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Flying RC Planes is incredibly fun and lighthearted way to work on coordination, and especially rewarding if you build your own plane! If you’ve been interested in drones, remote-controlled aircraft, or just want to learn about something new, use this guide as your starting place for all things RC Planes.
Are RC Planes hard to fly? RC Planes are not difficult to operate, and beginners can usually get the RC Plane air-born within an hour of practice. Becoming an expert will require plenty of practice time. However, understanding the essential principles is relatively simple, and you can be flying in less than a day.
This guide will cover recommended planes to consider purchasing, RTF vs. Building kits, crucial legalities behind RC plane flying, and other important need-to-knows like how to register your RC plane. Think of this as your one-stop-shop for all things RC Plane and prepare to be one with the skies in no time!
Are RC Planes Hard to Fly?
With the fastest remote-controlled jet-powered model aircraft (long-term for RC Plane) hitting 450 MPH, these planes are no joke!
It achieved a speed of 749.221 KM/H, which is closer to 466 MPH, but who’s counting?
Due to the fast nature of these planes, required registration, and increasingly severe drone laws, it can be challenging to describe the difficulty of flying an RC plane.
Flying the plane itself is not difficult, and you will probably see immense progress in one day of narrowed focus on the task. You could be outstanding within the first week to a month, and an expert after your first year.
If it’s something you’re taking seriously and researching, you won’t have to wait a long time to reap the rewards of learning a new skill.
The hard part will be understanding the transmitters, getting the legalities to be sure you’re a law-abiding RC plane flyer, and ultimately conducting your flights in a safe and responsible manner.
If you find one plane challenging to fly, don’t give up on all RC planes because no two are created equally. You may have been operating in too small of a space or perhaps your hand-eye-coordination is better-suited to a larger or smaller RC plane than the one you were flying.
The most significant factor that will determine your success as an RC flyer is how often you practice.
Learning how to fly is a little easier with some video instruction as well. Check out the video below to get some great tips if you are just starting out.
Without further ado, let’s get into the nitty-gritty so you can spend more time enjoying the sport you’re clearly enamored with!
How Much are RC Planes?
You don’t have to spend a fortune to get a fantastic RC plane. We recommend starting with a more moderately priced RC plane before investing in a top-quality product with a higher price tag.
Confirm that you are passionate about the hobby and plan to stick to it before shelling out the big bucks!
You should budget to spend between $50 and $500 for a starter RC plane. You can use the links about to shop RC planes and purchase higher-quality models directly from their manufacturers once you get more serious about the activity.
There are also brick and mortar stores where sporting or outdoor activities can be purchased, or where you may find model planes and construction kits.
Be sure to ask an expert or store clerk if you are unsure of what you need and be certain that the kit you’re purchasing comes with the proper equipment regarding RTF, PNF, or assembly supplies. Confirm you have everything you need before checking out. Even the Ready-to-Fly models will usually require minor assembly.
What to Look for When Shopping
Some qualities and features you will be considering while shopping for your first RC plane are:
- How much do you want to spend? Use the tips in the above section for determining your budget and commitment to the hobby.
- Configuration – a mistake that newbie plane flyers make is purchasing the RC plane that looks the flashiest, has pizzazz, or goes the fastest. The disservice you’re doing to yourself by taking this approach is costing yourself the best-quality plane.
The ideal RC model will be high-winged that will create a more stable flight-pattern. When learning this will be especially important to you as you’re getting comfortable with a remote-controlled aircraft and wind elements out of your control.
Search for something that is stable with a wing atop the fuselage, which will result in the most stable plane. This causes the center-of-gravity of your plane to equalize itself after turns and flips, with the weight at the bottom of the wing.
- Power Category – your main choices will be an engine with IC (Internal Combustion Power and a glow plug) or the option that is more popular for beginners – the EP (Electrical power). EPs are easier for novices as it will require less assembly, and the IC will require additional parts. ICs are also noisier, require more fuel, can be messier, and are ultimately more of a nuisance. They can fly much farther, faster, and higher than their electric counterparts however.
- Channels You’d Prefer? This comes down to how much control you want to have and how much variation in your planes’ flight-patterns. You can get a 1-gear flyer that will function on one mode, or a 2-channel, 3-channel, and so-on. The more options you have and ways/speeds to fly at, the more difficult it gets. It is recommended that a newbie RC flyer starts at a 2 or 3-channel.
