Choosing Your First Radio

People keep asking me about radio selection.  The Hitec Flash 5X Model G is the radio that was most recommended to me as a beginner.  I would recommend it on that basis alone -- I have no experience with any other radios.  But it is not the only good choice.  There are good choices if you are on a really tight budget, and there may be better choices if you think you will someday be flying big stuff with four wing servos, requiring more than 5 channels and better computer mixing capability.  

[Update:  As noted on the Background page I am no longer actively maintaining this site, but much of the information is still useful.  I'm not sure how current the information below is at this point, but it should still help you to understand what factors to consider when choosing your first radio.  And since radios do not change as fast as sailplanes do, the models mentioned are probably still among the top choices -- just check to see if there are any new models by the same manufacturers that you might want to consider.]

A new 7-channel radio from Hitec, the Eclipse 7, just came out in April 2001.  It has an optional Spectra Frequency Synthesizer Module which allows you to switch between multiple channels.  So far the feedback is that it is a good radio for the money, but that the mixing and programming capabilities for sailplanes are not yet what they should be.  Supposedly Hitec is working with the supplier to get the programming updated, but no word on when this will be available.

Below, I have put together some posts I found on rec.models.rc.soaring (I only searched the last six months at the time I put this page together) based on a search for "radio" in the subject.  I then picked out the messages that I thought would help with this decision.  You can do your own searches at Google Usenet Power Search - search the last 5 years of post to this great newsgroup.  Be sure to specify "rec.models.rc.soaring" for the "Newsgroup".  Please note that a lot of the information and prices below are not current -- but you should still find some good information that will help you get started.

"R.C." wrote:
> I'm thinking of buying my first computer radio and I am looking for advice.
> i want to be able to fly a full house sailplane eventually, but cost is
> important.
> So far my leading contender is the Hitec Prism 7X 7 channel, PCM, Spectra
> Frequency Synthesizer, no reciever or servos, for $189 from Hobby Horse. I
> am also considering the Airtronics RD6000 (6 channels, $50 or 60 more) and
> the Futuba 8UAF (more channels and features for $150 more).

Hitec Prism 7X is best value for money..5X is also good value. check=
Alan T.

yossi wrote:
> Hi,
> Would anyone have a comparison table between these 4 sets:
>  - Flash 5x
>  - Prism 7x
>  - Futaba 6xas
>  - JR 652

refer to = and
Alan T.

> Hitech sells a 4 channel computer radio, the Flash 4X for about the same price
> as the non-computer 4 channels ($150).  Its got v-tail and elevon mixing, but
> doesn't have flap mixing.  They do, however, sell the Flash 5X, a 5 channel
> radio that has flapperon/spoileron capability for $180.

A couple of additional notes -- the Hitec Flash 4X and 5X also come in a
"G" (Glider) model, which is a little bit more expensive ($198.95 for
5XG at as of Aug 2000) but includes a smaller receiver and
servos which are more appropriate for gliders, which can save you money
if you would otherwise have to buy them anyway.  Also, these models are
known by several variations of the names by different vendors, such as
Hitec "Flash 5XG" or "Flash 5G System X" or "Flash 5X Model G" etc.  If
you prefer different servos (I wanted Hitec 85MG metal gear servos for
the plane I am building) Hobbyhorse ( or
800-604-6229) will make the substitution and only charge you the difference
(some vendors will not substitute).  The other vendors with competitive prices
(a few dollars more than HobbyHorse) that I found were Major Hobby
(, Northeast Sailplanes, and Cermark
(800-704-6229), but be sure to check whether they will substitute if you
decide on anything other than the default configuration.
David Cole -- comparison charts of various radios

There is *nothing* wrong with AM for gliders.  Modern AM radios work great. 
I've been using them for the last 5 years and have *never* had a problem.  The
Focus SS price is right and so is the performance.  Go for it. 

