A Guide to RC Model Airplanes
Radio-controlled aircraft include small airplanes or other machines that fly while being controlled by a ground operator. Using a hand-held transmitter, the operator communicates with an electronic receiver inside the aircraft, which then sends signals to move mechanisms that change the position of the plane. The hobby of flying RC model airplanes has become popular as technology has led to more advanced engines and electronics that are surprisingly affordable. Military and government entities also use radio-controlled aircraft for surveillance purposes.
Radio-controlled aircraft can be powered by electricity or fuel. Electric planes are smaller in size and generally quieter than fuel-powered planes. While these planes offer clean operation, they can also be more fragile and less stable than heavier fuel-powered planes. Gas-powered planes usually operate with two-cycle engines, although some have four-stroke engines. Fuel-powered planes have a realistic sound, more power, and longer flight times. You have to perform engine maintenance to keep fuel-powered planes in good working order, and they can be a little harder to control.
Nikola Tesla received a patent in 1898 for a radio-controlled invention that is regarded as the first demonstration of this technology. During the 1930s, some inventors began dabbling with the possibility of controlling aircraft with radios. An annual radio-control event was instituted in 1936 in Detroit, and in 1937, it attracted the entries of six different inventors and their aircraft. Flight was not a requirement for contestants in this event, so runners-up could win an award just by demonstrating their components on the ground. The Big Guff airplane, created by Walt and Bill Good in 1938, is considered to have been the first successful radio-controlled airplane.
Radio-controlled aircraft include scale models of planes from virtually every era. Many hobbyists enjoy the process of creating miniature models of vintage aircraft, integrating intricate details into the designs such as navigation lighting that illuminates and retractable landing gears. Powered gliders are another popular type of RC aircraft, featuring an electric motor and special wing size to give the plane lift and stability. Pylon racers are popular with hobbyists who enjoy racing these planes around a track. Designed to be very lightweight, pylon racers are exceptionally fast. Helicopters are another RC aircraft option, but these machines have very different aerodynamics and flight paths. Helicopters can be useful in surveillance and aerial imaging because they can hover.
Radio-controlled aircraft are available as ready-to-fly machines, or you can assemble your own from a kit. Kits can be simple or complex, and they vary in price and the skill level needed to complete them. Because RC planes need to be aerodynamic, constructing them is a very precise process. Many of the same techniques used on full-sized planes are used when constructing an RC plane from a kit. Construction usually involves installing the engine and radio components, covering them with structural fuselage pieces, painting the body, and adding the control components. These steps can be very time-consuming. Hobbyists can also opt for an almost-ready-to-fly airplane, which only requires the completion of a few final steps, such as installing the fuel tank and the engine. Opting for a ready-to-fly plane only requires the attachment of the wings, enabling you to put it in the air almost immediately.
After dabbling with these types of planes and kits, some people opt to plan and build a plane from scratch. You can purchase pre-designed plans or create your own. With a full plan, you must cut out the parts from foam or wood, and then the building process is much the same as with a kit. The advantage of building a plane from scratch is the ability to create a custom plane, but you would need experience and an understanding of aerodynamics to be successful in this endeavor.
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