The model airplane industry is divided into many subgroups, most broadly flying vs. non-flying models and pre-assembled models vs. model kits. For some model airplane enthusiasts, the hobby is all about building a plane and then watching it fly through the air. As any seasoned RC plane pilot will tell you, a little education on proper control of RC planes will go a long way toward preventing you from crashing your plane on its first flight. For beginners, a good choice could be to start with a “park flyer,” which is an RC plane designed to be crash resistant or damage resistant.
There are three basic stages of flight: takeoff, flight and landing.
A few ground rules will assure that your plane doesn’t crash during takeoff. As with traditional airplanes, most crashes occur during takeoff or landing, so it’s important that you use care when launching your plane into the air, especially for the first time.
First of all, you should always be flying against the wind. This simple rule assures that your plane will have the air resistance necessary to create lift. If you aim your plane into the wind, it decreases the air resistance and can sap your plane of the power it needs to take off. Some RC planes are launched by hand (literally thrown into the air), while others can be launched more traditionally by gathering speed on a long runway. In the latter case, as soon as your plane builds up enough speed and catches the wind it will lift from the ground. If you are taking off from an uneven surface like grass, your plane might not be able to gather the necessary speed for takeoff, and you should opt for a hand launch.
RC planes are controlled by radio transmitters, which have a finite range. This means that if your plane gets too far away from you (either vertically or horizontally), you might lose power and send your plane plummeting back to the ground. The usual way to fly an RC plane is in circles above your head. Another important step in calibrating your plane is to adjust the “trimming,” which is similar to adjusting your wheels’ alignment on a car. Trimming is adjusted through two wheels on your radio controller. To adjust the trimming, simply observe your plane’s flight pattern when you’re not steering it at all and adjust the two wheels to make your plane move in a straight line. Most RC planes do not fly in a perfectly straight path at first, due to uneven power in the engine or the engine being situated in an asymmetrical position. But once the trimming is adjusted properly, your plane should fly in a straight line when both thumbs are removed from the steering controls.
Another very important rule in flying an RC plane is to keep your eyes on the plane, not on your radio controller. Radio controllers are very simple devices and with a dry run you should be comfortable enough with the controls to operate the controller without looking at it. It’s also important to become comfortable orienting yourself with your plane’s controls, realizing that no matter which way you’re facing in relation to the plane, the controls are oriented from the plane’s perspective. This can be a bit tough to grasp at first, but after some practice you will catch on.
As with takeoff, you should land your plane against the wind. Make sure to position yourself to one side of the path your plane will take during landing, and start by flying the plane away from you and then turning it back toward you for landing. Your goal is to have the plane land next to you. When you get close to landing you can either power down the engine or turn it off entirely and glide the plane to the ground. It might go without saying for most people, but it’s important to verify your battery life before going for a flight. If your plane’s battery dies mid-flight, your plane will crash.
Our review of model airplane stores includes sources for many kinds of planes, from 1/100 scale desktop models to 1/25 scale flyable models. Many of the sites on our lineup, like Hobby Lobby, also provide information about how to fly RC planes and how to find local hobby groups in your area. There is an extensive community surrounding RC airplanes, and finding fellow enthusiasts is a great way to discover the best places to fly and everything else you need to know about model planes.