What role does radio-controlled flying have in GA?

At the Arlington Fly-In in July I bought a Blade Scout radio-controlled (RC) helicopter. It’s a beginner-level RC. It’s also an absolute blast to fly.

Horizon Hobby was the exhibitor. “We are trying to reach new markets, that’s why we are here in Arlington,” said Kim Payne from Horizon Hobby. “We’ll be at AirVenture as well.” Both displays were packed with people every time I happened by.

“Trying to reach new markets.” Now where have I heard that before?

Looking at Horizon’s “Ready-To-Fly” airplanes, I see a number of familiar names. Champ, Super Cub, P-51 Mustang, T-34 Mentor, F4U Corsair and more.

Zipping around my back yard with my Blade Scout, I got to wondering what role RC-flying plays in the greater aviation discussion. I certainly built model airplanes as a kid, and I remember my neighbors on Shady Acres (the airpark I grew up on) flying wire- and radio-controlled models. The state-of-the-art has certainly advanced from 30-years ago. Gone are the noisy, oily motors (at least at the entry-level), replaced by whisper quiet electric propulsion.

(Join more than 600,000 others who’ve seen Joe Smith fly a 120CC-powered RC on YouTube).

I imagine I’m not to only “full scale” pilot who gets a kick out of RC-flying.

Is RC-flying a launching point, a destination or a sub-set of flying? I imagine for some, it’ll launch a kid, or kid at heart, into a life-long pursuit of “full scale” flying. For others, RCs will be as far as they’ll go, and for people like me, it’ll keep the juices flowing in between “full scale” flight fixes.


  1. Mrpeters23 says

    I got flying in 1979 with RC and got my PPL in 1983.  I find that RC allows me to keep some basic motor skills active, such as being sensitive to wind over the wings, stall behavior, just the basics of aircraft stability.  I have had debates with airline pilots over the transference of skills. I think it’s a bit odd that they can spend hours in a sim and not think there is some carry over from RC to full scale. I really believe there is. The ability to judge airspeed, stall and landing just inches off the runway is the same.

    More importantly, I don’t fell the need to do anything stupid full scale because I’ve already gotten that out of my system with RC!   For instance, I forgot to preflight a model that I fly almost daily and the elevator was unhooked!  That was a wild 1 minute flight, but believe me, the importance of preflight even on a plane that you fly regularly was underscored!   Model landed fine, but even that was good practice in keeping your cool and flying the plane with whatever you have.  Not to mention all the fun of aerobatics, soaring and just boring holes in the sky with a home built model you designed, or a model of a EAA home built you would love to build but don’t have the resources too.  I’ll never own a RV-9, but I have one in my RC hangar.

    Another thing about RC…. we are also worried about youth.  The Lindbergh factor is true in RC too.  We have a whole generation that is largely gone who were inspired by Lindbergh to dream of flight.   The next generation caught that excitement as they grew up during WWII and everyone wanted to be a member of the Air Corps.  Now the next generation, the boomers, didn’t experience that at all.  Flight was just something they grew up with.  The previous generations loved to build models, saw the adventure and the beauty of flight for what it was.  Now we have to realize that those times are gone.  The average age of RC and full scale tilts toward grey hairs and thinking that great music ended with the Beatles, Beach Boys and the Stones. There isn’t much of a follow through with the younger folks. RC, full scale, churches, PTA… there are a lot of things that we held as important that are fading into a niche.

    So, let us raise a toast to anything that keeps the eyes to the skies. Anything that is aviation oriented is wonderful. I don’t think RC pilots are anything less than we who crawl into our planes on a VFR day and fly a few times around the pattern. I look down from Snohomish’s Harvey Field and there is a RC field down in the valley near the power lines.  I salute you follows down there, holding the transmitters and enjoying the evening as much as I do overhead.  It’s all wind over the wings. 

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