What To Buy ?? - Kit or ARF
Nowadays model aircraft come in two forms….in a kit which you have to build up yourself from scratch, or what is called ARF (Almost Ready To Fly).
If you have the time and patience to build a model up from a kit… then good on you. There is a huge amount of satisfaction gained from building a model up from start to finish. If you have any building problems chat to the experienced modellers at the club, or your hobby shop man…they've usually been at it for ages. Especially when it comes to installing the radio, there a few little tricks that make life easier.
Most people want to get into the air as soon as possible. If this is you then the ARF is for you. ARFs have been around for about 20 years and in the beginning you wouldn't be seen dead with one… they were pretty ordinary. Nowadays most of them are excellent well built models. The beauty of an ARF is that you usually get everything you need to complete the model… fuel tank, push rods, hinges, wheels, covering… it's all in the box. ARFs are usually more expensive than a build-up kit but that is because you get EVERYTHING you'll need, except the glue and the basic tools you need. You will be surprised how much you still have to buy once you have bought a build-up kit, it will certainly surpass the price of the ARF. ARFs are usually at the stage where a novice builder can put them together in a few days. You generally have to join the wings, glue on the tail (fin) and tail plane (horizontal stabiliser), put on the wheels, install the radio and a few other tasks. If there is a down side to ARFs it is usually with their instructions, some of them are a bit brief or lose something in the translation from the Asian manufacturer to the English instructions. I once saw one that hardly related to the model at all, it was a general set of instructions for a number of kits, it even had a video that was wrong in a number of places. This however is the exception rather than the rule.
One type of model that has become very popular is the 'Foamie'. As the name suggests, these are planes made out of foam. The foam is normally what they call EPP foam and is very strong and can withstand quite a few good wacks on the ground. Most foamies are electric powered so there is no cost for fuels, glow drivers etc. The other advantage is they are usually cheaper. The disadvantage is you need decent powerful batteries and a charger. Nowadays everyone uses lithium batteries so you need a charger that is capable of charging lithium’s. Please note, you CANNOT use a normal charger to charge lithium’s, they will explode if you don't use the right charger. See the section on Electric Flight for more information.
What Type Of Aircraft
Most people new to the hobby want a MUSTANG or SPITFIRE, or some flash scale job. It is absolutely CRITICAL that you start off with the right model, something that is designed for training. Nearly all of your scale models, especially Warbirds, are NOT trainers and require a considerable amount of experience to fly them… just like the real thing, they have some tricky characteristics. As much as you may be tempted to buy that plane of your dreams don't do it yet, and don't let a smooth talking salesman who wants to get a quick sale sell you otherwise. If you just CAN'T help yourself at least get an independent experienced flyer to check if it will be suitable to learn to fly with before you part with your cash. The best thing to do if you can afford it is get your trainer, learn to fly during the day, and build your 'flash job' at night so when YOU'RE ready to go, so will your pride and joy. On your first flight you will quickly learn why you want everything in your favour.
What makes a good trainer ?
Firstly the bigger the better, you don't want something that going to be hard to see soon after it takes off.
A nice big straight 'high' wing that has a bit of dihedral (The wings bend up a bit from the centre). By a straight wing I mean that it does not taper off towards the outside tips and is not swept back. A high wing means that the wing mounts on top of the fuselage.
The wing section (shape) of a trainer is usually flat on the bottom. This is known as semi-symmetrical and gives plenty of lift.
Bright colours are a good idea so you can see them in the air. Obviously all light blue or all white is not a wise choice. If the kit you love is all one colour just stick a few big bright circles or stripes on the bottom of the wings to break it up.
Most trainers have a tricycle undercarriage (They have a nose wheel and two mains). This is because they are easier to steer on the ground and you can't nose them over. They are great to learn to fly with, but you will be bending that front wheel straight after a few heavy landings or a bit of rough taxiing, it happens to all of us. Tail draggers (tail wheelers) are fine too, not quite as sure footed as the tricycle but nothing to worry about.
Although not that common nowadays, you may come across a trainer that does not have ailerons (that’s the wiggly bits on the wings) They use the rudder (the wiggly bit on the tail) to turn. These aircraft only require 3 channel radios as opposed to the usual 4 channel. Generally speaking steer clear of these as they handle differently in the air, and if you learn on one of these you will have to go through a bit of a learning phase again to learn to fly the ones with ailerons, which most models have. Rudder only turning models are still quite common.
Some trainers and sports models have their wings held on with rubber bands. The bands that come in many of the kits are a bit loose and when you double them over they seem very tight. Get yourself a packet of No.64 rubber bands from your local stationer, they fit most models that you will come across. After you have bought them make a hole in the packet and chuck in a good dose of talc powder or baby powder, it will stop them going dry and they will last for years.
New Or Second Hand ?
This is dictated by the amount of money you are able to spend. There is no doubt that new is the way to go if you can afford it. Firstly you'll get exactly what you want/need. You will also know the history of the model and critical things like how much glue is holding it together and things like the hinges are not going to fall out or the wood is all fuel soaked etc etc.
If your financial circumstances dictate that you can't afford a new model then certainly look around for a second hand job. Be very careful you are not buying someone else's junk. All too often people sell a new modeller a load of rubbish on the pretence of helping them to get started… "yes yes, this will do you"… knowing too well that it is a dog to fly. Get an experienced third party to come with you to look at the model and evaluate it's condition, it's true worth and whether it is right to learn to fly on. You'll need everything in your favour when you're learning.
Remember the golden rule… buy as good as you can.
How Much ?
You can expect to pay around the $200 mark for a good ARF trainer kit. This should include most of the bits and pieces required to complete the aircraft, nowadays most will include the servos and if electric you would probably get the speed controller (ESC) and electric motor. If it is a glow or petrol engine you will have to buy your own engine. You will have to buy some glue, a bit of sand paper and perhaps a cutting knife. Two pack epoxy glue is probably the best to use to put it together. It comes in 5 minute and 30 minute curing times. The longer it takes to set usually the better the bond. Most modellers usually use the 5 minute because you're not trying to clamp things together while you wait for them to dry. Good old white wood glue is also good to use but does take long to dry. I would not recommend using Super Glue to join wings, tails and other high stress areas together as it can dry very brittle and can let go. A decent size pack of epoxy glue will cost you around $20. Don't mix up too much at a time, it usually sets before you can use it.
Your build-up kits kick off around the $150 mark depending on what is supplied. VERY few build-up kits give you everything. You will have to buy things like covering, hinges, horns, push rods, wheels, connectors etc. You can easily pay $600-$800 plus for some of the bigger kits. Once you get into the LARGE models with fibreglass mouldings etc you can pay well over the $1,000 mark just for the basic kit.
You can usually save yourself a few dollars if you buy your plane at the same time as the radio and engine (Package deal). At the very least your dealer should throw in a few goodies like a prop and glow plug for your engine or a bit of fuel, or if it is electric maybe a battery.
Contributed by Brian Carson - SMF Senior Instructor (Note from Bob Cottle - Webmaster)