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Thumbs or Fingers - What is the best way to fly R/C

Thumbs or Fingers

R/C transmitter, thumbs vs. fingers

How do you hold the transmitter sticks? Are you just thumbs flyer or do you use the index finger and thumb also know as the pinch method or fingers (which is term we’ll use for this article)?  This discussion consistently comes up on various internet message boards spawning world wide debates. Which method is better, thumbs or fingers?

Deliberation often gets quite lengthy as each side extols the virtues of the method they use. When all is said and done whenever pilots are polled, the results end in a fairly even split. Some times thumbs win by a small margin, sometimes pinchers do and it doesn’t matter whether it’s airplane or helicopter flyers the results are always the same.

Invariably during these discussion, at least one person will state they fly a certain way because they saw [pick a name] top pilot fly that way. Well amongst the guys that win prize money by making R/C planes and helicopters sing and dance, a little bit of research shows they are fairly even split too. The top pilots that reportedly fly thumbs only, include Chip Hyde, Jason Shulman, Quique Somenzi and Bill Hempel. On the other hand Mike McConville, Andrew Jesky, and Jason Noll supposedly are finger pilots. So no matter which method you use, you’re in pretty darn good company.

Quite often finger flyers state they started out using just thumbs and later switched. It’s understandable why most people start this hobby using just thumbs. Picking up a typical transmitter, one will quickly notice the ergonomics simply favors the thumb flyer; it just feels that’s the way it’s intended to be used. A neophyte R/C’er just does what seems natural, unless they are told otherwise and most instructors let beginners grip the sticks with which ever method they instinctively use.

For the pros however, one pro thumber said, “it typically goes back to when they started flying. If they started under the age of 10 young hands seem to produce thumb fliers as transmitters are too hard to handle for small young hands”. Hey when you’re winning contest every other weekend why change right?

Regardless of how big your hands are, the typical transmitter is simply a bit awkward to fly with fingers. Finger flyers must rotate the wrist more to the top of the transmitter and in doing so simply makes it difficult to hold the Transmitter with the remaining fingers. This is the reason why many beginners, when shown the pinch method, will opt for thumbs because they have a hard time finding a comfortable position for their wrist. It stands to reason when the individual is having a hard time just keeping the plane in the air, it’s instinctive to remove any awkwardness from the mix. Although it has been noted, beginners that use fingers are less likely to over control… A major plus in my book.

So the question is: if a transmitter design favors the thumb flyer and most people start that way why would any one switch? The number one reason given was better precision. Those that switched say their stick movement was more controlled which provided smoother flight and a better command of the plane. One individual even reported a huge leap of contest scores flying Pattern competitions after switching to fingers.

More control is a pretty big advantage so what keeps the rest from switching? Several reasons actually. Number one objection is, “it just feels too awkward”. Other reasons included limited mobility and quickness getting the sticks to the corners. Although those that did switch did say they felt many of the same restrictions at first but persevered and within a few weeks confidently adopted the new style.

So the question now is; as an R/C pilot would you be better flying thumbs or fingers and should you switch? In part 2 well explore those questions.

Thumbs vs. Fingers – Part 2


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  1. I think it has to do with pc/console players, pc users are more precise with their fingers (Wasd am-i right?) And console users are more precise with their thumbs (analog stick).
    I am a PC player and i use pinch

    • Intersting observation. I will definately neeed to take your word on that because I’m not nor never had been a gamer. Did do Wii bowling a few times.

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