Getting Started

I am very interested in building and flying radio controlled airplanes. I have no experience and would like some specific ideas that will help
me get started.
What are the most important things I need to know? What are some great resources (books, magazines, websites, etc)? Should I start with an electric or gas engine? Can I learn to fly on my own? Should I buy simulator software to help me learn to fly?
I guess there are a million questions I could ask. I am just looking for a general discussion that will help those entering the hobby.
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Hi Colt,
Welcome to the hobby! I just started flying last year myself, I need to warn you early on how easy it is to become consumed by this enjoyable pursuit.
One resource I'd suggest you become very familiar with early on is the AMA, or the Academy of Model Aeronautics:
http://www.modelaircraft.org
The AMA provides members with liability insurance, instructional resources, organized events and contests, a monthly magazine called "Model Aviation," and also offers a terrific website for new or prospective R/C pilots called Sport Aviator:
http://www.masportaviator.com
Sport Aviator features some really terrific information about glow powered and electric aircraft, training information, building tips, a glossary of R/C flying terms, and many other useful pieces of information.
The AMA charters local R/C flying clubs throughout the U.S. and, if you live in the States, you can use the "Charter Club Locator" tool on the AMA home page to find a club near you. I learned to fly last spring by finding a couple of my local AMA chartered flying clubs and by going to each club's "training night" and flying "buddy boxed" with an instructor until I was able to fly solo. Having an experienced R/C pilot to guide you is a tremendous help; not only can they teach you how to fly, but also how to maintain your aircraft and motor properly and how to repair problems at the field when something goes amiss.
Electric or glow-powered aircraft are both suitable for initial flight training as long as you get a radio setup that allows you to connect up with an instructor for "buddy box" flying. Most of the R/C pilots I know own both electric and glow aircraft and enjoy flying both. Which is best for you can be determined by talking about what you like and want with a flight instructor at your local club.
If you can't find a local flying club, or if you live in an urban area and will likely be flying in small parks or ball fields, you can certainly teach yourself to fly. It's more difficult, in my opinion, to try to figure it out on your own than it is to work with somebody who already knows how to teach you the basics. I spent a couple of months smashing a small electric airplane into the ground before I found a flying club and really started learning.
A good flight simulator is very helpful whether you learn to fly on your own or you go to a club for training lessons. Seasoned pilots still fly simulators to learn new stunts, try aircraft out that they don't personally own, and to keep their skills sharp on rainy or snowy days. You can download good simulators for free like FMS or the Real Flight G3 demo, or you can up to $200 or so for a top quality retail package with controller or radio chord included.
Rather than drone on and on while bombarding you with detailed information, I'm hoping to simply have pointed you to a couple of additional resources while answering your general questions in general terms. I hope I was helpful, and please feel free to post any follow-up questions about which you'd like more specific information.

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Flying Model Simulator (freeware) resource links: http://cgi.ethz.ch/~mmoeller/cgi-bin/ikonboard3/ikonboard.cgi?sH92fb0010e517ddd6c4d06b35e5a113 ;act=ST;f=6;t6
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Colt wrote:

To be safe you need these three things: airspeed, altitude and ideas. If you have plenty of any two of these you can use it to buy some of the third.

The AMA is already mentioned. I can't stress enough the benefits of joining a club. I didn't, because I started before I had a driver's license. Even the few visits I got when I could cage a ride out of my mom were invaluable.

A gas engine or electric motor might be the right way to start. Or consider gliders. Electrics and gliders are cleaner, quiet, and in some ways much more convenient than gas (with a big enough back yard you can chuck an electric out your back door and go flying, or launch on a high-start). They have less potential to tick off the neighbors when you have to do testing late at night. Really high performance electrics can be pretty steep to start with, but for small trainer planes they can be economical.
Gas is less expensive to get into initially and is less expensive to power large planes. Many argue that what you save in the initial purchase price you make up for in fuel costs over electric. You'll dump lots of really slimy oil on your plane with a gas engine.

Learning how to fly on one's own is an excellent way to become expert in the repair and rebuilding of model aircraft. I did learn this way, but I don't recommend it unless you simply cannot get to a flying field.

I think it'll be a big help.

Join a club, and ask questions. Not all the answers you'll get will be of the highest quality*, so it's best to ask them of a group and listen to the discussion -- or latch on to someone who seems to really know their stuff (_not_ just someone who thinks they do!).
* Not all the answers that you'll get here will be, either. For that matter I've seen some howlers in the magazines as well.
--

Tim Wescott
Wescott Design Services
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Why, you - how dare you suggest that- uhh, okay, I don't actually disagree with any of this, but I thought it was standard procedure on this newsgroup to get righteously indignant whenever someone makes any sort of comparison between gas and electric, because it's completely obvious that . . umm . . one or the other, I forget which, is totally better than . . uh . . the other one, for some really good reason, and anyone who says otherwise is a cad who obviously doesn't know what he's talking about.
Ooh, now I have a warm smug feeling. This righteous indignation is fun!
--
"Show up naked, bring beer - men are so easy to please."
- Kacey Jones
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On 9 Jan 2006 13:14:31 -0800, Colt wrote:

Where to find out what you need to know?
This is not a bad starting place...

For electric flight - which many people find is easier - and no its a lot more advanced than you think - www.ezonemag.cm.

If you can find a friendly club that flies gas/glo, and have access to instructors, there is no reason NOT to start with glo. If however you like the hobby, but not the bums at your local flying club, its safer to start electric. Despite protestations it is possible to learn to fly without instruction, but a typical 40 power gasser trainer is a pretty lethal thing to cut your teeth on. And you may find you are one of those people to whom the mysteries of tuning an IC engine do not come easy. The last thing you need on your first few flights is to eiher not get the thing started or have it quit on you as soomn as you lift off the grass..

