When you were a kid, you probably picked up a radio-controlled car and raced your friends on the sidewalk (much to the annoyance of your neighbours, no doubt). Children still race with R/C cars, but this common toy now has a more grown-up edge to it. Professional gear can cost upwards of QR 3,500, although most models are significantly cheaper.
Hobbyists can choose among a wide range of vehicles: cars, buggies, drones, planes and even miniature naval ships. Everything a beginner might need can be found in Doha, but connoisseurs often order upgrades from abroad. A key exception is the importation of drones and other aircraft, which is prohibited without permission from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Drones are openly sold in local shops, but it is illegal to fly them without arranging a permit with the CAA. Doing so could result in having your gear confiscated by the authorities.
Start off with a ready-to-run vehicle that comes with everything you need for racing, says Doha R/C Club regular Abul Ashraff. At most, you’ll need to buy batteries or a charger separately. A decent selection can be found at The Hobby Land and Speed Marine stores. A basic understanding of mechanics will still come in handy as you’ll need to perform regular maintenance—but don’t panic, these procedures should be outlined in your manual.
Serious enthusiasts or the mechanically minded will often purchase car kits that can be customised and upgraded. These kits require patience to put together; additional parts and accessories to complete the vehicle might need to be purchased separately. Though challenging for beginners, kits can be an excellent learning experience for teens that already have some familiarity with engineering and robotics.
Like race cars and buggies, model planes are available in ready-to-fly versions as well as kits. Hobby Land offers everything from propeller planes and helicopters to large-scale model jets that boast wingspans of nearly 250 cm.
Electric and “nitro”—a mix of nitromethane and other gases—are the most common power sources for R/C cars and planes. Electric is the obvious choice for newbies and children, as fuel-powered R/C vehicles can potentially catch fire. The downside of electric cars is the time it takes to charge them—though once you’ve powered up, you’re ready to go. Nitro appeals to those who love the handling of a real car, but it requires more maintenance. You also won’t be able to use these rather noisy (and smelly) vehicles anywhere but on an official race track or airfield.
As with any new hobby, it’s often best to start by purchasing used or cheap vehicles—one member of the Doha R/C Club readily admits that he got his first (of many) R/C car from a dumpster. There are also plenty of secondhand vehicles and accessories on sale on the Facebook group Qatar RC Truck Fans Club.