How Long Can RC Planes Fly?

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RC planes have changed a great deal from the earliest models, but even with new advances, they don’t typically have that long of a flight time. When investing money in more expensive items like these, you want to know you’re getting value for money. So, how long can RC planes fly?

An average RC plane can fly for between 15-20 minutes. The exact flight time is determined by several factors, including the weight of the plane, weather conditions, battery capacity, and more. Some purpose-built and highly expensive RC planes can fly for hours without needing a charge.

In this article, I’ll go into detail on all you need to know about RC planes and their flight time. If you have an RC plane that seems to underperform, we’ll also look at possible ways to extend the battery life.

How Long Can you Fly RC Planes?

How Long Can you Fly RC Planes?

It’s hard to get data on flight time records for mass-produced RC planes. However, any flight duration longer than 20 minutes for such designs will raise eyebrows in the RC plane community.

On the other hand, heavily modified model planes can fly for hours. 

In 2003, an RC plane named the TAM-5 made history by flying for almost 39 hours to go across the Atlantic Ocean. It flew from Ireland to Canada and set a world record.

Unfortunately, it will cost a lot of money to replicate the TAM-5 flight or even break the record. You can be certain that no manufacturer is willing to mass-produce RC planes capable of that length of flight either.  

How To Know Your RC Plane’s Flight Time

Most manufacturers typically include the estimated flight time for their RC plane in the product description. However, that’s an estimate. You won’t know what to expect from the plane until you’ve taken it out for a spin.

If you’re trying to buy an RC plane based on the flight time, I advise going for the product that has the highest estimates (everything else considered). Of course, you won’t get an exact match performance in real life, but it should be close.

Once you have the plane, charge it fully and take it outdoors in the weather conditions you’re likely to fly in most frequently. Then, fly it until you get the battery warning or for ten minutes—whichever comes first.

You’ll generally get the battery warning when the battery is 75% depleted. 

So if your plane doesn’t give such a warning and you land after 10 minutes to a battery that’s 75% depleted, the estimated total flight time will be around 12-13 minutes.

Factors That Affect RC Plane Flight Times

It’s difficult to affix specific flight duration to all RC planes because of a few factors, such as:

  • The direction of the wind
  • The size of the plane

RC planes come in all shapes and sizes, and when you take modifications into account, it’s almost impossible to give an average flight time estimate. 

That said, the below factors can extend or reduce the flight time of your RC plane. Let’s take a closer look. 

The Direction of the Wind

Flying directly into a headwind will drain your plane’s battery faster compared to flying with a tailwind. 

But, of course, the latter isn’t always an ideal flying scenario for RC plane pilots learning the ropes. In addition, there’s a higher chance of losing control of the plane in tailwinds.

The best option is to start learning on clear, windless days until you get the hang of it. 

How Size of the RC Plane affect flying Time?

The size of the plane is also an important determinant of flight time. 

RC planes come in different designs and manufacturers fit in batteries, propellers, motors, and other parts with the plane’s overall weight in mind. The relationship between all the parts plays an important role in how much flight time you can realistically expect from any specific model.

Large scale-size planes can fly for more than an hour, while the smaller designs typically deliver just 10-15 minutes of flying time. These are the RC planes you find that look very close to the real thing. Manufacturers copy the bulk of the exterior design and some of the internal mechanics.

On the other hand, glider RC planes are known to last longer because they use the air to stay up. This reduces the drain on the battery and allows the planes to last up to three times the flight time of other models.

However, these RC planes are also the slowest, so users often buy them for entertainment more than anything else. 

You can’t use them indoors either as they are large and won’t get enough air to work properly. However, if there’s a bit of wind, you can complete half an hour on your glider without losing any more than 10% battery life.

How To Make Your RC Plane Last Longer When Flying?

Are you getting underwhelming flight time from your RC plane? It’s possible to make it stay aloft longer with a few tweaks:

  • Remove any unwanted extras
  • Change to higher amperage battery
  • Try using a different propeller
  • Fly in the best weather conditions
  • Charge the RC plane just before using it

These tweaks can help you increase your flight time a bit more. However, don’t expect a drastic change even after swapping out the battery or propeller. You’ll get a 20-30% increase in flight time at best.

Remove Any Unwanted Extras

I’ve seen some RC plane pilots add tiny cameras to capture scenic views as they fly. However, this is only a good idea if you have a genuine need for the pictures captured.

The smallest weight increase can lead to a tangible hit on your plane’s battery life. Plus, if you’ve connected the camera to the plane’s battery, you could lose more than 50% of the battery’s capacity, giving you no more than a few minutes of flight time.

So, remove any extras you’ve tacked on yourself. Apart from cameras, stickers, skins, and protective covers can also lead to poor flight times.

Change to a Higher Amperage Battery

Some moderately priced RC planes come with batteries that have low amperage. This is a flight time constraint you can break from if you know how to change the batteries. 

Going for higher amperage batteries can bring an instant increase in flight times.

However, you need to find a battery that’s roughly the same weight as the one you’ve removed. If it’s heavier, you’ll be giving the plane extra weight to carry which would be counterproductive.

In worst-case scenarios, you could end up damaging the plane as other parts try to compensate for the added weight. So, change the batteries, but stay within limits.

Try Using a Different Propeller

The propeller in your RC plane has an impact on the flight time. The built-in option is typically good enough, but your plane might last a bit longer if you change the propeller to a slightly smaller one.  

Before you do this, it’s a good idea to make a note of how much flight time you’re currently getting from the RC plane. This is so you’ll have a benchmark for comparison when you change the propeller.

Fly in the Best Weather Conditions

If your RC plane faces resistance due to weather conditions, it will expend more battery power while trying to counter the resistance. This is why you should only judge the flight time when you’ve used it in the right conditions. 

Excessive winds, freezing temperatures, and rains can make the flight more draining for your RC plane.

The best time to fly an RC plane is when the weather is clear and during a slight breeze. Then, the battery won’t have to work any harder to keep the plane up.

Charge the RC Plane Just Before Using It

It’s not uncommon to find people charging their RC plane and storing it away, only to get it out of the box on flight day with a depleted battery. 

This is the wrong approach. 

Instead, it’s best to charge your plane just a few hours before you head out.

If you have an RC plane that displays battery life, you will notice the battery meter shows a drop even when you haven’t used it in a while. Unfortunately, most models don’t have such an indicator which means that the pilot will take an underpowered plane out and see significantly reduced flight times. 

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