Getting Started in RC Armor Modeling

Getting started into Radio Controlled Model Armor might seem confusing at first, but by joining a club (DTC) makes 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 must join a club to enhance the opportunity to connect with fellow RC modelers to learn building technique, historical significance and watching your creations run under your control over obstacles or in battle.

The Detroit Tank Command has been formed to promote all facets of radio controlled model armor with a keen interest in the vehicle's history, modeling technique, mechanical construction and operation. Also 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 and Google, Yahoo, or some other search engine dropped you on this site.

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 or Heng Long, or other)
  3. Radio System (our 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 dues go toward club events, field maintenance, future field arrangements, and other club-related expenses. The Yearly Dues are FREE (Membership is FREE, unless you want to vote in the clubs activities) for Associates & Cadets,. $50 (NCO/Enlisted-Officer), go to the JOIN page for complete information  and how to join. Each subsequent year there is an annual membership renewal.  Memberships are handled by the club purser. Fill out the form (For new or re-enlistment memberships) and make your donation by selecting the PayPal link at the bottom of the JOIN page.

A Model Tank

If you have zero experience with RC modeling, you should select a Heng Long tank. These tanks will cost start below $100 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.

For the experienced modeler,  you can purchase the full option Tamiya tank kit (These kits don't have any radio gear, batteries or chargers included). The Tamiya Panzers all basically have the same features: great sound, gun flash, Mg flash, recoil and very realistic driving (need gear reduction for realistic speeds). Anything that moves on the real tank moves on these. The Tamiya kits come with better sound and more upgrades then the basic Heng Long tanks.

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.

Radio System

The following is absolutely essential for RC model tanks:

  • Large capacity (I use a 4000mAH) 7.2V racing cell battery
  • Upgraded tanks are heavy and have lots of features. They will flatten smaller batteries in minutes
  • Suitable charger system for the battery type
  • Channel transmitter and receiver (For Tamiya model tanks).

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 (or latest technology) 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) RC tanks need this to come back to the center.

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!
  • Programmable end point adjustments – Another way to get around those pesky trim tabs


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 tip)
  • 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 is 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 give us your comments or feedback about the Detroit Tank Command website 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.