Into the blue


Welcome to the first in our series that’s aimed at providing the information you might need to make informed choices and, hopefully, start flying R/C model aircraft with the minimum of fuss and bother. Into the Blue maybe a little hopeful as a title, since the UK weather will no doubt dictate that on most occasions your new model will be sent skywards ‘into the grey’, but let’s be optimistic! 


So, you want to fly R/C? Good! Remember that flying model aircraft can be as complicated or as simple as you want to make it. Above all, however, it’s fun. If at any stage you’re not enjoying it then something’s wrong and you’re advised to stop and discuss what you’re doing with fellow flyers. If you’ve got a problem, then talking it through will soon bring about a solution. And don’t forget, whether you intend to join a club or fly alone, you’ll find beginners articles and a friendly forum at our website:


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Isn’t it expensive? If you let it, model flying will eat all your spare cash and then come back for more, but it needn’t be that way. In truth, it’s true to say that the hobby has never been as affordable as it is today. We’ll look at costs in greater detail next month, but as a rough estimate you can expect to spend between £100 and £300 when getting started. 

What do I need? Before spending any money, read and digest the information put forward in this series and any other trustworthy source. It may not all make sense at first but you’ll be developing an understanding of the sport, and that will help you make informed choices when deciding what to buy. What you need depends on the route you intend to take. For example, your model may be internal combustion (i.c.) or electric powered, it may be a traditional kit or a ready-built model (ARTF), and it could be big or small. All these factors will have a bearing on what you need to buy. Remember that joining a club means you’ll meet flyers who’ll be able to help you make those informed purchasing decisions.   


Do I need to join a club? Yes, if you can. Clubs offer enormous benefits to the beginner, from help and advice through to flight training and beyond. They offer a pleasant and friendly environment that adds to the overall enjoyment of the hobby, too. Practical considerations may mean that you’re unable to join a local club, and whilst this isn’t the end of the world and you can learn to fly by yourself, the process won’t be as easy and may take considerably longer. 

How long will it take to learn fly? Although there are exceptions, it should take somewhere between 4 months and 1 year to learn fly a 4-channel model. That said, this will clearly depend on the amount of time you can invest and your natural ability. Anyone can fly a model, but every beginner needs to learn what to do and then practice and develop their skills.     

What if I’m miles away from the nearest club? If you live in a remote location without access to a club or other experienced R/C fliers then there’s no choice but to go it alone. It’s not impossible, but it may take longer and you’ll probably experience a few spills along the way. Truth is, you’ll learn by your own mistakes rather than learning what not to do by watching and listening to others. 


There are a number of R/C flight training schools in the UK (see our classified pages), and booking a few sessions with such a school will give you a firm grounding and provide
the knowledge that you can use to develop your flying skills by yourself.

Selecting the correct model is critical if you’re going it alone, indeed it’s probably better for a lone flier to operate an electric-powered model until their skills are more fully developed. The reason for this is that an electric beginner’s model will be lighter and slower than its i.c.-powered equivalent. This means the model will give you more time to react once in the air, and so lessen the risk of crashing.


Where can I fly from? Model flying club sites are the answer here, although if you’re going it alone then you’ll need to find a very large space well away from people or property. It’s important to make sure that the field or park from where you intend to fly is free from restrictions. Check with the land owners or local authorities if you’re in any doubt. Also, join the BMFA and read their handbook guidelines thoroughly before you fly. 

What is the BMFA? The British Model Flying Association is the national governing body for model flying in the UK. Run by flyers for flyers, the BMFA liaises with Civil Aviation Authority (to name but a few) to ensure that our interests are protected. 

Over 700 clubs are affiliated, so when you join one such, you’ll automatically become a member of the BMFA, too. Of course, you can join the BMFA without going through a club and membership should be a priority for every flyer in the UK for one reason in particular – insurance. Model flying accidents are rare, but BMFA membership means you’ll have third party insurance and personal accident cover; reassuring should something untoward happen. 

You can download a copy of the BMFA handbook and a book called Up and Away at These two books should be your flying bibles. The latter in particular is designed for beginners and provides solid, no-nonsense advice that you need to know. 

The BMFA maintains a list of affiliated clubs in your area and can provide contact details on request. You can call them during office hours on 0116 244 0028. 

I really don’t want to make a fool of myself at the local club… It’s natural to be nervous when joining a club. Remember, though, every person you meet was once a beginner and you’ll find the vast majority friendly and welcoming. It’s very important to show an interest, so make a positive effort to ask lots of questions and learn as much as possible from those with experience. Help out where you can and you’ll soon find that your new clubmates will see that you’re serious about the hobby and will be happy to teach you the ropes.



Online beginners’ articles –

Friendly forum advice –

What’s an ‘A’ Certificate? The BMFA has something called the R/C Achievement Scheme. For fixed or rotary wing (helicopters), the scheme “…encourages flyers to reach a standard of flying ability and safety and prove that standard to an examiner.” The ‘A’ Certificate can be equated to a safe solo standard of flying. From the start your club instructor should train you so that the flying manoeuvres required in the test become second nature. The ‘A’ test is nothing to fear and represents a very worthy goal that your club should encourage you to aim for.  

