I’ve always been into old cars, most of them 30+ year old Fiats.  My 2005 Impreza WRX Wagon was the first modern car I have ever owned, and has hauled airplanes all over the State.

In Spring 2011, I started looking for something to bridge the gap between the Subaru and the ’67 Chevy pickup.  We had started using the Transit Connect as gas-saving, easy to park Telecom vans at Work, and I found them surprisingly nimble and fun to drive.

The Wagon models are nowhere near as popular as the Cargo Van, but they do sell a few.  Ford sold 27,405 TC’s in 2010, and 31,914 in 2011, roughly comparable to Econoline sales during the same period.  I’m still looking for hard numbers, but I’d estimate that less than 4,000 Wagons were sold in 2011.

The Wagon is significant, because it has the possibility to replace a family car.  Seating for five (all of which could wear Stetson hats!), and a tremendous amount of cargo room remaining.  My maiden voyage with the thing was a road trip with a 3m sailplane, a hotliner, 2 geriatric 75+ lb dogs, my Wife and myself plus a ton of equipment.

We were lightly loaded.

I wrote this as a draft back in 2012, and never hit publish.  Fixing that now.



I built my HK-450 last Summer, and I’ve been really happy with it.  I like the Align products, but I also like to put custom electronics in my helis.

When the head started to wear from crash damage, I realized that I could buy a Flybarless head from Hobbycity for less than the flybarred replacement parts.   I was ready to convert, but didn’t have the scratch for a nice big flybarless controller+integrated reciever like the AR7200BX.

Then I became aware of the ZYX-S, which was $56 plus shipping at the time.  Perfect!

I swapped the HS-65MG analog cyclic servos out in favor of faster, digital HS-5065MG.  The existing Castle Phoenix 35 had some physical damage from crashes, and I also needed a beefier BEC,  so I shoe-horned a Castle Ice 50 (overkill) under the main gear.  The existing JR DS3500G tail servo tested fine, as did the Scorpion HKII-2221-8.

The ZYX-S came with a USB programming adapter, all the cables you’d need to hook it up, and no instructions, save for the slightly cryptic URL: http://www.0577mx.com/
I had also decided to try the optional cable that lets you connect the ZYX-S directly to a Spektrum satellite RX.

Once you find the correct programming manual, and install the right software in English, the setup is pretty straightforward.   The USB adapter shows up as a COM port to the software, usually COM10 or 11 under Windows.  You connect the Sat Rx to the unit, and the software shows you how to jump 2 terminals and bind the reciever.  Worked like a charm.

The next bit is tricky.  There are a number of radio setup options that depend on what transmitter you are using, and finding the right one is a combination of the Forums, and trial/error.  For my JR9303, the correct setting was DSMJ.

The software steps you through getting the radio going the right direction, the swashplate setup and level, the whole shot.  I have never set up a flybarless system before, and I really appreciated the last few steps that help you make sure that the system is reacting correctly to the helicopters movement.

Pitch setup screen

On the test flight, the rudder gain was very soft, and the ailerons felt slow compared to the way it had flown previously.  I went back in to the setup program, bumped the value for I (attitude hold gain) a few points, and that fixed the soft tail problem.  Then I landed, switched the default setup from ’3D Soft’ to ’3D Hardcore’, which livened things up to my satisfaction.

I’ve flown it about 20 times since, and I am very happy.  It feels like a much larger machine, locked in, and I have yet to notice any glitchy behavior.  The heli is extremely stable, and is more wind-resistant than ever before.  I have not really wrung it out in 3D aerobatics, but a friend has, and he reports that it feels great.

When I first built my Hk-450, I didn’t save any money over a Trex 450 combo, but I got to put in my own custom electronics.

If you started from scratch and built a 450 with a ZYX today, you save the money I spent on a JR gyro and reciever, benefit from cleaner cabling, plus you still get to use a genuine Spektrum reciever on the RF side.  This product is not for those that are not willing to accept zero documentation, or need a sure thing setup the first time around.

I’m willing to blunder around a little bit in order to satisfy my curiousity about a product/save money, and this project went well on both counts.  Even when we had things a little out of whack, the helicopter flew predictably, and careful reading of the documentation and forums got it tuned well within an hour of head-scratching.

The ZYX-S is popular, and Hobbycity runs out of stock periodically.  I’m hoping to pick up another one soon, and try it in an inexpensive quad-copter setup.

- Eli

(more setup screenshots and photos here)




Contour HD, with battle damage

The Contour HD snuck up on me.  I was an early adopter of the Gopro Hero HD, and I was busy flying and making movies, not reading gadget sites.

