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RC Radios, Transmitters, Receivers, Servos, gyros Discussion all about rc radios, transmitters, receivers, servos, etc.

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Old 05-22-2006, 10:00 AM   #1
AEAJR
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Default What You Need To Know About Receivers

This article has been revised in order to keep it current.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT RECEIVERS
by Ed Anderson
aeajr on the forums
Revised 7/1006
Revised 10/2010

You control the plane by moving controls on the radio, but it is the receiver that "hears" the radio and directs those commands to the proper servos to move them according to your wishes. So, what do you need to know about receivers when preparing and flying your plane?

FREQUENCY AND CHANNEL

Receivers are specific to a given frequency. For example, in North America, NA, our planes are flown most commonly on 27 MHz, 72 MHz, or 2.4 GHz and perhaps one or two others. Your receiver has to match the frequency of your radio in order to be able to hear it.
Until recently the primary frequency for RC aircraft was 72 MHz. Today 2.4 GHz has been added and is growing rapidly. Because both are still very much in use I will cover them both. By contrast 75 MHz is dedicated to surface use, but 2.4 GHz can also be used for surface craft.
72 MHZ
The 72 MHz frequency band is split into 50 sub frequencies, or channels so that we can have more than one person flying a plane at any given time. If two pilots are on the same channel as the same time the aircraft would not know which to listen to, leading to loss of control of the aircraft.
Normally you need to get a crystal with your receiver that matches the channel of your 72 MHz radio. In RTF packages, this is already done, so you don't need to worry about it. However if you are buying your own receivers, you must match them to the frequency and channel of your radio when you buy them. Your supplier can help you with the details. One suggestion is that you not mix crystal brands. They may work but this introduces a risk that you are better off avoiding. If you get a Hitec receiver, get a Hitec crystal.

AM and FM and FM SHIFT

Just like your car radio, RC radios can use AM or FM to transmit their instructions to the plane. AM is an older technology but it is still in use, primarily in low end 2 and 3 channel radios. However most new radios are FM. Both work!

In North America, FM radios are grouped by those using positive shift and those that use negative shift. Typically we speak of JR and Airtronics as positive shift. Hitec and Futaba are negative shift. In some cases these brands can be made to change shift through a function called shift select or
reverse shift.

Shift refers to how the radio codes instructions for the receiver. One is not better than the other, they are just different. This is only important when you are buying a new receiver as you need to be sure that your FM receiver and your FM radio are using the same shift. Shift does not apply to AM radios.

Crystals are not specific to shift, but they may be specific to AM vs. FM. Be sure you get the right type of crystal for your receiver.

FM/PPM and FM/PCM

PPM and PCM further define how the radio codes commands to the receiver. We normally speak of PPM and PCM in the context of FM radio/receiver combinations. If you are buying an AM receiver/radio, you don't need to take this into consideration.

FM receivers can be either PPM or PCM. When people say FM, they typically mean FM/PPM. If they say PCM, they mean FM/PCM.

As long as the shift is right, you can mix brands of FM/PPM radios and FM/PPM receivers. On the other hand, FM/PCM receivers are highly brand specific. If you have a Futaba radio capable of PCM transmission and you wish to use a PCM receiver, you must have a Futaba PCM receiver that is compatible with that model radio. No mixing brands in PCM.

As far as I know, all FM radios can transmit in FM/PPM. Some can transmit in FM/PCM also. I don't know of any that are FM/PCM only, but there may be one out there. If PCM is listed, it is normally an extra feature, not a requirement you use PCM.

Some will say that PCM is better and more reliable. I can neither confirm or dispute this point as I have not used PCM receivers. I will point you to a couple of articles that discusses PCM, how it works and their opinion of the advantages.

Futaba FAQ on Advantages of FM/PCM over FM/PPM
http://www.futabarc.com/faq/product-faq.html#q102

Article on PCM vs. PPM
http://www.aerodesign.de/peter/2000/PCM/PCM_PPM_eng.html#Anker143602

PCM receivers tend to be more expensive, larger and heavier. From what I gather FM/PPM is what the overwhelming majority of flyers use. FM/PCM seems to be most popular in the high performance world, giant scale and competition planes. Choose whichever you like as either will fly your plane.

