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Understanding RC Plane Parts & Control Surfaces

Getting started in the RC (remote-controlled) plane hobby can be quite confusing. But it doesn't have to be – you just need to know where to start. When you learn math, you start with the numbers; for RC planes, you start with the parts. In this blog, we break down the major parts and control surfaces of an RC plane that will help you take to the skies in full throttle.


Parts: The Basic Build

RC planes come in all shapes and sizes. Yet most planes consist of the same structural parts: the nose, the fuselage, the wing, the tail, and the propeller. Understanding (and being able to identify) the different parts of an RC aircraft will help you tackle more advanced topics with confidence.


The nose is a term used loosely to refer to the front of an RC plane. Typically, the power source – electric motor or internal combustion engine - is mounted on the nose. Occasionally, you may also find a cowling and a spinner. The cowling is a smooth surfaced mold covering the engine while the spinner is a pointed module fitted over the propeller; both components are designed to reduce aerodynamic drag.


The fuselage can be thought of as the body of the plane. In a commercial aircraft, this is where you would find passengers or cargo. In an RC model, the fuselage houses your batteries, radio equipment, and servos - most fuselages are tubed shaped and hollow for this reason.


The wing is the single most important part of any fixed-wing aircraft. While all wings are designed to provide lift, wing placement - where the wing is mounted in relation to the fuselage - can impact the flying experience. High-wing is best for trainers as they provide greater stability; mid-wing and low-wing are geared more towards aerobatic planes.


The tail - technically known as the empennage - is positioned at the rear of an RC aircraft. While there are many types of tails such as the T-tail, dual-tail, and boom-tail, they all serve the same purpose: to provide horizontal (pitch) and lateral (yaw) stability. If the tail of your RC plane were to be destroyed, this would shift the center of gravity forward, forcing your plane into a rampant nosedive.


The propeller is generally mounted on the nose of an RC airplane; however, they can also be found on the wings or tail. Regardless of the position, the propeller transforms engine (or motor) power into thrust that pushes your plane through the air. Generally, the more blades a propeller has, the faster it will fly. This is not a direct correlation, but an accumulation of different factors.

Control Surfaces

While many parts of an RC aircraft are fixed components (holding your plane together and making the flight possible), control surfaces are adjustable pieces – connected to the servos – that enable you to control and maneuver your plane. A typical RC plane will have 3 control surfaces: the aileron, the rudder, and the elevator; these are collectively known as the primary controls.


Ailerons are the flaps found on the outer rear of each wing panel and work in opposite directions. When the right aileron is up, the left aileron is down. This generates more lift on the left wing pressing the aircraft to roll to the right. Used in conjunction with the rudder, this allows your aircraft to turn in the air.


The rudder is mounted on the vertical tail panel and it is used to steer the nose of the aircraft left or right – the yaw of the plane. When the rudder is angled to the right, the nose of the plane reciprocally turns to the right and vice versa. This is caused by a disruption of airflow: when the rudder is deflected to a side, a force is exerted which pushes the tail of your aircraft in the opposite side yawing the nose in the desired direction.


Located on the horizontal tail panel, elevators – as the name implies – control the elevation or pitch of your plane. When the elevators are tilted down, the tail receives more lift and the nose of the plane is pitched downwards. On the contrary, when the elevators are tilted up, more force is exerted on the tail, pushing the tail down while pitching the nose of the plane upwards.
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