by John Salt - Updated February 2019
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.
The following in-depth best RC helicopter info on the other hand is not quick! It's for those of you who seriously want to put the time and effort 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...
It's not like most other "best RC helicopter" pages on the internet that have little substance, are short on useful information, and just link to products based on monitization potential over what's really best for you.
My goal on the other hand is to give you enough detailed 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 marketing junk that is "all show & no go"!
I will however mention several RC helis that I feel are among the better birds, sizes, & brands that I would recommend to friends and purchase myself. Let's get started...
Any advertisement 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 too many variables and compromises at play in this hobby and statements or lists like those are unrealistic and anecdotal at best.
They are generated by marketers, not RC helicopter enthusiasts!
These are all important questions to ask yourself when first getting into the hobby. Depending on the answers, a particular RC heli I, or others like, you very well could end up disliking.
If there truly was a "best RC Helicopter" we would all be flying the same thing.
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 based on those above points.
In short, they should first identify your needs & expectations -
The Very First Question For You...
Do you want an easy to fly RC Heli with more or less instant fun & 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...
Micro hobby grade fixed pitch RC helicopters are another consideration if you want a bit more of a challenge and not get bored as fast. My two current top recommendations are the Blade 70 S & Blade 120 S (links to reviews on both).
Why Blade over all the other brands?
I go over all the reasons in detail on my Blade helicopter page, but here's a quick run through...
The entry level, hobby grade, ready to fly (RTF) helicopters from Blade are a solid choice for the average person. The main reason for this is Blade has very good parts & customer support and decent overall quality for the price.
Blade helicopters and quadrotors are carried at most good hobby shops worldwide and also have respectable resale value because of how popular they are more so than any other entry level hobby grade RC helicopter brand.
popularity also means there is lots of help out there (off & online) if & when you
need it. A huge factor to take into consideration if you are self learning all this on your own.
Another completely different avenue to take is the quad copter (also known as quadrocopter, quadrotor, multi-rotor, and incorrectly "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, pretty easy to master in a short amount of time, and offer more or less instant fun.
The down side as I already touched on 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. Even basic ones can perform simple aerobatic flips and rolls, and of course there is the exciting world of quad-copter racing.
course, none of these "quads" are "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 RC fad is.
This is where the more complex, interesting, and performance
minded collective pitch birds (CP) come into the mix, such as those pictured above.
If you are the sort of person looking for an immensely rewarding hobby, want the type of control that real full size helicopters have, don't mind learning all about the complexities associated with single rotor collective pitch RC helis, and are willing to put in the time required; collective pitch is for you!
In other words, you can already appreciate that getting into collective pitch is more about the journey, than the destination. It's a never ending learning curve in other words.
Still with me? Now we really start diving deep into best RC helicopter rabbit hole.
I often get asked what brand/type of heli I first started on and what I fly now/what is best.
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; I talk about it on my RC Helicopter History page.
Fast forward a quarter century... Man I'm getting old!
Align Helicopters are my heli brand of choice (currently flying 6 of them
& a few Align T-Rex clones). Align gives you a lot of
collective pitch 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 & resale/desirability is good.
Out of all Align's helicopters, my three favorite to fly remain to be the larger Trex 600, 700, and the 800. Once most people fly larger RC helicopters like these, rarely do they find the smaller stuff as exciting, fun, and predictably stable.
There is a very common saying in this hobby "bigger is better". I go into detail why this is on my RC helicopter size page. With that said, those sizes are too large for most people to start with and self learn on - we'll get to "size" shortly...
If money was no object, other high end brands such as Avant, Compass, MSH, SAB Goblin, HD, KDS, Henseleit, Mikado, OXY, Synergy, Vario, and Velos 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 and its line of "Goblin Helicopters" pretty much leading the way as a high end and popular choice!
"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 before getting into collective pitch.
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.
They 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 first 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 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 fairly 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...
will have much more enjoyment and fun with a good quality collective
pitch heli and equipment because you can tailor the way it flies and responds exactly to your ability and how you like to fly. As you improve, your helicopter has equal potential. You won't quickly "outgrow" it in other words.
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, good quality, or even what's practical or efficient.
One such example of this we are seeing more and more of these days is multi-bladed rotor heads (more than two rotor blades) on entry level/low cost CP machines - pure marketing wank & hype!
For the scale crowd and for some specific areas of aerobatics, and after you know exactly what you are doing and are experienced, do GOOD QUALITY multi bladed heads have some merit, but that's it. Why?
* Assuming same blade size/profiles.
In short, many of the advantages flybarless technology gives us, are lost with multi bladed heads. This is truly where bad RC helicopter marketing BS is trying to sucker in the uniformed.
