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RC Airplane Buyer's Guide - Special Edition
Jim Booker and the planes he reviews in this Buying Guide E-flite's J-3 Cub

There are so many exciting new ARF and RTF models available these days that an RC flyer will have his head spinning trying figure out which one is going to be the best project for him. Our guide is going to help you to find an airplane that is best for you if you are in this situation.

All the new models available are well designed, nicely built and attractive. They will present you with great performance and help you build your skill level while you grow in this great hobby. Following are some factors for you to consider when picking out that next model you want to fly. There are also some helpful charts to help compare model features.

What kind of model?

There are many different models available as well as new models becoming available constantly. Almost Ready to Fly (ARF) and Ready To Fly (RTF) models are available as trainers, sport, aerobatic, 3D and of course Scale models. The new airplanes give you the chance to show up at your flying field with models that other people have never seen or always wanted to build. It seems any new RC airplane coming to the flying field catches everyone’s attention and creates even more fun.

  • The basic airplanes that appeal to a great majority of people are the advanced trainers or Sunday sport flying planes that are just fun-to-fly models. Generally they don’t require advanced skills to build or fly. Basic 4-channel radios are all it takes to fly these airplanes, making them good choices.
  • Then there are more advanced Aerobatic or high-powered 3D models for intermediate or advanced pilots, requiring more flying experience than typical sport-type models. These airplanes are a little more involved in terms of construction features and require radios with more programmable features. As your skills advance, you will find more interest in models of this type. They present the performance potential to challenge your abilities and improve your skills every time you go out to the flying field.
  • If your interests are along the lines of Scale or realistic-looking airplanes, such as a J-3 Cub or P-47 Warbird, you are going to find you are not alone. It seems everyone wants to build a model of a P-51 Mustang with retracts and flaps just like the real one has. It is true these models may require more building skills, but they offer the modeler a chance to add realistic details such as retractable landing gear or cockpit interior features. This really adds up to fun when you fly the model in front of all your friends.

Experience Level

Hangar 9's SpitfireRealistically some of us may not be ready for a Hangar 9 Spitfire, as our experience level just is not there yet. It takes some time to gain the flying skills needed to handle these models that have higher flight speeds and performance capabilities. If you make an assessment that you are not ready for an advanced airplane, there are similar models that are easier to fly, such as the ParkZone Spitfire or E-flite J-3 Cub 25, that give you the excitement of a scale model but also give you a plane you can be assured of flying without problems.

Hangar 9's Hellcat
Hangar 9's Funtana X 100
  • Beginner and Sport flyers make up a majority of the models that casual RC enthusiasts are having fun with at flying fields and parks everywhere. Flying these models will teach you almost all the things you need to learn about RC airplanes and provide a path to more advanced flying models.
  • As you gain skill and begin looking at higher performance models in the Intermediate category, your choices will become broader. You will find that once you have these models under control you can fly just about anything and the sky becomes the limit. If anything, your problem becomes “too many airplanes to choose from!” You might start finding yourself running off to the flying field after work because you are having so much fun with RC.
  • If you are an Advanced pilot with the skills to fly any model, then your choice of airplanes will be a bit different. Quality, competition performance and Aerobatic capability of the model become important to your selection.
  More Advanced Models give us choices

Grateful for ARF and RTF models, we also have choices of different construction methods. Some trainer and sport flying models are made from durable molded foam. More advanced airplanes usually have built-up construction using balsa wood and plywood materials. Some models have lightweight fiberglass cowlings and wheel pants, giving the model great looks.

  • You will find that the new foam airplanes are probably the easiest models to assemble and they can take a beating from inadvertent mishaps. There are scale models with realistic finishes that make them good for people that want a realistic model but just don’t have the time to build one. They look great and fly with excellent performance.
  • Intermediate and advanced pilots will be looking for a conventional balsa and plywood built-up ARF model. These models offer performance capabilities to challenge everyone—lightweight and higher performance. Most of these models are built the way you would want to build a model if you had the time and workspace. We are fortunate to have so many choices of ARF built-up models and it keeps getting better (or is that worse!) as more new airplanes are released.

