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Four RC Airplane Landing Techniques: A Step-By-Step Guide

There is an old saying among pilots: “Taking off is optional, but landing is mandatory.” Without a proper landing, the RC airplane’s maiden voyage on the summer breeze could be its last. Unfortunately, for both real-life and RC pilots, the landing is one of the most difficult maneuvers to perform with an aircraft, and it requires extensive training to master the perfect touchdown.

What are four landing techniques for an RC airplane? The perfect RC airplane landing can be attained by using the following step-by-step guide of essential techniques:

  • Pinpoint the plane’s slowest speed
  • Trace the ideal landing pattern
  • Execute a precise flare
  • Utilize computer assistance

While more advanced RC pilots can add additional acrobatics and personal touches to their landings to create a “wow” factor at touchdown, the four techniques listed above first need to be perfected before adding any advanced maneuvers to ensure the safety and longevity of the aircraft.

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Four RC Airplane Landing Techniques

While the list of RC airplane landing techniques may be able to be subdivided into countless categories, there are four overarching techniques that need to be mastered by any competent pilot.

Technique One: Pinpoint the Plane’s Slowest Speed

By pinpointing the plane’s slowest speed, the RC pilot will ensure that his or her craft descends with a predictable sink rate and does not come into contact with the ground with excessive force capable of damaging the airplane.

There are a variety of steps that need to be taken in order for the pilot to accurately and consistently attain the slowest speed for landing.

  1. Prepare the airplane for landing prior to takeoff – this may seem counterintuitive, but preparations for landing start while the plane is still on the ground.

    The pilot needs to trim excess weight from his or her craft prior to launch, as the motor may not be strong enough to sufficiently slow the plane in the presence of additional gravitational force.

  2. Pull back on the throttle – Once in the air, the pilot will want to practice at very low altitudes to get a feel for landing the craft. Using the remote control, the pilot needs to pull back on the throttle stick (this may be referred to as motor power on some controls) to slow the speed of the propellers. As the motor slows, the plane will start to descend.

  3. Engage the up-elevator – the elevators are the hinged section of the tail plane and are extremely important for control of the craft. The elevators, although located at the back, control whether the nose of the plane points up or down.

    They are essential for regulating airspeed, and some up-elevator needs to be employed for landing the craft, as an upward-pointing nose ensures that the fuselage of the plane will touchdown at the ideal angle

Slowing Down

Figuring out how to attain the slowest speed is essential in landing an RC airplane correctly. Many novice pilots do not understand how to use the throttle and elevators correctly, resulting in crash landings.

The Importance of the Throttle

The throttle (motor power) not only controls the forward velocity of the aircraft but also the rise and descent of the plane because varying amounts of lift will be generated at different propeller speeds. In fact, closing the throttle (reducing motor speed) will actually cause the plane to sink before slowing down.

Inexperienced pilots do not understand this concept and ignore the throttle to focus on the elevators at landing. The elevators do play an essential role in landing technique, but they are often misused.

Up-Elevator and Down-Elevator

While a down-elevator will make the plane descend, it will create a dangerous, nosedive landing scenario. Many novice pilots will simply try to land the plane by employing down-elevator, which is not correct.

However, too much up-elevator will reduce airspeed to the point that the airplane actually stalls in air. A stalled airplane is at risk of having a wing dip, which could lead to a freefall. Therefore, only a small amount of up-elevator should be employed, meaning that the plane’s nose will be angled slightly upward to attain the slowest speed for landing.

To correctly land an RC airplane, the pilot needs extensive practice in identifying the craft’s slowest speed, which will be the point just before the airplane stalls. This speed can be attained by trimming the plane’s weight before takeoff, closing the throttle to reduce propeller speed and induce descent, and utilizing the up-elevator to further reduce airspeed and attain ideal fuselage angle for touchdown.

Technique Two: Trace the Ideal Landing Pattern

After the pilot has become a pro at getting his or her plane to sink predictably at safe altitude levels, it is time to take the aircraft higher and practice landing from more realistic flight altitudes.

