Getting Started in Radio Controlled Helicopters

If you have ever taken a quick glance at a radio controlled helicopter but you thought that they seemed like fun but appeared to be too complicated to test one out, think again. It is definitely true that radio controlled helicopters can present a challenge, but you could pick up a hobby that is very rewarding. In today?s society we are inundated with electronics and easy to put together kits. All of this has made it much easier to fly a radio controlled helicopter than it has in times past.

Getting Started with a Simulator: You will be able to find several available simulators on the market today. The one that is about the best of the lot is called Real Flight G4. This program is Windows-based and if you look on your computer, you will find the USB port. This program will fit into this program with an interlinked transmitter. All you have to do is go on the Internet and look at and you will see how it works. Before deciding which radio controlled helicopter is the one for you, the simulator will let you test out various models including airplanes and sailplanes. This is a good way to practice without having too many crashes. This can be quite expensive. The simulator will cost approximately $200. This may seem a bit on the pricey side to you, but just remember that when you crash your good radio controlled model you are going to have to cough up at least $50 for a single crash. In essence, you can learn to your heart?s content for about $200 rather than having to crash perhaps numberless models while you learn the ropes of trying to fly a radio controlled helicopter.

Choose Your Model: Nitro or Electric? If you're just getting started, you might want to choose a lower cost model first. Some of the best are included from Compass Model or Esky, and can be purchased at most hobby shops. The lower cost versions start at round $100. If you want to try something simple, a model called the Esky Lama is very simple and stable, with a coaxial design that can be flown in the living room so that you don't even have to go outdoors. When you're ready to get a little more inventive, you can choose Compass Model Knight 50 Sport, which starts at around $300. The Compass Model helicopters are some of the most durable models on the market today. However, don't try this one until you've had a little experience and have had some practice with a simulator at least. Preferably, you should have been learning how to fly with another lower cost model first. Electric micro-helicopters come as both "almost ready to fly" or as kits. If the module is "almost ready to fly" (ARF), then the airframe is largely assembled. If you start with the kit, it's completely disassembled and you'll start from scratch. Some companies will build a model for you for a price, although of course the fun of flying helicopters includes building them yourself once you get some experience with them.

Going Electric: If you get an electric helicopter, you will be working with an electronic speed control, helicopter transmitter, battery packs, charger, motor, servos, and gyro. When it is time to assemble your radio controlled helicopter, you will need some basic tools like an Allen wrench and screwdrivers. You will also be able to buy tools that are specifically meant for your model along with your kit.

Going nitro: Nitro is a bit different than electric because they're a bit larger and the internal combustion engine is what drives it. They are easier to work on than their electric counterparts and are usually much more stable than electric models. You can choose from 30, 50, 60 or 90 sizes. The 30 and 50 have almost identical airframes, with the 60 and 90 using almost identical airframes as well.

Which model is best for me? If you?re just learning, choose a 50-sized model; again, the nitro is larger and easier to work with, so makes a good "beginning" helicopter, and it's also more stable than electric. In addition, once you become more adept as a pilot, you can truly do 3-D aerobatics with this type of helicopter. If you want to keep within a budget, choose a 30-sized model to start, although you'll want at least a 50-sized model for the aerobatics. If you're going to stay entirely away from aerobatics, then a 30 is both economical and enjoyable.

Equipment: Choosing your transmitters, servos, gyros, main blades, tail blades, paddles and field equipment:

? Transmitter: You need a transmitter that handles at least six channels; the new "Spread Spectrum" systems from companies like Futaba operate on 24 GHz and don't affect other radio systems. This means you won't have to worry about interference from someone else in a nearby field. You'll probably spend between $300 and $500, but you literally never outgrow it can use it forever. Seven channels may be best, because this has features not found on six channel models.

? Servos and Gyros: Servos are electronic devices that turn electrical signals to mechanical action (your car has them, too). Different models will have different requirements for servos, which are made by speed and torque. For radio-controlled helicopters, these control the tail rotor pitch, the throttle and the swash plate. Most electric helicopters will need four servos: three to control the swash plate and one to control the tail rotor pitch. In general, you'll use three identical servos for the swash plate and one high-speed digital rudder servo in addition. They start at about $25 for small electric helicopters, or about 40 for nitro models.

? Tail Rotor Gyros: You will also need a gyro to control the tail rotor. One of the most popular of these is known as the Futaba GY401 that comes with a matching servo S9254. For less than $200, you will be able to obtain the servo and gyro together.

? Main Blades, Tail Blades and Paddles: Every radio controlled helicopter needs blades; some kits have them, and for some, you'll need to buy them separately. Use wood rotor blades if you just starting, because they're a lot less expensive to replace. These are among the first things that break when you crash, which is common when you're just starting. Fiberglass blades are common, but carbon fiber blades are more popular now that they have become more affordable, too. These can also usually handle all 3-D maneuvers. Then there are a few new products to the market manufactured by KBDD. They currently make a number of high performance tail blades and dampeners with soon to be released blades and paddles. They make the composite plastic blades that everyone thinks is carbon, as they are so durable.

? Field equipment: If you choose a nitro helicopter, you'll need field equipment that consists of a glow igniter, fuel pump, starter wand and starter motor. There are all-inclusive kits sold that can start a 30 to 50 sized helicopter easily.

Learning how to fly helicopters can be very challenging and rewarding. It certainly takes some skill in getting used to, but once you've mastered it, it's truly a fun and addictive hobby.


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