Getting Started in RC


Written by Jay Smith
Get on the path to an enjoyable hobby
How-to
As seen in the Winter 2017 issue of Park Pilot.


Video: Getting started in RC


There's more to Know Before you Fly!

Before you take off, visit www.KnowBeforeYouFly.org to find out how to stay safe and legal while you fly!


For many years, the most common path to getting started in flying model aircraft has been to join a local club and be paired with an instructor who will teach you not only how to fly, but also how to safely operate your model. This person can also help you choose a good first aircraft, help ensure that it is properly assembled, and provide guidance for a successful first experience.

Your instructor can get you flying while maintaining the ability to take over the aircraft at a moment’s notice, if and when additional assistance is required. You can find out about clubs in your area by using the AMA Charter Club Search (modelaircraft.org/clubsearch.aspx), which gives you access to nearly 2,500 clubs.

Conventional wisdom also suggests that you should visit your local hobby store, where you will also be imparted with valuable information and assistance in choosing the hobby products that best match your interests and goals.

This path is still likely the best way to proceed and provides hands-on training and the skills and knowledge needed to be safe and successful. But what if you have neither a club nor a hobby shop in your area?


Working with an instructor allows for hands-on training and the ability to begin flying right away, with the instructor able to take control of the model if and when required.

The manufacturers/distributors of hobby products recognize the importance of you having a successful flight experience. No one wants to spend his or her money and time on an aircraft and then have the excitement and enjoyment dashed by a crash.

One way of providing a new pilot training and practice, without the risk of crashing his or her model, is by using a flight simulator. An RC flight simulator allows you to pilot many types of aircraft (fixed-wing, helicopter, multirotor) in different environments. Make a mistake that leads to a crash? No problem; press the reset button and all is forgiven.

The key to being successful when using a flight simulator is to use it as a tool and not a toy. Muscle memory allows you to take a specific motor task into memory through repetition; however, that memory can be good or bad, depending on how you use the simulator.

Prospective pilots often overlook using a simulator, concerned about the cost of investing in one; however, preventing a single crash and possible loss of an aircraft can often justify a simulator’s cost. An RC simulator can usually be purchased used for much less than retail price.




A simulator is a good investment and can continue to be used even after you have become comfortable flying. It can help you learn new maneuvers or be used for a flying fix when you can’t make it to the field.


Another form of technology that helps pilots is the stabilization systems that are being incorporated in aircraft to make them easier to fly. They offer a panic button that will return the aircraft to level flight. These technology advances help the pilot and lower the risk of a mishap, but they fall short of having an actual instructor available.




Several aircraft can be purchased with everything you need to get started already included, and with only minor assembly required.




A beginner aircraft should be easy to assemble and fly. Foam aircraft are good choices because they are easier to repair in case of a mishap.


An important aspect of the hobby is safety, and if possible, that is best learned through the help of an instructor, club, or hobby shop. When you are starting out, you simply don’t know certain things that are important.




Be sure to visit your local hobby shop. It can be a great resource with valuable information and assistance throughout your time in the hobby.


Examples could be the distance to the nearest airport and if notification is required; the proper size of the flying site to accommodate your model aircraft; and how to safely arm and disarm your aircraft and complete a range check.

The AMA Safety Code (modelaircraft.org/files/105.pdf) is a great resource to get you started thinking about safety. Online resources such as AMA Flight School (amaflightschool.org) and model aircraft forums can also be places to reach out to others and learn more.

It is also a good habit to refrain from flying alone. In the unlikely event that you are injured while working on or flying your model, it’s best to have help available.




Having a helper or flying buddy with you at the field is always wise.


If you’re not already a member of the AMA, you should strongly consider joining. Membership will provide you with insurance coverage while you are flying your model aircraft. You will also receive a magazine (Park Pilot or
Model Aviation) to keep you informed about your new hobby. The AMA promotes all types of aeromodeling and continues to ensure that your right to fly is protected. Visit the AMA website (modelaircraft.org) to learn more.

If you fly outdoors and your models weigh between .55 pounds and 55 pounds, you will need to register as a pilot with the FAA. Registration can be completed online and costs $5 for three years. After you have registered, you must place your registration number on or inside of your aircraft.




A multifunction battery charger, such as this one from Hitec, is a good investment and will be able to charge all of the batteries that you are likely to use.


Building and flying model aircraft is an exciting hobby that has been safely enjoyed for more than a century. Getting started is simple and inexpensive, but as with most hobbies, it makes sense to do a little research, such as reading this article, to learn more.

After you learn how to fly, you will discover that there are many types of aircraft that might pique your interest. From early aviation aircraft to jets, helicopters, and multirotors—all aviation is open for you to enjoy.


