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Fact Sheet

Building and Flying Model Airplanes



Building and flying model airplanes can be a lot of fun. It attracts many different types of people, from children through retirees. It can be a great way to relax, or it can be a great way for parents to spend some time outdoors together with their children.

There are many aspects of the hobby. Some people just enjoy flying. Others enjoy building the models. You can really do either one or both. Most flying today is done by radio remote control. The cost of the radio gear has gotten low enough that it is the most popular activity. Other planes are controlled by a pair of control lines and flown in a circle, while others are free flight. Most are powered by either gas or electric motors, but gliders are popular too. Since gas powered radio control is the most popular, the rest of this discussion is centered around it.

A basic airplane for a beginner is called a trainer. It usually has the wing mounted on top of the fuselage. It is powered by a small engine which runs on "glow fuel" which is a mixture of alcohol and oil. This engine is a very simple 2 cycle type engine. To start it, you temporarily heat the glow plug with a battery and "turn it over". This can be done by hand with a stick, or with a simple hand-held electric starter. Once running, the heat from the engine keeps the glow plug glowing. A small battery in the plane powers a radio receiver. The receiver receives the control signals from the transmitter in the pilot's hands, and drives small servo motors which move the control surfaces of the airplane. A typical 4 channel radio controls the rudder, elevator, ailerons and throttle. The range on the radio is well beyond the comfortable sight range. There are 50 radio channels allocated to model aircraft.

Learning to fly is not that hard. In the beginning, an instructor will take you up with a trainer cord connecting your transmitter to his. Once the plane is up high enough, your instructor will begin by flipping a switch on his transmitter which will transfer control of the plane to you. If necessary, the instructor can regain control just by letting go of that same switch. This prevents crashes during the training period. Also, there are several simulator software packages. These enable you to practice "flying" on your computer. Of course, crashes are a lot easier to fix when they are done on the computer.

Getting into the hobby is pretty easy. The basic airplane is fairly inexpensive. Kits are available which have most of the required parts. A typical kit for a beginner (high wing trainer with a 60 inch wingspan) costs around $70. An assembled version of the plane (called and ARF- Almost Ready to Fly) would be around $150. The engine for that type of plane (.40 cubic inch) is typically $65 also. A radio setup (transmitter, receiver and servo motors) costs around $160. That covers a good basic plane. A flight box is a nice accessory to store fuel, an electric starter and tools. A flight box with an electric starter and glow plug power is about $100.


A good outfit with all the accessories might be as follows:

Airplane Hobbico Flightstar 40 ARF $150

Engine K&B .40 with muffler $65

Radio Futaba FM 4NBF w/4 servos $160

Flight Box Hobbico (with electric starter, 12V battery,

Power Panel, glow clip and fuel pump) $120

Misc. Propellers, glow plugs, fuel $25

Total Cost: $520

Of course, it's possible to get into the hobby for a lot less money, or you could spend a lot more. Good used equipment is always available. Your local hobby shops and clubs can usually help you find something. Many times you can negotiate a "package deal" if you're buying everything at once.

Once you have your equipment, you will need to join the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA). This is a national organization which promotes the hobby and publishes a monthly magazine. In a more practical sense, it also provides each member with liability insurance. Most local clubs require AMA membership as a pre-requisite to join. AMA membership costs $48 per year. Most local clubs charge approximately $100 per year in dues. This covers rental of a flying field and maintenance (mostly grass cutting).

The Islanders Model Airplane Club is a non-profit group dedicated to flying all types of model aircraft. We fly at a field located in Rocky Point, DHMA. New members are welcome to join. The dues are $25 per year.

Some key contacts are as follows:


Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA)


(800 I FLY AMA)


Action Hobbies


1070 Middle Country Road, Selden


Larry's Hobbies


3021 Jericho Turnpike

East Northport, NY 11731