A Guide to RC Basics and Where to Start (Building Your First RC Plane)
Once you have identified the required parts, it's time to start building your plane. The components should be chosen and installed in a way that minimizes drag, ensuring optimal performance and efficiency. When putting together your airplane, you will need to think about the weight of each component and its placement. You should ensure all items are securely mounted so they don't come loose during flight. Additionally, make sure to keep an eye on the center of gravity of the aircraft as this affects how stable it is in the air. Once everything is properly placed and secured, you're ready for take-off!
In order to become a successful hobbyist, it is important to keep track of your RC plane projects. Make sure that all parameters are tested and documented so you can refer back to them if needed. This will help with understanding the intricacies of your craft, allowing you to make modifications or repairs more easily. With practice and dedication, you can become a master at building RC planes!
Step 1: Selecting a Brushless Motor
Your entire plane is built around your motor and this is what you must choose first. When considering rc brushless motors there are several pieces of information you must take into account. The first is your brushless motor kv. The kv of your motor is the number of revolutions per minute it will spin per volt. The lower the kv, the stronger the motor and as a result, you will want a larger propeller for maximum thrust. Often slower motors will also result in slower flying planes, a big plus for your first hobby grade rc plane. If you select a motor with a higher kv and a smaller propeller the speed of the thrust will be higher, and as a result your plane will fly faster. For your first plane I recommend a motor kv between 850kv and 1500kv.
The next factor to considering a motor is size. Many beginners will end up significantly over-powering their planes and doing so adds momentum in crashes. Lighter, slower planes do not break as often as fast, heavy planes. My first motor was a 56 gram Turnigy 2200kv motor and every plane I built with it was a rocket and crashed like rockets crash. Hard. For trainers with under 36 inch wingspans a 24 gram motor will provide plenty of thrust for someone new to the hobby. I recommend the Turnigy 1300kv 24 gram motor which provides great thrust and high efficiency for it's light weight. It is also fairly inexpensive, costing around 10$ from Hobbyking. This motor is not a good motor for larger planes however and there are many options for planes with 36-60 inch wingspans.
Once you have chosen your motor, you will need to select an appropriate propeller. A propeller with a diameter of 6 to 8 inches is usually suitable for planes powered by 30-70g motors. You should also bear in mind that the pitch of the prop should be lower than the diameter; this will give you more thrust and less noise. The material of the propeller also makes a difference; carbon fiber props are lightweight and provide good thrust, while wooden props are heavier but generate more torque and less vibration.
Finally, make sure to purchase or build an ESC (electronic speed controller) with sufficient amperage rating for your motor. This can vary greatly depending on the motor so read up on its specifications before purchasing.
Step 2: Choosing an ESC
After selecting a motor the next logical step is to select a brushless electronic speed controller (ESC) that matches your motor. The motor will have an Amp (A) rating in the description section on Hobbyking. It is good general practice to select an ESC rated for 30 percent or 10A more than the max current draw of your motor. For the 24 gram Turnigy 1300kv motor a 10A ESC will work fine and will be very light. If you are uncomfortable with not having a large buffer I recommend an 18A ESC.
The 10A ESC I use is the Turnigy Plush 10A ESC, which is around 10$ from Hobbyking. If you want an 18A Esc I recommend the Turnigy Plush 18A ESC. For larger motors I recommend between 25A and 40A ESC's depending of the current draw of your motor.
Step 3: Li-Po Batteries and Chargers
When choosing a battery for your plane, you should consider the performance of the motor and the desired flight characteristics. I recommend using a 3S LiPo battery with 600-800mAh capacity for my recommended motor. You may need to experiment to find out what works best for your plane. If you are looking for longer flights and more power, then you can opt for higher-capacity batteries like 1000mAh or 1300mAh. It is important to remember that these bigger batteries will add extra weight and reduce the thrust-to-weight ratio of your plane, so they should only be used when necessary. Additionally, higher cell counts (like 4S) will draw more current from the motor and require larger propellers which could lead to reduced efficiency and reduced flight times. So, for most applications, I recommend sticking with a 3S battery.
When it comes to batteries, it is important to remember that larger capacities and higher cell counts carry more risk of over-discharging during use. Therefore, I strongly suggest you buy a charger and balancer for your batteries – this will help ensure your batteries last as long as possible and perform at their best. It is also important to read the safety instructions provided by your manufacturer before using LiPo batteries, as they can catch fire if not handled correctly! Finally, make sure you store your batteries in a safe place away from any flammable materials when they are not in use.
