STANDARD RADIOS vs. COMPUTER RADIOS
I think you will find the economics of computer radios have changed in the
last 2-3 years. This is partially due to the advance in electronics and
partly because people are buying that second, third plane much sooner. We
have flyers in our club who have been flying less than 6 months who have 3
planes already. The cost has dropped so much, and the availability of ARFs
and high quality kits have made it cheaper and simpler to get the next plane.
There is little to hold them back.
I recommend new pilots go directly to the computer radios. If they start with
an RTF, then they use that radio to fly that plane. When they buy the second
plane, they get the computer radio.
A quality electric ARF parkflyer or simple to build kit, with the motor, can
cost as little as $40. A flight pack for that plane can be as low as $70.
You can put it in the air over a weekend.
An ARF 2 meter sailplane can be $90. The electronics to put that in the air
can be around $70 and can be completed in a couple of evenings.
In the glow and gas powered world these low costs and rapid adoption of second
and third planes might be different. I can't say.
BACK TO RADIOS
Just as computers have wiped out the typewriter, so the computer radio is
making the standard radio obsolete. Today, nobody buys a kid a typewriter
to type his school papers. They get a computer.
I have come to the conclusion that the only reason to buy
a standard radio is lack of confidence that you plan to go forward, or
the standard radio came as part of an RTF package.
Here is a quick look at some key points.
Economics - Let's compare - Tower Hobbies catalogue
Hitec Laser 4, std Radioand 4 standard servos - $120
Futaba 4 EXA computer radio, receiver, 4 standard servos $149
Hitec Flash 5SX computer radio, receiver, 4 std servos $156
Difference is $29-59
Looking at the Flash, you get 5 model memories so you can instantly switch to
any of 5 models without having to reset anything. If we ignore servos and
receiver, the Flash covers your next four planes for about $9 each. With the
standard radio you need to reset for each plane, carefully keep all planes
tuned identically, or buy a radio for each plane so you can tune it to the
plane and keep the settings. That would cost about $60 per plane for each
standard radio, or an additional $240. And with the flash you only have to
charge one radio and bring one radio regardless of which plane, or how many
different planes you wish to fly.
That's $36 extra for one radio that handles 5 planes or an added $240 to have
each plane's settings retained with a standard radio. And the Flash 5SX does
a whole lot more than just provide model memories. This is an excellent first
Big savings and enhanced flexability with the 6 channel computer radio!
In the Tower hobbies catalogue:
Standard Radio - 6 channels
Futaba SkySport 6 with 4 S304 servos and receiver for $149
Computer Radio - 6 channels
Futaba 6EXAS 6 Ch computer radio-same servos & receiver $179
For $30 the 6EXAS gives you 6 model memories and a whole pile of features
the SkySport standard radio can't touch, and you divide the cost over 6
model memories. The computer is cheaper and more convenient.
What else can these entry level computer radios do?
Split Ailerons/flapperons: -
You can install two aileron servos and connect each to a separate channel on
the computer radio. This makes it very easy to trim each servo to get each
aileron just right.
You can set up aileron differential, if you wish, to improve effectiveness
while reducing drag. Very popular on sailplanes.
Or let's say you have a plane with ailerons but no flaps. You fly the plane
normally. Then flip a switch and turn the ailerons into flapperons. Now you
can use your ailerons as flaps during landings. Flaps on a 4 channel plane
that doesn't have flaps. You can just as easily set them up as spoilers, which
are commonly used on sailplanes during landings.
Coordinated turns - Mix rudder into your ailerons so you have a coordinated
turn. On a standard radio you have to do this manually. With the computer
radio you can do it manually too, or you can focus on the plane while the
radio handles the coordination for you. You can override the mix and add or
reduce rudder at any time.
Exponential, dual rates, model memories, channel mixing, digital trims and
lots more. Some of these features can be very helpful in getting new pilots
in the air.
Are computer radio hard to use?
No! In fact if you want, you can just use it as a standard 2, 3 or 4 channel
radio until you want to use the other features.
Take a look at this thread, starting at post 49. This guy talks about using
flaps as ailerons for flying and flaps for landing on a R/E/F sailplane.
Pretty cool idea. Can't do that with a standard radio!
So, for an extra $30 over a standard 6 channel radio, you get
a radio that handles multiple models and lets you do things that the standard
radios can't do. Go up a another $25-50 to the Hitec Optic 6 or Futaba 7C and
it is amazing what you can do and now you get 8-10 model memories.
Will you need this on the first plane? No, but they can be helpful.
Differential can be very helpful to a new pilot. Most radios that
come with RTF packages, and most standard radios don't have all these
features. You don't have to use them right away, but it is great to know that
you don't have to buy ANOTHER radio when you realize you would like to have
them. The price difference over a standard radio is now so small that for
all but the very few, the computer radio is now the economic entry level radio
If you get into even semi serious aerobatics or sailplanes, a computer radio
is a huge benefit and for some things, almost a requirement to bring the plane
to its full potential. Even the pilot of a 3-4 channel parkflyer, or someone
flying a simple R/E sailplane with spoilers or flaps benefits from a computer
There is only one reason to buy a standard radio these days. "I don't know if
I will like RC flying so I want to spend as little as possible". Or the
standard radio came in an RTF package like an Multiplex Easy Star RTF, a Great
Planes Spirit Select RTF or a NextStar Glow RTF.
I have used Hitec and Futaba as examples here because I know those lines best,
but JR, Airtronics, Polk and others have entry level computer radios that are
a much better value than any standard radio. In many cases these entry level
computer radios will serve the needs of the pilot for many years to come.
Get a computer radio, save a bundle of money, get a bundle
of features and really have fun with your RC flying.