One of the first areas you must consider is how you are going to power your airplane. The power required is a function of the type of airplane and the size (wing span). Larger, faster airplanes require more power. Most kits will have a power recommendation. Some will offer recommendations for electric, nitro and gas. It is a good idea to follow these recommendations. They consider weight in addition to the power required.

There are three main power options if you exclude jet engines. Jet engines are not for the beginning pilot. Save any thoughts of them for a few years. The other three options are electric, nitro, and gas. Each has it’s following. Gas engines are replacing nitro because of easier clean-up, lower cost fuel and the availability of smaller gas engines. There is considerable overlap but, in general as the airplane gets larger and heavier you go from electric to nitro to gas. It is still possible to have a heavy power hungry electric airplane or a small light gas powered airplane.


Electric power is best used in small to medium sized airplanes. Large  and heaver airplanes use heavy batteries that are very expensive. They require long charge times but give short flight times. Electric power is quiet and keep the neighbors happy.


  • Low vibration
  • Low noise
  • Does not require adjusting
  • No exhaust products to clean-up
  • Does not require external equipment to start
  • Short learning curve to operate


  • Motor looks safe but if power is on you must stay away from the propeller. USE THE THROTTLE CUT on the radio.
  • You must match battery, ESC (Electronic Speed Control) and motor for your airplane
  • Fight time with larger airplanes is relatively short
  • Requires relatively long battery charge time requiring multiple batteries to reduce wait time
  • You need a 12 volt battery and battery charger to charge batteries at the field
  • You must keep electrical components from overheating
  • Electrical noise can cause problems


Nitro engines are best suited to medium to large airplanes. Most fliers with gray hair will tell you about the .035 nitro engine they had in their control line or RC airplane of times past. Nitro engines are still very popular but are loosing ground to electric and gas. Manufactures’ of gas engines are bringing out smaller displacement designs competing with nitro. Nitro engines have two big disadvantages and they are high cost of fuel and a messy residue on your airplane.


  • High power to weight ratio
  • Extended flight times available with a larger fuel tank
  • No electrical interference
  • Readily available new and used
  • Smoke system possible
  • Lower cost


  • High fuel cost
  • Leaves residue on airplane that must be cleaned
  • Requires glow plug which tends to burn out
  • Requires glow plug starter battery
  • Requires fuel pump to fuel airplane
  • Requires “chicken stick” or preferably hand electric starter


Gas engines are best suited to airplanes over 10 pounds. Gas engines are undergoing a lot of development as manufactures’ develop smaller displacement designs. They come in two and four cycle designs. Two cycle engines are cheaper, are easier to tune and have a higher power to weight ratio. Four cycle engines sound more like real airplane engines, have better fuel economy, and have more torque at lower RPM. Gas engines provide the spark with either a magneto or an electronic ignition system. Unlike a magneto, an electronic ignition can change timing. Electronic ignition systems tend to idle better. However, electronic ignition system create more electrical noise.


  • Use less of a lower cost fuel
  • Extended flight times available with a larger fuel tank
  • Long flight times possible even with large airplanes
  • Reliable
  • Smoke system possible


  • More cooling of engine required
  • Gasoline/oil mixture must be blended
  • Requires fuel pump to fuel airplane
  • Requires hand glove (to protect hand from sharp prop) or preferably hand electric starter


You are now ready for your first airplane/radio system that will serve you into the near future. Your first airplane was to get you into the hobby and allow you to see your level of interest at a minimum cost. Radio controlled airplanes are like most hobbies. You can spend $200 or $10,000+ depending on your interests and wallet. You will want to do a lot of investigating to see what part of the hobby interests you. It is a good idea to review magazine articles, manufactures’ literature, hobby shop information, websites and have discussions with experienced RC pilots.  You will get a lot of opinions that you will have to evaluate. See which solutions meet your goals. Assess your flying and building skills. Select something in your skill set. Fast flying military style airplanes look nice but can require considerable skill to fly. Be honest with your present capabilities. Plan to grow in the hobby. A larger high wing airplane could be a good choice.

Let’s look at the different ways you can obtain an airplane.


Airplanes come in seven basic forms;

  • Plans
  • Kits
  • ARF (Almost Ready to Fly)
  • PNP (Plug aNd Fly
  • BNF (Bind aNd Fly)
  • RTF (Ready To Fly)
  • Swap Meet or used airplane purchase

Let’s look at the positive and negative aspects of each form.


A set of plans is the most flexible and complex way to build an airplane. There are not a lot of airplanes made from plans because of the time, complexity and skill required to get good results. There are some simpler foam plans which reduce the skill level required. You want to reserve a balsa type of kit construction to models after you are an accomplished flier and can fly without a high risk of crashing. Remember, if you fly you will crash.


  • You can find plans for types of airplanes that are not available in any other form.
  • You are in control of all of the materials used in the construction.
  • You control all colors and detailing of the airplane.
  • Modifications to construction are easy.
  • Laser cut parts can sometimes be obtained
  • You have the satisfaction that comes from building your airplane.


  • A lot of time will be required relative to other forms
  • Constructing a warp free airplane requires good construction technique.
  • You must find sources for all the materials of construction.
  • The cost will most likely be higher than other forms.
  • Generally there is a minimum of help offered on the plans.
  • You must select electronics and power system with a minimum of information on the plans


Kits offer a lot of the flexibility found with plans but supply some of the required materials. Kits have more instructions than plans. Kits still require considerable building skills. Laser cutting has made kit building more common. Kits are a small percentage of the models sold today.


