Many model trainer airplanes are easy to build and fly, and they afford a great opportunity to get into the RC hobby. Instead of spending weeks or months assembling your first plane, you’ll be able to get into the air in an hour or less! Today’s trainers are so stable and easy to fly that with just a little help from an experienced RC pilot, you’ll be able to solo very quickly. But before you buy your first plane and head to the flying field, here’s some must-know info to help prepare you to earn your RC wings.
When you’re learning to fly, you can’t go wrong with a tricycle gear (nose-wheel-equipped) high-wing model. Many trainers are even equipped with flight stabilization, which helps to “smooth” the plane’s flight—even in light winds!—and help with takeoffs and landings. There are many well-designed, easy-to-build and easy-to-fly model airplanes from which to choose. Consider your personal preferences and skill level before purchasing your first model. There’s an old saying that goes, “To be a winner, do as winners do.” Check with your local fliers and find out what models they started with.
Ready to Fly
Ready-to-fly (RTF) models are just that: aircraft that come with everything needed to get in the air, from the plane to the radio to the battery and even a charger. These planes usually come with their power systems and radio systems installed, and they require very little in the way of assembly so you can literally go from box to ballfield in minutes.
Bind-and-fly models come with their power and radio systems installed, but they do not come with a transmitter and may not come with a battery or charger. They do include an installed receiver that you will need to “bind” to an appropriate transmitter. Keep in mind that not all 2.4GHz receivers will bind to all 2.4GH radios. Different brands of transmitter operate on different protocols, so be sure to check that your transmitter will work with the new Bind-and-Fly plane you want to buy.
Plug-and-play models are similar to Bind-and-Fly models, but they do not include a receiver, transmitter, battery, or charger. These types of models are a better deal for your second or third airplane and you already have the equipment on hand. Again, be sure the equipment you have will work with the new model you intend to buy.
Almost Ready to Fly
If you enjoy the assembly process, an Almost Ready to Fly (ARF) models can be a fun project and will help you to learn more about your airplane. Most ARFs are assembled from factory built sub-assemblies and can be put together in a few hours. Some can be flight ready in just a few minutes. Basic parts include the fuselage, tail components, wing halves, landing gear, and basic hardware like wheels, fuel tank or battery, engine or motor mount, pushrods, and all the nuts, screws, bolts, and washers to hold everything together. Most ARFs come as either all-wood (covered in film), or molded foam. There are no full-size plans included because there is no real building involved. You will likely need to purchase the plane’s radio system (servos, transmitter, and receiver) and power system separately, and you may also need glue and tools like screwdrivers and wrenches.
Flight-stabilized RC aircraft are equipped with sensors and gyros that allow pilots to fly without worrying about crashing due to disorientation, over-controlling, and other mistakes. These sensors let the model keep itself level in flight, and some can even help with takeoffs and landings. Stabilization systems often incorporate progressive flight modes (controlled by switches on the transmitter) that let pilots progress as their skills increase. Often flight stabilization can be completely turned off, although even expert pilots appreciate some level of flight stabilization to “smooth” out their control inputs and to accommodate for gusts of wind, etc.
If you’re new to model airplanes, there are some basic terms and definitions you need to know. The three main assemblies are: the fuselage, the wing, and the tail components.
The wing produces lift and it consists of several parts and subassemblies.
These parts include:
Leading edge (LE): The very front edge of the wing. It is rounded to allow the air to flow easily over both the top and bottom surfaces.
Trailing edge (TE): The tapered, most-aft edge of the wing. It is much more shapely and smaller than the leading edge to help the air passing over and under the wing to come back together with a minimum of drag or turbulence.
Ribs: In wooden built-up airplanes, ribs give the wing its cross-section shape. This shape is also known as an airfoil, and it is this shape that generates the lifting force that allows airplanes to fly.
Wingtips: These are at the very ends of the wing panels and are mostly cosmetic. They also reduce drag by helping the air flow more easily around the wing’s outer edges.
Main spars: These give the wing its longitudinal strength and run from the wing root (middle of the wing) all the way to the tips. The main spar can be a single, solid piece of wood passing through the middle of the wing ribs or it can be made of two parallel spars notched into the top and bottom of the ribs. Smaller planes usually have a single main spar while some larger designs use a main spar and an aft spar, sometimes referred to as a secondary spar.
