Glow vs Electric - The Great Debate? - RC Groups
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Oct 01, 2011, 11:53 AM
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Zephex's Avatar

Glow vs Electric - The Great Debate?

Greetings everyone. First post here and I am looking forward to joining the community. I appreciate your time in reading and answering my questions.

About 5 years ago, I was diving into RC flying. Got a tower trainer from Tower hobbies, a Spektrum DX7, and was on my way. Well the economy turned south as everyone knows and I had to hang up the hobby.

Now that I am making a decent living once again, I am looking to getting back into the hobby.

My question is regarding Glow vs Electric planes. I am sure technology has changed in the past years so I wanted to get some feedback, maybe some pros and cons.

I have never tried electric before. The reason being is that all the electric planes I have ever found have been small. I am not planning on flying 4 engine glow planes or anything, but electrics always gave me the impression of being a "baby" version of the gas models. They are smaller in size and the sound they make sounds like a Mosquito on crack. I would be afraid they would drift in even light wind!

I am also concerned about the flight time. With glow, I can land, refuel, and get back in the air. With electric, I probably need to have 3-4 battery packs ready to go to fly. Perhaps I can charge one while flying on another. I am not sure how long the packs take to charge now a days. I do like the fact that there is no engine adjusting, no messy cleanup, and of course not having to worry about buying expensive fuel.

I would like to start with another trainer to shake the rust off. Move to a simple sport plane so I can start learning some better tricks and control. The ultimate goal for me would be to own a jet or two. I have always been facinitated by military jets. Just the look of them are amazing. I am not sure if an electric can push something like that.

Of course, I dont have the 2000 dollars to drop on a turbine engine either...but it would be nice!

More or less, im just looking for feedback on how far electrics have come in the past 5-7 years. Concerned about flight times, number of packs needed and charge time on packs (if I were to go to a flight field for the day), and the ability of an electric motor to push decent sized planes as well as the eventual jet. I am not sure where I could buy a variety of electrics either. It seems like Tower Hobbies has 5x more glow planes than electrics. Any help there would help too!

On a side note, I found this video and its electric....and a very sharp looking plane!
FA/18 SUPER HORNET Twin 70mm 360 TV Flight Review in HD Part ONE! (16 min 27 sec)
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Oct 01, 2011, 12:55 PM
jbourke's Avatar
I'm not sure there is much debate these days. People used to debate this stuff but it's been a long time since I've seen that.

Since lipolys became available the performance advantage of glow is gone. A few years ago it was still quite a bit more expensive to fly electric, but I don't think that is the case any longer. I used to run the numbers on these things as I analyzed the hobby market but I stopped doing that when it seemed pointless.

I can tell you from the many hobby store owners I talk to each year, that glow motors and glow planes no longer move from the shelves. Even O.S. engines now has a line of electric motors, if that gives you any indication of where the market has gone. I think you basically see new people starting out with electrics and then if they go up in size they go to gas engines rather than glow. With jets a lot of people just stick with electric ducted fans, but of course turbines are the ultimate in realism.

That said, glow engines will always be a part of the hobby, I hope, and you should just go with what you will personally enjoy. Just pick based on what you like the most. I've always found glow engines to be too fiddly, but if you like the noise then go for it.

Oct 01, 2011, 01:22 PM
Wake up, feel pulse, be happy!
Piece's Avatar
Electrics have indeed come a long way... And you've stumbled on a debate that's been going ever since electricity started to be widely used in R/C aircraft.

If you want to know what I mean, go post this same question over in the nitro aircraft section. You will get vastly different answers A lot of folks aren't very objective on this one; I only fly electric but I'm capable of seeing the other side.

The facts go like this:

Modern electrics have equaled and surpassed nitro performance in many applications, but not all. Basically, if you can power a plane with a nitro engine you can stick a brushless motor in it and get similar performance. Some die-hard electric guys will tell you that electrics totally dominate in every aspect and that's not true. Similarly, nitro guys will tell you that all electrics are weak, slow, and have poor flight times. This, too, is false.

Electrics are generally quieter than nitros. This is an advantage for a lot of people who only have access to small public parks where noise is an issue. Some people just enjoy the sound of a roaring/screaming nitro engine, which is perfectly fine as well. Note that some electrics can be louder than some nitros, but these are generally very high-performance aircraft that have to be flown at the same fields as nitros anyway.

Electrics require less maintenance and tuning, and they're usually more reliable. Again, some folks enjoy tinkering with a small internal-combustion engine, but if you just want to fly the plane then electricity is probably a better option.

