Types of R/C Airplanes
- Powered Sailplanes –
- Trainers –
- Sport and Aerobatic Planes –
- Warbirds –
- Vintage Airplanes –
- RC Float Planes –
- RC Helicopters –
- Ducted Fan Models –
- Blimps –
- Multicopters or Multirotors –
- AutoGyros –
- Ornithopters –
- Novelty RC Aircraft –
1. Powered Sailplanes
RC gliders, also known as sailplanes, can offer the beginner a very gentle introduction to the radio control flying hobby, but can also offer the experienced rc pilot some truly exhilarating aerobatic and racing opportunities – such is the diversity of radio control gliding.
But is there a difference between both names?
Well, technically speaking a glider is any motorless aircraft capable of stable unpowered flight, even if over just a short distance. For example, man’s early attempts at flight were done in simple gliders, and flights were no more than a few hundred feet long.
A sailplane is a motorless aircraft specifically designed for sustained unpowered performance, primarily by using columns of warm air (thermals) to keep aloft. But in reality, and especially in the rc flying hobby, both names are commonly used to describe a model aircraft without a motor.
Trainer airplanes, or ‘trainers’, are designed for learning on. They are conventional in design and basic, with the wing on top of the fuselage for maximum stability in the air. Trainers can be powered by electric motor or internal combustion engine, glow plug (nitro) being the most common of the IC group. Trainers are available in many different sizes and shapes and count for a large sector of all rc aircraft. Ideally your first rc plane will be a trainer.
Radio control trainer airplanes (‘trainers’) are designed to make learning to fly as easy as possible and all trainers – regardless of power type – have the same basic characteristics which help you, the beginner, greatly in your early days of rc flying.
The most obvious of these characteristics are the high wing design and noticeable dihedral, which is the term that refers to the upward angle of the wing panels when viewed from the front.
This high wing / high dihedral configuration gives a trainer airplane a lot of natural stability in the air which, generally speaking, results in very forgiving flight characteristics – exactly what you need when learning to fly RC airplanes!
Electric powered (EP) rc trainer planes are readily available to buy in foam or balsa/ply construction, whereas internal combustion (IC) trainers are more commonly of balsa/ply, although I have seen a foam trainer with a glow plug engine in it.
It’s more common, these days, for rc trainer airplanes to be bought fully, or almost fully, completed. In the past, more would have been built from a kit.
3. Sport and Aerobatic Planes
Sport airplanes also make up a very large sector of all rc planes. They are the next up from a trainer but can also be used for training purposes, particularly low-wing training. Sport airplanes can be any size or shape and are more capable of performing aerobatic maneuvers than trainers are. The majority of sport planes are mid or low wing, making them better for performing such maneuvers. High wing planes like trainers, generally speaking, are not that aerobatic.
Aerobatic airplanes have been designed specifically for performing advanced aerobatic maneuvers and ‘3D’ flying. This type of rc airplane is typically mid wing with oversize control surfaces and motors (electric or IC) that deliver more power than the airplane actually needs. Aerobatic airplanes can be thrown around the sky and flown very aggressively, so long as the pilot knows what he or she is doing!
It’s an obvious statement to make that rc aerobatic airplanes are designed for, er, aerobatics! But why are they considered harder to fly than your average ‘sport’ rc plane or trainer?
Well, the reality is that if you’ve got some radio control flying experience under your hat, aerobatic planes are not really any harder to fly, they’re just different. The difficulty comes in flying the aerobatic maneuver that you’re trying to pull off, rather than from the plane itself.
The obvious difference in an rc aerobatic plane is its design configuration, notably the position of the wing in relation to the fuselage depth, and the wing section.
Warbirds have always been a popular rc aircraft subject; their classic lines and smooth flying characteristics make warbirds some of the nicest looking rc airplanes out there. The term warbird describes a wartime plane, notably from the First and particularly Second World War. The P-51 Mustang, Spitfire and Corsair F4U are classic examples. Not particularly suitable as an absolute first model, although there are some RTF warbirds available that have been developed with the beginner in mind.
Just why are rc warbirds so popular? It’s an easy question to answer; the looks, charisma and characteristics of many classic fighter planes simply make them perfect radio control subjects, and warbirds always get attention on the flight line!
If you’re unfamiliar with the word warbird, it’s a general name given to full size planes that have seen operational military service.
It can be any aircraft that was produced to see action in any war, but the majority of rc warbirds are typically WWII fighters such as the North American P-51 Mustang, the Supermarine Spitfire, the Messerschmitt ME109, Focke Wulf FW-190 and the Vought Corsair F4U, for example.
5. Vintage Airplanes
Vintage rc airplanes are also a popular subject, particularly with modellers who enjoy the traditional building side of the hobby as well as the flying side. Many classic designs date back to the late 1930s and 40s and are large in size. 3-channel radio and a 4-stroke engine make the best combination in vintage airplanes, and they are often slow, gentle flyers. Vintage planes are also known as Old Timers in some parts of the world, and you might also see them referred to as planes from the ‘Golden Era’ of aeromodelling.
There are several manufacturers of ‘repro’ vintage rc airplanes and the models represent the Golden Era of aeromodelling, with some designs dating back to the early 1930s.
Back then, model flying was of course a very different hobby. The earliest model airplanes to be self-propelled were done so by rubber bands, and soon these naturally evolved in to larger internal combustion powered free flight planes as technology developed and allowed the production of model IC engines, notably diesel ones in the early days.
The earliest record of powered radio control flight gives 1937 as the year, with the model airplane and radio gear being built by Michigan engineers and model airplane enthusiasts Dr. Walt Good and his brother Bill.
