Remember reed radios?

Remember reed radios?

Raise your hand if you remember the days of single-channel, escapement RC! According to the poster, “This model uses a 45-year-old radio control system (Futaba F-66) that only controls the rudder using a rubber band powered clockwork mechanism.  The radio has one button which you press in the correct sequence to get right, left , or neutral rudder. If you listen closely you can hear the escapement unwinding every time I press the control button. The model has a 36″ span and is powered by a Cox .020 engine.  These were the first test flights so the engine run is short.  I will add more downthrust before I fly it again.”  Thanks to smorrislmbco for posting this video on YouTube!

Updated: July 16, 2015 — 3:40 PM


  1. My first RC system was a single channel Babcock tube Tx, a super regen Rx I built from a kit and a rubber band escapement. Plane was a Mini Mambo with a Cox .049. Spent more time chasing it down than flying but those were the fun years.

  2. Brings back old memories of flying with my dad as a kid. I never built an escapement RC plane but my dad built a LiveWire 1/2A Kitten that I remember.

  3. Yes I remember. My first RC radio was from ACE RADIO. It was a pulse system with just left & right rudder on a Bonner escapement. A little later Bonner made a better escapement where you could get up elevator with rudder. Rubber bands were very popular then.

  4. I remember those radios from the late fifties. Quite unreliable. My U-line plane had an 049 glow-plug engine. Converted it from free-flight to U-line, because I saw too many models take off not to be seen again. The radio I had was used only on a 30 inch boat; single button control only. You started the motor and hoped to be able to control the direction; much more difficult in a plane.

  5. My first radio experience was with a Goldberg Junior Falcon, Cox .049, and Testors pulse radio rudder only. Very hairy as you can see in the above video. I still have the airplane and use modern radio and servos to use rudder and throttle. The engine speed control makes flying more controllable.

  6. My first R/c system was a home made 27.120 Mhz. single channel Tx. with silicon transistors and Super-regn Rx. with Germanium transistors with Elmic ‘ Conquest’ escapement controlling only rudder. A scratch built ” Mini-comet” with 36″ wing span, wing was was covered with an old silk sari of my mom (or bought from Kashmir Emporium – Mimbai) and Enya .09 engine. In India it very difficult to get Ni-cad at that time so, after lot of trials a receiver was successfully developed that can work up to about 60 deg. C and can work from 4.5 V~ 6 Dry cell. We could fly only one model at a time. However, it was real fun. I still have Tx. PCBs and Rx. PCBs

    Nilesh Maniar
    Mumbai – India

  7. I learned to fly on single channel Pulse Proportional(Testors) in a Midwest WhizKid. Lots of fun on the cheap! Was able to loop and power on spirals…I wish our Club would allow older equipment to be used at the field, I still have an Ace Commander system I’ like to be able to demonstrate to the younger members. Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

  8. I had a British ED receiver with an xfg1 gas tube, that had a very short service life,( one hard landing and it was replaced). Transmitter, Vernon McNabb single button with a Babbcock escapement .

  9. My first R/C airplane was a Live Wire Trainer, K&B 09, Controlair single hard tube 1AG4 receiver, Babcock relay, Babcock MK II Esc. 45VDC/1.5V on receiver and a couple C cells to drive the Esc. Club had only one transmitter, big black box, 9′ whip antenna, push button on a long wire. Got lots of exercise chasing it when rubber band wound down and landing in a corn field. What fun I had in the late 50’s! and look where we are now!!!! I still have a Live Wire Kitten kit, mostly complete, box is falling apart, probably will build it soon. I still fly R/C, Gliders for fun at 70 years of age. Compete in the “Gray Beard” part of the sport. Just finishing up a Old Paragon kit to fly at this years Tangerine in FL. I simply can’t afford (wife would kill me) the $2K+++ super gliders and that’s not counting the cost of the radio/servos, etc.

