Radio Controlled Helicopters – What’s the Difference Between 2 Channels, 3, 4, 5 and 6 Channels?

Radio Controlled Helicopters – What’s the Difference Between 2 Channels, 3, 4, 5 and 6 Channels?

All radio controlled helicopter enthusiasts will tell you that flying RC helicopters is the most exciting and thrilling of all RC models. Cars, trucks, tanks, boats and robots are all limited to forward/backward and left/right movement but radio controlled helicopters can have full technicolor, surround-sound,3D maneuverability. The only limitation to your exhilaration and flying pleasure is your skill, the space available and the sophistication of your RC helicopter model.

So what is it exactly that enables your heli to perform complex aerial acrobatics?

In short, it’s the number of channels that can be controlled by you – the more you have, the greater the maneuverability of your RC helicopter.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that more is better. Flying a model helicopter is every bit as complicated and skillful as the flying the real thing. Just because your heli is smaller in scale doesn’t mean that the laws of aerodynamics change! To achieve successful flight, all criteria remain the same. However, flying a model does have the advantage of being able to start with a basic set of controls and work your way upward to the Full Monty and this is achieved by mastering an increasing number of channels.

But first, you will need to understand that each channel controls a separate servo mechanism in your model. And for those of us who find it helpful to understand how a thing works, it’s useful to know that a servo is a mechanical device that controls the movement of an element by ‘pushing’ it with a lever. You can control the degree of ‘push’ this lever exerts on a servo from the controls on your transmitter handset. The greater the servo’s ‘push’ the bigger the resulting movement of the element it is acting on. So, to move the angle of the tail rotor, for example, you need a channel to control the tail servo.

So, as each movable element on an RC helicopter requires its own servo, you will also need an extra channel for each one. By increasing your ability to fine-tune the interaction of each servo via the channel controls on your handset, you will be able to produce an increasingly wide range of aerial movements for your radio controlled helicopter.

So here’s a basic list of the differences between the numbers of channels on a radio controlled helicopter:

  • 2 Channels provide you with the ability to control two servo mechanisms, giving you the ability to control movement up and down (rotor blade speed) & left and right, (rear rotor, directional controls).
  • 3 channels give you the two movement controls, above, but with the additional control of moving backwards and forwards (cyclic control).
  • 4 channels give control over the throttle, elevator, aileron, rudder, improving on the maneuverability of the above, fixed pitch controls.
  • 5 channels are rarely found, giving way to the more common 6 channel model. These additional channels give skilled flyers the ability to perform true, 3D aerial movements by adding collective pitch and gyro gain control into the mix.

It can all get very complicated!

So which is the best choice for you? Well, if you are just starting out with radio controlled helicopters, stick to the 2 channel models at first. Learn to master the basic movements first before progressing through the ranks, right up to the impressive but challenging 6 channel models. Whatever you decide, have fun with your RC helicopter, fly safely and enjoy improving your flying skills!