What's the Best Beginner RC Airplane for You?

Flying radio control airplanes is a hobby that can be enjoyed by young and old alike. Depending on your preference, you can fly slow or fast, scale civil or military aircraft, jets, aerobatics and 3D flying, or add floats and fly from the water or skis in case of snowy airfields. However, if you are new to flying RC airplanes, you'll want to start with a beginner RC airplane that gives you the opportunity to learn how to fly so you can advance your skills and enjoy the hobby.

All good beginner RC planes have a stable design, are easy to operate so you can focus on flying, have a relatively slow flying speed so you have more time to react, and are relatively durable so you spend less time making repairs and more time learning to fly. A typical trainer RC plane will have a high wing because high wings are more stable than low wing aircraft. In addition to having a high wing, many trainer planes will also have some dihedral (upward angle) designed into the wing to give it additional stability.

However, before you buy your first radio control plane, there are a few other questions you will want to think about.

  1. How large is your flying area?
  2. Will you be training with an instructor or teaching yourself?
  3. What is your budget?

How large is your flying area?

The amount of space you will need to fly your plane is dependent upon 2 variables:

  • Airplane size
  • Flying Speed

Airplane Size

Larger airplane require more space to fly and turn. If you turn a model airplane too quickly, it's direction changes quickly, but its airspeed also drops quickly. When your airspeed drops too quickly, the airplanes wing can not generate the same amount of lift and will lose altitude. If too much lift is lost, the airplane goes into a stall that can lead a pilot to crash if they do not have enough altitude to gain enough speed and lift to save the plane. When learning to fly, new pilots want to make gentle turns to allow the wing to continue creating lift. Larger planes have a larger turning radius that requires more space.

Flying Speed.

The faster a plane moves, the more ground it covers before it responds to changes in its control surfaces (ailerons, elevator, rudder). If you fly a plane very fast in a small area, you will be flying mainly in a circle with no opportunity to change direction.

If you have a wide open space with no obstacles such as trees, stadium lights or buildings, you can fly either large planes or smaller planes. However, if you live in an urban area and only have a local soccer or baseball field for space, then you will probably want to go with a much smaller micro plane (approximately 20in wingspans). One advantage to flying small micro planes is that because of their size, they do require you to keep the plane close to you so you can see it. Larger planes are easier to see at further distances but can get away from you quickly.

Will you be training with an instructor or teaching yourself?

Learning with an Instructor

Learning how to fly with an completed instruction can help you learn good habits right from the start. Instructors can help give you confidence and can walk you through maneuvers as you are performing them. If you are learning on a brand new airplane, your trainer can take the plane up for a maiden flight and trim it so that it flies straight and level for you. And if you get into trouble, a veteran RC pilot can take the controls in an emergency to prevent a crash.

Local RC flying clubs have many experienced RC pilots, many of which are more than willing to help teach new pilots. Speak to a few of the club's members to find one whose personality matches your own. Then ask them if they would be willing to teach you how to fly.

If you can find yourself a instructor, and have a larger budget to work with, you can consider purchasing a larger plane and have more confidence the it will not crash on your first flight.

Teaching yourself

If you do not have a local flying club nearby or access to an instructor pilot, you can still teach yourself how to fly RC airplanes but the process may take a little longer. The hardest thing for new pilots to learn is that your controls are reversed when the plane is flying towards you. That is, when you move the control stick to the right, a plane that is flying towards you will look like it is moving to your left. Even though this makes logical sense, you have to train your mind and thumbs that this is the case. Like anything else, the more you practice, the faster you will improve. You will make many mistakes when first starting out, and can expect to have many crashes.

If you are teaching yourself, smaller planes weigh less, and therefore have less momentum when they crash. Less momentum usually (but not always!) Results in less damage. Your plane will probably suffer some damage if you clip a fence, but if you crash your smaller plane into a grassy field, you will find you can often just launch the plane and try again.

Improvements in electronics has led to smaller receivers and the introduction of stabilizers. Hobbyzone has what they call SAFE technology with 3 different settings depending on your skills. Beginner mode restricts how much you can bank the plane so you can be sure that your model flies in as safe an attitude as possible. Intermediate mode allows you to increase your bank further, and advanced mode gives you full control of the plane's flight path. Typically, there is a PANIC mode for all three settings that will automatically right your plane if you should get disoriented and not be able to recover from a maneuver. This feature saves even experienced pilots which planes get away from them due to a loss of orientation. If you are looking for a larger plane, definitely consider planes with SAFE technology as it may save you a few hours of repairs or buying replacement parts for your plane.

What is your budget?

Many beginner RC planes come Ready-to-Fly (RTF). These packages are great for new pilots because they come with a transmitter, pre-installed receiver, battery, and charger, and everything you need to fly. There is usually little to no assembly required, and all a new pilot needs to do is charge the battery and head down to the flying field. The nice thing with RTF planes is that they have everything that is needed, and the transmitters can usually be used with the manufacturers other models so if you are on a limited budget, you can use the same transmitter with your next plane.

Bind-and-Fly (sometimes referred to as BNF or PNP for Plug-and-Play) models generally come with a receiver installed in the plane and sometimes a flight battery, but require the pilot to supply their own transmitter that is compatible with the installed receiver. You may also need to purchase a flight battery and battery charger. Your up-front investment in the hobby will go up with these additions

Putting it all together

When looking for your first RC plane, focus on the basics first. Amaller slower planes with high wings such as the Champ, Duet, or Playmate, fit smaller budgets and smaller flying fields and make great beginner RC airplanes for those individuals who will be teaching themselves to fly.

If you will be flying at larger fields and have the budget, large slow-flying planes with high wings make great trainers. Larger planes are easier to see and can handle stronger winds when you are ready to take the next step. You can also consider investing in a plane with SAFE stabilizing technology such as the Sport Cub, Super Cub, or Delta Ray as they will restrict your plane from getting out of control, and will also help self-right it if you lose orientation and lose control of the plane.

If you are looking to get started in flying RC airplanes, there are many beginner airplanes to choose from. Consider your flying area and access to RC clubs before choosing the best beginner RC plane for you.