Choosing The Right RC Airplane Wheel
Without a doubt the most important part of a radio controlled airplane are the wings. Without the wings the airplane would be nothing more than a long thin tube falling out of the sky. Of course the motor, control surfaces and tail feathers are hugely important for keeping the plane aloft in the open air. Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of an RC airplane is the landing gear and more specifically the wheels themselves. Without wheels the plane would have to be launched by hand and landed on its belly, which is not a suitable option for all model aircraft.
Most kits or receiver-ready models come with landing gear that the manufacturer has deemed appropriate for the size of the model. This is often plenty if you plan on taking off from a hard steady surface. If you fly in a less than ideal area, or one that is surrounded by grass you may need a wheel that is more suitable than the stock wheels.
There are three or four types of wheels that the hobbyist can choose from. The wheels are generally rubber, soft foam, plastic or Styrofoam. Each wheels serves a different purpose and depending on the type of plane you fly and the wheel you choose one type may be beneficial and another detrimental to the flight characteristics of the model.
For hobbyists that are looking for a more realistic/scale appearance the grooved rubber wheel is often the best choice. One must be careful though as rubber wheels are heavier than the other types. The trade off is that they look the best and in my opinion roll and grip better than plastic wheels. If you choose rubber, be sure to not pick one that is too heavy and causes your plane to fly poorly.
Soft foam wheels are the most popular type of wheels for small balsa and foam airplanes. These wheels are light, soft and look fairly realistic from a distance. The durability is less than rubber wheels but they are much lighter. If you need the ability to take off from grass, larger foam wheels would be an excellent choice.
Plastic wheels are generally reserved for cheaper models. They are light, not very durable and do not grip the ground very well. RC airplanes with plastic wheels tend to dance or slide around during taxing and landings, especially when the airplane is a tail-dragger.
Styrofoam wheels like those found on the Multiplex Fun Cub are an oddity in the world of airplane wheels, but they are super light and can be made huge if you need to take off from rocky terrain.
When choosing the right wheel for your model airplane it is important to think about appearance, weight and size. Choose the wheel that is light enough, but durable enough for the surface you will be landing an taking off from.