Part of flying radio-controlled model airplanes involves using big, expensive handheld control units. In the same way that iPhones are taking the place of things like debit machines, cycling computers and meat thermometers, however, a new iPhone/iPod touch system could also make such controllers ... well, perhaps not a thing of the past, but no longer a necessity, either. It's called iPhly, and it's just about to hit the market.

The product is the brainchild of Mountain View, California's Ari Krupnik, an app developer and R/C enthusiast.

It consists of an open-source app, which is already available on iTunes, and an injection-moulded case that the phone slides into. Pretty much any common brand of frequency module, which hobbyists will already have in their conventional controller, plugs into the back of that case (frequency modules can also be purchased on their own, from hobby stores). Electronics in the case receive signals from the phone, via its headphone jack, and relay them to the module – it, in turn, sends them on up to the plane.

To roll or turn their airplane, users just roll the phone to the left or right. The iPhone's gyroscope detects the movement, and the plane's ailerons respond accordingly. Pitching the phone up or down moves the elevators, causing the plane to climb or dive. Swiping the phone's touchscreen controls both the rudder and the throttle level, although if users wish to kill the throttle, they can just give their phone a good shake. The case is also able to plug into a PC, so users can learn to use the system via a flight simulator.

The app can store settings for thousands of different R/C models, and it isn't just limited to planes – iPhly can also be used to control model boats or cars.

If helicopters are more your thing, you might also be interested in checking out iRemoco. Currently in development, the package consists of an iPhone/iPad/iPod touch app, a small indoor-use R/C helicopter, and an infrared transmitter that plugs into the phone, beaming commands from it to the chopper. Users can control the aircraft with virtual onscreen joysticks, or by moving the phone itself. The designers of iRemoco hope to be able to introduce other vehicle models besides the helicopter, that would be controlled using the same IR transmitter.

Production has just begun on the iPhly phone/module unit, and Krupnik tells us that it should soon be available for purchase. You can already pre-order it through RC4WD, however. The case on its own sells for US$99.99, while a case with a frequency module and receiver goes for $134.99.