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How to jump start your RC flying hobby

With so many products and choices it is a daunting task to know where to begin in the RC flying hobby. This article and follow up series will give you a head start to RC flying and help you avoid the common mistakes that newcomers make.

Pic by Walter46

Hobby grade vs toy grade:

Try searching for RC drone or RC airplane and you will be overwhelmed by the products shown to you by the search engine. Before you decide what to buy you need to be aware that there are two classes of products. Hobby grade and Toy grade.

The below table gives a good idea to help you distinguish between Hobby grade vs Toy grade products.

Hobby GradeToy Grade

omp m1 hobby grade helicopter
syma toy helicopter
Complete Spare part list and availabilityYesNo
Long term supportYesNo
Build qualityHigherLower
Radio RangeExceptionalPoor
AvailabilityLocal Hobby shops/onlineSuper market/online
Usage modelUse, break, learn & fix, repeat.Use, break, throw
Table 1: Hobby grade vs Toy grade models

We will focus only on Hobby Grade stuff.

Types of RC Aircrafts

There is a wide range and variants of RC aircraft but they can be broadly classified into 3 categories based on flight characteristics.

  • Single-rotor (Helicopters) rc helicopter
  • Multi-rotor (e.g. quadcopters, DJI drones)rc quadcopter
  • Fixed wing (Airplanes, Gliders) rc airplane

What RC model to start with?

Simulator, simulator, simulator!

Flying any RC model requires skill. The pilot’s mind and fingers have to develop a certain muscle memory to properly steer the model and react to undesired changes in flight path. Things can change pretty rapidly once the model is in the air and if you are not prepared for the situation it will most likely end up in a crash causing damage to the model and frustration to you.

Developing your flying skills is the best investment you can make in this hobby. Preparation will make your real world flying session even more enjoyable. You will still crash but not as often and most likely with lesser crash damage. The simple rule to follow is: be 100% confident on the simulator for any specific flight maneuver before trying it on the field.

An RC simulator costs less than 100 bucks. The crash cost on a simulator is zero. You get to try and practice on 100s of different aircraft models. There are training lessons to take. Upgrades are free for life. There is nothing to dislike about it.

You can download and try out the neXt simulator for free*. It works on Mac, Windows and Linux.

(* free version has a 2 min flight timer after which you need to restart the simulator)

Try out the different helicopter, airplane and multirotor models and see what suits you the best.

neXt simulator
Fig 1: neXt simulator’s model selection screen

What controller to use for the simulator?

To try the simulator you can use any controller that provides a USB Joystick interface. e.g. Xbox controller, Playstation 3/4/5 Controller. However, don’t use these game controllers to practice as game controllers feel way different than RC controllers so practicing with game controllers will be a waste of your time.

RC models use a programmable Radio Control transmitter that has two sticks that have a significantly different feel than the game controllers. e.g. Throttle stick doesn’t have spring tension. Sticks are longer, have more travel & precision and are operated with two fingers instead of just the thumb.

Game controllerRadio Control Transmitter

PS4 game controller
tx16s radio controller
InputShorter Thumb sticks, self centering on all 4 axesLonger sticks with self centering on 3 axes. No centering on throttle axis.
OperationThumbthumb holdPinch with thumb and index finger pinch hold
PrecisionLower, due to the shorter Thumb stick and Thumb operationHigher, due to taller sticks and pinch operation
ProgrammableNoFully programmable
Table 2: Game controller vs Radio Controller

Back in the days you had to stick to radio equipment from one manufacturer as radio protocols between manufacturers are incompatible so their equipment was incompatible to each other too. For example, if you chose the Futaba radio system you could not use it to fly a Bind-and-Fly (BnF) model that came with a Spektrum receiver.

The situation is still the same between these main stream radio equipment manufacturers but something great has come on the radio controller side. With a 3rd party open source multi-module radio transmitter like Radiomaster TX16S, you can use a single radio transmitter to control almost all the popular radio protocols, including the toy grade ones. Here is the full protocol support list.

I highly recommend the Radiomaster TX16S family of radio transmitters. It is a high quality, fully programmable radio transmitter that comes with the multi-module radio chip. It can be used for all kinds of RC aircraft and other RC models as well as simulators. This is the only radio transmitter you will need to have to control all your models including the simulator.

So what are you waiting for? Grab that simulator and an Xbox/PS4 controller and give yourself some stick time. It doesn’t cost you anything. Once you decide that it is something for you, you can invest in the simulator and radio controller for a good RC flight practice and experience.

Contact us for any questions you may have and we’ll be glad to help.

In the next article we will cover which aircraft model kits you can begin with. Stay tuned!

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