Engines and Radios


Model planes can use several different types of power sources. Electric models carry battery-powered motors to turn the propeller. Gliders or sailplanes ride on thermal air currents (some also have electric motors for quick launching to great heights). Most R/C models, however, are powered by glow engines. The most economical are basic 2-stroke engines with brass bushings supporting the crankshaft. For a little more power, you might choose a 2-stroke that uses ball bearings to support the crankshaft. The ball bearings also extend the life of the engine, so you can continue using it to power future models. The cost, however, is nearly twice that of a bushing-equipped engine.

Finally, there’s the 4-stroke glow engine slightly less powerful than 2-strokes of the same size but higher priced. They offer more torque, can manage bigger props, use less fuel and sound much more realistic.


R/C planes are controlled by a radio system that consists of a transmitter which stays with you on the ground plus a receiver, servos, and receiver battery (all of which are “on-board” components, mounted inside the model). Most aircraft radio systems come with everything you need, including a rechargeable battery pack.

As mentioned earlier, first-time pilots should always seek the help of an instructor. And an important part of working with an instructor is making sure that both of you use radios with “trainer system” or “buddy box” capability. The trainer system allows you to connect your radio to your instructor’s, using a cable. You’ll still be the one controlling your model, as long as your instructor holds down the trainer switch on his transmitter. But if you start having trouble, all the instructor has to do is release the switch to take over the control.

Most trainer planes require a radio with at least four channels of control, to operate the throttle, elevator, rudder and ailerons. But not all 4-channel radio systems come equipped with the necessary four servos. Make sure your system has as many as your plane requires.

An “ideal” first 4-channel radio is the 4 Channel FM Combo with 4 standard servos. Not only does it have trainer system capability, but it is also an FM system which reduces the potential for radio interference compared to AM radios.