As readers here probably know, I recommend flying RC planes to people who are temporarily short of one hang glider, a flying site, or HG instructors. Any airtime is better than no airtime. This RC soaring hobby can teach a lot about the air, in terms of slope soaring and thermals. It's fun, too.

When flying hang gliders in the mountains, if you launch too soon, it's just a sledder to the LZ. Launch too late, and a lot of good airtime just goes to waste, before you launch. So, I fly RC slope soaring gliders, as my "wind dummy". It's good clean fun, and if I can keep the RC glider a hundred yards (meters) above launch, I can usually keep myself above launch, also. An hour of "stick time" can be much better than getting "skunked" when the conditions just aren't there, too. An RC slope racer just makes lots of sense as a wind dummy for you, on a high mountain launch.

So, I enjoy the RCs, too, as a second hobby. I haven't cared much about the gas-powered RCs; between the noise and the mess they make, gas-powered planes just don't turn my key.

Now, the "new" deal is foam aircraft, powered by electric motors. You can find scale and profile planes, aerobatic aces and floaters, or whatever you might like.

Electric planes are about the best, IMHO, if motorized. You could not *give* me a fueler now, and I started RCs when that was the only choice. You can fly slope-soaring gliders on the HG hill, when it is not quite HG soarable. Slope-soaring is the cheap option, with no motor, battery, or specialized chargers.

The cheapest radio set-up I would recommend is a Spektrum 2.4 GHz transmitter (flies 10~20 planes), a generic 2.4 GHz (full-range) receiver, and cheap servos. That much will cost +/- US$300.00 so if you're still here, the plane won't cost much, unless you insist on a high-dollar plane (not recommended, for a new RC pilot). Talk to a local hobby shop for radios, and shop around.

Two good RC forums, but it may take years to read it all:

RC Universe Forum

RC Groups Forum


Getting started in RC planes can be Splinter City, unless you practice a good bit first. RC flying can be learned painlessly, though, if you start with RC Simulators. You can crash an armada of planes on the Simulator (and most people do), without any real grief. You can spend a coupla hundred US$ on the high-dollar PC simulators (which should come with RC-like controller boxes), or you can use a free RC simulator, with maybe a borrowed gamer's joystick or gamepad. The gamer's joystick should (ideally) include a throttle control, or you can use the keyboard for some functions.

The RC control box/ aircraft set-up is easy. Most flying is done with the right stick. Just like an aircraft joystick, push the stick right to bank right, pull back to nose up. Push the stick left to bank left, and push the stick away, to nose down. The other stick is throttle (if any). Pull back to throttle back, push up to throttle up. Left and right on the throttle stick controls the rudder. Most flying is done ignoring the rudder, and only touching the throttle when needed. Just like HG, you turn by banking, and then nose-up. If you want to learn RC, start with a Simulator, and make sure your controls act as above. Un-learning a bad set-up is painful, as in headaches that need aspirin (no joke). Any gamer's joystick will work with the Simulators, but it's nicer if the joystick has a throttle control. Most gamers have joysticks they don't use now, for cheap (maybe just for the asking). I have a Logitech USB Extreme, maybe $30. Each Simulator has control reversing options, so you can make any joystick work in the correct ways on the Simulator. If you want to use your actual RC control box to fly the PC simulator, it can be done, but that might be a needlessly complex approach.

At first, the more you keep hands off the control sticks, the more success you will have. Everybody over-controls, at first. Touch the control sticks only when you want something to happen. Many planes will recover from trouble nicely, if you are high enough, and just release the controls.

Here are two nice RC Simulators for your computer, and the price is right:

1.) CRRC: The Charles River RC simulator is geared for many OS platforms, and Windoze. I run on WinXP, and it found my Logitech USB joystick after one restart. This RC simulator is heavily into RC gliders, but there are some powered planes as well. You can set thermals, winds, launch altitude, and sites as you wish. Runs best on newer PCs. More planes can be added, if you want more.