  • You are in control of some of the materials used in the construction.
  • You control all colors and detailing of the airplane.
  • Modifications are easy.
  • Some kits use laser cut parts
  • Less time will be required relative to building from plans
  • A power system may be recommended
  • You have the satisfaction that comes from building your airplane.


  • Still requires a lot of construction time
  • Constructing a warp free airplane requires good construction technique.
  • You must find sources for some the materials not included in the kit such as adhesives, covering, wheels etc.
  • The total airplane cost will most likely be high
  • You must select electronics and power system

Almost Ready To Fly (ARF)

Almost ready to fly airplanes have a lot of the construction done by the kit supplier. Generally the wings, horizontal and vertical stabilizers, control surfaces, and body are constructed including covering. These components will have to be assembled. A manual is usually provided which details construction and supplies recommendations for components not supplied. ARF systems require components such as servos, power system, and radio receiver.


  • A lot of the time consuming construction has been completed by the kit supplier.
  • A detailed assembly manual is included.
  • The kit supplier has supplied recommendations for parts not supplied like power system and servos.
  • The assembly will be relatively fast.
  • The skill level required to build the kit is a lot lower than building from plans or a kit.


  • Still requires some kit building skills.
  • You have limited opportunity to modify the airplane.
  • You will need to purchase other components such as adhesives, servos, power system.

Plug aNd Fly (PNP)

Bind aNd Fly (BNF)

PNP and BNF are airplanes that is almost totally assembled by the kit supplier. The assembly that is required is minimal. Assembly is usually required because of shipping considerations. Wings, stabilizers and landing gear may not be attached on larger models and must be glued or screwed in place. With PNP you must supply the receiver as well as the transmitter. With BNF you only bind the supplied receiver to your transmitter. Both require that you supply fuel (battery/nitro or gas).


  • Assembly manual is generally very complete.
  • This kit requires a minimum of assembly.
  • The kit building skill level required is low.
  • You are ready to fly in hours rather than weeks.
  • You need to purchase a minimum of materials.
  • Many have computer assisted flying. This can help the new pilot


  • You must have a transmitter that will bind to the receiver (BNF).
  • Your transmitter must have the required number of channels and computer controls required by the kit.
  • Most modifications will be challenging.
  • Computer assisted flying can become addictive and can increase the pilots learning curve.

Ready To Fly (RTF)

Most of the ready to fly kits require nothing more than batteries for the transmitter. This is the most complete type of kit you can purchase. Read the manual, maybe attach the wing, put batteries in the transmitter, charge the airplane battery and you are ready to head to the field.


  • Instruction manual very complete.
  • Very little, if any, assembly required.
  • You can head to the field in hours.
  • Many have computer assisted flying. This can help the new pilot


  • You have another transmitter usually with limited capability.
  • Modifications are limited.
  • Computer assisted flying can become addictive and can reduce the pilots learning curve.

Swap Meet or used airplane

Swap meets are a great way to find a used airplane. Many good deals have been found at local RC Swap Meets. Check the item carefully to make sure you know what you are purchasing.  Purchasing a used airplane is probably something a new pilot should not do unless helped by an experienced pilot. With experience, it can be a good place to increase the size of your collection. Swap meets also have a variety of items related to RC airplanes. They are also a good way to meet people with similar interests.


  • Find a good airplane at a reduced price.
  • Find older models no longer available.
  • Find parts needed to complete you project.
  • Meet other pilots
  • Never know the treasures you will find until you get there.
  • Learn about the different items being sold.


  • You could get a lemon (buyer beware)
  • Model may require repair or modification.
  • You could get sold on an airplane beyond your capabilities.


The radio system is the most important decision you will make. Your first radio was a simple system intended for a beginner. It may be usable in other airplanes but will be limited in it’s functionality. Now that you have decided to get more involved in RC airplanes, you will need a radio system with more capabilities. You will probably destroy many airplanes in your career as an RC pilot. The transmitter will still be in your hands. It is the one piece of equipment you want to be able to grow into rather than replace often as you become more experienced. Like most hobbies there is a wide range of possibilities with costs to match. You can spend $150 or $3000+ on a transmitter.

This decision will require an evaluation of your interests and requirements. It should be made after review of manufactures’, literature, reading magazine reviews, searching the internet for information, and talking with RC pilots. These pilots should be doing the type of flying you are planning.  It is so important, I will repeat – “talk to other RC pilots”. You will find them at the field, club meetings, and lunch.

Some of the important features of a radio system are;

  • Number of channels. Start no lower than 6
  • Airplane type
    • single/dual aileron
    • flaperon
    • elevon
  • Trainer port (preferably wireless) – must match instructors system
  • EXPO (exponential) – you can adjust amount of control surface movement with a given amount of stick movement.
  • Dual Rates – you can change the maximum control surface travel.
  • At least two levels of Expo/duel rates. Better radios have more.
  • Mixes – this allows one input (channel) to control another. No less than three.
  • Number of models in memory. No less than 20.
  • Timer – at least one
  • Assignable switches
  • Throttle Cut
  • SD card support (nice to have)
  • Telemetry (nice to have)

Today’s RC radios are computer controlled and offer an endless list of features. The more expensive and complex radio’s are beyond the scope of this presentation. You will need to do research into these radio’s through manufacture’s literature, internet searches, and TALKING TO RC PILOTS.

Typical Electric Motor for Airplane

Typical Nitro Engine for Airplanes

Typical Gas Engine for Airplanes

Typical Transmitter for Radio Controlled Aircraft