    1. Ben, if you really want to get back into R/C, please let me know. I can probably help you out.

  10. Hi, Reed Radios (“Tuned Reed” ) were multi-channel units with multiple metal reeds that were tuned to different audio frequencies to activate different channels. They were very close to an electromagnet similar to an earphone cartridge which was fed audio from the receiver. The example you show is a single channel sequential pulse unit, not a “Reed Radio”
    Regards, Terry King
    …In The Woods in Vermont, USA

  11. My Dad was doing about the same thing in the early fifties, when you had to build everything, including the radios, both transmitter and receiver. Imagine a radio about the size of a large calculator with tubes sticking up out of it. And that was the airborn unit!

    We would arise about 4 or 5 am and travel forever to the fiels(s) the guys were chased from place after place. I usually got the job of bringing the transmitter on to the site. It was bigger than a car battery of the times and seemed to a youngster to weigh about 300 pounds. A cable emanated from the unit, which had to be left on the ground. At the end of the cable was a switch. With the escapement wound uo tight it was time to launch the screaming bird into the wild blue. You couldn’t raise your expectations too much, because way too often you would spend the rest of the day looking for the remains or traveling in the direction whence it disappeared. The only control was rudder, with the engine screaming away at full throttle. One push for right, two for left, then let go for neutral. If the rubber band broke you were, ahem, you know…

    Yeah, I remember escapement, galloping ghost, reeds, the first proportional (no digitizing here, and finally digital proportional.

    The planes: Bootstraps, Rudderbug,and Aero 9-15 right throu the Snog Hog, the Dee Bee, Astro Hog, Taurus, viscount, and on and on.

    The people: Howard DeBolt, Art Shroeder, Charlie Kenny, Bill Wardlow (my Dad), and others that made a name for themselves. My Father eventually went on to manufacture pneumatic retractable landing gear sets, prop spinnersd, and a cleverly conceived disc brake for the nose wheel using air.

    I could go on…and on, about those early days, but I don’t even know if anyone will read this. Electrics and foam are instant gratification.

    Most people flying today have little or no knowledge of the history and the pioneers like my father in this great Hobby/Sport

    1. Bill Wardlow was a great guy the kind the world needs more of. He and his son gave me jobs working in their respective shops back in the 70s. Sr running lathes and Jr working on British cars. Both endeavors are still with me today a testament to the positive experience I and several of us had working for the both of them.

  12. Lest we forget. Thanks for the memory.

  13. Hey Nelson, my first was a Lightning Bug with an Otarion receiver, but my second was a mini-Mambo also with a World Engines super regen…still have the landing gear. Climbed a lot of trees recovering from a flight. What a difference when the Sepalet and Adams actuators came out. I converted my Citizenship xmtr to galloping ghost by adding a pulse generator. Then flying the WhizKid, Schoolboy, Schoolgirl, Schoolmaster, Dick’s Dream, Jr. Skylane, etc became a real treat. Finally Ace RC came out with the Digital Commander 2 channel– still have the xmtr.

  14. Hi,
    My first RC gear is the one button single channel reed Futaba system. It was the cheapest radio that I can afford at that time ( I am a student) but I started with on a boat not plane. It sure bring back the good memory. Later year I owned a Futaba single stick proportional with a reed system on throttle control (3 positions-high/mid/low) on my first plane. It is not easy to learn to fly.
    Albert Tai

  15. Thanks for a great article! Tons of cool old radios can be found on this site:

    Great for younger/new flyers to see how our hobby has evolved.


  16. Don’t remember a whole lot about it but my first plane was a sailplane with a Cox .049. It had a galloping ghost control. Never did very well with it. I think it was about 1965.

  17. I remember others with a bit of cash having single channel valve sets. I was stuck in the U-control circle. I was surprised at 46 years, I thought it was longer ago; but then I recall ACE advertising well into the 70s.
    I seem to remember test flights with the propeller reversed to reduce speed/thrust till trimmed out.

