Wednesday, 23 November 2011

And Now For Something Completely Different - Well Not Quite!

Well at the weekend I took a break from my world of RC helicopters and tried something else rather exciting. A friend and I went over to Bruntingthorpe race track and aerodrome, near Lutterworth in Leicestershire, to have a go at driving some supercars with Trackdays/6th Gear. There was a bit of a raw wind blowing and by the time we were called over for our drives, having had a preview lap being driven round in a Range Rover Sport, we didn't know if we were shaking with excitement or cold!

Lamborgini Gallardo

I had chosen the Lamborghini Gallardo, which was sensationally quick and gripped the track like you wouldn't believe. The only problem I found with this car was that I had trouble finding the brake pedal which meant that I was looking to come off the power early to locate it. The difficulty is that not only is the space between the pedals small, not a problem for me as my feet aren't large, but there was something that stuck out above the brake pedal and I kept catching my foot on that stopping me hitting the brake.

My friend however had no such problem in her chosen supercar, the Ferrari F430, in classic Ferrari red and managed to outscore me. Next time Fi!!!
Ferrari F430
For thrill seekers who love cars it's a must do. How does it compare with flying an RC helicopter for fun? Different! They are both unbelievable in their own ways...but I tell you what, you can get alot of flying time for the price of a supercar drive.

It sure was a brilliant day and the company made it all the more so...thanks again Fi.

What the day did do was set me could hear the cogs whirring...the companies that do experiences like this for thrill seekers do cars, helicopters, planes, tanks etc etc etc. Now maybe someone could come up with something similar so people can experience the amazing fun of flying an RC helicopter. Maybe start them off with 1/2 hour instruction on a flight simulator before a try at a co-axial helicopter and then the indomitable little Blade mSR before letting them lose on having a go on a big bird...something like a nitro (the noise just adds to the adrenaline rush) helicopter of at least a 600 size - impressive in the air and stable. This would have to be harnessed to a buddy box so that an experienced pilot could get them up and down safely. Top it all off with a demo from a crack 3D pilot, like this...

...and I think it would be a real thrill for people and a brilliant taster of a rapidly growing hobby.

So, if someone out there takes my idea up and makes a fortune from it...please send me a slice!!!

For now, HAVE FUN!!!

These guys certainly did:

                                                       The Other Way To Use A Buddy Box!!!

Friday, 18 November 2011

Further Adventures With The mCPx

Well yesterday was a perfect day for flying - mild, bright cloudless skies and little or no breeze. Just as Murphy would predict though I had a day of appointments and other business to attend to resulting in no opportunity to get out flying. That just made me all the more determined to go out today and would you believe it the weather today was back to cloudy and breezy, with some quite strong gusts easily exceeding 20mph. This is well on the limit for the mCPx and more windy than conditions I have flown it in before.

Seeing as I had to go out anyway to the local post office I thought I would take it with me and go to the flying field - or more precisely the village green (now how quintessentially British is that, a term you wouldn't see used elsewhere in the world I dare say!). It is lined by roads on two sides and garden hedges and trees on the other two, is large enough to have a small children's football (soccer!) pitch in the middle and is covered in short to medium cut grass turf - just ideal for mCPx flying.

The Village Green

I started off flying quite gently, just gauging the wind and the effect it was having on the little mCPx. For such a tiny RC helicopter it handles the wind extraordinarily well. Then something strange happened. During this reserved flying the helicopter just started spinning like it was under full rudder and dropped to the ground. My immediate thoughts were that the main gear had dropped (as it will commonly do on impact but has never done before mid-flight), losing all transmission to the main blades and allowing the body to just spin. Actually it isn't even the likely effect of such an event and on inspection the main gear was still in place and there was no play at all in the main shaft. Further reflection makes me wonder if there was a momentary loss of power to the tail motor - with no counter-acting force to the revolution of the main blades the helicopter would spin as it did.

Having checked the helicopter over thoroughly and found nothing a miss I spooled it up again and as everything was fine with it I gave it another flight. It was performing quite happily so I decided next flight I would try putting it into Flight Mode 1 (which allows negative pitch for inverted flying). At this time the wind was picking up and clearly too strong now to try at getting the mCPx inverted.

The next flight I stayed in Normal Flight Mode and I was pleased with how well this sub-micro class radio controlled helicopter was handling the increasing wind. Then a particularly strong gust lifted it skywards and carried it towards some trees bordering a garden. In danger of going either into a tree or losing it over a hedge into a neighbouring garden I swung it around and pushed the nose down slightly to get it moving forwards and away from the obstacles. However, it was still drifting away from me and the extra lift from facing into the wind just increased its altitude further. My response was to push forward still further on the elevator to try and get some forward momentum into the wind but ended up with it just plummeting from the sky and into the fortunately soft grass.

