We live in a world where technology advances so quickly it is easy to forget those gadgets that used to lead the way. Drones may be the biggest selling UAVs now but there was a time where the king of the sky was the radio controlled helicopter and airplane.
RC helicopters have made something of a comeback in recent years and although they never really went away, their resurgence is likely linked to their close relations with four propellers. With more and more people taking an interest in the art of UAV aviation thanks to drone technology, it seems that the market is benefitting from this increased awareness and demand with more and more people returning to or finding the hobby for the first time.
If you are a beginner looking to buy your first RC helicopter then it can be a daunting process and knowing where to start is a challenge in itself. Even existing drone users will find the terminology different so versing yourself in the RCH lingo (that’s radio controlled helicopter vocab to me and you) is a really good starting point.
When it comes to buying an RCH you should consider the following:
- Your budget – for startup and maintenance/upgrades in the longer term
- Your skill level
- Where you can fly
- Your RC Helicopter Budget
RC helicopters can be purchased pretty inexpensively with the most basic models starting at around $30 with some of the more expensive models costing more in the region of $400. You should also consider that half of the fun of RC helicopters is in the building, maintenance and upgrading of the copter. That means, you might buy a helicopter for say $100 but over time you might need to double that to keep it in top order or to upgrade motors and replace blades. This is all part of the fun but should be a consideration when buying.
For absolute beginner pilots it is advised to go for a cheaper model that requires less initial set up and build out – this can be used to learn the basics and establish whether you like the hobby. Remember, RC helicopters are more about the joy of flying than the joy of taking selfies from high altitude and although you can buy cameras for RC helicopters, very few pilots ever do.
Your Skill Level
Learning to fly an RC helicopter or at least understanding the basic controls is a good starting point and is something you can do before you even outlay any cash. Flight simulators may sound unnecessary but there are some excellent options with the Phoenix Flight Simulator being the most realistic.
You can also purchase training aids to help you learn to fly so consider purchasing stabilisers (like ping pong balls) to help you learn to maintain that hover. Hovering with one main rotor is much harder than hovering with four using a quadcopter so just because you can fly a drone, don’t think that flying a helicopter will be the same experience – again, half the joy of RCH’s is in the mastery of flight control.
Where You Will Fly
Knowing where you are going to fly your helicopter is another key consideration when purchasing. As a popular pastime, the chances are that you will have dedicated spaces nearby for flying RC planes and helicopters – but check this before you commit. If you do not have a dedicated area near to you then you will need big open spaces away from people, buildings and other possible obstacles – and always be sure to check the aviation regulations in your locality.
Wind and weather conditions can have a big impact on helicopters so choosing one that can withstand some gusty conditions might need to be something to think about. Contrastingly, you might decide that you want to practice indoors to begin with – in which case you will need to choose a copter that is made for indoor flight – be warned though, these do not usually fair too well outdoors.
If you are passionate about aviation or are just interested in learning more about RC helicopters then you have little to lose by getting involved in this unique hobby – but be warned, once you have the bug for this sport you will never lose it!