The History of the RC Hobby Industry

The History of the RC Hobby Industry

It's hard to believe, but RC (radio-controlled) model airplanes were around in 1898 thanks to Nikola Tesla. It's amazing to see the evolving of this great hobby and to learn about the people involved. Much is owed to amateur hobbiests who embraced new technology as the years went on.

Wink's Hobbies in Ithaca brings no less than works of art to the table for your RC hobby adventure. The options now are plentiful, and there are models for everyone regardless of experience or age.

Model boats were actually the first to be controlled by radio waves, and this technology went into providing controlled bombs during WWII. Amazing to think of this history attached to a favorite hobby for many people.

Hobbiests today are enthralled with the model airplanes, helicopters, RC model trucks, cars, All-terrain vehicles and many other options. The technology continues to expand and improve with several power options available as well.  The two most popular power methods, Internal Combustion and Electric, are well covered here at Wink's Hobbies in Ithaca. When you need a hobby shop in Ithaca, we are your one-stop store for all your RC needs.

Internal combustion

Internal combustion engines for remote control models have typically been two stroke engines that run on specially blended fuel. Engine sizes are typically given in cm³ or cubic inches, ranging from tiny engines like these .02 in³ to huge 1.60 in³ or larger. For even larger sizes, many modelers turn to four stroke or gasoline engines (see below.) Glow plug engines have an ignition device that possesses a platinum wire coil in the glow plug, that catalytically glows in the presence of the methanol in glow engine fuel, providing the combustion source.

Since 1976, practical "glow" ignition four stroke model engines have been available on the market, ranging in size from 3.5 cm³ upwards to 35 cm³ in single cylinder designs. Various twin and multi-cylinder glow ignition four stroke model engines are also available, echoing the appearance of full sized radial, inline and opposed cylinder aircraft powerplants. The multi-cylinder models can become enormous, such as the Saito five cylinder radial. They tend to be quieter in operation than two stroke engines, using smaller mufflers, and also use less fuel.

Glow engines tend to produce large amounts of oily mess due to the oil in the fuel. They are also much louder than electric motors.

Another alternative is the gasoline engine. While glow engines run on special and expensive hobby fuel, gasoline runs on the same fuel that powers cars,lawnmowers, weed whackers etc. These typically run on a two-stroke cycle, but are radically different from glow two-stroke engines.They are typically much, much larger, like the 80 cm³ Zenoah. These engines can develop several horsepower, incredible for something that can be held in the palm of the hand.


Electric power is often the chosen form of power for aircraft, cars and boats. Electric power in aircraft in particular has become popular recently, mainly due to the popularity of park flyers and the development of technologies like brushless motors and lithium polymer batteries. These allow electric motors to produce much more power rivaling that of fuel-powered engines. It is also relatively simple to increase the torque of an electric motor at the expense of speed, while it is much less common to do so with a fuel engine, perhaps due to its roughness. This permits a more efficient larger-diameter propeller to be used which provides more thrust at lower airspeeds. (e.g. an electric glider climbing steeply to a good thermalling altitude.)

In aircraft, cars, trucks and boats, glow and gas engines are still used even though electric power has been the most common form of power for a while. The following picture shows a typical brushless motor and speed controller used with radio controlled cars. As you can see, due to the integrated heat sink, the speed controller is almost as large as the motor itself. Due to size and weight limitations, heat sinks are not common in RC aircraft electronic speed controller (ESCs), therefore the ESC is almost always smaller than the motor. (Wikipedia

RC Hobby Industry is Growing

Actually, it's never really stopped at all. The demand for these remote controlled and radio-controlled models has been high for over a century. The pure enjoyment of this hobby is seen on the faces of young and old, participants and spectators alike.

Wink's Hobbies in Ithaca is proud to provide you with the best and most appropriate models for your pleasure. No matter your need, experience level, or desire, we have the right RC model trucks, cars, planes and boats for you. Come by and see us soon!  We look forward to assisting you in your search for the perfect model.  Have a wonderful fall season and get out there and fly!