Dihedral: This refers to the upward angle of the two wing panels relative to the fuselage and contributes to the model’s roll stability. The more dihedral angle the wing has, the more stable the model will be (to a point). The two wing panels are strengthened where they are held together by a thick, strong dihedral brace or joiner.
The fuselage is the main body of the airplane. All the other parts and components are attached to it. The fuselage houses most of the airborne radio equipment and the powerplant. Many trainers, as well as several scale and sport RC planes, use a simple box construction for the fuselage. A box structure fuselage has four flat sides: the top, bottom, and two vertical sides. Box construction is the easiest way to build a strong, simple structure and it has the added bonus of being much easier to cover and finish.
Other fuselage parts include:
Firewall: The motor or engine is attached to the firewall and sometimes the model’s nose wheel is also secured to the firewall.
Formers: In wooden, built-up airplanes (and sometimes in foam airplanes), these internal vertical structures support the sides and give the fuselage its strength and rigidity.
Doublers: In wooden, built-up airplanes these are glued to the inside of the fuselage sides to add strength in specific, high-stress areas. They can be located in the tail and wing attachment points and around the landing gear attachment areas.
Longerons: These are long, stick-like parts that run from nose to tail, and they support and strengthen the fuselage structure.
Stringers: In wooden, built-up airplanes, stringers are similar to longerons but typically are small and used to support the model’s covering, which gives the fuselage its shape.
Wing saddle: This is the part of the fuselage that the wing rests on. Usually this is also the main opening for access to the radio equipment.
Before you buy your first trainer, look at the other airplanes offered by that same brand. It can be more cost-effective to stick with one brand as you buy a second and third airplane because you can
re-use the transmitter, receiver, and even the battery and charger!
When you get your model airplane ready to go, here are some tips to make your first flight a success.
– Always have a friend nearby to be a safety spotter and to help when needed.
– If it’s windy, wait to fly another day.
– Make sure you have a large enough area to fly that’s clear of all obstructions (trees, powerlines, etc.) and never fly over people.
– Do not take off or land downwind. Always take off and land into the wind. This gives you the best performance.
– Never try to repair a damaged or broken propeller. Always replace it with a new and balanced one.
– Get organized. Use a field box to carry and keep your accessories and spare parts off the ground.
– Always check the control surfaces for proper throw direction.
– Make sure to have fully charged batteries (transmitter and flight pack).
– If you use LiPo battery packs, be sure to use a special charger that’s designed to charge them, and be sure to set the charger correctly for the packs you are charging.
– Buy some spare battery packs. This will increase your air time. One pack can be in your plane, one can be cooling off and another being charged. Wait for the packs to cool off before recharging.
LEARN THE LINGO
This terminology may seem like a foreign language, but after reading about flying and talking with other pilots you’ll soon be fluent in the language of RC flight!
Adverse yaw: Yaw generated when the ailerons are used. The lifting wing generates more drag, causing an airplane to yaw (turn) out of the turn.
Aileron: Roll control surface.
Ampere (amp or A): Standard unit of electric current.
Angle of attack (AoA): Angle difference between the wing chord line and the relative wind.
Base leg: Portion of the landing pattern 90 degrees to the final approach.
Battery eliminator circuit (BEC): Circuitry that allows the battery that runs the motor to also power the receiver and the servos.
Capacity: Measure of how long you can draw a specified current from a battery. Measured in amp hours (Ah) or, more commonly for the scale of equipment used for electric flight, in milliamp hours (mAh).
Climbout: Gain in altitude after takeoff.
Crosswind leg: Portion of the traffic pattern that’s 90 degrees to the runway and directly opposite of the base leg. Current: Flow rate of electrical energy measured in amps.
Dihedral: Upward angle of the two wing panels relative to the fuselage. Contributes to the model’s roll stability.
Doublers: Items glued to the inside of the fuselage sides to add strength in specific, high-stress areas.
Downwind leg: Portion of the traffic pattern that is flown in the same direction as the wind. The downwind leg is directly opposite the upwind leg and parallel to the runway.
Drag: Force that acts to slow down the airplane.
Elevator: Pitch control surface.
