The 10 Best RC Helicopters
This wiki has been updated 24 times since it was first published in March of 2015. The precursors to today's fancy, self-stabilizing drones, remote control helicopters deliver a challenge as well as a lot of fun for kids and adults alike. We've compiled models of various sizes suitable for varying skill levels, with some great for learning RC basics, some for performing advanced inverted and looping tricks, and everything in between. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. Skip to the best rc helicopter on Amazon.
Take Flight With An RC Helicopter
The development of efficient, compact lithium batteries saw the ever more precipitous shift from fuel-powered engines to electrically-operated motors.
One can also slide right up the pricing scale to find RC helicopters that cost as much as a hundred dollars and more.
The RC helicopter has come a long way in a relatively short period of time. For the first few decades of their existence, most radio-controlled helicopters were powered by either a special fuel known as glow fuel (which is made of a blend of methanol, nitromethane, and oil) or by actual gasoline.
In fact, it wasn't until the 1990s that electrically-powered RC helicopters began to see widespread use. The development of efficient, compact lithium batteries saw the ever more precipitous shift from fuel-powered engines to electrically-operated motors. Today, almost every RC helicopter you find uses an electric battery.
RC helicopters are popular with children and adults alike. The smaller, more affordable models are akin to toys, with limited flight control options and shorter flight times, while larger, more complex, and more expensive units operate like full-sized, helicopters, albeit obviously scaled down.
On the low end of the price scale, you can find RC helicopters for as little as fifteen dollars. These inexpensive, diminutive little choppers will usually only fly for around five minutes when fully charged, and often only have an effective control range of a few dozen feet. However, a compact and affordable helicopter like this is a great choice for the youngster just learning the hobby, especially if the helicopter will be flown indoors. This is true both because lightweight, little RC helicopters tend to absorb the damage of frequent crashes and because they don't cause much damage when they have an accidental collision or two. Most such units offer enough control to fly up and down and to move about with relative ease. Given their low cost, these toy helicopters make the perfect first RC vehicle for the budding enthusiast.
One can also slide right up the pricing scale to find RC helicopters that cost as much as a hundred dollars and more. At this higher price point, you will indeed get a vehicle that is just a scaled-down helicopter. Advanced RC choppers can be controlled in terms of pitch, altitude, direction, and speed. They have much the same flight control surfaces as any helicopter you would see in the sky above you, albeit with those flight controls managed from the transmitter in your hand instead of by your body in the cockpit.
In the higher price ranges, you can look for RC helicopters outfitted with cameras, lights, and the ability to fly continuously for up to fifteen minutes.
Differences Between Drones And RC Helicopters
To the uninitiated, one remotely controlled flying vehicle might seem similar to any other compact flying machine. But when someone uses the now common word drone, they more often than not are referring to a quadcopter specifically. These ever more popular remotely controlled flying machines use a battery of four sets of rotors -- two of which rotate clockwise, the others that rotate counter clockwise -- to lift the vehicle upward, often requiring minimal input from the "pilot" to maintain stability.
The challenges of flying an RC helicopter also make its successful control more rewarding.
Drones have only become popular to the point of ubiquity following the development of and miniaturization of the same batteries that led to electrically-powered RC helicopters supplanting fuel powered fliers. Because drones with four rotors are inherently more stable than a helicopter, they can readily be used as platforms for other features such as cameras, GPS receivers, lights, and even adaptations designed to pick up objects or perform other functions.
An RC helicopter, on the other hand, is often a more challenging vehicle to fly because of its one or two main rotors and its rear tail rotor requiring frequent input to maintain stable flight. The challenges of flying an RC helicopter also make its successful control more rewarding.
So ultimately, the person who chooses to use a drone is probably more interested in the images and videos they can capture using its camera, in seeing its lights shining high above the field in which they stand, checking its coordinates via GPS, or in running their drone through an obstacle course. The RC helicopter pilot is usually more interested in the flight characteristics of the RC helicopter itself, enjoying good flying as its own reward.
A Few Words On RC Helicopter Safety
When used properly, an RC helicopter is a reasonably safe device that is unlikely to cause damage or injury. When used irresponsibly, these flying vehicles can cause both damage and injury in the extreme -- RC aerial vehicle accidents have even been linked to several deaths over the years.
When these units are at full power, they are more responsive to control and they are less likely to suddenly drop from the air.
To avoid injuries or property damage, first make sure you know exactly how to fly your RC helicopter. That means reading through its manual, studying its flight surfaces and the controls on the transmitter, and reading up on or watching instructional videos about the flight characteristics of RC fliers and helicopters in general.
When you are first learning how to fly your RC helicopter, you should do so outside on days without significant wind blowing. That helps to reduce the collisions often caused by over-correction, a common error new pilots make. Also try to choose an area free of power lines, low tree branches, and other obstacles. Once you know how to keep your aircraft flying stably, you can then begin to practice maneuvering it from side to side and back and forth. With that mastered, you can move on to varying flight speeds and, soon enough, making ever sharper turns, trying out some quick changes in elevation, and so forth.
Only once you have gotten a sure hand on controlling your RC helicopter outdoors where there are minimal obstacles, feel free to move a smaller chopper indoors. Know that some larger RC vehicles, especially those with larger blade diameters, should never be used inside. If an RC helicopter is large enough to cause significant damage in a crash, then consider the fact that even an experienced operator can always lose control with the vehicle and don't put it in flight in a situation where it could become a sudden liability.
Whenever possible, only fly an RC helicopter that has been given ample time to charge its batteries. When these units are at full power, they are more responsive to control and they are less likely to suddenly drop from the air.
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