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Written by Mark Fadely
RC Helicopters
As seen in the May 2013 issue of
Model Aviation.

Attending a fun-fly is one of the best things you can do if you want to dive deeper into the hobby. Outdoor helis come in three types: nitromethane fuel-powered, electric, and gasoline burning. There is a large number of nitro and electric helis, but fewer gasoline versions.

There are some misconceptions about gasoline-powered helicopters, so I invited my friend, Carey Shurley, to share some information about them. Carey is an expert in all aspects of RC helicopters, but his passion is gasoline models. He has been instrumental in developing the Miniature Aircraft gas models.

Carey Shurley has a rich history in helicopter development and manufacturing. He loves gas-powered helis and wants pilots to understand the positive aspects of the modern gas platforms.

Carey shared the following thoughts about his involvement with gasoline-burning helicopter engines:

Most helicopter modelers are familiar with glow- and electric-power systems, but are less familiar with the other available system: gasoline engines. Although they’ve been around since roughly 1976, they are less common and less understood than other types.

Nearly everyone is familiar with the small, two-stroke engines found in common yard implements, and small industrial engines. The engines found on modern gas-powered helicopters aren’t much different, and in some cases, are nearly identical.

If you ask an average model helicopter pilot what he or she knows about gas-powered models, the aeromodeler probably will not tell you any of the advantages. Instead, he or she will often tell you that gas helis are heavy, underpowered, and boring.

Not that long ago, this would have been correct. Gasoline-powered models typically weigh 2-3 pounds more than their glow-powered equivalents, but have roughly half the power.

With the advent of more expensive glow fuel prices however, manufacturers have focused more on improving their offerings for gasoline power systems. The newest gas-powered helicopters weigh roughly the same as a 700-class electric model and have a power output similar to that of a 90-size glow engine. There are still some differences in performance, especially in terms of collective control and overall timing, but some of the advantages of the gas-power system are becoming more obvious.

You might ask, “What possible advantage can there be?” The most significant advantage is cost per flight. Glow fuel in the mixes used for helicopters sells for approximately $35-$45 per gallon, and engines in sizes 90 through 120 can use as much as 4 ounces of it per minute.

For continuous flying with electrics, you need several sets of battery packs, multiple chargers, and often a generator to charge them—a pretty hefty up-front investment. The batteries have a life cycle and will eventually need to be replaced (sooner if damaged in a crash).

Gasoline power uses fuel that costs less than $5 per gallon (including the oil premix) and uses 1 ounce or less per minute, so they fly longer than electric models.

If your goal is to pound in the flights when you go to the flying field, at roughly 50¢ per flight, gasoline is likely the cheapest power system you can use. Although they still aren’t capable of some of the maneuvers that can only be done with the high power of electric systems, for most pilots, a gas-powered system will perform the maneuvers they want.

There is plenty of video evidence of this using various models flown by some of the top pilots in the world. If you fly glow fuel-powered models, think about how much you spend on fuel. With gasoline power you could be using approximately 90% of that toward something else.

Although there is more information in the public arena about gas-powered helicopters than there used to be, it is still difficult to find, and sometimes of little help. For that reason, I launched “Gas Powered Thoughts” on a number of media outlets to focus specifically on this type of model.

(Author’s note: The “Gas Powered Thoughts” logo is a trademark of the Matrangco Corporation.)

If you’re interested in giving gas-powered helicopters a try, visit any of the links listed in “Sources” for answers to your questions.

-Mark Fadely


Gas Powered Thoughts (HeliFreak)

Gas Powered Thoughts (Facebook)

Gas Powered Thoughts (YouTube)

International Radio Controlled Helicopter Association (IRCHA)


True, the endurance & power is multiplied, but Gas/Nitro leaves a thick sludge of oil in the milks & crannies of the airframe, requiring a major tear-down of the model every so often.

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