, meaning you don’t have to learn anything complicated. This simplicity makes them an excellent choice for new flyers yet to experience an RC aircraft flight. FEIHTENGDA’s planes are just solid enough to work but not so expensive that they would cost you a lot should you crash one and require a replacement. FEIHTENGDA also has good after-sales service, so you can connect with them in case you run into an issue.
FEIHTENGDA’s Flybear FX-635 is ideal for beginners—it comes with powerful motors that help it get off the ground easily. Beginners can learn to fly it just after a few hours of practice. You can also check out the RC Jet 320, which comes in different color options and enables long distance flying.
Volantex is a European company that focuses on developing, researching, and manufacturing RC (remote control) hobby products. It has been committed to endorsing hobby model products for several years and invites everyone to experience its products—whether you are an expert or a beginner.
Volante’s popular offerings include JET F-16 Fighting Falcon airplane and Ranger 400. The latter is an RTF aircraft that delivers excellent performance. The Mini Trainstar boasts an advanced stabilizer system and a powerful motor, which help the plane fly stably and even perform aerodynamics in windy areas. The plane also has a special “one-key” u-turn function, which allows you to return the plane by the opposite direction that it took off.
Another European brand, JP Models helps you choose the right engine for your new RC aircraft. It also provides a propeller, regulator, and power pack to the engine. The brand’s RC planes have beautiful designs and have even won the World Cup.
You can check its Minion or ION NEO aircraft, which are fast and agile. Minion allows for fun flying, while ION NEO is all about aesthetics. JP Models developed the latter model in collaboration with the RC world champion Rudolf Freudenthaler. You can be sure of the aircrafts’ quality because the brand pays attention to the quality construction of building kits.
Where To Fly an RC plane?
There are several places where you can enjoy flying your RC plane:
- Private land owned by you or a family member/friend.
- Public land such as a national park or recreational spot with safety laws surrounding RC planes.
- An RC flying club near your location.
If you’re planning to fly your RC on a public beach, field, park, or where there are other aircraft flyers, note that the radio frequency is likely to be set to a 2.4GHz setting. Airplanes using the MHZ system can interfere with other people’s frequencies.
Keep a distance between you and other operators when flying in such locations. At least a mile of space of the receptivity-proximity mentioned in the aircraft’s manual is sufficient. Taking this step will not only prevent the planes from crashing into each other but also reduce your odds of losing control/signal of your plane, which is a safety risk for people around you.
You can also fly an RC plane indoors to overcome the winter blues. However, make sure that you’re flying in a suitable space—a school hall or a large gym is ideal.
Quick Tips for Flying an RC Plane
1. Read the manual carefully
Although it might seem boring, it is highly critical. You’ll find all the details about the operation of your aircraft in the manual. It’s best to follow the steps listed here to avoid any incident. For instance, the manual tells how to secure your aircraft’s battery, and not doing so can lead to displacing your airplane’s center of gravity beyond the standard threshold.
2. Do Pre-Flight Checks
This involves taking several steps:
- Tightening the propeller and spinner nuts.
- Ensuring the battery is fully secured and charged.
- Checking for dirt or damage in the control surfaces. Anything sticking out should be cleaned before the flight.
- Ensuring the motor is fully functional and not making any weird noises.
- Checking the wind in the place of flying to ensure the environment is suitable for a flight. Avoid flying if it’s too risky.
- Checking whether the transmitter is working by stepping 30-40 paces away from the plane.
- Ensuring all the controls and servos are responsibly, correctly, and securely fit.
3. Fly Sensibly
Flying RC planes, while fun, requires a few considerations to achieve proper flight:
- When taking off, build momentum and speed by allowing the airplane to travel along the ground.
- When the plane displays floating signs, raise the elevators to help lift it into the air.
- When in the air, move the control stick on your remote-control pad to change the plane’s direction. This is how you can keep at a safe altitude and maneuver the plane.
- Keep the aircraft as level as possible—this makes it easier to control and prevents the aircraft from falling.
- Lower the power and release the throttle when landing the plane (while it’s close to the ground).
- Ensure each wheel touches the ground at the same time.
- Stay within the range of radio control while flying the plane. If you go out of range, you might lose control. Many RC plane models aren’t equipped with features to escape this situation, so the plane might continue to fly until the batteries die.
How long can RC planes fly?
The average flight time for a standard RC plane is 15-20 minutes. However, this timing can vary depending on the plane’s weight, size, and wing speed. More expensive planes built with carbon fiber are likely to last longer due to the light material and powerful batteries that are usually equipped on the plane.
When testing out the flight time of your plane, make sure to charge the battery fully. Then, fly the plane for 10 minutes straight and see how much power is left after you land it on the ground.
What happens if the battery drains?
The mechanism of the batteries in a properly designed RC plane won’t allow them to run out of charge completely. Typically, the plane will shift to idle or a lower power setting while still offering power to the servos and receiver, so the user remains in control. That being said, it’s best to land the plane on low battery—even if it’s at a distance, land it and take a short walk to retrieve your toy. The battery you save will be well worth the effort.
Do I need to register my RC plane?
Although taking up RC flying as a hobby, you must register your RC aircraft. A regulation from the FAA (Federal Aviation Registration) says that all small, unmanned aircraft operators must register with their governing body. Those at least 13 years of age and residing in the US can apply for registration. Successful registrations are good for three years, and operators will be given a unique identification number that they have to place on their plane.
For those not from the US, you can look up your specific country’s rules and confirm if RC plane registration is even required in your country.
There you have it—everything you need to know about buying your first RC plane. Ultimately, the choice will depend on your budget, design preferences, and how much you want to learn about building an RC plane.
Ready-to-fly planes are a great option if you want to jump into the hobby without worrying too much about assembling and building. Plug-n-play planes should be ideal if you want to use your own radio control system.
Irrespective of your choice, make sure to purchase from a reputable brand if you want to save in the long run. Being able to source parts easily can save you from replacing a damaged plane, so investing in brands for which you easily and affordably source parts is logical. Another thing to consider is the availability of a spare battery because RC batteries tend to drain very quickly.