- RTF, PNF, or Building Kit? This question deserves an entire section to explain what your options are for RC planes –
Choosing the Right Plane Type: RTF, PNF, or Build Your Own?
You can choose to purchase an RTF plane which means, ‘ready to fly,’ which will come equipped with a remote and functioning controller that may require batteries to operate.
Here are some highly-rated Ready to Fly RC Planes available for purchase. Just be sure the product label says, ‘RTF,’ somewhere in the title description.
You can also purchase a PNF plane which means, ‘plug-n-fly’ and may require additional purchases to be made as not everything will come included. A Plug-N-Fly will not come with batteries, receivers, or often a transmitter.
Here are some highly-rated Plug-N-Fly RC Planes available for purchase. Just be sure the product label says, ‘PNF,’ somewhere in the title description.
There are also tons of wonderful kits to purchase and create your own RC planes. These will obviously require work, but it will be a labor of love! If you want to reap even more enjoyment out of your RC plane, imagine if you constructed it with your own two hands and how much more it would mean to you.
Here are some highly-rated Building Kits for RC Planes and Drones available for purchase. Just be sure the product label says, ‘Building Kit,’ and notice if it’s an RC Plane or a drone as many of the search results get combined. Here is another place to look for Top RC Plane Kits.
Rule of Thumb for Each RC Plane Type
There is no wrong answer for which you should purchase, only what sounds more fun or practical to your needs.
A general rule of thumb is that:
- RTFs are for beginners to flying that want everything sold together. They are also very sturdy as they are often made of foam.
- PNFs are best-suited for RC plane flyers that have been doing this for a while and may already have controllers, batteries, transmitters, etc. and are just looking for the RC plane
- Building Kits are best suited to those that have a passion for working with their hands and constructing. You’ll have bragging rights because you’re flying a plane you built yourself. There’s also the pride of a job-well-done. With so many guides and how-to’s on the internet, why not push yourself to try something new?
What Each Plane Type Will Require
You can decide how finished you want your plane to be or how unfinished you’d like it. This will come down to reading about each product and understanding what comes included and what will be sold separately.
A ready-to-fly RC plane will be the most ready-to-go option and be the fastest to get in the air from the purchase date. You will have the motor and radio with little assembly required. The transmitter and the batteries for the transmitter will be included. You may require:
A plug-n-fly RC plane won’t need extra parts, but it will take the longest to get airborne. If you purchase a PNF plane, you may need:
- Radio Gear
An RC building kit will come with what you need for the plane itself, but you may need:
- Radio gear
As fun as it is to build your own model plane, we would like to recommend that as a beginner – you should start out with the RTF models.
The reason is that you can put so much work into building a kit-RC plane only to have it damaged or crash in the early days of your flight training. Give yourself time to make mistakes with a cheap plane you don’t care about, and then once you’ve grown in confidence and skill, invest in a nicer model or build your own.
Step-By-Step Guide to Flying an RC Plane
We will offer you product recommendations later on in this article that cover the best RC planes for beginners and experts.
First, let’s dive into (no pun intended) the fun part of owning an RC plane, which is getting to fly it!
The steps you will take are as follows:
#1 Read the Manual
Boring but necessary. Each plane will be different, so you’ll want to do a quick read-up on what your RC plane is capable of and what it’s not. Familiarize yourself with every part, toggle, and switch, giving yourself a few independent quizzes to be sure you understand what each button does and ultimately how to work the plane model you’ve selected.
Don’t just graze through the manual and risk crashing your plane prematurely because you didn’t take the time to understand easy solutions. There are common problems you will face, such as the natural elements like wind, calibrating the speed, and becoming comfortable with your plane’s movement.
Take the time to learn this to avoid a silly crashing mistake that could’ve been avoided. If you don’t take the time to learn the functions and connections on your model, you’re just asking to send it to an early grave.
#2 The Pre-Flight Checklist
Always do a run-through of the pre-flight checklist before taking off. This is to be sure your plane is safely prepared for takeoff. It will also lessen the risk of the plane falling apart mid-air. For the pre-flight check, you will need to:
- Confirm all controls and servos are secure
- Check that the battery pack is loaded and secured
- Test the battery and be sure you are using a fully-charged battery. Test the voltage–it needs to be at least 12.00 voltage.
- Tighten the propeller and spinner nuts
- Nothing is sticking in the rudder/ the control move smoothly, and the plane is receptive to your controls
- The motor is functional and not making any odd noises
- Step around 30-50 paces away from your plane and test that the battery works. If the battery or transmitter is not working at a walkable distance away from the plane – do not fly it! Your battery may be dead or set to the wrong channel.
