Radio channels for RC helicopter flying can be a confusing minefield for beginners in this RC aircraft sector. You will hear suppliers talking about 2-channel, 4-channel, 6-channel, and even 7-channel radio channels for controlling RC helicopters. Which channel options should you choose for RC helicopters?
RC helicopters with 2 or 3-channels are considered toy-grade helicopters and do not offer a progression to more complex RC helicopters. 4-Channel helicopters are the entry-level point for hobby-grade RC helicopter flying and will teach the skills needed to progress to 6-channel RC helicopters.
Flying RC helicopters is probably the most complex of all RC aircraft to operate and master. The number of components you need to control to keep the helicopter flying will determine the number of channels you need. We will bring clarity to these muddy waters so you can confidently choose the right channel option for flying RC helicopters.
How To Choose The Number Of Channels For An RC Helicopter
RC helicopter flying has advanced over the years with the improvement of digital and electronic components.
These advancements have allowed the creation of RC helicopters that more closely match the complexity and operation of a real-life helicopter.
As more of the operational controls of the RC helicopter are placed in the hands of the RC operator, more radio channels are required to transmit control signals to and from the aircraft. This increase in control translates to more radio channels needed on the RC helicopter and the radio controller in the operator’s hands.
But what do these channel numbers mean to the new RC helicopter operator or those stepping into the hobby for the first time? What RC channel number should you consider as the entry point to learning to fly RC helicopters?
As a rule-of-thumb, the higher the number of channels an RC helicopter has, the more complex, difficult, and true to life the flying experience will be.
We will begin with the frequently offered 2-channel RC helicopter, usually marketed as an easy-to-fly version, and continue on to the more complex channels with all the information you need to make the right choice.
The 2-Channel RC Helicopter Option
RC helicopters controlled by 2-channel radios are the most basic of RC helicopters. Many of these helicopters are marketed as easy-to-fly, entry-level RC helicopters, but should you choose this option as a beginner?
2-Channel RC helicopters are considered entry-level toy-grade helicopters; they do not even make it to the entry-level hobby-grade category.
These RC helicopters are aimed at young children or older children and adults who want a basic toy that does not take much time to learn to fly.
The two channels on the RC helicopter controls are to control the main rotor speed and the tail rotor speed. The second channel controls the second main rotor if the helicopter is the coaxial variety without a tail rotor.
Essentially, the radio channels will be used to control the throttle for altitude and speed and yaw for turning the helicopter.
2-Channel helicopters are usually mini or micro helicopters intended for flying indoors. While they can be fun to fly, these helicopters are so basic that they do not teach the operator anything about flying or controlling a helicopter.
As a result, these helicopters are purely toys and cannot be considered an entry-level from which you can progress to more complicated RC helicopters.
The DEERRC DE51 RC helicopter is an example of an entry-level toy-grade RC helicopter.
Check out my guide to all types of RC channels
Are 3-Channel RC Helicopters A Good Choice?
Helicopters with 3-channel radios go one step further and offer an additional channel to control the forward and backward movement of the aircraft.
3-Channel RC helicopters are considered toy-grade helicopters and are slightly more complicated to fly than the 2-channel versions but can be mastered relatively quickly.
While these helicopters are a little more complex to control, they still do not provide sufficient complexity to teach the operator helicopter flying principles. Consequently, these helicopters are not considered a valid stepping stone to more complex hobby-grade RC helicopters.
3-Channel helicopters are fun to fly and are larger toy-grade helicopters that are designed for outdoor flying. Choose a 3-channel helicopter if you are not serious about progressing into complex RC helicopter flying and just want to have a little fun.
An example of a 3-channel Rc helicopter is the Syma S107/S107G.
Should You Choose A 4-Channel RC Helicopter?
If you are looking to fly genuine hobby-grade RC helicopters, the 4-channel versions are the place to start. These helicopters are where you will find the controls become more realistic and learn how to control the aircraft correctly.
4-Channel helicopters are electric-powered helicopters and are considered to be the entry-level for hobby-grade RC helicopter flying. The 4 channels will give you more control over the helicopter’s flight controls.
These controls include the following.
- Throttle. This controls the speed and altitude of the helicopter.
- Yaw. This controls the rotation of the helicopter left or right.
- Elevator. This controls the banking left and right of the helicopter.
- Aileron. This control operates the forward and backward movement of the helicopter.
Some of these terms sound more like fixed-wing aircraft controls, but this is because the same transmitter is used to control both fixed-wing Rc aircraft and RC helicopters, but the controls are labelled for fixed-wing aircraft.
If you would like a more detailed look at “Yaw” on an RC helicopter, please take a look at my related article: This Is How RC Helicopters Steer
Why Do Some RC Helicopters Use 6-Channels Or More?
More advanced RC helicopters will have 6-channels or more to control the aircraft. These RC helicopters offer a more true-to-life control experience for the aircraft and are correspondingly more difficult to learn to control and fly.
6-Channel RC helicopters are where true cyclic and collective pitch control of the rotor blades becomes a function the operator can manage from the controller.
In addition to the throttle, yaw, elevator, and aileron controls offered by a 4-channel helicopter, the 6-channel option gives enhanced control over collective and cyclic pitch of the main rotors and control over other stability gyros in the aircraft.
6-Channel helicopters are not recommended for beginner RC helicopter flying as the controls require experience and a delicate touch to tweak controls to keep the helicopter in controlled flight.
Generally, people who jump into the hobby with a 6-channel helicopter crash the aircraft and damage it, and give the hobby up entirely, considering it to be too difficult.
The GoolRC V950 is an example of a 6-channel RC helicopter that will challenge your flying skills.
There are RC helicopters with more channels, such as nitro-powered helicopters requiring 7-channels to control the aircraft, and more advanced helicopters with 8-channel radios for their control.
If you are only interested in a toy helicopter that will be used for some fun, a 2 or 3-channel Rc helicopter will suit your needs. You will not be able to transfer skills learned flying these helicopters to true hobby-grade helicopters because the controllers are set up differently and have limited control over the aircraft.
People interested in starting out in the RC helicopter flying hobby should select a 4-channel RC helicopter, especially if you are completely new to the RC aircraft hobby. This helicopter will teach you transferrable skills to flying more complex 6-channel RC helicopters.
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