Feb 28, 2009

Cessna Minimum at the Park

I traded a Falcoln 40 helicopter, for a Parkzone Cessna 210 Centurion on craigslist, and it was the best trade I've ever made. Admittedly, when I handed over my pristine Falcoln 40 with its polished canopy, in return for a glue encrusted little airplane in pieces in a shoebox, I had my doubts. I spent an entire evening working the Cessna into shape, and I was overjoyed to see it would actually fly!

This little airplane has become my everyday flier. It's tiny, I fly it in the vacant lot next to the house, at the park, at work, and anywhere else I feel the urge to fly. It handles a few gusts of wind, and the little 70mah batteries give flight times of about 10 minutes. On top of it all, this little micro has a nice scale look when flying.

This video is of the little Cessna fighting gusts of wind at the park.

Feb 26, 2009

Hitec Optic 6 - Optic 6 Sport, and Spectra Modules

The Hitec Optic 6 transmitter has proven itself to be a great reasonably price transmitter. It's a 6 channel radio boasting an 8 model memory, and programmable functions for sailplanes, acrobatic planes, and helicopters. Last year Hitec released the Optic 6 Sport, which is a more economical choice for fliers who can do without the extras, things like programmable switches and dual elevator mixes. One of the most admirable features of the Optic 6 line, is its ability to use Hitecs Spectra Module. The module allows the pilot to select any one of the 50, 72mhz channels -/+ shift, to match the crystal in the planes receiver. Additionally, Hitec has recently released a Spectra 2.4ghz Module, and 2.4ghz receivers to use with the Optic 6. This brings the Hitec receivers into the 2.4ghz world that their competitors have been dominating. Hitec has a loyal following, and I'm sure they'll take a fair portion of the 2.4ghz market share. Good luck Hitec.

Feb 24, 2009

Phoenix R\C Professional Model Flight Simulator

You don't have to be in the R\C aircraft hobby very long to figure out that if your flying skills are sub-par, you'll need a fat wallet to absorb the impact of your crashes. That is where a R\C flight simulator comes in handy; you can sharpen your skills, and save thousands of dollars in the process.

Several years ago now, I ran across a free R\C flight sim called Flying Model Simulator (FMS). Its a good program that will run on most any hardware setup. However, FMS has questionably unrealistic flight physics. So, with the last of my college funds, I purchased the popular RealFlight simulator version 3.0. I got the free upgrade to version 3.5. Even though my computer is far above the minimum specifications, I had to turn the graphic settings down when flying. Also the ground handling left something to be desired, no bumps on takeoff or landing! G4 was coming out, and I didn't want to spend the money upgrade but I wanted a new sim.

I ran across the Phoenix simulator and I saw a huge lists of pluses. The Phoenix sim offers free down-loadable upgrades between versions, its cheaper than Realflight, and you always use your own transmitter as the controller. My wonderfully supportive wife saw that I had my eye's on a new sim, so she bought it for me for Valentines day. And as far as simulators go, I couldn't be happier with the Phoenix sim. The graphics are superb, and my computer runs this sim without bogging down. Handling on the ground and in the air, seems very realistic. There is a multitude of airplanes and helicopters to fly, with more being continually developed. Since I've owned the sim, multiple updates have been made available, and it just keeps getting better and better. I'd give this sim five stars, I fly with it whenever I can. If your wondering what sim to get, this is the one.

Feb 20, 2009

Multiplex Easy Glider Electric

The first Multiplex airplane I ever encountered, was a heavily dented, glue-yellowed, sad looking little airplane. I'd ran into a fellow R\C enthusiast at the local grocery store, and he was graciously showing me his latest airplane, stuffed in the back of his minivan. He's about the most crash prone pilot I've known, and this plane looked like it'd survived a few of his signature nose dive crashes. He was excitedly waving his arms, exclaiming that it bounced when crashing, and he was able to pick it up and fly again! Balsa wood doesn't bounce, and typically styrofoam cracks, so what was it constructed from? Elapor? Yes, a wonderful foam based material resilient material that accepts typical CA's, no need for foam safe glues with this stuff. And so, I had to have one.

