Fly up, up, high into the sky

A radio-controlled (RC) airplane is essentially a miniature version of an actual plane. Lee Joo-hun, Director of the Logistics Strategy Group, likes to do away with any pent-up stress from a work week by taking his RC plane up in the air. Some might say his is an uncommon hobby. Let’s hear from Director Lee on how he found his love of mini planes.

Q Not many people are familiar with RC planes. Could you tell us a bit about them?

RC planes are miniature planes that you fly by remote control. We started getting them here in Korea through the US army in the 1970s. These days we have all kinds of toys that are remote-controlled, but when I was a kid, getting to see an RC plane was rare as a hobby, a spectacle reserved for events like Children’s Day events.

Early remote-control units were very bulky.

Image of an early RC plane

Q How do they differ from drones?

A drone is typically lifted by three to four rotary airfoils. The motor of an airborne drone is controlled by a flight control device, an electronic stability control device that allows it to lift and land vertically like a helicopter. What’s interesting about RC planes is that, just like their real-life counterparts, they have to run a certain distance at take-off and landing. The main difference between drones and RC planes is that drones are principally powered by a motor, while RC planes derive their power from various sources, including gasoline engines, jet engines, glow engines, and motors. It all depends on the size and type of the RC plane.

Q Is there somewhere you can go to learn how to fly RC planes? 

It used to be that joining an RC plane club was all there was, but a proper system for RC plane user licensing was introduced in 2021. Since a license is issued based on the type and airframe of your RC plane, you have to learn how to fly it from an instructor before applying for a license, just like the way you learn to drive a car. It goes without saying that I took and passed both the written test and the practical test, making me a fully licensed RC plane operator.

Director Lee Joo-hun with his RC plane on an airfield.

Q How did you come across this type of hobby?

I lived near an airfield as a kid. Seeing those planes every day, I gradually grew fond of them, and that led to my taking up RC plane flying as a hobby. Back then, RC planes were exorbitantly priced, so I had to be content with flying those cardboard planes with a rubber-band motor.

Q Every hobby has its own unique merits. What is it that you enjoy most about RC planes?

As fun as it is to fly them, building them from scratch is also a rewarding experience. It takes at least a month to build one, and the time and energy I put into it are a great source of enjoyment for me. Meeting up with others like me on an airfield is a great time as well. We could talk about RC planes all day without getting tired of it.

Director Lee with other members of his RC plane enthusiasts’ club. The many club members show off a full array of RC planes.

Q Share one of the most memorable times you’ve had flying your RC plane.

It’s not uncommon for an RC plane to fall and crash, and you can even get hurt yourself. It’s not a hobby that should be taken lightly. I’ve experienced plenty of crashes myself. There was a time when I retrieved an RC plane that I had crashed and rescued Mark (my pilot figurine). You could say it felt like rescuing a real crashed pilot.

Q It seems that you can get off-the-shelf RC planes or build one from scratch. Which do you prefer?

You can get a airplane drawing and build an RC plane from scratch, yes. The people who do that are in a league of their own because it takes quite a long time. When I was younger I used build them from scratch, but now I get kits that come with the plane about 80% complete. Even one of those takes at least two to three weeks to finish building.

Those who aren’t up to the task of building an RC plane from scratch can shop around to try building an RC plane kit that suits their level of experience.

Q If someone is interested in taking up RC planes as a hobby, which model and which airfield would you recommend?

Unfortunately, RC plane flyers’ clubs are dwindling in size because of the strict licensing requirements. If you’re interested, I recommend doing a search on Naver or have a look on the KRCA site to find an RC plane flyers’ club near you. You’ll want to find one nearby because that way you’ll be able to get out and meet other club members more often. Spending time out on the airfield with other flyers lets you learn together to reduce a lot of trial and error.

There are a wide range of RC planes available on the market today, with all different designs, sizes, and power sources.

Q Is there any special model of RC plane you’re hoping to build or fly someday?

RC planes powered by a jet engine are as close as it comes to functioning like a real airplane. We all want one because they sound and move just like the real thing, only smaller. The catch is they’re much too expensive for me, so I’m content with just imagining it for now!

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