I have been hoping for some time that we’d see a light, flash based HD camera with a slimmer form factor.  The Gopro HD Hero is great, but it presents a lot of frontal area.

The Contour lays flat, and it also has an innovative three position lens that allows you to shoot right side up from the get-go.  The Gopro handles this in software, but the firmware that supported that feature was painfully slow to emerge.

The Contour is also easier to use, in my opinion.  There is one power button on the back (it takes surprisingly long to boot up), and then a huge slide switch to start or stop recording.

The camera records to microSD (up to 32g, which is good for 8 hours), and connects to the computer via a mini USB cable.  The camera presents itself to Windows as a disk drive, no specialized drivers to install.  I really like devices that are set up this way, as a matter of fact I’ve never installed the software that comes with the camera.

I’m not as excited about the slide rail mounting system.  It does not feel as positive or high-quality as the Gopro setup.    The profile mount accessory is probably the most useful for R/C, but at $20 a pair, Contour mounts are a lot more expensive per airplane than Gopro’s mount.  *Note – Sometimes, various shopping sites will list the left vs. right side profile mount as cheap as $13/pair.

We had no problems in operation.  The dual laser pointers are useful for aiming, we basically just strapped it on and went.  On the second flight, I decided to mount it on the belly of a Great Planes Siren.

I really like the narrower 135 degree viewing angle vs. the Gopro’s 170 degrees. The color is slightly better than my new Gopro, and miles ahead of the first, early production Gopro we purchased.

In what was designed to be a much more relaxing video, here’s a fim taken from my 3.1m Topmodels.cz Grafas. I say ‘supposed to be’ because in this film, the radio system had a failure, and the airplane ended up spiraling in on failsafe, and hitting the ground HARD.

The camera shows some physical scars from this incident, but tested just fine after this crash.  If that was not bad enough, we dumped the Contour _again_, the following weekend – Mike was flying an MPX Easy Glider Pro and had an elevator servo foul.  He chopped the throttle late, the prop folded exactly 2 frames before impact!

We are _not_ a crash club, but if we were, the Coutour would still serve us well.

We shot all of those videos back in June.  I was in Southern Oregon mid July, and I took a flight around Crater Lake with an MPX Cularis, sporting the Contour up top.

The camera did a wonderful job, and even conveyed the unique blue you see at Crater Lake.   On a sailplane the size of the Cularis, you don’t even notice that the camera is there.

I weighed my contour at 4.3 ounces with the battery and SD card installed.  The waterproof case for the Contour adds about 4.7 ounces to the overall weight, which would have it coming in around 9 ounces with the case on.  This is a couple more than the Gopro, but remember that the Gopro has no natural protection unless the case is installed, so it always weighs 6.3 ounces no matter what.

I’ve interacted with Contour as a company twice, and Gopro a few times.   I can say that Contour is a heckuva lot more accessible, and they also provide telephone technical support.  Gopro support is email only, which can be limiting.

In summary, I think the Contour is a great camera for R/C use, and has some distinct advantages over the older Gopro.  In specific, I’m very excited by the rapid development of new products and accessories for the camera.


Two of the Converted

Helicopters are still fairly new to me.  I used to be one of those guys that tended to bad-mouth the complexity, bench time and heartache that I had always associated with ‘fling wings’, and I swore I’d never get into that aspect of the hobby.

The mCX was my ‘gateway drug’ into helicopters.  That plucky little thing is one of the few RC experiences you can still enjoy with success, even after having a few beers.  I loved that thing, and flew it every day for a long time.

I bought an mSR a few months later, and immediately had buyer’s remorse.  The mSR was way too ‘fast and agile’ for my skills at the time, and it sat idle for a while.  I finally started using Realflight that year, and started flying some helis in the sim.

This simulator time, plus some real stick time on a friend’s TT ‘Innovator’ set the hook further regarding helis.  I purchased a nice E-flite Blade 400 3D pnp a few months later, and I’ve put about 20 hours on that bird since I purchased it.  Nearly all of my time with the B400 was spent in hover practice, generally with the tail boom pointed firmly towards me. 

I got to the point that I could routinely fly the B400, no crashing or drama, but I was not having much fun, anymore.  Hovering is an intensive mental exercise, but it only goes so far.  I realized that I wanted to ‘fly a helicopter’ around without having to worry about every little thing.

I rediscovered the mSR, and started getting my money’s worth out of it.   I had just started doing some nose-in exercises with it, when the 120 showed up at my LHS.

Dennis allowed me to fly one of the first 120′s that showed up in his shop.  It felt like a much larger helicopter, and I was immediately impressed by how nicely it flew, brushed motors and all.  I just recently gave away an original CP, and I know how bad some inexpensive electric helis can be.

