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How to Choose the Best RC Planes for Kids and Beginners

Updated on February 9, 2014
My son getting ready to launch the Hobbyzone Champ from the packed gravel field.  At the time, he was 9 years old.
My son getting ready to launch the Hobbyzone Champ from the packed gravel field. At the time, he was 9 years old. | Source

My son REALLY wanted an RC plane for Christmas a few years ago. That was all he talked about. I had never flown one before, but I had heard horror stories about how complex they were to operate and how expensive they were to maintain. That scared me silly.

I didn't want to disappoint him when he was opening presents, but I did not want to begin a hobby that was going to cost me a lot of money, a lot of time and a lot of my hair! I didn't know what to do!

Fortunately, I had recently overcome a debacle with indoor RC helicopters and I crossed my fingers that the guys down at the local Hobby Shop would help guide me through this decision.

Of course, they came through and steered me into a lightweight, inexpensive, easily repairable three channel plane. My son's holiday was terrific and we went out to a small park (in the ice cold winter!) and were able to fly the plane within minutes. Don't get me wrong, we were not good at it. We crashed, we learned and had a great time!

What is Your Favorite 3 Channel Plane

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Price was My First Concern

I told the guys at the shop that I did not want to break the bank during this purchase. While the layered up bodies of high end jets would dazzle in the sky, I wasn't quite ready to lay out five thousand dollars for one. Yes, you read that right!

Instead, they guided me towards the category of planes called "Ultra Micro." These planes are around 20" long and are mainly constructed out of foam. That construction material makes them exceptionally light and it is very hard to build up enough speed to actually break one of these.

Most of them were between $90 and $150, and fortunately, the less expensive ones were the three channels. I was definitely narrowing down my search. The jets and electric ducted fans would have to wait for another day.

Three Channel
Four Channel
Elevator
Elevator
Rudder
Rudder
Propellor
Propellor
--------
Aileron

Three Channels

Planes typically come in a three- or four-channel setup. The three channel planes were much easier to fly and were great for kids, the guys in the shop told me.

As you can see in the table below, the difference between the three and four channel planes is the aileron. These are small surfaces on the wing of the plane that allow it to turn along the axis of the plane itself (think of it as rolling).

While it wouldn't take long for us to want to improve our skills with more high performance planes, the three channel one was much more appropriate for new fliers. It would simply turn left and right, go up and down, and move faster or slower. That seemed easy enough.

There were a few three channel planes in my price range in stock.

Ultra Micro Planes

The Ultra Micros have been tremendously popular. In fact, they have been so popular, that that E-Flite developed the UMX ASK-21. While this plane is a bit challenging for new pilots, it won't take long before your child is begging for this one. It can be towed by the Carbon Cub which makes it the perfect two-person activity while flying planes.

Don't Forget Gliders

I found that I have a weakness for gliders. A big weakness! Powering a plane up to altitude and then cutting the throttle and slowly gliding down to the ground is a blast! When I bought my first RC plane, I thought that gliders were too complex and would be frustrating to fly. Boy, was I wrong! In hindsight, I could have very easily started with a three channel glider and had a great time!

The Parkzone Radian is my favorite glider for kids. It is larger than the Ultra Micros, but once you get it up in the sky, it won't be buffeted by slight breezes.

In fact, if you are really lucky, you will find some thermals which will lift your glider higher and higher. That is a true thrill!

While this is a powered glider, once you cut the throttle, the propellor blades fold back and the only two channels that will control the glider's movement are the elevator and rudder.

Typically, gliders are very slow in the air, which gives plenty of time for new pilots to react to changes in the aircraft.

I highly recommend a powered glider like the Parkzone Radian for beginners!

Elf DLG

Here is a picture of the Elf in the initial stages of being built.  Laying the plane on the table like this will help to align the tail with the wing.
Here is a picture of the Elf in the initial stages of being built. Laying the plane on the table like this will help to align the tail with the wing. | Source

One Alternative Glider

I enjoyed gliders so much that I built a discus launched glider (DLG) called the Elf. You can read about it in my build log. This is a two channel plane, as it doesn't have a motor. Instead, you launch it into the air by spinning and throwing it like you would a discus.

I wanted something super light and a challenge to make with my son. This plane was perfect!

Note: While this is a two channel plane, it has a unique, V-tail configuration, where both servos work together to turn the plane left or right and up or down.

Example of Repairing an RC Plane

Repairs

I asked about whether the plane might need repairs and if it was hard to do. The guys laughed and reassured me that crashing the plane was guaranteed. Not that it was hard to fly, although there was a small learning curve, but rather, that as we got more comfortable flying it, we would test the limits and try to do barrel rolls, tight turns or even attempt to fly inverted. Without a doubt, we would have some incidents, but anything we could possibly break on the plane could be easily repaired.

I was a bit nervous, thinking that the spare parts were expensive, but they had a wall dedicated to the planes and even the biggest pieces were only $15 -20. While they could do the repairs for me, they showed me several YouTube tutorials that looked very simple to follow.

It is very easy to access the electronics  on the Champ.  Here I was upgrading the motor, which turned out to be a 10 minute job!
It is very easy to access the electronics on the Champ. Here I was upgrading the motor, which turned out to be a 10 minute job! | Source

Simulator Practice

As with anything, practice makes you better. I brought my son to the store several times to drool over the planes and we played on their RC flight simulator computers. It was easy to change models and fly a three channel plane using the actual transmitter that would control the real aircraft in the park. After a few minutes, both of us could fly the plane and land it without causing too much mayhem.

Recommended Plane for Children

If you live in an area with very little wind, then the Hobbyzone Champ is the clear winner for the best plane for children and beginners. Our plane has taken some pretty tough hits and I have only had to perform minor repairs. Any repairs that are needed are simple and the online video tutorials will help to make the process quick and painless.

If you live in an area that has a bit of wind, the Champ might get bounced around too much. In that case, I recommend the Super Cub. The extra size and weight will absorb the turbulence in the air a bit better and still flies exceedingly well.

Spare parts are readily available at your local hobby shop or online. Just remember, you WILL crash and you WILL need to make repairs. It is part of the fun of learning to fly RC planes!

Tell me about Your First Plane!

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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I've never had one but always wished I had. They look like great fun.

    working

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