Now that you have your recommended electronics and battery, it's time to build the plane. When assembling the plane, make sure to keep a light weight in mind. The lighter the plane is, the easier it will be to fly and maneuver in the air. Consider using lightweight materials such as foam or balsa wood for your frame. If building with foam, make sure all parts are glued securely together for maximum strength. You also want to ensure your propeller and motor are correctly aligned so they can generate enough lift for takeoff.
Another important factor when building an RC plane is balance. Make sure that all components of your plane are evenly distributed on both sides so that it doesn't tilt during flight. This includes making sure that batteries and motors are equal distances away from the center of gravity.
When it comes to selecting a battery, I recommend using a 3S (11.1volt) lipo battery between 500mah and 1000mah. This type of battery provides enough power for most planes while also being lightweight and affordable. The Turnigy 3S 500mah battery from Hobbyking costs less than $5, making it an ideal choice for beginner pilots. For larger planes with bigger motors, a 2200mah to 3000mah battery may be necessary in order to generate enough lift. Whatever size you choose, make sure to pick up spare batteries so you can keep flying if something goes wrong!
While on the topic of batteries it is important to purchase a charger. If you are on a budget a simple 2-3S lipo balance charger from Hobbyking should be fine, but if you know that this is the right hobby for you pick up a Turnigy Accucell 6, which will let you charge batteries faster and more accurately. It will also let you charge 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 cell batteries instead of just 2 and 3 cell batteries. The first option will cost 10-15 dollars. My Turnigy Accucell 6 cost me 30 dollars. The Turnigy Accucell 6 can charge 12 times faster however, so it is a good thing to get if you have spare cash.
Step 4: Transmitters and Receivers
The central component of any rc system is the remote control. Almost all modern remote control elements are 2.4Ghz. It is a frequency with good range and a nearly infinite number of people can use the frequency at any given time. I recommend a simple Hobby King 2.4Ghz 4ch Tx & Rx V2 as it is cheap and has good range. For your first few planes 4 channels will be plenty anyways. If you plan to be in the rc hobby for a long time I would recommend an OrangeRx computer radio. It will give you many more options and more channels. The Hobbyking radio is only 25$ and the OrangeRx is 60$.
Step 5: Servo Motors
Once you have all of your servos it is time to install them into the plane. It is very important that they are mounted securely, as vibrations while flying can cause them to come loose. I recommend using double sided foam tape or some other form of foam adhesive to put between the servo and body of the plane. This will help to absorb vibrations and keep everything secure.
The next step is connecting the servos to the control horns on your elevator, rudder, and ailerons. The manufacturer should include instructions on how to properly connect them, but if not there are plenty of tutorials online for reference. Generally speaking you will need some kind of metal rod that connects from the servo arm to the control horn. You will then need to adjust the tension on this rod so that the servo is able to move the control surface correctly.
Finally, you'll need to connect the wires from your servos to a receiver or flight controller. This is generally done using an Y-harness, which splits one signal wire into two. Make sure all of your connections are secure and well insulated as any faulty wiring can cause problems in flight. Once all of your wires are connected, you should be ready for takeoff!
Step 6: Additional Materials
Apart from these essential items, there are a variety of other materials and components that come in handy when building an rc vehicle. These include: batteries, glue, screws and nuts as well as rubber bands to hold the model together. Heat shrink tubing is great for covering exposed wiring and can provide protection from the elements. Wood is useful for creating frames or parts of your model. It's also important to have tools such as pliers and screwdrivers for making adjustments and repairs during assembly. Lastly, you'll need some kind of paint job to finish off the look of your rc vehicle. With all these supplies on hand, you'll be ready to start building your own rc car or plane!
Connectors for the batteries you buy are a must, I recommend XT-60 connectors (Hobbyking) or you can simply buy crimp on connectors from Amazon or RadioShack. You will need connectors for the brushless motor to brushless ESC connection as well. If you want ailerons on your planes you should buy a servo y splitter cable and it is always a good idea to buy servo extensions. Aside from those specific parts you will want Popsicle sticks, barbecue skewers, drinking straws, Adams foam board, heat-shrink, a hot glue gun, hot glue, and lots of packing tape. A sharp utility knife and or hobby knife will do a good job cutting Adams foam board. Adams foam board is 3/16" thick foam with a layer of paper on either side. It is widely regarded as the best material for building rc planes. It can be purchased online of at Dollar Tree, and so I am told Dollar General now. In total rc is a hobby that will cost around 100 dollars to get a good foothold in, and trust me, if you stick with it it will be worth every penny.
Step 7: Connecting the Electronics: Motor and ESC
BE CAREFUL CONNECTING YOUR ELECTRONICS. IF YOU CONNECT THEM INCORRECTLY YOU CAN RUIN THEM OR SET THEM ON FIRE!!!
