RC Helicopters – How Many Channels Should My Radio Have?

“How many channels does my RC helicopter need?”


This is one of the first questions folks looking to buy their a RC chopper will often ask. The answer is both simple and complex: that all depends on what you want your helicopter to do.  Not the answer you were looking for? No worries- let me break it down for you:

When shopping for an RC helicopter, you need to also choose a helicopter radio to control it, and with this, you must decide how many channels you will need. Each channel will be in charge of one surface or one component on your chopper. In a nutshell, the more complex  of a chopper you want, the more channels you will require.


2-Channel Radios

This set-up is the most basic type of radio, used mostly with basic toy-grade choppers. It has one channel each for the following:

  • to control the main rotor’s velocity
  • to control the velocity of the tail rotor, which allows the chopper to turn/yaw to the right or left


3-Channel Radios

Several toy-grades RC choppers that are coaxial (which means that the main rotors are counter-rotating) have this set-up. Each channel controls one of the following:

  • main rotors’ velocity
  • turning and yawing (thru changing the velocity of the counter-rotation
  • the velocity and direction of another motor found on the tail boom, which controls pitch


Most toy-grade RC helicopters with only two or three channels normally come with the radio included. However, this is not so for the following:


Four-Channel Radios

Radios with four channels are needed for RC copters which  cyclic control. Each channel controls one of the following:

  • Velocity of main rotors
  • yaw movement (via changing of counter-rotation speed)
  • forward/backward pitch
  • lef/right roll (by controlling the swash plate)


5-Channel Radio

If you want to fly a RC chopper with collective pitch, you will need to purchase a radio with AT LEAST five channels:

  • The first four channels control the same features as mentioned above. The fifth channel controls the collective pitch of the main rotor.


6-Channel Radio

The difference between having five or six channels is that you will need the sixth channel to select various gyro settings/modes.


7+ Channel Radios

More channels gives you access and control  to more features, besides basic flight:

  • landing gear
  • fuel mixture (for nitro- and gas-powered copters)
  • GPS and/or return home mode activation
  • smoke systems
  • lighting for night flying
  • realistic accessories: rocket launchers, gun turrets, windshield wipers, etc.
  • camera/ video


So, How many channels?

The required number of channels that your RC helicopter will need is restricted to nothing more than the number of accessories and tricks that you want to do with you chopper. If you are just starting out and want to keep it simple with a toy-grade RC copter, you will have the 1- or 2-channel radio already included in the box. If you want a more advanced helicopter, you’ll most likely need to shop separately for the RC radio that is best for your chopper.

RC Helicopter Basic Flight Tips and Radio Channels Explained

So, you’re ready to purchase your first RC helicopter- congrats! You’re gonna love that bird, no matter which model you choose.


Now, the question is? How do you fly that darn thing? What’s more, why are there so many different radios with varying numbers of channels to choose from? Well, this guide will help you sort all that out.

how to fly a rc helicopter

how to fly a rc helicopter


The basics first: How many channels, and why?

Well, you haven’t actually chosen yet which kind of chopper you want, and one of the biggest questions on your mind is, ‘how many channels do I need for my RC helicopter?’  That is, after you find out that a RC copter can have up to seven or more channels(!).


So what are the RC channels for?

Simply put, each channel on your radio controls one mechanical element of your RC bird. The more channels it has, the more individual functions can be performed remotely.
Less channels means simpler flying for the rookie pilot. More channels equals more total control and realistic flight.

A few elements that you can control with multiple channels:

  • Throttle (the speed of the main rotor)
  • Yaw (turning so as to face right or left)
  • Elevator (changing the angle of the main rotor which causes forward or backward movement)
  • Aileron (changing the angle of the main rotor which causes the chopper to move right/left)
  • Collective (changing the angle of the main rotor in choppers with collective pitch)
  • Other individual adjustments (gyro stability, etc.)

All RC choppers have one channel which puts the throttle under your command. Depending on the chopper model that you are flying, as well as the number of channels your radio contains, will determine how many more channels you will need.


