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Radio control now and then

R/C Now and Then

It’s been almost 30 years since I was first been bitten by the aeromodeling bug. Every once in a while I think back to my early days and the changes that have taken place in the hobby since then. Even though gravity is still just as relevant and you still need to move sticks with your thumbs and fingers to control the aircraft, much has changed about this hobby since the mid 1980’s.

Here are a few comparison and contrast between the way things were back then to the way they are now.

Then

If you wanted a new airplane there were three basic ways to get one. 1) Build it from raw materials yourself. 2) Have somebody else build it for you. 3) Buy one already built by a fellow modeler. Most planes at that time were built from kits, and hobby shops were stocked with dozens of them. For those unfamiliar with kit building here’s what the average kit included: A set of plans, a bunch of random sized sticks and maybe some complementary items such as a cowl, canopy, wheel pants, landing gear etc. Thats it!

Many of the balsa pieces in a kit, like the wing ribs, were die cut. The builder had to carefully harvest the parts from the balsa sheet and clean up the edges to make it fit with other pieces. The quickest, most skilled builders were lucky to turn that box of sticks in to a flight ready plane with two weeks of steady building. Many guys would forgo the kit and just scratch build. (Buying plans then go shopping for the raw materials.)

Now

Only a small handful of modelers build any more. Even though kits have improved with the introduction of laser cut pieces, (What a tremendous improvement that is) Kits have become scarce. Go into a hobby shop today and you will be lucky to find a kit anywhere in the place. ARF’s (Almost Ready to Fly) planes are the only ones you will find.

ARF’s coming off an assembly line in China giving the modeling community 90% complete airplanes have transformed this hobby, some say for the better some say for the worst. In my opinion it brings people into the hobby that don’t have the aptitude, the tools or the desire to build and just want to fly. Time is the biggest ARF bonus as even a neophyte can have a well built, flight ready plane in just a few hours.

The reasons are numerous why even those who like to build got away from it. For the most part its because it has become difficult to find the latest and greatest planes in a kit because they are only available in an ARF.  It also does not help the cause when its often cheaper to buy an ARF than it is to buy all the raw materials to build the plane yourself. How crazy is that?

***

Futuba FG series radio

Then

Radio systems were pretty reliable by time I got into the hobby. Most guys were using transmitters with AM frequency modulation. FM was available but was still fairly new and not widely used. A seven channel transmitter was considered an upper end model yet it still functioned like a basic entry level analog radio of today. If a modeler had five flyable airplanes he likely had five transmitters.

Also the 72 MHz section reserved for aeromodeling (in the US), was divided only into twelve frequencies.

Now

The aeromodeling 72 MHz, band is now divided into fifty channels but who really cares any more now that we have 2.4 GHz? Even those still flying on the 72 band have reaped major benefits of 2.4 because there is now very little competition for those 50 frequencies.

The majority of transmitters sold today have more computing power than an Apollo spacecraft. Today’s radios are capable of an infinite number of programming combinations, mixing and flight modes. A modeler can program multiple aircraft into a single transmitter, covering all of the planes he owns and even those of his buddies if he wanted to.

***

Then

A .90 size airplane with a wing span of about 72 inches was considered a big plane. As for giant scale “Quarter scale” was pretty much the standard. Two stroke glow engines were the power plant of choice, even for a quarter scale plane. Four stroke glow engines existed but the use was rare. Gasoline engines were also being used but the power to weight ratio didn’t make them a very good choice for R/C. Propulsion for jets was provided by way of a ducted fan, which in turn was powered by… you guessed it, a two stroke glow engine.

Now 

A .90 size airplane is now average size. Giant scale planes are referenced by the percentage of their full scale counterpart. “Quarter scale” is now known as a 25% plane and that size barely enters the realm of “giant scale”. Due to the increased reliability and performance of other power plants, the two stroke glow engine has greatly fallen out of popularity behind; four stroke glow, electric and gasoline engines. Ducted fans have been pretty much demoted to powering small foam electrics jets. The big jets have been modernized to actual Jet-A burning turbine engines. This modern marvel still amazes me.

***

Then

Electric powered planes were something to read about in magazines. Electric power just wasn’t worth considering to the average modeler due the rudimentary electronics, extreme weight of the batteries, low run time and high cost.

Now

Electrics are every where. The technology around electric powered flight has moved at lighting speed in recent years. Not only has this opened up new aspects of the hobby such as indoor, micro flight and park flyers. Electric motors can be found powering everything including giant scale. The cost of an electric power system is quickly becoming very comparable to glow and gas of equal power. Electric flight is radically changing the landscape of R/C.

***

Then

If you wanted to learn about R/C you either did so by hanging out at the field, hanging out at the hobby shop or reading R/C magazines from the newsstand. The ONLY way to learn how to fly an R/C plane was by pointing one down the runway and advancing the throttle.

Now

Anything and I mean ANYTHING regarding R/C is available to anybody with access to the internet. Because of the good ole net, information is being spread around the world at a blistering pace. On Monday a guy shares his idea and by Friday not only have thousands of modelers have incorporated that idea, but it has been improved on many times over.

Another positive the personal computer has brought to R/C is the Flight Simulator. Flight simulators have opened a whole new world, as guys can practice new maneuvers and push the conventional limits of pilot skill before risking an actual model.

A quick note about flight simulators. If you are wanting to learn to fly they are a great tool for shorten the learning curve but they fall short of completely preparing a beginner for the real deal. Sims lacks a button to make your knees shake and palms sweat.

“A flight simulator teaches a beginner to fly an R/C airplane about as well playing with a Barbie teaches you how to score on a date.”  Unknown

***

Then

A guy was considered a very good pilot if his inventory of maneuvers included names like; rolling circle, Lomcevak, point rolls, slow roll, knife edge.

Now

A guy is considered a very good pilot if his inventory of maneuvers includes names like; Water Fall, Rolling Harrier, Wall, Hover, Blender, Knife edge snap roll (3-D maneuvers). Not to take anything away from the guys flying Pattern or IMAC because those disciplines require a true mastery of skills, however “3-D” is the new benchmark for being very good pilot.

There are PLENTY of other contrasts that can be made between now and then but I think this covers the big ones, showing the new generation of modelers how easy they have it these days with all this newfangled equipment. Now get off my lawn!

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