This guide is for those of you thinking of buying a radio controlled plane of any type. I want to put down the things I have found that I would have liked to know before I started, so you can avoid the mistakes I made!
The first peice of advice is to find a club near you. The British Model Flying Association has a club finder, and you can always Google for one. Most clubs provide training with club equipment, so you can try flying before you buy anything.
Don't be tempted to just buy something cheap that comes with everything you need to fly, one that says just charge the battery and fly. Often these are nice little planes, but they are very limited, the radio gear is often short range and model specific, so once you have mastered this model it is not possible to transfer the radio gear to a better model. It is better to buy the best equipment you can afford, because it is much more versatile and will last a long time, and many models.
Once you have tried a club model, ask your instructor for his advice on what to buy. There are lots of Radio manufacturers, radio setups, and thousands of different models. It is important that what you buy works with what your instructor uses, as he will have to fly your plane. Training is usually done by a buddy lead system, in which the instructor flies your model to a safe height, then holds a switch on his transmitter which transfers control to you. By releasing his trainer switch, he can instantly take control and save the model from a crash! So it is important that what you buy matches what he uses.
There are a lot of different types of flying too, and it may be that the first one you try is not what you will ultimately end up doing. There are models powered by petrol engines, electric motors and thermal gliders, slope soaring gliders, helicopters, scale models, all sorts. I started by flying an electric model, but soon found gliders to be much more enjoyable! So if your club is a multi discipline one, try them all if you can. Or try several clubs to find what interests you most.
Trying to learn to fly alone is very difficult. How do you know the site you have chosen is suitable? Is it safe? Are there other fliers nearby, and if so what radio frequency are they using? If your little plastic el cheapo model causes interference and crashes a plane costing thousands, are you insured for the damage done to the shopping centre it crashes in? Model planes can fly a great distance if the flier loses control! My club had an incident a while back where a member lost sight of his model for a moment. It landed in a tree 4 miles away within yards of a busy dual carriageway! If it had caused a car crash, how much would it have cost? Clubs have insurance!
Another factor is that when learning by yourself, you will crash often, damaging or destroying your plane. A friend of mine did this, he broke several models before he got the hang of it. Then he met a club member, who taught him properly. 3 years on, he is one of the most talented fliers I know, flies gliders, electric aerobatics models and helicopters, and rarely makes a mistake.
So to summarise, the advice I would offer is:
1) Find a club and try things out. When you find a club that suits you, join it.
2) Ask your instructor for advice before buying anything. He may know someone selling suitable gear, or can recommend what to get.
3) Buy the best gear you can afford. You pay peanuts you get monkeys!
4) When you know what you are looking at, or have access to good advice, that is the time to use EBay. I am a club instructor, but I will still send an email to friends to ask what they think of a particular item.
5) The golden rule of model flying is this . IS IT SAFE? Ask this question every time you think about flying and you will not go too far wrong!