  18. Minnie Mambo, cox 1/2A, receiver no larger than a postage stamp, can’t remember what the escapement was. First flew at NAS Lakehurst N J in the early 60’s while in the Navy.

  19. My first radio was an Ace Pulse Commander. I still have it somewhere here. Some Mattel transmitters also.

  20. Wow! What great experiences! Mine was a Schoolmaster with Bonner escapement on rudder with a Cox 049 from a super cub controline. I flew it on a windy day and would have bought a large window except for a shrub. I did everything wrong but 50+ years later I am building a Don Smith B-17 and a Corsair Peddlecar for my grandson. It is truly a wonderful hobby

  21. What does single channel have to do with Reeds? Two completely different systems. Flew them both and still have them. Soon to put a reed system in the air!

  22. I soloed my first RC (sort-of) controlled model in June of 62. It was a Minnie Mambo with a Cox Baby Bee .049. I had sprung for a brand new CitizenShip SuperHet receiver and a Citizenship TTX transistorized transmitter. The Minnie Mambo also sported a CitizenShip self-neutralizing escapement, though I also had a NON-nuetralizing escapement . . .so one had to keep track of which control you had the last time as the next would be opposite . . .unless the escapement had missed a stop! Exciting! Later I flew the radio in two Jr. Falcons at Sepulveda Basin in Los Angeles. The Jr. Falcon was great fun, and I learned to hold left rudder to put enter a steep dive and . ..counting the spins . would neutralize rudder and plane would loop. Fewer spins and I could do an Immelman! Later graduated to Falcon 56 and a 12 channel Orbit Reed radio with Bonner servos . .the latter the size of a long cigarette pak! That was a fabulous set up and learned touch and goes, inverted, figure 8’s . .horizontal AND Vertical and rolls. Phil Kraft would often show up, testing his new-fangled proportional radio. We all would quit flying to watch him . . .until he crashed! Took him a long time to get it right, but then became THE prop radio to have. Great Memories!!!!

  23. Nice to see somebody besides myself flying with old time radios. I have a 6 channel reed radio and a single channel pulse. Its fun to go old-school!

  24. I love this nostalgia stuff and also all the comments and stories that everyone has posted. I truly look forward to everything everyone has to say about the ‘old days’ in this hobby. Maybe M.A.N. could do an ongoing serial article about the evolution of RC. It would certainly keep me ‘on’ in my on and off subscription to the mag. I shall now digress (stop now if reminiscing bores you).When I was a young boy, in the late 1960’s, my father bought me a used airframe from the local hobby shop. It was just for me to look at, study and play with since I was so infatuated with aircraft, particularly flying models. Inside of it was the remnants of one of these escapement systems and my Dad, being a WWII veteran in signals, knew a fair amount about radios and would explain to me how this system was suppose to work. Unfortunately, when I asked him if we could resurrect this aircraft he said ‘no’ but to wait, since much better systems were on their way. So in the end I never got to see one of these systems work until now in the video but I could claim that this was one of the first systems that introduced me to RC. Back then, in the meantime, I was left to my own devices to forge my own way in the hobby (my Dad’s job kept him away from home a lot) with U-control Cox .049/.020 stuff (Goldberg Lil Wizard). The RC aircraft mentioned above became a victim to my many,often hilarious, aerial experiments and free flight attempts (the results of teaching yourself). I’ve recently pulled out all my old Cox .049s and .020s ,fixed them up, mounted them on display stands and given them places of honour in my shop. I’ve also run many of them again only to discover how deceiving the memory of “good ole days’ can be. Most run for less than 2 minutes (over 3 if you you have the bigger tank version) and are noisy as hell, messy and smelly. The smell though … is beautiful … like an old homecoming. Back then,I extracted what seemed like hours of fun flying with these things but I now wonder how my parents put up with it all. Later,in 1974 ,my brother and I convinced my Dad to buy and build a Heathkit system (8 Ch. digital proportional…Wow…still have it too) and we entered proper into the world of RC, again with many failures (Royal Coachman) but ultimately success (Westerly). I know that there are many who are unhappy with the way the hobby is now evolving ,instant gratification etc., no more school of hard knocks learning curve but the almost certain guarantee of success is something I sure wish I had as a youngster with little to no help. And the technology! My recent astonishment (amongst many) is discovering my micro Flyzone Cub ,when trimmed for slow fight and flown simply (like in he old days) can get over a 25 minute flight time on a single fully charged 150mah battery! Wow! To me that beats the 2 time of a screaming, high-strung .049 or .020 ,albeit without nostalgia, and also gives a lot more total reliability,control and a beautifully relaxed flying comfort level. But,if time is a good teacher of history then eventually these days will be nostalgic too. Someone here mentioned old kits like Schoolgirl/boy, Schoolmaster. I’d forgotten about these. These were dream ships to me, very much aware of them but very much beyond my means. I’d love to see them back again but,dare I say it, modernised.To this day I still participate in this hobby and love it dearly for all that it has taught me. Sorry for the lengthy recollections ( I could go on) but thanks for giving me a journey down memory lane.


