Deciding on Your First Model
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Home > Getting Started > Deciding on Your First Model

[Courtesy of Dick Williamson, November 1998]

How do I get started?

People new to the hobby of radio control often ask "how do I get started?".   The first step in getting started is to choose a model, and this section of the site will give you some basic ideas of the types of models you can choose from.

You have probably seen a gas-powered radio-controlled plane and there is a good chance that your interest in RC was stimulated by watching the incredible acrobatics of such a plane as it zooms around the sky. As a result, a gas-powered plane is usually the first thought of someone getting started in the hobby. Or, you may have seen a sleek and silent sailplane soaring high in the sky. Whatever stimulated your interest, there are three different types of RC planes which you should consider for starting in the RC hobby:

  • Gas-powered planes
  • Electric-powered planes
  • Sailplanes (Gliders)

For each type of plane, there are good beginner or trainer models and there are CRRC instructors ready to get you through construction, checkout, and the crucial first flights. A separate section is devoted to getting started with each type of plane. Before going to one of those sections, examine the tradeoffs which may guide your choice.

Gas-Powered Airplanes

Gas-powered airplanes vary in size from very small (about 2 foot wingspan) to huge (1/4 to 1/3 full size!).  Most gas-powered trainers have a wingspan of about four feet or so, and have a motor powered by "glow fuel".  They can take off and land on grass or paved fields, and are designed to be slower and easier to fly than stunt or pattern planes.


  • Extended flights give lots of opportunity for "stick time".
  • Beautiful flying site at CRRC's Bill Martin Field.
  • Acrobatics are fun, but not until flying skills are solid.


  • Larger investment in plane, engine and support equipment.
  • Noise and safety issues restrict where flying can occur.
  • Greater tendency to crash than other two types.

Click here to learn how to get started with gas-powered airplanes

Electric-Powered Airplanes

Electric powered airplanes also span the gamut of sizes.  The propellor of an electric powered airplane is powered by an electric motor.  Some electric powered airplanes are models of full size power planes, while others are gliders that use the motor to get up to altitude.  Electric gliders are much easier to learn to fly on, since they fly more slowly and have longer flight times.  We have had great success with beginners learning to fly quickly and well with electric powered gliders.  We do not recommend electric models of fighters, jets or other high performance models to learn on - they are just too fast to keep up with as a beginner.


  • Clean with little noise.
  • Many flying sites available, especially CRRC's large Davis Field.
  • Reliable operation in hot or cold conditions, with instant startup (no hard starts in winter conditions!)
  • Slow and gentle flight (electric gliders)
  • Long flight times (15+ minutes) even when learning
  • Provides the ability to learn to thermal without needing a high start or winch
  • Combines some of the best features of gas power and gliders.


  • Heavier planes fly faster and crash harder than gliders.
  • Must get right combination of motor, propeller and plane to fly well.
  • More equipment needed than for a glider.

Click here to learn how to get started with electric-powered airplanes


A sailplane does not have a propellor.  Sailplanes are instead pulled up to a starting altitude by either a high start (long stretched rubber tubing) or a winch.   Once the sailplane reaches this starting height, it disconnects from the high start or winch and glides.  The challenge of sailplanes is to find rising columns of hot air, known as thermals, to extend your flight.  Flights of a half-hour or more are possible from a single launch once you know how to find thermals.


  • No noise. Many flying sites, especially Davis Field. Acceptable almost anywhere.
  • Minimum investment and complexity.
  • Slow and gentle flight makes them good trainers, even for eventual gas power.
  • A large core of active glider flyers in CRRC.
  • Availability of virtually crash-proof gliders.


  • Limited stick time until you learn to find thermals.
  • Not well suited for aerobatics.
  • High start or winch launch requires a large field.

Click here to learn how to get started with sailplanes

With all of these factors in mind, the choice of a first plane is not always easy. Talk to club members at our meetings and fields to get advice on your choice. Viewing how each type of plane flies will also be valuable. In many cases, you may be able to make arrangements to fly someone else's plane before committing yourself to purchasing your own plane.

To learn more about each type of plane, go to the sections devoted to Getting Started with Gas Airplanes, Getting Started with Electrics, and Getting Started with Sailplanes.

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