Model flying can appear daunting to start with there are a wide variety of options for your first model, lots of abbreviations and you can spend a lot or a little. We are happy to help you get started - choosing equipment to suit your needs and offering advice and guidance if you would like it. So where to start? What follows is some suggestions to get you started. Nothing here is authoritative and you will find people with many different opinions. Join a club and talk to people, then make up your own mind. Our club (and several others) has a model and transmitters sufficient for you to try flying without needing to buy anything up front. You'll need to give a bit of notice to take advantage of this, so batteries can be charged and other arrangements made.
Before flying any models over 250g, you must register and pass a test. Flying without meeting these obligations is illegal. If you would like help and guidance, please see the links or speak to a member.
Probably a good place to start is deciding what will power your first model. This has a knock on effect on which models you can buy and all the other equipment you need. Depending on your choice you will either need batteries and a charger or fuel and (perhaps) a starter. Recently more and more electric models are seen on the flighltline but some just love models with engines - it's up to you and there is nothing wrong with having both.
There are two main types, and a third, less common, option:
Internal combustion engines give long flight times (15 or 20 minutes), lots of power, are robust and last a long time. The disadvantages are that are noisy (which some love), they can be tricky to start and there can be a lot of equipment to carry (in winter, we have quite a long walk from the parking area to the pit area). IC engines can use Petrol or Glow fuel.
Electric motors are easy to use (add a battery and fly), quiet but flight times are often short (6 minutes may be a typical flight before you have to land and swap batteries). It's easy to walk from the car with a plane in one hand and a box with everything else you need in the other.
Jet - It's possible to buy real jet engines for models. They are great for large models and exciting to fly but expensive and not suitable for beginners.
People continue to argue about which is best - you have to work out what suits you.
I'll offfer guidance for planes - if you want a helicopter or a drone, come down to the club and speak to someone.
A first plane should probably have 4 channels - this means you can control Throttle (speed*), Elevator (height*), Ailerons and Rudder (both for turning). A 3 channel plane (Throttle, Elevator and Rudder) can be used to learn but you then have to learn again when you want to step up to a more complex model. It isn't really much harder to start with four.
[* Note: you can also control speed with the elevator - the plane would slow if ascending - and change height with the throttle - ascend with more power, but this is more detail than you need if you are reading this.]
The first plane should have wings near the top of the body (fuselage). When the wings are fixed to the top of the plane, it is more stable and will try to "self correct" i.e. try to become straight and level if you stop telling it to turn. Low or central wings tend to be more aerobatic (read exciting if that's what you enjoy) but go where you point them (and if that's the ground, you have an expensive problem).
Generally it's worth buying a model which is explicitly sold as a trainer. Scale models (such as warbirds) are often more difficult to fly, for example they will stall (read plummet out of the sky) if you fly them too slowly. Manufacturers are increasingly making these with stabilisation built in which makes them easier but it's worth sticking to a trainer until you are confident. If you search for "Wot4 Foamy" you'll find one example (there are many).
Models can come as kits which you build from a scratch but increasingly you can buy them as Almost Ready To Fly (ARTF). Different companies have different views on how "almost" ready a plane will be. For some you just screw 4 or 5 parts together and you are ready, for others you may have to do lots of gluing and buy more parts before the kit is ready to fly. Check before buying so you don't get a surprise. It's also possible to buy planes that are almost completely ready to fly. Different manufacturers have different names for this such as Bind 'n' Fly (BNF) or Ready to Run (RTR). If you buy one with a receiver (see below) already installed, make sure it is compatible with the radio you buy. Beginner planes will often be made of foam (looks like polystyrene) or balsa. Foam planes tend to accept a bit more abuse but they'll both disintegrate if you crash from on high.
This is the part of the radio you hold in your hands when flying. It has two main sticks which you move about to control the plane and (usually) many switches and buttons to control other things (such as landing gear or flaps. Cheap models are limited in what they can do (maybe just one model at a time or with limited options to configure them) and are probably worth avoiding if you plan to stick at the hobby as you will probably want to replace it later. The two biggest brands are probably Futaba (https://www.futabarc.com/) and Spektrum (https://www.spektrumrc.com/) but a recent entry to the market, FrSky (https://www.frsky-rc.com/) has gained ground. FrSky equipment is often used with Open Source software called OpenTx (https://www.open-tx.org/) which is both powerful and flexible but you'll probably need to be confident with a computer to use it.
When you buy a transmitter consider as a minimum one that:
When learning, it's possible to link two radios so your instructor has one and you have the other. When the plane is safely in the air and flying straight and level, they can give you control. If you get stuck, they can take control back, sort out the plane and get it to a safe height so you can try again. This can avoid most (but not all) crashes potentially saving you a lot of money. To do this the two radios need to be compatible (usually the same brand though not necessarily the same model). They are linked either using a wire or newer radios often support a wireless link. The simplest option is to check what your instructor(s) will or can use before you buy one.
It's possibly to buy computer programmes to simulate flying a plane using your transmitter, a computer and the computer screen. These can be a great way to practice on your own and it's cheaper to crash a simulated model than a real one. If you opt to buy one (and it isn't necessary) make sure it is compatible with the transmitter you buy and you have te appropriate connector (wireless or wired). A common simulator is https://www.realflight.com/. Phoenix used to make another popular one but this has now been discontinued.