  25. Outstanding! Lost one of mine in an unexpected thermal. Just kept going and going never found it!

  26. I used to modify my escapements to have only one neutral thus removing any possible confusion.From neutral they always went to right first – against torque. Richard Baylis.

  27. Yes, I remember reeds, but I wasn’t expecting to see an old escapement plane flying. Two different things. Still have some F & M single channel stuff around the house, and a number of escapements. I happily skipped from escapements to full house proportional. Every time I got a new plane, I’d get it trimmed out, then on the first full tank, I’d forget to rewind the rubber band, and watch the plane happily fly our of sight.
    Few years ago, someone gave me an old single channel plane with the escapement still in it. Replaced the escapement with a Hitec servo, and have a Hitec 3 channel radio in it. Haven’t had the guts to fly it yet.

  28. I’m guessing the author, Debra, doesn’t remember “reeds”! At least she seems confused about the difference between a reed system and a single channel escapement system. My first radio was a super regen Citizenship single channel and escapement. It worked great on the bench but as soon as it was in the air it started listening to every other bit of radio interference in the sky and would lock into a turn and fly away. I spent a lot more time chasing the plane than actually flying.

  29. My first RC was an ORBIT single channel with a babcock escapment like yours!! Many years ago!

  30. Go back to 1954 and tubes,relays and non-sequencing escapements. It took patience and persistence but fly we did and thought it was great!

  31. I’m about 5 years late on this but I’ll reply any way. My first rc was a deBolt Live Wire Rebel with a CG pioneer receiver,
    A Babcock compound escapement and a K&B .15 engine. This was in 1959. Not knowing any better I built it as per the plans and it flew very well. I was hooked for life. Learned how to loop and roll with it. Those were exciting days for the
    Hobby. Seemed like every month brought new developements in engines, radios and kits. Within 15-18 months I bought a used 10 Channel F&M 10 channel Reed set with Bonner servos. A couple of years later I moved to F&M 5 channel proportional. I have flown rc ever since, now 59 years. It has all been fun but the most fun and excitement was the time I spent in single channe. I still have and fly single channel. And I still like it best :>)

  32. Does anyone remember Al Cox, Sr? He was a regular at the Sepulveda Basin flying field in the late ’60s and early ’70s. An amazing builder – but also a mentor. He sold me my first Bonner 4ch digital proportional radio and a couple of engines. He also helped me learn to fly them. Prior to that, I was experimenting with a two-escapement system in a large glider. I learned a lot about the radio system (a single-channel Citizenship 27 MHz system) with a wind-up sequencing joystick that created the right number of pulses for Right, Left, Up or Down from a single neutral.

  33. I also spent a lot of time in the Wilshire Model Shop in Santa Monica. I can’t quite recall the name of the owner, but he was a German fellow (Heinz?) who was also an R/C flyer.

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