A month later, I purchased the Easy Glider Electric by Multiplex, and I have to say it has become a favorite plane. It is a medium sized plane with a 71 inch wingspan, four channel control, and an all up weight of 35 oz. The Easy Glider Electric kit comes in a box with just a few pieces to assemble. There are two fuselage halves, two wing halves, the vertical and horizontal stabilizers, canopy and the various hardware needed to complete the plane. All the parts are keyed, and fit together perfectly. The control surfaces and hinges are molded in as part of the plane; they simply need cut to the hinge line and bent a few times to loosen them up. Aileron servos are glued into the wing, and rudder and elevator servos are glued into the body. Install the motor, mate the two halves of the fuselage together and then install the radio gear. The wings slide into the fuselage joined by a carbon fiber rod, allowing them to be taken off for transport. I worked on this project over a couple of weekends, and I took my time. Total build time was approximately 4 hours.

This airplane is aimed at beginner to intermediate fliers. While it is easy enough for a beginner to fly, I would recommend beginners seek help from an experienced pilot when flying this bird. Flights are very relaxing, the speed 400 motor has enough power to provide plenty of altitude to hunt for thermals. Even if you don't find a thermal, with the throttle chopped the Easy Glider will surprise you with its glide. I fly it with a 7 cell, 1400mah Nimh. battery and flight times range from 15 minutes in dead air to over 45 minutes with good lift. As with any other plane, take care in your landing approach, if you stall to close to the ground, you'll witness the flying brick effect. A landing like that will definitely test the durability of the Elapor, but it will do little to impress bystanders. Landing this bird is a delicate balance of keeping the nose down, the speed down, and the retrieve walking distance down.

The Easy Glider Electric has convinced me that Elapor foam is great, and that Multiplex can deliver great products for a reasonable price. I am anxiously looking forward to purchasing another Multiplex model.

Feb 18, 2009

Futaba 4EXA

The first radio I ever owned was a 4-channel Airtronics Radio with a single advanced feature, servo reversing. Servo reversing was critical as it allowed servos to be installed in any orientation that worked in the airplane. If control surfaces weren't moving in the right direction after installation, you just flipped the reversing switch. What a modern miracle! Nowadays, we have options I could not even imagine back when I got into this hobby.

In the last two years, I've gone through three radio systems.  When I purchased the Mini-Ventura, I needed a radio system as well, so I started looking for the best radio for the best price.  After much reading, I arrived at a conclusion the Futaba 4EXA with the micro flight pack would suite my needs.

The transmitter features 4 model memory, trim memory, end point adjustments, servo reversing, exponential, and a host of other nifty functions.  Eight AA batteries, in the form of a rechargeable pack, power the transmitter and give it a hefty feel. Programing the transmitters functions is fairly straight forward, and there are only three buttons to deal with. A rocker switch for +/- functionality is located on the right of the digital display, and the left side has a mode and a select button.  The transmitter lacks pizazz, its no frills.  But, in the year I used it, I never had any real technical issues with the transmitter.

As time wore on, I began to find that while this was a good entry level transmitter, it had a few drawbacks. First of I was realizing that 4-channels just isn't what it once was, I was going to need 6. And, the 4EXA only has 4 memory slots which was just not going to be enough. In the end I realized the real problem was that I was outgrowing the transmitter! I posted it on the R\C Universe classifieds and someone quickly snatched up a lightly used great little radio.
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Feb 16, 2009

Air Hogs R\C Airplanes

The poor mans R\C airplane is realized in Air Hogs. I've owned several of these reasonably priced little fliers, and they are nothing but fun. Air Hogs has released several different types of these little planes, but most use two pager motors, one on each wing for control. Other configuration consists of 1 or 2 motor propulsion, and a magnetic actuator for the rudder or elevator. For just $30, they are hard to pass up. I was a little skeptical as to how they'd fly, but a few flights put my skepticism to rest. Granted they do have their faults. The 27mhz band is a little sluggish for response time, which can leave you wondering if it's radio control or remote suggestion guiding the plane. Wind is another issue; these planes are not meant to fly in the wind, and if you try you'll probably have your plane blown far away. After all, they weigh next to nothing.

The planes are almost impossible to destroy. They are constructed of durable EPP foam which would bounce back from all but an encounter with a teething puppy. Also, you can find many modifications for these little birds if you do a quick Google search. The stock controller configuration requires that the throttle be on to steer the plane. I performed a simple modification I found on a forum to allow rudder control with the throttle in the neutral position. It consisted of soldiering a few diodes between components on the controller. This one quick modification will make the planes much more enjoyable to fly. If you do search for this modification, make sure you get the correct schematic for the revision of the transmitter that came with your plane.