The damage report:
  • Mud and grass on one of the main rotor blades
  • One missing push rod link from the swash plate to the blade grip (no surprise there then, these come off quite readily and you have to be prepared to lose a fair few)
  • Slight gnarling of a few teeth on the main gear but no tooth had lost its complete width so it is still usable until a replacement arrives (obviously as the main gear was thrown down on impact the motor pinion flat spotted just a part of a few teeth rather than going through the whole tooth had the main gear not thrown) - a quick test has subsequently shown that it still runs smoothly.

 The Derlin Main Gear by Xtreme - harder wearing than the standard main gear.

  Well, with no spare push rod links with me it was time to head home - reflecting on what had happened and what different responses might have been needed.

Time to get some more links ordered (I am down to my last two now) and wait for a slightly less windy day to try again.

In the meantime, here is how it should be done:

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The mCPx Challenge - Not For Beginners?

Well the weather has now turned cold and it has been rather windy over here in the UK of late. Hardly ideal flying weather - and certainly not suitable for a maiden flight of the new Walkera V200 D03. I have had the chance to get the little Blade mCPx out though.This is such a lively and fun heli. Eflite made a real good job of this little RC helicopter. Yes, it is not without flaws and there is room for improvement with a few of the third party mods available but even as stock it is a great little flyer.It will always challenge you though, and none-the-more-so than when the wind is blowing. That said for such a tiny little helicopter, weighing in at 1.6oz (45.5g), the mCPx handles the wind remarkably well. This is largely due to it being a collective pitch helicopter which gives you the ability to control the lift much better and prevent it from sailing off skywards like an even much larger, heavier fixed pitch helicopter is apt to do. Then its flybarless system with a 3-axis gyro helps to keep it on track as the gyros counteract movements made by the helicopter that are not responses to inputs from the transmitter.

I have heard a number of people say that this is not an RC helicopter for beginners. Well, yes and no would be my response. It would certainly be beyond first time flyers, those absolutely new to RC helicopters, but for those with a little flying experience with a fixed pitch helicopter I would argue that this is an ideal first time collective pitch helicopter. Why do I say this? Well that is my personal experience. I had only ever flown the Blade mSR before I got my mCPx. It was the first collective pitch helicopter I had flown. OK not only had I flown the mSR but I had been prepared to put a fair few number of hours in on a flight simulator, where I was flying collective pitch helicopters of various sorts and sizes - including the Blade mCPx, which you can download from Clearview as one of the update helicopters for their flight simulator if you go to "File > Upgrade To Latest Content".

Now you are not going to fly the mCPx indoors like you can with the mSR, even if you have a fair amount of collective pitch helicopter flying experience. Even a modest sized back garden is not ideal for starting off with this lively little helicopter. It is liable to be off before you can get it under control and prevent it from finding the nearest wall, hedge or tree - and to be honest the garden pond is the biggest risk in our back garden.

Now one of the great advantages with the mCPx over larger more stable conventional starting points for entering into the collective pitch helicopter world is that you can have heavy impacts with little or no damage. You may lose a push rod, slip the main gear (or even flatten a few teeth in it if you do not cut the throttle in time - done that one too) and perhaps even damage a blade or blade grip if you have a really heavy crash. Most of the time you can just pick it up and after a quick check over, maybe push an odd part back together again and your off airborne once more. Try and do that after bringing a 450 size helicopter down. When you do break something on the mCPx you are looking at the odd pound/dollar to get a replacement and they are readily available.

So for the first time 'collective pitcher' I would recommend you do as I did and take the mCPx and find a nice wide open space, preferably on grass (of a little length for a bit of added cushioning when it comes down, as it will do to start with) and just fly it, fly it and fly it some more. You will be surprised how quickly you start to get the hang of it - I was, after being hopelessly out of control to start with. Just ensure that the helicopter is on a flat and level surface for take off, you don't stand a chance of getting it up if it isn't. You may also want to soften the controls, especially the cyclic controls, around the centre of the stick by adding exponential. This is easily achieved if you are using a quality radio unit like the Spektrum DX6i, DX7 or DX8 - I can not recommend them highly enough. With the exponential added the tendency to over-control the helicopter is reduced as larger stick movements produce smaller servo responses. Typically in the beginning we all tend to over-react, over-correct and over-control, which is the cause of a large number of  our initial crashes.

