Beginner Series - Choosing a Plane

by FliteTest | October 16, 2013 | (75) Posted in How To

The Flite Test Beginner Series is brought to you by Horizon Hobby.
Episode 1: Choosing a Plane


Choosing A Plane

Choosing a plane can be a very difficult and intimidating decision. In this first episode of our beginner series we discuss some of the most common things to look for and help you choose wisely. Here are some important things to consider:

Keep it to 3 or 4 Channels

Choose a plane with 3 or 4 channels to start. It’s best to start simple and get used to flying. A 3 channel plane usually consists of thrust, rudder and elevator. The fourth channel often adds the aileron function.

Alternatively, a 3 channel flying wing, or delta design has the aileron and elevator functions combined into elevons. In order to roll or bank the elevons move opposite of each other. To control pitch they move together.

Aileron - A hinged flight control surface usually attached to the trailing edge of each wing of a fixed-wing aircraft. Ailerons are used in pairs to control the aircraft in roll, or movement around the aircraft's longitudinal axis, which normally results in a change in heading due to the tilting of the lift vector. Movement around this axis is called 'rolling' or 'banking'.

Elevator - Flight control surface, usually at the rear of an aircraft, which controls the aircraft's longitudinal attitude by changing the pitch balance, and so also the angle of attack and the lift of the wing. The elevators are usually hinged to a fixed or adjustable rear surface, making as a whole a tailplane or horizontal stabilizer. 

Rudder - Used primarily to counter adverse yaw and is often not the primary control used to turn the airplane. A rudder operates by redirecting the airflow past the fuselage, thus imparting a turning or yawing motion to the aircraft. In basic form, a rudder is a flat plane or sheet of material attached with hinges to the aircraft's vertical stabilizer.

Choose a Slow Flyer

It takes a little while to gain the muscle memory and response time to fly a radio control plane. A slow flyer will give you more time to react to mistakes and improper inputs. Slow flyers don’t seem cool at first… However, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you fall in love with a good flyer before the one that looks cool.

Start With an Electric Plane

Electric planes used to be cumbersome and under-powered. Today’s electric R/C planes have plenty of power and are much easier to fly and maintain than fuel-based planes. Gassers and nitro planes are pretty awesome, but learn to fly, crash and repair before you add the complication of an internal combustion engine.

Foam is Good

Foam is your friend. The fact of the matter is, your first plane will be trashed. Foam is durable and easy to repair. Balsa planes are beautiful and there is nothing like them. They are works of art that look great on the shelf and in the air. Not to mention they stand the test of time. But don’t start with that beautiful balsa plane. Learn on an inexpensive foam plane that can take some abuse.

Dihedral and High Wings Help Keep You Level

Dihedral is the gentle v shape to the main wing. This helps keep your plane in the upright position. Generally you’ll lose some ability to do aerobatics, but you’ll gain more stable flight. The position of the wing is also important to stable flight. The lower the wing is on the fuselage the nimble the plane becomes. For your first plane, we suggest you go with a high-wing orientation.

Don’t Go Too Big… Or Too Small

It’s important to choose the right size plane for the space you have available. In general the smaller and lighter your plane is the more crashes it should be able to endure. This also means that it’ll be more sensitive to wind and will probably be more squirly. Bigger planes tend to be more stable, but they need more room to take-off and land. 

Park flyers are a good size to start with. They are usually around a 36” wingspan and require a 600 X 600 foot open area to fly.

Go Ugly First

EDF Jets and Warbirds are very enticing. They will only disappoint you for your first plane. Jets and Warbirds are usually meant to fly fast and respond quickly. If you’re just starting out, you’re not ready for that yet. Don’t worry, it won’t take long. For your first plane stick to something ugly that flies well. That way you won’t be as crushed when it hits the ground!

Look For an Easy to Repair Plane

By this point in the article you’ll notice a trend… You’re going to crash. Just accept it. It’ll make it easier to stomach when it happens. it’s just part of the hobby. So, when you do crash or break something, can you back up and flying? Make sure you can buy replacement parts for your plane. The number one replacement part is the propeller. It’s good to choose a plane that has common and easy to find parts.