2.4 GHz AKA Spread Spectrum

A few years ago radios were introduced on the 2.4 GHz band. These systems are also referred to as spread spectrum systems because they can operate using more than one frequency in the 2.4 GHz band in order to avoid channel conflict and interference from other 2.4 GHz sources.
First they were available for surface craft and later for aircraft. This discussion will focus on the aircraft use of 2.4 GHz and how it deferrers from the older but still widely used 72 MHz systems.
The greatest benefit to 2.4 GHz systems offer over 72 MHz systems is that we no longer have to be concerned with frequency control. The radios on the 2.4 GHz band automatically resolve any conflicts so that multiple radios can be on 2.4 GHz without conflict. This is done by binding the radio and the receiver. The receiver records the ID of the radio and will only listen to signals coming from that radio. In this way it will ignore other 2.4 GHz signals coming from other radios, as well as other 2.4 GHz sources.
If for no other reason, this makes 2.4 GHz very desirable. Most new radio systems for RC use are being introduced on the 2.4 GHz band.
In most cases 2.4 GHz receivers are brand specific. That is to say that if you fly a Spektrum Radio you need to purchase a Spektrum receiver. Even if your Futaba receiver is 2.4 GHz it won’t work with the Spektrum radio. There have been some recent introductions of “clone” receivers but they are so new to the market that I can’t say how reliable they are so I am giving you a strong recommendation to stay with same brand radios and receivers for 2.4 GHz systems.

RANGE

For practical purposes, range is determined by the receiver, not the radio. It is a function of sensitivity of the receiver and its ability to pick out the radio signal and filter out noise. Many brands state the rated range of their receivers.
Some radio makers will give you a working range for their receiver; say 1000 feet or one mile or something like that. Others may not indicate range in feet but will classify their receivers as “full range”, indoor or parkflyer receivers. The latter two suggest short range receivers. While absolute numbers cannot be provided I am going to give you what I use.
Full range receivers are typically considered to be line of sight receivers. That means if you can see the aircraft you can control it. If you are not provided with a specific range by the maker, I would use 1 KM or about 3000 feet as a safe working range. It might work farther away than that but I would expect a full range receiver to have at least this range.
Likewise parkflyer has no specific meaning, so I use about 700 feet as a working range for these receivers, about two football fields end to end. For indoor I would use about 150 feet as a safe range. Again, these are just ballpark estimates on my part but these are probably safe working ranges.
How much range is enough? That depends on the application. You can NEVER have too much range, but you can have too little. If the plane gets out of range it will crash or fly away. More range is always better.

Here are my suggestions for minimums:

Indoors

Indoor planes are usually very weight sensitive, every gram counts. To get extremely light weight, sometimes range has to be sacrificed but that is OK indoors as long as you know what it is. I suggest 100' minimum and more is better but you may be fine with less. Many indoor flying spaces are less than 100 feet along any span and you are not going to accidentally fly past the walls.


Outdoor - Planes

Slowflyers, micro helis and small electric planes less than 36" wing spans can often get by with ultra light receivers with ranges of as little as 500 feet. This is adequate if you have a small model or fly in a small field of under 500 feet in span. Many of these small models can be hard to see at ranges of more than 350 feet, approximately the length of a football field.
I prefer more range, but many people do fine with 500 foot receivers.

Today there are plenty of micro receivers with 1000' or greater rated range that are under 1/3 ounce, about 9 grams. I have a large field that is 1600 feet long so it is easy for me to get a plane out beyond 500 feet without realizing it. While it can become hard to see them at that range, I don't want to lose it because I ran out of receiver range.

If you can tolerate up to .7 ounce, about 20 grams, for your receiver, then there is no reason to use a receiver with a 500 foot range limit, except price. Why limit yourself with short range receivers and take a chance of losing you model?

For gliders, sailplanes, fast electrics or glow planes with wing spans of 72 inches or more you would be well advised to use a full range receiver. Some of these planes can be quite large and can be easily flown at distances exceeding 1 KM.


SIGNAL PROCESSING - Single and Dual Conversion, DSP and more

This discussion is specific to the non-2.4 GHz receivers as you don’t see these designations on 2.4 GHz receivers. In addition to range, receivers will usually specify if they are single
conversion, dual conversion, or that they use some other method of signal processing. I will leave it to the engineers to go into depth here. However, as a general rule, dual conversion is better than single but there are excellent single conversion receivers that have digital signal processing and other ways of making sure they pick up the right signal.

