Beginner Radios

Invest in a Feature-Rich Radio Early

I’m a frugal guy; you’ll know this if you’ve been following my blog and Twitter. When it comes to RC, I always try to save a buck whenever possible so when I started flying, I went with what I thought was the best choice (it was a good one, but not the best), a HobbyZone Super Cub, ready to fly. I found myself with a fantastic trainer I still use today, but back when I wanted to move to the next level, I was stuck with having to replace all my electronics. From this experience I can tell you one thing: The first thing I should have done was to get a radio system that would grow with me.

If I would have to start all over again, there are many radios I’d opt for. A good first radio should:

  • have at least six channels
  • allow for multiple model memory
  • use 2.4 Ghz spread spectrum technology
  • feature a trainer port
  • feature at least three mixes
  • allow servo reversal & travel adjustment on all channels
  • feature exponential & dual rates
  • feature sub-trim

Many experienced flyers and hobby stores will tell you a simple four channel radio is sufficient for a beginner, but what about when you are done with your 3- or 4-channel trainer? There’s the issue to consider when choosing a new radio: how long until you’ll want to upgrade? Balancing your starting budget and future expectations for your radio is key.

How many channels, and what does that mean?

Each channel on your radio system controls a different thing on your model. On a basic trainer you’ll usually find four channels being used: one for throttle (Electronic Speed Controller on electric models or Throttle Servo on nitro and gas models), one for the rudder, one for the elevator and one to control the ailerons.

Four channels are okay if you’re only planning on flying basic models for a couple of years (trust me, you’ll want to fly more complex and fun models really soon!) or if you’re able to dish out around $100-$200 for another radio later on.

Six channels will allow you to fly helis and models with retractable landing gear, flaps and more servos that do fun stuff. This isn’t gibberish and it isn’t just for experienced pilots; it will make sense to you as soon as a couple of months of flying and crashing your models.

Model memory

This one is easy to explain: model memories are different sets of saved settings, one set for each one of your models (a trainer, a warbird, a heli, a glider, etc.). This saves you from having to change all the settings every time you’re going to fly a new model.Instead, you just switch to a new model memory and those previously saved settings load onto the transmitter. Ten model memories are great but I recommend at least five.

Transmitting frequency

You know, 72 Mhz radios have been around for decades and they have proven to be reliable when used with frequency crystals, but with new cell towers being added daily and communications frequencies increasing, 2.4 Ghz technology is the way to go. Even though most beginner RC pilots will tend to stay away from other flyers and thus from interference from other radios, spread spectrum is still highly recommended for its safety and reliability.

2.4 Ghz is the frequency in which the radio system transmits and spread spectrum is a relatively new technology to RC that performs frequency hopping multiple times per second, allowing the radio to lock on to and use unoccupied frequencies, eliminating interference between radios.

Trainer mode

All beginners should get with a buddy that knows how to fly and connect two transmitters together on “trainer” mode. This allows the more experienced pilot to take control of the model should anything go wrong. Absolutely essential.

Custom mixes

Mixes bring completely new functionality to your models. They allow you to do things like control multiple servos with one channel and move multiple control surfaces simultaneously. Without mixes, you cannot fly elevon-type aircraft like the popular “flying wings” or some types of jets.

Other features

As soon as you move away from the trainer stage, you’ll not just want more functionality from your radio, you’ll need it. Servo reversal is a must; it allows you to reverse the direction a servo moves. This is required when a control input sends the control surface the wrong way. Exponential and dual rates allow you to make precise control inputs even when yanking the sticks around (a tendency of all new pilots). Trim allows you to make miniscule adjustments to the neutral position of the control surfaces and Sub-trim allows you to make even more precise adjustments; a very nice feature when you’re trimming your model for the first time.

Recommended radios

Lets get down to business; here are some of the radios of various price ranges I’d totally recommend to a beginner.

 Spektrum DX6i

The Spektrum DX6i is the perfect beginner’s radio. It is made by Horizon Hobby, known for amazing reliability and excellent customer satisfaction. These radios are tough and reliable. They boast a bunch of features and a digital display with a clicker-wheel. It goes for about $160 for the transmitter and $50 for receivers.

Notable features:

  • Full range 2.4GHz
  •  6 channels
  • 10-model memory
  • Integrated timer
  • Throttle cut
  • Trainer Mode
  • Travel adjustment
  • Sub-trim
  • Dual rates and exponential
  • Two custom mixes and three pre-programmed mixes
  • Pre-programmed Features: Flaps, P-mixes, Dual aileron, V-tail, Delta, Differential, Gyro adjust, Graphic throttle curve, Graphic pitch curve, P-mixes, Revo mix, Swash type

I currently own a DX6i and it was an upgrade from another great radio, the HobbyKing T6a.