I keep hearing about safety – are there lots of rules? Like many outdoor sports, model flying could be considered dangerous if a few simple common sense guidelines weren’t respected. Spinning propellers and flying aircraft represent hazards in the hands of the irresponsible. For this reason the BMFA handbook provides clarity, and this along with local club guidelines are all you need to be aware of. At first there may seem to be a lot to take on board but 99% of it is really just common sense. Rest assured, your clubmates will help you appreciate the safety guidelines and best practices at your flying site.  

Should I get a simulator? Anything that might assist you during the learning process should be seriously considered and PC-based simulators are very useful. Although they’ll never replace the real thing, they’ll help improve your reactions, improve orientation and give you a head start before and during your training. They can operate from a transmitter-style controller or from the transmitter you’ll be using to fly your models. If you can, try some in the model shops before you buy. Sim’ prices vary enormously, although expensive isn’t always best. Try the RC Plane Master, a good basic sim’ that includes a controller for just £20.

What’s this Mode 1 or 2 thing I keep hearing about? This basically refers to the transmitter sticks and how they affect the model’s flightpath. Although technically there are four modes, only Mode 1 (Fig. 1) and 2 (Fig. 2) should be seriously considered. Their respective advantages have been argued by flyers for years and whilst there are regional variations, Mode 2 is by far the most popular format and used by 80% of UK flyers. Mode 2 places the throttle and rudder controls on the left-hand stick, with elevator and aileron on the right. What’s essential is that you learn to fly using the same mode as your club instructor. If you’re in any doubt then I’d suggest you opt for Mode 2. 

Should I build my own models? Many flyers derive a great deal of satisfaction from building their own, but it’s up to you. You can scratch-build your model from a plan, construct from a kit or buy an ARTF (Almost Ready To Fly) pre-built model that just requires final assembly. Some aircraft are even supplied ready-to-fly straight from the box. Fear not, we’ll look at the options in greater detail next month.

Will I need a workshop? For many flyers, the family kitchen table is the only place where building and maintenance can be carried out. You’ll soon start to accumulate spares and parts along with starting equipment and models, so finding yourself a small area away from the bustle of family life will quickly become a priority. A shed, spare room or garage are obvious areas, although do remember that liquid fuel is highly flammable and must be stored outside the house. 

What else can I do? Read, research, look and listen. There are plenty of sources: clubs, model flying shows, model shops, books, magazines and the internet. You’ll quickly discover that there are lots of things to spend your money on but it’s important to make informed purchases. 

Model shops are helpful sources of advice but don’t stop there – ask around. Use your new clubmates, and talk to anyone and everyone you can.  


Beginners at share their thoughts:

  • To start flying is a lot easier now we have ARTF and RTF aircraft, plus the excellent R/C flight simulators on the market. The amount of choice in models, engines, radio gear and accessories is staggering compared to what was available in the 1970s – Kelvin
  •  It can be awkward to integrate with club members; I experienced this for my first two visits, what with not knowing the form on the field etc. Luckily I found an extremely nice chap on my third visit who took me under his wing, so my advice to any newcomer would be to get known by the lads at the patch. Don’t be shy, very few will laugh out loud if you ask a silly question, and don’t spend any money till you’ve taken some advice from at least three different people – the more the better – Phil
  • A simulator is definitely the way to go for newbies. Before my first lesson I had a good few hours on a sim’ and if anything I found reality a bit easier than the virtual experience, especially with its lack of depth perception – Lee
  • I’ve been flying since the end of last year. Having no experience and listening to the guy in the model shop, I initially insisted on going down the self-taught route with an electric-powered, high-wing, pusher-type model. Needless to say, that ended in disaster. Deciding that this would be an expensive approach, I turned up at a local flying field and started chatting to a couple of chaps there. One phone call later and I was a member of the club, insured and ready to get tuition. I started off using an Irvine Tutor 40 with my instructor on the buddy box. I was very nervous and, like many newcomers, landing in one piece and going back to the pits for a cuppa was a great relief. During a Sunday morning I’d get 2 – 3 flights in. It wasn’t long before I was taking off and doing low passes and getting ready for learning to land. To help combat my nerves (and because my trainer was borrowed from my wife), I switched over to a Prangster. This improved my flying in leaps and bounds since, because I wasn’t so nervous (imagine the grief I’d get for breaking my wife’s plane!), I no longer cared as much if the model bit the dust. I can’t remember when I went solo for the first time, but it wasn’t too long after getting tuition – maybe a month or two. I stuck with the Prangster for another couple of months and bought a cheapie Black Horse Super Air. That lasted a few weeks until I wrote it off pushing the boundaries! I still class myself as new with a lot to learn. I try to learn something new and push my boundaries every week. My clubmates are always there giving support, guidance, feedback and suggesting the next step or move I should try. Here are my key points: 

1. A great instructor is a huge bonus. I was constantly encouraged to try something new and fly in different weather conditions. Learning to fly in adverse weather conditions is a very good thing. Learn to beat the nerves.

2. Relax. Accept that at some point you will crash. Don’t fly anything too expensive (time or money wise), and you won’t cry too hard when you break it. 

3. Practice. Simulators are okay but they’re no substitute for the real thing. Get out there and get flying! – Captain Slow


Next month I’ll look at some of the purchasing decisions you’ll need to make. In the meantime if you have any questions then pop along to our friendly beginner’s forum at See you there!

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