Fact Checked

What are Remote Control Airplanes?

Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

Remote control airplanes are unmanned airplanes that are controlled via a remote device of some sort. Remote control airplanes are generally assumed to refer to model airplanes, used for recreation, as opposed to military-grade unmanned drones, although these may also be remote control airplanes.

Model airplanes have been around as long as airplanes themselves, and in fact model airships predated airplanes themselves. In fact, the first remote control airplanes were not even airplanes, but were actually remote control ships filled with hydrogen during the late-19th century. These ships used a very simple radio signal to issue controls, and were flown around theatres as a form of entertainment.

Remote control for a model airplane.
Remote control for a model airplane.

There are many different sorts of remote control airplanes, for every level of skill and price range. At the most simple level are basic park flyers, which are simple electric remote control airplanes, which really can only move up and down and slightly side to side. These are usually fairly cheap remote control airplanes, and are what are most often purchased for children or beginners to the hobby. They are known as park flyers because their size and speed makes them suitable for flying around a small park, or even indoors in a large enough building. Because park flyers generally fly so slowly, they can’t really be flown in heavy winds, which can cause them to be pushed off course or to the ground.

Drones can carry weapons.
Drones can carry weapons.

Jets are another class of remote control airplanes, and tend to be substantially more expensive than park flyers. These remote control airplanes run on actual jet fuel, and they can go as fast as 200MPH (320KPH), making them fairly dangerous for anyone except expert flyers. In fact, these remote control airplanes are regulated by the FAA, and only certified hobby pilots can fly them in certain restricted areas. Jets generally cost upwards of $1,000 US Dollars (USD), with some reaching in excess of $15,000 USD.

The MQ-1 Predator drone, a remotely controlled military aircraft, is used for reconnaissance missions.
The MQ-1 Predator drone, a remotely controlled military aircraft, is used for reconnaissance missions.

Remote control airplanes can also be separated into two classes based on their level of control: simple flyers and 3D flyers. Simple flyers can generally only move up and down and slightly left and right, with limited variation in speed. 3D flyers, on the other hand, have a high thrust-to-weight ratio, and advanced controls, allowing them to manage any number of impressive feats. 3D remote control airplanes are able to do many of the tricks associated with real jets, such as barrel rolls, intentional stalling, and hovering.

Remote control airplanes can be purchased as finished kits, often called Ready to Fly (RTF), or as kits that need to be prepared. Most beginners buy simple RTF planes, which can cost less than $100 USD, to play with intermittently in a park or other large open space. More advanced hobbyists, however, generally choose to assemble their own plane, allowing them more control over everything from materials to fuel capacity to the tightness of controls.

In addition to hobbyist uses, remote control airplanes are used for a number of scientific and military purposes. Unmanned aerial vehicles, such as the Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane of World War I, or the modern MQ-1 Predator, are used for military reconnaissance or for actually deploying payloads in hostile territory. Others, such as the Aerosonde, may be used for scientific research, such as traveling into the high-velocity winds of hurricanes to learn more about dangerous environments.

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Discussion Comments


@Laotionne -The article talks about the different prices of the remote control airplanes. I'm guessing you are not looking to purchase one of the $15,000 ones. My advice would be to start your nephew off with a really cheap one that can easily be replaced. This way he gets to learn how to fly the planes without damaging a really expensive one.

Of course, the cheap ones might fall apart after a couple of flights and a couple of crash landings, so maybe you should buy him an entire fleet of them. You might even want to consider buying him a remote control model airplane he can build himself.

When he sees how much time and effort goes into building the plane, he will probably take better care of it.


@Laotionne - You are right to be concerned about buying a remote control airplane for your nephew and having it damaged or destroyed. After all, the toy is going to be flying through the air, assuming it works properly. I imagine crash landings are going to put a strain on whatever material the plane is made of.

I think this is the kind of toy where an adult needs to spend a good bit of time helping the child get the hang of using it, so he doesn't damage it before he has a chance to enjoy it at least a little.


I bet kids love these remote control airplanes. I think I'm going to buy one for nephew for his birthday. My only concern is whether the plane will hold up well. You know kids can be rough on toys. My nephew definitely can be, and the last thing I want is to buy another gift for a kid and have the toy break before the day is over. I have given these types of gifts too often. Then the kid is crying and I feel miserable.

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    • Remote control for a model airplane.
      Remote control for a model airplane.
    • Drones can carry weapons.
      By: raptorcaptor
      Drones can carry weapons.
    • The MQ-1 Predator drone, a remotely controlled military aircraft, is used for reconnaissance missions.
      By: icholakov
      The MQ-1 Predator drone, a remotely controlled military aircraft, is used for reconnaissance missions.