A lot of nitro lovers will tell you that nitro planes are faster than electrics. A lot of electric guys will tell you that their pylon planes are the fastest planes out there. Neither is true; the fastest R/C planes are in fact high-performance gliders and comparing anything else to anything else is a waste of time. Yes, it is true that some guys have electrics that go upwards of 250mph. I know there are nitros that are also incredibly fast, but I don't know their top speeds. DS gliders are still going like 460mph and some turbines can hit 300++mph.

Now, as for your questions...

There are batteries available now that can be charged at rates of up to 5C or more. This means that you can charge them in about 12 minutes. Considering that you can get flight times well in excess of this (I get 25-30 minutes on a relatively low-performance plane) you don't have to worry about that. You can also get packs for pretty cheap and they have much longer life cycles than a gallon of nitro fuel.

If you want to fly military jets then yes, electric is a perfectly good option. These planes have no lack of power.... Same goes for larger electrics. In fact, there's a guy here who's building an electric plane with a wingspan of 257", over 21 feet.

I'm sure others will jump in with lots more input....
Oct 01, 2011, 01:38 PM
Registered User
V2rider's Avatar
No real debate here either. My whole fleet is electric and ranges from the little PZ Night Vapor to an 80" H9 P-47. Started with the smaller PZ planes then moved up a bit. favorites to fly now are the H9 50 size Corsair, h9 Fokker DVII and a Kyosho 50 size 109. I tend to stick with E-Flite motors and esc's or for the bigger stuff a CC Ice series esc. That's were my planes get expensive. Battery packs come from Hobby king, that saves a good bit. I try to have at least 2 packs for each plane, some I have 4 or 5. With the right combo of planes and packs I get plenty of flight time in a day at the field.
Another big advantage with electric is being able to go fly even when I'm broke. Some of the guys flying glow will burn $20 easy during a day at the field. Now that I have a nice collection of batteries all I need is the gas to get to the field and back.

EDIT: At this point if I were ever to go wet fuel it would have to be gas. Nothing sounds better in an rc plane to me than a Moki radial. But the engine and plane I would put it in would set me back about $10k so I don't see that happening anytime soon.
Last edited by V2rider; Oct 01, 2011 at 01:42 PM. Reason: ...
Oct 01, 2011, 01:41 PM
Arizona Fun

Electric, glow, or both!

You'll be amazed how far electric has come with high power efficient brushless motors and strong lithium polymer 'lipo' battery packs. Try which has quality products backed my great support. They have glow and electric. I only had one glow left in my fleet until dumb thumbs crashed it, it was a Sig Kadet Senior with a Saito 56 Golden Knight 4-stroke engine, I put up with the fuel mess because of that sweet 4-stroke and am looking for another plane to put it in. With electric there is everything from 'baby' to big now. Flight times? I get 18 to 22min flights off a pack which is more than most pilots saying they get 8 to 12min or so. With a good charger it takes about 45 to 60min to recharge a pack after it's cooled down some. Instead of land & refuel, you land & put in a new lipo pack. You also rarely have the fear of the motor not being tuned right and possible engine out with electric. With electric you need to bring the plane, lipo pack(s) and radio. With glow you have the plane, fuel, radio, glow igniter, chicken stick or electric starter, fuel bulb or electric fuel pump in a field box, having to make sure the plane and radio is charged, then cleaning the fuel off the plane after every flying session. Electrics also don't need a battery pack in the plane for the reciever because the lipo powers it. Sound? Electrics are more quiet but still sound like an airplane because of the prop cutting through the air, I think the ducted fan jets make that 'mosquito on crack' sound that you say, not prop electrics though. Foam planes are great and lighter but won't take wind as well but really move or do slow relaxing flight. My favorite balsa electric sport plane is an E-flite Pulse XT 25e. For a trainer I suggest the E-flite Apprentice which is foam and 58" wingspan or Tower Hobbies has the big balsa electric or glow Nexstar trainers, your next sport plane the foam Parkzone T-28 that is hugely popular with 44" wingspan or the E-flite Pulse XT 25e 52" wingspan. I put 2 clear coats on my foam planes and they look great. Electrics come in ARF 'Almost Ready to Fly' or PNP 'Plug & Play' with servos and ESC installed and you add the reciever and radio transmitter, or BNF 'Bind & Fly' that has a reciever installed and you take your radio and bind it to the reciever. If you go electric I doubt you'll regret it and be hooked quickly. You can always add a glow or two later but I'll bet the glow will sit unused more as electric is convenient and clean, charge and fly! Welcome to this wonderful and addictive hobby, I hope you do well...
Oct 01, 2011, 01:50 PM
Registered User
Zephex's Avatar
Wow! Electrics have come a long way then! I cant imagine a plane of that scale being powered by electrics...looking forward to seeing that.

