Hub Hobby Shop

Getting Started in Radio Control Airplanes

Getting Started in Radio Control Airplanes

Getting Started in Radio Control Airplanes


by Sig Mfg Company


Welcome to the action-packed world of radio control, or “R/C” as it is commonly called. For as long as motorized vehicles have been in existence, people have been enthralled with the idea of operating them by “remote control” without actually being inside the vehicle. For many years R/C was an activity that only government engineers and electrical wizards could understand, but in this modern age, thanks to micro electronics, R/C is a fast growing hobby that anyone with average skills can enjoy. R/C hobbyists can successfully build fully functioning miniature replicas of airplanes, helicopters, boats, cars, tanks, and even submarines.

 SIG MFG. CO. has been in the R/C business since 1951, specializing in flying model airplanes. We hope that this catalog will help you get started in the exciting hobby of building and flying R/C model aircraft. The SIG LT-40 Trainer is available in both kit and ARF versions. This design has all of the important qualities required in an R/C trainer – easy to build (in the kit version), strong balsa and ply construction, and picture perfect flying characteristics. Shown here is the LT 40 kit, powered by a .40 engine.

I want to fly an R/C model airplane! How do I start? Find out if there are any R/C’ers in your area and where they fly. HOBBY SHOPS are a good place to start asking questions. Your local hobby dealer will know about the R/C activity in your area and can get you in touch with the local flyers and model clubs. Check in the yellow pages of your telephone book for the name of a dealer near you.

R/C MODEL CLUBS can also be of great help to the newcomer. Go to their flying field and talk with the club members. Don’t be shy! Tell them that you are thinking about getting started in R/C and ask for advice on a suitable first model for yourself. Learn from their experience! To find out the name of a club in your area, write to the ACADEMY OF MODEL AERONAUTICS at 5151 East Memorial Dr., Muncie, Indiana 47302.

MODEL AIRPLANE MAGAZINES are also excellent sources of information. R/C has its own language of terms and nicknames, and reading model magazines will help you learn the terminology.

 How much does it cost?

Like any leisure time activity, R/C has some one-time start up costs. The initial investment might seem high to the newcomer, but once you are established with a model, engine, and radio, the costs stabilize and can be as much or as little as you want to spend. Engines and radios last for many years. With a little maintenance, they will rarely wear out. In fact, you can build and fly several different models and use the same engine and radio in them all. So the question, “How much does it cost?” will depend on your future goals in the hobby. To start, let’s take a look at the cost of a typical beginner’s package. You will need:

Mid-size R/C Trainer Model Kit $ 100.00

.40 Cu. In. 2-Stroke Model Engine 130.00

4-Channel Radio Control System 200.00

Glue, Covering, Accessories 55.00

Fuel, Basic Field Equipment 40.00

Approximate Total Start Up Cost = $525.00


How far do they fly?

Modern radio control systems have a range of 1 or 2 miles. However, it is very rare that a model airplane is ever flown that far away. A model with a wingspan of 5 or 6 feet will become a small speck in the sky at 1/2 mile out, so you will rarely fly at that distance because it is almost impossible to see what the model is doing. Most R/C flyers keep their models within 200 or 300 yards of themselves.

 How fast can they fly?

A typical trainer model usually flies in the neighborhood of 60 mph. More advanced stunt models will fly a little faster, at about 80 to 100 mph, and for the real expert, R/C racing models often fly at 140 mph., or more.

 What happens when the engine stops?

A common misconception among the general public is that control of the model is lost if the engine quits in flight. That is not true! The radio system will still function normally since it is powered by its own on-board battery. If the engine quits in flight, you simply glide the model in for a landing.

 Can I buy an airplane that is ready to go?

Yes. Today there are many “A. R. F” (Almost Ready to Fly) kits on the market. These models were typically built offshore and are usually of reasonable quality. Such ARF kits eliminate the need to actually build and cover the airplane yourself. Usually, all that’s required is some basic assembly, installation of the radio system, and mounting the engine and fuel tank. While there is no substitute for actually building and covering the model yourself, ARF models do provide a quick way to get into the air. The SIG LT-40 ARF kit is an excellent example of such Almost Ready to Fly R/C models and will provide you with superb flying charactaristics for training purposes.

 Are model airplanes hard to build?