Learn on a Simulator

If you think this is a hobby you want to stick with, a simulator is a worthwhile investment. They are very accurate these days. We did two previous episodes featuring simulators here:

Flite Test: Learning to Fly on a Simulator (Phoenix)

Flite Test: Simulator Flying (RealFlight)

Different Types of Packages

  • RTF (Ready to Fly)

    • Most expensive

    • Most inclusive (has everything you need)

    • Quickest to get into the air

    • Little guesswork/Research

    • Predictable Performance

  • BNF / RXR / PNF (Bind-n-Fly / Receiver Ready / Plug and Fly)

    • Let’s you use your own radio system

    • Good second airplane

  • ARF (Almost Ready to Fly)

    • Often requires your own electronics

    • Widest selection of manufactured aircraft 

    • Some building skills required

    • Requires more knowledge on electronics and setup

    • Wide performance “envelope” based on electronics and setup

  • Kit

    • Most time to get into the air

    • Requires strong building skills

    • Results may vary depending on your ability

  • Scratchbuilding

    • More work

    • The cheapest

    • Most fun

    • If you can build it you can fix it

    • Widest variety available

    • Best skill development

    • Free plans available

Flite Test Recommended Planes For Beginners:








Super Cub LP

High Wing Trainer. Easy to find replacement parts. Very durable.



$170 - $200



High Wing Trainer. Small and inexpensive. Easy to find replacement parts. Needs to fly in very calm weather.




Flite Test

FT Flyer

High Wing Trainer. Only available as a speed build kit or scratch build. Easy to repair.


Scratch Build, Kit

Free - $33

Flite Test

FT Versa

Flying Wing with a rear mounted propeller. Very durable! Only available as a speed build kit. Easy to repair.


Scratch Build, Kit

Free - $28


Swift II

Flying Wing with a rear mounted propeller. Comes as a kit requires some building. Most durable!






Powered Glider. Fly exceptionally well. Kind of large and requires a larger flying space.



$160 - $250

Hobby King

The Bixler

Rear prop. Very durable. Easy to repair. Exceptional flyer.



$57 - $103


DHC-2 Beaver

High Wing. Easy to buy replacement parts. Good second plane.




We would like to thank Horizon Hobby for sponsoring this Beginner Series!  Let us know what you think of this content and let Horizon Hobby know as well!  You can find out more about Horizon Hobby HERE.

Basic Aerodynamics


Busjockey on October 17, 2013
Great start, should be very helpful to prospective RC flyers. You guys did a fantastic job of laying out the rudimentary steps to getting started in typical FliteTest fashion. Definitely stayed true to the style that RC enthusiasts from all over the world have grown to love. Kudos to Horizon Hobby for sponsoring FliteTest to provide this series. Bravo to all the FliteTest Staff and crew!
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xeroanonymous93 on October 17, 2013
This is really helpful.
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BigGrib on October 17, 2013
What you guys are doing for the advancement of this hobby is amazing. I haven't flown in years, thought I could jump right back into it so I scratch built the spitfire and flew it right into the ground. I decided to take a step back, built the flyer and have worked my way back into it. Thank you do much for everything, from the scratch builds to the small tips and tricks, you guys are incredible.
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Ben Presten on October 16, 2013
You shouild make a nice long video montage with music.
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for5500 on August 4, 2015
i am new here
i would like to ask you , what tools do i need to start building ?
is there a tool box that made for building an rc planes ?
i tried to look in hobbyking but i didnt find
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proctous on October 17, 2013
Got the 3 set of the Swapable series and built them all with my 7yo son. Had a blast following Josh's video and building them with my son. Bought them from Lazertoys for all the parts and planes. Great Value! FT Delta is one to fly if you like bank and yank. My first plane I got was a P51 800mm warbird, Worse Idea ever. Crashed it and i couldn't even repair it cause parts were unavailable. waste of money. 2nd plane was Apprentice 15e. Awesome Choice! Easy to fly and still use it for acrobatics, 20min run time on 3c 3200mah. After i could fly that well I got a Fw 190 from horizon BNF. Great plane. Got that after I been watching Flitetest for a few months and practiced on my apprentice a lot. Not to many RC flyers here in Hawaii and Flitetest is a Great resource and I always look forward to a new video every week. Thanks guys!

with Aloha
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fatheradam on October 21, 2013
Great video again guys! Basically I have now re-started getting into this hobby after a bad experience a few years back. However... I did start with scratch building the DR1 Fokker... which I tried to turn into a swappable. Long story is it was a little squirrly due to rear weight, and had a few crashes... but knew all this from your site and vids! Will likely make the FT flyer and begin again. The cool thing here in Korea though is they have foam board of ALL different colours! Made the Fokker out of red.
The only thing I am yet to come across though is how to calculate power systems for scratch builds. Mostly I have gone off of the recommendations... but is there something I am missing? Searched the web also and couldnt really find anything. My son made a Nutball and we put the DT750 on it with a 3 cell and it just corkscrewed in the air... thinking too much power! But how do I work out which is best? Thought I'd mention it as maybe something to think about in the upcoming Beginner series.
Anyway, great job once again guys, blessings to you all!
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cap-10b on October 18, 2013
Excellent! Great job guys very well done, good job of covering all the important issues for getting started in the hobby. Those humbucker pickups in '72 Tely are awesome too ;-) I'll be recommending watching the video to the newbies & students. (it's good for the folks with 1/4 century of experience or more too).

