What Makes a Good Beginner RC Airplane?

What Makes a Good Beginner RC Airplane?

If you're thinking about getting in to the thrilling hobby of flying radio control (RC) airplanes, you might just be wondering what sort of plane you should or shouldn't buy to learn on.

The good news is that there's such a vast array of 'beginner' RC airplanes around now, way more than there ever has been. Modern electronic stabilization systems can be found in lots of model planes, even simple and cheap ones. That's great news for the beginner because these systems really do work and make radio controlled planes much easier to fly.

With that in mind, though, let's take a look at what (traditionally) beginner RC airplanes were for many many years, and we'll compare a simple example to something that, not so long ago, would have been completely unsuitable for beginners learning to fly RC planes.

RC airplanes meant for beginner pilots are traditionally called 'trainers', simply because they are used to train the pilot the basic skills of model flying. A very important characteristic of a trainer is its stability in the air - when you're learning to fly a radio control airplane, the last thing you want is for it to be unstable and hard to control!

One common design aspect of a trainer is that its wings sit on top of the fuselage, or body, of the plane. This configuration is called a 'high-wing' airplane, and is by far the most stable configuration because the plane's weight and Center of Gravity sit below the wing; the weight of the fuselage below the wing kind of acts like a pendulum, stabilizing any unwanted roll movements.

For an example, the WWII military Piper Cub variant sold at KidsToyLover is a typical high wing trainer plane. Indeed, the full scale vintage Piper Cub was probably one of the most popular trainers of its time.(Here is the product link for J3 from Kidstoylover.)

In contrast, a plane with its wing sitting below the fuselage is known as a low-wing plane, and these are inherently a little less stable because of the weight of the fuselage above the wing - in other words the plane is 'top heavy', and in most cases in life top heavy things are less stable.

For low wing plane examples, you can take any of the famous WWII warbirds - P-51 Mustang, Spitfire, Corsair, Messerschmitt etc. There are plenty of low wing general 'sport' planes too (Here is the product link for P-51D from Kidstoylover.)

As someone who has trained new RC pilots to fly in the past, I have always stuck to the traditional high-wing trainer type plane, and recommended that flying a low winger is saved until the pilot has built up the necessary reactions, co-ordination and skills to confidently fly a high-wing trainer.
In fact, this was the correct approach for anyone teaching RC flying to new pilots - start with a traditional trainer and work your way up to faster low wing planes.

But thanks to the electronic advancements of this century, particularly just the last several years, more and more RC planes are sold with built-in electronic stabilization. Such stabilization works by smoothing out the flying characteristics of a plane, and by limiting left/right bank (roll) and up/down pitch attitudes of the plane.
In other words, the plane becomes a lot more stable than it naturally would be without the electronic help, and this is obviously great news for a beginner RC pilot!

In real terms, a plane with stabilization is just so much easier to fly because it 'knows' when it starts getting in to an undesirable attitude, such as a steep bank or dive which could easily happen if the pilot is being too heavy with the transmitter stick movements - a very common issue when learning to fly.

The reality is that a radio control airplane is a lot less likely to crash when the stabilization is working its magic, simply because it won't let you, the pilot, get it in to trouble in the first place!

As you gain more confidence flying your plane, the stabilization can be reduced or turned off completely, giving you 100% control. This is done by flicking a switch on the transmitter. Typically there are 3 levels of stabilization - beginner, intermediate and off.
Be careful, though, because some airplanes are hard to fly without the stabilization due to their inherent design and flight characteristics. As an experienced RC pilot, I've found some planes practically impossible to fly with the stabilization turned off!

So you can see that over the years the nature of a typical beginner RC airplane has changed, from the traditional high-wing trainer type with lots of natural stability, to practically any type of plane so long as it has electronic stabilization in place!

Again, this is great news for beginner RC pilots because, let's face it, flying a Second World War warbird such as a P-51 Mustang is a lot cooler than a flying a boring old high-wing trainer plane, right?!

With all that said, if you choose to buy a radio controlled plane that doesn't feature any kind of electronic stabilization then you simply must choose a high-wing trainer type plane, because it will give you an easier learning curve. The natural stability rule will always apply - high wing planes are more stable in the air, no question.

How many channels should a beginner RC airplane have?

It's a common question for any beginner pilot, and the simple answer is the less channels the better.
But with that said, less channels make the plane less exciting and realistic to fly.

By the way, a channel is any controllable function of an RC airplane. So if your plane has control to just motor and rudder then it is said to be a 2-channel RC plane. If the plane has control to motor, rudder, elevator and aileron then it's a 4-channel plane.

Many beginner RC planes are typically 3 channel, with control to motor, rudder and elevator. This is a good compromise because ailerons, although they really improve the plane's flight characteristics and aerobatic abilities, are not actually necessary and steepen your learning curve a bit.
But thanks to our good friend the electronic stabilization, 4-channel planes with ailerons are nearly as easy to fly as 3-channel planes without ailerons. And more fun!

My personal recommendation would be that if you're buying a plane with stabilization then go for a 4-channel plane with ailerons, but if you're buying a plane with no stabilization then start with a 3-channel plane. You'll soon be able to work up to a 4-channel one and you shouldn't have any problems learning to coordinate that extra channel.


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.


Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.