Deciding on the best RC Helicopter that is right for you or someone else, can at first be a daunting task.
Most RC helicopter advertisements are very confusing with information and technical terms that only an experienced RC heli pilot/modeler would understand. We will go over these terms and features, and explain their operation and limitations so you know you are making the right RC helicopter choice for your needs or someone else's if you are thinking of purchasing a RC Helicopter as a gift. Yes - watching someones eyes light up when they open the box to their new bird is worth every penny, but can be a real let down if it's a low quality product or is not suited to their individual needs.
By the way, if you are specifically & quickly looking for the best RC helicopter for a child or newbie beginner, my Best RC Helicopter for Kids & Beginners page covers the more basic beginner questions & recommendations.
My goal here is to give you accurate information so you can make your own recommendations on what the best RC helicopter is for your own/others needs and help you avoid much of the hype and junk on the market that is "all show and no go"! I will however mention several RC helis that I feel are among the better birds/brands that I would purchase myself (and in most cases, have purchased, flown, and written RC helicopter reviews on).
The following info is for those of you who seriously want to get into the hobby and want to understand more about choosing the best RC helicopter, taking everything into account from size and type to features to know about and ones to avoid. Let's get started...
Any advertisement or person that is telling you "this brand of heli is better than the others" or is stating something like "this is the best RC helicopter ever for the beginner"; or offers up some obscure non fact based "top 10 RC helicopter" list is not being truthful or sincere. There are simply way too many variables and compromises at play in this hobby and statements or lists like those are unrealistic at best. It's really simple, a good hobby shop or supplier that knows their product and wants to sincerely help you get into the hobby in a positive and successful way should initially have just as many questions for you as you do for them. In short, they should first identify your needs & expectations - not theirs.
The Very First Question For You...
Do you want an easy to fly RC Heli with more or less instant gratification out of the box, or are you ready to dive in head first by getting into the more challenging world of single rotor collective pitch and all the rewards that go along with it?
Not sure of the differences between these two avenues? My Getting Started With Radio Controlled Helicopters page covers all that so if you are a little foggy between the basic types of RC helicopters on the market - that page explains the differences.
To recap... I mention first getting your feet slightly damp with a Toy RC Helicopter , Micro Coaxial RC Helicopter or for a little more skill, the new generation fixed pitch single rotor micro RC helicopters such as the Blade mSR , 120 SR and the very easiest yet partially aerobatic fixed pitch, single rotor to fly because of its sophisticated electronic stabilization system, the Blade 200 SR-X.
Another completely different avenue to take is the new quadrotor (also known as multi-rotor) design that are electronically sophisticated, mechanically simple, yet easy to fly. Click here to learn more about them and to find out if this might be a good match for you.
These are all very good radio controlled helicopters for your first introduction into the hobby. They are lower in cost (usually), pretty easy to master in a short amount of time, and offer more or less instant fun. The down side is they will get boring after a while or at least limiting in what you can do with them (especially the toy variety). They don't have the same rock solid fast flight characteristics that collective pitch helis have nor do they have the ability to fly inverted and they are all rather small making it hard to see them when flying at any distance outdoors.
I should point out however, that quads/multi-rotor from micro to large generally don't get that boring. Most can perform simple aerobatic flips and rolls and the larger ones are pretty easy to see and can fly fairly fast (not as fast as larger collective pitch however); and of course, they are not "true" helicopters. After all, for many of us "rotor heads", we get into this hobby for our love/fascination of full size helicopters.
This is where the larger and more complex, performance minded collective pitch birds come into the mix, however there are now micro sized collective pitch helis on the market as well. If you are the sort of person looking for an immensely rewarding hobby, want the type of control and challenges that real full size helicopters have, and don't mind learning all about the complexities associated with true single rotor collective pitch helicopters, along with the initial difficulties in learning how to fly them ; or perhaps you have already mastered the easy to fly variety of RC helicopters and are now ready to step it up a notch - these are going to be the best RC helicopter for you!
"Don't I have to learn on a Micro first?"
