Which cheap RC plane is best?
Drones may get all the press these days, but countless kids and adults have found remote controlled planes to make a fun and rewarding hobby for decades. In the past, it was a tough hobby to break into, requiring lots of money and time and a relatively significant amount of know-how when it came to mechanical issues. With the popularity of compact, battery-powered drive systems, RC flying is now accessible to all.
If you want a high-quality plane that doesn’t cost much but still provides a fun and educational experience for beginners, the Top Race Sky Eagle TR-C385 is the choice for you, with comprehensive controls, a light weight and surprising durability.
What to know before you buy a cheap RC plane
The Federal Aviation Administration has laid out a specific set of rules outlining how to safely and legally enjoy your recreational unmanned aircraft. These guidelines make it clear just who is considered a recreational pilot and how and where they’re allowed to fly for fun.
Keep in mind that RC flying is only considered recreational if it’s entirely for your own enjoyment. For example, producing videos for a monetized YouTube channel would not be considered recreational piloting, nor would flying a drone over a house to diagnose roof problems as a general contractor.
As long as you’re only flying for fun, the rest of the rules are pretty straightforward. You need to avoid flying over 400 feet in most types of restricted airspace while respecting the same no-fly zones (such as over military property) that other commercial pilots maintain. Some obvious rules exist concerning flying near places like airports, and it’s important to stay on top of local regulations, such as laws restricting drone use at parks, monuments and tourist areas. Also, while it might be common sense, it’s worth mentioning that flying an RC plane or drone in an aggressive or violent manner or interfering with other aircraft in any way are also prohibited.
Bind-and-fly vs. ready-to-fly RC planes
It’s important to pay close attention to whether an RC plane package is marketed as a bind-and-fly system or a ready-to-fly system. BNF packages let advanced pilots mix and match components like transmitters, bodies and battery packs for peak performance. However, BNF packages are usually considerably more expensive than RTF setups and require more know-how to assemble and maintain. Beginners and those on a tight budget are almost always better served with an RTF RC plane than a BNF setup.
What to look for in a quality cheap RC plane
Two- vs. three- vs. four-channel controls
In this case, the term “channel” just refers to how many different parts of the plane you can manage using the remote control. A two-channel system is the most basic and usually gives you control over the motor plus left and right turns. This basic system doesn’t usually use ailerons or elevators, but instead uses generated lift to gain or lose altitude and a pair of auxiliary propellers to bank left and right. This makes for a bit of a learning curve for two-channel systems, but they also come at a relatively low price.
RC systems with three and four channels work a lot more like actual aircraft. Typically, three-channel RC planes offer motor, rudder and elevator control, while four-channel models add aileron control via the shoulder buttons on premium remote controls.
Internal gyroscope stabilizers
Even for skilled pilots, RC planes move pretty fast and are light enough that a single errant twitch of the joystick can spell disaster. To help make it easier to keep these lightweight and affordable RC planes in the air, the best ones have gyroscoping stabilizers inside that help to keep them upright and flying. Many planes with active stabilizers offer multiple levels of gyro activity to choose from, which allows more experienced pilots to take off the training wheels, so to speak.
Build quality and replacement materials
One of the reasons to start with an inexpensive RC plane is that there is very much a learning curve to using these toys. With that in mind, the best low-cost options are also relatively durable, since you can count on novice pilots crashing more than a few times before getting the hang of it. You’ll notice that the best cheap RC planes on the market are generally made from highly flexible foam. The right type of foam is resilient, able to bounce back without issue and relatively easy to repair as long as it doesn’t get shredded. As you move up from the most basic entry-level RC planes to slightly more involved models, you’ll find that the materials get a bit less forgiving.
It’s also worth looking at what kinds of replacement each RC plane comes with. Beginner pilots generally need one or two extra sets of propellers, while additional batteries can greatly increase how much flight time you get.
How much you can expect to spend on a cheap RC plane
The cheapest RC planes are right around $50, and you can get a great intermediate-quality model for roughly $130 or less.
Cheap RC plane FAQ
Are there any affordable gas-powered RC planes?
A. Not really. The components for gas-powered RC planes are consistently more costly than all the parts that make up battery-powered models. Those expensive parts also require significantly more upkeep, and the noise and volatile chemicals associated with gas RC racing don’t make it any more accessible to the beginner hobbyist. While there are some communities that still enjoy gas-powered flying, they’re shrinking somewhat, partly because battery-powered planes are so popular and effective.
Do you need to register as a drone operator to fly an RC plane?
A. If your RC plane or drone weighs over 250 grams, you need to take a second to register as a recreational pilot at the FAA DroneZone. Remember to always have a copy of your documents with you and your registration number on each of your aircraft. You don’t need to register each individual aircraft, only yourself, and only when you first start flying, not each time you buy a new aircraft. Registration costs $5 and lasts three years before it needs to be renewed.
What’s the best cheap RC plane to buy?
Top cheap RC plane
What you need to know: This full-featured option is the perfect stepping stone between a kids’ RC toy and an advanced bind-and-fly setup.
What you’ll love: Reliable four-channel control gives you command of the motor, rudder, elevators and ailerons for as realistic an experience as possible. The internal gyroscopic stabilizer provides three levels of flight assistance for beginner, intermediate and advanced pilots. To help maximize fun while flying, there’s even a stunt button that enables tricks like loops and spirals.
What you should consider: Young kids might have a tough time mastering the controls if it’s their first RC plane.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Top cheap RC plane for the money
What you need to know: This choice from Makerfire is about as affordable as any RC plane on the market, and as simple, too.
What you’ll love: The foam it’s made from is extremely flexible, so you don’t have to worry too much about it breaking as long as you avoid major head-on collisions. Its two-channel design is as simple as any other control method and the gyro stabilizer inside makes it suitable for beginners.
What you should consider: Since it doesn’t use traditional plane parts like a rudder or ailerons, the skills needed to pilot it don’t translate directly to more advanced RC planes.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Worth checking out
What you need to know: This is a refined midrange option with three-channel control and a durable construction.
What you’ll love: Control over the motor, rudder and elevator make this a great choice for those just learning to pilot RC planes. Its motor was recently upgraded for increased efficiency and it employs a special propeller-saving system that mitigates prop damage in the event of a crash.
What you should consider: It’s remarkably lightweight and has been known to fly away on its own during heavy winds.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Chris Thomas writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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