What type of plane should I buy?

There are many planes available to buy. For learning to fly, you need something specifically designed as a “primary trainer”. Generally, all these planes look very similar: they’ll all have a reasonably large, more-or-less rectangular wing, mounted above the fuselage. The wing will often have a flat bottom, and the two wing panels will be angled slightly upwards from the centre (dihedral). This is done as it’s a very stable configuration which usually makes for an easy plane to fly, especially when flying slowly. Nowadays, any decent trainer will be “4-channel”, with radio control over throttle, aileron, elevator, and rudder. Many older models did not have aileron control, but we wouldn’t recommend this for a trainer nowadays, as it means you’ll grow out of the plane much more quickly.

Historically, you’d have had to go and buy a kit or plans and build the plane yourself. While this is still possible, we would not recommend it for your first trainer. Firstly, it will take quite a long time compared to the alternatives, and that’s time when you’ll have to be building rather than learning and practising. Secondly, if it’s your first flying model, there’s a chance that you could build it with an unintentional warp or other flaw, which would make it very hard to fly. Finally, you won’t be flying this trainer forever: the same things that make trainers good models for initial learning tend to make them less interesting models once your skills have improved. Another point to consider is that trainers tend to have a hard life, and if you do have a crash it could be quite dispiriting if you’ve spent many weeks building a model, as opposed to something that can be assembled in a weekend.

Most trainers now available are what is called “ARTF”, for “Almost Ready To Fly”. Typically, this means that most of the structure has been built and covered for you, but you still need to do things like fitting the engine and radio equipment, as well as often gluing together larger assemblies (like joining wing halves, or gluing tail surfaces to the fuselage). An experienced modeller can probably put together an ARTF trainer in a weekend, but if it’s your first one expect to take a bit longer as there’s a bit to learn the first time!

As well as traditional wooden models (whether ARTF or kit), there are also now an increasing number of aircraft made from moulded foam, including some trainers. Opinions are a bit divided on these, but generally we would not recommend these as a first trainer. Firstly, they are often very light, which means they’re badly affected by wind, and this could seriously limit the amount of training you can have. Secondly, many of them are relatively small. A typical wooden trainer will have a wingspan somewhere around the 60-70 inch (1.5-1.8 metre) mark, which is small enough to fit in most hatchback cars, but large enough that it’s still reasonably easy to see in the sky. One of the hardest things when starting to learn to fly is picking up the orientation of the plane in the sky. If you buy a small plane then you’re making your life needlessly hard. Thirdly, repairing foam models can be difficult, depending on the degree of damage, and you may need to buy spare parts.

If you want a specific plane recommendation, few people in the club would disagree with either a Seagull Boomerang II or an Irvine Tutor 40. These are both wooden ARTF models, and are good 4-channel trainers. If you come down on a Sunday with decent weather there is very likely to be one of at least one of these in action at the field. There are many other choices, but as ever we’d advise discussing other choices with people at the field – there are a couple of models that we’d caution against. Whatever you get, we’d recommend a tailwheel (or “taildragger”) configuration, as we’ve seen too many beginners bending their nose-legs while trying to learn landings!