First RC Airplane?

So, you wan to get an RC airplane?
The first thing that you will want to know is that there is not ONE SIZE FITS ALL airplane for everyone. Very often, people's situations are unique. That is not to say that there are not a few popular choices. You must first determine what your choices are based on your own personal situation. The 3 main things you need to look at are:
1) Where will you fly? Are you flying in your backyard (I hope it's big!), Indoor gym?, A sanctioned AMA flying field? a local park? or maybe an open field?  Will you fly off of grass? What kind of grass? or a Paved runway?
2) What is your starting budget? $100?, $300? $500? and do you plan to expand on the hobby once your able to command basic flight?
3) How often and for how long will you be able to fly? Only on the weekends? During the day or after work?

AMA sanctioned field vs. Park flying:
Often at an AMA sactioned flying field (CLICK HERE TO FIND A FIELD), there are training programs. Each club is different. Many will have designated times during the week for students to come and train. Some clubs will require you to provide a buddy box and others will have instructors with them (for certain radios).  An AMA sanctioned field will also have rules and restrictions on aircraft for safety reasons.  The most common type of aircraft used at AMA sanctioned fields is a .40 or .60 sized NITRO TRAINER.  If you have an AMA sanctioned field near you, good chance is that there is a Local Hobby Shop (LHS) near you as well that can outfit you for what you need.  Learning on a Nitro trainer will prepare you well for the next airplane you get (Yes, Next, because few people stick with the trainer and keep flying it once they get proficient with it) . Not to say that you can't pick a different plane to learn on at an AMA field. Some people do learn on electrics. Some will decide to fly and learn at a park at their own pace, then move on to fly a bigger (and more expensive) plane at an AMA field.  Some have learned to fly at AMA sanctioned fiels with SMALL ELECTRICS, ELECTRIC GLIDERS or ELECTRI GLIDER-LIKE airplanes. Note that AMA fields will want you to join the AMA which provides additional insurance coverage for accidents that can happen at a field.  
For Park flying or flying in smaller spaces, your restrictions are often governed by size and availability. Some parks/schools do not allow RC aircraft to fly. You should check with your local county to find out.  Parks are often used up by kids sports during the school year or camps during the summer so you may not have them always available to you. YOU SHOULD NOT FLY AROUND OR ABOVE OTHER PEOPLE!!!  Many people park fly during lunch when baseball fields are not in use.  When park flying, the most common type of aircraft are SMALL ELECTRICS, ELECTRIC GLIDERS or ELECTRI GLIDER-LIKE airplanes.

One thing that people ask is "How much does it cost?"  The simple answer is as little as less than $100 to upwards of $800 or more depending on how you start out.   At organized AMA sanctioned fields (one of the best ways to learn IMO) you will be asked to join the AMA as well as the club itself.  Some clubs actually have a training program where THEY provide the plane and you pay a fee (this is very rare though) Most of the time you supply the plane.. I try to tell people DON"T spend alot on your trainer equipment unless it is for something that will carry you to the next plane (like a Radio, Engine or Servos).  I often tell people keep the trainer as a backup or a plane to come back and use when you want to relax so don't worry about the quality of servos and such. You do want a mid range Engine though if you are using Nitro.  OK, so What are some things you have to buy?  

Electric :
Some of the less expensive RTF (Ready to Fly) kits come with EVERYTHING you need to get into the air. Airplane, Glue, Transmitter, Airplane, Battery and Charger. Most of the small Electrics are often foam and have very inexpensive radios.  Those radios are incapable of connecting to an instructor via a buddy box but if you don't have anyone to help you, that does not matter to you. Many 3 and 4 channel electric trainers go for $100-$250 complete.  You can sometimes unbox, build in an hour or two, charge and start flying (well, learn to fly).  Electric airplanes are quite often the quickest route.   Some people like this because it gets their FEET WET to decide what to do next. Maybe you end up busting up your first electric trainer, just to get a 2nd (or 3rd) before you are flying at a level that allows you to go to the next size plane.

By the time you have a Kit, Engine, Servos, Radio, Starting equipment (glow driver, starter etc), you looking at $400-$600. That also depends on where you get it. If you want to jump in and get help from a local hobby shop, you will pay more, but you will get (usually) personal service and help setting things up.  If you get something on the internet, expect to jump into an online forum like rcgroups.com or rcuniverse.com and get help from people there.  

For the most part, flight time goes to the Nitro. Often when training, you are flying at 1/2 - 3/4 throttle and most Nitro trainers can fly 10-15 minutes. The Electrics will tend to fly 7-10 minutes.  With Nitro, you refuel, and go. With Electric, you buy extra batteries or wait while field charging (which still can take 30-60 minutes per pack OR LONGER).

Now that you have all that to think about, here are some suggestions on different planes:

ARF = Almost Ready to Fly.  (we'll let you be the judge on what ALMOST means). Airframe only, usually supplied with tank and engine mount, Required equipment is often posted on the vendor's website or manufacturers. These will typically NOT include servoc, Reciever battery, Transmitter or Reciever or Engine.
RTF = Ready to Fly. Don't take this litterally, often it means you get MOST of what you need to get in the air. Expect it to come with motor/engine, servos and often a Transmitter and Receiver.  Assembly is nearly 100% required and may take several hours depending on how big the plane is.

Trainers at Nitroplanes.com (Just the Airframe ARF)
Hobbico Nexstar .46 RTF (very great combo)
Hobbico Hobbistar .60  RTF (very great combo)

Hobbico Nexstar Electric RTF at HobbyPeople.
Hobbico Nexstar Electric RTF at RC Planet
E-Flite Apprentice
Airfield 55" Sky Trainer RED
AirField 55" Sky Trainer BLUE

Dynam Hawk Sky
Dynam EzHawk (like HawkSky but hand launch and belly landing, no landing gear)
Art Tech Wing Dragon (fly only in a gentile breeze)