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casehatter on October 17, 2013
Good advise and newbee's don't be afraid to ask question's and please take advise to heart it will save you time and money along with wasted time of learning, wish I had the help that is available today I learned by my self it cost thousands when you have no help or advise. Even if you are a Pilot of a full size Plane you had better take the advise of a seasoned RC Pilot it's a different world..!! From a lover of all planes of 30+ years..!!
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Hell2Go on October 17, 2013
I just built the Flite Test FT Flyer for my 10 yr old son to fly, and it flies great! just keep the throws on the elevator to a minimum till you get used to it, up and down was really twitchy til i reduced the throws. he lovesto fly it and at 3/4 throttle its very docile, and full throttle it zips around nicely... a great $5 investment!
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Pete7694 on October 17, 2013
Thanks Flite Test for the Beginner Series. I'm a born again newbie, haven't flown for almost 15 years and the first plane that I built and flew was the FT Spitfire. I only had 2 successful flights with it and 2 unsuccessful crashes. It flew great both times but then I started to get nervous and I tensed up and lost the orientation of the plane. Both times I was flying by myself at a park near my house with my wife watching on the first flight and my best friend watching on the second flight. Back in the mid to late 90's I took private pilot lessons so I have a pretty good knowledge base on flight in general. It's flying R/C planes that I struggle with a more because I haven't had that much stick time to get proficient. I love every thing you guys do for your videos and on the website. I have learned so much more now because of you guys then I ever did way back when I first started in the hobby. A lot of the stuff that I've learned so far I still have to try and put to use but I'm so glad that the info is out there and easily accessible. Thanks again and I'm looking forward to more of the Beginner Series.

Happy Flying, Peter V.
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alfredo arbe on October 22, 2013
The spit is great, but is still a warbird... try the FT Flyer, top notch fun/dollar ratio!!
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onemoreflite (John Michaels) on October 17, 2013
Awesome job! There are tons of "beginner" series out there, but this is the only one that's entertaining! Josh Scott, your hilarious!
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MentalWhiplash on October 17, 2013
BRAVO! Presenting the "basics" without overload can be a very daunting task. You have succeeded. Contrats on the series and I applaud Horizon for stepping up and seeing the value in having you undertake this task. I, for one, will be sure to tell those I encounter from HH that this venture is a success.
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808aerosquadron on October 19, 2013
Great video. I am still newbie-enough to remember being overwhelmed with all the choices but little guidance on what to get as my first plane. Fortunately, I saw the episode on the HK Bixler and taught myself on that airframe, which I still fly. Please keep up the Beginner Series as they will be extremely valuable for future pilots (and a few old flyers, too). Great job.
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danielcorrea76 on October 24, 2013
Hello guys!
I'm a fan of the work you do and the excellent site for a long time.
I live in Brazil and I maintain a blog with various information about electric model airplanes, such as tips and records practices of weekends with model airplanes.
I would love to have permission to publish this series called 'Beginner Series' for Brazilian practitioners follow closely in my blog.
I see that the reports are very comprehensive and useful, but many here still do not know Flite Test!
I have his permission to replicate blog post?
Congratulations for the work and thank you for your attention.
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stonekap on October 24, 2013
We will have an RSS feed soon that will allow you to get instant updates. Yes... You have permission :)
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RoyBro on October 18, 2013
Although I've already gotten all this information by watching the episodes, I really enjoyed the first of the series putting it all together. I'll be looking forward to the next installment.

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jetpackninja on October 18, 2013
Awesome- Great article! Wish there was more stuff out there like this when I started flying.
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Mannypac on October 17, 2013
As always a great video for starting RC flight. I knew a lot of the information but I also learned the why for some of the plane characteristics. One thing you should check is a tapping sound in the video at 23:54 minutes. Great start! Thanks to the team for the effort. Manuel from Puerto Rico
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mboomrang on October 17, 2013
Thank you for all the great information. I am learning so much from your site. This article will help me choose my first plane. Can you do or point me to a good article covering the chose of a first transmitter?
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BigGrib on October 17, 2013
just my opinion, the ft flyer is a great starter and if you're wanting a nice transmitter you can grow in to that doesnt break the bank, the turnigy 9x from hobby king is a good one.
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btallis on October 17, 2013
Great start to the "Beginner Series". Can't wait for future videos. It is because of you guys that my two boys are interested in flying. Almost every day after homework, we walk down to the park and fly our FT Old Fogey, Versa Wing, and FT Flyer. What a blast to spend quality time with my kids building and flying. There is no better feeling as a dad...