- Check the wind to confirm it’s not too windy. Do not fly if it is too dangerous.
- Always do the pre-flight check and make it a regular habit every time you fly.
#3 Toggle Each Setting Before Flight
By this, we mean to have your plane turned on but just a few feet in front of you. Practice each toggle and switch on your transmitter and understand what makes the plane go left, right, fast, slow, and get comfortable with your model.
The large switch on the right will control the direction of the plane. Pushing forward on the toggle stick will steer it down, pushing downwards (towards your body) on the stick will make the plane go up.
Experiment with how much the rudder affects the plane.
#4 Determine Wind Direction
This will be by tossing something lightly into the air and seeing which way it flies. Whatever direction the wind is blowing in, you want your plane to be carried along by the wind, not fighting the wind.
Take off in the direction the wind is already moving and avoid moving perpendicular to the current.
#5 Taking Off
Toggle the elevator switch, which will usually be the larger switch on the left. Push the rudder downwards towards your body and allow your RC plane to roll down a runway to gain momentum.
Once the plane is beginning to float off the ground, launch it with force to advance the power. You can use a visual guide like this video for beginners.
If you can’t get good momentum, go up and down the runway a few times until the wind is working with you to get the plane airborne.
Do not fly over residential areas, shrubs, animals, or people. Do not go too high and research the RC and Drone laws in your state/that location before flying there.
Keep your wings as level as possible and don’t make any rapid changes to the switches.
Stay in the direction of the wind to avoid losing control or stalling out.
We will cover more tips on where to fly, legalities, and safety in the upcoming sections.
#7 Landing Your Plane
Aim for a soft spot to land, such as in tall grass or away from rocks, powerlines, trees, and people. The goal is to swiftly lean your plane towards the ground, letting off of the rudder and moving the throttle forward.
You will be lowering the throttle as you seek to land, keeping an eye on the speed of your plane as you bring it lower in elevation. Do not let it drop too quickly.
Pull back, decrease your power, and when your RC plane almost reaches the ground, your power switch should barely be engaged.
Be sure you land into the wind just the same way you took-off into the wind.
Where to Fly Your RC Plane
You will have the locational options of either flying your RC plane at:
- An RC or drone flying club – here is a Directory to RC Airplane Clubs & Fields listed country-by-country and state-by-state.
- Private land that you or a friend/family member owns.
- Public land such as a park or national park where there are extensive safety laws surrounding RC planes and drones.
The tricky aspect of flying your RC in a public field, parks, beaches, or where there are a plethora of other aircraft flyers- is that most radio frequencies will be set to a 2.4Ghz radio setting. Some flyers may be using MHZ system, which can interfere with other flyer’s frequencies.
Be aware of the intercepting signals and try to put distance between you and other flyers. Not only do you want to avoid crashing your planes into each other, but you also want to avoid losing signal/control of your plane, which will also result in a crash landing and risk the safety of those around you.
Try to give yourself at least a mile of space of whatever receptivity-proximity your manual has listed.
If you have your own open land that is private, this is always ideal. Be aware of residential laws such as not flying your RC plane over people’s homes or out of your line of sight.
We will cover the legalities and rules you need to be aware of as a responsible RC plane owner next.
Registering Your RC Plane
The most popular question that pops up regarding drone and RC plane ownership is –
Is it required that you register your RC aircraft?
Yes, regulation has been updated recently by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) announcing that “all small unmanned aircraft operators must register with the FAA by February 19th of 2016 to avoid a $5 registration fee. The registration is good for three years, and you will be given a unique identification number that you need to place in/on all of your aircraft.”
You can use this link to Register your RC Plane directly through the Federal Aviation Administration.
To be eligible to register your RC plane in the U.S. you will need to:
- Be at least 13 years of age
- Be a citizen of the U.S.
- Be a permanent resident of the U.S.
These rules are only for American citizens using the FAA system of laws.
If you are not from the U.S., search for your own country’s regulations, rules, and confirm if a RC registration process is even required for your nation.
Failure to Register Your RC Plane
The registration for an unmanned plane applies to any and all RC planes which fall between the weight categories of being over 0.55-pounds and under 55 pounds.