A perfect landing starts with a strong landing pattern, and the RC pilot should employ the same techniques in tracing his or her landing pattern as those used in full-size aircraft.

The landing pattern will trace a rectangular shape in the air and can be broken down into the following steps. A 90-degree turn should be made between each step.

  1. Fly into the wind (upwind) – the pilot should feel the breeze blowing into his or her face with the nose of the RC aircraft facing the same direction. Fly the airplane into the wind and away from the pilot. The plane will likely have an altitude greater than 100 feet at the commencement of the landing pattern
  2. Turn into the crosswind leg – after making a 90-degree turn, the airplane will now be in the crosswind. The landing pattern will consist of two legs in the crosswind, but only the first will be referred to as the crosswind leg (the other is the base leg). The pilot will want to stay on this leg of the pattern while gradually lowering altitude to around 100 feet
  3. Turn into the downwind leg – another 90-degree turn in the same direction will have the wind blowing behind the plane, which is referred to as the downwind leg. During this leg, the plane should be parallel to the landing strip. Keep the plane level and reduce the throttle (motor power) to continue the descent of the craft
  4. Turn into the base leg – a third 90-degree turn in the same direction will put the plane into the opposite crosswind, called the base leg. The pilot will further reduce the throttle, aiming to drop the plane to about 50 feet of altitude during this leg of the landing pattern
  5. Enter the final approach – a final 90-degree turn will complete the aerial rectangle created during the landing pattern. The plane will once again be flying upwind, just like it was at the commencement of the landing pattern. The throttle should be reduced to under 25 percent during this final leg as the plane prepares for a touchdown

There are some additional considerations for the RC pilot to think about as he or she sets up the landing pattern.

  • Location of landing strip – the pilot will want to get a good feel for the wind prior to launching the craft. He or she will want to choose a smooth, flat area for landing that runs parallel to the wind, as an ideal landing pattern ends with the plane facing upwind. Major airports have runways in all directions in order to ensure that planes will be able to land in the optimal direction
  • Keep wings level during final descent – many planes come with ailerons to help control wing level. Ailerons change the amount of lift generation over each wing. The ailerons work opposite of each other, so when one goes up, the other goes down, and the plane will roll to the side, experiencing less lift. Some models may not have ailerons and therefore will need to use the rudder, throttle, and elevators to manipulate wing level
  • Center the plane with the runway – the rudder is the hinged section of the fin at the end of the airplane and controls the direction the craft points. Moving the rudder to the left causes the airplane to turn to the left, and vice versa, making it an essential component for centering the plane at landing
  • Attain ideal elevation – using a combination of throttle and up-elevator, the RC pilot should envision a point at the beginning of the landing strip of about 15 feet altitude. This will be the ideal spot for the aircraft, once properly aligned, to cross as it enters the runway region

The throttle and elevator techniques used in attaining slowest speed become critical when executing the landing pattern. Without being skilled in these areas, it will be difficult for the pilot to perform the many steps necessary in tracing an ideal landing pattern and preparing the craft for touchdown.

If the pilot experiences any problems or difficulties during any leg of the landing pattern, it is best to abort the current attempt and start a fresh run.

Technique Three: Execute a Precise Flare

After final descent has been achieved in the landing pattern, the aircraft wings are level, and the plane has entered the runway properly centered at the appropriate altitude, it is time for the pilot to execute the flare, one of the most difficult maneuvers to perform with an airplane.

The flare is so difficult because it requires precise timing. If done incorrectly at the wrong moment, a poorly executed flare will cause the plane to bounce back into the air. The exact moment to execute the flare depends on the type of aircraft being flown, but it will generally be attempted within a few feet of the ground.

The flare requires the pilot to perform a couple of precise movements at one time:

  1. Pull back on the up-elevator – as we learned as we practiced slowing our craft, the elevators raise and lower the nose of the place, with the up-elevator also helping the throttle to control airspeed. The pilot needs the nose of the plane pointing up, and the slowing effect will also prove beneficial in creating a stall for landing
  2. Idle the throttle – by putting the throttle in idle; the motor will stall, allowing the plane to gently glide along the surface of the runway, with the landing wheels taking over and rolling the plane safely along the landing strip before being braked to a halt

The consequences of performing the flare at the wrong time can be disastrous.