Let’s have a look at choppers with more than two channels on their RC radio:


2-Channel Radio (Beginner)
A RC chopper with a 2-channel radio is actually quite easy to fly and is perfect for a rookie pilot . These models have a fixed pitch and on occasion come equipped with two counter-rotating blades for better stability. The available functions on a RC helicopter with two channels are:

  • Throttle
  • Turning (Yaw)

Yaw is the term used to describe the ability of the helicopter to make flat  turns right or left Yaw  normally  determined by  tail rotor speed. Depending on the model, yaw can also be determined by the speed of the counter rotation of in dual-blade coaxial copters.

In general, 2-channel RC choppers are designed to only fly in a forward direction. This gives the pilot the ability to fly straight forward lines as well as in curving arcs.


3-Channel Radio (Beginner)
A RC chopper with a 3-channel radio is also perfect for the rookie pilot and likewise has a fixed pitch. The three channels normal control the following:

  • Throttle
  • Turning (Yaw)
  • Forward/backward movement (Elevator)

Forward/backward movement is determined by a small rotor in the tail which is parallel to rotors of the main engine.

Since the third channel gives control over forward/backward movement, choppers with three channels have the ability to hover in mid-air.


4-Channel Radio (Intermediate)
Choppers with four channels are perfect for pilots of intermediate skill level/experience.  These copters can come with either a fixed- or collective pitch.  They have four channels to each control one of the following:

  • Throttle
  • Turning (Yaw)
  • Forward/backward (Elevator)
  • right/left (Aileron)

This set-up is exactly the same as a 3-channel radio RC helicopter, except that you also have the ability to strafe side to side.


6-Channel Radio (Advanced)
Choppers with a  six-channel radio are excellent for intermediate and advanced pilots with experience who are up for more realistic flying. Most models with six channels are collective-pitch choppers. Controlled elements are:

  • Throttle
  • Turning (Yaw)
  • Forward/backward (Elevator)
  • Left/right (Aileron)
  • Collective pitch (change of the angle of of main rotors)
  • Other individual adjustments (gyro stability, etc.)

A six-channel chopper with a fixed pitch is really simply a copter with a four-channel radio, plus two additional channels, which can give you control over variable options.

A collective-pitch chopper with six channels is capable of 3D-flying, complete with inverted flight and tons of aerial tricks.


7+ Channel Radio (Advanced)

Choppers with radios that give them seven or more channels to control functions have the same movement capabilities of a chopper with six channels. The extra channels simple give the pilot more variables to have fun with, including, video camera control, retractable landing gear, etc.

The Various Types of RC Helicopters

So, you thought that RC choppers were nothing more than model helicopters with a motor inside and an antenna on the outside that you controlled from a radio controller in your hands? Not quite!

There are actually four different kinds of RC choppers on the market nowadays, with more to appear in the future, certainly:  micro-coaxial; micro-single rotor /fixed-pitch; quad/multi rotor; collective pitch.

It must be noted that each kind of RC chopper is a completely different machine which, although piloted more or less similarly, fly completely different when compared to each other.

Let’s take a look at each type here:


Coaxial Helicopters

Affordable cost, great fun….these birds do the trick for every age group and ability level. They are ideal for rookie pilots and fun and easy enough to get them hooked on this great hobby. What’s more, the piloting skills are more or less the same as with a single-rotor, hobby-grade copter.

So why are coaxials so great? In a word- stability!

In contrast to a single-rotor chopper which has one main rotor as well as a tail rotor to fight torque, coaxial choppers have two principle rotors mounted on top of one another. It would be tough to find a bird that has better stability than a coaxial.


Micro-Single Rotor

Although not as stable as a coaxial, the more conventional design of a single rotor (as described above), gives you a more realistic feel to the piloting experience- you have the main rotor engine as well as the tail rotor to fight the torque created during flight. What’s more, you also have a fixed pitch, which is another realistic element of helicopter piloting.