Today, vintage radio control planes have that same classic look and style as ‘Big Guff‘ had (as their plane was named) back in 1937, but of course they are flown with modern-day glow plug engines and radio gear.
Traditionally, such airplanes were powered by diesel motors and there are still some manufacturers producing them, primarily for vintage model airplane use.
6. RC Float Planes
RC float planes are increasing in availability but they’re obviously not as widely available as land airplanes. If you have a lake close to home, a float plane can be a lot of fun but get good at landing on land before you attempt water landings! Losing an rc airplane in the drink isn’t a lot of fun…
If you have access to a lake or wide and slow-flowing river, rc floatplanes and seaplanes can give you a more challenging and very rewarding radio control flying experience.
There aren’t a huge number of Ready To Fly floatplanes widely available at the current time, but there are several options available. Notably, HobbyZone’s ever-popular Super Cub can be fitted with a pair of floats, available from the same manufacturer.
The Super Cub makes a good beginner’s rc floatplane, and it certainly looks good with floats attached…
7. RC Helicopters
Helicopters can be broadly classified into two types:
Single rotor helicopters count for a huge sector of the rc flying hobby. Like airplanes, they can be electric or IC powered. Electric helicopters have become very popular in recent years and some are easier to fly than others. IC helicopters are slightly more complicated because of the engine and clutch assembly. Learning to fly a multi-channel IC rc helicopter is a serious business, but ultimately very rewarding. Of course, the larger size (eg 700) electric rc helicopters are just as complex as IC ones, apart from the motor side of things, and can be just as expensive too.
In recent years electric rc helicopters have become very affordable, verywidely available and much easier to fly than radio controlled helis ever have been, bringing countless new people to the radio control flying hobby.
RC helicopters now make up a very large sector of the hobby and many rc airplane flyers – who once would have only flown planes – have at least one heli in their hanger.
While the popularity, wide availability and affordable prices are all great news for the hobby, it’s not so great for the beginner who can quickly find himself (or herself) completely overwhelmed with which type of electric powered (EP) rc helicopter to buy. Hopefully this page will break down some barriers and clarify some differences between heli types…
Essentially there are three categories of electric rc helicopter – coaxial, fixed pitch and collective pitch, the latter two being commonly abbreviated to FP and CP respectively.
Coaxial rc helicopters are sometimes called contra-rotating or dual rotor helicopters. They have two main rotors, mounted one above the other, that spin in opposite directions to each other. This cancels out the torque force normally generated by a spinning single rotor, and so a tail rotor isn’t required to counter any torque. This makes coaxial rc helicopters easier to fly and often more stable than a conventional helicopter. This Type works well as Beginner units.
8. Ducted Fan Models
Jets can be powered by electric or glow plug ducted fan or miniature gas turbine engines. The gas turbine powered jets require a lot of flying experience and a big budget – the engine alone can cost a couple of thousand dollars. Ultimately, though, scale jets like these look very impressive both on the ground and in the air, and sound just like the real thing too.
Electric ducted fan (EDF) rc jets have become hugely popular in recent years, with foam models widely available. Not really for the beginner, although there are some ‘beginner friendly’ ones out there.
If you’re looking to fly faster model aircraft, rc jets can give you the ultimate thrill and adrenaline rush!
Electric powered ducted fan (EDF) jets have become commonplace on our flying fields in recent years, and they offer an excellent gateway to the more serious gas turbine powered model jets.
But these turbine jets, however, are not for the beginner. They are very serious model aircraft that you have to work up to after gaining a large amount of radio control flying experience, and an equally large amount of cash. They are very serious business.
Blimps are electric powered airships. They vary in design, but all have one thing in common – a helium filled body under which hangs the cabin and motors. The best rc blimps have two or three motors that tilt up and down to control the altitude of the blimp, and rotate to control directional movement. RC blimps are only suitable for flying indoors, or outside on a completely calm day.
For not much money, helium filled rc blimps are a great way of enjoying some quiet, clean and simple radio control flying fun, particularly around the home or at other indoor venues.
Perfectly suited to indoor flying, they are very easy to operate and are quite maneuverable. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and rarely – if ever – suffer crash damage. Puncturing the envelope(body) is about the worst that can happen, but you need to be doing something fairly reckless to do that! Unless the family dog is to blame….
Multicopters, or drones, are relatively new to the radio control flying hobby and feature three or more electric motors on booms coming out of a central hub or fuselage. These ‘copters are very stable and also agile, and make excellent camera platforms.
RC multicopters are also sometimes sold as ‘RC UFOs’ but the term multicopter has become more common in recent years, with tricopters (3 motors) and quadcopters (4 motors) being the most common. Toy rc UFOs are also available, though usually with a single motor surrounded by an outer foam body.
Autogyros are fairly uncommon and unconventional rc aircraft, but the release in 2012 of a foam electric powered plug and play autogyro has introduced them to otherwise ‘non-rotary’ flyers. Somewhere between a plane and a helicopter, an rc autogyro is a great addition to any aeromodeller’s collection. If you want a different kind of radio control experience, get one of these!
Ornithopters are aircraft that represent birds. True to the real thing, ornithopters are powered through the air by the flapping motion of the wings, and can look very convincing when in flight. There aren’t a huge number available to buy and are not really that popular with serious rc flyers, but are good fun anyway!
13. Novelty RC Aircraft
Novelty rc aircraft can cover just about anything that isn’t considered to be a conventional rc aircraft. The reality is that almost anything can be made to fly if it has the right design properties – rc flying lawn mowers, witches on sticks and flags are just some examples. These are true ‘novelty aircraft’ and there are several manufacturers who specialise in this kind of rc aircraft for the non-serious modeller.