You Want to Build and Fly Radio Control Aircraft

Introduction: You Want to Build and Fly Radio Control Aircraft

About: Retired technology teacher - 2 kids, I have an Hons deg in Design and Technology - 28 years as Computer systems engineer Trained as Electronics engineer in the Royal Air Force

If your aim is something like this then you must realise that it will take time:

a To develop the flying skills

b To get together the building skills or the money to buy a ready made aircraft.

c The path way will be scattered with crashed models and the last thing you need to do is to crash a $150 or £93 model first time out AND if you don't have some experience that is what is likely to happen.

So how do you get started at a reasonable cost, with something that is suitable for a beginner, with something that looks like an aircraft and with something that if/when it gets broken can be easily and cheaply fixed to fly again.

Read on

Step 1: A Beginners Guide to What You Going to Need and What It Might Cost

Your going to need:

1. A suitable beginners model with docile flying characteristics that won't break the bank to build

2. Something that doesn't take the skills of a master craftsman to build

3. A suitable radio - These days for many good reasons it is worth buying a 2.4 Ghz (the frequency)  set - you can at the time of writing (Oct 2013) get a 6 channel set for about £36 in the UK, (see later for where), and a 4 channel set for around £24.

4. Electric flight has so much to recommend it - less noisy, clean, cheaper to run per flight, more control etc.
so you will need a suitable electric motor, an electronic motor controller (ESC), A Lipo battery.

The Motor should cost about £6
The ESC about £8
The Lipo battery around £4 to £6
A couple of small 9 gm servos  £2.50

the details of these things are on the flitetest web site.

You will need a battery charger - this is, of course, a once only cost along with the transmitter/receiver. A reasonable one will be £20 to£40

The total cost should be under £100 for a hobby that may well last you a lifetime.

In addition you will most likely need a few smaller bits:

A soldering iron.

Some 5 or 6 mm heat shrink

At least 2 Dean type connectors or similar for the battery and ESC. Male and Female.

Some bullet connectors for the ESC and the motor - 3 matching pairs.

Some strong packaging tape - The stuff with the "string" running through is very strong and available in DIY stores.

A very sharp knife - Personally I use a scalpel which are fairly cheap - but you may find the break off blade type of craft knife easier to find.

Propellers, 8 x 4 is a good starting point and recommended for this model.  Get several - Your going to break some.

A prop saver so you can attach the prop to the motor.

Sticky backed Velcro pads.

Step 2: The Model

I have nothing to do with the web site but admire their approach to encouraging people to take up their hobby and their generous provision of free plans and how to build videos.

As I couldn't do better, I suggest you follow the links above to their site and watch the 2 videos below with come from their site.

Step 3: Now You Have Your Model.

Assuming you have built your model and everything looks much like the example in the video (you really must watch it right through.) your going to need to fit the electronics.

As part of the build you should have made the power pod and fixed the motor mount onto it.

ENSURE the centre of Gravity, C of G, is in the right place.

Almost certainly the motor, ESC and the battery have arrived with no connectors or the wrong type fixed so your going to have to do some soldering.

Again on the flitetest site there are videos showing you how to solder on the connectors.

Make sure you solder on the red and black battery connections so that the battery will match the connections on the charger you have. Always connect red to red - black to black.

The motor connections - 3 if you have bought the brushless motor - are not important so they are all the same colour - in fact you will need to swap 2 over if your motor runs the wrong way. To be able to do this make sure you have all male or all female connectors on the motor side.

Your radio receiver is going to look something like the picture below.

Normally you will be sourcing the battery power for the flight system from the flight battery and most, (but not all),  ESC will have a BEC (battery elimination circuit) so a regulated 5 volts is available for the receiver. This lead will also have the control signal for the EC (Throttle) so will normally go into channel 3 on you receiver. Read the manual and make sure you get the plug the right way round - usually the will go on either way.

There are different "standards" for which channel is used for which operation. In the USA they generally use mode 2, in the UK mode 1 is supposed to be favourite. Personally I use Mode 2 most of the time.

