Electric power for RC aircraft: planes, helicopters, ducted fan jets; is the fastest growing aspect of this hobby/sport. There are lots of reasons for this, but perhaps two major developments have created this gold-rush atmosphere. First, the recent bringing to market of the Lithium Polymer battery – a refinement of the lithium-ion battery. Second, the disappearance of many of the traditional local RC flying sites under the pressure of real-estate development and population growth.
The radio control Lithium-Polymer (Li-Po) battery is characterized by the use of a solid, the polymer, which acts as the electrolyte, like the acid in your car’s battery. This development has made the lithium based battery relatively more stable, physically stronger and a little easier to manufacture.
The advantages to this battery for the modeler are 50% or greater weight reduction over nickel cadmium batteries, greatly increased power storage and considerably longer shelf-life without auto-discharging.
The disadvantages are that the LiPo battery must be carefully charged on a dedicated LiPo-capable charger, maximum discharge must be monitored and that careless handling, charging, or discharging can result in fire or explosion! (Battery manufacturers are now often including protection built into the battery packs to minimize these dangers, but the rule is to read the directions and be careful).
When coupled with the many new inexpensive brushless motors and controllers now available, modelers can have fully aerobatic rc planes that will fly for 15-25 minutes(!) without recharging! And, it is possible to buy such a plane and equip it for under $300 total! This is an exciting development, and as one hobby-shop owner put it to me, “this is putting the fun back into RC!”
Because of the inherent advantages to RC electric airplanes; quiet, reliable, clean and now long-flying and powerful, it really is possible and fun to fly in the small schoolyard or park. You don’t have to seek out the RC flying field that is an hour’s drive away from home or work and you don’t have to deal with neighbors who are incensed over the noise from glow or gas powered models.
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