That depends on you... I for one don't prescribe to the regurgitated statement that "you must learn on a small easy to fly micro first". I know many people who started out with larger collective pitch machines out of the gate and did so (and continue to do so) with great success because they did their homework, knew exactly what to expect, or got the priceless one on one help that only an experienced RC helicopter instructor can provide.
This is where I hopefully can help to give you some of that experience and knowledge if you can't get it locally from a good instructor or experienced RC heli pilot.
Let's first determine what exactly separates a good collective pitch heli from a bad one. You won't outgrow a quality collective pitch heli in a few weeks or months or have to spend a small fortune on upgrades to convert it into a decent machine; which incidentally ALWAYS costs more than getting a good collective pitch bird to start with. This of course means you will save both time and money.
That is one of the nicest benefits with the best RC helicopters. With most other RC vehicles, you generally start with slow and simple then move up to fast and furious. Good collective pitch RC helicopters are different. You can get a very high performance helicopter and set it up for learning on turning it into a perfect trainer. Once you have mastered basic flight, you can make changes to your initial set-up to ring out as much performance as possible or keep things relatively tamed down for general or scale type flying - that is all up to you. The real benefit... You will have much more enjoyment and fun with a good quality collective pitch heli and equipment.
WATCH OUT FOR THE MONEY PIT!
This hobby is expensive enough as it is. Throwing your money down the drain on poor quality or flashy eye candy that doesn't fly, has no practical value, or is next to impossible to control is so frustrating - so many have given up by going for lowest price or lured into a purchase by the bling alone. Remember looks don't equal good flight performance or good quality.
On this "eye candy" point, I should also mention something that really makes my hair stand on end and that is multi bladed rotor heads or tail rotors (more than two rotor blades) on entry level/low cost machines - pure junk!
For the scale crowd and only after you know exactly what you are doing, do GOOD QUALITY multi bladed heads have some merit, but that's it. Multi bladed heads are mechanically more complex, they are not nearly as efficient as a two bladed head, they are vibration prone, they are more difficult to transport, and they cost more to repair. Collective pitch RC helicopters are complicated enough as it is and I STRONGLY recommend beginners keep things as mechanically simple as possible when starting out.
Again, to succeed in this hobby - keep it simple to begin with!
Another IMPORTANT thing to stay away from is single rotor collective pitch birds with fixed pitch electric tail rotors - they are simply rotten to learn on.
You need a belt driven or shaft driven tail rotor with variable pitch to react fast enough to correct for the ever changing (at times violent) reactive torque loads from the the main rotor - yes even more so when you're first learning to hover and fly.
A motor driven tail rotor simply can't respond fast enough to keep the tail steady. The tail holding and control is vague and twitchy at best causing constant tail blow out. On top of that, tail motors are under enormous strain and usually burn out quickly. I explain this in greater detail in my theory section and harp on this point constantly.
There are however exceptions to this rule and that is with the new class of micro sized collective pitch helis that have small direct drive coreless & even brushless tail motors such as the Blade mCPx BL . These things are small and light enough that the fast accelerating and decelerating tiny coreless or brushless tail motors can keep up to the ever changing rotor torque reasonably well and do give a reasonable tail hold.
The tail hold and performance is by no means perfect, and they still burn out/fail over time; but it's at least acceptable and is leaps and bounds better than on larger collective pitch helis like the Blade SR or CP2 Pro as two popular examples with tail motors that blow out and burn out all the time. Micro collective pitch helis such as the Blade 130X however do have proper shaft driven variable pitch tail rotors, and are certainly better than the collective pitch micros with fixed pitch tail rotors.
Don't forget about the radio (transmitter) either. Once up to the level of single rotor collective pitch, especially in this day and age with electronic swash mixing, electric powered helicopters, and gyros/flybarless systems with remote gains and flight mode selections - the radio is just as important as the helicopter (more so as far as I'm concerned).
My page on RC Radios goes into why computerized radios are so important as well as some suggestions of what to get.
