Getting Started in RC Armor Modeling

Getting started into Radio Controlled Model Armor might seem confusing at first, but by joining a club (DTC) we hope to make this easier.


You need to ask yourself, what you want from the tank. If you want to just drive the tank around in the back yard, your choices can be fairly simple. If you want to engage in simulated “battles” with other tankers, you should join a club to enhance the opportunity to connect with fellow R/C modelers to learn building technique, historical significance, and watching your creations run under your control over/through obstacles or in battle, all under your control and guidence!

The Detroit Tank Command (DTC) is/was formed to promote all facets of Radio Controlled Model Armor, with a keen interest in the vehicle's history, modeling technique, mechanical construction and prototypical operations. DTC is used to promote the skills required to design, produce and operate exact, semi and standoff scale military vehicles with an emphasis on tracked vehicles from all time periods in 1/15 – 1/16 scales. Get together with fellow modelers, who like you, want to discuss and exchange ideas to improve skills and create camaraderie in this most interesting facet of the Radio Control Hobby World.

It all has to start somewhere, though, doesn't it?


You're reading this page because you are interested in learning more about Radio Controlled Model Armor, World War Histroy, Operations, Armor combat, ect. Your Google, Yahoo, or some other esearch engine brought you to this page, so let try to give you some information to assist you in your quest to become a Tank Commander of your own tank!

For the impatient, here's a list of what you need in order to get started in Radio Controlled Model Armor with the Detroit Tank Command (other clubs' requirements may differ):
  1. Detroit Tank Command Membership
  2. A Model Tank (Tamiya, Heng Long, or simular)
  3. Radio System, 2.4 ghz system with 4-6 channels (our current recommendation Spektrum DX6i - 1 system for all your Tanks, other systems and manufacturers products on 2.4 ghz may also be used)
  4. Battle System (Tamiya TBS or compatible IR Battle system)
  5. Gear reduction, these are used to allow the tanks to be controlled in a more realistic/operational fashion. Generally the tanks run too fast from the manufacturer. (Required for realistic speeds, gear reduction may not be required if “penalty points” are taken. This is used possibly when tanks exceed their prototypical speed by more the 5 mph as measured using the system used in the RCAN Rules.)
  6. A bunch of little stuff (Modeling supplies)
That's it!? Well, sort of. That sixth item is pretty ambiguous I suppose. It's going to take a few minutes to explain what's really necessary. I'll put another, more complete, list at the end of this page.

Detroit Tank Command Club membership is also very important. Your event fees go toward club events, field maintenance, future field arrangements, and other club-related expenses. The Yearly Dues arecurrently FREE , Membership is FREE, except for the fees to participate in club events and battle days.

A Model Tank

If you have zero experience with R/C Modeling, youmight want to select an Airsoft or Heng Long tank. These tanks cost start below $300 and come with a transmitter. For battling all tanks will need to be upgraded to include the Tamiya Battle System or equivalent compatible IR Battle system. The Battle System is an additional add-on cost for all tanks.

For the experienced modeler, you can purchase the Full Option Tamiya Tank Kit (These kits don'tinclude any radio gear, batteries or chargers). The Tamiya Panzers all basically have the same features: great sound, gun flash, Machine Gun flash, Main Cannon recoil,  and very realistic driving (though some may need additional gear reduction for realistic speeds and operation). Anything that moves on the real tank moves on these. The Tamiya kits come complete with better sound and more upgrades then either of the Airsoft or Heng Long tanks. These subsequent Tank units can be upgraded with products from various manufacturers to provide and euqual or sometime even a better system that that provided by Tamiya.

Upgrades are available for various tanks that include metal tracks & sprockets, suspension, improved track idler system, motors & gear reduction, improved ball bearings, sound etc. For scratch builders Heng-Long’s are great platforms to start from based on the lower initial costs for the tanks. Generally theses tanks come with a radio system built in as well.

Radio System
The following is absolutely essential for RC model tanks:
  • Large capacity (I use a 4000mAH) 7.2V racing cell battery (having multiple packs will extend your "playtime")
  • Upgraded tanks are heavy and have lots of features. They will flatten smaller batteries in minutes
  • Suitable charger system for the battery type, use a system compatible with the type of batteries you are using.
  • Channel transmitter and receiver (For Tamiya model tanks). We recommend the 2.4 ghz radios, with 4-6 channels for current and futures use. This is soley based on what you need to operate the tank and it features and functions.
Again, I wish I could tell you exactly what to get without fail, but that's not the case with radio systems. The current most popular brand is the Spektrum DX series Full range 2.4GHz DSM2 technology, which allows you to have 1 transmitter for up to 10 vehicles, meaning you only the need to purchase a receiver for each additional vehicle, etc. I would recommend purchasing the Spektrum BR6000 receiver is designed for robot and special application usage where it’s desirable to have the fail safe drive all channels to a preprogrammed position during loss of signal vs. hold the last command. More information on these systems will be found in the “Articles” section of this web site and in the technical information provided with each radio purchased.