There is no hard rule but keeping to the conventions saves a lot of confusion. On many transmitters you can change the mode of operation.

You will need to plug the servo connectors into the appropriate channel for your use.

Fix the receiver and the ESC down with a small bit of sticky backed  velcro to stop them moving around. You can also fix the battery on in the same way.

Step 4: Testing Things Out.

You should be at the stage of being able to test things out - At this point DO NOT fit the prop. Wildly spinning props cut fingers and hands as well as furniture and cause all sorts of damage. Put a bit of tape on the motor shaft so you can see which way it is spinning. Don't spin the motor up to max RPM - 1. It will scare you - 2, It may damage the motor although this shouldn't happen. 3. you don't need to.

1. Turn the transmitter on - make sure the throttle is at the bottom - ie lowest speed.

2. Connect the battery to the ESC. Most small models don't bother with on - off switches.

3. If you have connected everything else up the ESC should beep several times to show everything is OK.

4. Raising the throttle a bit should cause the motor to spin. look at the direction - it should be turning anticlockwise.

5. Set the throttle to off.

6. Check the servos operate with the correct control stick and in the right direction.
Elevator should go UP if you push the right stick back and DOWN when you push the right stick forwards.
Rudder should go LEFT and RIGHT as the appropriate stick goes left and right.

7.You may need to set the range of the throttle so that full movement of the stick gives you full throttle.

Red the information that came with the ESC - for most of them - you disconnect the flight battery - Set the throttle on the transmitter to full on - reconnect the battery - don't worry the ESC should have a safety circuit to prevent the motor from moving, after a moment you should hear a series of beeps showing the ESC has registered the setting.
then a longer beep - turn the throttle to it's lowest setting again the ESC beeps at you to say it has registered the setting.

Your throttle range is now set.

If all this worked fine your about ready to fly.

Step 5: Flying

Simple though this looks on Youtube it requires learning some reflexes somewhat like riding a bike.

By FAR the best and fastest way to learn is to find someone who can fly already to show you, especially if they have a radio set up that includes the buddy box system where they can connect to your transmitter with a lead and take control when things go pear shaped.

A local flying club will often offer this service to beginners and may well provide the equipment and the trainer model on loan whilst you learn. Well worth the club fee - they will also have a flying field.

Some things to ponder - You SHOULD have insurance, IF your plane hits anything valuable, or worse, anyone, you may end up with a court case on your hands - It has happened - people have been killed by model aircraft.

In the UK joining the BFMA British Model Flying Association will give you insurance cover up to £10,000,000. All that for £9 a year for juniors and £16 for seniors.

IF your going to go it alone then you need a BIG open space to fly in.  4 or 5 acres is good.

Ideally covered in short grass - long grass is acceptable although you can't land in it and every landing will be a controlled crash but with the long grass you should get away with it almost every time.

You should have PERMISSION to use the field - This can have an effect on the insurance and will certainly save being shuted at or getting into other trouble.

NEVER fly in a field with animals in it. 1 they may be panicked by the aircraft 2. they may well walk over to the landed aircraft and either walk on it or attack you when you go to pick it up.

Never fly near power lines.

Never fly near a public road or pathway.

Never endanger anyone whilst flying - If you see there may be a danger, then deliberately crashing the aircraft in a safe place is the sensible thing to do.

OK, your first flight - It is FAR best to choose a day when the wind is calm if you can wait that long. Not waiting may well result in frustration and a broken aeroplane.

1. CRITICAL make sure the Centre of Gravity is in the right place. You should have checked this earlier but always make a quick check before a flight. You can shift the battery about to get it right. In some cases you may have had to add weight to the nose or tail to get it right before you fly.

2. Check the control surfaces move and in the right direction  - Do this EVERY time you fly.

Most flight sites and books recommend you range check the transmitter - Putting the model down and moving away a few meters, on older transmitters they suggest you push the aerial (antenna) in to range check - make sure the servos still move in the right direction. On a modern 2.4 gig transmitter you can't push the short antenna in so they provide a range test button. To be honest I don't know if anyone actually does this these days since equipment is much more reliable.

