Electric RC Beginners – Part 1

Electric RC beginners have to start somewhere with their understanding of electric motor power systems for radio control model aircraft. I get a lot of questions from readers along the lines “I have been out of the hobby for several

Fokker Spin RC model plane

1911 Fokker Spin – purchase plans at Store tab

years and want to get back in with electric powered flight.” There is just so much information out there to learn it can be daunting to know where to begin.

Initial Steps

This section will be the start of several pages to guide a newcomer on how to take the initial steps with electric RC flight. This will not be a detailed set of instructions on precisely how to do every task, but rather a series of organizational points from where to start with this continuous learning process.

In this initial discussion I’ll assume you have some basic building skills and can construct a model airplane from a kit or set of plans. Or perhaps you found an already built model at a swap meet and want to change out the gas or glow engine to an electric motor.

Thunder Power RC lipo 2 cell battery pack. Note battery power lead (red and white wires) and balancing plug (three wire connection).

Thunder Power RC lipo 2 cell battery pack. Note battery power lead (red and white wires) and balancing plug (three wire connection).

There are two main issues the electric RC beginner will need to resolve in this case. The first is what type of motor and electric speed control (ESC) to use, and the second is a suitable rechargeable battery and battery charger. Once these two items are sorted out the remainder of the issues are fairly normal airplane building and installation tasks, not that much different from working on a glow or gas powered model.

The internet will be an invaluable source of information with gaining this knowledge. Most of the larger websites have forums that can answer of lot of questions from previous posters. You can always sign up and post questions of your own on a specific problem.

Perhaps the largest electric radio control site is RC Groups. The site has a huge forum and a great search function. Just about every topic regarding electric radio control is covered somewhere.

Horizon Hobby

Thunder Power TP610C-ACDC lipo charger with included balancing board

Thunder Power TP610C-ACDC lipo charger with included balancing board

A second good resource is Horizon Hobby. I have visited the Horizon Hobby plant in Champaign, IL and personally witnessed their technicians answering various questions on the phone. Horizon Hobby sells and supports several of the more popular brands of radios and electric RC gear. In addition to selling their products they do a great job of repair and support.

If you are absolutely new to electric power systems my advice would be to simply give one the Horizon Hobby technicians a call. They will ask you for the size and weight of your model and what type of flying you plan on doing (sport, 3D, acrobatic, etc.). They will offer several options for compatible electric motor and ESC combinations. In this way you will be assured that the motor and ESC are matched for the expected flight profiles and will “talk to each other” once connected.

For most beginners an outrunner brushless motor will be the right choice. These motors are in common use and have essentially no moving parts other than a rotating bearing, thus they will run a long time with minimal maintenance. It is important to get an ESC that is designed for an outrunner (as opposed to the older brushed motor technology), thus the utility of speaking with a technician at Horizon.

Nearly completed Buzz Bomb fuselage

Nearly completed Buzz Bomb fuselage

In addition to purchasing the correct motor and ESC combination you will need a variety of supplies to install and operate the motor. With experience you will know what to order. But at this early stage just tell the technician that you are new and desire to order any and all items required to complete the installation.

Additional Items

Some of these items may come with the motor, such as a firewall mount. Other items will need to be ordered separately such as a propellor mounting collet, electric propellors (get a few extra as you will break the props from time to time), Deans connectors and gold bullet connectors for the three motor electrical wires.

Now that the motor and ESC are selected, the next big item is to choose the proper battery and charger.

Lithium polymer (or lipo) batteries are in just about universal use these days to power electric radio control models. Nicads were the initial battery of choice for electric RC flight. Nicads are just about never is use these days due to their weight. Lipos are without question the rechargeable battery of choice.

There is still a fire hazard with lipo batteries if they are not handled properly. Again, there is a huge section on the RC Groups site discussing lipo battery fires. It is good to read up on this to be aware of these safety issues.

View of open fireproof lockbox used to store lip batteries

View of open fireproof lockbox used to store lip batteries

The fire hazard was a very real concern several years back when lipo batteries were first coming into common use. Lipo battery technology then was new and chargers were in their infancy. Modelers could fairly easily apply incorrect charge rates that could induce overheating, and battery pack cell balancers were not developed.

This has all changed today with advanced, computer controlled chargers and battery cell balancers. However, lipo batteries and the charging process must be fully respected. For example, you should never charge a lipo battery unattended and be sure to store them in a fire safe container. Lipo battery technology is much more advanced with the result being a safer battery.

But is it crucial that you use the best lipo batteries available. There are any number of cheap lipo batteries for sale. But this is one area where, in my opinion, it is wise to spend a bit of extra money getting quality hardware.

After a great deal of research and discussion I have settled on using ThunderPower lipo batteries. ThunderPower manufactures their own batteries in their plant outside Las Vegas, Nevada. By all accounts, these are extremely well designed and constructed lipo battery packs.

Side view of the Electro Aviator

Electro Aviator uses a Clark Y airfoil

The second crucial element with lipo batteries is using the correct charger. In this case ThunderPower makes their own series of chargers. I purchased the TP610C-ACDC charger and have been very happy with it. The TP610C-ACDC charger can be used with DC (storage battery) power or AC (wall outlet plug) to charge the batteries.

I had a very pleasant phone discussion with the ThunderPower technician when I purchased the charger and batteries. He even suggested items such as soldering at the factory of Deans connectors to the four lipos that I purchased for my Buzz Bomb airplane.

As the charger and batteries are both made by the same company, all compatibility issues are solved. Finally, ThunderPower has a very instructive 30 minute video demonstrating how to use the charger. All together, a great introduction on the use of these two crucial items for successful RC electric flight.

In conclusion for this part on beginning electric RC flight, with the selection of a motor and ESC combination along with this right lipo battery and charger, you are well along the path to successful flight.

All that remains at this point is to install the hardware and connect all the components. In the next update I’ll discuss receivers, motor testing and other considerations for a newcomer to electric flight.