Collective pitch RC helicopters are complicated enough as it is, and I STRONGLY recommend beginners keep things as practical and as mechanically simple as possible when starting out.
Another IMPORTANT thing to stay away from is single rotor collective pitch birds with fixed pitch, brushed electric motor 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 so you're not constantly fighting the tail.
A fixed pitch brushed 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, brushed tail motors are under enormous strain and usually burn out quickly. Yep, I harp on this point constantly because I've wasted too much of my own time & money on them.
There are however exceptions to this rule and that is with the newer class of micro sized collective pitch helis that have small direct drive coreless or better yet, brushless tail motors such as the Align T-Rex 150X, Blade Nano CP S, Blade mSR S, Blade 130 S, or the XK K100.
These things are small and light enough that the fast accelerating and decelerating tiny coreless & 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 monthly basis.
Brushless tail motors really are the superior/best option if you are looking at any heli with a motorized tail. They work well from about 120 size up to 200's or so. Anything much bigger than a 200 size machine however, I highly recommend using a proper variable pitch tail rotor.
Much of this likely doesn't make much sense to you right now, but it will. If you want to understand tail rotors more, please see my torque & yaw page.
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, flybarless systems
with remote gains, flight mode selections, and rescue features, the radio is just as
important as the helicopter; much more so as far as I'm concerned. This applies to micro size CP's right up to the big beasts.
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, slick packaging, and eye candy (flashy colored anodized parts or multi-bladed rotor heads). 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 when first starting out such as Align, Blade, or SAB will enable you to get more help when you need it and better resale when you want to upgrade.
Yes - I'm impressed and somewhat biased towards 450 size electrics (using apx. 300 to 380mm long rotor blades). 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. Crashes won't bankrupt you either.
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 collective pitch 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 = Best Overall Value
To our delight, both Blade and Align have once again provided us with two great 450 size ready to fly (RTF) helicopter packages, perfect for beginners!
These two wonderful machines give the collective pitch newbie a couple decent 3S powered 450 size collective pitch heli options to learn on.
Some of us simply don't want to waste our time or money on smaller micro size collective pitch helis. Hats off to Align & Blade!
450 Kit Builds
First off, if you don't really know the difference between a kit build and ready to fly, my page on kits vs. RTF will answer your questions. It's pretty hard to know if you would rather get a kit over a ready to fly, if you don't know what's involved in the building process of a kit. It's not for everyone.
If however you like working with your hands and want to build a 450 from a kit - you have many more options than you do with RTF! You'll have a higher quality heli as well.
I still feel if you are self learning, with this being your first collective pitch heli, a ready to fly package is your best and most economical option.
If you want to entertain the kit build route however, here are a few of my personal favorites on the market right now in the 450 size range (300 mm blades up to about 380mm).
Another solid choice nowadays with the advent of tiny micro collective pitch helicopters like the aforementioned:
Micro's like these are low cost and rather "crash proof" because of their low weight.
I personally feel the larger 450's are still better to learn and progress on
since you can "grow" into them, they last longer, fly better, have longer flight times per charge, and are way more stable. In fact, even the
better quality micro's I still consider to be somewhat disposable little
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 and doing so very successfully. There is no question, if you can fly a twitchy micro collective pitch heli, you'll be able to fly any size. So I certainly do recognize them as very good options too, and full well know 450's are not for everyone.
It is after all hard to justify a $500+ purchase when you don't even know if you will like the hobby yet. Spending $100-$200 or so on a micro is not as risky.
On the flip side, I also know people who even found 450's too small and overly twitchy, and only started having collective pitch fun & success when they went to a larger machine.
In short, there is no "best size heli" 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 in your own yard, and are not at all intimidating.
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 (as I have touched on numerous times already), is where getting into popular name brands or clones of name brands 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.
More aftermarket parts are available as well with the big name birds, which can be very advantageous for customizing or finding a part that the dealer doesn't carry anymore.
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 & experienced RC heli pilots will be familiar with several brands of birds and ones they would recommend (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/experienced buddy 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's 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 heli purchase decision afterward.
I also love helping my eBook customers! So if you've purchased this or any other eBook of mine and have narrowed your list down to a few helicopters, but still not sure which might be the best choice, please feel free to contact me and I'll give you my friendly 2 cents worth ;-)
The Beginner's Guide To Flying RC Helicopters is another helpful eBook I offer, 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 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 learning how to fly them.
I've been at this for over a quarter century now, and still learn something new almost daily! That is why I'm helplessly hooked - I love that never ending learning curve aspect of the hobby.
If you don't have much free time and want near instant success or gratification; please stick with the ready to fly variety of toy, micro coaxial, micro fixed pitch, or quadrotor / drone type 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, and sticking with it for years all that more fun!