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Electric vs Glow Power


Here are my opinions on the advantages of electric over glow or gas. I've often read that electric flight isn't better than glow power, just different, but now that I have a few years of experience with electric power systems I'm willing to say electric is much better. I don't fly glow or gas at all any more.

Here's 18 reasons why electric-powered planes are better than glow-powered planes:

1. Safer - With glow engines, usually an electric starter is used. If not, then a chicken-stick, or worse, flipping the prop by hand. All these methods have hands and fingers close to the rotating propeller. With an electric, there's no need to have your hand near the prop, it's always remote starting. Also, there's no needle valve adjustments required with electric planes, so there's no reason to have fingers near the prop.

2. Cleaner - Since electric planes don't use glow fuel, the plane isn't slimed with oil after each flight. Therefore, a larger variety of finishes can be used with electrics, including non-fuel-resistant paints.

3. Last Longer - Since electric planes don't use glow fuel, the wood doesn't get soaked with oil over time. Therefore, electric planes can last a lot longer than their glow-powered counterparts.

4. Improved Scale Appearance - Since electrics don't have a cylinder head or muffler sticking out, scale subjects can be modeled more scale. Also, since the spinner of an electric plane never needs to be touched by a starter, scale appearance can be enhanced by painting the spinner (olive drab, for example), if the scale subject requires it. A starter would eventually wear the paint away.

5. More aerodynamic - For the same reasons as improved scale appearance, electrics can be built more aerodynamically efficient, since no cylinder or muffler sticks out into the airflow. Electrics with a spinner allow a smooth transition of airflow from the spinner onto the fuselage at all points.

6. Inexpensive to build - The electric planes I'm involved with are small Speed 400 and 05 can motor powered. They don't take much in materials to construct. And since they're smaller, they take less room to store in the garage, and take less room to transport. I don't have to put the plane in the truck bed, it will fit on the seat in the cab next to me.

7. Inexpensive to fly - Electrics can be viewed as less expensive to operate since fuel at $15 or more per gallon doesn't have to be bought, and glow plugs will never burn out.

8. More reliable - There's no needle valves to tweak on electrics. You never have a poor engine run with electrics. You never have an electric motor go lean or rich. For multi-engine electric planes, you never have one motor quit, and the motors always run at the same RPM. Even counter-rotating props are possible with a simple polarity change.

9. More power - Theoretically, you can pump volts (by increasing the number of cells) into an electric motor until it blows apart. With glow engines, they peak at a certain horsepower, and there isn't much you can do to get more.

10. Limited support equipment - When I fly electric, this is the stuff I can leave at home: Field box, almost all tools, bottle of glow fuel, fuel pump, starter battery, power panel, glow starter, engine starter, cleaning spray, paper towels. When I fly electric, all I need is the plane, the transmitter, and the battery charger (which I attach to my car's battery).

11. Quieter - Electric planes are generally much quieter than internal combustion engines, either glow or gasoline. This is increasingly becoming an issue at flying fields. Many clubs must now follow noise level limitations. When people say "The future is electric", they may be right.

12. No emissions - Since fuel isn't burned in an electric motor, there's no emissions released into the environment.

13. Less charging - When I fly glow powered planes, I have to remember to charge the transmitter, receiver pack, glow starter, and starter battery. With electrics, all I have to do is charge the transmitter, since the motor / receiver battery is charged at the field in just a few minutes.

14. Peace of mind - I never have to check the receiver battery in an electric plane. I never have to wonder if I have enough juice left for that last flight of the day. With BEC in electric planes, when battery power is low, the motor will not run, since it conserves what remains and dedicates it to the receiver. Unless I'm flying a glider stuck in a thermal!

15. Indoor Capability - Because electric-powered planes are quieter and have no emissions, they can be flown indoors, and often are.

16. Gearboxes - Electric motors can be fitted with gearboxes of various ratios to make a wider range of propellers available, and to make thrust more efficient. Overall, providing greater versatility.

17. CG Problems - Sometimes glow planes have issues with fuel draw and center of gravity. For example, with a glow pusher you may have CG changes as fuel is consumed, and fuel draw problems if the fuel lines are too long or if the tank is too low. None of this happens with electrics.

18. Multi-engine planes - Electric motors are ideal for multi-engine planes, whether with two, three, four, or more engines. You never have to worry about one engine quitting in flight, you never have to worry about the motors not being "sync'd" (not running at the same RPM). Plus, can you imagine the oil slime caused by FOUR glow engines? And, electric motors spinning in harmony still has a great sound!


Here's a few things that people typically say about electric planes:

"You have to charge it every time." Well, yeah, you have to fill a fuel tank with fuel every time too, right?

"They take too long to charge." Not really. It's probably about as long as it takes to fuel a glow plane and check to make sure everything is still tight, since the glow plane is shaking itself apart from vibration, helped along by a generous oil slime. Besides, if you have several battery packs you can charge one while you're flying the other.

"They don't fly long enough on a charge." How does near an hour flight time sound? This is what you can get with the newer lithium-polymer batteries. How long does the typical glow plane fly? Maybe 10 minutes? Don't you want to land after all that time?

"I don't know enough about them." That part is up to you. If you want to know about them there are many resources available, especially with the popularity explosion of electrics. But if you think ignorance is bliss, then just keep flying glow planes.

"They're not as powerful as glow planes." What BS! Electric planes with brushless motors can hover and perform "3D" aerobatics just like glow planes.

"They're too expensive." Do you want to spend $10 on a good performing electric motor (ferrite Speed 400) or near $100 for a glow engine? But, like everything, you get what you pay for. You could spend thousands on glow or electric - it's your choice. You can buy a GWS Slow Stick kit for about $35 which includes the motor and prop, throw in a little battery pack and ESC, and have a great flying fun plane that can out-perform some glow planes. What do you think about that?

"They're too small, I can't see them to fly them." More BS. Haven't you seen giant-scale electrics?

"Electric planes are just toys." Wake up! What do you think glow planes are?

"Electric planes don't sound realistic." One of many good things about electric planes is that they're relatively quieter than glow planes. That's a strength, not a weakness. In many parts of the world there are noise restrictions, and noise has even shut down some flying sites. Hey, that glow plane doesn't look realistic, it has a big un-scale muffler sticking out the side and it has oil all over it!

"When are you going to quit the electric crap and fly "real" planes?" I'm going to fly "real" planes someday when I pass the FAA exam and get my private pilot's license. Here's a newsflash for you - a model airplane with an internal combustion engine isn't any more "real" than a model airplane with an electric motor!


When all is said and done you have a choice. It isn't what you fly, but that you fly. I have found that electric is certainly better for me. I trust that you will make the right choice.

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