To start with just stay in normal flight mode, you definitely do not want to go trying inverted flight early on. There is a definite knack to flipping this helicopter and even pilots used to inverted flight with larger helicopters find this one challenging to get inverted. You need to give it plenty of altitude, get a bit of momentum and be very smooth with the stick movements. Once you get it there you should give it a moment to let the gyros stabilize the helicopter. In some respects it is a great trainer for inverted flying because it is more challenging than many other RC helicopters. If you do it with this helicopter you are going to find others much easier. Plus, while you are getting it wrong you aren't going to be doing much damage.

OK, so it isn't the easiest collective pitch helicopter to fly. However, the challenge it presents will make you better at flying radio controlled helicopters and without doing much damage to your pocket. People who have flown this helicopter commonly report better collective management and smoother cyclic control for having done so. So why not master these from the outset? Then above all else they are a huge, huge fun helicopter. Agile, lively and with great power for their weight they are ideal for just having an amazing time flying - and best of all they allow you the freedom to do just that, to have fun, and to try things you might not with another RC helicopter because you know that it can take the mistakes.

My recommendation then is give it a go: take on the mCPx challenge!

 Before you know it you'll be doing this!!!

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Walkera V200D03 unboxing Review: Or, Look What Came In The Post Today!

Yes, something I had been anticipating the arrival of and it arrived today.

Eagerly opening the parcel I found what I expected: the new Walkera V200 D03 flybarless collective pitch helicopter that I am going to review. So I thought that I would start here by giving you my thoughts and findings as I opened the box.

It comes with the all new 8 channel 2.4GHz touch screen programmable Devention transmitter, which is a definite step up from anything Walkera have previously packaged with an RC helicopter like this.

As always with Walkera everything is very nicely packaged and neatly compartmentalized.

The box has its own carry handle so that it doubles as a storage and carrying case. OK a nice metal case is very nice but they are a pricey extra (unless you are buying an RTF CopterX Black Angel Pro RC Helicopter which some stores will provide with an aluminium case included for no extra).

I previously had a Walkera V200 D01 which superficially the D03 looks very much like. The D01 however is a fixed pitch helicopter whilst the D03 is a collective pitch and actually shares its origins with the Walkera 4F200 rather than the V200 D01/02. The D01 I found to be a brilliant helicopter, solidly constructed and beautiful to fly with very good tail holding with its shaft driven tail. Both of these radio controlled helicopters use the new flybarless system that Walkera is rightly favouring on all its new models. They utilize a 3-axis gyro which gives great flying performance and the electronics allow you to adjust the gyro settings through the receiver so that you can make it as stable as you like, making it very docile for a novice, or you can crank it up to give a much more agile and faster performance (see the video in the first blog entry of a V200 D01). I like the D01 very much.

The V200 D03 should be much more powerful, being capable of 3D aerobatics, and I will be interested to see also how docile and stable it can be made through adjustment of the gyro and transmitter settings. One of the beauties of a fully programmable transmitter is that you can set the helicopter up exactly to your requirements (more on this in future postings) and with the Devo 8 this can be done through the built in touch screen, making the functions very accessible and hopefully very easy - providing it is intuitively devised.

The Devo 8 immediately has a much more solid feel to it than the transmitter that came with the V200 D01. In fact in terms of both looks and feel it has similarities to the wonderful Spektrum DX7 that I use with my other RC helicopters. In fact the Devo 8 immediately has a couple of pluses even over that market leading transmitter.
  1. It has a backlit LCD screen
  2. You do not have to remove the back of the transmitter to adjust the tension on the throttle stick. I always dislike having to do this so it was a pleasure to find that the Devo 8 has a little rubber grommet covered access hole to a Phillips head screw to do this.
This transmitter of course also has a touch screen which the Spektrum transmitters do not but whether you regard that as a plus or not is very much a matter of personal opinion and I will report later on how I find that works. Of course what is still to be determined is whether the electronics and reliability of the Walkera radio can compare to Spektrum, who also have second to none customer service. I managed to drop my DX7 simply picking it up in the house (it is normally firmly strapped to my neck) and in the fall it broke a dual rate switch lever. I phoned Horizon Hobby tech support and they sent out a replacement switch for free. They didn't even charge me for the postage. All I had to do was unscrew the old one and solder in the new switch myself. I might add that I have heard many other similar stories of Horizon Hobbies excellent customer support.

