You CAN SOAR!!
The first step is finding out what you're getting into. Flying RC sailplanes can be quite a commitment in both time and money. Keep this in mind as you go through these pages to make sure you get the most out of this rewarding hobby. A lot of information can be found in this guide but it does not cover everything. If you have a specific type of flying or sailplane style you want to try, look at what is required to fly it. Several beginner sailplanes are suggested at the end of this guide. If you don't want to start with the "real thing," check out one of the best R/C flying simulators available for your PC, RealFlight. In addition to a wide variety of sailplanes, it also offers plenty of heli and multirotor aircraft options for you to fly. This is a fun, safe, and worry-free way to learn how to fly R/C aircraft.
Find out what you're getting into. Many helpful books and DVDs are available about airplane modeling. Or, before attempting the "real thing," you can try your hand at one of the R/C flying simulators available for your PC. There are a number to choose from – one of the best is RealFlight! In addition to a wide variety of airplanes, it also offers plenty of heli and multi-rotor aircraft options for you to fly. If you prefer to fly with a "real" model first, check out the helpful Starter Sailplanes tab above.
Find an instructor.
There are many designated R/C aircraft flying clubs throughout the U.S. that are supported or chartered by the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA). Many of the clubs offer hands-on training and support for beginners and they're a great way to get started in the hobby. Find an AMA-chartered club near you and get started. https://www.modelaircraft.org/clubsearch.aspx
Let Tower Hobbies Help.
Tower Hobbies' Phone Sales Staff and Technical Support Staff give you access to 40+ of R/C modeling experience and information. Just call our toll-free number, 1-800-637-6050. We'll help you select the right sailplane!
Pick Your Power.
R/C aircraft are powered by many methods that differ in terms of cost and difficulty. Many planes use 2-stroke and 4-stroke engines that burn a methanol/nitro-methane/oil mixture called "glow fuel." For beginners, it is often easier to start with quiet and clean electric motors.
How much does it cost?
The cost of flying depends on your budget. R/C sailplanes often require fewer accessories and less maintenance, so they are often cheaper to purchase and run than R/C powered aircraft. We suggest starting off with an "RTF" or "Ready to Fly" model. These will include everything you need to get you in the air. Most beginner "RTF" sailplanes Tower Hobbies offers will cost around $100-$200.
How fast does a model go?
Most trainers and beginner RTFs usually cruise at 25-30 mph and can land at speeds as slow as 12-15 mph. However, there are also unmodified, off-the-shelf airplanes that can deliver speeds of up to 200 mph! We wouldn't recommend starting with the latter.
How far can a model fly?
The range for a modern R/C system is about a mile. But to maintain control, you need to have your model close enough to see what it is doing. Even a plane with a 6-foot wingspan looks tiny at half a mile. We recommend flying an airplane within your "LOS" or "Line of Sight".
Where Can I Fly?
There are many flying fields located throughout the U.S. that offer great services and facilities for beginners and experts alike. You can check for local sites close to you here. If you don't have a local flying site, please follow the federal, state, and local laws regarding model aircraft. A helpful website to learn how and where you can fly safely is Know Before You Fly. They also have maps that show where model aircraft flight is restricted.
Sailplanes can be excellent trainers. Often less complex and expensive than powered models, their stability and slow flight are perfect for beginners. R/C sailplanes can feature several different tail configurations. The conventional tail is recommended for new hobbyists. Most fall into one of two types:
Thermal Sailplanes ride on the continuous currents of warm air that rise from the land. They seem to float across the sky. Pilots must be able to detect invisible thermal currents and take advantage of them (rising warm air is often found over such terrain as freshly plowed fields and paved parking areas). With experience, pilots can keep their craft in the air for 15 minutes or even longer.
Slope Soarers get their lift from wind that rises when it meets a hill or upward slope. The lift lasts as long as the wind blows. Because they fly in stronger wind conditions, slope soarers are faster than thermal sailplanes, and the extra speed gives them excellent aerobatic capabilities.
Characterized by a standard rudder and a stabilizer mounted on the fuselage. Found on the majority of R/C sailplane kits, it's easy to build and works well.
Compromise between the conventional and T-tail, the mid-tail has many of the T-tail's benefits and is also easier to build.
Stabilizer is mounted at the top of the rudder, where it is less affected by the wake created when air flows over the model's wing. This design can be difficult to build.
Stabilizer is bent into an upward V shape, and there is no rudder. A radio with mixing capabilities is usually required.
Some sailplanes are better suited to first-timers than others. Look for a model in the 2-meter class that requires only 2-channels of control—preferably a Thermal Sailplane rather than a model designed for slope soaring. If you select a kit, choose one that's sturdy and comes with good building instructions. Like powered models, a sailplane will require some accessories, although the list is generally shorter.
Smallest sailplanes in the thermal category feature wings that span up to 59-60 inches and can be launched with a hand-toss. Such small models may require miniature radio equipment, which costs a bit more than standard size. Thus, you might prefer to start your R/C career with a 2-meter model.
Spanning 72 to 79 inches, these are the most accessible type of sailplanes for beginners. The added size gives them greater stability, and they will usually accept standard 2-channel radio equipment. Launching is best done with a hi-start or winch (explained later).
"Open Class" encompasses all sailplanes with wingspans exceeding 100 inches. Because of assembly difficulty and slow control response, they are not recommended for beginners. Like Standard Class models, however, they can carry a lot of additional weight for options - and are absolutely majestic in flight.
For easier launching and thermal chasing, some sailplanes are designed to include electric (battery powered) motors and propellers. The motor may be turned on and off during flight to power the sailplane from one thermal current to the next.