Some receiver brands offer 72 MHz receivers in single conversion, dual conversion and perhaps other types of receivers. Be sure you get the right kind of crystal based on the receiver. For example, Hitec dual conversion receivers and single conversion receivers take different types of crystals. I don't know what makes them different but you cannot interchange them. They won't work.


CHANNELS

We spoke of channels above in terms of frequency. We also use the word channels to describe how many servos/devices you can control. So a 4 channel radio can control up to 4 devices, for example. It is OK to have more channels in the receiver than your radio as some slots are used for things other than channel control. For example, if we have a 4 channel radio and are flying a 4 channel plane your slots might be used like this:

1 per control channel = 4
1 receiver battery
1 for plane locator or battery monitor

In this case you might want a 6 channel receiver to give you 6 slots. Or you can use one or more Y cables to share slots. However I prefer to have a receiver with extra slots rather than use Y cables. I feel it will give me greater reliability. Rather than putting money into Y cables I would rather put the money into the receiver.

If you have a 3 channel electric plane, you need a minimum of a 3 channel receiver. You don't typically need a separate slot for a receiver battery as your electronic speed control normally provides the receiver with battery power from your motor battery. You can use a 3, 4, 5, X channel receiver, but it must have at least 3 channels.

You can also use a 2 or 3 channel receiver with a 4 or more channel radio, but you will only have 2 or 3 channels of control available. An example might be to use a 3 channel receiver for your R/E/T plane but use a 4 channel radio to fly it. That works!


COMPUTER RADIO AND CHANNEL MIXES

If you are splitting functions using mixes in a computer radio your receiver may need more channels. For example, if you have a computer radio, you might be able to use two servos for your ailerons and have each work from its own channel. Each aileron will be controlled its own channel. Some radios can put the second aileron on any channel and some require they be on specific channels. Consult your manual for guidance here.

Here is an example where we use more than one slot for a function because we have individual servos on each surface. This is the layout of one of my gliders and is controlled from my Futaba 9C computer radio. I use an 8 channel receiver and 7 servos.

Ailerons - channels 1 & 7
Flaps - channels 5 & 6
Elevator - channel 2
Rudder - channel 4
Tow hook release Channel 8
Battery - uses channel 3 slot
Plane Locator - Shares channel 8 slot with the tow hood release servo
via a Y cable

POWER TO THE RECEIVER

Note that most receivers operate at 4.8 to 6 Volts. This is usually supplied by a 4-5 cell NiCD or NiMh receiver pack. In planes using glow or gas power, or in gliders, this is a battery pack that plugs into the receiver or into a switch that goes into the receiver. There are some new receivers that can work on a two cell lithium pack of 7.4V. There are some tiny receivers, made for indoor flight that can operate one lipo cell at 3.7 V. Always read your manual, but in general, never directly plug a battery pack of more than 5 cells, or 6 volts into your receiver unless you are sure it can take that voltage.

If this plane has an electric motor, the receiver will most likely get its power from the ESC, electronic speed control. Note that even though your flight battery might be 7.2V or higher, the ESC has a circuit that steps this down to 5 volts to power the receiver. This circuit, called the BEC, battery eliminator circuit, eliminates the need for a separate receiver battery.

If you look at your manual for your ESC, it probably indicates that, if you use more than a certain voltage for your motor pack, you will need to go to a separate receiver battery. This is because the BEC can only step the voltage down so far. Or it may say the BEC can handle up to 4 servos on the receiver up to a 9.6V motor battery, for example, but you are restricted to 3 servos if you go above that. After that it has to be bypassed, you need
a separate receiver pack.

Summary

The receiver is the most critical of all the electronics you will put in your plane. The most expensive radio with the wildest features is just a paperweight without a good receiver to carry out its instructions. While the terms can be confusing at first, you should now be prepared to choose a receiver with confidence. Remember to always consult your radio manual for any specific needs of your radio system.

A key point is that it is the receiver and not the radio that really dictates the range you can expect. I encourage you to be very aware of the range rating of your receivers so you don't lose a plane by exceeding your safe range.

Your receiver has to have enough channels to accept commands from your radio and to accommodate the number of servos/devices you have in the plane. However the number of channels in the receiver does not have to match the number in your radio.

If you are on 72 MHz, your receiver needs to match your radio in the areas of shift, frequency and channel as well as FM/PPM or FM/PCM features. For FM/PPM you can mix and match receiver brands. On 2.4 GHz and FM/PCM you probably need to stay with the same brand for transmitter.

