The hobby of radio-controlled (RC) cars, boats, and aircraft has long been a gravitational pull for inventive makers. In fact, being a do-it-yourselfer was a prerequisite in the early days of RC. Not only did you have to build your own vehicles, you had to build the radio equipment too! A lot has changed about RC since then, but it is still a great avenue for creative minds to put their vehicular ideas and designs into tangible form.
This is the first of a series of articles that will serve to explain the basics of RC and illustrate the scope of its creative possibilities. I recognize that some of you may be completely new to the RC scene, so I’ll start out with the essential rudiments. Just like any other electronics-based industry, RC has seen enormous technological advancements in recent years. For that reason, even those of you with previous RC experience may want to tune in and see what’s new.
My goal is to keep the first several guides focused on mainstream RC equipment and activities. Once everyone is up to speed on the basics, we’ll start to explore more diverse and advanced topics. Eventually, I’ll make some excursions to the lunatic fringe of RC (trust me; it’s a long, strange trip). I think you will be amazed by some of the unique things folks have come up with, and perhaps be inspired to create your own innovative designs.
Toy-Grade vs. Hobby-Grade
Before I dive in to explaining the different types of RC vehicles, I think it is important to make the distinction between toy-grade and hobby-grade RC stuff. You can expect just about any RC gadget purchased from Radio Shack or a big-box store (Target, Wal-Mart, etc.) to be a toy-grade item. That doesn’t mean it won’t be fun (I own several), but such items are meant to be disposable. They are not designed to accept performance-enhancing hop-ups or customizations. When they break, you may or may not be able to get replacement parts to keep them going.
Hobby-grade equipment will cost you more up front, but it will perform better and last longer. Obviously, a hobby shop is the place to go for these items. I still have my first RC plane, and it is in flyable condition. This poor airplane has been wrecked and repaired several times during its 30-year life of hard knocks, but the abuse isn’t evident from a casual glance. It has also been host to all sorts of radio gear and propulsion systems through the years. My collection also features several RC cars that are more than twenty years old and still going strong thanks to periodic maintenance and replacement parts when needed. This stuff is tough.
My point is not to kick sand in the face of toy-grade RC stuff…it definitely has its place. The focus of this series, however, will be on hobby-grade items.