Too many people don't follow this simple advice and are lured into a collective pitch RC heli purchase by low pricing, marketing hype, and what I like to call eye candy (flashy colored anodized parts). On top of all the glitz you are then stuck with a toy like radio (transmitter) that will not allow you to set the helicopter up correctly and EVERYTHING about collective pitch success is in the setup.
Welcome to the money pit... Parts start failing and/or are completely inadequate and you find yourself spending way more on up-grades in parts and a computerized radio over getting what a decent quality collective pitch heli and computerized radio would have cost in the first place - please don't make that same mistake.
What Did I Start With & What do I Recommend?
I often get asked what brand/type of heli I first started on. My first RC helicopter way back in the late 80's was a nitro powered X-Cell 40 manufactured by Miniature Aircraft USA . I learned to fly on it. I then learned aerobatics on it. Believe it or not, I still have it (sentimental reasons) and it's still flying.
I saved so much money in the long run by getting a good quality bird to begin with and growing with. I can't sing high enough praises about all of Miniature Aircraft's Helicopters and had a number of them throughout the years. It's very sad after over a quarter century in business, they had to close shop in 2014. So thank you Miniature Aircraft for all the years of fun! Another very good quality "bang for the buck" RC helicopter brand is the T-Rex line by Align Helicopters and are currently my heli brand of choice (flying 6 of them & a couple Align T-rex clones). They may not be the very highest quality going, but with Align you get a lot of heli for the dollar not to mention great parts support.
If money is no object (unfortunately for me it is), top end brands such as Avant, Compass, SAB Goblin, HD, KDS, Henseleit, JR, Mikado, Bergen RC, and Vario all "collectively ;-)" pop into mind. I would love to get into any of these premium RC Helicopter brands. Many will argue without doubt, these premium brands are simply the best RC helicopters on the market right now!
Yes - I'm very impressed and somewhat biased towards 450 size electrics. This is due mainly to cost (both up front, for parts, & batteries) and the fact that the good ones work very well for beginner fliers right up to pros... In short, one heli will follow you from your first one inch hop off the ground to your first loop, roll, or even scale fuselage if scale is your ultimate goal. 450's are big enough to see in the sky, but small enough not to be overly intimidating/dangerous to learn/start on.
450's for the most part give you the most rotor size per dollar ratio of all collective pitch RC helicopter sizes ranging from micro up to monster. 450's also give fairly long flight times per battery pack/charge. These to me are all very important benefits and why I personally consider 450's the best RC helicopter to start with and learn on.
I know if I was just starting out in the RC heli hobby again and was looking for the best RC helicopter to learn and progress on - getting a name brand or good clone (there are lots of crap clones out there), 450 size collective pitch electric is the way I would go for all those aforementioned reasons. This is the size of helicopter I recommend to my friends who don't want to spend too much, but still want a decent CP helicopter to learn and progress on. They are also the smallest size I will generally instruct on.
Because of the many e-Mails I have received asking me what I would purchase or recommend, I decided to do just that. It took some time and research but there are several really good 450 size collective pitch electrics on the market that you won't go wrong with...
450 Kit Builds
If you want to build a 450 from a kit but don't want to break the bank (most kit heli's are higher end machines and actually cost more than RTF packages), as I just mentioned, the Tarot 450 Pro Trex clone is a pretty nice little RC helicopter for the price and is available in both flybar & flybarless versions.
Here I'm helping a very good friend of mine who was just getting into the hobby build a Tarot 450 Pro Clone Super Combo (his very first RC helicopter). After finding out what he wanted to spend and knowing I was going to be helping him build & set it up, as well as instructing him on it; this is the heli kit we both decided would be the best RC helicopter for his particular needs. He loves it, it flies very well, and the quality is tops for a clone.
450 Ready To Fly/Bind To Fly Packages
Align also has a wonderful RTF entry level collective pitch 450 size heli called the Trex 450 Plus DFC . That link takes you to a review I did on it as it's my number one recommendation in the flybarless pre-built/ready to fly & Bind & Fly, 450 size segment right now.