OK so my mind is pretty much made up to go this route now. Are there any good resources for learning about electric engines? This is the first time I have looked into them so I dont know anything about gear boxes, batteries, or engine differences.

Thanks again for your help!
Oct 01, 2011, 01:53 PM
Registered User
The only debate is your personal preference, all other factors are pretty much equal when balanced out.

Electrics cost a bit more to get started in, Glow costs more to run.

But the debate is largely over since you can easily get the performance you require from either source.

Each has advantages and disadvantages, but they are not killer issues in either direction for most modellers.

Personally, I would go all electric if I were starting again, but as I started in glow before electrics really got going, I'll stick with glow for the time being, but with an eye on converting before too much longer.
Oct 01, 2011, 01:58 PM
Registered User
V2rider's Avatar
Originally Posted by Zephex
Wow! Electrics have come a long way then! I cant imagine a plane of that scale being powered by electrics...looking forward to seeing that.

OK so my mind is pretty much made up to go this route now. Are there any good resources for learning about electric engines? This is the first time I have looked into them so I dont know anything about gear boxes, batteries, or engine differences.

Thanks again for your help!
A good place to start would be reading the sticky in the beginner forum on how to choose a power system. Gearboxes have basically gone by the wayside with brushless motors. As for what motor/esc/battery combo is best for each plane, you will find as many opinions on that as there are options. The best bet is to figure out what plane you want, then come here and search for the threads related to it. Read all of them then if you still don't know what to use, just ask.
Oct 01, 2011, 02:09 PM
An itch?. Scratch build.
eflightray's Avatar
Perhaps the 'debate' these days is more, "do you like to hear your plane above the background noise, or not interested in noise ?"

Though that said, there are some pretty noisy electric models about.
Oct 01, 2011, 03:02 PM
Glow 😡 no no no
As far as i am concerned there is no debate, I have flown glow and switched to electric and i cant see myself going back, but at the end of the day we go about this fantastic hobby in a way that suits us.

I have just put a 6s power system into a 46 glow low wing trainer and the same plane with a 46 glow in it wont keep up, and the best part is when I am finished flying I can put it straight in my car and no mess.

I can test run my planes in the house if I want, just love electric.
Oct 01, 2011, 03:46 PM
easily confused
mu2freighter's Avatar
For me it's a non-issue. I've been confined to a power wheelchair for some time now and until I can get my vehicle modified for wheelchair access I can only fly planes that will fit in my lap to get to my site a mile from my home.

Ultra micro electrics have been a godsend without which I'd have watched another season of flying go by from the sidelines.
Oct 01, 2011, 04:07 PM
If it's R/C, it's all good.
hpiguy's Avatar
I think gasoline and electric will all but take over and nitro will be the fringe in half a decade. The fuel prices, the large amount of support equipment, maintenance and many times finicky nature of nitro motors will be their downfall.

In r/c cars, it will be much faster. As those smaller motors are even more troublesome to run correctly all the time.
Oct 01, 2011, 05:30 PM
Registered User
WindGap's Avatar
Planes up to 60 in size are electrics. Anything bigger will be gas. Electrics and gas have run flawlessly. I always stick to the bigger gas planes cause, in general, they'e simply more stable in the wind. And as long as there's wind and I have the itch to fly, I'll choose gas. Just my nugget. Yours may vary. No more glow for me.
Oct 01, 2011, 05:38 PM
Wake up, feel pulse, be happy!
Piece's Avatar
In r/c cars, it will be much faster. As those smaller motors are even more troublesome to run correctly all the time.
Not to mention the fact that electric power has an even greater performance advantage over nitro in cars than it does in planes. The massive, instantly available torque is a big plus for them.

Earlier this summer I saw a guy driving a nitro monster truck. He had a couple ramps set up but wasn't really doing anything too insane. Well, every time he flipped the truck the engine would cut out and he'd have to pull-start the thing again. Eventually something fell off and he had to put it back on, and when he went to start the truck again it just wouldn't get going. He sat there and fiddled with it for severall minutes before I got bored and left
Oct 01, 2011, 07:37 PM
Registered User
Many glow planes sound good, but the dirt/fuel film outweighs any advantage, IMHO. Cost of fuel also. Batteries are not cheap, but they are used over and over again. Toss the coin and see which side you like. I did fuel cars and trucks and, as noted above, I got really tired of the tuning. Jeeeez, which needle needs tweaked?

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