RC radios are very important. Other than your RC helicopter, the radio is the most important piece of equipment you will own. In fact; most RC heli pilots (I'm one of them) will say the radio is more important, at least once you progress to collective pitch RC helicopters.
After all, without a radio – there is no radio control. The radio basically puts you (or at least your commands) inside your model aircraft.
A good radio will serve you for years and computerized ones with model memory can be used for many models of aircraft from helis to fixed wing... In short, one radio for everything plus computerized radios are the only option if you want to properly setup your collective pitch heli - again why they are so important.
Without question, RC radios have changed more over the years than any other RC component. Better performance, more versatility, feature rich, and the best news... RC radios cost less now than they ever have.
This picture illustrates how radios have changed over the years. From left to right:
-Old analog FM
- First generation non computerized PCM
- Computerized 2.4GHz spread spectrum modulation
I actually feel a bit ill (I know I am not the only one) when I think of what I have spent on some of my RC radios over the years. They are basically obsolete now. Even my PCM computerized radio that I purchased just a few years ago is considered a dinosaur thanks to 2.4GHz
spread spectrum modulation
For those of you who are just getting into radio control – you don’t know how lucky you are and I am a bit jealous. RC radio gear is so good and so inexpensive these days – it makes justifying this hobby a piece of cake – a very sweet piece of cake.
Before we start getting into specifics, let’s first look at how a RC radio actually controls a radio controlled aircraft – specifically a helicopter.
The TransmitterThe ReceiverThe
The Receiver Battery and Wiring Harness
There are four basic components of all RC radio systems:
The transmitter is what you hold and use to control the aircraft with two joysticks, switches, and knobs.
Computerized radios will also have a LCD menu screen with additional switches for choosing and entering data.
The receiver, receiver battery, and servos are all inside your RC model. The receiver as the name suggests, receives the radio signals from the transmitter. It then converts these radio signals into electrical signals the servos understand.
The servos are small
devices that convert the
electrical signals from the
receiver back into mechanical
The receiver battery pack is used to supply power to the receiver and the servos. The switch harness is used to turn the power from the battery pack to the receiver on and off. Most switch harnesses also have a charging plug (the orange one) that is used to charge the battery.
If you fly smaller electric RC helicopters or airplanes, you will generally not require a receiver battery pack or switch harness. Most electric RC speed controllers that are used to control the motor speed of the heli or airplane also provide a regulated voltage output to power the receiver, servos, and gyro.
In effect, the speed controller is tapping into some of the power from the main battery pack and conditioning that voltage to run your onboard radio system. No receiver battery pack results in a substantial weight savings, and the small amount of power that is used by the on board radio systems is negligible compared to the many amps the motor draws.
Larger electric models will have dedicated receiver battery packs since there is so much load already placed on the main battery pack from the very high amperage loads drawn from the motor (over 100 amps in some cases).
Pretty basic right... The radio converts the movement from your hands into radio signals. These radio signals are then received by the receiver and converted into an electrical signal and sent to the servos. The servos understand this signal and convert it back into movement – just as if you were inside your model.
This movement is proportional – in other words, if you only move the transmitter stick 30% on your radio, the servo will only move 30% (assuming you have no exponential rates enabled).
This is the very distinct difference in quality hobby grade RC radios over inexpensive RC toys. Most inexpensive RC toys don’t use proportional RC control; the signals are either on or off – full movement or no movement. It would be impossible to control any RC aircraft without the precise small and variable control movements provided by proportional commands.
The other big difference between hobby grade RC radios and a toy RC radio is the transmitter's power output. With this high transmitting power, you will loose sight of your RC model long before you are out of radio range. I get this exact question a lot when flying... “how far away can you control it”. If you can see it – you can control it is the answer.
What RC Radio System Should I Get?
With so many RC radio systems on the market, and so many features, how do you know what radio system is right for you? Just like choosing your
best RC helicopter
, choosing your best RC radio requires information and some research – I will give you a head start and what I would recommend.
Here are some of the many choices you will be faced with:
Brand (Futaba, Spektrum, JR, Hitec)
How Many Channels (2,3,4,5,6,7, or more)
What Type of Modulation (AM, FM, PCM, 2.4GHz Spread Spectrum Modulation
What Mode Type (Mode 1 or Mode 2)Standard or Computerized
Helicopter Radio or Airplane Radio
Helicopter Specific Features
such as: CCPM Modes, Throttle & Pitch Curves, Tail Rotor Compensation (also called revolution mixing), Remote Gyro Gain Adjustment, Throttle Hold, Idle Up, Invert Function
Other Features (LCD Displays, Digital Trims, Exponential Rates, Dual Rates, Model Memory, Servo Reversing, Servo Travel Adjustment)Type of
(analog, digital / standard, micro / speed, torque)
Don’t forget about the
– a very important and essential component for RC helicopters that works hand in hand with your radio system.
Holly Radio Gear Batman! So much to decide on and understand!
Relax - with radio systems these days, this list has been greatly simplified because most good computerized radios now come standard with many of the features listed above or technology has eliminated or made some features/choices obsolete.
As I said before, the very best news is that the new radio systems of today come with all these standard features at very reasonable prices. You can basically get a 6 channel computerized 2.4GHz radio with all the bells and whistles, way better performance and reliability for less than a very basic 4 channel AM airplane radio cost 25 years ago – wow!
Sure, there are one or two radios out there that cost over $2000 CND, but most average pilots who fly RC helicopters and airplanes will be spending in the $250 - $500 range on radio gear. This will give you a superb quality computerized radio system with all the features that most people will ever need or use and will never out grow.
The other great thing about computerized radios is you can use one radio for many different model aircraft. While this was partially true in the past, most of us had several radios because re-configuring your radio setup for each RC model was a pain in the butt, plus there were
helicopter specific radios
and airplane specific radios if you flew both types of aircraft.
With today's computerized radios, each RC model can be configured into the radio’s memory and it is a simple mater of choosing what model you are flying by just scrolling through the list you have programmed into the radio – helicopters, airplanes, gliders, and jets - one radio can handle all your RC models – even more added value.
Here is the best advice and recommendations I can give you regarding RC radios.
computerized radio that uses 2.4 GHz
modulation. It is the only choice you should consider in this day and age. No more interference issues and the prices have plummeted over the last little while.
You will have a powerful tool that provides features and freedoms that you will appreciate every time you fly – beginner to pro – your radio will become your best flying partner.
Here is my review on the Spektrum Dx6i
(the best value computerized RC radio on the market right now in my opinion).
I have also listed several good RC radio choices on the bottom of the
RC Helicopter Radios Page
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