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RC Helicopters

Today`s Radio Controlled Helicopters are not the same remote control car toys we played with as a child. Today R/C vehicles can be extremely powerful and come anywhere from built and ready to race to completely unassembled. Depending on what you are looking for the prices range from $50 for a starter helicopter to over $500 for a powerful machine.

Below is a terrific introductory article where you can learn the basics and how to get started. You can help grow our learning community by contributing your knowledge to the article. Just click on the edit tab in the wiki article below.

Use the white subtabs above to navigate the other R/C Helicopters resources. We have a R/C Helicopters forum where you can get your questions & doubts answered, a page with R/C Helicopters how-to videos, a page with the best handpicked links to other sites, and a page with the best R/C Helicopters books and products.

Good Luck and Have Fun!
Duncan Davis

 

Introduction


RC Helicopters is a hobby that provides a way to relax, relieve stress and just have fun. Construction and flying your own radio-controlled helicopter is both a challenging as well as rewarding hobby for people of all ages.




It is important to understand that RC helicopters are not toys. Radio-controlled helicopters are actually very sophisticated machines. As a RC helicopter hobbyist or pilot, you must have the technical aptitude to build and prepare your helicopter, responsibility to follow the safety rules for RC helicopter operation as well as the patience to take the time to learn to fly your RC helicopter properly. Radio-controlled helicopters (also RC helicopters) are model aircraft, which are distinct from RC airplanes because of the differences in construction, aerodynamics, and flight training.




There are many different brands and types of radio-controlled helicopters. All helicopters generate directional control and lift through one or more primary rotors. With that being said, there are several different variations of this pattern, both in power source and design.




RC Helicopter Power Sources


Common power sources are nitro (nitro methane-methanol internal combustion), electric batteries, gas turbines, petrol and gasoline.




Batteries are used to power electric helicopters. The less costly models use NiMH batteries and the more expensive variations are powered by lithium polymer batteries. Lithium polymer batteries are not as heavy as NiMH batteries that offer equal amounts of power. However, lithium polymer batteries require a special charger to prevent possible explosion. In addition, you must not overcharge lithium polymer batteries, which can result in permanent damage.




Electric RC helicopters are practically noiseless. However, as the size of the RC helicopter increases, so does the price of the batteries required to operate the machine. It takes roughly an hour to recharge your RC helicopter batteries. If you intend to fly on a regular basis, you may want to invest in at least one or two extra battery packs.




Liquid fuel composed of oil for lubrication as well as nitro methane and methanol for power is used to run nitro powered RC helicopters. This type of radio-controlled helicopter is generally much larger and louder than electric powered helicopters. In addition, you can fly your nitro helicopter virtually nonstop because it is incredibly easy to refill your fuel tank and keep flying.




Many hobbyists prefer this to waiting for the batteries to recharge on an electric RC helicopter. The cost of the fuel to power your nitro helicopter is relatively inexpensive in comparison to the money that you have to spend upfront on lithium polymer battery packs. The only catch is that you have to keep buying fuel to refill your tank.




A few of the larger RC helicopters are powered by a gas turbine engine or two-stroke petrol engine. Unless you are an expert hobbyist, this is not the RC helicopter for you. Operation of these machines should only be attempted by the most skilled and advanced RC helicopter pilots. Avoid retailers who unwittingly advertise nitro helicopters as gas powered.




RC Helicopter Designs


The various designs for RC helicopters include toy electric, electric coaxial, electric fixed pitch and collective pitch.




Toy RC helicopters are helicopters without full directional control. This means that it does not have a swashplate. Toy radio controlled helicopters are great for beginner flyers because they are so robust. However the time that you spend learning how to fly these toys essentially will not enhance your skills to pilot the more advanced machines. In addition, spare parts for toy helicopters are generally not readily available. If you damage your helicopter in a crash, you will have a tough time trying to find everything you need to get it back in action.




On a coaxial RC helicopter, there are two rotors on a common axial with one mounted above the other. These rotors move in opposite directions of each other. This cancels out the torque reaction of each rotor; therefore, no tail rotor is required.




Electric coaxial RC helicopters are built to be self-stabilizing. When it is properly trimmed, these helicopters will return to somewhat of a hover if the pilot stops imputing controls. Electric coaxial RC helicopters are relatively robust and inexpensive. This type of radio-controlled helicopter is especially ideal for the pilot who does not want to take the time to learn how to fly a conventional helicopter. Electric coaxial RC helicopters are perfect for someone who has no helicopter experience at all and the controls are similar to those of the larger helicopters.




If you plan to fly your RC helicopter indoors, electric coaxial RC helicopters are ideal because they only weigh about two to nine ounces. In addition, these helicopters are also great for flying outside when conditions are still. The damage that occurs during a crash is limited because only a low amount of energy is stored in the spinning rotor blades.




Generally, helicopters that do not feature collective pitch control are referred to as fixed pitch. The main rotor turns faster or slower to achieve vertical control, this generates more or less lift. Normally, coaxial RC helicopters are fixed pitch.




Typically, a fixed pitch helicopter has a single primary rotor as well as a small tail rotor to achieve anti-torque control. Only a few parts on a fixed pitch helicopter actually move. Even though fixed pitch helicopters are lightweight, at only two to ten ounces, they are quite tough in a crash, just as long as you close the throttle before it crashes. Fixed pitch helicopters can be flown indoors or outdoors in a light breeze of less than three miles per hour.




If you are working your way up to a collective pitch helicopter, a fixed pitch helicopter is just the thing. Since collective pitch helicopters require a substantial amount of practice to master flying, but are expensive to purchase and operate, a fixed pitch helicopter is a practical solution.