The Focus3 SS AM is a great entry-level system. Many experienced pilots
are buying them to put in their 2 and 3 channel airplanes, as they are
very affordable, averaging about the same cost as an FM receiver. I
don't understand the post below that it won't last? That makes no
sense. Maybe he is saying you will outgrow it. That's not the case. I
would just keep in that airplane as long as it survives. If you decide
to move up to a better radio in the future the Flash 5 is an excellent
choice but is certainly not needed for your first radio. Dual rates and
expo are not that necessary for a slow flying glider.

Mike Mayberry
Hitec RCD Inc.

The main problem I see with the Focus 3 AM is that it still does not come with
nicads.  You will either have to buy nicads, or replace the 11 or 12 AA 
dry-cells every time you fly, which can get expensive if you fly very often!
Brett Jaffee

I don't know how long you havn't been flying, but if you plan to get back into
f3b/j a computer radio is a must. get one that allows you to set flight modes
(launch, soar, speed etc). IMHO get nothing less than a fut 8UA or their JR
or airtronics equivalents. important things to check for are:
- 2 servos each for flaps and ailerons (not all fut 7 can deal with dual flap servos)
- flight modes
- v-tail mix
- flap -> elev mix
- crow/butterfly mix
- flap or resp. elev delay
- aileron differential
- many mixers #8-)
- many model memories, 8 or more (check the Fut campac's!)
I know that the futaba 8UA's and the Jr8103 have all these features and I guess
the airtronics R6000 has them as well (havn't seen one yet).

hitec makes excellent (and cheap) compatible DC FM receivers and servos.

buying cheap is buying twice! once you have tasted them you never go back.
If money is a concern, I would rather buy one used (or all parts separate)
than getting a cheaper model.

"yossi" wrote:
> Hi,
> Would anyone have a comparison table between these 4 sets:
>  - Flash 5x
>  - Prism 7x
>  - Futaba 6xas
>  - JR 652

IMHO The Multiplex 3010 is one of the best programmable radios on the market
especially for gliders. It so flexible and has none of the limitations of
the other sets you have mentioned. Probably a bit more expensive than  the
sets mentioned but I recokon you will not "outgrow" the capabilities of the set
Mike Campbell

Peter Hecke wrote:
> I am about to buy my first radio.  I prefer to buy a single radio that
> will fulfill my needs for a long time.  I plan on getting a low end
> computer radio for use with thermal soaring, slope soaring, and electric
> planes.  I can spend up to around $200.
> The radios that I am looking at are:
>         Airtronics Radiant
>         Hitech Flash 5G System X
>         JR XF421EX
>         Futaba 6XAS
> Which radio would you recommend I purchase?
> The Hitech looks attractive since it is the only radio that comes with
> the micro flight pack which would be helpfull in the area of weight
> reduction.  I have a Sig Kadet Mark II that I plan on converting to
> electric and need to reduce its weight.  I do have 4 older Airtronics
> Vanguard servos that I will eventually use on a model (perhaps my Oly
> 650).
> Thanks for any help!

In that price range, I would go a couple bucks more and get the Hitec
Prizm 7X.  It is unlikely that you will ever NEED more than that for planes.
Paul McIntosh

Miles wrote:
> I am fairly new to the sport and want to get into cliff soaring to start.  I
> have decided on a Highlander EPP plane but am still up in the air about a
> radio.  I want a fairly good radio that will grow beyond just soaring,
> maybe into electric powered and someday gas.  I am looking for a Computer
> radio that will controll multiple planes and at least 6 servos.  I don't
> mind gambling that I will take to the sport and spend the extra money on a
> good Computer radio.  Cash wise I think I am talking 200-400?  Any help
> would be greatly appreciated.