Ultimately, Air Hogs R\C airplanes provide a great way for the masses to join into the excitement of R\C flight. For the serious hobbyist, they offer a quick, cheap, travel ready airplane. These are fun, must have little airplanes, well worth the money.
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Feb 15, 2009

Great Planes Fling ARF

Shortly after getting married, I realized I'd have to try and buy planes that fit within our meager budget. In the name of saving money, I started to look for an easy to fly, durable cheap airplane.

I've made a decision to focus on electric planes, mainly because they are cleaner, quieter, and in general less headache. The plane had to be electric, but I could not afford a motor, speed controller, and lipo battery. I started to look at every powerless glider made. Finally I arrived at a verdict. The Fling ARF from Great Planes.

Assembly consists of gluing the pre-covered balsa main wing together with epoxy, and super-gluing the tail together, then super-gluing it to the tail boom. Fuselage construction is of fiberglass, and the tail boom is carbon fiber. The flight pack consisted of 2 micro servos, 1-rudder and 1-elevator, 1-300mah battery pack, and a micro 72mhz Futaba receiver. The only annoying part of assembly was the pull-pull configuration of the servos. A fishing-line size thread is attached to both sides of the rudder and elevator, and to both sides of the control horn on the servo. It works very well, but the fuselage is small and if you didn't earn a knot tying badge in Boy Scouts, it can be quite a pain to get the strings taunt, and still have your control surfaces in a neutral position when your done.

The plane can be hand launched, or it can be launched using the high-start that comes in the box. Launching with the high-start is quite a thrill, akin to a rocket launch. The high start consists of 30 feet of surgical tubing connected to a very long thin line. You peg the end with the surgical tubing into the ground and you connect the plane to the string. You walk away from peg, putting tension on the surgical tubing, and when you release the plane it really soars. Usual launches result in about 300 feet of altitude in a couple seconds time. Technique is key! If you don't have enough room to use the high-start, no worries, a good hard throw can get you 60-80 feet of altitude, which is enough for a lazy lap around the park before landing in your hand.

I tested the planes durability by forgetting to turn on my radio before launching with the high start. The elevator was in the full down position when I released the plane. The nose was instantly buried 2 inches in dirt. It looked like an expensive lawn dart sticking out of the cow pasture. Thankfully there was no damage, all I had to do was clean the fiberglass nose, turn my radio on, and re-launch!

I've flown this plane over a year, on hundreds of flights, and it has been a blast to fly. Part of its thrill is in the fact that its small, easily transported, and can be flown with minimal space. The Fling has gentle flying characteristics, very decent flight times even with out thermals, and its a very affordable model. Great Planes has a great airplane in the Fling, it's a model I'd recommend for a beginning plane, or for a fun everyday flier.

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Feb 13, 2009

Blade CX Helicopter

The Blade CX series of helicopters from E-flite have been a big hit amongst the R\C flight community the last few years. Helicopters are notorious for being difficult to fly, but the CX has changed that. The simple fixed pitch contra rotating blades make the helicopter amazingly stable in a hover. Four channel control provides amazing maneuverability, allowing the CX to be flown in small spaces, even in your house.

I first spotted the CX on the shelf of a hobby shop, and it had immediate appeal. College classes where cramping my style, and I wasn't able to get out and fly the Mini-Ventura as much as I wanted. The CX was the obvious answer to my woes. I purchased the CX with a set of training skids and started practicing hovers. After running a few battery packs through it, I was very comfortable maintaining a hover. The fun continued from there fairly rapidly. Within a week I had removed the training skids and was flying figure eights and doing pirouettes in the back yard.

E-flite has made significant improvements since the first version of the Blade CX. The CX2 version came with a 2.4ghz transmitter which eliminates interference problems that are common on the 72mhz band. Now the Blade CX3 has been released, and can be purchased with a 2.4ghz transmitter, or as a BNF (Bind and Fly Model). Additionally, owners of the CX3 can purchase a nifty easy to install light kit. The neatest CX of them all in my opinion is the new mCX Micro CX. It is truly an indoor helicopter! It's total weight with the battery is 1 oz, and it to is offered as a BNF model.

