Model aircraft flying as a hobby

Thinking of taking up model aircraft flying as a hobby?

Assuming you are local, the best approach is to pop down to the flying field and have a chat. Provided it isn’t raining or blowing a gale, you are likely to find flyers at the site on Saturday or Wednesday mornings and they are usually happy to talk to you about the hobby and answer any questions you might have. Don’t forget to bring along a pencil and paper and make a few notes.

The following are a few things you need to consider, and to provide some background information.

Can you afford it?

Model aircraft flying is not the cheapest of hobbies, but as with all sports/hobbies, there is range of equipment and models to fit all budgets and that includes entry-level kit that does not break the bank and will last for years. Shop around and you can find model shops offering package deals, with all you need to get airborne, including the radio controller, for about £350/£375 if you choose to select a glow fuel (internal combustion) powered model or £200-£250 if you choose an electric powered model.

Alternatively take a look on eBay (Search toys & games – Radio controlled) or the BMFA Classifieds site ( ) where you can sometimes get a good deal on models and radio control equipment, but it might pay to get try and get an experienced modeller to take a look at anything you might want to bid for before you buy, to check it’s suitable.

Remember that during the early stages of learning to fly, crashing comes easily and is not very forgiving so do not become too attached to your first model! Joining a flying club such as ours, where you have somewhere to fly and tuition is provided, may seem expensive but you will learn more quickly and the chance of crashing is lessened so it can save you money in the long term – see the Membership page
If you’re still with me and the cost is within your budget, the next decision is which type of model aircraft?

The ideal first model is a high wing aircraft with some dihedral (wings are set in a shallow ‘V’ shape not flat) as this gives the model inherent stability while the trainee pilot gets to grips with controlling it – very important in the early days of learning to fly. You may want to fly a Spitfire but this is not the type of model to learn with. Beginners models are often described as ‘trainers’.

In the past, radio control model aircraft had to be built from kits but these are hard to find these days and increasingly models are being produced as ARTF, which stands for ‘Almost Ready to Fly’. ARTF models tend to be about 90% pre-built and require very little work to get flying, usually limited to gluing the two halves of the pre-built, pre-covered wings together, gluing on the tail and fin, installing engine and radio, then away you go. This should take about a week or two of evenings and allows you to ‘get flying’ faster.

Lets now take a look at the two options of trainer model, those powered by internal combustion (glow) engines (usually referred to as i.c.) and those powered by electric motors.

Internal combustion (glow) engines.

Before battery and electric motor technology developed and electric models came on the scene, i.c. powered models were standard but choice is now becoming more limited as manufacturers move towards electric power.

Many flyers at our club learned to fly with the ‘Ready 3′ made by Thunder Tiger, an ARTF model that is easy to assemble and surprisingly tough; just what a beginner needs. With a wing span of approximately 5 ft it is a good compromise between size (larger models are usually more stable) and portability. It will require an engine in the 46/53 range, and does require building but is fairly simple and club members are always available to help you if you get stuck. Sadly these are no longer in production, as is true for many other trainers, so apart from finding one second-hand, the choice is very limited and we now recommend  the Chris Foss Wot4.

The number of i.c. engines suitable for a trainer have also shrunk over the past few years, so you may have to hunt around but again, eBay and the BMFA sites often have good value engines for sale. There are many different brands of engine available but we suggest one of the well-known brands – O.S., ASP or SC mainly – due to their reliability. The last thing you want to do is to arrive at the flying field ready to fly and then waste time trying to get an engine to start!
If you do choose to go down the i.c. powered route, you will also need a few additional items :-

  • Fuel – the model shop where you purchase it can recommend which type but just make sure that the fuel has sufficient oil in it for the engine you have chosen. Fuel is usually purchased in 0.5 or 1 gallon containers.
  • Fuel pump – something to get fuel from the container and into the model – hand driven or electric pump are available.
  • Starter & battery – battery operated motor to spin over the propeller and start the engine – this can be done by hand, but is safer with a starter.
  • Most of the engines used for model aircraft require a battery to power a ‘glow plug’ to initially get them going so some form of battery powered glow start and connector is required.
  • A box to hold all of the above is useful. You will see these advertised as ‘field boxes and these often come complete with some of the above items as a model shop deal so shop around.

Electric motors

Electric powered have become increasingly popular and it is now common to find electric models that come complete with motor, speed controller (ESC), and servos already installed, which are suitable for a beginner and which make life simpler.

Some electric models are advertised as BNF (bind and fly) or FTR (Futaba Ready). In addition to motor, ESC etc, these models will already have a receiver (Spectrum or Futaba compatible) installed so look carefully at these models before purchasing your radio.

If you are considering the electric route, you need to be aware that the club will require you to gain at least a BMFA achievement scheme ‘A’ certificate in order to fly without direct supervision, and our tuition is aimed at you achieving this certificate. In order to take the ‘A’ flying test for powered fixed wing aircraft with an electric motor, the model must weigh at least 1Kg and be capable of taking off from the ground. Many of the smaller electric models are too light for this criteria. Models that members have successfully used to pass their test include the Wot4 Foam-E, E-Flite Timber and Durafly Tundra.

Like i.c powered models, there are extras you will require, such as a charger for the batteries, but many electric models come complete with a simple charger to get you going. If you are thinking of going electric, come down to the club and chat with electric fliers and you will soon get introduced to the world of battery chargers, how to maintain your batteries in good condition and what it good and bad practice.

Radio Controller

Visit any flying club and you will see a variety of radio controllers, usually just referred to as radios, in use from different manufacturers. In common with most clubs, we train beginners via a ‘buddy lead’. This involves your instructor connecting their radio control transmitter to your transmitter via a ‘buddy lead’, so that control can be instantly switched between the two. This provides a ‘safety net’ for the model when you get into difficulty (as you will) as the trainer can take back control of the model. This can save a lot of money in crashed models! At Reading club, we mostly operate Futaba and Spektrum radio gear, so buying a radio from one of these manufacturers will ensure compatibility with the ‘buddy lead’. We also regard these manufacturers as good quality equipment.

And finally…

Once you have completed the model and think it’s ready to fly, it’s wise to allow another experienced modeller to check it over to make sure you haven’t missed something. They will check that the control surfaces move the right way and a sensible amount, the receiver and battery pack are adequately protected and secured, the fuel tank or battery is securely fastened and correctly aligned, servos and control linkage are secure and suitable, centre of gravity is correct, and generally that everything is safe etc. – the simplest mistakes are often the easiest to make.

Both i.c. powered and electric models need to be treated with respect to avoid injury, both to yourself and to the general public. As part of the BMFA achievement scheme that Reading club operate, we teach safe practices for starting and handling models.

Learning to fly is not as easy as you might believe, but once mastered this can often turn into a lifelong and very rewarding pastime with many different specialist areas to progress into such as helicopters, scale models, aerobatic models, float planes, gliders etc.

If you have any questions come down and see us or contact us using the form on the contact page: Contact page