One thing that did concern me about the Devention 8 transmitter was that at first sight it does not appear to have a throttle hold switch, which is absolutely essential with a collective pitch helicopter. With anything less you can just knock the throttle stick right down if you are going to come down so as to kill the power and minimize damage. With a collective pitch helicopter this is possible whist in the normal flight mode but once you go into Flight Mode 1 or 2, the bottom half of the stick gives you negative collective and does not reduce the throttle so you can not knock the power off. Fortunately, a quick scan of the provided User Manual for the transmitter revealed that the Rudder Dual Rate switch can be changed to function as a Throttle Hold switch. Which actually most transmitters use this switch as an either/or for the two functions. I was slightly disconcerted that Walkera have elected the situate the Rudder Dual Rate/Throttle Hold switch and the Flight Mode switches the opposite way around to the Spektrum transmitter. I am so used to reacting with the right hand to hit throttle hold in an emergency and here I will have to react with the left hand - and it is usually needed in situations when you do not have time to think about it - you need to react instantaneously. The other factor is that there is a risk of reaching with the left hand to change the flight mode, as I would on the Spektrum, and in doing so with the Walkera I would put the helicopter into throttle hold killing all power to the rotor head. Care will be needed!

Whilst talking of power losses, one other thing I do not care for with this helicopter is that there is no auto-rotation gear. So if you do happen to have a failure in mid-air that results in no power getting to the main blades you have no safe way down. Come on Walkera - a helicopter of this quality and cost deserves a failsafe like this.

So what else about the helicopter itself. As usual for Walkera R/C helicopters it is beautifully finished.

It has a metallic red anodized rotor head which is a wonderful match for the canopy.

The carbon fibre rotor blades look stunning (but will not be cheap to replace - I may have to find some more reasonably priced plastic ones for general use, at least until I am more used to flying this beauty).

Everything is indeed very neat with this helicopter and it has a nice sturdy feel to it, just like the V200 D01, but without costing excessive weight for it (342g without the lipo battery).

One nice touch - this helicopter came directly from China, but unlike many other companies Walkera supplied it with the correct plug (a clip on head) for the lipo charger power supply. It is so nice to get a UK 3-pin plug for a change.

On the supplied manuals. In the box there is a booklet type paper 'User Handbook' which covers the helicopter and basic setup and function of the Devo 8. Additionally there is a Devention 'User Manual' for the Devo 8 which covers all the functions of the transmitter. This is on a CD. Now I don't know if Walkera just could not make their mind up as to which format they were gong to use or what but if they were just trying to please both people who like their written material on paper  and those who like it in digital format they will end up satisfying none - it is a strange logic they have used!

As to the contents of the manuals, on a brief scan through it appears comprehensive enough but it is the usual translated Chinese English, which means that you have to read it very carefully and probably a few times over in places to comprehend it properly. One wishes that they would use people whose native language is English to do the translations for them rather than Chinese people who speak English - but then this is a common problem almost universal to all Far Eastern goods with instructions enclosed. As they go the translations here are actually not bad at all.

Overall I'm really excited about this little heli and I am looking forward to programming the transmitter, completing the setup and getting it airborne. Shame the weather has gone so wet and windy. This hobby is excellent for developing patience - you learn to do so or develop a big whole in your pocket!

I will be reporting back here on how the setup goes and giving some flight reviews in coming posts.

A little peak at what else is to come: I have a Trex 450 SE V2 clone ARF that has been sitting in the cupboard waiting to be set up and I am going to be going through that step by step as it is a very common helicopter for many many hobbyists. So I feel it may be beneficial to go through it here as getting the initial setup right is so important. I have decided to do it with settings for a novice at flying this type of machine to demonstrate how they can be tamed down to make them more manageable.

There is so much more planned. I hope you will be joining me as we journey together through this exploration of the RC Helicopter World.

Monday, 7 November 2011

We All Must Start Somewhere!

 I wanted to start this blog off with a little background on what started me off in this amazing hobby of RC helicopters - and right from the start I would like to invite readers to participate in this blog and leave their stories of how they first came into the hobby.

It is a hobby where it is useful to keep in mind what it is that has been our inspiration because having RC helicopters as a hobby inevitably has its low points, those moments when disaster strikes and we feel like saying "no more"!

For that reason I am going to tell you about some of the things that have been and continue to inspire me. Maybe some of them will do the same for you. Here again I invite your participation and hope that you will share your inspirational stories and ideas.

So let's make a start with an inspirational video, showing just what can be achieved if you have the will, desire and commitment.

Tareq Alsaadi vs. The Palm Tree


Ok, maybe but a few of us will achieve that kind of mastery,as this is one of the very best, but it can motivate us to consistently improve and achieve levels of skill that we only once dreamed of. It was just such videos as this that inspired me to want to fly not just toy helicopters or even co-axial or fixed pitch 4channel helis but to aim for and progress to a full 3D capable collective pitch 6 channel RC helicopter.

