RC Antenna Basics

Installing and Using the Antennas for your Radio System

rc antennas
Receiver antenna on car; transmitter antenna. © M. James

Radio controlled vehicles have two types of antennas. There's an antenna on the transmitter or controller that sends messages to the RC and one on the receiver (in the RC vehicle) that receives those messages. The radio system for your RC is tuned to a specific frequency and a specific length of antenna.

The transmitter antenna might be a solid metal tube or a piece of flexible wire with an end cap (which may or may not retract into the controller) or a telescoping antenna where the sections nest inside each other when collapsed.

With some radios you'll need to screw the antenna into the controller while others come already attached.

Pictures of Transmitter Antennas

The receiver antenna is usually a long piece of plastic-coated wire that pokes through a hole in the body and trails behind the RC. Some of the antenna may be wrapped around inside the RC. Some RCs, such as the RadioShack XMODS, have plain, thin wire antennas that are stiffer than the plastic-coated antenna wires.

Pictures of Receiver Antennas

RC Transmitter Antennas

Fully extend the antenna before operating your radio controlled vehicle. Not fully extending the antenna on the controller can affect your range and ability to control the RC. If your RC is behaving erratically or isn't responding to your controls, it might simply be because your antenna is not fully extended.

When you put down your controller (such as during a pitstop) retract or collapse the antenna so that it doesn't get in your way or become damaged.

Avoid pulling forcefully on a telescoping antenna or retracting/collapsing it by pushing down from the top. Retract it by lightly grasping it and sliding it down a section or two at a time. Even though the telescoping metal antennas appear fairly sturdy, even they will bend and break.

RC Receiver Antennas

To keep long receiver antenna wires from dragging on the ground and getting caught in the wheels of your RC, the antenna is often placed in a piece of flexible (but somewhat rigid) piece of tubing.
The antenna sticks up above the RC but remains flexible so it doesn't break easily in a crash or rollover.
Pictures of Flexible Antennas

Installing the Receiver Antenna
To make it easier to thread the antenna wire through tubing, you could lubricate it with a touch of oil -- but oil can become sticky and does attract dust and dirt. An alternative lubricant is talcum powder. Put a little in your hand, hold the antenna and draw it through your hand to coat it. You could try sucking the antenna through the tube. Or, suck a piece of thread or dental floss through the tube, tie it to the antenna, then pull on the thread or floss pulling the antenna through the tubing.

To keep the antenna from sliding back through the tube, tie a knot in the end (only works with very narrow tubing) or add a rubber or plastic antenna cap on the end.

Pictures of Receiver Antenna Preparation

Don't Cut the Antenna
Cutting the antenna wire on your RC can increase the chance of interference while trying to operate the RC causing glitches. Don't cut the antenna wire. To keep the antenna from dragging, you can thread it through an antenna tube -- if you don't have an antenna tube you can try soda straws, hollow coffee stirrers, or other semi-rigid plastic material.

Some radios may operate fine with shorter antennas. Cut the receiver antenna only if the manufacturer says it is OK. Be sure not to cut it any shorter than the manufacturer recommends.

If the long antenna is really bugging you, you can try securing the excess wire inside the vehicle. Be careful not to coil or bunch it too tightly as this can cause glitches. You can attach the excess antenna to the inside of the body, but this can make it difficult to remove the body to get at the internal parts. Even better, after running the antenna through the antenna tube, wrap the excess around the outside of the tube in a spiral. Don't wrap it too loosely but do space it out so that it isn't all bunched up in one spot. Use a little piece of electrical tape to secure the loose end to the tube. Add an antenna cap to further secure it.

Make sure that your receiver antenna is not touching any metal parts inside the RC -- this can cause glitches and erratic behaviour too. You can wrap it somewhat loosely around a piece of cardboard and attach it to the receiver or the body. Threading the antenna through a piece of flexible tubing -- such as fuel tubing -- or wrapping it in a strip of electrical tape will help protect it from damage and keep it from touching metal. As much as possible, try to keep the receiver antenna fully-extended and not wrapped or doubled-up.

Everything About Radio Controlled (RC) Vehicles
FAQs:Frequently Asked Questions About RC Vehicles, Answered
Basics:Types, Key Parts, and Operating RC Vehicles
Buying an RC:How to Choose the Right Radio Controlled Vehicle
Repairs & Upgrades:Maintaining, Fixing, and Modifying RC Vehicles