HobbyKing T6a

This radio has served me well; so well, I still use it! It is very economic, just $23 bucks with a receiver included!  The HobbyKing T6a may not be the best-looking radio and yes, it has its share of downfalls, but for those of us on a very tight budget it’s a dream-come-true. It doesn’t have an on-board display so you have to use a laptop or desktop PC to program it, has no exponential rates and it’s NOT full-range (only hops on 2 frequencies), but it’s packed full of features and you can get some economic receivers.

Notable features:

  • 6-channel
  • 2.4GHz
  • Servo Reversing
  • Trainer Mode
  • Sub Trim
  • Dual Rates
  • Three Mixes

Turnigy 9X

The iMax 9X has been re-branded a few times into the FlySky 9X and the Turnigy 9X. This is another awesome radio for the RC pilot on a budget. It’ll run you $40 (including a receiver) but with some features the T6a lacks like a built-in LCD screen and 8 channels. It has had a few software bugs in the past that have been fixed as of the last firmware update, according to HobbyKing. Additional receivers go for about $9.

Notable features:

  • 8 channels
  • 8 Model Memories
  • Sub Trim
  • Modular
  • Travel Adjustment
  • Servo Reversing
  • Timer
  • Dual Rates
  • Exponential Rates
  • Pre-programmed features: Flaperons, V-Tail mixing, Elevons

 

Those are my top recommendations. There are many other very good and even better radios. Do your homework and don’t let the guy at the hobby shopup-sell you. If you have a budget of $200 or more, you can get an excellent radio like JR or Hitec. If your budget is $100 to $200, look into used Spektrum and Futaba on the forums, you can find some great deals on awesome radios. If your budget for a radio is less than $100, you know where to go: HobbyKing.com. Always remember those points I mentioned at the beginning of the article and don’t settle for less.

flapsandFTRD

One Week of Super Cub Modifications

Spent a week doing little things here-and-there to the SC and ended up with a very different model :) I’m happy because I did a lot of stuff I had been meaning to do to it for a long time.

I only have pictures (and crappy ones!) because I lost my digital camera so I had to use my mobil phone.

The first thing I did was put flaps on. I used these hinges I had bought from HobbyKing like a year ago and didn’t know what to do with them because they sucked as “hatch hinges” like they had been advertised. I like them for flaps because I can make a single cut instead of having to bevel the edge of the flaps, thus keeping the wing totally free of indentations when the flaps are up.

Flaps up. You can barely tell they are there!

That was supposed to be IT. I just wanted to add flaps to the SC. I then thought “Hmm… I should put flapperons TOO!” so I did. I removed the Y-lead and installed two 200mm lead extensions on the servos to split the aileron channel in two. Then I mixed them together with two switches. So I can lower the flaps with or without the flapperons.

Flaps ONLY down
Flaps AND Flapperons down

I also mixed in down-elevator with the flaps and also on a switch to turn it on and off. You can see that in the two pictures above.

Now, my transforming Super Cub (hopefully) can slow down to a crawl.

But WAIT! There’s more! :D

I went up to the attic and found a few goodies in a bin! I found my old SC landing gear! I put those on, as you can see from those pics up there. I had been flying with the rear end of the floats set held on by screws!

I also found a brand new rudder in a pack that used to be a SC tail feathers kit. This rudder has a tail wheel on! AWESOME for me because I had cut off my old tail wheel when I was flying the SC with tricycle landing gear.

And something I had wanted to do for a long time: I counter-balanced the elevator and rudder, as found in many clipped wing cubs. I LOVE the look of that :)

Counter-balanced rudder and elevator

Of course I’m using the OrangeRx 6-ch receiver and taking up every single channel and every mix on the DX6i, including the gear mix, Mix 1 and Mix 2.

Every servo slot is used!

Actually I didn’t use the Flaps mix for reasons only known to me. lol. I can change it later if I feel I have to ;D

Top of the wing with flaps and flapperons down.

Step-by-step tutorials and videos on how to do all this will be coming soon. I just have to find my camera :(

EZCONNECTORS_ftrd

Stuff You Should Love: Dubro EZ Connectors

I hate Z-bending pushrods! It’s hard to get it right unless you have one of those expensive Z-bend pliers and it’s an impractical way to connect servo arms to control horns.

You know what I LOVE? I friggin’ love Dubro Kwik Grip EZ Connectors! You’ve never heard of ‘em?! They’re connectors that allow you to use your pushrods without bending them at all. You install the EZ Connector on the servo arm, slide the pushrod through it and tighten a little screw with a hex (Allen) wrench.