Build Time

Now this is a big problem for almost everyone. How much time do you have to work on getting a new airplane ready to fly? It used to take weeks to get a model finished. Now some are ready to fly right out of the box, some require a short assembly process and some scale models offer the opportunity for you to customize the model by adding features or trim and spending as much time as you want finishing the assembly.

  • The Ready-To-Fly (RTF) models really take very little time, skills, or effort and get you to the flying field very quickly. This gives you a chance to have a model flying this weekend or even sooner. These models also have spare parts available in case you need them. The quality of some of these models is amazing and flight performance is just as surprising. As a rule of thumb, the assembly will be about 1 hour or less. Some RTF models are defined as PNP or Plug-N-Play airplanes. A PNP model has the convenience of a ready-to-fly, but the customer will have to supply his own receiver and transmitter, everything else is in the model. These airplanes can be ready to fly at the field the next morning.
  • More accomplished modelers will probably select an Almost-Ready-to-Fly model because of the extremely nice features and construction they offer. Most of them will only take a little more effort on the workbench than a typical RTF. There are more advanced ARF models which will offer more performance potential than RTF models Really, these ARF models are beautiful and everyone will be amazed at your latest creation if you bring it to a club meeting. Assembly can take from 2 hours to about 20 hours, depending on the model, so you can pretty well find a model that fits the amount of building time you have available.

Power Source

EnginesA big decision in your next purchase of an airplane is the power source. You are going to find that new models are designed around electric power while others can be powered by glow or gas engines. Either way might have advantages, but this one is really up to just how you want to build and fly your model. If you already have the engine or motor for the model, then your decision will be based on whether the model is a good match for your power system. If you don’t have the motor, then your choices are not as limited. You might even consider converting a glow-powered airplane to electric power.

Radio Control

RadioAs you start focusing on the airplanes that are most interesting to you, it becomes important to make sure that the radio you have will offer the channels and programming features to support the requirements of the airplanes. Or maybe you need to buy a new radio as well? You may find that as your skill level is increasing, you will be looking at radios having the features to support your new skills. If this hobby is becoming a major interest in your life, a radio with advanced features will not limit your abilities with any of the models you choose.

RTF models generally come with radios having limited features but capable of flying most training airplanes. They are somewhat limited for use in more advanced models but offer excellent value for smaller park flying models while keeping cost to a minimum.

Flying Fields

A place to fly your models can become something of a major consideration. Will you expect to fly your new model at a local park or do you have access to a larger field where you can fly just about any kind of model? RC flying clubs offer controlled flying sites with open areas that support larger or faster models. Parks might be large enough for some models but will require electric power to keep the sound level reasonable for the neighbors. The field you have available will probably define the kind of model you are going to fly there.

  • Larger airplanes with engine power will usually require a larger flying field. This is pretty straightforward but you would be surprised to find how much area your model can cover when it is flying. The important thing here is to be sure that if your engine or battery should die, then you will have a good place to land the model when it is too far from the runway. The local RC club will have a good site and offer the chance to talk "airplanes" with many other people of the same "mind."
  • Smaller electric models easily fit smaller flying sites and give you the chance to fly airplanes without having to travel considerable distances to a flying field. Most of these airplanes fly great and are easy to keep in the near vicinity to you while in the air. Most people have both kinds of models, so they can fly in the park or club field whenever the opportunity comes up. This is a good reason to buy a smaller airplane even if you are mainly into building larger models. Besides, airplane guys like all airplanes, it doesn’t matter what size they are.

Ok, now that you have some answers in your mind for these considerations, it is time to start comparing the features of some airplanes so you can go out and buy the very best one for you. We have made separate charts for electric-powered and engine-powered models. They give you a chance to compare popular models based on these requirements.