Once the male and female quick connectors are attached to each wire, you can go ahead with connecting them. Match up the three motor wires with their corresponding ESC wires - it doesn't matter which order they go in - and use your crimping tool to secure the connection. To ensure that there is no electrical interference or short-circuiting, heat shrink tubing can be applied to provide additional protection. Finally, make sure all of your connections are double-checked for accuracy before powering on your system!
Now that everything is securely connected, you can move forward with calibrating your ESC and setting up throttle range to get the most out of your machine. You'll have full control over speed and direction when these steps have been completed. Later you can solder and heat-shrink the wires.
Step 8: Connecting the Electronics: ESC and Li-Po Battery
Once you have the connectors attached to the ESC power wires, it is important that they are properly soldered. To ensure a secure connection, make sure that the red wire lines up with the red connector and the black wire matches with the black connector. Before soldering, slip heat shrink over each of the connections. This helps protect against short-circuiting or any other electrical problems. After soldering on the connector, use a heat gun to shrink down the heat-shrink tubing for full protection. Once completed, your ESC power wires should be ready to use for your DIY project!
Step 9: Connecting the Electronics: ESC and Reciever
You now are ready to bind your receiver to your transmitter. Put the bind plug in the bind port and plug the ESC wire into port one on the receiver with the black wire up. Plug in your battery to the ESC. Power on your transmitter while holding down the bind button. The receiver led should stop blinking. Unplug the battery and turn off the transmitter. To test the connection power on the transmitter then plug in the battery. After the motor beeps a few times you should have throttle control. Always power up you transmitter before plugging in your battery and turn it off after unplugging the battery unless you are binding the transmitter to the receiver. This ensures that your rc plane will never fly away without your control. If you are having trouble there are many YouTube videos demonstrating the process.
After connecting the ESC to the receiver attach a piece of tape to the motor shaft and ensure that when the motor is running it spins counter clockwise. If it is spinning in the wrong direction you can simply reverse two of the motor/ESC wires. NEVER swap the ESC power leads!!! Once the motor is spinning counter clockwise you can remove the tape and move on to the next step. This would be the time to solder the connections between the ESC and motor if you are creating a permanent connection.
Step 10: Connecting the Electronics: Servos and Final Testing
Now that you've connected the servos to your receiver and tested them, it's time to get ready for takeoff. You'll need some hardware to attach the servos to an aircraft frame, so start by grabbing some half-servo horns and screws. Once they're attached, you can add a propeller and mount these electronics onto your plane of choice.
Choosing a plane can be overwhelming, but there are several popular models with detailed instructions available online that offer good starting points for beginners. In the next section, I will provide an overview of some of these planes and discuss their pros and cons so you can choose one with confidence. Stay tuned!
Step 11: Good Scratchbuilt RC Planes
Now that your electronics are working I have several recommendations for first planes. Be warned, building these planes will take time to do a good job. The build times will range from 1-10 hours for high quality builds. That said if I had to recommend one place to start with I would recommend FLITE TEST. They have high quality plans and the finished products fly great.
The Nutball: A fun and outrageously simple plane. It takes very little time to repair or rebuild and is easy to fly. Not one of my personal favorites but so simple and effective it has to make the list. It also has detailed build videos on YouTube. It can be found in detail at flitetest.com. BUILD DIFFICULTY: 1 FLIGHT DIFFICULTY: 2
The FT Flyer: Designed by FLITE TEST this plane is very stable and can fly very slowly. About as easy as it gets to fly. It is a great plane to learn on and it is capable of basic aerobatics. It is probably my favorite simple plane. Also easy to repair but it is so sturdy that unless it is a very bad crash it probably won't break. Once again flitetest.com has the plane and more details. BUILD DIFFICULTY: 2 FLIGHT DIFFICULTY: 1
The FT Simple Storch: A great traditional trainer with a true airfoil this plane is the first I list with ailerons. It will be slightly harder to fly but looks nicer and it more capable of acrobatics. A stable flyer I would recommend a 1000mah 3S lipo. It is probably the most durable plane I have recommended yet. Plans and details can be found on flitetest.com. BUILD DIFFICULTY: 5 FLIGHT DIFFICULTY: 4
FT Delta: This plane has elevon control and is a fast and responsive acrobat. Probably the hardest plane to fly I have recommended yet. When you are ready however this plane will be a lot of fun and can really wow with tricks. Plans and details can be found on flitetest.com. BUILD DIFFICULTY: 3 FLIGHT DIFFICULTY: 5
Step 12: Closing Remarks
I am not liable for any damage you cause to property, people or anything else. Don't be stupid. Be safe.