450 Collective Pitch vs Micro Collective Pitch
Another solid choice nowadays with the advent of the tiny micro collective pitch helicopters as I already mentioned is the Blade mCPx . Again, I personally feel the larger 450's are still better to learn on since you can "grow" into them, but many people are "self learning" collective pitch flying skills these days on micros such as the Blade mCPx or Nano CPX and doing so very successfully; so I do recognize them as very good options too.
That link above takes you to a review I did on the mCPx if you want to learn why it has become such a popular choice these days. This little micro CP heli along with its tiny little brother, the Nano CPx are very light weight so they rarely brake when you crash them and in some respects, they are for the lack of a better term, a real life flight simulator. In short, if you are intimidated by the size and cost of a 450, micro CP's are certainly a good way to be introduced into collective pitch.
That said, micro size CP helicopters have short flight times, are hard to see at any distance, can be pretty twitchy even when tamed down, generally don't last as long/wear out sooner than larger birds, and actually cost a fair amount for the tiny size they are.
Yes, no matter how careful or good you are, you will need parts.
This is something that many people don't consider when making their first RC helicopter purchase, but you soon find out how important it is. If you can’t get parts or it takes many weeks or months to get parts, your helicopter is nothing more than a static model - very frustrating!
This is where getting into popular name brands really pays big dividends. The more hobby shops or online shops that carry your specific brand, the easier it will be getting parts from any source - this also keeps pricing competitive. Stay away from the "unknowns". Sure, the online store that is selling them might have a good selection of parts; but if that is the only source, the risk is too high. Resale value & desirability are also going to be much better on most name brand heli gear so that is also something to take into consideration.
I always recommend if you have a decent local hobby shop (LHS), pay them a visit first and find out what brand/s they carry. Being able to run down to the LHS when you need a part or two will save you a lot of money over the years in shipping costs if you have to have parts shipped to you. Naturally if you have no LHS, or one that is not RC helicopter knowledgeable, that point is moot.
Still Confused & Needing More Best RC Helicopter Help?
Perhaps the very best advice I can give you when deciding on your best RC helicopter (as I touched on before) is if you're one of the lucky few who has access to a good RC heli club and/or a good RC helicopter instructor/pilot in your area; is to contact & meet up with them first to seek his/her advice. Most instructors will be familiar with several brands of birds and ones they would recommend (again very likely his/her favorite brand/s will also be the ones that are well supported at the local hobby shops, but not always). Using the same brand/s the instructor is familiar with can be advantageous since they will know exactly what to expect from your new machine as they teach you, how to set it up for you to learn on, and any little quirky habits or maintenance items on the bird that should be discussed/addressed.
If you are self learning however, my Collective Pitch Setup & Tips eBook really dives head first into what you will need to know when starting out and learning to fly a CP helicopter.
It covers all heli sizes from micro to monster and if you are not really certain what is involved with collective pitch yet, it's an inexpensive way to learn about it before spending a bunch of money on a heli.
Wow! Lots of things to consider. Just remember, take your time as you learn all this! Hobbies are suppose to be relaxing too... Taking your time right now with this "Best RC Helicopter" decision process will pay big dividends later on and you will get more enjoyment from the hobby and get more out of it.
Lastly, Hobby grade single rotor collective pitch RC helicopters are not for everyone! They take a certain time commitment and "Stick To It" mind set to learn all about the systems within them (both electrical and mechanical), basic helicopter flight theory & principles, and naturally lots of time and practice to build the skills required to fly them. If you want near instant success or gratification; please stick with the ready to fly variety of toy, micro coaxial, micro fixed pitch, or quadrotor helis - these will be the best RC helicopters for you.
For those of you looking for a hobby you can grow with, has endless options for different and varied flying styles, offers up the same control as full size helicopters, and provides a lifetime of rewards and challenges; single rotor collective pitch provides all that and will be your best RC helicopter choice. Addiction is a word I often get from many of the people who contact me with RC helicopter stories and yes, this hobby can be very addictive but that makes learning about it all that more fun!
As you can see, my Heli addiction is alive & well ;-)