So, it isn't for everyone. Many people just want to fun fly - and why not, after all a hobby is essentially about one! How you want to define fun and what  fun is to you is a purely personal thing. For some it is about having a beautiful RC helicopter that you fly around within your level of capability...and just have plain simple fun. For others it is the full on adrenaline-rush seat of your pants 3D flying with all the setbacks, crashes, rebuilds and hours of sim practice that go with it. For still others, it is about the technology or the fun of building something and then seeing the completion of your project take to the air. At the end of the day there are as many different meanings to 'fun' as their are hobbyists.

So for those of you who are of the fun-flyer brigade...or should that be 'squadron' is a short video for you:

 Fun Flying the Walkera V200 D01, coutersy of

 Now I started in the RC world with cars when I was a teenager. Mad about all things car and car racing in particular, along with my closest friends we had outgrown Scalextric but weren't yet old enough to drive 'the real thing' so we were looking for something more like it. Then one of my friends reported back that he had found a hobby shop in a nearby town that had 1/8th scale nitro radio controlled cars. So we set about saving enough money to buy the cars and all the equipment we needed, then set off down to the shop to plead for the best bargain we could get. Eventually we arrived home one by one with our prizes. By this time we had also learned of a local club that raced these cars. We were I may say at this stage in for a bit of a shock. Back in those days the engines were, for us, incredibly difficult to get tuned and keep there. Plus the budget radio equipment we could afford was not the most reliable. Consequently there was a lot of frustration. Nonetheless we took it all in our stride and although we seemed to do precious little running of the cars we had loads of fun together, mishaps and all taken in great spirit.

However, as inevitably happens in late teenage years we started to fragment as some friends started working, others got their own 'real' cars, whilst I went off eventually to university. So we all were going our own different ways. Some gave up on the radio controlled models, I switched to electric off-road buggies which I found another local club for and at university I found a club racing 1/12th scale cars indoors so got myself one of those too.

After University I started my own business selling tropical and pond fish and although I continued racing the off-road buggies for a few years eventually it had to give way to committing myself fully to the business. It seemed for years that was going to be it for the RC world but somewhere down there the urge was lurking to get involved again and every so often I would see an RC car on the net or in a magazine and be tempted. But it wasn't just cars and in the run-up to one Xmas when I was struggling to find presents for my nephews my mother turned up trumps having found some toy RC helicopters on a 2 for 1 offer in a local store.Well wow, they might just have been toys but the fire was well and truly re-ignited and I was hooked again. 

I then started reading everything I could find on them on the Internet, researched, watched countless videos on YouTube and the likes. I joined forums, poured over the best websites out there selling R/C helicopters, read reviews and just generally sucked up all the information I could find. During this time I had bought a small Double Horse co-axial helicopter, found through my reading that wasn't suitable for what I wanted, as my aspirations rapidly rose - by this stage I had found videos like the one at the top of the page - and very sound advice that a 3 channel helicopter is not a great place to start if you aim to go onto bigger and better things. So I got the widely acclaimed, and for very good reasons, Esky Honey Bee V2 and sold the co-axial on Ebay. However, the Honey Bee was never to see the skies with me. At this stage I was rehabilitating from a broken thigh and was hobbling around on crutches. I realised that I needed something I could fly inside the house because of my lack of mobility. Then I found an independent website singing the praises of the Eflite Blade mSR (I would highly recommend this website to all, it is packed with information and advice from a very experienced RC helicopter enthusiast who is 100% there just to further the hobby and help ease beginners into it). 

Well I had dropped on the perfect heli for starting into the hobby and all the information on helped me get it set up and hooked up with the Spektrum DX7. Now there was no stopping me. Recuperating with a broken leg and unable to work I had countless hours to occupy flying the tiny bird. I had acquired 6 extra lipo packs to the 2 included in the BNF kit and these kept me flying long hours every day. Then when I was forced onto the ground waiting for lipos to recharge or spares to arrive after the occasional break - these mSR's are incredibly durable, they take amazing hits without 'injury' due to their light weight, just 1oz, so that they bounce rather than break. I was learning quick and really hooked on the rush of flying, something to really spice up my days of rehabilitation. Soon I had it on all the most aggressive setting to mimic a collective pitch helicopter. For all the fun it's agility and dynamic performance for such a tiny tiny heli gave it was time to move on. I had already acquired my first 450 sized helicopter and with my leg getting better by the day the time was approaching to progress onto a serious performance outdoor RC helicopter. The journey had begun....