The market still does not have a commonly-seen model for a single CP rotor on a RC chopper. However, there are several effective designs. One  design that is becoming slowly-but-surely more popular is the quad; each propeller has a fixed pitch, with two spinning clockwise while the other two propellers spin counter. When these four engines are spun accurately and precisely at varying speeds, all standard directional movement is possible: forward, backward, left, right and yaw.

Believe it or not, this actually makes quad rotor choppers (as well as all other multi-rotor RC choppers) quite simple mechanically, since there are much fewer moving parts in comparison with more standard choppers.

Normally, there are only four moving parts on most quad choppers: the four spinning motors that connect to the four propellers, which are spinning…and voila! Those are the only moving parts!

This fact makes quads (as well as all other multi-rotor RC choppers) quite simple for aficionados to custom-build their own birds.

For the record, there is another design that is slowly gaining traction in the market, which has three propellers set up in a triangular fashion; similar designs also employ up to six or even eight propellers. However, the quad-rotor RC helicopter remains the most common (and rookie-friendly) multi-rotor chopper out there today, for the moment.


Collective Pitch

Also known as CP, this refers to the angle of attack (pitch) of the blades of the principle rotor which control the chopper’s lift without changing the engine or roto speed. This is the opposite of ‘fixed-pitch’.  So when you want to gain altitude, simply increase the CP and up you go.

What’s more, with minimal change to rotor RPM, control is much more consistent and you won’t have to worry about torque spikes.

My favorite RC Helicopter supplier is R-C.UK, I use this company for all my spare parts and delivery is usually always next day.


Popular RC Helicopters on the market

So which models should you peel your eyes for when looking for an RC chopper (whether your a rook or a seasoned veteran)?  Here is a list of some can’t-miss models:


  • Venom Ozon 3-Channel Mini

This model is a mini, yet packs a lot of style and has won over fans with its low price and great specs. A battery chopper, it requires no assembly and can fly up to an hour.

Venom Ozon 3-Channel Mini

Venom Ozon 3-Channel Mini


  • Air Hogs Hawk Eye Video Camera Helicopter

A fun chopper that records up to five minutes of video or 100’s of in-flight photos, with a USB port (which also allows for charging). A very stable chopper that will provides tons of fun.

Air Hogs Hawk Eye Video Camera Helicopter

Air Hogs Hawk Eye Video Camera Helicopter


  • Walkera Super CP 6-Channel Helicopter

Especially designed for rookies (even though it has SIX(!) channels), the gyro-system provides the ability to fly in a variety of conditions as well as minimize the risk of crashing. It also comes with a LCD screen that lists a ton of data regarding your flight and this bird comes with a long battery life.

Walkera Super CP 6-Channel Helicopter

Walkera Super CP 6-Channel Helicopter


  • E-Flite Blade 500 X BNF Helicopter

A combination of ultimate piloting technology and simple user controls, no assembly is required to fly this bird. This chopper is unique in that you do not use the flybar, which permits the pilot to reach higher speeds. With unbelievably precise controls and response time, it is a suitable chopper for beginners yet also mesmerizes veteran pilots who yearn to do advanced acrobatics.

E-Flite Blade 500 X BNF Helicopter

E-Flite Blade 500 X BNF Helicopter


  • Heli-Max 1SQ Quadcopter

We couldn’t offer you a list of top-selling RC helicopters without having a quad on the list. With four principle rotors, this model’s futuristic look and space-age design make it a much safer ride and thus more kid-/rookie-friendly (particularly for indoor flight). It also has a USB charge port for quick re-charging as well as 4 AA batteries to get you back up in the air ASAP.

Heli-Max 1SQ Quadcopter

Heli-Max 1SQ Quadcopter

The Different Types of RC Helicopters and How to Fly Them

So you want to get into the great hobby of RC helicopters, eh? Excellent news! And now the bad news, hmm? Completely lost and not sure which model to purchase as a rookie pilot, let alone how to fly the bird? Well, leave that to us- read on and you’ll soon have the ideal bird for you to fly, and will be flying it like a pro in no time.


Which model is ideal for me?