I did feel like a total schmuck though the other day when my youngest was moving the radio sticks way too far and crashed the FT Flyer. I kinda barked at him about being gentle on the sticks and not crashing. Of course, he thought I was mad at him and started to cry. Not a great way to get the kid interested in RC Flight, huh? Just like you said in this video, be supportive and calm to those learning to fly. I felt bad getting on his case for crashing a $1.00 piece of foam. I told him, "Well, we both are still learning, huh?"

However, he was happy again when I told him I'd cut out a new FT Flyer and he could build it with me. Again, thanks for all you guys do to get everyone involved in this awesome hobby.

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austinfurey on October 17, 2013
Great story! That's what FT is all about
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BigGrib on October 17, 2013
just remember expo is great for beginning flyers i run mine about 30 percent that way the sticks arent too twitchy in the center, leaves some room for error.
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jrbemis on October 17, 2013
Add the DVD in the store. Great job.
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onemoreflite (John Michaels) on October 17, 2013
I agree.
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joann69 on October 17, 2013
Awesome video. Thanks for all of this great information. The more you do with your video's, the more I learn. Thank you Josh and Josh and the test of the FliteTest team.
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Fishbonez on October 17, 2013
Ok if may add some constructive criticism.
Chad, Josh and Josh great job but the video seemed rushed much like you had forgotten to do the video and quickly ran out to make it. You had a lot of good info but it felt forced down your throat. I realize its hard to give out info and hope to keep your audiences attention but a little more explanation would have been nice. For example you defined dihedral and said it will help you level out, but that was it. I as a new person did not learn about the importance of dihedral in choosing my plane. You can memorize 2+2=4 but if you don't know why 2+2=4 did you really learn it? What i did like about it was the visuals I am a visual learner and you had enough visual at times to help get the point across by not using "Death by Power Point" Overall I thought it was very good. Just my 2 cents worth. Looking forward to more from the series
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TommyG on October 19, 2013
I didn't feel it was rushed, rather just trying to keep people interested. I think 4 minutes is roughly the attention span of most youtubers so to keep people engaged for 25 minutes it needs to be choppy
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Fishbonez on October 19, 2013
Normally i think I would agree with you, I agree that attention span is limited on youtube and definitly a hurdle to overcome, gad to see their will be 10 episodes and likes aid before they can and will make good snipits for a class like environment, however I think if someones is looking for advice or is generally interested in the topic on something their attention span is increased. Dont get me wrong I do not wish to see the flite test beginner series turn into a lecture on flight. Good gravey no no. :-)

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Shorty1953RCK on October 21, 2013
What a great How to video. Need to keep this on the front of your site for newbies to see first. They could learn a lot and not make a lot of the mistake that we all have made.
Great Job keep it coming!!!!
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alfredo arbe on October 22, 2013
Also built one for my son and.. quicle became a favorite of mine! only caution is to avoid power dives, wings can start fluttering
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guelllermo on October 22, 2013
I'm a beginner with couple dozen hours on a simulator. I do alright (virtually) with 3-channels, 4-channels, EDF Jets, gliders. Do you think I would have too much in my hands with an RVJET?

It's a flying wing, it can fly slow, right?

I just didn't want to buy 2 or 3 planes just to get to fly what I really want, you know?...

