We think you have a good idea and we welcome you to this wonderful hobby.
I hope you take the time to read this whole article. There are many important things you need to be aware of and this article will give you a headstart on this seemingly complex, yet very enjoyable hobby.
Just the fact that you are fasinated with these little machines certainly makes it worth a try. However, I would be less than honest if I didn't spell out what characteristics help to succeed in the hobby. But first, let's define success.
One way to measure success is when you come home after a day at the flying field and you can't wait to get back out there. This must be true whether you come back with your helicopter clean and in one piece or in a trash bag. Let's call this desire. If you think crashing or not crashing define success, you should probably find another hobby, like knitting. You are going to crash, so accept it as part of the hobby. You certainly don't have to be happy about crashing, but it isn't the end of the world.
You'll need patience. You won't learn to fly in one day. Sure, you could get a little co-axial toy helicopter and probably be hovering around in your living room in one day, but when we're talking about the real thing, that isn't done in a day. It takes a lot of practice to learn to hover a helicopter well. Quite a few of the guys you see flipping and flopping a helicopter around on You Tube can't even hover nose in.
Having some disposable income is an absolute necessity. How much you need depends on what model you choose and how aggressive you are with your learning. A person that starts with an mCX won't spend much more to repair his model than lunch at McDonalds. However, if you start with a Hirobo D3, you better be prepared to spend as much as a tune up on your Mercedes CL65...well, maybe not quite that much!
A little hand eye coordination is a big plus. Chances are, if you have a hard time getting your spoon in your coffee cup, you aren't going to have much luck with this. If you can hold your own against a four year old playing Halo on an X-box, you're probably good to go.
If you meet all of these requirements, and you want to do something that your neighbor probably thinks is impossible, it's time to figure out what to buy.
The very first thing you might consider is getting a simulator. Unless you plan to fly an mCX the rest of your life, a simulator will save you more money than you can shake a stick at. It will develop your reflexes so you won't have to think about what to do while you're flying. I'm not blowing smoke or trying to upsell you either. These things work. You can fly a simulator year around and a couple of them are even capable of joining with friends online and flying together. Both of the simulators pictured to the right are available with a controller so you don't even have to buy a radio until you're ready for the real thing.
Each one has it's advantages and disadvantages.
With Nitro you can fly as long as your receiver battery will last and then you can change that out if you haven't had enough. Fuel is about $20 - $30 a gallon. It' s a good idea to make sure you have a good fuel source nearby because we don't ship fuel. In a 50 size helicopter; if you burn a gallon in a day, you've done a lot of flying. Some people say Nitro is messy. I don't think it's a big deal to wipe your machine down once in a while.
Electrics use fairly expensive battery packs, but if you buy three packs, you can fly quite a bit in a day's time. It takes about an hour to charge a spent pack. Battery packs are your fuel. You have to buy it all up front and if you crash, it could be ruined. With electrics, you need a charger. Think of your charger as an investment and buy a good one. If you take good care of your batteries, they should last for 300 flights. Mistreat them and they can be ruined in one flight.
Gas has a slightly higher initial cost, but fuel is dirt cheap and the engines are extremly durable. However, the gas/oil mixture is also highly flammable and it stinks. I use lantern fuel from Walmart. It doesn't smell so bad and it works just like gas. Gas engines are harder to tune and rarely run as smooth as electric or nitro.
You can compare different models using my Kit Comparison page.
When we say radio we mean a transmitter, receiver, servos, gyro and battery. Don't let that confuse you. All of these items are available and I'm going to give you some advice on all of them.
Simple, get the best one you can afford. You aren't going to crash your transmitter. If you get a good one, it will last for many years. If you get a cheapo, you'll be wanting another one tomorrow morning, trust me on this. You might find a used transmitter online somewhere. If it's 72mhz, don't buy it. 72mhz radios are dinosaurs. Get a 2.4 ghz radio. Period. Get a major brand radio like JR or Futaba. If you go to the field with a Spazomatic 15 channel radio that you bought on ebay for $8, you are on your own. If you get one of the big name radios, anywhere you fly or call will have someone there who can help you when you run into problems.
Almost every transmitter you buy comes with one receiver, but it's not a bad idea to check. If you buy a used transmitter, be sure to get clear on what receiver(s) is included, if any. Make sure the receiver isn't a "park flyer" receiver. Park flyer receivers lack the range that you'll need. If it's a Spektrum receiver, make sure it's DSM2. A good receiver, bought seperately will cost close to a hundred bucks, so choose wisely.
Lately, it seems like the manufacturers have a habit of putting crumby servos in their radio sets. Chances are they aren't going to be suitable for your model. So get with us and let us recommend some good servos. We'll give you the best price we can, so in the long run, you'll save money. There's no sense paying for servos you won't use.
You'll need four servos at least. Nitro powered models will need five. One of the servos is a special servo called a "Tail Rotor Servo". It's very fast and doesn't have much torque. More about this in the next section.
Superman and Batman might be able to fly without a gyro. And it seems like anyone who's been in the hobby since before dirt "used" to fly without a gyro, but you don't see any of those guys flying without one now. It's not optional. Get a good one. Pay the extra $30 and get a good one. Did I say get a good one. Yup, I think I did. Right now, my favorite gyro for beginners is the Futaba 401.Other good ones include the Youngblood Gyros, Spartans, Futaba 520 and the JR x70 series. The latest crop of Align gyros have been getting good reviews also. Gyros are probably the biggest source of trouble for the beginner and it's usually just something in the setup. I have tons of self help on this site about gyros and what to do when you have problems. Soon I will have some videos in my video section that will really help.
What is so special about a tail rotor servo? This is the busiest servo on your helicopter. Even though it's fairly common now, they were the first servos to get aluminum cases and cooling fins. They work hard! It should be very fast, but speed is just one of the things that make a tail rotor servo work well. Just as important is it's ability to change direction quickly. So the little motor inside has to be light weight. That means it isn't going to have very much torque. Luckily the tail doesn't need very much torque. How fast it updates is another factor you need to be aware of. Buying a servo that looks for 560 updates per second doesn't do any good if your gyro only sends 280.
Your helicopter may or may not come with an engine/motor and other accessories. I would suggest talking to one of our sales representatives before placing your order unless you are going to order one of the beginner packages we advertise as "Complete" These all have an up to date engine/motor in the package. You can't go wrong with one of these packages. Anything that is advertised as RTF (Ready to Fly) will have everything you need in the box.
Robert is into R/C Helicopters and that's an understatement! He has machines powered with electric motors, gas engines and even a turbine.
I play around with an mCX. These things are a blast, but not suitable for long term learning.
The Hirobo Turbulence D3 is one of the most expensive and complicated models we have. It could be just the challenge you're looking for.
More than likely, you'll find something in between that will be a good learning ship and a real challenge.
A simulator is something that can give you a headstart on that muscle memory thing that is so crucial to flying. You can crash as many times as you want and not spend a penny on parts.
You'll need at least 4 servos. 5 for a Nitro model.
Futaba's old trusty 401 gyro.
The BLS251 is one kick ass tail rotor servo, but it's expensive.