What Are RC Airplanes?

What Are RC Airplanes?

Simply put, RC airplanes (or aeroplanes depending on where in the world you live), are model planes that you control yourself by radio signals. The 'RC' stands for radio control, although you might often see the term 'remote control' instead.

Technically speaking radio control is the correct term, but remote control is widely used and is not incorrect, as the plane is indeed controlled remotely (i.e. from a separate location to the plane itself).

Model planes have been around for a long time, and all forms of model planes and other aircraft fall under the hobby name of 'aeromodelling'.
The earliest recorded flight of a radio controlled model airplane was back in the 1930s, although of course the technology was very simple back then, and nothing like the RC technology we know today!

After the Second World War, radio transmission technology had improved a lot and this filtered through to those keen on flying a radio controlled airplane. Also, interest in aircraft since the war had risen greatly due to the rapid advancements of fighter planes, and aeromodellers were keen to replicate their favourite warbirds - Spitfires, Mustangs, Messerschmitts etc.

That trend has always been strong, even to this day, and World War One and Two warbirds are some of the most popular modelled planes.

So how is an RC airplane controlled?

Without going into the details of radio transmission protocols, basically the radio signals are generated at the transmitter, which is the box you hold, every time you move one of the transmitter sticks, or push a switch. Those radio signals are received by the receiver which is located inside the plane. The signals are then sent to the servos, which are the electronic components that are directly connected to the plane's flight control surfaces.

The servos 'decode' each signal as they are received, many times per second, and respond with physical movement of the servo's arm, which in turn pushes or pulls the control linkage that is connected to the flight control surface.
It's this movement of the flight control surfaces that changes the attitude of the plane in the air, and hence its direction etc.

Radio signals will also be sent to the plane's motor to control the amount of power required, and there are lots of other functions that the radio signals can control - landing flaps, retractable undercarriage, lights and smoke systems to name a few.

The basic airplane control surfaces that servos can be connected to are the elevator, rudder and ailerons. Elevators control the pitch attitude of the plane, in other words whether the plane points upwards or downwards in the air. This, coupled with motor power control, determines whether the plane climbs, dives or flies straight and level.
Rudder controls the yaw of the plane - whether the nose of the plane turns to the left or right, and ailerons control the roll attitude of the plane, or bank angle.

Each controllable function of an RC airplane is called a 'channel', so a plane that has control to motor and rudder, for example, will be a 2-channel RC plane. If you add elevator control to that then it becomes a 3-channel plane, and adding aileron control will make it a 4-channel plane, and so on.

RC Airplane Power Types...

Historically RC airplanes were powered by various types of model internal combustion engine - diesel power was the mainstream one to begin with, then petrol and later glow-plug. Glow plug powered RC planes have been the most common for a long time, although model plane petrol engines have really become popular again more recently.

Electric power wasn't really practical for a long time, simply because of the size and weight of the batteries needed to produce enough power to make the plane fly.

It wasn't until the late 1990s / early 2000s that electric powered RC aircraft (planes and helicopters) became as popular as they are today. This was because lightweight but powerful electric motor setups were developed along with a new kind of battery technology - lithium polymer.
For the first time ever, an electric powered plane could match the performance of an internal combustion engine powered plane. Since then electric powered (EP) RC airplanes have just been getting better and better, and it's probably fair to say that EP plane now outnumber IC ones.

In terms of affordability and availability, EP radio control planes are cheaper and more widely available than IC planes, and they are simpler because you don't have the complications of IC engine starting, running and maintenance. This is a great thing for the radio control flying hobby, and is the main reason why the hobby saw a huge popularity explosion in the early part of this century!

It means that RC airplanes are now very widely available, instead of only being available from specialist model shops as they once were. And they can be quite cheap to buy too, which has to be good news!

Companies like KidsToyLover.com have a great choice of RC planes suitable for younger pilots and older beginners alike. The planes they sell are mostly completely Ready To Fly (RTF) so there's little, if anything, you need to do to get it ready for its first flight.


In the next post we'll take a look at what makes a good RC airplane for a beginner, and why.
In the meantime, if you want further information on the fantastic hobby of radio control flying, my website is www.-rc-airplane-world.com and has all the info you need to get safely started.


Happy Landings!


 If you or your child are interested in RC and want to give it a try, our team member Pete, an expert in RC airplanes, has written an ebook for beginners. This guide has helped many RC enthusiasts by providing essential knowledge and answering common questions about RC flying. Here is the link to his ebook: The Beginner's Guide to Flying RC Airplanes by Pete. A small investment for big savings— we hope it helps everyone.


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