With collective pitch RC helicopters, the speed of the rotor stays constant. The lift varies according to the pitch of the primary blades throughout the complete rotation. Collective pitch helicopters have several advantages over the fixed pitch machines, such as improved response to controls, autorotation abilities and inverted flying capabilities. This type of helicopter is built from a more complicated design and they are much more fragile than their fixed pitch counterparts are, so the price is considerably higher.




Smaller electric collective pitch RC helicopters can be flown indoors due to their light weight, which starts around one pound. However, electric collective pitch helicopters are really meant for flying outdoors. The low mass of these helicopters decrease the amount of damage that occurs in a crash. In addition, these types of helicopters can be run backwards and then forward again rather quickly.




The greatest disadvantage to smaller electric collective pitch radio-controlled helicopters is the fact that they are greatly affected by the wind. You can only fly these helicopters in winds of around ten to fifteen miles per hour. In addition, the controls on these machines are more sensitive that the controls on larger helicopters, which makes them more difficult to fly.




The larger electric helicopters are not practical for flying in public places. Large electric helicopters, just like nitro helicopters, can be quite dangerous.




Nitro powered collective pitches typically weigh somewhere between six or seven pounds. Because of their larger size and the amount of noise that they make, you should only fly these helicopters at designated flying sites. The additional weight makes these helicopters easier to fly, but the cost to repair the machine after a crash is not cheap. You should only attempt to operate these machines if you are an experienced RC helicopter pilot, especially due to the energy that is stored in the spinning rotor as well as the extra weight.




Tandem rotor RC helicopters are quite rare. With this type of radio-controlled helicopter, there are two rotors mounted longitudinally that counter rotate, cancelling out the majority of the rotor torque. Since tandem rotor helicopters are so complex, most helicopters of this type are collective pitch; even though building one that is fixed pitch would not be an impossible feat.




Collective pitch coaxial helicopters are especially rare. A collective pitch coaxial helicopter is distinct because of its ability to fly in zero gravity.




RC Helicopter Gear


The items that are covered in this section are considered necessary for piloting an RC helicopter in the field. A number of the items that you are going to learn about are things that you are going to need right away, while others may only be needed later down the road. Without the necessary gear, your flying time may be cut abruptly short.


 



Radio


Small fixed-pitch helicopters need a 4-channel radio (throttle, elevator, aileron, rudder), although micro helicopters that utilize a 2-channel infrared control system also exist; while collective-pitch models need a minimum of 5 channels with 6 being most common (throttle, collective pitch, elevator, aileron, rudder and gyro gain).


 



A Good Book


Especially if you are just getting started with radio-controlled helicopters, you need to invest in a good helicopter book. One of the best books on the subject is “Safe and Easy Helicopter Flying” by Bob Motazedi. You may also want to check out “RC Model Helicopters: A Guide for Beginners” by Malcolm Messiter, “Building Scale Helicopters” by Peter Wales and “3D Helicopter Flying” by Russ Deakin.


 



Simulator


If you are serious about flying radio-controlled helicopters, it is a good idea to invest in a good helicopter simulator. A number of good simulators are currently on the market. The investment that you make on a helicopter simulator is well worth it, especially considering the money that it will save you on the flying field. Aircraft libraries and realism vary from one simulator to the next, so take some time to find the one that is right for you.


 



Training Gear


Training gear for radio-controlled helicopters is nothing more that some simple fiberglass or wooden sticks arranged in a tic tack toe or cross pattern. On the end of each of these sticks is a light plastic ball. The plastic balls keep the sticks from ramming into the ground as the helicopter is bobbing along. You should be able to find training gear for your RC helicopter for around twenty to forty dollars. If you prefer, you can save money by building your own RC helicopter training gear.




RC Helicopter Construction


Choosing a RC helicopter that is constructed of the correct material does not have to be a stressful task. Take the time to explore some of the most common materials to determine the one that is best for your radio-controlled helicopter.




RC helicopters must be built to endure all types of stress, including low and high frequency vibrations, hard landings, heat, centrifugal forces as well as G-forces and more. So, it is important that the material you choose for your RC helicopter is strong enough to survive, yet still light enough to fly through the air with ease.




Understanding RC Helicopter Controls


Radio-controlled helicopter controls can be somewhat difficult to understand. However, if you take the time to understand the controls one step at a time, it will make much more sense for you.




Single rotor radio-controlled helicopters are not easy to fly at first. These machines follow the same rules and have the same controls as a full size helicopter. First, you must understand the laws and forces, and then it will be easy for you to understand RC helicopter controls.




RC helicopter controls can be broken down into three basic areas, including direction and cyclic control, lift and collective control as well as torque and tail rotor control. When you fully understand all three of these basic areas of radio-controlled helicopter flight and have a good idea of just how helicopters fly, you will be able to understand RC helicopter controls fully.




Conclusion


Flying a radio-controlled helicopter is quite a rewarding experience. However, with such great reward comes the requirement of patience and dedication. If you are interested in buying a RC helicopter, fixing it up and zipping around the sky like an expert, do not expect such a feat to happen overnight.




An important factor to consider is RC helicopter safety. The blades on RC helicopters rotate as fast as 1,500 RPM, and can have a blade radius of around three feet. The speed of the blade on a RC helicopter is roughly two hundred miles per hour, which will cut though grass as well as skin and bones.




The cost of flying RC helicopters is a great factor that must be considered when you are determining if this is the right hobby for you. Piloting radio-controlled helicopters is by no means a cheap hobby. Crashes are bound to occur eventually. When crashes do happen, you can expect to pay several dollars, even hundreds of dollars, to pay for repairs and spare parts. You need to set money aside consciously in order to support your RC helicopter hobby.