Learn How to Fly RC Model Airplanes

ARCA's Pilot Training Program

Learning How to Fly Radio Control Model Airplanes


The first thing to do is “DON’T BUY ANYTHING YET”.  Wait until you talk to an instructor first.  Too many times a student comes to an instructor with a plane that is not compatible with his training equipment, and other times you may end up buying junk that is really not usable at all for a beginner.  On the club web site ( www.austinrc.org ), click on the “Contact Us” links and leave a message.  A club instructor will contact you.



Next thing to do is join the AMA (Academy of Model Aeronautics) http://www.modelaircraft.org/ .   This is the national organization for modelers.  The main function is to provide liability insurance for individual modelers, club and property owners, and events.   You can join online and will receive a temporary receipt that has your AMA number on it.  Later you will receive your official AMA card.


JOIN ARCA (Austin Radio Control Association)

Once you have your AMA number you can join the club.  This is required because we are on City of Austin Park Land and is written into our agreement.  Go to www.austinrc.org and become a member. 


Our Pilot Training Program

All ARCA Pilot Instructors are on file with the AMA. They have several years of flying experience but also understand how to TEACH! We do NOT try to rush your training and do not subscribe to the idea of trying to force you into flying before you are ready, confident and safe. That said, our Pilot Instructors also keep you moving in your training program at a comfortable pace.


We use the buddy box method of training.  This means that the student’s transmitter is connected to a buddy box either through a cord or using wireless technology.  The student uses the buddy box the instructor uses the students transmitter.  As long as the instructor holds the trainer switch, the student has control.  If the student gets into trouble, the instructor lets go of the trainer switch and can save the plane.  The plane will last much longer that way.

The average student starting from scratch can solo in 55-65 flights.  This assumes you show up on a regular schedule of about once per week.  If you chose to have a lesson once a month, it will take longer to be signed off to fly.

Having a flight simulator to practice with can help save a lot of time.  This does not include simulators used with portable devices such as cell phones and tablet computers.

Simulators can help train your fingers (muscle memory) ahead of time on what each stick on the transmitter does.  It is not unusual to have students with 20 hours of simulator time solo in 10 flights.  Simulators are available at the local hobby shops and online.

Make sure the radio gear is compatible with the clubs buddy box systems.  We cover Hitec, Futaba, JR, Airtronics, and Spektrum.  There are many off brand radios that are not buddy box compatible. Make sure to get a recommendation from a Pilot Instructor on what equipment to purchase. It will help protect your investment.


Let the instructor know what type of power system you want to use, electric or glow power.  (Glow fuel is methanol based with nitro and oil added)  There are gasoline engines but none practical for training.  They usually are used for giant scale.


Things to consider:

Electric – one battery means one flight.  I suggest you get about 4 or 5 batteries.  You will also need to get a good battery charger.  Prices range from $50 to $150 for a quality charger.  Electric students will stop flying in winds above 10mph.  Not because the plane cannot handle it, it’s just too much for a student to deal with while learning.  There is no clean up after a flight.

Glow Fuel – you can fly as long as your fuel or radio gear batteries last, usually about 8 to 10 flights on small batteries.  With a bigger 1200ma battery, you can fly all day.  You will have more field gear, but this is a onetime cost.  The engines leave an exhaust residue that needs cleaning up.  Glow trainers stop flying in winds above 18mph for the same reasons above.


Recommended planes


Apprentice 15e - http://www.horizonhobby.com/products/apprentice-15e-rtf-with-dx5e-radio-EFL2725  

This is one of the more common trainers used.  It is made of foam and comes in a few varieties, with or without a transmitter.

Glow Power:

Hobbistar 60 - http://www3.towerhobbies.com/cgi-bin/wti0001p?&I=LXGHD4**&P=0

This is my personal favorite.  It’s bigger and easier to see, but it costs more as a combo which includes the transmitter.  You can get it with just the airframe also.


There are other planes that are suitable but contact an instructor first to check it out. 



Hobby Town North and South

Be careful with advice from local hobby shops.  Their advice tends to push what they sell.  Check with the instructor first before buying anything.



Be careful which online stores you shop from.  Not all have good customer service.  Some are borderline criminal.  Below are some recommendations for beginners.  As you become more knowledgeable you can branch out.  Just don’t believe all the advertising hype you see.

http://www.towerhobbies.com/ - For airplanes and general gear.

http://www.horizonhobby.com/  - For airplanes and general gear.

http://www.valuehobby.com/ - For electric gear and batteries.

http://www.motionrc.com - For all kinds of great airplanes, chargers and batteries


Glow Field Gear

Field box – To hold everything.   You make it yourself, buy a kit to assemble, or already built.

12V gel cell battery – Goes in the field box.  It powers the power panel.

Charger -  for the 12v gel cell battery.  It cannot be a car battery charger.  There are plug in wall chargers for this purpose at Radio Shack.

Power Panel – Provides connections and controls for the fuel pump, electric starter, cabled glow driver, meter for the cabled glow driver, and charger for the remote glow driver.  The glow driver meter can tell you if your glow plug is blown or not.

