A geeky introduction to cheap remote control helicopters and planes

Here's Dan Shapiro's geeky, fun, and inspiring five-minute Ignite talk about becoming a remote control hobbyist for under $100. He writes:

I've done a number of Ignite talks (5 minutes on a geek-friendly topics) but this was by far my favorite.  Topics covered:

* Helicopter aerodynamics
* Battery technology
* The scourge of GDS, Glue Deficiency Syndrome
* Moore's law as applied to RC aircraft and most importantly
* A detailed buying guide that will get you airborne for under a hectobuck.

Also a few shout-outs to little known aspects of the hobby world, like flying boats and 150 mph+ gliders.  If this doesn't make you spend a few bucks on getting cheap chinese electronics airborne (and then suddenly and unexpectedly groundborne again), nothing will.

Geeking out aero-style for a hundred bucks



  1. What a cool topic. However, it’s a classic example of a video where the topic would be much better served by an article, or at least a video not in the oh-christ-breathless Ignite style. It’s like TED with hopeless ADD.

  2. The still makes it look like he’s missing an arm. Made me think there had been a bad accident involving a helicopter…

  3. Please take a look at one of the more informative webforums such as http://www.rcgroups.com/forums/index.php to get some half-decent information. You don’t get a sensible R/C model for $100 any more than you’ll get a real Rolex for a bargain price from a street vendor with a shady mien.

    Find a local club and get some help and advice. Be ready to spend a bit more than $100 to get worthwhile equipment. Don’t expect to get a 150+ mph glider in the air for less than $1000 and remember that some flying experience might make said glider last more than 30 seconds. Remember that R/C models really aren’t toys, that you can damage property and hurt people without a decent level of competence and care. In return for a little effort you’ll get a lifelong hobby that can be massively rewarding and surely beats the hell out of driving an electric cart around a sterile grassland in order to beat a plastic spheroid with a no.12 golf-bat.

  4. I’m interested in the $100 R/C plane. Sure wish Dan had documented his sources for the parts. They’re not on Dan’s or the Ignite website.

  5. KaynonKris (and others)
    Having a Slow Stick of my own, I thought I’d see if I could match Dan’s build list.
    I ended up blowing the $100 limit by about $2.00, maybe skip the latte.
    While better quality components are available, this basic build will definitly work and be a lot of fun for quite a while.

    All these parts came from http://www.hobbycity.com:

    HXT900 9g / 1.6kg / .12sec Micro Servo $10.95
    T1000.3S.25 – Turnigy 1000mAh 3S 25C Lipo Pack $16.58
    Turnigy-3S – Turnigy balancer & Charger 2S-3S $4.49
    HK-SS30A – Hobbyking SS Series 25-30A ESC $9.25
    TP2410-12T – TowerPro BL Outrunner TP2410-12T(Y) $5.99
    TP_11x4.7 – TP Slow Fly propeller 11×4.7 $2.40
    HK-T4A-M2 – Hobby King 2.4Ghz 4Ch Tx & Rx $29.99
    Total: $79.65

    Unfortunatly, they don’t sell the actual Slow Stick kit, that’ll be another $22.95 at http://www.allerc.com (or a dozen other places)

    Hope this is some help to anybody thinking of joining the sport.

  6. Well, Tim, astonishingly enough many RC Groups posters recommend the Slow Stick to beginners without reservation, for teaching themselves.

    So I’d say Mr. Shapiro might not be talking out of his azz, if you know what I mean.

    I still want to know where he gets the servos, power gear, and radios for cheap.

    1. Yes, a Slow Stick can be fun. I had a couple myself some years ago when R/C prices were much higher – hobbycity is certainly stirring things up in the market and I’ve recently equipped a 72″ wingspan scale Yak-54 almost entirely with parts from their stock. It flies rather nicely, so far.

      My issue with claims about $100 setups is mostly that it encourages a throw-away approach to the hobby. I’ve seen way too many cases of someone turning up at a park with wildly inappropriate gear, no clue about how to set anything up to work, no clue about how to use the model, no interest in co-operating with other flyers (a tiny bit less of an issue with the modern 2.4GHz spread spectrum radios, certainly) and generally no interest in anything past opening the box and expecting to fly. I’d like to think there is so much more to R/C flying as a hobby.

      1. So, some people act like jerks, and therefore this is a bad approach to RC aviation?

        I’m really not sure I’m following your rationale.

        Lots of people bring lots of different perspectives, and goals, and abilities to whatever it is that they do. So what?

  7. I bought a Mosquito 4×4 a few months back, after reading about it in Make. It’s the perfect fun distraction if you live in a tiny NYC apartment. Fair Warning: Your friends will want to fly it, they will crash it, and the rotors will break. Luckily they’re pretty inexpensive to replace. The learning curve to fly it properly is really steep, but that’s why I enjoy it so much. It’s a challenge that hasn’t grown stale in the few months I’ve had it.

  8. @KanyonKris: The slides are available in much more legible form on SlideShare (http://is.gd/4v5kz). Slide 12 has the parts list. I got my slow stick from a neighborhood shop in Seattle for $18.90, which accounts for the two bucks and a latte.

    And by the way, this build isn’t theoretical – I have a Spektrum DX6i transmitter (really the most worthwhile thing to overspend on), but besides that, this is what I fly. And crash. Repeatedly.

  9. Anonymous – thank you for the parts list.

    Dan – thanks for the link to your slides and additional info.

    I’ve been itching for a project and the Slow Stick looks fun.

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