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The popularity of radio controlled model airplanes has exploded in recent years. You can find RC model airplanes for sale in most toy and sporting goods stores. There is no shortage of complete packages on the market that sell for less than $50, though I do not necessarily recommend these bottom drawer systems.

The process for learning to fly model helicopters properly is very similar to what I describe here, but I will be focusing on airplanes.

Learning to fly RC is not hard, but there are right ways to do it and wrong ways to do it. Too many times I have seen a young man by himself at a local park trying to teach himself how to fly. That is the wrong way. It quickly leads to crashed airplanes and frustration. A much better approach is the one I outline here.

Local Hobby Store

Before you do anything else, find yourself a local hobby store. They specialize in helping out beginners such as yourself. They don’t bite, and they will respect your budget by not steering you to equipment you cannot afford. Their prices are very competitive, and the advice is well worth any small price premium. Just make sure you are speaking with somebody that knows about model airplanes. Hobby stores carry products for many different hobbies such as RC cars and model rockets. If they have a reasonable selection of model airplanes in stock, there is guaranteed to be somebody on staff that understands them.

There is an important side benefit to visiting a local hobby store first. They are very likely to have an RC flight simulator running for you to play with. Try it out! Expect to crash a lot at this early stage, but you will get enough of a taste of RC flying to see how you like it.

Local Model Airplane Club

Next, find yourself a local model airplane club. Ask at the hobby store. They should know. Clubs are invaluable sources of information. If you go to their flying field you will get to see first hand the different types of model airplanes that the club members like to fly.

When you join the club you will probably be asked to also join a national model airplane association. In the United States, this organization is called the Academy of Model Aeronautics, commonly referred to as the AMA. With your membership you normally get a nice magazine. When the first issue arrives, read it. You will learn a lot.

In the United States a very important benefit from joining the AMA is accident insurance. Most clubs won’t let you fly from their field without being an AMA member because of this. Be smart. Join your national model airplane association. Joining the club and national organization will set you back from $50 to $100.

Flight Instructor

Clubs always have assigned flight instructors ready, willing, and able to help you out. Make use of them! As long as you are polite and eager to learn, they will be very happy to teach you the ropes.

A lot of clubs have trainer airplanes for members to use with an instructor. They also have trainer cables to hook up two RC controllers. Sometimes this is called a buddy box system. Then the instructor can easily take over from you in case you get in trouble. This is a tried and true way to learn to fly RC.

RC Flight Simulator

A great alternative to learning to fly with an instructor at a club is by using an RC flight simulator. If you don’t have an instructor with a trainer airplane and trainer cable, it makes absolutely no sense to try and teach yourself how to fly using a physical airplane. The simulators are a lot of fun and very realistic. If you can control the model airplane in the computer, you can control a real one.

Don’t confuse a PC flight simulator with an RC flight simulator. PC flight simulators, like Microsoft Flight Simulator and X-Plane, are primarily for simulating full-size airplanes. You want a product that comes with an RC controller and is optimized for teaching you how to fly radio controlled model airplanes.

To get the most value out of these RC simulators, you have to fly the simulated model airplanes as if they were real model airplanes. Always begin and end each flight with a proper take off and landing. The biggest mistake that I see people making is to act like they are playing a video game. They do stupid things while they fly and every flight ends in a crash. All they are doing is learning bad habits.

Great Planes Real Flight Basic

There are two RC flight simulators on the market that I recommend. The first is called Real Flight Basic from Great Planes. It only costs about $100 and it comes with everything you need. The package contains a decent RC controller and enough simulated airplanes (about 50) and flying fields to keep you entertained for a long time.