No! Balsa model airplanes are not difficult to build by someone who can master a few basic woodworking skills – primarily the use of a modeling knife and a sandpaper block. A typical kit includes all of the parts to build the basic airframe of the model, plus step-by-step instructions for putting the parts together. The radio, engine, fuel tank, wheels, covering material, and glue are purchased separately. Construction time for a typical trainer model will be about 50 to 75 hours. 

A few basic tools are needed for building balsa model airplane kits: Flat building board that pins can be pushed into (it should be large enough to build half the wing at a time)

Modeling knife (X-Acto #1 knife with #11 blades for starters)

Razor saw (X-Acto or Zona)

Needle nose pliers, Small screwdrivers, T -pins

Drill and a set of Twist-Drill bits (1/16″ thru 1/4″ dia.)

Sanding block and assorted sandpaper

Soldering iron and rosin core solder

Heat sealing iron for applying iron-on coverings

These tools are the start of a typical model builder’s workshop. While you can build most model airplane kits with these few basic tools, there are other tools that can make the job easier – a Dremel tool, jig saw, disc sander, razor plane, different size modeling knives, etc. If you stay with the hobby, you will eventually want to add other tools to your shop.

 Do I need a license to fly R/C airplanes?

No, you do not need a license to fly R/C! However, there is a governing body for all model aviation activities in this country called the ACADEMY OF MODEL AERONAUTICS (AMA). The AMA is recognized by the federal government as the official spokesman for all model fliers in the United States. As part of its duties, the AMA works closely with the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) to see that certain radio frequencies are set aside for the exclusive use of modelers.While the AMA membership is not mandatory, it is a good idea and we encourage all new R/C fliers to join the AMA. In addition to supporting the hobby, AMA membership provides you with important liability insurance protection in case your model should ever get out of control and cause property damage or personal injury. You will find that many model airplane clubs require all of their members to join the AMA for their mutual protection. AMA membership also includes a 1 year subscription to Model Aviation, a monthly magazine covering all phases of model flying.

  What kind of radio do I need?

When you start looking at radio control systems, you may be confused at first by the many different brands, different styles, and different features that are available. R/C systems are just like TV’s, VCR’s, or stereos, in that you can buy a “plain Jane” basic system or one with more extra “whistles and bells” than you can remember how to use. And the difference between the basic and fully-loaded systems will be reflected in the price.

Obviously you do not need a super sophisticated radio to start out with. We recommend that you look at less expensive “sport” type radio systems. Most of the radio manufacturers market a basic 4channel radio designed for the beginning or sport R/C flier. These are good quality, dependable radio systems that you can operate with confidence; they just don’t have all the extra features that the higher priced radios have.

 Which airplane should I buy first?

By all means, get a specially designed TRAINER airplane! A boxy looking trainer may not be beautiful to look at, it may not be exciting to dream about, but it will have the flight characteristics that you need for learning to fly R/C. Most people starting in the hobby have visions of themselves piloting a sleek, fast fighter plane with retractable landing gear and dropping bombs. But that is exactly what they don’t need! Here’s a true story that explains why -as told by Claude McCullough, one of the designers at SIG MFG. CO.: 

“Not long ago, I was called to the Sig retail department to talk to an R/C customer who wanted some advice. Already selected on the counter was a scale P-51 Mustang kit, retractable landing gear units, and the most expensive highpower.60 in the store. He was looking at 7-channel radio sets and wanted to know what frequency would be best. The conversation soon turned up the fact that he had never flown any kind of model airplane before, but he had seen some R/C models flying at an airport dedication show over the past weekend and was instantly hooked. As tactfully as possible, I told him that he should not try to fly the P51 without some previous experience with an R/C trainer. “I’m not interested in those funny looking trainers”, he said, “I want a scale model of a real airplane. Besides, I won’t need a trainer. I’ve got 3,000 hours in a full-size aircraft!” I tried to explain to him that no amount of log book time, even in actual P-51’s could adequately prepare him for the totally unique requirements of a fast and responsive advanced R/C model. The reactions and reflexes are not the same. Nothing except R/C flight time on a trainer could prepare him to fly the P-51. But he wasn’t persuaded. “I’ll throttle down for the first few flights, that’ll slow’er down,” he said. At this point, tact was abandoned and I flatly predicted that there was no way he could fly the P-51 by himself – the model would eat him alive! All to no avail, his mind was made up. My parting recommendation was that, by all means, he find a skilled R/C flier to help him and that if he could not find one in his area then bring the model back when finished and we’d help him.”

