Electric Helicopters continue to experience the strongest growth segment in the RC helicopter hobby right now.
This of course is due to better battery, motor, and micro electronic technology that was not available even a few years ago. For all the reasons outlined in the Best RC Helicopter Power section, growing popularity will continue.
If you don't think electric RC helicopters have caught up to nitro in terms of performance? Watch Bert put Align's T-Rex 700E through the paces (same size as a larger 90 sized nitro powered bird) - Very Impressive!
It wasn't that long ago swore I would never fly an electric hobby grade single rotor collective pitch RC helicopter, but once I did, I am now hooked on electric flight. This seems to be a very common and easy conversion for many of us die hard nitro people - I know so many nitro folks who have jumped on the electric bandwagon.
My personal favorite thing about electric helicopters is the noise they produce (watch that Trex 700 video and you'll know what I mean). The quiet electric motor allows you to hear the rotor blades beating the air molecules into submission. In fact, larger birds like the 600's, 700's, and 800's sound somewhat similar to a turbine powered RC heli making them more and more popular for scale RC helicopter applications. Not dealing with messy nitro goo, engine starting & tuning hassles, excessive vibrations, starters and glow drivers, or shipping costs associated with nitro fuel is so nice. Yes, LiPo battery shipping is starting to become a hassle as well, but it's still much easier than shipping nitro fuel. Electric RC helicopters are simply more convenient and more reliable in most cases.
This is a transitional time in the RC aircraft hobby right now. RC electric helicopters and planes are getting better and better. Flight times are equal to or even longer than on nitro and gas models. Some electric RC Helis and planes are getting 15 - 20 minute flight times on a single battery charge, and are showing up in very large models.
The introduction of electric
toy RC helicopters
micro coaxial RC helicopters
is introducing a whole new group of people to this wonderful hobby. Moreover, all the new quad and multi rotor RC heli designs are only possible because of electric power. To
say the future looks bright for electric RC aircraft is an
The size spectrum for RC electric helicopters continues to grow.
At the small end of the spectrum there are models like E-flite's Blade mCX2 with a rotor diameter of just over 7 inches.
On the large end, there are RC helicopters such as Bergen's e-Observer EB electric RC helicopter with a main rotor diameter approaching 80 inches (2000 mm) and weighing in at 20 pounds. This is a commercial grade heavy lift platform for video/photography applications and just goes to show that electric helicopters are now rivaling gas and turbine in size and performance.
One of the most popular size hobby grade single rotor collective pitch electric RC helicopters right now are the 400 class/size electrics (around 700mm rotor diameters). They are large enough to be a good trainer right up to 3D flight, but small enough to be relatively inexpensive to purchase, operate, and repair.
The overall design of hobby grade single rotor collective pitch electric helicopters is no different than that of nitro or gas. The controls and construction are exactly the same. In fact, several manufactures offer the same model helicopter kit in both electric versions and nitro versions, or supply electric conversion kits. The only differences of course are having an electric motor instead of a nitro or gas engine, a battery pack/s in place of a gas tank, and an electronic speed controller (ESC) in place of a throttle servo.
As I indicated earlier there are three reasons electric RC helicopters have caught up to the performance of nitro helis and are poised to surpass them in some areas:
Electric RC Heli Brushless Motor Electric RC Heli ESC
Without these three technologies, electric RC helicopters would remain small with poor performance.
As LiPo batteries continue to come down in cost, the NiMH and NiCad type battery packs have pretty much been completely phased out other than on the cheapest and smallest electric powered RC helicopters. LiPo's packs are used in pretty much every helicopter now (or LiFe - another form of lithium rechargeable chemistry).
That perhaps was true a number of years ago when LiPo batteries were grossly expensive but this is certainly no longer the case. This is a good question however so let's look a little deeper.
Electric flight can get expensive if you want to be flying back to back flights between battery charges because you will need several packs and on bigger birds, it's not hard to have as much or more invested in LiPo packs as you have in the heli. Computerized LiPo chargers are also required so that adds to the costs; however you never have to purchase fuel again and nitro fuel is pricey as well. Pay now or pay later... In the long run, you will generally be money ahead in operating costs with electric over nitro fuel - even with the bigger birds.
Case and point... My Trex 700E (seen below & currently one of my larger electric RC helicopter) requires two 5000mAh 6S LiPo packs wired in series per flight. I have one dozen (12) LiPo packs for that bird so I can get 6 back to back flights between charges. As a result I have almost as much invested in LiPo batteries as the whole heli is worth. Sounds expensive when you look at it that way, but when you break it down to cost per flight the numbers get really attractive.
If I treat my LiPo's with the care they deserve, I should be be able to get at least 1800 flights out of those 6 pairs of packs over their life span (assuming 300 charge/discharge cycles on each pack - a normal life span with proper care). So that works out to about 66 cents a flight or so. Let's be cynical here and say I treat my LiPo's harshly and half their life span, we are now looking at $1.32 a flight. A Trex 700 Nitro on the other hand burning up a 4L jug of $30.00 dollar nitro fuel in as little as 8 flights works out to about $3.75 a flight - the proof's in the pudding as the saying goes.
Don't let those ugly $ numbers scare you off; those examples are
using one of the larger electric RC helicopters on the market and
comparing it to a large nitro of the same size.
Smaller electric birds don't use expensive packs like that and you can purchase a half dozen or so LiPo's for a very reasonable price. Most folks spread it out over several purchases as well.
I certainly didn't purchase 12 5000mAh 6S packs all at once, a few here and there over the course of a year or so, but now I'm covered for many flights.
The reason I am so impressed with most of E-flite's/Blade's stuff is all the new models use DSM2 spread spectrum modulation. Meaning that they can all be controlled with any good Spektrum/JR DSM2/X radio (this system is called Bind-N-Fly - BNF). This saves time and money - two things most of us are short on these days.
You can also find Blade parts at almost every hobby shop in the
world. As you know, parts availability is one of the most important
criteria I place on choosing a good heli.
Check out the entire line of Blade RC Electric Helicopters at Red Rocket Hobbies to learn more about them and why they are so good for your first steps into RC helicopters.
Once you progress in this hobby or want to start out with a higher quality bird off the bat - Align's Trex electric helicopters offer the best quality for the price in my opinion. Here is my full write-up on Align Helicopters if you are interested in learning more about them.
From the small Trex 150 to the large 800E, Align's parts and components in all their kits are top notch and offer great value (obviously why I now fly three Trex 600's, a 700E, an 800E, and a 250. Once again just like Blade, Align's parts availability and pricing are outstanding.
Electric helicopters are a compromise between size, power, performance, and flight times - in the years to come, those compromises will fade substantially - in fact, they already have. I only have one nitro heli left in the fleet and I haven't flown it in almost two years now compared to the hundreds of flights on my electrics. Yep, I'm one of those old nitro guys who has be been converted - 100%!