Beginners are likely to be greeted with arcane terms that sound like technical jargon while venturing into the world of RC helicopters. Some of these terms are used to describe the technology which defines the particular model that you may be interested in buying.
If you find yourself staring blankly wondering what each type of these helicopters does, then here’s some lowdown that helps you understand the main varieties and their features:
Skill level: Beginner
Conventional helicopters have one main rotor and one tail rotor to balance out the torque created by each other. A coaxial helicopter on the other hand has two main rotors that are stacked one above the other and spin in opposite directions, which nullifies the torque. These do not have a tail rotor and may also be called dual rotor helicopters.
Pros: Coaxial helicopters are easier to hover and subsequently, easier to fly. They require minimal assembly and come ‘ready to fly’ out of the box. For this reason, most beginner helicopters are coaxial.
Cons: However, due to the nature of the design and the two separate rotors which may produce different torques, these are not the easiest to control. A lot of times, you may watch it spin out of control and end up crashing your coaxial in your first flight itself. Also, advanced moves and maneuvers like banked turns are impossible to achieve with a coaxial helicopter. Having said that, the low price tag and the ease of hovering make these a great choice for an introduction to flying.
Fixed Pitch (FP) Electric
Skill level: Intermediate
Single rotor fixed pitch helicopters are the next level after coaxial helicopters and are also extremely popular. The reason behind this is that the pitch for the helicopter is controlled from the transmitter and this takes more than one channel. The multiple channels take more time to control and hence require more practice from the hobbyist. Eventually, more practice leads to better flying skills.
Fixed pitch helicopters are considered to be as close to true hobby-grade helicopters as it can get. The only caveat is that they do not have the collective pitch control to the main rotors which prevents them from attaining the altitude that collective pitch helicopters have.
Pros: Fixed pitch helicopters are the perfect upgrade from a coaxial helicopter which is very limited in its scope of maneuvers, altitude and turns. A fixed pitch helicopter uses the change in rotor speed to gain altitude or to descend. So, more the rotor power, the higher it can fly.
Cons: The tradeoff for relying on the main rotors is an unavoidable lag in the time these helicopters take to respond to the throttle stick movement. It is almost impossible to consistently maintain a constant height. Even if you do, it takes immense practice and flying skills to achieve this.
Collective Pitch (CP) Electric
Skill level: Advanced
Fixed pitch helicopters are succeeded by collective pitch helicopters, which are more advanced, cost higher, and are noticeably difficult to master. These are not for beginners and often take months of practice to fly correctly. However, once you do master the flying, you can easily perform some of the most insanely cool maneuvers and tricks that you will ever see!
They may be advertised as ready-to-fly. However, these are by no means as easy to control or fly as the first two categories of helicopters that we mentioned. It takes months to master how to co-ordinate the motor power, the yaw, the cyclic pitch control and most importantly, the collective pitch control.
Other Terms That You May Frequently Hear:
But those are not the only terms that may sound like gobbledygook to you, especially if you are new to RC helicopters. Here are some of the other terms that you may bump into.
- 2 Channel: The easiest way to describe a channel would be to think of it like a direction. So, a 2-channel helicopter will move upwards and downwards, the most basic directions of them all. Any other experiment that you try with it will end up on the wall in more than one piece. So, stick to it. Most beginner helicopters are 2-channel ones. Another control that you will need to master is the Yaw. Ever noticed a helicopter spin on its own axis like its drunk and imbalanced? That’s the Yaw for you.
- 3 Channel: Add the ability to move forward and backward to a 2-channel helicopter and you have a 3-channel heli. You can now control three basic movements. Up and down, forward and back and the Yaw. The Yaw will only need to be controlled when it starts spinning out of control. Once you stabilize it and hover it, the other two controls come into play.
- 4 Channel: Now you get into more serious turf where the pros play and show off their skills. A 4 channel helicopter adds the ability to bank. Now you can go side to side while your helicopter is going forward and this is considered by many as the rite of passage into adulthood in the RC world. You now have four types of movements to master. And while this sounds pretty easy, it is not easy by a long shot. However, most of the new 4-channel RC helicopters feature a gyroscope which takes the brunt of the controls and does a great job at it. Your banking moves will be more stable than ever. Before you attempt to fly one of these big boys, it is recommended that you get some hands on practice on a 3-channel helicopter. Once you do master the moves on these babies, you will be ready to show-off your cool moves to the world.
- Gyro Stabilizer: Keep an eye out for this word if you are new to RC helicopters and are out shopping. This is what controls the Yaw and keeps your helis from doing the Kopak in midair. Beginners should always buy a helicopter with a Gyro Stabilizer.
- Indoors and Outdoors: Most beginner coaxial helicopters are designed to be used indoors. These have small motors and extremely lightweight chassis. This means that even the slightest gust of wind will send it skittling across the room into the wall. Outdoor helicopters on the other hand are more suitable to be flown in your lawn. These are heavier than indoor helicopters but will most likely not sustain a strong gust of wind. On a mildly windy day, you can let it soar around the lawn though.
- IR and Radio Control: Some of the newer models that are being sold in the market are essentially IR or Infrared helicopters. They use Infrared to connect to the remote control much like a TV remote does. So, like a TV remote, the helicopter needs to be in the line-of-sight. Also, if you have a TV working in the same room, then get ready to experience some unexpected turbulence and possibly, even a crash. RC helicopters on the other hand use radio signals to communicate with the transmitter remote. Without getting too technical, IR = Indoor flying and RC = Indoor and Outdoor flying.