Thanks for your opinion!
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Newtown on March 13, 2014
Supercub was one of my first planes. Great choice.
LOVE the Flite Test swappables. Fun, cheap, and easy to build.
BUT they are only 3 channel.
How about a fun, cheap (foam board), easy to build 4 channel from Flite Test as a 2nd plane?
Something stable (high wing?) and slow to help learn how to deal with ailerons.
(I know, it would require at least one more servo for the ailerons but assuming you had a 4 channel receiver in your power pod, it would mean just one more servo to connect.)
Maybe add ailerons to the FT Flyer?
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Damig on July 15, 2014
I am a Total Fan!! And AND, placed my second order to sponsor link and very please with customer service, emails promptness. Very nice. Thanks, you guys are the greatest. Wish I had complaints for you to work on, but, sorry, too much a fan to find any fault here. I agree the fun comments, and the surprises and the humor!!! great web page changes as well. More surprizes and jokes please! I was watching the flite... watching, Watching, BOOM!!! Poof. "What the HEck? I thought Lipo Explosion". BUT, having watched your vid on Lipo safety, thought better of that conclusion. Dave, the fireworks and elect Guru!! I appreciate what ya'll do. Four brothers using your sponsors now! we will do what we can... because you do what YOU do!
Damig, (Aces High Flight Sim nickname)(now I get to build and fly)
aka Miggy... scott
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cschofie on July 31, 2014
I am just a newbie in RC flight but I have been into RC Cars and Trucks for a few years, I wanted to tell you that this series is GREAT! I have wanted to get into flight but didn't know where to start, thank you to the Flite Test crew for opening up and honestly presenting their knowledge and pros and cons of everything and it will truly save newbies hundreds of dollars and countless broken dreams.
Whomever is responsible from Horizon for sponsoring the guys from Flite Test should get a raise because by having the for sight to help with this series has earned my respect and my business! Thank You
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Ano Pilot on October 2, 2014
The Super Cub S with AS3X and SAFE is virtually the perfect TRAINER imho. I had it out yesterday in winds c.10mph and gusting up to 16mph and it was brilliant. It countered the wind with amazing efficiency (was rock-solid); take-offs and landings (virtually vertical) were controllable and safe (using Beginner Mode in such difficult conditions); and flew for around 11m per lipo. BRILLIANT.
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hcps-danielscb on October 23, 2014
what is the best swappable flite test plane for areobatics
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dharm on January 8, 2015
Hi...,i'm built the rc plane were the(high wing) wing span 50" long and 8.5" width and the elevator is 25" long and 8.5" width .how to calculate the fuselage length and width ?and how much inch should be the rudder length and width ? kindly reply its very important
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JersterT58 on March 7, 2015
Is there a "build" for the foam 3d plane we see in the background in the #1 "Beginners Series" ... if looking at it from the front, it resembles the + (plus sign) If not a build, what is this plane , and where would I obtain one?
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JersterT58 on March 7, 2015
It's a Sbach 342 foam built, again, is there a "Build" in the "swappable" planes, or another type of build?
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Fly4thor on January 15, 2016
I'm getting ready to start my first scratch build plane. I have a 4 year old son who likes to throw the cheap styrofoam planes. Are there any scratch build planes that will work without any electronics as a hand tossed simple glider plane for children? My idea is that I can make one with the electronics inside that I can fly and one that is without that he can fly.
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rafaellenier on January 2, 2016
I have been searching for the white and blue plane and when I found the link it was discontinued.
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sklecanda on July 9, 2015
Hello Josh and Josh,

First I want to thank both of you for an excellent series, which was extremely helpful. I have always wanted to get into RC planes and finally decided to take the plunge. Before watching your series, I started searching for the perfect RC plane. I did an extensive amount of research and was fortunate to purchase an excellent trainer, the Hobbyzone Super Cub DSM 7400. Then everything went down hill. The first time I took flight, it lasted about 30 sec. with a substantial damaging crash. I tried a second and third flight with more damage. At that point I decided to do some more research and find out the does and don’t s. That's when I found your beginner series. I watched the first five episodes, before attempting to do any flying. I watched the take-off and landing episode twice. I followed all of your instructions and did everything like you said and before I knew it, I was having awesome, consecutive successful flights, with each one getting better. All of your info and tips were spot on! You guys are awesome!!! I cannot thank both of you enough. You guys make a great team and do an excellent job describing what to do and what not to do. I also watched additional episodes, like damage repair and aerobatics. I'm now flying without crashing and also purchased my second plane, a Parkzone ultra micro P40. Using your video's and tips, I am flying that plane as well without crashing. I love the series so much, I sent links of the the series to my dad who has been struggling to start RC flying. One of the most important information I got from your series is about purchasing the right plane! It is so important to purchase a plane that is by a reputable company with available spare parts. My dad did not follow that advise and is regretting it every day. Again Thank You so much and keep up the excellent work.

Thank You
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jupajana on October 27, 2016
Hi guys, my name is Juan Pablo Jaramillo and I am from colombia, i really like the aeromodelling but i have never flown a rc plane, i want to have a flying wing but i dont know which of your wings is better for a beginner like me. the FT Versa and the FT Spear are amazing! and what do you think about FT Delta? is recommended for me or I can go bigger with another model.
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knadityas92 on May 16, 2018
How To setup a plane which has aileron, rudder, elevator? I have hobbyking HK-T6A transmitter and receiver. I have to connect aileron servo to channel 4 but the servo doesn't moves at all on channel 4. But if I change mode in PC software T6 config. Channel 4 works but channel 2 doesn't. Where I need to make changes so that all things I mean 4 servos also works.? Please help to finish my build. I m building RC MERMAID sea plane. Thank you.
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Beginner Series - Choosing a Plane