Beginners Guide

Interested in Getting Started in
RC Helicopters
 
You want to get started in Model Helicopters.
So what do you need to think about?

Obviously The Helicopter Itself
A Suitable Engine
The Radio System
The Tail Rotor Gyro
A Suitable Muffler
Starting Equipment
That's it basically but like all things it's a little more complicated than it first seems, so to go into detail:

 
The Model
There are now lots of suitable models available and fortunately not to many bad ones, what model will best suit you depends on a number of factors:
If there are others flying Helis in your area
If you want to fit the model in a scale body later
Size Considerations
How much you want to spend
Yes even the local weather
 

The Power Plant (Engine)
Generally the better engines are made in Japan or Taiwan, there are some economically priced engines made in other countries & although they are rapidly improving their quality is still on the whole not up to the standard that will allow trouble free running in a beginners model.
The most user friendly engines are made by OS Engines in Japan, Thunder Tiger & YS are also OK.

However the price of OS engines has recently got a lot more competitive than it has even been in the UK so there is now very little reason to consider anything else other than OS as they really do make the most practical engines.

<=== The OS 50 "Hyper"

 

 
The Radio
Radios like house hold electronics have rapidly improved while at the same time the real price of them has spiralled downwards, today’s radios in real terms are twice as good a value as they were only 5 years ago, have a lot more features & are easier to use due to bigger screens, easier data input, simpler menus & cheaper.
Suitable Entry level radios would be the Futaba 6EX-H, Spektrum DX6i or the 7 channel radios from these companies the Futaba FF7 or Spektrum DX7, the Futaba FF8 is another good option but slightly more complex to use & of course costs a little more. Most radios are supplied as standard with 4 servos but the helicopter will need 5 in total so you are going to need another one to complete the helicopter requirement.
Generally the higher specification radio’s will be supplied with slightly better ball raced servo's compared to the entry level 6 channel radio’s servo’s which are normally bushed servo's.  The servo’s supplied with say the DX7 or Futaba FF9 can be used in up to 50 sized machines for learning to fly or basic flying but aren’t up to the job of flying a 90 sized model.
It’s worth making the effort to contact your local clubs in advance to find out which radio’s are most commonly used & consider this when choosing your radio, chose a radio that no one uses locally & you might struggle to get help in setting the model up if no one knows how to use it. Also they won't be able to link your radio up on a buddy box lead for safe training (buddy box training is where a lead is used to link two transmitters so a instructor can safely give & take control for you at the flick of a switch but this can only happen between two radios of the same make).
The best advice I can give is to give some serious thought to what radio you want, the entry level radios will certainly get you going & all are capable of giving the basic throttle curve needed for 3D aerobatics but you will find that they are lacking in some of the more advanced features found in high spec radios. So if you think helis are definitely for you & if you feel you can justify the extra money, go for a higher spec radio like the Spektrum DX7, JR DSX9 2.4G FF8 or even the Futaba 14MZ (pictured left),
This will actually save you money in the long term as this way will be far cheaper than buying another new radio a few months after you first start flying. The features you will probably "desire" most that aren’t on the entry level radios are multiple flight modes (idle ups) & multi point pitch/throttle curves. There is also a element of for lack of a better saying (techno desire) meaning you will almost certainly desire a better radio than you really need, there is nothing wrong with giving into this desire if you can afford to, anything that will make you feel more confident in your equipment or abilities can't be a bad thing. The down side of this is the more money you put into the model the more afraid you will be to take risks with it & you do have to take some risk to progress!
As the single most expensive part of the radio set (the Transmitter) does not normally fly it is at little risk, so extra money spent on a radio does not add to the **fear factor** in the same way as a expensive model can.
 
Which Model?
  
