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The Anatomy of an RC Helicopter – An infographic by the team at Think RC
Let’s face it, flying radio controlled RC helicopters is a blast. Regardless of your age or income, you can find a cool heli that can do some impressive things in the air. If you’re just starting out with this hobby, make the most of it by learning about how your RC helicopter works.
Probably the first question that pops into your mind is, “How does an RC helicopter fly?” Start by thinking of your rotor as a simple propeller. When that propeller is precisely level and horizontal to the ground, it will make your heli rise straight into the air. If you then use your cyclic controls to tilt your propeller forward just a bit, your machine will still rise; however, it will also move forward. The same will happen if you tilt it backwards or to the side if you tilt the control to the right or left. These backward, forward, left and right movements are known as pitch.
There are two basic types of RC helis. On collective pitch models, the main rotor blades get pitched collectively at the same time. In the cyclic pitch variety, each rotor blade gets pitched individually. The angle or pitch of each rotor blade is changed as it makes one revolution or cycle, enabling you to vary the level of thrust to move the helicopter in any direction you want.
There are several parts that work together to make these amazing little machines fly. At the heart of your helicopter is the main rotor. This is the workhorse of your RC plane that enables it to lift into the air and remain there.
The swashplate is what makes it possible to control your helicopter and send it in all different directions. This mechanical system joins the non-rotating systems that control the heli to the rotating control portions of the main rotor head. In effect, the swashplate transforms the non-rotating cyclic controls into rotating cyclic controls. On a collective pitch RC heli, the swashplate is also capable of moving up and down to change the rotor blades’ pitch, all at the same time. Think of yourself as a military general and your heli’s swashplate as the colonel who will carry out your orders.
No swashplate can translate your orders without the help of the motor. This is what runs your heli and keeps it in the air by powering the main rotor.
The body or shell of your RC helicopter is also known as a canopy. If it is damaged during the course of flying, you can usually obtain a replacement from the manufacturer with little difficulty.
The receiver, also known as RX, is what processes the flying orders you give to your heli through your remote control. It controls the throttle, which is the speed of the motor, and the control surfaces. Inside the receiver are the circuit board and antenna that perform this function.
Your helicopter’s gear box is a mechanical device that is designed to change the speed or increase the output torque of your heli’s motor. It is attached to the motor via a shaft and also links with your plane’s main and tale rotors.
Your tail rotor is a vital checks and balances system for your heli. It provides torque, also known as thrust, and helps to control the yaw or turn of the heli. In effect, your tail rotor is a variable pitch propeller that can change the amount of right and left thrust to turn, or yaw, the heli either left or right. If the pitch is right, the tail rotor furnishes the correct amount of thrust to maintain the balance between the torque of the main rotor and the thrust of the tail rotor. If your heli starts to spin, you know that this equilibrium is not working properly. In many micro helicopters, a fixed pitch tail rotor is controlled by a small, dedicated electric motor at the end of the tail boom. This type of system has the advantages of being less expensive, less complex and lighter.
The horizontal stabilizer, sometimes known as a tailplane, extends from the main shell or body of your helicopter to the tail rotor. It works to adjust for changes in the center of pressure and center of gravity that are caused by modifications of speed or altitude. If there are any sudden changes of direction at the front of your heli, this arm will work to restore the balance.
Now that you understand a little about how your radio controlled helicopter works, you might feel more comfortable taking it on its first flight. Because even the simplest helis do have a bit of a learning curve, don’t be disappointed if you have a mishap. Even the most skilled veteran flyers still have a crash now and then. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about; think of it as just part of the fun.