Gravity (G-force): Force that pulls down on the model, measured in Gs or G-forces.
Final approach: Upwind portion of landing pattern after base leg and just before flare and landing.
Firewall: The motor or engine is attached to this part, and sometimes the model’s nosewheel is also secured to it.
Flare: Gradual increase in pitch angle to bleed off excess airspeed just before landing.
Formers: Internal vertical structures that support the sides and give the fuselage its strength and rigidity.
Fuel mixture: Mixture of air and fuel drawn into the engine through the carburetor in an engine.
Fuselage: Main body of the airplane. All the other parts and components are attached to it. The fuselage houses most of the airborne radio equipment and the powerplant.
Heading: Actual direction the model travels over the ground, not the direction the model is pointing.
Horsepower (hp): Measure of the rate of work—33,000 pounds lifted one foot in one minute, or 550 pounds lifted one foot in one second. Exactly 746 watts of electrical power equals 1 horsepower.
Leading edge (LE): Very front edge of the wing. It is rounded to allow the air to flow easily over both the top and bottom surfaces.
Lift: The force exerted on the top of a moving airfoil as a low-pressure area, which causes a wing to rise.
LiPo: Term that stands for “lithium-polymer.” The most modern kind of battery pack that’s used in electric aircraft.
Longeron: Long, sticklike part that runs from nose to tail. It supports and strengthens the fuselage structure.
mAh (milliamp hour): Measure of a battery’s total capacity. The higher the
number, the more charge a battery can hold and, usually, the longer a battery will last under a certain load.
Main spar: Part that gives the wing its longitudinal strength. It runs from the wing root (middle of the wing) all the way to the tip.
NiMH: Abbreviation for nickel-metal hydride battery cells, usually used to power the radio gear in engine-equipped aircraft.
Pattern: To avoid confusion, RC flying fields establish a set pattern of flight for RC aircraft, with takeoffs into the wind and all planes making right- or left-hand turns in the circuit.
Pitch: One of the three axes in flight, this specifies the vertical action or the up-and-down movement.
Power: For electric models, this is a product of voltage and amps, and it is measured in watts.
Rib: Part that gives the wing its cross-section shape; the shape is also known as an “airfoil.” It is this shape that generates the lifting force that allows airplanes to fly.
Roll: One of the three axes in flight, this specifies the action around a central point.
rpm (revolutions per minute): The number of times an object completely rotates (360 degrees) in one minute.
Rudder: Part that controls the model’s yaw (nose-left and nose-right movement). Deflecting the rudder swings the nose left or right while in flight. Rudder input also steers the model on the ground while taxiing and is used to correct a flight condition known as “adverse yaw.”
Stall: Sudden loss of lift when the angle of attack increases to a point where the flow of air breaks away from a wing or airfoil, causing it to drop.
Stringer: Similar to a longeron but is typically small and used to support the model’s covering, which gives the fuselage its shape.
Taxi: Travel across the ground.
Thrust: Force that pulls (or pushes) a model forward. Thrust is created by the propeller as the engine or motor spins it. A propeller has an airfoil-shaped cross-section.
Torque: Twisting force created by the engine spinning a propeller. The force acts in the opposite direction of the
Trailing edge (TE): The tapered, most aft edge of the wing. More shapely and smaller than the LE to help the air passing over and under the wing to come back together with a minimum of drag or turbulence.
Trim: Secondary transmitter controls to adjust the amount of rudder, elevator, and throttle.
Upwind leg: Portion of the traffic pattern that is flown into the wind. The upwind leg is directly opposite the downwind leg and parallel to the runway.
Voltage (V): Unit of electromotive force that, when applied to conductors, will produce current in the conductors.
Watt (W): The amount of power required to maintain a current of 1 ampere, at a pressure of 1 volt, when the two are in phase with each other. One horsepower is equal to 746 watts. Watts are the product of volts and amps.
Wing: Part that produces lift. It consists of several parts and subassemblies.
Wing saddle: Part of the fuselage that the wing rests upon. The wing saddle is usually also the main opening for access to the radio equipment.
Wingtip: Part at the very end of the wing panel. Mostly cosmetic.
Yaw: One of the three axes in flight, this specifies the side-to-side movement of an aircraft on its vertical axis, as in skewing.