“Several months had passed before the customer was heard from again. When he finally came back, it was to pick up some accessories for a new trainer he was building. He sheepishly admitted that his P-51 had been destroyed on the first attempt. Out of control from the moment he opened the throttle, the P-51 had risen into the air, rolled over and crashed into the ground before he could decide which stick to move on the transmitter. In a few seconds his new airplane was completely destroyed. After learning this expensive lesson, he had located an experienced R/C flier to help him start over and he would soon have his new trainer in the air:” 

This story is not intended as a put-down of the beginner involved. Many others have made this mistake with the exact same results – a costly, heartbreaking crash on the first flight. So resist the temptation to build your “dream” ship right away, save it for later! The U.S. Air Force doesn’t start its flying cadets in F-15’s and you should take the same approach to learning to fly R/C. 

Your first R/C model should be an airplane that is designed to be a trainer. It should be a “high-wing” airplane (wing mounted on top of the fuselage) for best stability in flight. A high-wing airplane is more forgiving of pilot errors than any other type. Your trainer should also have a flat-bottom wing “airfoil” (the cross-section shape of the wing) so it can fly slow enough for you to keep up with it. A generous amount of “dihedral” (the upward “V” angle of the wings when viewed from the front) is another characteristic to look for in a good trainer design.

  Can a beginner teach himself to fly R/C?

It’s not recommended! Learning to fly R/C model airplanes is not a skill you can learn overnight. It is very similar to learning to fly real airplanes in that you should go through a learning phase with an instructor before you try to pilot the airplane yourself.

  Why do I need an instructor?

An instructor serves two purposes. First, he will fly your model for the first time to make sure it is performing properly before you try to fly it. When a new R/C model takes off for the first time, there is no way of knowing exactly which way it is going to go. Some models will try to climb, while others will want to go down. Some will try to turn left, others right. Some models will be doing both at the same time on the first flight! It doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with the model, but these minor differences must be “trimmed out” in order for the model to fly properly straight and level. That’s why a new model’s first flight is best done by a pilot who has flown an R/C airplane before, someone whose reflexes are already conditioned to anticipate the model’s actions and instantly make the right move to counteract. The second reason for an instructor is to correct any mistakes you might make when you take over the controls for the first time. Let the instructor get the model airborne and flying level at a safe altitude (“several mistakes high” as the old saying goes) before he turns the control box over to you. You will quickly find out that it is very easy to overcontrol an R/C model and to get disoriented -EVERYONE DOES IT AT FIRST! If you get in serious trouble on your first flight, quickly hand the transmitter back to the instructor so he can rescue the airplane. He will get it leveled off and then let you try it again.

The best instructional method uses a “Buddy Box”. A Buddy Box setup requires two similar transmitters hooked together with a cord. This allows the instructor to switch control back and forth without having to grab the transmitter. This gives both the instructor and the student more time to recognize and correct mistakes.

In addition to not overcontrolling, another problem that beginners need to overcome in learning to fly R/C is the left/right control reversal that happens when the model is flying towards you one minute, away from you the next. For example, if you were seated inside the cockpit of a full-scale airplane and moved the control stick to the right, the airplane would turn to your right. Moving the stick to your left would make the airplane turn to your left. That’s not always true with an R/C model! If the model is flying away from you, the controls are normal – right stick makes the model go right, left stick makes the model go left. But when the model is turned and flying towards you, the controls are now reversed -when you move the control stick to the right the model still turns to ITS RIGHT, but now that actually makes the model travel to YOUR LEFT. This can be confusing at first, but with practice you will adjust to it.

It’s not that learning to fly R/C is difficult, it’s just a lot different than anything you have ever done before. Anyone can learn to fly R/C airplanes if they are willing to listen and learn! Remember the first time you tried to ride a bicycle? It seemed completely awkward the first time, but once you learned how, it quickly became very easy: Learning to fly an R/C model airplane also comes quickly to most people.

The sky is the limit!

Fly your trainer as often as you can, until you have it completely mastered. After you get a few flights under your belt with an instructor at your side, you will begin to feel more comfortable at the controls. Soon you will be flying by yourself with little thought to the moves required. It will just come naturally! Don’t get discouraged if you have a minor crack-up; repair the damage and get back in the air as soon as possible. As your reflexes become trained to R/C flying, you will soon be able to adapt to the faster flight of more aerobatic models.

Good luck with the hobby!


Reprinted with permission of SIG Manufacturing Company, Inc 401-7 South Front Street, Montezuma, IA 50171. All rights reserved.