[Courtesy of Peter W. Young, Col, USAF, pwyoung "at" ix.netcom.com, June 1999]
I've been helping novice fliers recently with their .40 powered ARFs and one of the planes we've flown has been the Tower Hobbies "Tower Trainer"<tm> ARF.
The basic configuration is "generic ARF": 60" span, .40 power; high wing with rudder, elevator, ailerons, motor control; tricycle landing gear with steerable nose wheel. This aircraft is available from Tower in an Ultimate Combo package which includes everything needed except fuel, starter, and starter batteries - included in the UC package are a four channel radio, motor, prop and glow plug, fuel tubing; thin and medium c/a; 30 minute epoxy; and rubber bands.
This package is available from Tower for $300 which frankly is a fair price for somebody looking to start out and who is willing to make this level of investment. However in looking through the latest Tower catalog, I was surprised to find 10 other options for this design. I'm not aware of any other trainer design that has these many options.
I'd like to share with you my impressions and assessments of these options.
Option #1: Trainer 40 kit - this is the basic kit requiring full assembly. I do not know if wheels and tank are included. Price: $55 which is a very fair price for a trainer kit - use this as a benchmark for the other options to be discussed.
Option #2: Trainer 40 ready-to-cover (RTC): $75. Now this is really interesting. For only $20 more than the previous option, it's all built and ready for covering! How many of us would build a trainer of this type and charge someone only $20?
Option #3: Trainer 40 almost-ready-to-fly (ARF): $100. For only $45 over the basic kit, and $25 over the ready-to-cover of Option #2, the ARF plane is covered and control surfaces hinged. We all know what the cost for the covering material alone can cost you -- so even if your time is worth nothing, this option is very attractive compared to previous options.
Option #4: Trainer 40 kit with OS 40LA engine: $100. Recall that the Option #1 kit costs $55. Although this particular engine is sold by Tower for either $53 or $58 depending on the anodizing color, it is included in this option for only $45 difference.
Option #5: Trainer 40 RTC with OS 40LA engine: $120. This is option #2 with the engine thrown in for the same $45 difference as noted earlier.
Option #6: Trainer 40 ARF with OS 40LA engine: $140. This is option #3 with the engine added for only $40, not the $45 noted previously in option #4.
Option #7: Trainer 40 ARF with Tower 40 engine: $140. As the Tower 40 appears to be a clone of the OS 40LA, it's not surprising that there's no price difference between Options #6 and #7.
Option #8: Trainer 40 kit, OS 40 LA engine, 4 channel radio - $235. If you bought these separately, it would be $55 + $55 + $135 = $245 so there's a $10 savings in this option.
Option #9: Trainer 40 RTC, OS 40LA engine, 4 channel radio - $258. This is option #8 with the airplane assembled (but not covered) for $23 extra or option #5 with a Tower Hobbies 4 channel radio for $138 more. I note from the radio section of the catalog that the Tower Hobbies 4 channel radio with 4 servos sells for $135 so if you want to save $3, order Option #5 and the radio separately - Gordon will probably do this as he can get two extra pizza toppings for the difference.
Option #10: Trainer 40 ARF, OS 40 LA engine, 4 channel radio - $275. This is Option #9 with the airplane covered for $17 more; or Option #6 with the radio thrown in for $135 more.
Conclusions: it's difficult to compete with the low labor rates and economies of scale that Tower is able to bring to bear on the trainer market. And unless you just plain like to build and cover, the RTC and ARF options are very attractive alternatives when compared to the alternatives of building and covering.