It is always difficult to know where to start when entering the world of radio controlled model helicopters. Selecting the best model is difficult and most start by buying a cheap 2 or 3 channel micro heli from there local toy store, normally paying less than £25, and start to get interested from there. These cheap 2 - 3 channel models just really go up and down with limited forward and back control and will not help when moving to a proper 4 to 5 or 6 channel model. Examples of these IR models are shown below. The Silverlite PicooZ Tandem (right hand image) has three channel control while the standard PicooZ only has two channel control. This really has limited control and most will lose interest after a short while.

Silverlit Picoo-Z 2-channel IR toy helicopter Silverlit 2 channel IR transmitter Silverlit Piccoo-Z Tandem
Silverlite Picoo-Z, 2-channel IR Remote and 3-channel Tandem-Z typical sub £30 models

The channels are used to control the model and are allocated to control sticks on the transmitter. One channel is for up/down (throttle or motor speed in basic ‘fixed pitch’ bladed models and combined throttle and “collective pitch’ in larger models), another is for forward/backward (cyclic pitch), another is for right/left (cyclic pitch), another is for rudder or yaw (direction in which the model points). Normally the throttle and rudder are on one stick used by the left hand and the cyclic control is on another stick used by the right hand. This configuration of the control sticks is called a ‘Mode 2’ transmitter, and is preferred by most helicopter pilots.

Rather than wasting £25 on one of these I would at least opt for something like the e-Flite Blade mCX (or mCX2) coaxial contra rotating blade model as it is very stable, so almost anyone can fly it, and gives proper control of both height, direction and rotation with four channels of control. This gets you use to orientation of a model and use of the sticks to control the model. Coaxial means it has two rotor blades, one above the other, which rotate in opposite directions (contra rotating), as can be seen in the picture above, left. Like most models helicopters the rotation around the axis is stabilised by the use of an electronic gyroscope (gyro) to sense any drift of the tail (yaw) and compensate to keep the model pointing in the direction you command it using the rudder control stick. Another reason the mCX is a good choice is the easy availability of spare parts, just in case you break it, and the inclusion of a 2.4GHz DSM transmitter and receiver which is far superior to the infar-red version on cheap systems.

Blade mCX Blade remote control transmitter - 4 channel E-Flite blade mSR
E-Flite Blade mCX, 2.4GHz DSM 4 channel transmitter and Blade mSR models

Once you have mastered this and still have the heli bug you could move on to a single rotor model, like the Blade mSR, as can be seen in the above picture on the right. Now with only one main rotor a tail mounted rotor is required to stop the model spinning uncontrollable around on its axis. Also since it only has one main blade it is not as stable as the coaxial rotor model so will need constant ‘cyclic stick’ control to keep the model hovering in one place.

Most of the models mentioned so far are what is known as ‘fixed pitch’ models, that is the main rotor blade angle or pitch is fixed so provide the same lift all the time. More advanced models used something called ‘collective pitch’ where the pitch or angle of the rotor blades can be varied. This means the rotor blades can produce variable amounts of lift, including negative lift essential for inverted flight! Variable pitch is needed to be able to make the helicopter fully aerobatic and this is linked with the throttle (engine speed) control to obtain a constant rotor or ‘head’ speed. Obviously collective pitch is more complicated mechanism to produce so these models tend to cost more and are generally more tricky to fly but can be set up to provide a ‘softer’ experience for those learning to master model helicopters.

So far all of you're flying has been indoors, or outside only in the most still conditions, as these models can’t cope with any wind at all. If you are still bitten by the bug now is the time to splash out on a computer simulator. This will help you get really familiar with flying a real model in wind and provide some extra skill and confidence before spending a lot on a model and even more on repairs!

A new alternative to conventional models helicopters are the latest breed of Quad bladed models or Quadcopters. These models have for blades in each corner and use sophisticated gyros to control the model. These models were very expensive but Blade have released a low cost version (about £120) for 2012. These models can be flown both indoors and out as the auto stabilisation makes them stable in windy conditions.

BLH7500-GAL01 BLH7500-GAL05
Blade mQX Quadcopter (now replaced by nano QX)

If you have larger funds and are into aerial photography then the new Blade 350 QX may be interesting. Designed to be fitted with a GoPro camera and including GPS positioning it is a real bargain at about £280 for the bind and fly version, just needing a suitable transmitter (Spektrum DX6i or above)to get into the air.

Blade 350 QX
Blade 350 QX
(optional GoPro camera can be seen attached to the included mount)

You now need to decide on wether you want to go for a ‘gas’ or nitro methanol IC (internal combustion) engine powered model or stick with the electric type and will be moving to a collective pitch model. In general a similar sized nitro helicopter will cost the same as an electric model by the time you have a complete setup, maybe a little more but feels more like a real helicopter due to the engine noise and smoke! I suggest you visit a local model shop to discuss the best choice for you and recommend finding a club where both types of model are flown to see what best suits your own preferences. In general more and more are switching to electric due to the quiet flying and lack of mess. As always I would suggest as large a rotor diameter model as you can afford since they will be more stable and easier to see than a smaller rotor model.When you do move outdoors with a larger model it is well worth fitting a training undercarriage to your model to help stop it tipping over. This basically consists of two carbon fibre rods, with balls attached to the ends, strapped to the normal undercarriage to form a cross. This makes the model less likely to tip over while you are getting to grips with controlling the model, an example can be seen on the ECO 8 page.

Thunder Tiger Raptor 30 V2 IC engine model Align TREX 500
Thunder Tiger Raptor 30 IC and Align T-Rex 500 electric helicopters

Model helicopters can be dangerous so I recommend you obtain suitable insurance, such as that provided by the BMFA in the UK, when operating your model in public areas outdoors. When operating a model always ensure the safety of yourself and those around you!

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