When I was a kid, I couldn’t understand why someone would spend 100’s of hours building a scale model then get up the nerve to fly it.
That was until I put together my first RC helicopter and realized building them is as much fun as flying them.
Planning, creating, machining, building and sculpting a scale model RC helicopter from scratch is a lot of fun and the sense of accomplishment when everything fits together and looks just right is huge.
Scale RC helicopters are simply RC helicopters modeled after a full scale real life helicopter.
Scale RC helicopters can come in all sizes from 1/30th scale to 1/4 scale. The larger it is the more realistic you can make it look and the more realistic it will fly, but as the size increases the costs to build it increase significantly.
Some popular scale RC helicopter models you’re likely to come across are the Airwolf, Chinook, Bell UH1, Jet Ranger and the Huges 500.
Good scale RC helicopters aren’t only designed to look like a full sized heli, but they’re also designed to fly and perform like one as well.
Around the country and across the world there are scale model competitions where scratch built scale models are judged based on how closely they resemble the full sized helicopter they’re modeled after.
Many competition scale modelers will even get every single detail perfect not just on the outside, but on the inside of the cockpit as well.
Scale RC helicopters and other aircraft are also often used in movies, especially lower budget productions, because when they’re up in the air, it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference in real life, let alone on film.
Putting together a scale model can be as simple as buying a scale model kit from your local hobby store or as complicated as creating everything from scratch and modeling it off a real full scale helicopter right down to the chipped paint.
If you’re going to go the route of purchasing a scale model kit or scale fuselage some come 100% ready to go with paint schemes and all – you just need to install it.
There are also kits that provide the bare bones and it’s up to you to put it together, make the proper cutouts and prime and paint the fuselage.
If you’re just starting out with scale heli’s or want the look of one without the work, a pre-assembled and painted kit may be the way to go.
But if you want a more custom look without the cost and time needed to fabricate a custom design a good base kit may be the way to go.
Or if you’re skilled and up for a challenge you can build a scale model from scratch.
Extreme scale modelers have been know to design the entire scale model RC helicopter from scratch, but most use an existing airframe as a base and design a fuselage around it.
Building a scale RC helicopter model from the ground up often involves finding a picture of a full sized helicopter to model everything off of right down to the paint scheme and wear and tear.
Everything from the main rotors to the skids to the tail rotor must be proportional to the rest of the helicopter. So, if you’re working off a picture, often you can find the sizes of the helicopter you’re modeling online somewhere, though sometimes you’ll only be able to come up with the length, width height and main rotor diameters of the helicopter, so you’ll need to use those measurements as a reference to calculate the size of the other parts.
Building a scale RC helicopter model from scratch might include everything from making fiberglass molds to machining aluminum, steel and carbon fiber using a CNC machine or hand tools.
Wood is also often used as structural reinforcements because of its strength, elastic properties, light weight and because it’s easy to work with.
Another important thing you’ll want to work into your scale model is proper realistic looking lighting. Many hobby stores, both online and offline sell lighting kits that can be plugged right into your receiver to accomplish that, or if you have a little soldering and electronics skills, you can pick up a few LED’s at an electronics shop and make your own.
Dimension Engineering sells a switch called the pico switch that can be hooked up to your receiver and controlled from your radio to turn lights on and off. They also have LED lighting kits available for scale modeling.
The basic RC helicopter needs a 6 channel radio: three channels for the cyclic, one for the rudder, one for the gyro gain and one for the throttle.
Because scale RC helicopters often have extra’s like landing gear and lights that you’ll want to be able to control from your radio transmitter, as a minimum you’ll need a 9 channel radio, though a 12 channel would be preferable and a 14 channel would be super.
If you can afford it, a turbine powered heli makes a great scale RC helicopter model because it works and sounds just like a life sized helicopter.
If a turbine RC helicopter is a little out of your price range or skill set, there’s a company called Aerosound RC that produces sound systems for your RC heli that sounds just like a turbine powered helicopter. It even connects to your throttle channel and gives accurate spool ups and downs.
Most scale RC helicopter pilots set their gyros to rate mode because it lends itself to a more realistic looking flight experience.
Unless you’re using an off the shelf fuselage to fit on the frame of your existing RC heli, most scale RC helicopters aren’t set up for 3D flying. There’s a copy of reasons for this:
1. Full scale helicopters don’t do 3D.
2. Often custom built scale helicopters are heavy and can’t stand up to 3D flight.
Powerful buy slower servos are usually used when compared to your average RC helicopter and the cyclic speed, range, pitch curves are often a fraction of what you’ll find on an all out 3D RC helicopter. If you’ve every tried flying a scale RC helicopter in a simulator, you’ll note how slow and sluggish it is when maneuvering.
There’s another reason for the slower response times and pitch ranges – you’re a lot less likely to crash. A simple crash can mean 10’s or 100’s of hours of lost work or complete devastation of your model.
If you’re considering going to scale, something to keep in mind is its addictive, very addictive, and once you go scale model building, it’s hard to go back
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