Most people who fly radio controlled airplanes buy the airplanes already built or ARF (almost ready to fly). ARF airplanes are already covered and painted and there is very little work left to do, to get the planes ready to fly. The work usually consists of gluing the horizontal and vertical stabilizers onto the plane, hinging the elevator, rudder and ailerons and joining the wing halves (in some cases, the wings remain separate and are placed on the airplane by sliding them onto a tube). Then the fuel tank, engine and radio must be installed. Many of the ARF's can be ready to fly in six to eight hours.
I started flying radio controlled airplanes when I was in my teens. The only ARF's at the time were made by a company named Lanier. The planes consisted of a plastic fuselage and plastic covered foam wings. An acetone type liquid was used to glue everything together. Overall, the planes weren't bad and I learned to fly the larger planes on a Lanier Comet II.
When I began flying RC, most people in the hobby built their own RC airplane. Most of them were of all balsa construction but there were some planes with foam wings and some had fiberglass fuselages. I never had the money as a young man to buy the kits on the market. I did save my money and bought a 3 channel radio and had a couple of Cox .049 engines. I lived over 100 miles from the nearest hobby shop so every time my family would go to Amarillo, Texas, I would buy some balsa sheets. When I got home, I would cut out parts and glue them together with Elmer's white glue and put the three channel radio and the .049 in the plane. I would fly the plane until it crashed which was usually the first flight! I had one, that you see in the photo, that I flew several times before crashing it.
The hobby has changed in many ways in the four decades that I have been involved in it. Some of those changes have been really good, some have not been. I think it is great that more people can get into the hobby for less money. On the other hand, I think it is a shame that hardly anyone builds any longer. Building a radio controlled airplane and especially one of your own design can be a very rewarding experience. I won't kid you though. Building a kit tends to be more expensive than many of the ARF's that are available. If you design your own airplane, the cost will be even higher than building a kit. But, the level of satisfaction goes up with the price. ARF's are great and I have one and I have had several but I also have airplanes that I have built from kits and I have had MANY of those. I also have designed many of my own airplanes, built them and flown them. The satisfaction you get when you see the airplane that you designed and built rise into the air, fly and then make a successful landing just can't be beat.
Our RC club the Radio Control Association of Central Florida has had a couple of "building nights" to teach people how RC planes are built. I have decided to put information on my website to aid those that have a desire to design and/or build a radio controlled airplane. I will also be posting some of the information here, on my blog. So, pass the word and let people know who are looking for tips and tricks on how to design and build their own airplane.