Robert Steinhaus wrote:
The major brands of computer radios are very competitive in their price
brackets and the differences between brands come down to fairly small
features and service (all the major makes are very reliable and
dependable). I feel Hitec radios offer the best "bang for the buck" and
are slightly cheaper than equivalent radios from Futaba, Airtronics, JR,
etc. Hitec service is excellent and routinely gets rave reviews in this
newsgroup and elsewhere. The Hitec Advantage is not huge however and
many flyers prefer other makes because of perceived ease of programming
or compatibility with "buddy box" trainer chord systems. If you
anticipate doing some buddy box flight training you might check the
local clubs and flyers to see what makes they are flying. Futaba and
Hitec equipment is buddy box and trainer cable compatible. Most of the
other makes (which are also good) will work only with themselves. The
Hitec Prism FM 7 channel system is excellent but actually is not quite
as versatile as Futaba and Airtronics if you want to make up your own
custom channel mixes (Hitec Prism can not be made to handle both
flaperons and a full ruddervator V-tail). Futaba 6XA has undedicated
mixes which can be used to solve a problem like flaperon and V-tail. The
slightly more costly Futaba 8UAFS FM is even more versatile permitting 7
circuit programmable mixes and more (eight) model memories. Airtronics
has traditionally catered to glider pilots with well designed glider
related mixes and features. You will not run out of radio with a radio
of the class of the Futaba 8UAFS FM or Airtronics RD6000 for quite a
while  if you can afford $250~$350. A Hitec Prism 7X FM or Futaba 6XA
($175~$220) will perform very well and also give you great economical
performance with just slightly less versatility. For gliders all of
these computer radio systems can benefit from the purchase of a small
light narrow glider fuselage format battery pack. I tend to use the 600
mah Cermark 4KR-600AE ($16+$3.50 for connector of choice). Often
valuable is the purchase of a pair of metal gear servos for use as
aileron wing servos (metal gears are much more rugged in this
application). Hitec HS-85MG which can be purchased around $30 or Volz
Wing Max (around $US 55) are excellent as wing servos. Most
manufacturers lock you into a standard system configuration including
large economical standard size servos which may not fit in advanced
gliders (but will fit fine in the fuselage of your Highlander although
aileron wing servos if you install them should be micro servos like
Hitec HS-85MG). A few hobby outlets like Hobby Horse will permit you to
mix and match servos and receivers (giving credit for standard parts yet
allowing purchase of better glider optimized components). A web site for
Hobby Horse (Hitec and JR equipment) may be found at

A web site for Cermark (Hitec and Airtronic equipment) is
Order Phone: 800-704-6229

Robert Steinhaus wrote:
The truth is that there are alot of different ways to enter the hobby
and many different equipment choices that might make sense for
particular individuals/new glider pilots. All of the common vendors of
RC equipment are reliable and will give excellent service. The
difference in offerings are mostly convenience features and
compatibility features, not actual reliability features and repair
service. Having siad all that I feel that Hitec offers just a slightly
better "bang for the buck" value over the competition and offer about
the best repair service (the equipment advantage/differences over other
makes are small however). The Hitec 2 channel AM systems are very
reliable and are probably the least expensive way to enter the hobby
($US 53.00). These systems would certainly successfully fly a GP Spirit
or a Goldberg Gentle Lady with no problems. The Hitec AM 2 channel
system does not include mixing so certain more advanced gliders needing
elevons (flying wings) or V-tail mixing would require additional
circuitry or a radio upgrade to work. A standard 4 channel non computer
style radio will certainly also do the job for the two gliders you
mention. The Hitec Focus 4 FM goes for around $US 127.00. Only slightly
more expensive are the entry level computer radios that do incorporate
quite valuable programable functions that you will very likely want as
you step up to aileron equipt intermediate gliders. The Hitec Flash 4
($US 154.99) has 5 model memories and incorporates the mixing functions
(elevon/V-tail) needed for most intermediate/advanced gliders. While the
Spirit and Gentle Lady will fly fine with standard servos (they fit
easily) you may find in the long run mini/micro servos are a good
investment (most long term glider pilots end up with a box of unused
standard servos purchased with radio systems that go unused in there
advanced sailplanes or handlaunch gliders. Hitec offers a glider option
(Flash 4 G FM) with mini size servos (HS-81) and a ultra small dual
conversion FM receiver (Micro 535) which works particularly well in
small gliders under 60" in span or hand launch gliders. The Hitec Flash
4 G FM goes for around $US 166.00. If you are fairly sure you will stay
with the hobby I would personally suggest you consider purchasing a low
end computer radio like the Hitec Flash 4 FM, Futaba 6XA, or Airtronics
RD6600. The added convenience and versatility of these systems is very
nice to have and you can do alot of growing with these systems before
you need to upgrade. If you know you the bug" and are going to want to
fly 4+ servo in the wing advanced gliders the Futaba 8UAFS ($US 350) or
Airtronic Stylus are extreemly versatile and excellent. Many of my
friends have the philosophy that a beginner should purchase as much
radio as they can afford initially (this is not my opinion, however) and
they recommend these high end radios for their growth/veastility even to
beginners. If feel the greatest performance/cost ratio is currently
found in the entry/mid range level computer radios like the Hitec Flash
series, Futaba 6XA, or Airtronics RD6600. Certain vendors like Hobby
Horse offer additional flexibility like mixing and matching servos when
an order for a radio is placed. I would suggest you consider two
possible upgrades to standard systems when you order from a vendor
permitting upgrades like Hobby Horse.