3. Holding the transmitter in your left hand if your right handed - many people use a neck strap - dropping the transmitter at a critical moment makes things difficult! 

Hold  the model in the other hand  FACE INTO THE WIND - run the throttle up to full on and push the aircraft off - If it is correctly powered you shouldn't need to throw it off hard. Push it towards the horizon - Not steeply up or down.

4. Put both hands on the transmitter and take control. For your first flight - be happy if you can gain height up to perhaps tree top height (60 feet or so) and fly in a big wide circle.

You will need to put a little back pressure on the elevator stick to get the nose to rise up - try NOT to bang the sticks from full up to full down. It pays to adjust your control throws to be fairly small at first to minimise over controlling.

Most modern transmitters will allow you to have "dual rate" so you can set this up and have it switched from full control to something less at will.

When the aircraft reaches a suitable height back off the throttle - You should find the aircraft will maintain height on about 1/2 throttle

Before the aircraft gets too far away from you add in some rudder to turn it in a wide circle - JUST a BIT of rudder and once the aircraft has turned centre the stick.

BE aware your going to have to fly the aircraft ALL the time. It will need your full attention - a lot of beginners don't realise this and switch off whilst watching the aircraft fly into the nearest tree or out of sight..

Most people over control - or freeze at the controls - the aircraft goes up and up until the speed is too low for flight when it stalls and falls back towards the ground - Depending on how high you are you may be able to pull the nose back up and at this point beginners often over control and go into a stall again - but at a lower altitude - this repeats until the ground intervenes.

Be aware of what your going to do - Practice in your mind's eye - make small control movements and observe the effect on the air craft.

To this end a simulator can be great help - FMS is free and Amazon has many controllers at a reasonable price that will attach to it on your PC.  There are issues with FMS and windows 7 but there is plenty of information on how to get it working on the forum there.

Take off and landing are the hardest part. So you need to practice. To land you need to bring the aircraft round so it is flying into any wind that may be blowing. This will be the direction you took off in.

Back off the throttle until the aircraft starts to descend. At this stage don't worry too much about where in the field it will land - precision come later, with practice.

If you have built the suggested aircraft it glides quite well and you may be able to get the throttle almost fully off.

As the aircraft approaches the ground. say from 10 feet up - you need to gently pull back on the elevator. This will lift the nose until the aircraft is flying parallel to the ground. Cut the throttle and let it settle gently to the grass. SUCCESS.!!

In actual fact you more likely to find - assuming you get to the landing stage -

1. You fall to the ground from several feet - sometimes a lot more.
2. You flatten out (flair) at too great a height and the aircraft flies for "miles" before reaching the ground.
3. You fly directly into the ground at speed.
4. You can't orientate the aircraft into the wind and have to land the aircraft where it happens to be at the time.
5. You pull up the nose to far and lose too much speed - this causes the aircraft to stall and fall from the sky.

Beyond that your just going to have to practice and practice. You will get better. It's a lot of fun, It's a great hobby that may well last you all of your life and I don;t think it has ever been cheaper to get into.

The recommended 500 Ma/hr battery will give you around 6 to 10 minutes flying time before you need to recharge. Charging takes from 1/2 hour to 15 minutes depending on the charge rate.

Step 6:

Be the First to Share


    • Game Design: Student Design Challenge

      Game Design: Student Design Challenge
    • Baking Contest

      Baking Contest
    • Make it Glow Contest

      Make it Glow Contest



    8 years ago on Introduction

    Wow that's Really cool !

    Between the two Vids and all the Guidance You made this really approachable :) Don't supose you have a Link to that Beast in the DP?


    9 years ago on Introduction

    A really excellent Instructable, Rick.  It looks like you've covered all the basics of getting a model up in the air for the first time, without getting too long-winded with the detail.  A great introduction to RC flying. 


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you - I recently returned to RC flying and was amazed how cheap it has become.