How do different Remote Controlled Models Work

Radio controlled, or RC, cars, boats, airplanes, helicopters, and just about anything else you can imagine, are truly a feat of engineering and electronic artistry. while the concepts used have remained consistent over the last several decades, the hobby has been impacted by advancements by everything from cell phones, television, video camcorders, and especially, the growth of personal computers and the internet. But no matter how complex the system, radio controlled craft are tremendous fun, and there has never been a better time for anyone to give it a try.

The basic RC system contains a transmitter and matching reciever that works on a specific radio frequency, or in the case of “in home” toys, a coded pulse of infra-red LEDs… very much like a television remote! When your finger moves a control stick on the transmitter, the reciever activates the corresponding electronics in the craft, and the craft speeds up, slows down, turns left or right, flys higher or lower, or whatever it is supposed to do when that control is moved. Move that control in the opposite direction, and the craft responds by doing the opposite. Simple RC systems like this can be found very cheaply, often on sale for $15 or less, and are a great introduction to the hobby. I should mention the drawbacks to systems that use Infra-red LEDs. Their range is generally limited to 20 – 30 feet, and they are highly susceptible to ANY infra-red waves, whether from bright lights, other remote controls, and especially from sunlight, so don’t expect to use them outdoors.

More complex system use Digital-Proportional controls, which basically means that you now have precise control over your craft. Moving a control just a little bit will result in a small change in direction or speed, while moving that same control a lot will result in an extreme change in speed or direction. The great thing about digital-proportional control is that the additional cost is well worth the added control, for it allows you to execute complex tricks and maneuvers and gives you greater flexibility in where you can operate your craft. The price range for these types of models can run anywhere from 25 to 100 dollars.

Here’s another quick tip: If you plan on racing a friend, make sure that your model operates on a different frequency, or you’ll have a huge mess on your hands. The frequency of your model is usually printed on the transmitter AND the box that the toy came in, so be certain to check if you are buying more than one model with the intention of operating them together. This is where we see the main drawback to “toy store” RC craft. They only operate on two or three fixed radio “channels” so you will be limited as to how many people can operate their craft at the same time. If racing is specifically what you have in mind, then it just might be time to consider a visit to a local hobby shop!

Be prepared to see some amazingly complex and expensive models, but don’t be intimidated. Walk up to the owner and ask about beginner models, or “trainers”. These models are specifically designed for beginners, require very little assembly, if any, and contain extra built-in safeguards to prevent you from crashing or otherwise ruining your model the first time you try it. Because these models are generally larger than toy store models, they often use “servos” or small motors with gears, to operate the controls inside the model, but the operation of the model will still be the transmitter/reciever system you are accustomed to. You can find cars, airplanes, boats, and helicopters that contain everything you need to get started for around 75-200 dollars.

The only real decision you’ll need to make is whether to get a model that operates on a gas engine or electric engine. Recent advances in high performance electric motors and batteries have made fully electric systems very desireable and in many cases preferable to gas powered models, especially for beginners. You will also find that RC hobbyists are very friendly and more than happy to give you help, advice, and even hands-on instruction to get you up and running.

The transmitters used in trainer systems often contain a feature which allows a more experienced hobbyist to connect a cable from their transmitter. This allows their transmitter to override yours if you should get into any trouble, sort of like Driver’s Ed for RC hobbyists!

From the most basic to the most advanced systems, all RC models operate on the simple transmitter/reciever principle, but there is no end to what you can learn about the technology that drives these systems, but the bottom line is, THEY’RE FUN!