That's about it. Treat your receivers with care and they will take care of your planes for years to come!

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Old 05-22-2006, 03:26 PM   #2
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Very interesting article AEAJR. I am sure that it will save a lot of research time for a lot of beginners. Great!
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Old 05-29-2006, 05:50 PM   #3
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Very well done write up AEAJR, maybe this should be a "Sticky" at the top of forum.
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Old 05-29-2006, 06:15 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Rodneh View Post
Very well done write up AEAJR, maybe this should be a "Sticky" at the top of forum.
Good idea. Done!
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Old 05-30-2006, 02:16 AM   #5
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Glad you like it guys!

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Old 06-21-2006, 05:14 PM   #6
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Ed...............A few suggestions.

Use the term transmitter or Tx in place of radio.

In our context, 27MHz is a frequency band.

Sub-frequencies should be referred to as frequencies, not channels, so that the word channel applies only to the control functions within the Tx.

You rightly put much emphasis on Rx range, but not enough on discrimination. Receivers vary greatly in their ability to ignore unwanted signals, whether generated on-board the model, or by other flyer's transmitters, or whatever.

Say something about the location of the Rx and its antenna in relation to other on-board electrics.

Synthesised equipment deserves a mention.
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Old 06-21-2006, 07:28 PM   #7
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Good info Ed. How about some info on antennas. I don't like them hanging out of my planes.
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Old 06-21-2006, 07:46 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by Splatz View Post
Good info Ed. How about some info on antennas. I don't like them hanging out of my planes.
Get a DX6 then. Great radio and receivers and the antennas, yes plural, there is 2 of them, are only about 4 inches long each!
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Old 06-21-2006, 08:38 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Splatz View Post
Good info Ed. How about some info on antennas. I don't like them hanging out of my planes.
I share your dislike of a visible dangling antenna.
So I use an invisible dangling antenna. A single strand of .011" tinned copper wire. No insulation. Works fine.
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Old 06-24-2006, 12:22 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by peterangus View Post
Ed...............A few suggestions.

Use the term transmitter or Tx in place of radio.

In our context, 27MHz is a frequency band.

Sub-frequencies should be referred to as frequencies, not channels, so that the word channel applies only to the control functions within the Tx.

You rightly put much emphasis on Rx range, but not enough on discrimination. Receivers vary greatly in their ability to ignore unwanted signals, whether generated on-board the model, or by other flyer's transmitters, or whatever.

Say something about the location of the Rx and its antenna in relation to other on-board electrics.

Synthesised equipment deserves a mention.
My write-up is primarily targeted to beginners and newbies, so I focus more on common usage terms rather than technial accuracy. But your points are well taken.

Radio, TX, Transmitter are used interchangeably in US. Don't know about other parts of the world. In any case I don't see the importance.

The term subfrequency is technically more accurate, but the common usage is channels. I have NEVER had anyone ask what subfrequency I was on.

Receiver descrimination, while important, is not something that the average person will understand and may not have ready access to this spec. I personally never look at it. Nor do I feel qualifed to discuss it.

I have standardized on Hitec receivers. In their current line, I am very comfortable with both their SC and DC receivers. I have been very happy with them and recommend them often.

However if you are knowledgable in this area and can add a post that has good, clear useful info on the topic, we would all welcome it.

While I started the thead I look forward to others enhancing it with their knowledge and experience.

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Old 06-24-2006, 01:35 AM   #11
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On receivers;
mayby I have had just bad luck with FMA receivers. I have had three go bad and goofy, have sent in two of them so far. The third on is going in the junk. I have had real good luck with HiTek and futaba servos. Also the FMA low voltage control went bad on me along with a few FMA servos. Other members in my club have had good luck with FMA stuff so far.
Any body else have these problems with FMA electronics?.
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Old 09-28-2006, 03:56 PM   #12
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Default Really good info for an average guy like me.

After reading your article I think I can make good choices in equipment.
Creation trumps critique, keep up the good work.

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Old 09-30-2006, 12:32 AM   #13
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How inportant is the length? Should it be the same length as the TX antenna. Oh! and another thing. (sounds like my wife) could the RX antenna length cause bad glitching, or could incorectly matched crystals
cause real bad glitching (on all channels) I have to sets (tx2-rx2) of crystals with exsactly the same frequency marked on them so they have been mixed up, manufacter is the same.
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Old 11-21-2006, 08:27 PM   #14
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Default Correction on AM and FM modulation

Ajaer; just a friendly comment on modulation, of the radio signal.
Amplitude modulation(AM)--changes the signal amplitude to convey information .