The choice of model is probably less important than the radio as you can always upgrade & improve the performance of the model but you can't do much to upgrade the radio transmitter. As I have already said there are now lots of suitable models, what will influence your choice will include the following:-
Physical size of model, a 90 sized model can be difficult to fit in smaller cars but on the positive side a bigger model is smoother to fly, easier to see at a distance, will handle any wind a little better, obviously the 90 sized models do cost a little more.
To give some idea of size, a 90 sized model will have a main rotor diameter of approximately 1550mm & weigh around 4.8KG.
If you are interested in fitting a scale body later on, some models are more suitable for these conversions than others.
The most popular size of glow models now is by far the 50 sized model, these were developed from 30 sized models & cost is very close to 30 sized but with a little more stability due to their bigger rotor diameter & a lot more available power even though you won’t need this when you're learning it does mean you don’t have to work the engine so hard & it will keep cooler & should last a lot longer.
To give some idea of size, a 50 sized model will have a main rotor diameter of approximately 1340mm & weigh around 3.4KG.
The Align T-Rex 600 Nitro (Pictured Above) is currently the most popular choice, with good reason, it is competitively priced with spare parts also being very reasonably priced, but most importantly it is simply a very capable model which will take the novice pilot right up to extreme aerobatics or what ever else they want to do, it is dependable, easy to build & maintain & one of the best flying 50 size models ever. Many Flying Schools are using the TREX for the same reasons.
The Raptor 50 Titan is another model to consider, easy build, popular model with good spares support & pricing, it was the most popular model for a number of years there are tons of aftermarket option parts available for it & a number of scale bodies.
The Hirobo Shuttle Sceadu Evo is Hirobo's attempt to gain back their share of the market which Thunder Tiger made huge in roads into over the past couple of years with the Raptor 50, the Sceadu never sold as well as the Raptor & does not have the same huge support in the way of aftermarket parts. The standard spares are a small amount more expensive than the Raptor & a lot more than the TREX 600N so on balance the TREX is probably the better overall choice as a first model.
The other sizes of glow models would be 30 size which has now almost totally been replaced by the 50 sized models, there is no good reason to consider going for a 30 sized model now, only go this route if you can get a really good 30 sized model second hand at an irresistible price. In the same way that 50 sized has taken over from 30 sized, 90 sized has taken over from 60 sized now.
Other things to consider when deciding on which model would be:
Spares availability (as you will sooner or later need some spares), find out what spares the local model shop carries, this should have a influence on your choice as there is nothing worse than waiting for parts on a great sunny day!
If there is a local club or group of heli fliers it does make some sense to buy a model they are familiar with so they can help with set up & sorting out any possible bugs in the model.
 

What do I get in the heli kit?
Normally a kit is just that, a kit of the airframe only, you will need to buy the radio, engine, gyro & starting equipment separately, although some kits do come complete with a basic muffler.
You will get the complete airframe in a kit though, canopy, skids, all linkages & often in a beginners kit you do get main & tail blades, it is only some of the more up market kits that come without blades leaving you free to choose the ones you want without effectively paying for some unwanted wooden blades.
You can buy a few models in almost ready to fly form (ARTF) these are the almost completed airframes usually with engine installed but still no radio equipment. You will pay a little more for these as you will be paying for someone else’s labour to have built it. The ARTF models will get you in the air a little quicker but you will not have gained from the experience of building it when it comes time to do any work on it.
Kit or ARTF is really a personal choice, however I really would recommend Kit as the building experience is invaluable.

 

Tail Rotor Gyro’s
A gyro works between the receiver & the servo which controls the tail rotor, its job is to act on & so damp down any unwanted movement of the tail. The tail on a model heli can be very unstable swinging around with the slightest change in engine power or if hit by even a small gust of wind, the gyro senses these movements almost before they happen & puts in a correction far faster than the pilot can.
The best analogy might be think of a gyro doing the same job as dampers of a cars suspension, without the dampers the car would wobble & bounce it’s way around a corner, the dampers slow down the action of the suspension springs & make everything smooth & predicable, in the case of a heli the tail is the spring & the gyro is the damper!
Gyro options would be the CSM ICG180 for a very basic but workable gyro, the Futaba GY401 (pictured left) is really a industry standard now as it just works & is the most practical choice for most applications. There are a number of higher performing gyro options (which also cost more) but these are more demanding to set up & generally need a much more expensive tail servo to work well so are best left until you have more experience.

