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Model Aircraft Flying Started with Indoor Planes

Today’s micro RC gear make indoor plane flight an everyday reality


Indoor model airplane

Typical early rubber powered free flight model

The first practical rubber band powered plane designs were test flown at the beginning of the 20th century. These early flying models relied on the construction technology of the day, to include Ambroid cement, relatively heavy doped paper and silk coverings, and bamboo wood components. To obtain the best flight times for these early pioneers of model flight, the planes were normally flown indoors to minimize the effects of wind.

Gas powered free flight model from 1930s

Gas powered outdoor free flight model from 1930s

As model construction technology and design development concepts advanced, so did the scope and variety of a typical indoor plane evolve. Free flight models made of balsa with powerful rubber band motors, followed by gas engine powered aircraft dominated contests in the 1930s.

Post World War II

After World War II, model plane development remained static as opposed to the new and popular U-control model airplane flight. In the early 1960s, the first practical radio control equipment became available, signaling the explosion of activity with these gas powered outdoor RC flyers.

Modelers retained a keen interest in transferring radio control flight to a convenient smaller plane. The size and weight of the radio control equipment available at the time, compared with the low power of the brushed electric motors, made the development of an indoor plane a distant dream for most modelers.

Indoor free flight model

Rubber powered indoor free flight model with lightweight airplane wheels

Enthusiasts continued to try and figure out some way of making an indoor RC model airplane fly and sort out various design challenges. Guillow kits are good conversion candidates.

First micro planes

In the mid-1990s, single channel radio control equipment became miniaturized enough that rudder only micro planes became a reality. While you really need two channels to properly control an RC plane, the ability to turn left or right allowed at least the beginnings of normal RC flight for this new breed of plane.

The next technical barrier that needed to be overcome concerned the batteries. Until the late 1990s the only rechargeable batteries for the electric motors used by all planes were NiCad or NiMH varieties.

These batteries are still in use today, but are too heavy for the small aircraft envisioned by RC modelers. The advent of light weight lithium polymer (or lipo) batteries, with truly micro proportional control radio control equipment, opened the doors to just about any type of small to micro indoor plane envisioned by model airplane designers.


Finch indoor RC model airplane

ParkZone electric motor and RC equipment

Electric motors

The electric motors used by these models advanced as well. The motors were not as critical as the need for micro RC gear and light weight batteries as the typical indoor model plane does not fly that fast.

Brushed electric motors were common, and using geared thrust allowed for most plane designs to have adequate power. Engineers continued to refine engine design with the introduction of brushless electric motors.

Brushless motors provide incredible thrust and require essentially zero maintenance. Brushed motors still have a place and perform well with the smallest micro flyers. Brushless motors remain the first choice of power for the majority of indoor RC pilots.

Any type of small radio control airplane requires precision with the build and alignment of the model. Small errors in construction, especially the addition of unnecessary weight, will have a much greater effect on flight performance than with larger models. Thus everyday micro planes faced the barrier of specialized construction techniques not easily met by the average modeler.

ParkZone Cessna 210 micro RC model

The ParkZone Cessna 210 three channel model airplane

Ready to fly model planes

This final challenge was overcome by the introduction of truly top quality and very affordable ready to fly micro planes made from foam. This new breed of RTF model was pioneered with the ParkZone line of micro flyers, beginning with the Cessna 210.

ParkZone models rapidly branched out into a wide variety of RTF indoor plane designs that included more powerful micro motors and four channel fully acrobatic aircraft. The E-flite Extra 300 is a very good example of a fully aerobatic, four channel ready to fly foam RC airplane.

You cannot go wrong with today’s collection of smaller RC planes. These models are inexpensive and fly extremely well. For areas of the country with harsh winters, these smaller planes allows for RC flight year round.

If you are in doubt as to how well these models fly, just visit a local RC fight venue. You will quickly see by the numbers of aircraft airborne that the day of convenient RC indoor flight is here to stay.

Author: Gordon McKay

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