No more screwing the clevis in or out! If you want to adjust the length of the rod, just loosen the screw on the EZ Connector, hold the rod at the precise position you need it and tighten the screw again. Voila! 5-second fix.

You can buy Dubro Kwik Grip EZ Connectors at TowerHobbies.com, AMainHobbies.com and at many local hobby shops in packs of 2 for $2 or less.

If you’d like a cheaper alternative, check out HobbyKing’s 2mm and 1.5mm (pin diameter) versions for a little over $2 for a pack of 5.

Newly Built MikeysRC.com FPV V3

I built myself one of MikeysRC.com FPV V3 biplanes. I put a FlipHD on it and an iPhone 4S with an Otterbox case on it; this is a very heavy set up, in case you’re wondering. It uses a Turnigy 2830 1050kv motor with a 2200mah Turnigy lipo.

I highly recommend this plane to anyone flying FPV with a GoPro or a similar heavy camera and/or equipment on board. It took 3 sheets of Dollar Tree foam board, a wood dowel, a dozen glue sticks and some strapping tape. Flies very well and I love that the COG can be moved around easily. Check it out at MikeysRC.com

March 2012 Update

Sadly, the MAYDAY blog has been very quiet lately. I’ve been flying and building but I just don’t have the time to keep updating the blog as much as I used to. I will make time soon, you can expect some videos in early April.

In the last couple of months and coming up:

  • Built a Parkzone Stryker F27C from parts with a Turnigy motor. Have to clock it but I guess about 70 MPH.
  • Fixed damaged Super Cub.
  • Started taking a lot more pictures and videos of everything (just haven’t had time to upload).
  • Planning to build a new plane or airboat from scratch.

As always, I’m available for flying around South Florida and for RC help via email or social networking. My number one goal with this site is to help RC pilots with issues I had and wished someone would help me with when I started flying three years ago.

You can email me, hit me up on Twitter @killerwin, PM me on RCGroups.com, comment to this or any blog post or hit “Call Me” down there to connect to my cellphone.

Video 29 0 00 02-232

30-inch Dead-Simple Wing

So, I’ve been MIA for a few weeks or so; since early august. I have been up to stuff and one of those stuffs is a 125% Dead-Simple wing from specs found at RCGroups. Instead of 24-inch wing-span, I built mine 30 inches wide. I put on a Blue Wonder and took to the skies.

 

On Saturday, September 24th, I went to Ives Estates Park with my friend, Julio and my wife and son to fly the wing. I had flown it once before and had great success but crashed it. After repairing it, it looked pretty good so I decided I could go for it again.

It flew on rails. It was as smooth and straight as it gets. We clocked it at 51 MPH on the following setup:

It rolls pretty good and you can see it can fly really slow too. After a few flights, we changed batteries and flew again.

Julio had never before flown and RC plane so I thought I’d let him fly my cheap wing since he had a ton of hours on a simulator. He did f’awesome! He even dead-sticked it! Here’s Julio’s second flight:

Overall we had a pretty awesome time. The wing is crashed again but I can fix it. I might make a new one but we’ll see how much free time I have. Look out for my next project: A way-fast jet.

Also, I’ve noticed those OrangeRX 6-channel receivers have pretty good range. I flew the wing out almost out of LOS and never glitched. Pretty sweet for a $6 receiver.

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Dead Simple Wing 30 and 24

Update: Down Time, More Blue Foam

I haven’t been doing much flying or building lately. I haven’t really had much time to do anything RC. In early August I flew this thing I finished like two months ago:



Under Side

It’s a Dead-Simple Wing made bigger and with blue foam and foamboard instead of Depron. It flew really nice on the following setup:

I’m also loving the OrangeRX R610 6-channel receivers (the ones with the sat port) on my DX6i. I have a Gravity Hobby 800 mAh 3S 25C LiPo that I bought specifically for this model that I’ve yet to try but it’s a lot lighter and delivers a bit more power.

I crashed it and need to repair it.

I first built a 24 inch one but I felt it was too tiny for the setup I wanted. I was right.

So that’s on a shelf until I figure out what to do with it. It’ll probably end up as the wing on another project. For now I’m trying to continue on this project:

It’s partly copied from the Phase III Squall but without the long end and it’ll have two vertical stabs. That shouldn’t be done anytime soon. I expect to finish it in 6-8 weeks or so; depends on how much time I have to work on it.

As always, follow me on Twitter (@killerwin) to keep up with my day-to-day dealings.