Frequency modulation(FM) -- shifts the signal frequency slightly to convey informatiom. PPM and PCM are only used in FM.

It is a great service you do for the inexperienced R/C' er.

Bill Edwards KC6YQQ simi valley CA.
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Old 11-21-2006, 09:10 PM   #15
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whe44edw, yes you are partially correct but also partially incorrect AM, as used in most RC trans/rec is pulsed RF. It is either on or off, wher it is a constant amplitude when "on"and when "off", no RF is transmitted. The time period between the on/off pulses constitute the information. There is PPM and PCM done using AM modulation, in fact the first RC PCM units were AM modulated. However, all the present day PCM is done with FM which again is not really FM but is frequency shift keying where the transmitted frequency is either one value or a second value, no in between values like true FM consists of.
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Old 11-22-2006, 12:04 AM   #16
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whe44edw and Rodneh,

Thanks for your contributions. I believe that the combination of your two posts adds to the technial detail and yields a better picture of this technical topic.

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Old 12-30-2006, 06:01 AM   #17
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i'm a beginner
i have a 36 r/c helicopter
someone played with the channels at the back of my 6 channel receiver and i don't know what were they on originally
can you help?
thank you
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Old 12-30-2006, 10:43 AM   #18
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Sorry, I can't but if you post a thread using this title:

Need help with receiver of 36 RC Helicopter,

someone might be able to help. Without knowing the brand of the transmitter and receiver only someone with that equipment would know the answer.

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Old 02-25-2007, 09:14 AM   #19
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Hi Ed,

I just wanted to thank you for the great compilation of information and guidance that you provide through this and other forums. I'm sure you hear it a lot, but the outlines and background you provide are a gold mine in a subject that can get complicated pretty fast for a noob.
cheers,
Dave
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Old 02-26-2007, 12:08 AM   #20
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Albatross,

I am so pleased you find this and other articles helpful. A lot of people helped me. Once it became clear to me I thought I would write it down to help the next guy.

I am never quite sure the articles actually meet the objective, until someone says they helped.

Glad to be of assistance.

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Old 03-24-2007, 03:19 AM   #21
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PETER -

I found your entire site both charming and informative. Your views and experience from the past well anchor cogent vision for the present and salience beyond - vis a vis a request to pursue synthesizing radio systems....

Don

"...tempus fugit..." ("Time Flys")
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Old 03-24-2007, 04:01 AM   #22
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Hey Ed (AEAJR) -

I'm a neophyte to forums and EP. I find your postings: particularly useful to me at my present level and epistemologically successful - keep up the good work. Thanks...

Don

"...tempus fugit..." ("Time Flys")
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Old 03-25-2007, 02:13 AM   #23
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rodneh; I just went back to a thread in october of 06, regarding Frequency modulation (FM), It is FM if the data is contained in the change of the carrier frequency (or sidebands) and the frequency is varied, it doesen't matter if the feequency 2 frequencys or 200 frequencys. It's all "FM"

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Old 04-11-2007, 09:57 AM   #24
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Hello Ed,
As usual I find the info that you supply for us in beyond informative and I can't thank you enough.

Question: I've just purchased some Tower Pro servos, Do any servos plug into any receiver? Or do I have to cut these off and solder on connectors for whatever brand receiver that I have?
I see different mfgs for receivers that hve nothing to do with Futuba or Airtronics etc. are these something that You would purchase even though they are not the same mfg as your transmitter?
At this moment. I have not purchased a good radio yet. Maybe I'll be ordering one tomorrow.

Thanks for your time....

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Old 04-11-2007, 01:16 PM   #25
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There is currently a universal plug that is also cometimes called a JR/Hitec plug. No tab. I believe Airtronics calls it a Z plug. Same thing. They fit almost any receiver that uses a standard plug

The Futaba J plug adds a little tab on the side. If the receiver slot will take it, this makes sure you put the plug in correctly. I like it, but it won't fit in the universal slots, so you have to trim it off.

Most of the third party servos probably have universal plugs.


If you are into micro flight, then these rules break down as the universal plugs are considered too heavy for those kind of planes.

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