  • If the pilot stalls the plane too soon, it can cause a wing to dip, putting the wing at risk of contacting the runway and being torn from the craft.

  • If the stall is performed too late, the wheels may hit the runway with excessive force, causing the plane to bounce back into the air with insufficient airspeed. A launched plane with no airspeed is a nightmare, and the aircraft will fall from the sky in a crash landing.

If the pilot finds him or herself in the undesirable situation of having an airplane bounce off the runway, it is best to try and quickly add motor power and attain flight status and circle the aircraft through a new landing pattern for another attempt at landing.

Technique Four: Utilize Computer Assistance

Technology has improved society and made life easier for citizens in a multitude of ways. Fortunately for RC airplane pilots, technology can also help them through the complex process of landing their aircraft. However, it is important to understand the technology and the ways it can be used to perform landing functions.

  • Some planes have ailerons that also act as flaps to slow the plane by increasing wind resistance. If this is the case, radio programs can be mixed so that even though ailerons are working to slow the plane, they are still serving their function as ailerons and keeping the wings level. This would be an extremely difficult maneuver to execute manually.

  • There are also other computer mixes that allow the elevators to track the speed of the throttle. The importance of balancing propeller speed and nose angle cannot be understated when working to attain the slowest speed for landing, so computer assistance can provide the necessary up-elevator when it detects the slowing of the motor. This keeps the plane flying smoothly at slower speeds.

  • The ultimate computer assistance for RC airplanes are those units that come equipped with landing mode. This will lower the landing gears, deploy all flaps, and coordinate movements between the ailerons and rudder to ensure that the 90-degree turns of the landing patterns are performed level and precise, all while also coordinating the throttle and elevator balance.

RC Airplane Landing Techniques: Crabbing in Crosswinds

There are times when the RC pilot can perform the four essential landing techniques to perfection, but Mother Nature has other ideas and wants to thwart the perfect landing. Try as the pilot might, he or she cannot seem to enter the final approach upwind, the gusty conditions creating a constant state of unpredictable crosswinds.

In this situation, the RC pilot will need to use a special technique called “crabbing.” This technique is aptly named because the pilot will need to make some overcorrections in the landing approach to get the airplane to move sideways, like a crab, into the landing.

When there are strong crosswinds, the pilot will need to use the rudder to point the nose of the craft (heading direction) toward the wind while the body of the plane moves toward the runway (tracking direction). The strength and direction of the crosswind will determine the crabbing angle that the pilot needs to employ to keep the plane tracking straight down the center of the landing strip.

Wind’s Impact on Landing an RC Airplane

Strong, gusting crosswinds will affect all aspects of the lending process:

  • The manner in which the pilot needs to control the throttle and elevators
  • The landing pattern
  • The execution of the flare
  • The extent that he or she can use computer technology to aid in the landing process.

However, the presence of crosswinds becomes critical during the final approach of the landing pattern and transitioning into the flare. Crosswinds can blow the aircraft off-center of the runway, inhibit the ideal approach elevation, influence the timing of the ideal stall, and erratically tilt the wings.

Therefore, the need for an ideal approach becomes exacerbated in crosswind situations. If a strong, rectangular approach has not been achieved, the pilot should give it another try before attempting to land the craft using the crabbing technique.

As crabbing is an advanced landing technique used only in especially treacherous wind conditions, it is advisable that the RC pilot gains extensive experience before attempting to land his or her craft in strong winds.

The more experience the pilot has in operating the throttle (motor power), elevators, ailerons, and rudder in a variety of conditions, the more likely that a successful crosswind landing can be executed.

Watch How It’s Done

If you are a beginner watching how to best land your plane is a great way to start. The video below is designed specifically for beginners to help you land your plane properly.

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There are a variety of different ways to land your plane but landing it without damaging it is incredibly difficult and requires a lot of practice. If you are newer to having an RC plane or don’t have much practice landing one it is a good idea to get someone to watch your landings and help guide you through them a few times until you are confident enough to land by yourself.