Fuel pump – For fueling and defueling.  Electric or manual pump.  The electrics are cheap enough and worth it and plug into the power panel.

Glow fuel – Comes in a can or plastic jug.  I prefer the can.  It’s best to get it at the local Hobby Shops.

Filling station fittings – Use a spare cap to drill for the fittings.  Makes it easier to get at the fuel.

Glow plug driver – A remote driver is battery driven and a cabled driver plugs into the power panel.  I suggest you have both.  If the battery driver runs down, you can’t start your engine.  The cabled driver is a backup.  Batteries do run down, however, you can recharge the battery driver on the power panel.

Electric starter – Easy to use, beats flipping with a chicken stick.  But keep a chicken stick handy for backup.

Miscellaneous Tools – 4 way glow plug wrench, long handle small slot screw driver (for adjusting your engines carb), regular Phillips screw driver, pliers, needle nose pliers, hemostats, allen drivers (metric and sae), 6” crescent wrench, and any other tools you think you might need.

Spare parts – Propellers, glow plugs, fuel line, and rubber bands (if your plane uses them).

Glow Luxury items

Field charger – So you don’t have to go home if your batteries get low.

ESV – Expanded Scale Voltmeter, for testing your receiver batteries under load.  This meter puts a 300ma load on your receiver battery while testing.  This tells you more accurately what the voltage is.  An unloaded voltmeter does not give an accurate measurement.

Tachometer – Reads prop rpm. 

Electric Field Gear

-       Extra batteries

-       Field Charger with power supply (We have AC power at the field)

-       Same tools listed above in Miscellaneous Tools – except for the glow plug wrench, you won’t need that.

-       Spare propellers

THE LEARNING PROCESS - short explanation

Our AMA listed Pilot Instructors teach to a specific, "task oriented" program. 

Field Rules, safety and airplane checks - This explained from the very first time you fly, including on a Discovery Flight.

Straight and Level – This gets you comfortable with how the stick feels and its sensitivity.  You fly left to right and right to left.

Pattern – This is learning how to do turns flying the pattern left and right hand.

Figure 8’s - You learn how to control the plane as it fly’s away from you and as it fly’s towards you.  Again, you fly the left and right hand pattern.

Take off – You will do high speed taxi runs up and down the runway until you can steer it straight.  Then you will bel talked through a takeoff.

Landing – You will do simulated landing approaches over the runway.  Once you can fly down the runway, you will be talked down for a landing.

Emergency Situations – You will see enough of that during your training.  Instructors create scenarios that are realistic to stressful situations. Each time something happens it will be explained. Emergencies will be practiced it until you are comfortable.

Rudder Control – In the beginning, you will notice most of the flying seems to be done with the right stick (aileron and elevator).  At various points in your training we start using the rudder.  You will eventually see that using the rudder greatly simplifies most of the maneuvers. 


During training you learn about about aerodynamics, the  importance of wing loading, center of gravity, club field etiquette and many other flight considerations you will need to know.  You will also learn how to repair (because you WILL crash, no matter what you think) and how to setup and maintain your airplane.

Our goal is to make you a safe pilot so you can fly at other fields too.  These planes, even electric, can be dangerous when out of control. 


After you solo its time to practice.  I can work with you on handling more emergency situations and basic aerobatics.  You need to practice with your first trainer until you are intimately comfortable with flying it.  You should be able to do anything you want with that plane before moving up to the next level.  Your second plane needs to be a low wing trainer and preferably a tail dragger.  Fly that plane the same way until you can do anything you want.  NOW, you can consider where you want to go in this hobby.  The idea is to be able to put that plane anyplace you want in the flight box instead of just keeping it in the air.  There is a difference between a pilot and an airplane driver.  Control and reading your plane is the key.

This is one of those hobbies that can be as cheap as you want, or as expensive as you want.  Your choice.  There are many avenues to explore such as,  general sport flying, sail planes, aerobatics, 3D aerobatics, scale, golden age, civilian, warbird, jets, helicopters, uav (spy drones), and fpv (first person view, this is flying with virtual reality goggles on and seeing video from an airborne camera in flight).



Costs can run an average of about $500 plus dues the first year.  This includes everything plus most of the ground gear for glow and electric.   The ground gear is a onetime cost.  If you crash, you can usually reuse your engine, electric motor gear, and radio gear.

Another option is to buy used.  There are swap meets for RC that can save you half on the cost of new gear.  Get with your instructor to have him check out what you are looking at.  Even if you have to do a little work to get it flying, it may be worth it if you are on a budget.  For my personal use, there are certain parts I always buy new.  You will develop your own habits as you progress in this wonderful hobby.  Then you can look at those nice fancy planes in the hobby shops.



NO MATTER WHAT, try to control the urge to buy a plane above your ability.  I’ve seen this end badly many, many times.  Learning to fly takes practice and is a process.  You have to develop your depth perception, perspective, and learn how to read your plane while it is flying.  It’s just my opinion, but I think it takes about one and a half flying seasons to get to the point you can start doing the kind of flying you want.

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