Yes. In some ways its eassier, because yo get to fly more, but its harder in that the first few seconds of flight, and the landing, which are way trickier than smply cruising around are ofetn better handled by someone else first. Plus there is a lot of saftey procedures that you ought to be aware of, and model trimming and so on.
If you want to learn alone, I suggest electric, small so that it won't kill you or anyine else you collide with, and be cheap when you smash it.
In this class there are a few categories. Fast an d tough - foamie flying wionmgs, and trainer style planes. These suit teh yiounegr with good refelxes who will bounce a few times, and can learn quickly, or the slow and tsable stuff that basically flies itse;ldf. Foamiet parkflyers, or vionatge style planes with free flight hertiages if you like to buold are eminently suitable.
I've learnt twice 30 years apart. Uisng te 'fast and crash'; and then the 'slow and stable' on the two ocasions.

Definitely. If you can't get to an instructir a decent simulaor is the next best thing. It won;t teach you everything, but it will at least get some basic hand/eye/plane corordinatin in place, so you instinctively know which way to rurn a plane, and what to do if its upside down etc.And what the sticks and knobs do...

Fine.
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Lots of good suggestions below (or above depending on where this message ends up in this thread) and I may have missed the suggestion in my brief scan, but hit up the local hobby shop and ask questions there.
Find the local club and sit in on one of their meetings and maybe speak to an instructor.. Visit club web sites to get an idea of what to expect at the field.
Do like I did and just buy all the crap, build it up and go wad it up several dozen times in the local schoolyard until the number of successful landings equals the number of takeoffs. Not the cheapest route, but it does work. hehehe
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On Mon, 09 Jan 2006 22:36:50 -0800, The OTHER Kevin in San Diego wrote:

It can be the fastest route.
Buty slow stik or azagi and keep on practicing missing the ground until you get good at it,.
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wrote:

My 1st flight went pretty fast. Barnstormer .15. Got the thing running, dialed in the needle and opened the throttle... Plane went left, stuffed in full right rudder and managed to get it straight and off the ground.. Flew downwind, turned around and promptly lost left/right coordination and stuffed it into a chain-link fence. Broken prop was the only damage. Total flight time was about 30 seconds. :)
2nd flight was much more exciting. Stuffed it into a muddy field lawn-dart style from about 200 feet. Snapped the fuse right at the leading edge of the wing - found the engine and the rest of the fuse about a foot deep in the mud.
A couple hours with some epoxy and covering and it was back in the air. I'd say I crashed and repaired this thing about 30 times before I could fly a gallon of fuel without wadding it up. Still have the thing, still runs but looks terrible.

Yep. Just be conscious of the neighborhood if you're flying a gasser. The local school has given me permission to use their grass field to fly when it's not being used my the local soccer league, and even though it's a couple hundred yards from any homes, I won't fly glow planes or my helo there. I'd hate for a single noise complaint to kill my "private" flying field.
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Thanks everyone for the great advise. I appreciate your time. I look forward to many great hours of enjoyment and likely frustration.
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Colt, If you are anywhere near central Texas I can get you on a buddy box very soon! mk

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Nope, I live in Minnesota. Thanks.
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First: know yourself. Do you like to socialize, or are you a loner? If you're social, find and RC club and start asking for help. If you're a loner and don't much enjoy club atmospheres, consider park-flying electrics as a starting point. I don't think, from what I've read here, that going-it-alone on a non-electric plane is a good or safe idea in general.
Another issue: do you like to tinker and build things? Is so, consider building your own planes. If not, go with the RTF (ready to fly) or ARF (almost ready to fly) types.

You need to know where to get information.
* www.rcgroups.com can be an amazing resource (and a huge waste of time, too, but you'll learn how to filter stuff).
* if you're building stuff yourself, and you don't have any examples to look at, etc., get a copy of the Tower Hobbies catalog. For a newbie, there's a wealth of information in there.
* Google is your friend. When someone in RCgroups says "I've got a Himax in my SPAD ARF ..." you'll say "Hunh? SPAD? ARF? What the hell?" But a Google search on "SPAD" will rapidly show you that it means "simple plastic airplane design" (or something like that) and that Himax is a kind of electric motor, etc.

Yes. You may develop some bad habits, but if you're a loner, the hobby is still open to you.

You should GET simulator software. You can pay a lot, or you can go with slightly-less-fancy-and/or-reliable-but-free. FMS (http://n.ethz.ch/student/mmoeller/fms/index_e.html ) is good enough to teach you a lot, and a simple "analog two stick controller" (buy it at BestBuy or Circuit City for $15) acts enough like an RC transmitter to get you a good feel for things.
If you DO want to build your own stuff, you'll be initially shocked at the price of the bits and pieces -- a cheap receiver, a couple of servos, an ESC, a battery pack, and a transmitter can add up to real money. The good news is that when you crash that first plane so often that it can no longer be repaired, the electronics will still be good, and you can install them in the next plane, and the next, etc. If you buy something like the Hobbyzone Scout or Aerobird, etc, you get gear that, practically speaking, really CAN'T be re-used ... so it's a false economy.
I can strongly recommend this plane:
http://www.rcgroups.com/forums/showthread.php?t83687
as a decent starter. It's pretty easy to build, and amazingly forgiving in flight. If you're flying on grass, skip the wheels. I'm sure there are a hundred other equally simple and good planes out there as well...
--John
I can recommend the "Trainer One"
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