In my article RC planes – a primer, I stated that the actual rc plane is the most important piece of equipment in the rc plane hobby. I am now willing to say that the rc transmitter, paired with the receiver, takes home the silver medal. The transmitter is what connects you to the plane and kind of puts you in the cockpit as you use it to control the airplane.
Different types of RC transmitters
You can say that there are basic rc transmitters with 4 to 6 channels and then there are the more advanced computer rc transmitter with 6 channels and upwards. Most RTF plane kits come with a basic 4 channel rc transmitter. It is nothing wrong with this kind of transmitter except that you cannot grow into it. It has its 4 channels and that is it. On the other hand, when it comes to the computer rc transmitters you have more channels and more options for mixing and programming different behavior for different aircrafts and then store all that into the memory of the rc transmitter.
Transmitters are assigned different modes based on what each stick controls. Mode 1, 2, 3, 4 exists and different modes are popular in different parts of the world. For a more thorough explanation, look at my earlier article RC transmitter modes explained.
Plane vs. Heli
Do you need one rc transmitter for your rc planes and one for your rc helis? Yes and No! Especially rc helis requires some extra functionality from your transmitter like CCPM programming, idle up etc. so in the case you like to fly an rc heli you need to make sure that your transmitter has that functionality. Most of the modern 6+ channel computer rc transmitters has functionality for both rc planes and helis.
On older transmitters, but also on the basic rc transmitters, the frequency used to transmit on would be somewhere between 27MHz and 75MHz depending on where you are located in the world. When using this kind of transmitter you need to make sure that no one else is using the same frequency as you, otherwise there will be interference. Interference is the big con with this kind of transmitter.
To prevent the interference issues the newer rc transmitters uses 2.4GHz instead and some kind of spread spectrum modulation. Different brands have their own technologies, e.g. Spektrum has their DSMx and Futaba has their FASST.
The transmitter is the kind of rc equipment that you can use for a long time. Therefore, I recommend spending some money when you buy your transmitter and buy for the future. Add one or two extra channels because you will eventually come to that point where you want to add some fancy features to your planes.
Also, go for some of the more known brands like Spektrum, JR or Futaba. By doing so you will have a much bigger community that can help you with setup, programming or troubleshooting. Why not also make sure that the transmitter can be used for both rc planes and rc helis.
- RC transmitter modes explained
- Hooked On RC Airplanes – RC Airplane Radio
- RC Groups – Radio section