Engine Powered

Model Constr. Build Time Engine Radio Flying Field
PTS F-22 Raptor RTF Balsa/plywood 1-2 hour Included Included Club field
PTS F-22 Raptor ARF Balsa/plywood 10-12 hour Evolution 46* 4-6 ch. Club field
PTS P-51 Mustang RTF Balsa/plywood 1-2 hour Included Included Club field
PTS P-51 Mustang ARF Balsa/plywood 10-12 hour Evolution 46* 4-6 ch. Club field
Alpha 40 Trainer ARF Balsa/plywood 4-6 hour Evolution 46* 4 ch. Club field
J-3 Cub ARF Balsa/plywood 10-12 hour Evolution 46* 4-6 ch. Club field
Funtana X100 ARF 3D Balsa/plywood 10-12 hour Saito 100* 4-6 ch. Club field
Edge 540 ARF 3D Balsa/plywood 10-12 hour Saito 82* 4-6 ch. Club field
Spitfire MkII 60 ARF Balsa/plywood 15-20 hour Saito 100* 6-7 ch. Club field
Twist 60 ARF 3D Balsa/plywood 6-8 hour Evolution 61* 4-6 ch. Club field
Pulse XT ARF 3D Balsa/plywood 6-8 hour Evolution 46* 4-6 ch. Club field
Sopwith Camel 60 ARF Balsa/plywood 12-15 hour Evolution 61* 6 ch. Club field
Showtime 90 ARF 3D Balsa/plywood 10-12 hour Saito 125* 4-6 ch. Club field
Showtime 50 ARF 3D Balsa/plywood 10-12 hour Saito 82* 4-6 ch. Club field
27% Cap 232G ARF Balsa/plywood 12-15 hour Evolution 45GX 4-6 ch. Club field
Inspire 60 ARF 3D Balsa/plywood 10-12 hour Saito 82* 4-6 ch. Club field
P-47 Thunderbolt 150 ARF Balsa/plywood 20-30 hour Saito 220 6-7 ch. Club field
Extra 260 35% ARF Balsa/plywood 20-30 hour Evolution 116GX 6-10 ch. Club field
* These models can be electric powered as well

Electric Powered

Model Constr. Build Time Motor Radio Flying Field
Super Cub Electric RTF Foam 30 min. Included Included Small field
Jenny JN-4 Slow Flyer RTF Foam 3 hour E-flite 250 3-4 ch. Indoor
Aerobird 3 RTF Foam 15 min. Included Included Small field
Cessna 182 370 ARF (Disc.) Foam 2 hour E-flite 400 4 ch. Small field
Spitfire RTF Foam 30 min. Included Included Small field
Cap 232 BP ARF 3D Balsa 3-4 hour E-flite 450 4-6 ch. Small field
Edge 540 BP ARF 3D Balsa 3-4 hour E-flite 450 4-6 ch. Small field
J-3 Cub 25 ARF Balsa/plywood 3-4 hour Power 25 4-6 ch. Club field
Mini FuntanaX ARF 3D Balsa/plywood 5-6 hour E-flite 480 4-6 ch. Small field
Andrew Jesky Extra ARF 3D Balsa/plywood 6-8 hour Power 15 4-6 ch. Club field
Mini Pulse XT ARF Balsa/plywood 3-4 hour E-flite 450 4-6 ch. Small field
Super Airliner DF ARF Foam 4 hour E-flite 400 (2) 6 ch. Small field
Extra 260 Mini ARF Balsa/plywood 3-4 hour E-flite 450 6 ch. Small field
Extra 260 480 Park Flyer ARF Balsa/plywood 3-4 hour E-flite 480 6 ch. Small field

Even if you are thinking of models that are not in the charts, you can see how the same factors apply and that will help with your selection process. It is important that you get that model and get it built. Flying season is here and everyone else is going to be at the field—you don’t want to get left behind. You can be assured that our guide will help you make the right choice, have the best possible RC experience and have more fun than you ever imagined.