- Fail to register your RC plane
- Fail to place the shiny, new registration sticker on the side of your RC plane
- Or fail to carry proof of your FAA registration or have the registration number on hand when it is requested/every time you fly –
It will result in a hefty punishment. We will let the FAA tell you in their own ominous words:
Failure to register a UAS in accordance with these rules may result in regulatory and criminal sanctions. The FAA may assess civil penalties up to $32,666. Criminal penalties include fines of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three years.
Since you are flying a UAV (an unmanned aircraft vehicle), which is also sometimes referred to as an RPAS (remotely piloted aircraft system) or drone – you have responsibilities to uphold.
Great freedom and joy come with great responsibility, so take this seriously.
This hobby is meant to be fun and therapeutic, don’t allow stress to overwhelm your life in the form of a $30K debt and jail-time over an RC Plane. The last thing you need after a day of enjoying flying your plane is to get a giant fine!
Legal & Safety Tips for RC Plane Flyers
Some things to keep in mind to be a safer and more responsible RC plane flyer include but are not limited to:
- Choosing a quality aircraft that won’t fall apart on the first flight. Especially when flying in a public space, you need to be sure you are operating a safe and structurally-sound machine that won’t fall apart in the sky and shatter into pieces that could harm someone.
- Be sure your name and number are listed on your plane somewhere in case it gets stuck in a tree or lost somehow.
- Read-up on each location you are planning to fly to as you may need to confirm if a special license is required. Many national parks make it illegal to fly your drone, or sometimes it is only unlawful to land the plane but not to take off the plane in a national park. These are the kinds of strange logistical facts you’ll want to be aware of before ever flying your plane somewhere new.
- Keep in mind that not everyone adores seeing an RC plane as much as you do, so be conscious and respectful to not fly a loud plane at night or close to park/beach revelers.
- Never allow your RC plane, drone, or unmanned aircraft to go out of sight. If it leaves your view and you cannot see it – you are flying illegally.
- Drone law is in-flux. Your state or municipality might have laws that cover how far up a landowner’s private property goes.
- Check the space you’re seeking to fly in to be sure these things aren’t too close by:
- Other flyers
- Residential properties or tall commercial ones (someone can report you flying over their home, and you could face legal action against if you get caught flying too close to a person’s house)
- Roads (as this is a distraction and hazard to drivers)
- Other flyers
Highly Recommended RC Planes for Beginners
Some of the best RC planes for beginners that come with top-ratings, wonderful features, and an affordable price-tag that won’t make you wince are:
- Hobbyzone Sport Airplane SAFE RTF 6-channel Technology
- Funtech Channel Airplane Aircraft Outdoors 3-channel RC Plane
- KKmoon Airplane Fixed Plane Outdoor RC
- GoolRC Cessna Control 3-channel
- Top Race Remote Control 3-channel RTF RC Plane
These are just a few starter recommendations, but feel free to explore other options. Always be sure and check user recommendations and ratings from verified purchasers.
Start cheap and work your way up to the nicer models. Do you want your first crash to be in an expensive model? I always recommend going with a $100-$200 model for your first purchase. That will allow you to have a good quality plane while still not blowing your budget.
Final Tips for Beginners
Some parting words of wisdom for beginners to the hobby are:
- Take notice of the design/structure of the plane you use, and research if that is appropriate for your needs/expectations of the RC plane. Look at the Dihedral, which will be the V-curvature of the wings as you look at them from the front of the plane. You want the wings to move slightly up like a V-shape to have a more stable wing and be easier to control.
- Consider purchasing RC Flying Liability Insurance. It may be required for some locations you want to fly in anyways and is a great precaution.
For United States Citizens, this can be purchased through the Academy of Model Aeronautics Organization. They will cover you for up to $1,000,000, and it is combinable with your homeowner’s insurance. It will protect yourself from liability in an emergency case such as injury being caused to people by your RC plane, losing control, flying it out of sight, or property damage.
- Avoid flying on windy days as it is too high-risk, and you’ll probably crash your plane because you won’t be able to properly control it.
- Crashing is inevitable, so do not beat yourself up if you do. This is part of the fun, but it needs to be done in the safety of a wide-open space and responsible flying. Crashing into a field a grass isn’t the end of the word. Crashing into a highway causing a wreck would be.
Be safe, register your RC plane, and for all that is good in the world – do not forget to put your registration sticker on the plane pre-flight!! That is a rookie mistake and one that could cost you.
After all of the safety logistics are covered, focus on what the pastime is about – having fun and spreading your wings towards the sun!