1) Consider purchase of at least two metal gear servos like the Hitec
HS-81MG or HS-85MG (the HS-85MG can be used on aileron wing servo
applications up to Open class while the HS-81MG would probably work up
to 2 meter size) to be used as wing servos in the future (wing servos
take more abuse and metal gears style servos make much better wing
servos). Vendors like Hobby Horse will allow you to mix and match
components giving you credit for standard components and allowing you to
purchase the equipment/servos optimized for glider application at the
time of a radio order.

2) Consider purchase of a glider configuration battery pack like a
Cermark (800-704-6229) 4KR-600AE ($US 12 + $US 4.00 for connector for
your system). This style of batttery fits into the front of a advanced
glider much more easily and is about 2/3rd the weight of a standard
battery of the same capacity.

Hobby Horse is one of the most aggressive Hitec discounters. There web
page is located at the following address

More information on the Hitec Flash series of entry level computer
radios may be found at

Very best wishes with your new radio.
Flying R/C gliders is a great hobby!

If you can afford $261 I'll recommend the Multiplex Cockpit
I think that radio will suit your needs for a long time, and the quality of
Multiplex is really high. I have no affiliation to Multiplex or Critter
Bits, but the club in which I am a member use 90% Multiplex radios and we
have only good experiences with the MPX equipment. Easy to use and no
technical problems. I would never think of using anything else for my radio
or receivers.

Put some thought into the JR8103.  You can fly glider, planes and
heli's with the same radio.  Ten model memory, etc.
Will & Debbie Hicks
Will's CB Shop
Naples, NC

Other notes:

The Hitec Feather single-conversion receiver (rx) is for indoor or park flyer use only, as the range is only about 650 feet.  This info is current from Hitec as of 5/11/2000.  The Hitec 555 dual-conversion rx seems to be a great choice for gliders.  The FMA Direct "Extreme 5" rx is a new option.  It is dual conversion, lighter than the 555, and while it was initially more expensive than the 555 it is now cheaper as of May 2001.  You can get it from then click "Receivers", or from Sheldon's Hobbies .  How fast things change!  As of April 2003 FMA has replaced the "Extreme 5" with the "M5" which is even smaller and lighter (0.3 oz, or 9 grams) but more expensive.  At this point it is comparable in price to a 555, but available from very few vendors.  Some vendors may still have some "Extreme 5" receivers in stock for a while.  Hitec has also come out with a new 6-channel "Electron 6" receiver, which is lighter than the 555 (0.6 oz, or 17 grams -- .46 oz without case) but still heavier than the "M5".  The "M5" does not have a case, but is nicely shrink-wrapped and still lighter than the "Electron 6" with no case and no shrink-wrap.  If you find a cheaper source for FMA receivers (unless it is NES), please let me know!  Remember to include the price of the crystal if not included with the receiver when you compare prices.

Hitec servos are great.  For a first glider, metal gear servos are recommended, such as Hitec HS-81MG or 85MG or 50MG depending on your glider.  As of May 2001 is selling Hitec and Futaba servos and receivers at competitive prices with free priority shipping within the US on all orders.

Hope all this helps.
David Cole