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 an informed RC helicopter choice for your needs or someone else's if you are thinking of purchasing an 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.
The following in-depth best RC helicopter 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.
This is a long page because there is lots to cover...
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, sizes, & brands that I would purchase myself (and in most cases, have purchased, flown, and written RC helicopter reviews on). Let's get started...
I often get asked what brand/type of heli I first started on and what I fly now. My very first RC helicopter way back in the late 80's was a nitro powered X-Cell 40 (the size of an electric 550) manufactured by Miniature Aircraft USA . Believe it or not, I still have it and it's still flying like a champ. I talk about it on my RC Helicopter History page.
I saved so much money in the long run by getting a good quality bird to begin with and growing with.
Fast forward a quarter century...
For those just getting into the hobby right now, the entry level hobby grade pre-built stuff from Blade Helicopters is a solid choice.
Good parts & customer support, decent prices,
and decent quality overall. Blade helicopters and quad-rotors are carried at most good hobby shops and
also have respectable resale value because of how popular they are. This popularity also means there is lots of help out there if & when you need it.
After entry level Blade, a
very good quality "bang for the buck" RC helicopter brand is the T-Rex
and are currently my heli brand of choice (currently flying 6 of them
& a few Align T-Rex clones). Align gives you a lot of
helicopter & components for the dollar not to
mention outstanding parts support worldwide! Align is thus very popular so help is once again easy to find.
Out of all Align's helicopters, my three favorite to fly remain to be the Trex 800E, 700E, and the 600ESP. The 600ESP in particular was one of the best larger electric powered helicopters ever for the average RC heli pilot on a budget in my opinion.
Align unfortunately stopped making the 600ESP several years ago in favor of higher power hard core 3D machines. Great for the aerobatic pros out there, but not so much for the average sport flyer who doesn't have bottomless pockets like myself.
There is however one good 600ESP clone
on market which comes very close to the original. I liked it so much, I
became a dealer and started selling them to other experienced RC helicopter hobbyists (nope, I would never sell one of these 600's to a beginner).
If money was no object (unfortunately for me it is), other high end brands such as Avant, Compass, SAB Goblin, HD, KDS, Henseleit, JR, Mikado, and Vario all "collectively ;-)" pop into mind. Many will argue without doubt, these premium brands are simply the best RC helicopters on the market right now with SAB pretty much leading the way as a high end and popular choice!
The SAB Urukay seen below is my personal idea of what makes one of the Best Hobby Grade Collective Pitch RC Helicopters available right now for multiple flying styles; but it's only for experienced collective pitch RC helicopter pilots or those getting one on one instruction. Definitely not a good CP heli to self-learn on!
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 in depth.
As a quick recap & overview from that page...
I mention first getting your feet slightly damp with a
Toy RC Helicopter or
Micro Coaxial RC Helicopter. If you want more performance and challenge, a fixed pitch single rotor micro RC helicopter such as the
120S is a wonderful little RC helicopter.
Another completely different avenue to take is the quadrotor (also known as multi-rotor and very incorrectly "RC drone") 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 too boring. Most can perform simple aerobatic flips and rolls (there are even a few fully aerobatic 3D quadrotors) 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 and could really care less what the latest fad of the day is.
This is where the larger and more complex, performance minded collective pitch birds come into the mix, and perhaps even the micro sized collective pitch helis on the market.
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 - CP machines are very likely going to be the best RC helicopter for you.
"Don't I have to learn on a fixed pitch micro or quadrotor first?"
That depends on you...
I for one don't prescribe to the regurgitated statement that "you must learn on a small easier to fly micro FP or quadrotor heli 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 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 (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 as efficient as a two bladed head, they are harder to balance correctly, setting the blade tracking is more involved, you generally have to understand how to set the correct phase angle of the rotor head in relation to the swashplate, they are generally 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 fly & 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 fixed pitch motor driven tail rotor simply can't respond fast enough (accelerate & decelerate) 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 class of micro sized collective pitch helis that have small direct drive coreless & better yet, brushless tail motors such as the Blade Nano, Blade mCPx BL, Trex 150 DFC, or Blade 230S.
These things are small and light enough that the fast accelerating and decelerating tiny brushless tail motors can keep up to the ever changing rotor torque reasonably well, give a reasonable tail hold, and don't burn out on a monthy bases.
tail hold and performance is by no means perfect, but it's very acceptable (especially with brushless tail motors).
Other Micro collective pitch helis such as the Blade 130X and now the even better performing Blade 180 CFX do have shaft driven variable pitch tail rotors, and have better tail hold & performance 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; much 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/look for.
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.
Moreover and as I mentioned before, sticking with popular brands such as Blade or Align will enable you to get more help when you need it and better resale when you want to upgrade.
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 RTF 450 is the way I would go for all those aforementioned reasons.
If I felt a little more ambitious and wanted to build a 450 heli from a kit; again a good name brand or good clone kit would be on my list. 450's are 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.
450 Ready To Fly Packages
Blade & Align both have wonderful RTF entry level collective pitch 450 size helicopters... The Blade 450X and Trex 450 Plus DFC. Those links take you to reviews I did on both. Both have their pros and cons, so I encourage you to read both reviews to help you better decide which is the better fit for you.
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 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 (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 Collective Pitch vs Micro Collective Pitch
Another solid choice nowadays with the advent of tiny micro collective pitch helicopters is the
Blade Nano and other similar sized micro CP helicopters. Micro's are low cost and rather "crash proof" because of their low weight.
Again, I personally feel the larger 450's are still better to learn on since you can "grow" into them and they last longer. In fact, even the better quality micro's I still consider to be somewhat disposable little money pits.
I for example have spent more money keeping my little micro CP helis maintained than I spend on my big machines. The tiny stuff just wears out much faster and is not built or designed to last; it's that simple...
That said, many people are "self learning" collective pitch flying skills these days on micros such as the Blade mCPx BL or Nano CPS and doing so very successfully. So I certainly do recognize them as very good options too and full well know 450's are not for everyone.
On the flip side, I also know people who even found 450's too small, and only started having collective pitch fun & success when they went to a larger machine.
In short, there is no "best size" for everyone to learn on.
If you are intimidated by the size and cost of a 450, micro CP's are an inexpensive way to be introduced into collective pitch provided you are not expecting too much out of them in terms of longevity.
Over and above the "disposable nature" of micros, they also all have short flight times and are hard to see at any distance. The benefit is they are very convenient for flying & practicing with in your own yard.
Once again, the best RC helicopter is the one that is right for YOU!
Yes, no matter how careful or good you are, you will need parts; either for repairs or maintenance.
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 again, is where getting into popular name brands or clones of 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. 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 time & 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're 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. You will also be much better versed in the "terminology" and be in a much better position to make an informed purchase decision.
The Beginner's Guide To Flying RC Helicopters is another helpful eBook, but is more focused toward true beginners. It covers all the various types of RC helicopters and is more of a general introduction to the hobby, whereas the Setup & Tips eBook is very topic specific on collective pitch.
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!