Great demo by world champion rc helicopter pilot Radio-controlled helicopters (also RC helicopters) are model aircraft which are distinct from RC airplanes because of the differences in construction, aerodynamics, and flight training. Several basic designs of RC helicopters exist, of which some (such as those with collective pitch control) are more maneuverable than others. The more maneuverable designs are often harder to fly, but benefit from greater aerobatic capabilities.
Flight controls allow pilots to control the collective (or throttle, on fixed pitch helicopters), the cyclic controls (pitch and roll), and the tail rotor (yaw). Controlling these in unison enables the helicopter to perform the same maneuvers as full-sized helicopters, such as hovering and backwards flight, and many that full-sized helicopters cannot, such as inverted flight (where collective pitch control provides negative blade pitch to hold heli up inverted, and pitch/yaw controls must be reversed by pilot).
The various helicopter controls are effected by means of small servo motors, commonly known as servos. A piezoelectric gyroscope sensor is typically used on the tail rotor (yaw) control to counter wind- and torque-reaction-induced tail movement. Most newer helicopters have gyro-stabilization on the other 2 axes of rotation (pitch and roll) as well. Such 3-axis gyro is typically called a flybarless controller, so-called because it eliminates the need for a flybar.
The engines typically used to be methanol-powered two-stroke motors, but electric brushless motors combined with a high-performance lithium polymer battery (LiPo) are now more common and provide improved efficiency, performance and lifespan compared to brushed motors, while decreasing prices bring them within reach of hobbyists. Gasoline and jet turbine engines are also used.
Just like full sized helicopters, model helicopter rotors turn at high speeds and can cause severe injuries. Several deaths have occurred as recently as 2013.
Types of R/C helicopters
Common power sources of R/C helicopters are glow fuel (also called nitro fuel, nitromethane-methanol), electric batteries, gasoline (petrol) and turbine engines. For the first 40 years, glow fuel helicopters were the most common type produced. However, in the last 10 years, electric powered helicopters have matured to a point where power and flight times have equaled glow fuel helicopters.
There have been two main types of systems to control the main rotors, mechanical mixing and cyclic/collective pitch mixing (CCPM). Most earlier helicopters used mechanical mixing. Today, nearly all R/C helicopter use CCPM.
Practical electric helicopters are a recent development but have rapidly developed and become more common, overtaking glow fuel helicopters in common use. Turbine helicopters are also increasing in popularity, although the high cost puts them out of reach of most people.
Two small electric helicopters emerged in the mid-1990s. These were the Kalt Whisper and the Kyosho EP Concept, flying on 7–8 × 1.2 Ah NiCad batteries with brushed motors. However, the 540-sized brushed-motors were on the limit of current draw, often 20–25 amps on the more powerful motors, hence brush and commutator problems were common.
Recent advancements in battery technology are making electric flying more feasible in terms of flying time. Lithium polymer (LiPo) batteries are able to provide the high current required for high performance aerobatics while still remaining very light. Typical flight times are 4–12 minutes depending on the flying style and battery capacity.
In the past electric helicopters were used mainly indoors due to the small size and lack of fumes. Larger electric helicopters suitable for outdoor flight and advanced aerobatics have become a reality over the last few years and have become very popular. Their quietness has made them very popular for flying sites close to residential areas and in places such as Germany where there are strict noise restrictions. Nitro helicopters have also been converted to electric power by commercial and homemade kits.
The smallest remote-controlled production model helicopter made (Guinness World Records 2006) is the Picooz Extreme MX-1 sold at many toy stores (although this is infrared controlled, not radio), electronics stores and internet stores, costing about $30 (£28). The next smallest is the standard Picooz helicopter.
Several models are in contention for the title of the smallest non-production remote-controlled helicopter, including the Pixelito family of micro helicopters, the Proxflyer family, and the Micro flying robot.
Glow fuel (nitro fuel)
Glow fuel, or nitro fuel helicopters (not to be confused with gas, or gasoline powered helicopters) have been made in several sizes over the years. These are referred to as the "class" of the helicopter. They include 1/2A class, 15 class, 30 class, 50 class, 60 class and 90 class.