We usually first classify RC helicopters by the power source. Common power sources are glow fuel (nitro), gasoline, batteries and turbine engines. For about four decades, nitro helicopters were the most common kind to find in the skies. Having said that, in the last ten years, technology has advanced to the point where power and flight times now rival (or even equal) those of nitro choppers.

The second classification of RC helicopters that we use is to describe the two principle kinds of control systems used for the rotors: mechanical mixing and CCPM (cyclic/ collective pitch mixing). Originally, the former was found on almost all RC copters, whereas the latter is now used in most toy-grade choppers.


Nitro fuel (glow fuel)

nitro rc helicopter

nitro rc helicopter

Nitro choppers are categorized depending on their size, divided into ‘classes’. The classes are:  1/2A-, 15-, 30-, 50-, 60- and 90-class. These numbers are used to describe the size of the engine (in cubic inches). The larger the number, the larger the engine and the more powerful the chopper.  You can get about 7-15 minutes of flight time with a nitro chopper.



electric rc helicopter

electric rc helicopter

Electric helicopters began appearing on the market in the mid-nineties. Progress with the technology found in batteries now makes flying electric choppers in an advanced manner both possible and enjoyable. Fight times average around 4-12 minutes.



coaxial rc helicopter

coaxial rc helicopter

A new innovation now found on the market is the emergence of coaxial (electronic) RC choppers. This system provides simple directional control and liberates the pilot from the torque-induced yaw producing on the aircraft. By eliminating rotational torque, the pilot has fast and excellent control response.

This kind of model has a high degree of stability, yet is limited regarding forward speed. Because most models have a fixed pitch, the pitch of blades cannot be varied very much.


Flying that bird

Unfortunately, flying a RC chopper it not quite as simple as it might seem. However, hobbies worth the effort, dedication and fun rarely are. Trust us (and if you don’t, trust your the local RC veteran pilots in your area)- if you think RC piloting is simple job that you can go out and master on the first day on the job, you’ll be buying yourself a new helicopter on your very second day (and then another, and another…).

To avoid that terrible rookie feeling of frustration as well as NOT burning a hole in your pocket buying a new chopper every other week, follow these simple tips (no, piloting is NOT simple; but the tips are, as well as effective) and we are sure you’ll be enjoying flying your bird in no time.


  • If AT ALL POSSIBLE, first practice (a lot) in a flight simulator- the hard work and patience WILL pay off in the long run.
  • Place a LARGE training gear set on your copter
  • Read the manual (!) .
  • First practice in a location with NO wind; preferably indoors.
  • Make sure the surface is flat so that your landing/training gear won’t catch on the ground and do a nose slam.
  • Your first two flights should see you never take the landing gear off the ground- it should skim the surface the whole time. This way, if you over-compensate on the controls, your bird won’t have a far drop and so won’t take much damage (!).
  • Practice the simple things first, graduating slowly to more complicated movements: left-to-right , forward/backwards (more difficult than left/right), Loose/tight circles, figure eights, landings and take-offs.
  • If your bird banks, pitches or yaws solo, you have to compensate for this with trim.
  • Once, and only once you feel you can pilot your chopper sans a knee-jerk reaction, head on outside to practice with wind.
  • Take the bird up a little bit, about three feet, and hold her steady. You’ll see that wind really effects a chopper’s flight at this altitude; practice simply hovering at first.
  • Never take flight with the sun on the horizon; it becomes difficult to judge well the altitude.
  • Once you can control the altitude of your helicopter with all movements, practicing hovering at a higher altitude, approximately 10-20 feet. REMEMBER: if your chopper begins to sink rapidly, quick movement will only compound the problem.
  • Trying making bigger circuits yet don’t let the speed increase so much
  • Once you can do all of the above, take the training gears off. Most likely they are sapping your speed and even worse- giving you bad habits as you use them for visual cues.
  • After you take the training gear off, start all over again, because it’s much more responsive now and much more difficult to see. However, it will fly much much better.
  • Try practicing more subtle figure eights
  • Trying putting more dynamics into your flights- more velocity and then cutting the speed
  • Practice making the transition from rapid flight to a (not too) abrupt landing.