As a newcomer to the radio control flying hobby, learning about the primary rc airplane controls of your new plane is essential for becoming a good pilot, and getting the most out of your model.
Every operation that is controllable on an rc airplane is referred to as a 'channel'.
The most basic plane will be just 1-channel which could be either motor control on/off (electric) or rudder movement. A 2-channel rc airplane will likely have motor and rudder control.
To get a true feeling and understanding of radio control flying you should get a plane with three or four channels. A 4-channel plane will have throttle (motor power), elevator, aileron and rudder control whereas a 3-channel powered plane will have either rudder or aileron control but not both.
For the majority of 'sport' and club level rc pilots a 3, 4 or 5-channel airplane is the most popular. There are no set rules as to how many channels an rc plane must have, it all comes down to the number of functions the pilot wants to have control over.
The control surfaces are hinged sections of the flying surfaces (wing, tailplane, and fin), and each control surface moves - up and down for elevators and ailerons, and left and right for rudders.
This movement changes the shape of the entire flying surface's airfoil, affecting the amount of lift/downforce/sideforce generated by that flying surface. The airplane reacts to these changes by changing its attitude and/or direction. By attitude, we mean the plane's orientation in relation to the horizontal. For instance, if the plane is pointing up, it has a nose-up attitude.
Throttle controls engine speed and hence how fast or slow the propeller spins. In turn, this changes the amount of thrust produced.
The elevators are the hinged section of the tailplane. They are also known as horizontal stabiliser located at the very rear of the airplane and are the single most important control surface. They directly effect the plane's airspeed.
Elevators control the horizontal pitch attitude of the airplane, in other words whether the nose of the plane points upwards or downwards. When elevators are deflected upwards the plane's nose is forced to point upwards, and with the elevators deflected downwards then the nose is forced downwards. This resulting nose up/nose down pitch attitude comes about as the upward/downward deflection of the elevators changes the amount of down force being generated by the tailplane.
Elevators should be used in conjunction with rudder and/or ailerons when making a turn, to maintain altitude during the turn and also to get the plane to bank during the turn.
Not all rc airplane controls include ailerons, in fact many 3-channel trainers use rudder instead. But where fitted, ailerons control the roll of the airplane about its longitudinal axis (imagine a straight line running through the centre of the fuselage, from nose to tail).
Ailerons work in pairs and are found on the trailing (rear) edge of the wing, and they work opposite to each other i.e. when one aileron moves up, the other one moves down and vice versa. Ailerons are used in all aerobatic maneuvers that involve a rolling motion.
The rudder is the hinged section of the fin, or vertical stabiliser, located at the back of the airplane. It's used for directional control by changing the yaw of the airplane, and works in the correct sense i.e. moving the rudder to the left causes the airplane to turn left and vice versa.
Understanding the controls of your rc airplane, or any rc model, is critical if you want to enjoy your model to the fullest and get the most out of the hobby.