The part of the radio system that sits in the plane, receives the signals and tells the servos (see below) when to move. Whichever you get should be compatible with your transmitter (usually the same make), suitable for air use (road and boat ones tend to have shorter range). These can be expensive so third party manufacturers often make "compatible" receivers. These have different reputations for reliability and it's worth considering the cost of losing your plane before deciding to use a compatible one. Receivers have a number of channels - you need one with at least as many channels as the model you want to fly.
Modern receivers have to be paired to a transmitter in a process called "binding" or "linking". Once paired, a receiver will only accept commands from one transmitter - the one it is bound to. The process for this varies and can include holding down buttons while powering on devices or inserting special plugs ("Bind plugs") before providing power. Often it's simple but occasionally it can be tricky to figure our why. Probes can be that you are too close, too far away, pressing buttons at the wrong time (or buttons for a different device). Sadly, the process differs even within equipment provided by a single manufacturer so you need to read the manual for both receiver and transmitter to work out what to do. Sometimes even this isn't enough and an internet search is needed to solve the problem. If you get stuck, bring the offending kit to the field and we'll help if we can.
Small devices that move the control surfaces of the plane when you want to change direction. They come in a huge range of styles, speeds and strengths but if you buy a trainer model they will probably be fitted already (though you may have to connect them to the surface you want to move using the rods etc. provided).
Batteries come in all shapes and sizes but for electric flying we usually use Lithium Polymer (LiPo) batteries. The power and capacity of these varey widely and you need to look at the instructions for your model to determine which you need. They can be expensive but basic models usually use "3S 2200mAh" types usually costing less than £20. LiPo batteries are made of cells which procide 4.2V when fully charged. Manufacturers put several together to give more volts - 2 cells give 8.4, 3 cells give 12.6 when fully charged. The "3S" above means 3 cells in Series thus providing the 12.6V when full charged. The nominal voltage (roughly, the minimum voltage they hold when discharged) is usually 3.7V so you may see this number quoted too. It doesn't mean you should discharge them to this level - it's generallly held that going below 80% of the capacity damages the battery. The capacity of the battery (2200 milli-Amp hours in the example above) indicates how much charge is stored (and how much you'll have to put back after use. A 4400mAh battery has twice the capacity of a 2200mAh but will be larger and heavier.
The other important number on a battery is the C rating. This will appear on the battery in a form such as "30C constant discharge/50C burst". The C rating applies to both charging and using the battery. Charging a battery is normally done at 1C which means you take the
capacity in mAh (2200 our example above), and divide by 1,000 to get the capacity in Amp hours (Ah) - 2.2 in the example above - and set the charger to this current - 2.2A. You also match the cells (3 above). When charging the charger will show 2.2 Amps and 3 cells and the battery will stop charging when it reaches the nominal voltage (12.6V). This will usually take about 40 minutes, so having several is very helpful.. It is possible to charge at higher rates (e.g. 2C) but this can shorten the life of the battery and can make the battery hot (sometimes enough to make it ignite). Make sure you understand the risk before trying this.
In use (typically when flying) the motor will take current from the battery, typically more the faster you fly. The quoted constant discharge rate shows how much current the battery can deliver all the time. In our example, one "C" is 2.2A, so our battery can deliver 30 times this (66A) until it runs out. For a short time (typically 5-10 seconds) our battery can deliver 50 times the C rating (50 times 2.2A is 110A). Trying to pull too much current from a battery for too long makes the battery hot, sometimes so hot that it can ignite, so batteries and motors are paired quite carefully by manufacturers when designing models.
Batteries need connectors to connect to the plane (and to the charger) and sadly different manufacturers use different types. You need to ensure that the connector in the plane and that on the model have the same style. Common types for basic planes are EC3, Deans and XT60 though there are many others. People tend to use a single style of connector on (almost) all their equipment though this can mean using a soldering iron to replace connectors either on batteries you buy, or on the connector in one or more plane. It's also possible to buy adaptors to convert from one style to another, which saves on soldering.
LiPos contain a lot of energy and can cause fires if handled incorrectly. There is safety guidance here https://bmfa.org/Info/Downloads/BMFA-Handbook
Unused in internal combustion models, but in simple electric ones these connect to the battery and deliver power through one set of leads to the Receiver and through a different (larger) set to the motor. The receiver then uses this power a) to operate, b) to drive the servos and c) to understand how much power (speed) you want to send to the motor. This is then used to send the appropriate command to the speed controller which regulates the speed of the motor.
Larger and more complex models have slightly different arrangements, but above are the basics.
If you buy an electric plane, you'll need to charge the batteries after each flight and even i.c. models have batteries to power the servos and receiver. Some are mains powered, some use a leisure battery (you can use your car battery for this, but you may drain it so it isn't advised) and some work off either. We have a 12V supply at the club, so if you have a cheap 12V charger, you can charge your batteries between flights. You'll need a connector for your charger that matches those on the batteries you have.
We aren't lawyers, so you need to check for yourself, but there are many restrictions on flying and recent incidents of drones versus full size planes have led to even more. For a few examples, you usually can't fly in your back garden (too close to other people's property), near to members of the public or near airports. Even more restrictions exist if the device carries a camera. You are also responsible for ensuring a flight will be safe before taking off. There is lots of guidance available but you can start here for more details https://www.caa.co.uk/Consumers/Unmanned-aircraft-and-drones/ You can be prosecuted for breaking the rules and this has sometimes been done using as evidence videos people have uploaded themselves.