Model radio control helicopters work just like their much bigger counterparts. They are very carefully designed scaled down versions of course, but they work the same. Anyone who has ever flown one knows how exciting the experience can be. No wonder they are so very popular with kids and adults alike.
But when it comes to choosing a model, things can get very hard. You see, there are so many kinds of model helicopters, and the amount of skill required to pilot each kind varies tremendously. Some model helicopters can be so hard to control that only the most skilled hobbyists will be able to handle them.
As you can see, choosing a model that’s just right for you can be a pretty daunting task.
Which is why the objective of this page is to educate you about the options you have when it comes to rc helicopters and help you make the very best choice.
If you are hard pressed for time right now and want to choose the best radio control helicopter that’s just right for you, you would want to take a quick look at this list of the very best model helicopters on the market right now. Choose one from the list, and you most likely will have made a pretty good choice.
Model RC Helicopters: A Brief History
Ever since Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519) designed the aerial screw or helical air screw people have been toying with the idea of rotary winged aircraft. But it was only in the early 1940’s that the first helicopter we would recognize today was built by Igor Sikorsky.
It took nearly 30 years of experimentation by various people before a working miniature model of a helicopter could be built.
The first RC helicopter was designed and piloted by Dieter Schluter. Herr Schluter completed the earliest recorded flight of his RC helicopter – the Bell Huey Cobra – in April, 1970. The first mass produced model was Du-Bro Whirlybird designed by David Grey.
These early models were notoriously hard to control. But a lot of technological developments have taken place since then and today’s RC helicopters are a breeze to fly. So easy in fact that even toy helicopters have been developed and mass produced.
Classifying RC helicopters
RC helicopters are classified into different categories based on three main characteristics …
1. Engine / Type of fuel
2. Size of the helicopter
3. Skill level
1. Engine type
Four types of engines are used in model helicopters
a> Electric engines : Electric engines are the most widely used engine type in most model helicopters today. They typically use lithium polymer batteries and highly efficient brushless motors, and being electric, these models are very responsive to controls. They are also very quiet and you do not have to deal with all the grime associated with gasoline powered engines. The flight time does depend on the capacity of the battery you use, and may vary from 5 to a little over 10 minutes. Electric engines require hardly any maintenance at all – and this is a huge advantage they have over the other engine types.
b> Glow fuel : Glow fuel – a mixture of nitro methane, methanol and oil – can be used either in 2 stroke or 4 stroke engines and used to be fairly popular because of the amount of power it can provide. Glow fuel was a very popular alternative before lithium polymer batteries came on the scene. Now, except for some die hard fans, hardly anyone uses it anymore. Electric engines are quiet and can pack a good amount of power as well – while nitro or glow fuel powered engines are very, very noisy. That may be alright with some people who really enjoy the roar of the engine, but that’s not advisable if you happen to live in a quiet neighborhood. And nitros require regular maintenance while electrics don’t.
c> Gas powered : This type of engine is mainly for the much larger models out there. Usually, the smaller models are electric and the larger ones are gas powered – or gassers. It does not mean larger models can’t be electric – it just happens that this is what most hobbyists prefer for the larger model aircraft. They use 2 stroke engines and are noisy and not very easily maneuverable like the more nimble electrics. But then these are generally much larger and you would not expect them to perform the kind of aerial stunts the smaller electrics can so very easily do. The flight time is usually around 10 minutes, but again this depends on the tank size and the weight of the aircraft.
d> Turbines : When it comes to engines, it does not get any better than this. These are the ultimate a model helicopter could have. But these are also pretty expensive and only the “elite” of the hobby community have these kind of models. You can’t expect to find cheap toys equipped with turbines. The engines on these are replicas of full sized aircraft. The power generated is enormous relative to other similarly sized engines. And the flight time typically is around 10 minutes.
Model helicopters can vary in size from just around 8 inches in length to well over 5 feet. Based on size, model helicopters are divided into 5 groups …
Micro : These range from 6 inches to 12 inches in length, are battery powered and are considered toys. These are best suited for indoors as they will not be able to handle strong winds.
Mini : These are between a foot to two feet in length are typically battery powered. Some minis are nitros or glow fuel powered as well, but you would be hard pressed to find nitros these days as easily as you could a few years ago. These are all mostly lithium polymer battery powered these days.
If you are just starting out with the hobby, you would want to stick to micros or to minis to start with.
Mid size : These vary between 24 to 48 inches in length and are much harder to control than micros or minis. They may be glow fuel powered or electric, and this is the size most hobbyists prefer.
Full size : Varying between 48 to 60 inches in length, these are meant to be flown outdoors only. They typically are gas powered and emit fumes. You wouldn’t want to fly one of these indoors because of the exhaust. Strong winds are no problem for these.
Large : These are the biggest models are they can be over 5 feet in length. These are typically gas or turbine powered, and can fly at speeds of more than 100 miles an hour.
Skill Required :
As a thumb rule, the larger the aircraft is, the more channels the transmitter has, and higher the skill required to control it. As the number of channels on the transmitter increase, the more parameters you will able to directly control – and your skill level needs to be correspondingly higher as well. Each channel controls a particular parameter – throttle, yaw and so on. Bigger models allow you to control many more parameters than the smaller ones.
Based on the skill level required to pilot them, models are classified into 3 groups …
Toys : These have 2 channels, 3 channels or 3.5 channels and are ready to fly (RTF). These are battery (lipo) powered and require no assembly whatsoever. These are the cheapest of all RC helicopters are are a breeze to control. While they are strictly for indoors only, these allow you to learn the ropes and get acquainted with this hobby.
Amateur : These have 4 channels and so require more skill than a toy would require to fly. They offer much better maneuverability and also are more expensive than toys.
Pro : These have 6 channels – which does mean they are a lot, lot more maneuverable relative to toys or amateur models. But then, these are not for amateurs either. They require a good amount of skill to control and they operate almost like a full size regular helicopter operates. The engine is usually gas powered or a turbine, but some folks who are die hard nitro fans use glow engines as well. These are also the most expensive. Unless you have a good deal of experience flying easier to control models, you would not want to try flying one of these.