RC Airplane Basics That You Need To Know

Elvis Elvis

Let’s talk about rc airplane basics, including the parts and components of nearly all rc airplanes and review rc airplane aerodynamics.


The fuselage is the main body of the aircraft from nose to tail. The wings, landing gear and motor are attached to it. If it happens to be hollow, most of the aircraft electronics will be mounted inside. (we’ll talk about those electronics later)


The main wings provide most of the lift that is needed to keep the aircraft aloft. This section may be a little more than rc airplane basics but it’s good to know. Let’s briefly go over the rc airplane aerodynamics of lift. What causes this lift is called the Bernoulli Principle . That principle states that the pressure of a fluid decreases as the speed of that fluid increases. Because the wing, also called an airfoil, is more curved over the top than it is under the bottom, the air (fluid) must travel faster across the top of the wing to get from the leading edge of the wing to the trailing edge of the wing at the same time as the air moving under the wing. (are you still with me?) The higher airspeed over the top of the wing creates a low pressure area. (remember Bernoulli?) A common misconception is that the high pressure under the wing is what creates the lift. More than 75 percent of the lift is actually caused by the low pressure above the wing. Don’t believe it? Try flying an airplane with a wing that is flat on top. The wing is not so much pushed up from below by excess air pressure as it is pulled up from above by a suction force.

Sorry that I got off on a technical tangent there but that’s the flight instructor in me coming out. (flight instructor of full size airplanes that is) You don’t really need to know any of that techi stuff. Like they said in Field of Dreams, “Buy it, and it will fly!” That is what they said, isn’t it?

RC Airplane Basics That You Need To Know

The tail section consists first of a fixed vertical stabilizer and a rudder. The rudder is the aft section of the vertical stabilizer (vertical tail) that moves left and right to control yaw. Yaw is the movement of the nose or tail to the left or right. The other component of the tail section is the horizontal stabilizer and the elevator attached to the back edge of it. The elevator is the part of the tail that moves up and down to control the aircraft pitch (up and down movement).


RC airplanes, just like their big brothers need a way for the pilot to control them. Basic flight controls on most aircraft include ailerons, elevator and rudder. The ailerons are the movable part of the trailing edge of the main wings extending from the wing tips in, either part or all of the way to the fuselage. (I’ll try to keep it simple this time!) When you move the control stick to the left, the left aileron goes up forcing the left wing down and the right aileron goes down forcing the right wing up. This makes the airplane bank and therefore turn to the left.

Basically if you move the control stick to the left, the airplane will turn to the left and if you move it to the right the airplane will turn to the right. (how’s that for rc airplane basics?)

The elevators which we talked about earlier control the pitch of the plane (climb and decent). If you pull back on the control stick, the elevators move up forcing the tail down. When the tail goes down the nose goes up and the airplane climbs. Inversely, if you push the stick forward, the opposite happens and the nose goes down causing the airplane to descend.

Now let’s talk about the rudder. As we said earlier, the rudder moves the tail left or right. Some rc airplanes that only have two channels for flight controls sometimes use them to control the elevator and the rudder. They control pitch with the elevator and turn with the rudder. This obviously makes the rudder pretty useful in the air however, if you have control of the ailerons and use them for turns, you won’t use the rudder much in the air but it’s still pretty useful if you want to steer on the ground (the rudder and the steerable nose wheel are usually interconnected). Now, don’t get me wrong, the rudder is still a very necessary control surface, especially when you start doing aerobatics.


Other than hand launch models that have no landing gear, the two options in landing gear are tail draggers, with two main wheels under the wing and a small wheel under the tail, and tricycle gear with the same two main wheels under the wing but slightly farther aft and a usually steerable nose wheel.

Although the type of landing gear won’t make any difference in the air, a model with tricycle landing gear is much easier to control during takeoff and landing (on the ground) and therefore would be my recommendation for the beginner.


Except for non-powered gliders, all rc model airplanes have some type of engine or motor to pull or push them through the air. These range from clean, quiet electric engines to gas (nitro) powered engines, to ducted fan engines, (usually a variation of an electric engine) sort of a poor mans jet engine, to an actual turbine jet engine costing a couple of thousand dollars. I’ll talk more about each different type of engine in that page on this website, remember this is rc airplane basics.

Suffice it to say that the four forces acting on an aircraft in flight are, lift, gravity, thrust and drag. The lift provided by the wings compensates for the gravity or downward force and the thrust provided by the engine or motor compensates for the drag which is created by the friction of the aircraft moving through the air.