We are often asked to recommend airplanes and RC components. As serious modelers, most of us have a hard time recommending some of the very cheap ready-to-fly (RTF) systems that are sold at many hobby stores. The electronic components inside such models are often so lousy that they can only be thrown away once the air frame of the model is beyond repair. Worse, the transmitters usually have no connector to be buddy boxed, which means no training on your own airplane.
However, if you are not sure this hobby is for you and you just want to dip into it, it may make sense to spend about $150 on low end equipment and just abandon it when you trade up to better gear. It will cost you $300-$500 to get a model and electronics that can be carried forward. This means that you can fly your next model with the same transmitter, or upgrade your transmitter and fly the old model with the new transmitter, use the old batteries in your next model, gut the electronics from the model and just buy a new air frame etc.
There are many sites on the web that offer some common sense advice, for instance the folks here at Horizon Hobby.
Here are the components you need:
- Model aircraft (with motor and speed controller)
- Transmitter: you want a 2.4GHz system, where you don’t have to worry about frequency conflicts with other club members. And you want a “computer radio”, meaning a transmitter that can store settings for multiple models. A large number of us fly Spektrum-based transmitter/receivers. For about $130, the Spektrum DX6i is a solid entry level choice, and for $200 you can get the Spektrum DX6 which is getting rave reviews. A large number of small “micro” models from Horizon Hobby come with built-in Spektrum receivers, so to “Bind and Fly” them you need a Spektrum transmitter.
- Receiver: must be compatible with whatever transmitter you decide to go with, and have enough channels (outputs) to control your aircraft. Six channels is sufficient for almost all beginner’s aircraft. If you go with Spektrum (their system goes by “DSM2/DSMX”, the AR6210 costs $50 with a good reputation, or you can buy the HobbyKing Orange RX615X for $12 + shipping. The latter is somewhat of a crap shot, you get what you pay for. Some people swear by them, others think they are junk. Same goes for the “Lemon Rx” receivers, search for them online. Fly expensive models with expensive receivers, cheap models with cheap receivers. An Orange RX is often good enough for a first model.
- Batteries: Pretty much everyone has shifted from NiMH cells to the LiPo batteries. Many club members fly the blue HobbyKing Turnigy nanotech batteries (the new graphene ones are said to be even better), which come with the yellow XT 60 connector. Those batteries are great. Make sure they fit your model physically, that the cell count (2S, 3S, 4S) is correct, the discharge rate (“C” rating) and capacity are sufficient. Ask one of the club members for recommendations if your model does not come with batteries already, or search the web. Check out this link for a nice article on LiPo batteries.
- Chargers: Must have a built-in LiPo balancer so you can charge your LiPo batteries, and you should be able to connect it to an A/C power outlet or your car battery. Club favorite chargers are:
– HiTec X4 AC plus multi-port ($200), can charge 4 batteries at the same time (you need to buy extra cables to use all ports). This is a very nice high end charger.
– HobbyKing Imax B6AC v2 ($42). Low end, but does the job (only one battery at a time). They have several other similar models that all sort of work alike. Make sure whatever you get takes A/C power so you can charge at home w/o a car battery or a separate power supply.
– RealFlight ($160 with controller)
– Phoenix ($160 with controller)
– AeroFly ($50 very few models, no controller)
All of them work great and will save you a lot of time and repairs, whether you fly fixed wing or heli. But for helicopters, practicing on a simulator is absolutely essential.
Helicopters are much harder to fly than fixed wing aircraft and as such not the best way to enter the hobby. Your first helicopter should be a micro helicopter. The coaxials (dual rotor) get boring quickly, but if you want to start slowly, get one of those. The Blade Nano CP S ($100) Bind/Fly and Blade 120S ($120) are good first trainers on which you can practice before moving up to a larger size heli. Be aware that the large helis can cause serious injuries if you get hit by the blades.
Get a foam based airplane (foamie). They are cheap, quick to put together, take a lot of abuse, and are easily repaired. Do not get a balsa model, do not build your first model yourself, but get a receiver ready or even ready-to-fly. If you can, get one with a brushless motor: they are more efficient, i.e. the battery lasts longer. We recommend getting a “pusher” as the first model. The propeller is behind the wing, out of harm’s way. If you stall on the approach and put the nose into the ground, the damage is very limited. Any model that has the propeller in the front will invariable suffer greater damage. We further recommend models with ailerons (the control surfaces on the wings) for quicker response and better control.
– Hobbyking Bixler ($112) RTF. Comes with everything you need to get in the air, but expect dreadful quality at this price point.
– Dynam HawkSky ($99) RTF. Very similar to the Bixler in many ways.
– Sky Surfer ($130) RTF. Same as above.
- Power Planes
The following planes are Bind-And-Fly, meaning they do not come with transmitter, charger, and batteries.
– E-Flite Apprentice S15e ($250) Bind-And-Fly.
– ParkZone Sport Cub ($220) Bind-And-Fly.
– ParkZone T-28D Trojan ($200). It is very easy to fly but requires a separate transmitter, charger, and batteries.
- Electric Gliders
– Calypso ($160 RXR) Wildly popular with the club due to its low price and excellent performance. You need to buy a separate receiver, transmitter, batteries and charger which will run up the price, but you’ll end up with a docile glider that flies great. Again, if you put it on the nose you’ll need a new motor, prop, etc.
– Park Zone’s Radian ($230 RTF) are foam-based models that come ready to fly with a Spektrum DX5e. The transmitter is quite anemic, but should you decide to upgrade it later, you can simply bind your model to the new transmitter, since the receiver uses the Spektrum DSM technology.
– Radian Pro from ParkZone has pretty much everything you need to get airborne except the transmitter. We have about half a dozen club members flying this model.
Unsuitable for beginners because they are hard to fly.
- DLG (disc launch gliders)
Unsuitable for beginners. If you can already fly and want to venture into this part of the hobby, try the Libelle ($120 just for the airframe, without servos, batteires, receiver, or transmitter). At about $80 (including electronics except for transmitter) the two-channel UMX WhipIt is another popular starter DLG.
- Multi-rotors, Quads (“Drones”)
When set up properly, very easy to fly. Not many club members flying them yet, so no recommendations yet.
- FPV (First Person View)
We don’t have critical mass yet for things like FPV quad racing, but several members are exploring this new area of R/C flight.