Once the RC bug has bitten and you know that you’ll be in the hobby for a while, buying a good quality computer radio system is one of the best investments that you can make. These radios have onboard processors that enrich them with many features not usually found on “dumb” units. The benefits of some of these features are self-evident, such as the ability to use the same transmitter for multiple models. Other features found on computer radios are a bit tougher to grasp. Consequently, many modelers simply ignore them—and forfeit some very useful capabilities.
Today, I will cover a few of the basic features that are afforded by computer transmitters: what they are and how/when they are helpful. I won’t be covering any specifics on how to program these features on your particular radio--that’s what the owner’s manual is for. My focus will be on radios for aircraft, but surface computer radios (for cars and boats) share many of the same features!
How Many Channels Do You Need?
Most computer radio systems have six or more channels, with 6-channel models being very popular among rookie hobbyists. Up until recently, I would have endorsed that decision. Now I suggest going with no less than seven channels – preferably eight. The reason for my change of heart is that the average flying model is evolving into an ever more complex machine.
Powered aircraft need no more than four channels to fly (pitch, roll, yaw, & throttle). Additional operations (retractable landing gear, flaps, lost model alarms, lighting systems, sound systems, gimbals, gyros, bomb releases, etc.) are becoming much more prevalent in off-the-shelf models, and they require additional channels to make them function. These add-ons aren’t necessary to fly, but they sure are fun. So why should your radio keep you from enjoying them? I know several flyers who initially purchased a 6-channel radio, only to upgrade a few months later. Consider where your RC interests might lead and invest in a radio that will accommodate those needs.