The CX line of helicopters seems to just keep getting better and better. I would recommend these helicopters as a reasonable, fun way to get into the hobby.
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Feb 11, 2009

Fly-Zone Mini-Ventura

When I was 16 I decided to sell my Gentle Lady, and I took a short sabbatical from flying, while I concentrated on high school and an after school job. I missed the joys of R\C flight and I was really looking forward to the time when I'd have enough money to support my hobby.

College provided me with a steady supply of income, in the form of a student loan. Thankfully, I've always found flight to be a very educational subject matter. My college funds yielded a few very fun little fliers. The one I'd like to tell about now was the Fly-Zone Mini-Ventura.

I was living in the high desert of Oregon, in the middle of winter when I bought the Mini-Ventura. The initial test flight took place in the snow in the yard of the apartment complex I was living at. Being that the M-V is an ARF, I hastily bolted the tail together, rubber-banded the wings to the fuselage and tossed it into the snow covered lawn. With no radio gear installed, the M-V was light, and I remember being extremely well surprised with how well it flew with no radio gear.

Once I had the planes radio installed, I took my first opportunity to give the plane a maiden flight. The day was cold and gray, and there was a gentle breeze. After doing a quick radio check I gave the plane a hard toss with the prop churning at the air. The prop flew off and the plane did a nose dive straight into the ground. Needless to say this was not very inspiring. Post crash analysis revealed a cracked prop, at the point which it connected to the electric motor shaft. I had a spare in my field bag, so I put it on carefully, and in the process I managed to crack it as well. They are very delicate props, made from a brittle plastic. With a determination to have a successful flight, I resorted to super glue to hold the prop in place. Luckily that did the trick. I managed to have a fairly decent first flight avoiding all the rough edges of the air, you know, things like trees, people, and houses.

Sadly this little flier only lasted a few months. Dad came to the flying field with me, and decided he'd show me how to fly the plane. I reminded him that it had been a while since he'd flown, but he stated it was much like riding a bike, one never forgets. Dad had a few mishaps in his days flying, and Mom had been known to say things like "don't let him fly your plane, he'll get it stuck in a tree." The wind was blowing pretty stiffly as I handed the controls over to Dad, I was coaching him along, and noticed that he was letting the wind take him a little to far back toward a line of trees. He was also getting a little low, and I was starting to get worried. I didn't have to worry long, because he managed to stick the plane right into a tree, about 30 feet off the ground. We threw sticks at the plane till it fell lower, then shook the branches with a pole, and during the process the thin foam wings got compromised.

I flew the M-V a few times after its fateful landing in the tree, but it never really flew right. It would get going a little to fast and the wings would flex sending it into a death spiral. Eventually, I recovered the radio equipment and threw the plane away. Looking back I feel as though Dad putting the plane into a tree was a wonderful awakening, because in all reality it was a hard plane to learn on. It flies to fast for a beginner, and although the fuselage is fairly durable hard plastic, the wings are pretty wimpy. They are thin foam reinforced with tape in places. And every prop I bought for the plane seemed to crack when attached to the electric motor, no matter how careful I was. For the price its not a bad little plane, but I can't say I'd recommend it to a friend.
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Feb 10, 2009

The Gentle Lady

As a young child I remember Dad selling his model airplanes so that my sisters could have orthodontic headgear so their teeth would be straight. It was upsetting to me that a he would get rid of such beautiful things as airplanes, in exchange for alien headgear for his children. Honestly, I'm still not sure I understand, I'd rather see crooked teeth than part with an airplane for the sake of vanity.

Growing older, I decided that Dad could help me get started in the model airplane hobby. He generously purchased and built a Gentle Lady glider, which would be the first airplane I would refer to as mine! The entire project, including the radio, cost a little over $400, back in the early 90's. Now you can get twice the plane for half the cost.

The glider was built over the period of a year. With the fuselage finished in red, and the wings in transparent blue, the glider was a thing of beauty to behold. Dad opted to make the Gentle Lady a powered glider by placing a Cox .049 Black Widow engine in place of the balsa nose cone. The little engine would drag the plane to what was hoped to be thermal altitude in its limited 3 minute run time.

In flight the Gentle Lady definitely lived up to her name. Gracefully floating through the air like an eagle on outspread wings, the Gentle Lady was and still is a perfect beginners airplane. Carl Goldberg Products Ltd. still manufactures the Gentle Lady in kit form, and more recently they have made it available as an ARF (Almost Ready to Fly) model.