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Is it hard to build an RC plane? For new hobbyists, building your own aircraft might sound way-beyond-your-league difficult, but it can actually be done, if you plan for it well, then carry out your plan carefully with the right tools. Here we take a look at rc plane kits for beginners.
RC plane kits for beginners can take a number of forms, from a plan with balsa wood cut out shapes for wings and fuselage, to which you will have to buy and add a host of materials and equipment, to an Almost Ready To Fly (ARF) plane kit, which has been 90% completed for you.
RC Plane Materials
The best materials for making an RC plane have to satisfy two main considerations: strength (or strength-to-weight ratio) and stiffness. Materials have to be strong enough to take big bending loads and stiff enough to take aerodynamic force.
Given these criteria, the best materials would be carbon fiber (aka graphite fiber), plastics (polycarbonate resin thermoplastics), and expanding foams.
Carbon fiber is five times stronger and twice stiffer than steel and is recommended for building the fuselage and wings if not the entire aircraft since it is also expensive.
Plastics make up the SPAD (Simple Plastic Airplane Design) models which are favored for their ease of building, durability, and lower prices, and are recommended for beginners using trainer planes and gliders.
Expanding foams are popular among electric foam RC plane enthusiasts (or “foamies”) for their durability and easy repairability.
Traditionally, rc airplanes were made from balsa wood and covered in tissue paper with successive layers of dope to stiffen and strengthen it.
Fiberglass can be used to strengthen aircraft models made of lesser strength and stiffness like wood or paper/boxboard.
For more on what RC planes are made of, check out this post, here.
What Parts Are Needed To Build An RC Plane?
The essential parts needed to build an RC plane are the fuselage or body, wings, controls (throttle, rudder, elevator, ailerons), wheels or landing gear, motor, battery, radio transmitter/receiver, and the basic electronics, which, for a basic electric plane, will include the following components:
- Brushless motor
- Electronic Speed Control
- LiPo Battery
Here are some examples:
Brushless motor between 850kv to 1500kv
ESC (electronic speed control) with BEC (battery eliminator circuit) that matches your motor
Servos (at least two) for radio control and small-scale robotics
LiPo (lithium polymer) battery because it’s small, light, high-capacity, and can be fast-charged
Propeller for your aircraft to move forward through the air
You can look for and buy these separately, or buy RC plane kits for beginners instead, which should already contain the necessary components. Here’s a typical kit of components:
If you do buy them separately, make sure they are compatible with one another.
Is It Hard To Build An RC Plane?
No, it’s not, as long as you match the complexity of the rc plane kit to your skill level. If you’re an absolute beginner, start with an “almost ready to fly” (ARF) plane, and then graduate to more complex models, which need more finishing, when you’ve learned the way the components go together, and your confidence has grown.
If you’re an absolute beginner to RC plane flying, you may be best starting with an RTF (ready to fly) or ARTF (Almost ready to fly) plane, then graduate to learning how to build one from scratch. That way you’ll understand the working of the controls, which will help in construction.
Basic kits contain fuselage and wings which you have to put together with specialist modeling glue. You still have to buy all the other components and tools (see tools section below) needed to complete your aircraft.
Conventional model plane kits usually contain a plan and building instructions, the wood (balsa, plywood) or foam needed to construct the plane, and the necessary hardware (like the controls, undercarriage parts, servos, motor mount, fuel tank), so you can complete the airframe. You also still have to buy the covering material, radio gear, engine/motor, and other accessories, as well as the building tools.
ARF (Almost Ready to Fly) plane kits are typically 90% finished. All you need to do is to fit the hardware together and install the engine/motor and radio gear, assuming you have the necessary tools.
What Tools Are Needed To Make An RC Plane Kit?
Basically, aside from a good sharp knife, glue, sandpaper, and paint, you should also have at least pliers, screwdrivers, hex or Allen keys, and spanners, as essentials.
It also recommended using a modeling board and pins, a set of modeling knives and blades, small screwdrivers and metal files, razor saw, sanding block, steel rules, engineer’s squares, various adhesives, and modeler’s vice and pliers to start. These can be found in hobby shops and online stores like Horizon Hobby and Amazon.
Additionally, Model Airplane News recommend these “modeler must haves” to make the building easier with the right tools:
- rotary tool for precise control
- tubing cutter and bender because you will need to cut and bend tubing
- threader for quick and easy installation of parts instead of having to do it by hand
- miter box with clamps for cutting wood and holding them in place while cutting
- hinge slotter kit to achieve perfect alignment slots
- prop reamer for enlarging holes perfectly
- CG (Center of Gravity) balancer for correct plane balance and safe flying
- beveling tool if you’re building flat foamies
- mount hole locater for marking and mounting critical hole placements
- prop balancer to save wear and tear on the plane and the motor
Depending on your modeling goals (do you want to build from scratch or do you want a quicker and easier introduction to RC plane modeling?) and budget, there is a wide range and array of RC plane modeling kits and tools in the market today that you can choose from.
If you want to build from scratch, hobby shops (like Great Hobbies, Horizon Hobby, MicroMark, and Tower Hobbies) are the recommended sources since they know RC planes enthusiasts’ particular needs depending on their skill level.
If you want a quicker and easier introduction to RC plane modeling, then ARF kits are recommended for you, which are best to select from online retail stores with a vast selection of products available like Amazon.
Plans For RC Planes
Finally, you can build a model from scratch using plans for RC planes. Plans are the master templates of your aircraft design, helping you with building your plane from idea to physical reality. They contain all the information you need to build your machine. You have a number of options on how to get plans for your plane:
- If you’re so equipped and want to design your own plane, you can make your own plans with paper and pen (like many veterans started before the advent of technology and kits) or use computer-aided design (CAD) software. JoyplanesRC provides a free tutorial on designing your own plan using AutoCAD, NanoCAD, or LibreCAD.
- Traditionally, RC plane kits also had plans but they have gotten fewer and fewer, although some companies still include them in their kits. You may choose to look for a kit with a plan included.
- You can subscribe to RC plane enthusiasts’ magazines which also offer plans to their subscribers.
- Generally, it’s much easier to find plans online. You can buy them for around $3 to $25, or get them for free. They are usually in portable document format (PDF) files as rasterized pdfs (image version only, especially plans of very old models) or vector pdfs (can be imported into AutoCAD and modified/edited).
- Popular sites to get RC plane plans for free are AeroFred, Model Aircraft Universe, Outerzone, Park Jets, and SkyHigh Hobby.
- The Academy of Model Aeronautics offers plans for aircraft models from 1911 onwards, with discount privileges for its members.