Basics of RC Model Aircraft Design

Written by paul bragulla
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Basics of RC Model Aircraft Design
RC model aircraft replicate the full range of designs found in real planes. (Model Aeroplane image by Sydney van Rensburg from

RC aircraft design and construction can require specialised knowledge of a variety of disciplines such as aerodynamics, aircraft structural mechanics, and RC electronics. Thankfully there are a wide variety of sources from which this information may be drawn in a concentrated form. With a little diligent research, almost anyone can design and build RC model aircraft.


A basic understanding of the aerodynamic principles relating to aircraft design is very important to the design of RC aircraft. Important factors include the Bernoulli effect, whereby lift is generated by a wing, the forces of flight (lift, gravity, thrust, and drag), and factors which affect stability (centre of gravity, dihedral, etc.).

Establish a Specification

It is very important that the prospective designer decide on what he wants from the final model aircraft. Due to material and technological constraints, it is rarely possible to optimise for more than one or two characteristics (speed, size, etc.), and compromise designs often suffer from difficulties during both the design and construction process.


Depending on the size and desired performance, there are a variety of engine types and sizes, from small internal combustion piston-engines to electric motors to mini-turbofans. The size and power/fuel requirements of the engine will define many other design characteristics of the model aircraft.


There are several options to choose from when it comes to the design of the model aircraft's structure. The traditional method for small- to mid-sized models is balsa wood bulkheads and stringers with plywood reinforcement at high-stress or high-vibration areas. It is also possible to use fibreglass and/or foam for either components or the entire structure of the model aircraft. In the case of frame-built structures, a skin of either heat-shrinking film or varnished tissue paper is commonly applied.

Radio Control Mechanics

Having a good understanding of the electronic and mechanical parts of radio control systems is vital to creating a successful design. The required strength and size of servos and the characteristics of the control mechanisms are determined by such factors as the size of the design's aerodynamic control surfaces and the parameters of its flight envelope (speed, altitude).

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