Once upon a time choosing a remote controlled helicopter was easy. All you needed was about £1000, a degree in engineering, and the resolve to deal with inevitable disappointment when it crashed into tiny pieces on its first flight. Well time has moved on a pace and now there are more remote controlled helicopters in the world than people (well almost), and just like the world’s population they come in every conceivable shape, size and colour, and often with Chinese instructions.

Fortunately at RED5 we are passionate about helicopters (even though that’s a bit sad) and even more passionate about ensuring our customers get the right one, and become as enthralled as we are about flying them.

Here’s the definitive guide to choosing the right helicopter for you, or someone you like enough to give one.

2 Channel RC Helicopters

2 Channel 

For channel read direction, i.e. it goes up, and inevitably, goes down. Any other direction it goes will be down to wind or it being swatted out of the air by someone you’re annoying with it. You can also control the ‘Yaw’ (which is it spinning on its axis), but given that it only goes up and down this control is purely to stop it spinning about like a demented Cossack. It’s a good beginners helicopter for people who have trouble rubbing their stomach and patting their head at the same time.

3 Channel RC Helicopters

3 Channel

The third channel adds forwards and reverse to your up and down control. Now you need to be able to do three things at once, control the throttle i.e. your up and down (which is fairly forgiving) your forward or backward control, and the Yaw to stop it spinning. Controlling the Yaw is not a constant thing, once you have set it correctly you shouldn’t have to fiddle about with it all the time, so you can settle back into flying about the place.

3.5 Channel RC Helicopters

3.5 Channel

This is a silly name. It’s the same as a three channel in terms of flight control. All that has been added is an extra button that allows you to do something sexy. RC Helicopters are fun to fly around, but after not very long you’ll find yourself thinking ‘Is that it?’, and we’re here to tell you that ‘No it definitely isn’t it!’ The stupidly named .5 channel adds all sorts of fun to RC Heli flying. You can turn on lights mid flight, fire missiles, squirt water, blow bubbles, take video or photographs, operate a winch, all sorts of clever stuff. This is where RC helicopters come into their own. You need to be a fairly competent flier to do all these fun things whilst also flying steadily.

4 Channel RC Helicopters

4 Channel

Now you need to grow another limb and get better a Sudoku. Adding to your Up, Down, Back, Forward and yaw, you can also control the roll. This has nothing to do with sandwiches. Roll is the ability to bank your helicopter (i.e. go sideways whilst going forwards). This is the big deal in RC Helicopter flying, the sexy grown-up stuff. This is what makes your helicopter look and fly like the real thing. This is, actually quite difficult. Fortunately with the advent of Gyro motors (see below) it’s nowhere near as difficult as it used to be, as the gyro takes quite a lot of the control out of your hands. Nevertheless a 4 channel helicopter is still what we would consider to be an advanced machine, and you should be pretty confident with a 3 channel before you embark on flying one of these. Once mastered however, you’ll have a whole heap of fun and look achingly cool, so it’s worth the sweat.

Gyro Helicopters

Gyro Stabilizer

The word Gyro when attached to the name of an RC helicopter is music to our ears. What the gyro stabilizer does is control the yaw of your heli, ensuring that at all times it’s pointing the way you want it to point and isn’t doing the old Cossack dance on you. Gyro helicopters are considerably easier to fly than any other helicopter.

Indoor

Unsurprisingly indoor means just that. Most model RC Helicopters are inherently light, the motors are small and so the helicopters need to be lightweight. Because they’re lightweight they’re very susceptible to being blown about, even a mildly enthusiastic air conditioning unit will send an indoor helicopter skitting across the room. So shut the window, turn off the AC and the fan, and if you fly over a heater expect some extra lift coming your way.

Outdoor

Yes you guessed it, outdoor means there RC helicopters are built to take more of beating from the wind. They’re typically quite a bit heaver than indoor helicopters, but even so are not designed for flying in high winds. They can withstand gentle breezes, but they are after all just a thing floating in the air, so if the air is moving about a lot, it’s going to take your helicopter with it. Fly it in the relative protection of your garden or a park, not on the top of Snowdon.

Infared Transmitter

Whilst all helicopters are called RC Helicopters (Radio Controlled), ones with Infrared Transmitters aren’t controlled by radio frequencies, but by an infrared signal (as indeed the name implies). There’s not a massive difference to be honest, but infrared is of course light, not a radio frequency, and as such the light needs to ‘see’ the helicopter (just like your TV remote needs to see your TV). So if you point the control away from the helicopter, the pilot has left the building so to speak. i.e. Keep your controls pointed at your helicopter or kiss goodbye to your house plants.

Radio Control

Radio control is the use of radio signals to control your device. Sadly infrared can be affected by sunlight, TV’s and even fluorescent lighting. So if someone in the same room is channel surfing on the TV it could result in you flying into the wall through no fault of your own! Luckily radio control is not affected in this way so it’s generally better, especially when flying outdoors.

Single Frequency

Single frequency RC helicopters have, as the name would suggest, just one radio frequency on which they can fly. This means that you cannot fly your helicopter near anyone else who’s flying theirs on the same frequency. Well you can, but it’s not pretty.

Multi Frequency

Multiple frequency RC helicopters typically have three different frequencies to choose from. The advantage of this is that three helicopter nuts can fly at the same time without all hell breaking loose. Though of course if you’ve got three RC helicopter fliers in one place blowing bubbles, firing missiles and squirting water at each other you’ve pretty well got chaos sorted out anyway.