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RC Helicopter Channels Explained

What are RC helicopter channels?
Each channel on the transmitter controls one action on the RC helicopter. The number of channels determines how many independent functions can be controlled.

Fewer channels allow easy flying for beginning pilots. More channels allow more complete control, maneuverability, and realism.

Some functions that channels can control include:

  • Throttle (how fast the main rotor blades spin)
  • Yaw (turning to face left/right)
  • Elevator (tilting the main rotors to move the helicopter forwards/backwards)
  • Aileron (tilting the main rotors to move the helicopter left/right)
  • Collective (tilt of the main rotor blades in collective pitch helicopters)
  • Adjustments such as gyro stability
  • More!


All helicopters have one channel to control the throttle. What the other channels control depends on the number of channels and type of helicopter that you are flying.

Beginner– 2 channel helicopters
2 channel helicopters are very easy to fly and make great gifts for first-time and younger pilots. They are fixed pitch and sometimes have two counter-rotating blades for improved stability. For most 2 channel helicopters the functions are:

  • Throttle
  • Turning (Yaw)

The yaw allows the helicopter to make level turns to either left or right. The yaw can be controlled via tail rotor speed, such as in the MAW HAWK helicopter. Or, it is sometimes controlled by the relative speed of the two counter-rotating main blades in dual-blade coaxial helicopters.

Two channel helicopters are usually set up to always fly forward. Combined with the yaw control, this allows a pilot to fly forward in straight lines and nice curving paths.

Beginner– 3 channel helicopters
3 channel helicopters are also great for beginners and are fixed pitch. Common functions are:

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

The forward/backward movement can be controlled by a small rotor in the tail that is parallel to the main rotors.
Because CH 3 controls forward and backward movement, 3 channel helicopters can often hover in place.

Intermediate– 4 channel helicopters
4 channel helicopters are ideal for intermediate pilots who have had some training on either a beginner helicopter or a simulator. 4 channel helicopters can be either fixed pitch or collective pitch. 4 channel helicopters have:

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

These functions give a pilot full maneuverability of strafing side to side and all the abilities of a three channel helicopter including hovering. A good 4-channel helicopter for beginners is the Hughes 300, which also comes with a free flight simulator cable.

Intermediate/Advanced– 6 channel helicopters
6 channel helicopters are perfect for intermediate and advanced pilots who have training well on lower-channel helicopters or simulators and are ready for more! A 6 channel helicopter is often collective pitch. Common functions include:

  • Throttle
  • Turning (Yaw)
  • Forward/backward movement (Elevator)
  • Left/right movement (Aileron)
  • Collective pitch (tilt of main rotor blades)
  • Turning the gyro or other adjustments

A fixed-pitch 6 channel helicopter is a 4 channel helicopter plus two channels of possible adjustments.
A collective-pitch 6 channel helicopter is capable of full-3D flight including inverted flying and other advanced aerobatics such as diving, climbing, rolls, and loops. These maneuvers are the most challenging to learn, but also the most exciting to perform and watch!

Advanced– 7+ channel helicopters
Helicopters with 7 or more channels have the same movement functions as 6 channel helicopter. The additional channels allow for even more adjustments on the fly.

No matter what level, all helicopters take practice and patience to master. Check out the beginner’s guide to RC helicopters (coming soon!) once you decide on what helicopter is right for you.

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