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radio controlled model boats, R/C, scale, BaD, Dumas, Crockett, Monterey, Warship, ship, model, 1/96, wood, balsa, plank, strip, craftsmanship

Introduction to Radio Gear
by Roger Harper
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Page 1 of 4

Why Do I need Radio Equipment?

Ace_Nautical_Commander.jpg (12012 bytes)It may sound like a stupid question to the obvious, but it really is a good question.  Simply put, kits on the market today do NOT include the radio system.  If you are looking for a complete system, then one of the Ready To Run packages are for you.  These include the boat, radio gear and other needed items to get you in the water quickly.  The important idea here is that the radio system is an item by itself, even if it is bundled with other things in a package. So even if you get the radio with your boat, you will still need a basic working knowledge to use it.  But, these packages are mostly devoted to the speed demons among us.  So us "scale buffs" need to know as much about radio gear to make the right selection when buying one for our boats.

The radio system is basically your link between your model and most of all, you. Radio systems may seem complicated at first but with a little study, all of the aspects of the radio system can be easily understood. I will attempt to introduce you to the basics of radio systems, how they relate to boating and explain a few of the features found on many of the systems available today.

So, are all radios the same?

Radios are separated into two groups, those used for model aircraft and those used for surface models. Although the operation, electronics, and mechanics for both types of systems are virtually identical, they operate on different sets of frequencies. The separation is stipulated by law and it is to protect the safety of the modeler and those in the vicinity. A flying aircraft can be dangerous if it becomes uncontrolled and the frequency separation helps avoid an aircraft being interfered with by someone operating a car or boat.

In addition to a difference in frequencies, some surface radios are also available with a pistol grip control which is ergonomically easier when controlling cars and boats. A pistol grip for aircraft would be impractical.

Types of Radio Modulation 

For some modelers, this can be a confusing subject.  I will try to explain the difference between them here.  When shopping for a radio, you will find that people refer to a few different types of modulation. They are referring to the way the   electronic control information

is sent   from your transmitter to the receiver in your model by means of radio waves.

AM — AM, or Amplitude Modulation, was the primary means of modulation in R/C until recently. The control information is transmitted by varying the amplitude of the signal.

FM — FM, or Frequency Modulation, is now the common method and is less prone to interference than AM. Information is transmitted by varying the frequency of the signal.

PCM — In PCM, or Pulse Code Modulation, FM is still utilized, however the control information is in the form of a digital word rather than just a pulse width as in standard AM or FM. Using PCM adds additional protection against interference from various sources.

How Does It Work?

We now know that AM stands for amplitude modulation. Let's say you and I went to a bar for "Happy Hour".  When we first get there I start shouting the word "Hello!" to you from across the bar. If I shout it a little louder, you to turn to your left. And if I shout a little quieter, you to turn to your right. If I shout faster, you turn more. If I shout slower, your turn less.

Again, FM stands for frequency modulation. So now imagine another person is shouting the word "left", "center", and "right" at you from across the bar. You respond to the verbal commands accordingly. Again, you turn more or less as his shouting becomes more or less frequent.

Under ideal conditions, both of these radio systems will work equally well. In fact, under most conditions, these radio systems are virtually indistinguishable from each other. But conditions are not going to be ideal all the time.

Now that it is a little later, the bar is starting to fill up with other people.  The background noise may easily drown out the difference in how loud I am shouting "Hello!" to you, but it takes a lot more noise to drown out the difference between "left", "right" and "center" that the other person is shouting to you. Herein lies the strength of the FM radio system. Background noise only affects the amplitude of the signal that is being transmitted. By depending on frequency change, instead of amplitude change, the FM system is far better at rejecting background noise and interference.

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