Older radio controlled aircraft were largely gas-powered, complicated and predominantly used by older hobbyists. Technological innovations, however, have caused a resurgence in electric-powered planes, which is expanding the audience for this toy category.
|"Any kind of flying RC is very, very hot now." — Patricia Koziol, executive director of the Radio Control Hobby Trade Association
"Any kind of flying RC is very, very hot now," says Patricia Koziol, executive director of the Radio Control Hobby Trade Association.
Lighter, more powerful batteries have ushered in a new class of smaller planes and helicopters that can do tricks and fly for much longer durations. They also tend to be easier to assemble, easier to fly and need far less space to operate. Once known as "park flyers," they are now increasingly referred to as "backyard flyers."
Just as these modern aircraft are dwarfed by their lumbering predecessors, their prices are far lower by comparison. "Younger people gravitate towards the smaller planes," says David Dufrene, owner of littlebirdz.com, a maker of custom laser-cut model aircraft. He adds that, "they´re the easiest thing to get into because they´re the least expensive." Coy Tan, an employee of Los Angeles´s The Hobby Place, agrees. "We´re selling a lot of the park-flying airplanes, which range from about $100 and up."
Unlike older-style kits, which remain readily available, many of these new aircraft are Almost Ready to Fly, meaning that they come largely pre-assembled. "The reason the hobby is taking off is because of a combination of ARFs and electrics," says Dufrene. David Wodkowski, an RC salesman at Greenfield News & Hobby in Greenfield, Wis., concurs, noting that RC flying is "not just for the skilled hobbyist anymore."
Brian Carlevato, senior RC buyer for eHobbies, says that Parkzone makes cutting-edge RTF airplanes. Parkzone craft are available to consumers for as little as $139.99. For a starter nitro-fueled plane, Wodkowski recommends the ARF Hobbico Superstar, which sells well at $279.99.
Aside from fuel sources, there´s a great diversity of planes on the market, including replicas of modern and antique fighting planes as well as expert-level jet-engine planes that can exceed 300 miles per hour.
Nonetheless, planes aren´t the only RC aircraft on the market. RCHTA´s Koziol says that micro helicopters are "very popular." Some helicopters, including the E-Flite Blade, an RTF electric micro 3D helicopter, are available for less than $250.
Other products for indoor flight include blimps, flying saucers and micro planes. Draganfly Innovations makes unique products, such as a series of popular four-rotor electric, radio controlled, electronically stabilized flying platforms. They range in price from approximately $1000 to $5000.
More esoteric does not necessarily mean more expensive, though. Plantraco manufactures a large selection of blimps and tiny planes for as little as $50 or less. Although true hobby-grade aircraft have vastly superior speed, maneuverability, flying time and customizability, these toy-like products can provide an excellent introduction to the RC flying world.