Advice for the Beginner
First and foremost, join a local flying club. Visit the local flying field and attend club meetings. Ask a lot of questions before you buy anything. Ask questions while you are building your trainer or assembling your ARF (almost ready to fly). During construction bring the plane to the club meetings for inspection. This can avoid a lot of costly mistakes. Take advantage of the clubs flight instructors, the flying field and most of all, the expertise of its members.
Join the AMA (Academy of Model Aviation).You need the liability insurance it provides and you'll get a really good magazine to boot. No one ever taught themselves to fly with out breaking a few airplanes. It is much cheaper in the along run to join a club and use a flight instructor. A 5 pound toy airplane flying at 60 MPH can be lethal weapon.
I recommend starting off with a .40 size engine high wing trainer with a flat bottom wing with dihedral in the wings center section. This size aircraft is a good compromise. Small aircraft get hard to see really quick and are more easily affected by the wind.. Bigger aircraft are easier to see but are more expensive.
This hobby is full of compromises. Kit vs. ARFs (Almost Ready to Fly) vs. time/money/ quality, Glow vs. Electric, Mail Order vs. Local Shops. If you build a plane from a kit, you will know more about construction and have an easier time making repairs later on. Modern trainer kits have very good instruction books with them and can teach you a lot of good construction techniques. If building or fixing things is not your thing and you do not want to learn, perhaps this hobby is not for you.
It may take as few as 25 to 30 flights with an instructor before you solo. But put a minimum of 200 flights on your trainer before you go on to more advanced aircraft. Learn to adjust and fly the trainer to its full aerobatic capabilities. You will crash fewer aircraft in the long run. Trainers can be made extremely aerobatic in skilled hands. Learn good building habits, flying habits, safety procedures and show some common courtesy. It goes along way.
An airplane MUST be trimmed on its first flight. This is sometimes tedious
even for a skilled pilot. If you attemt to fly without the aid of an instructor,
YOU WILL CRASH. Not might, not could, WILL.
This is not a hobby you want to pinch pennys on. If joining a club and the AMA will cause you a hardship, once again this hobby is not for you.
OK. I hope I've made my point. I won't go into brands or types of equipment here. I'll leave that for you to find out at the local field. You'll find most clubs very cordial and welcoming.
See you at the field.