Important, when selecting a radio system, make sure you order a transmitter with both self centering sticks. Unlike for aircraft, boats and cars where the throttle is manual control (no return to center) R/C tanks need the throttle to come back to the center in the event the signal is lost. This will stop the tank, where it is, and enable the owner to hopefully retrieve the tank without incident.

The Spectrum DX6i is a great radio. It has many useable features that you can’t get from a basic 4 channel radio.
Some of the extras are:
  • 10 model memory - You can program and save the settings have up to ten individual tanks. That’s two platoons!
  • Model naming – You can assign three character names to each tank so you don’t get confused.
  • Programmable switch settings – You can assign the Gear Switch and/or the Flap Switch to fire the main gun and machine gun. No more moving the trim tabs in various positions to obtain more functions!
  • Programmable end point adjustments – Another way to get around those pesky trim tabs gymnastics!
The stock battery is meant for NiMh and NiCd. The better choice will be LiPo, which provides better efficiency in power transfer and a smaller size. Batteries are the fuel, just like the gas is in the real tanks. Remember as the tanks are upgraded they require more power. As we require more power we need to look for it in a smaller package, some of the vehicles have limited space available.
Before you can run your Heng Long Tank, you need to first fully charge the 7.2V rechargeable battery with the basic charger. Both are included with the tank. The charger is 400mA. Therefore for a 1700mAh battery, charge it for just over 4.25 (1700/400) hours for a full charge. For a 2000mAh, charge it for 5 hours.
With the Ni-Cd battery, it is best to run it down until it is exhausted before recharging again. Use a discharger if you have one to discharge the battery before recharging. This is to avoid the 'memory effect' where left over charge accumulates to degrade the battery's ability to hold its charge and therefore reduce its lifespan. This does not apply to the Ni-Mh battery, you can top up the charge whenever you like with minimal affect on battery life.
Battle System
The interactive Tamiya Battle System or compatible system is required if you intend to use your tank against other tankers to simulate actual tank battles.
The Tamiya Battle System incorporates infrared light and realistic sound, eliminating the difficulty in judging, often found with other tank-to-tank games. Infrared light is totally harmless and prevents damage to details of the tank body. The system is comprised of the GFS (Gun Fire Simulator) Unit and the Infrared LED Unit, for the respective detection and emission of infrared beams.
A wide range of sound effects and actions are reproduced with the Tamiya MFU/DMD in combination with the Battle System including: damage blast, engine trouble sound, loss of speed, blast reaction, limited operation state, and finally inoperative state. The Tamiya Battle System provides a maximum shooting range of 30m (100 ft) and in direct and maximum sunlight, the effective distance drops to about 18-20meters (59ft-65ft). These systems can easily be installed to your tank even after assembly and painting.
Gear reduction
The gearing of most of the available tanks and kits are way too fast. We at Detroit Tank Command support the other clubs and the use of a scale speed, promoting different speed ranges for different tanks. Example, a Tamiya Tiger I (with a gear-ratio from 46:1, old type DMD drives), equals to a scale speed from about 69 km/hr = 43 miles/hour. More information will be found in the Technical Section of this site on this and many more topics.
There are many different ways to accomplish speed reduction without losing proportional sound at reasonable cost.
Other Stuff
Here is a list of necessities:
  • A size "zero" Phillips screwdriver (magnetic tip is very handy)
  • Small sharp scissors and scalpel/craft knifes
  • A large selection of screwdrivers (magnetic socket that lets you use different screwdriver tips)
  • Small metric open end wrenches (4mm-10mm)
  • Allen keys (2-5mm)
  • Lubricant and thread lock (plastic safe-Tamiya)
  • A small pair of needle tip pliers and some small tweezers
  • Small parts boxes
  • Plastic tool box with storage space
  • Battery charger (For battery pack & able to charge transmitter)
  • Extra battery packs (for your other tanks)
Items to complete your model:

Additional equipment and tools you will need to build, maintain and support at the field. Getting ready for your first battle, it was surprising how many little things that are required.

  • Polystyrene cement (the sort with a needle applicator is a good idea)
  • CA super glue
  • Metal primer (I used Vallejo primer but Tamiya’s own brand is very good too)
  • Soldering iron (needed for photoetch parts & electrical repairs)
  • Magnetic tray useful as it prevented the little screws vanishing into the carpet when dropped
I hope this answers some of your questions. If you have others please feel free to contact us.
Detroit Tank Command is looking forward to meeting you and developing our hobby together.

Please feel free to provide us your comments or feedback about the Detroit Tank Command Website and Forum,  or any questions you may have. We will answer any and all feedback. Please let us know if you find mistakes or areas that need clarification. Your assistance is welcomed and appreciated, Thank you.

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