Getting to know the Parts of an RC Airplane

Sep 15

Getting to know the Parts of an RC Airplane

Parts of an RC Airplane


As we discussed earlier, an RC model airplane is a scaled down version of an actual aircraft. Therefore, all the individual parts of an RC airplane are also scaled down version of parts that you will find on a full-sized aircraft. The mechanism with which each part functions is also based on the same principles as a full-sized aircraft. Being able to understand how each part functions and what effect they have on the airplane’s flight is crucial. Therefore, let us take a look at the individual parts briefly.


b4e485e9922abfc Getting to know the Parts of an RC Airplane



The engine acts as the power plant of an RC airplane. It can be an electric motor, an internal combustion gas engine, or a jet engine. The engine is mounted towards the nose of the plane and provides the necessary thrust. The size of the engine depends on the weight and size of the airplane. A heavier airplane would need more thrust to generate lift, and hence a bigger engine (refer to my article “The Fundamentals of Flight – How an airplane flies?”)



The propeller is basically a wing section made of airfoil sections just like a wing but it is twisted along the span. The propeller is mounted to the engine in propeller driven RC airplanes. Jet engine RC Airplanes don’t have a propeller and generates thrust by means of the jet engine. Propellers are designated by two numbers: Diameter and Pitch.  Thus a 12-6 propeller is 12″ in diameter and has 6″ of pitch.  Pitch is the distance a propeller will move forward in one revolution in a perfect fluid (which air is not).  Therefore, a 6″ pitch will move forward 6″ with each 360° revolution of the propeller. The propeller should be chosen to match the aircraft — not the engine.  For example, mounting a racing propeller to a WWI aircraft will severely limit the model.  An early warbird has so much airframe drag that the propeller will never come close to living up to it’s potential and the model will be a sluggish flyer at best.


Horizontal Stabilizer (Tailplane)

The tailplane serves three purposes: equilibrium, stability and control. The tailplane has a hinged flap called an elevator, which allows the pilot to control the amount of lift produced by the tailplane.

Elevators provide pitch control by moving either up or down simultaneously causing the airplane to pitch about the center of gravity of RC Airplane. When elevator is moved up the nose of the airplane rises and is known as pitch up. When the elevator is moved down the nose of the RC Airplane moves down and is known as pitch down. (Click here to see an illustration of the yaw, pitch and roll of an airplane.)


Vertical Stabilizer (Fin)

The vertical stabilizer or fin is usually right on top of the tailplane and at an exact 90® angle to it. The trailing end of the stabilizer is typically movable, and called the rudder; this allows the aircraft pilot to control yaw. (Click here to see an illustration of the yaw, pitch and roll of an airplane.)



Ailerons are roll-control control surfaces of the RC Airplanes. Ailerons provide roll by moving in opposite direction to each other. When one aileron moves down the other moves up thus providing more lift on one side as oppose to the other causing the RC Airplane to roll. Ailerons are at the trailing edge of the wing and towards the wing tips. (Click here to see an illustration of the yaw, pitch and roll of an airplane.)



The flaps can be used to increase the lift during landing and take-off to better take advantage of the ground effect. The flaps move simultaneously. When both flaps move down it is known as flaps-down and increases lift of the wing. When flaps move up it is known as flaps-up. Sometimes, flaps are designed so that they only move down or come to the neutral position and not move up.


Main Gear or Landing Gear

The main gear or landing gear are the main landing wheels of the RC airplane. The main gear has to be strong and yet flexible enough to provide safe takeoff and landing to the airplane. A rigid inflexible landing gear can damage the structure as the entire weight / reaction force would be carried by the fuselage. So, in order to avoid this landing gears are designed to be strong yet flexible enough so they bend slightly during landing or takeoff to disperse the load and provides safe and smooth landing. Landing gear or main gears consist of a pair of wheels which are generally larger in diameter as compared to the nose gear wheel. The landing gear wheels are not steerable.


Nose Gear

Nose gear is a member of the landing gear set on a typical conventional RC airplane configuration. The nose gear is used to steer the airplane nose to move the airplane right or left when on the ground. The servo which connects the nose gear is also connected to the rudder. So, the direction in which the rudder moves the nose gear also follows that direction. During takeoff the nose gear is used to steer the RC airplane so it is centered to the runway. Without a steerable nose gear it is not possible to maneuver/ move on the ground without manually moving it.


Having a clear understanding on each of the parts and their functions will give you tremendous confidence when you actually start flying your RC airplane. Be especially mindful of the pitch, roll and yaw movements as they will be crucial in mastering the controls.


In the next article, we will discuss about the different electronics that go inside the plane. We will also get an insight into the radio or transmitter and how the plane is controlled with it, hence the name Radio Controlled or RC model airplane!

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