by John Salt - Updated November 2021
Deciding on the best RC Helicopter can be a daunting task.
Your Experience, your Budget, the Size of Your Flying Area & the Amount of Time & Passion you are willing to dedicate to your New Hobby are the main deciding factors.
Most RC helicopter advertisements are confusing with information and technical terms that only an experienced RC heli enthusiast would understand.
We'll go over these items, and explain their operation and limitations while pointing out the marketing nonsense you'll run across, to help you make 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 someone's 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...
My goal 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 as an instructor to friends & students. 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 may end up disliking.
If there truly was a "best RC Helicopter" we would all be flying the same thing. That of course is not the case; all have pros, cons, and compromises.
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 collective pitch (also called 3D) 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 current top recommendations are the Blade 70 S, Esky 150 V2, and of course - the Heli 101.
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 sides 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 RC helicopters have, nor do they have the ability to fly inverted. They are all rather small making it hard to see them when flying at any distance outdoors and forget about flying them in any sort of wind.
This is where the more complex, interesting, and performance
minded collective pitch birds (CP) or (3D), come into the mix.
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 collective pitch RC helis, and are willing to put in the time & practice 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. Just like full size aviation where you are constantly honing your skills.
Still with me? Now we really start diving deep into best RC helicopter rabbit hole.
"Don't I have to learn on a fixed pitch micro, coaxial, 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, coaxial or quadrotor heli first before getting into collective pitch.
As an instructor, almost everyone I've taught has 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.
Lets 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/3D RC helicopters are different.
You can get a fairly high performance 3D RC 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 3D 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 are 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 larger (bigger than 250 size) collective pitch birds with fixed pitch, brushed electric motor tail rotors (especially ones with gear reduction).
They are rotten to fly & learn on!
Why? They simply don't react fast enough (both in acceleration & deceleration rates) to correct for the ever-changing, at times violent reactive torque loads from the the main rotor.
In short they have very poor tail hold (how well the tail rotor holds the heli perfectly still along the yaw axis).
They also have poor tail authority (how well & equal the tail rotor produces thrust to yaw/turn the helicopter in both directions). These tail hold & tail authority factors are even more critical when first learning to hover & fly an RC helicopter.
If you don't have a solid tail hold, tail rotor control is vague and twitchy
at best causing constant tail blow out, leading to disorientation and a crash. On top of that, brushed tail motors like these 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 exceptions to this rule and that is with the newer class of micro & small sized collective pitch helicopters that have small direct drive coreless or better yet, brushless tail motors such as the Blade 230S, Blade Nano, Eachine E180, Eachine E150, XK K110, OMPHobby M2 & OMPHobby M1 to name several of the more popular ones.
Micro and small RC helicopters like these are small and light enough that the fast accelerating and decelerating direct drive coreless & brushless tail motors can keep up to the everchanging rotor torque.
They produce good tail hold & authority, don't burn out on a monthly basis and with a low parts count, are not maintenance intensive.
I demo how good the "direct drive brushless tail hold" is in the video below on the OMP Hobby M2 EXP review I did.
Tail hold is as good as a variable pitch tail rotor that we find on larger RC helicopters. Tail authority is almost as good.
As you saw, brushless tail motors really are the superior/best option if you are looking at any smaller RC helicopter with a fixed pitch motorized tail rotor. They work well from about 120 size up to 250's or so. Anything much bigger than a 250-300 size machine however, I highly recommend using a proper variable pitch tail rotor.
Fixed pitch vs. variable pitch tail rotor type likely doesn't make much sense to you right now, but it will after you are into this hobby for a while. If you want to understand tail rotors more, the fundamental differences & pros/cons of these two types of tail rotor design, 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 & stabilization 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.
Yes - I'm hopelessly biased towards 450/325 size helicopters (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. I also enjoy instructing with this size more than most others.
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 still consider 450 size machines a good starting size to learn on. That of course doesn't mean you will as well.
Micro CP helis are more stable than ever thanks to improvements in electronic stabilization. Helicopters like the aforementioned:
Micro's like these are low cost and rather "crash proof" because of their low weight and low energy release when they hit something.
Many more newbies 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 somewhat twitchy and reactive micro collective pitch heli, you'll be able to fly any size RC helicopter. So I certainly do recognize
as excellent options too, and full well know 450's are not for everyone.
It's hard after all 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 nearly 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; tossing in the self learning towel and getting an instructor's help teaching them on a larger machine.
In short, there is no "best size heli" for everyone to learn on.
If you're intimidated by the size and cost of a 450, or you have limited space, or been "grounded" by many RC fly restrictions; micro CP's are a fun & inexpensive way to be introduced into collective pitch provided you are not expecting too much out of them in terms of flight time, longevity, wind handling & easy to see at distance (bright colored canopies really help).
The benefit is they are very convenient for flying & practicing in your own yard safely, and are not at all intimidating. Most are also under 250 grams which is the weight limit of many imposed RC flight restrictions in many countries.
The OMP Hobby M2 BNF, is another really good option to consider for learning collective pitch flying skills on without breaking the bank. It's a wonderful flying little heli that actually "flies bigger" than it is. Meaning it reacts and behaves more like 450 size helicopter - even larger in some respects. One of the best RC helicopters in this size segment, if not the best!
It's spinning 175mm rotor blades and is about 400mm long (16 inches). Making it about 2/3rds the size of a 325/450 size heli, but around double the size of one of the micros. It's tough, has all the latest electronic stabilization help aids such as auto level, an outstanding brushless tail motor for best in class tail hold and authority. It can even handle a fair amount of wind.
Over and above all that, the OMP Hobby M2's use brushless direct drive main motors. There is no gearing to worry about or strip out. Just a wonderful amount of smooth & efficient power providing impressive flight times upwards of 8 minutes when setup & flown tamely. It also won't break the bank (up front & for parts & extra LiPo batteries).
If you feel 450 size is too big/expensive, yet don't want a micro; the OMP Hobby M2 EXP version or the V2 version are in my opinion two of the very best options to consider. So many people have successfully learned flying collective pitch on the OMP M2's.
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 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. No question, it's never been easier or more convenient to just order stuff online these days if you are not in a massive rush.
If you're self learning collective pitch, 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 enjoy 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, collective pitch / 3D RC helicopters are not for everyone.
They take a serious 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 an RC helicopter enthusiast for over 30 years now, and still learn something new almost daily! That's 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 or micro fixed pitch types of 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; collective pitch / 3D 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.