 

Starting Equipment
Starting equipment can cost from about £40.00 up to over £100.00 depending on how much you want to spend on this.
At this point you are asking why you should spend more than the basic amount, after all we are just talking about auxiliary stuff to get the model fuelled up & started aren’t we?
Yes, but the reason for spending more on starting equipment/gear is so you don’t have to spend more time than necessary grovelling on the ground trying to get fuel into the model, glow leads connected etc.
The bare minimum you will need is an electric starter, a battery & lead to energise the glow plug & some means of getting fuel into the model.
While this will get you going, if you are going to fly the model away from a suitable source of power for the Electric starter (your car battery) you are going to need a smaller more portable battery like a sealed 12V Gel Cell & then you will need to buy a charger for this battery.
You will need some means to get the fuel into the model & you can buy either hand cranked pumps or 12v electric pumps to do this, the cost of both types is about the same, if you go for a electric pump then you need some means of switching this on & off.
You can get a Power Panel to manage the pump switching as well as supplying the power for the glow plug, this is really a management system for the starting equipment & makes everything a lot neater & easier to use. You need to consider a box (Flight Box) to carry all this around in, you can buy purpose made items usually in kit form or there are a vast array of suitable plastic boxes available from DIY stores.

 
A Full Set Up of Starting Equipment Would Consist of the Following:-
12 volt Gel Cell battery
Charger for above
Electric starter
Power Panel
Fuel Pump
Glow clip
Fuel
Plug spanner
A couple of spare glow plugs
And a flight box to put it all in.
 

Summing Up
So in summing up what you will need to get the model flying is the following:-
- Helicopter Kit
- Suitable Engine
- Radio System
- Tail Rotor Gyro.
- Suitable Muffler.
- Starting Equipment

.

Electric Models
This is a whole field in itself, you can read up on the electric option here (CLICK HERE FOR ELECTRIC MODELS).  Generally the smaller electric models are the more practical option for learning to fly with, that is not to say that you can’t learn on a larger electric model just that the costs tend to increase exponentially with the larger electric models, mainly the costs of battery packs & chargers. If noise is a large issue then there is nothing stopping you learning on a Electric model, you just have to bear in mind it will cost you more & accept certain performance limitations.
One of the few largish electric model that is about as practical as a 50 sized glow model as far as learning to fly goes is the T Rex 600E, it's still going to cost you a little more than a glow model to get up & running but not that much more. It's main qualities are that it's well made, big enough to be nice & stable but small enough to work well on a single battery pack, it uses a "Brushless" motor as standard & although this pushes up the cost it is much more reliable & efficient than a brushed motor so longer flight times & better power. As the motor is brushless there is very little in the motor to wear out so they should last a very long time. Charging this size pack after each flight will also flatten your car battery after a few charges so you will find that you will want to have more than one battery pack so you can carry on flying while one is on charge

 

What is "Glow fuel"?
This is the most common form of fuel used in model engines & is not petroleum based but alcohol based, the main component is methanol with a relatively large amount of lubricating oil (typically 15 to 22%) & in most cases a small amount of Nitro methane added to improve the ignition properties of the fuel.
 
What's a "Glow Engine"?
A glow engine is one that has been specifically designed to run on glow fuel & will not run on Petrol/Gasoline. These engines do not use a spark plug like a Petrel engine but instead use a glow plug (hence the name) this is not unlike a small spark plug in appearance but has a hollow centre with a small coil of wire in it, this wire is initially heated by applying a small electric current but once the engine is running the power source can be removed & the heat from the engines ignition is enough to keep the plug hot. Two good points about glow fuel is it is almost odourless & no where near as volatile as petrol.
The glow engines used in helicopters are almost exclusively two strokes which means they have a very good power to weight ratio but also a higher pitched sound which can be irritating to some, fortunately a good quality modern muffler can reduce the noise to a acceptable limit for most environments.
 

Can you get actual Petrol/Gas Powered Models?
Yes you can but these are limited in popularity for a few factors, the engines for these all tend to be modified industrial engines from garden strimmers etc, so are fairly large, which means the models they are used in have to be the larger "90 sized" type, this tends to push the cost of the models up beyond what most would wish to spend on a first model. The other main factor is petrol/gas tends to have a much stronger odour, which is a significant point if the model is to be stored in the house.

 

I hope the above information is helpful, if there is anything this hasn’t answered for you then email me & I will try to reply as soon as I can, I will also add the reply to this document to help others in the future.

Happy Flying, Bob Johnston

Email: Bob Johnston

©Bob Johnston – December 2007