Selecting Your First Type of Plane
By Phil Parmiter
There are four basic categories of radio controlled fixed wing aircraft from which the beginner can choose to enter the hobby. The options here are in order of speed of construction.
1. ARF or ARTF
If you want to get flying quickly, this is the best route, also if you are short of time, building space, tools, etc. They need not be expensive to buy, with models such as the VMAR Hotrod at a prices of only around £75, which makes them comparable, if not cheaper than a kit of similar size, particularly when you consider that many of the normal ‘extras’ are included. The expense comes with the first crash, many of these models are virtually impossible to repair, and have a fairly weak structure beneath the outer covering. The cost of a spare wing or fuselage may make it more economic to buy a whole new model. More robust fiberglass and veneered foam ready to fly models and a few balsa ones are available from a number of vendors but tend to be more expensive. Almost all ready to fly models need a few evenings work to get them ready to fly and it is always advisable to fiberglass the wing halves together despite instructions with the model that tell you to simply glue them. Trainers, by the nature of their use can pull some heavy turns and that’s when the method of joining the wings really makes the day!
These can range from open frame work balsa models not unlike the tissue covered rubber powered models which have been around for 60 years or so, to models with wings cut from expanded foam and with pre-attached obechi wood covering. There are also models with fiberglass or ABS plastic fuselages. For the person with spare time and some mechanical aptitude that enjoys the challenge then this is a good way to get a model put together. You will need a spare bedroom, garage or shed in which to set up an area where the kit can be built over a few weeks or months depending on the time you have to spare. A well-built kit will give you a longer lasting, more easily repairable model, plus the satisfaction of having done it (largely) yourself. Obviously you have the opportunity to choose the colour scheme as well, but don’t go overboard. Decoration increases weight, plus your first model is likely to need some repairs sooner or later, so a simple scheme which is easily patched is best.
Plans, of which there are several hundred, can be ordered from a number of sources and some magazine publishers offer a range of plans by mail order. Construction methods vary, but generally they use balsa and plywood, which can be bought at the model store. Foam veneered wing cores may also be available, if these are an option shown on the plan. Building from a plan is not the best route for a beginner. By the time you have bought all the wood, fittings and necessary tools, it would probably have been cheaper to buy a kit. Wood selection is an acquired skill and to use the wrong grade in the wrong place will make the model either overweight or lacking in strength at a key point. If you have built free flight or control line models, you could consider a plan, but be prepared to shop around to find tanks, wheels and an engine mount that fit.
4. Used Models
Most clubs have a sale or club auction at least once a year, and if you are lucky, you may pick up a well-built trainer for in most cases less than the price of the kit. Many members of CHESIL MFC as well as other clubs buy trainers to get started and then, once they have soloed and put a number of hours flying in they then move on to other models. This is often a chance to pick up a complete kit in good order at a reasonable price. It may also be a good way of buying the parts for a kit as you can extract the wheels, tank and other fittings from a plane that has sustained some damage!
Which approach to take depends upon a number of factors, such as budget, space available for building, transport, tools, building skills and last but not least, your own personal preference. If you need advice then the Chesil MFC team will always be happy to help you decide on the best model for you, please just ask.