CRRC Simulator Download

Download some additional CRRC planes:

CRRC More Planes

2.) FMS: The Flying Model Simulator runs better on older PCs. It uses joysticks and/or DIY RC control boxes. Lots of older FMS information is available on the 'Net, but some sites no longer work now. Set the weather, sites, et c. as you want. Like CRRC, it has lots of planes that can be added, for which I show three links here:

FMS Simulator Download

Additional FMS help:

FMS Forum

FMS More Planes to Download

The extra add-on FMS planes come as .ZIP files.  Download any .ZIP file to your Windows Desktop, double-click on the .ZIP file, and Windows will EXTRACT ALL FILES (found in the left command box).  Copy the resulting files into this FMS folder on your computer:

c:\program files\FMS\model\

Here is a very benign little FMS trainer, the (neon-pink) Guppy-T.  This plane came from a Japanese FMS web page, now defunct:

FMS Guppy-T Foamie Trainer

The planes that you get in the FMS program are a bit challenging, but you can download lots of nicer FMS add-on planes for free; just do a search for "Flying Model Simulator download planes." Pick the ones that look like simple trainers. Scale planes (like warbirds and jets) are usually tough to fly.

When you start FMS as an RC flight simulator, click the menu item Model, and then Load. Click on the planes to see each one, then hit Open when you see the plane that you want to fly. Remember, scale airplanes are really challenging, and very easy to stall/spin. Foamies are usually floaters, and much easier to deal with, at first.


RC clubs are a good way to get started with cheap gear, but talk to experienced RCers about what you may find, before you buy anything used. New prices are much lower than old prices, so $150 worth of old gear may cost $80 new. An "everything in a box" RC plane will cost ~$150-$250, but it may not do well in a crash.  You can set RC planes (and the control boxes) for "low response rates," to make the hot ships more tame.  That way, something like a large Stryker still would not be a good RC trainer, but with a bit of experience, a low-time RC pilot can handle it.  Just remember to throttle back a good bit, after the initial climb-out, no matter what RC plane you are flying.

When you get to actual RC planes, you can buy some rugged EPP planes on-line or at hobby shops, which bend rather than break in a crash. You can also build RC foamies with free .PDF plans and insulation foam, for a dozen or two US$. As a beginner RC pilot, the more your plane looks like a fighter, or any real aircraft, the more likely it will crash. RC trainer planes are very basic, and usually look rather crude.

Even with good eyesight and fine spatial skills, when you first start out with RCs, your brain may sometimes lose track. Although you can see the plane clearly, you may not be able to tell which way it is going. Any control inputs then may only make things worse. When you think that you are ready to fly RC for real, a good RCer with a buddy-box can get you flying, and save the plane for you whenever you have "lost it." As you gain good experience though, that problem will stop happening.

A good RCer on a buddy cord will be your best bet, to start flying real RCs. Your "buddy" can save the plane with a flick of the switch, then give control back to you later. I've taught RC beginners on my hot slope racers, with a buddy cord. If you can find a good RC club locally, that will be a great place to meet the local pilots, find a guy with a buddy cord, and see new stuff. Hobby shops can usually point you towards the local RC club.

One new RC transmitter will fly dozens of planes (all different), so you just buy the servos, receiver, and motor (if any), for each new plane. A handful of rechargeable battery packs can fly the whole fleet. RC radio gear prices have come 'way down, if you shop around some. My RC transmitter is a Spektrum, and lots of receiver brands connect with it.


If you plan to fly electric, I'd suggest that you check out the foamies, for a first plane. They are really cheap, and quick to build. Some foamies will just about bounce, which is much nicer than making splinters, especially at first. You can download lots of free RC foamie plans, in .PDF format. You can find many more on the Internet (from the RC forums), also. Most .PDF plans are free:

RC Foamie Plans in .PDF Format

Once you are well-skilled, here is one very hot plane that you can build for yourself, using Depron foam sheets, CA glues, and hot glue. Don't be thinking that all RC foamies are tame; watch this:

F-14 Foamie Video on YouTube

It's an F-14 foamie; Depron, electric, swingwing, fast *and* slow, and it rolls like a rifle bullet. There are slow-flying sequences, too. This is no trainer, but you can fly it slowly, at first. You can download free .PDF plans here:

F-14 Foamie Builder's Log

Follow that thread (13 pages) through the building phase, technical specs and alternatives, and lots of pictures (click the thumbnails).

Have Fun!  If you have questions, you can PM me, certainly.


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