When shopping for your first aircraft and equipment, here are some things to consider:

• Radio gear: A four- to six-channel programmable radio system that can expand as you grow in the hobby.
• Molded-foam trainer: Several have built-in flight stabilization systems that make learning easier.
• Multifunction battery charger: These are adjustable and can be used with all types of battery packs.
• Model maintenance stand: Minimizes dings and dents while you are working on your aircraft.
• Field box: Can be used to organize your flying accessories.
• Basic tool kit: Contains screwdrivers and wrenches in the sizes you need for your models.
• Quality sunglasses: You’ll be spending plenty of time looking up at the sky.
• Pop-up shade tent and folding picnic chairs: For creature comforts at the field.
• Small roll-up rug: To put under your model at the field. It helps prevent the loss of screws and nuts.
• Flight logbook: To document your successes and challenges, and learn by not repeating mistakes.
• Spare hardware: In case something breaks or gets lost.
• RC flight simulator: This is the best way to train your thumbs and gain hand-eye coordination before you go to the flying field.

-Jay Smith

Share your tips for new hobbyists below!

Article: 

6 comments

I'm an advocate not just for sunglasses, but OSHA rated safety glasses. Eye protection can't be undervalued...especially now that new safety glasses are darned good sunglasses as well. I wear them all the time. I've become so accustomed that I wear them driving. That habit saved me when a large rock thrown from a truck wheel shattered my windshield on the way to the field. Glass got all over me, but my eyesight was never at risk.

Glad you were wearing them! I've had steel get into my eyes even WITH safety glasses on. Turns out steel shavings were in my clothing and when I changed shirts it somehow found it's way into my eye.

Attend some club meetings in your area and talk to the people. You can get many great suggestions that way. One of my first planes was a Hobbico NexSTAR, one of the best trainers out there. And I agree with this story and get an instructor to work with you, no matter which kind of plane you get, even those with SAFE technology. Under no circumstances do I advocate learning to fly by yourself. Always have that instructor with you. As far as trainers go, I've flown a Hobbico Superstar .40, which I still have, and I'm in the process of completing my Great Planes PT-40. Fly the cover off the trainer plane and have some fun! I have advanced along enough that I can fly some other aircraft and do basic aerobatics. But even as you get to be a good pilot, keep a trainer around to help you with your reflexes. And they are good planes to fly anyway for a slow flyer you can have for fun. Some of our guys in my club keep several trainers around for fun, and to have one to teach someone to fly, with a buddy cord attached to an instructor transmitter and a student transmitter. This is really the best way to learn. And I've also been in situations where I've had to go back and forth handing a transmitter between me and the instructor. But buddy cords are the best way to ensure success.

Gyms stand there, empty, more than they are used. They make a great place to fly micro electric RC planes, especially a Parkzone Ember. At full throttle, these models fly about as fast as one can jog. To land, simply close the throttle. The plane lands itself. You will, almost certainly, hit every surface of the gym while learning to control the plane. No big deal. The plane is tough and hits with very little force. I, eventually, broke a prop. By the time you feel confident that you can handle this plane, take it outside, in no wind, and try it some more, then go buy a little bit faster plane.

Nicely said. I have seen many pilots think they are ready to fly by themselves. A Buddy system is the best way to learn to fly. They think when they have lost control they can get the plane under control... Wrong! Probably 90% of the time they crashed. Another reason for a buddy system is you don't have to give back the radio to the instructor. The time it takes for the exchange could save your plane. Another suggestion when learning to fly is to have different instructors. Learning from multiple instructors will definitely make you a better pilot. The best thing I learned was while flying (w/buddy system) under the instruction of one of my clubs Old School pilots. He instructed me to learn the basic 3 control surface flying. That's throttle, elevator, and rudder. Even though you have aileron (most cases) to rely on in emergencies, but you will always need rudder to land. I once had a pilot have his plane turned on, when we relied on designated frequency channels, ask me after I had landed if I ever fly with my ailerons. I thanked that instructor one day after I had my aileron servo mount break loose. RUDDER and ELEVATOR saved my airplane. Flight simulators were not around when I learned to fly. These are a great aid. It helps to rid oneself of Dumb Thumb Syndrome. I use one today to keep my skills honed during the winter months, trying new stunts, or fly a new style of plane. Good Luck newbies!

I agree with the previous comments and strongly suggest the use of a simulator. It helps muscle reaction to most situations. Of course there is always that unforeseen item like a gust of wind or a malfunction in equipment. Preparation is the key both in equipment and the body and mind of the pilot. There is always the hope that we will always go to the field and not have to worry about anything going wrong but life is full of surprises. I am a struggling novice due too my location from the field and assistance from a fellow pilot. The small group I fly with is wide spread in our area and it is difficult for us to get together at the same often. Thus we do on occasion fly alone. It can be done if one is aware of the dangers that prevail if you let down your guard. Stay awake and stay safe!!

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