Dennis says that combining a collective pitch main rotor and a fixed pitch tail rotor is not usually a good combination, no matter how you slice it.  However, a fixed/fixed pitch config seems to work out well, as evidenced by the fine handling of the mSR and the 120.  Note that the $200 SR (which looks like a larger version of the mSR) is set up with a collective pitch main rotor and a fixed pitch tail.  The SR is reputed to fly just about as well (or as poorly) as the original CP, albeit with a brushless motor, and of course it depends heavily on who you are talking to.

The best thing about the 120 is its crash resistance.  If you get out of the left stick before a serious crash (or even if you don’t), you can just bounce off an obstacle, and start flying again without even having to re-arm the gyro.  The carbon fiber main shaft means that it never bends, unless you really over-do it in which case it breaks, and you replace it for a few bucks.  The 120 is also amazingly wind-resistant for its size.  Replacement parts are dirt cheap and rarely required.

Brilliant engineering.  Other high points are the 6:30 flight time you get from a pack, and the sub $12 cost of a spare flight battery.  Lots of packs means lots of flying, and lots of practice, which is what the 120 is all about, right?

Since I started writing this article, I’ve started doing some 3D stuff in the simulator and also in real life with my Blade 400.  I would never have had the courage to try some of this or really get into flying heli’s if I had not had a willing, cheap, damage resistant little craft like the 120 around.

In short,  I think the 120SR is a great way for an intermediate pilot transition from indoor coax heli’s to more advanced models without spending a lot of money doing so.

I really appreciate good value in hobby products, and my “grin per dollar” value has stayed very high with the 120.  I feel good recommending it to anybody.

I’m going to keep practicing until I can fly ‘nose in’ _consistently_ without losing the plot at inconvienient times.  This may take a few months!

- Eli



Over the last year, I’ve been looking at a lot of 3D/Sport ships in the 45-55″ range.    The PA Extra MX really attracted me at first, I loved the idea that I could just use commodity 3s 2200 batteries and enjoy high-dollar 6S performance.  For 3 minutes..

I also looked at the 50″ Matt Chapman Eagle 580.  That’s one nice looking airplane, and the reviews were glowing.  I flew it on the sim for a few weeks, started looking at powerplant options, and that’s when my past experience with the whole Electrifly reality kicked in.  I remembered the specialized motor mounts and weird proprietary stuff associated with my last Electrifly ARF, and decided to wait a while until somebody had documented a good motor conversion. 

I wasn’t looking that hard, or thinking about this very much at all when I wandered over to my LHS one afternoon for some fasteners.  Lo and behold, one the shelf was the brand new E-Flite Extra I had heard about from SEFF press.  Great looking kit, perfect wingspan, and I started to notice things: Fully built up airfoil on the horizontal stab and rudder.   No externally visible cowl screws.  Cockpit latch.  High quality wheel pants included.  Decent hardware, from the factory, including a nice looking pull/pull setup!  

I had been a little bit disappionted with some of the details in previous E-Flite kits, and the Extra looked like it had raised the mark.  The hook was set. 

Over the next 48 hours, I realized that I had a brand new Power 32 in stock, a Turnigy Plush 60, an AR6200 and even a CC/BEC sitting new in inventory.  This made the purchase even more attractive, $199 for the ARF less my LHS club discount, 4 servos, and I was off to the races. 

A few days later, I purchased the ARF and 4 HS-225MG servos.  E-Flite says you can get by on MN48′s, but the Hitec servos are a good deal, and JR does not have an analog Hi-Torque servo anywhere close to the price range.  It was perfect, a low cash outlay for a lot of airplane, even more so for me due to the fact that I had so many useful parts already stashed. 

When I started the build, the quality of the kit blew my mind.  E-Flite has always made nice ARF’s, but this was a step above.  Right off the bat, I decided to slow down and have some fun with the linkage.  E-Flite was already using nice aluminum control horns, and I decided to eliminate as much nylon as I could from some of those linkages.  

Enter Central Hobbies, and the Dubro catalog.  Central Hobbies does some wonderful pushrod hardware, designed for much larger aircraft.  I used the small stuff in their line, some 2-56 titanium ends and the recommended CF rod.  You cut the CF to size, and JB weld or epoxy the ends in.  A steel clevis is used on one end, and a 2-56 Dubro ball link at the servo end. The finished product is a threadable, adjustable link that is extremely light, strong, and attractive to look at. 


The rudder linkage was a joy.  I like pull-pull setups, and the only modification I made was to use metal clevis parts instead of the supplied nylon ones.  I used the same Dubro threaded clevis and std 2-56 pushrod on the ailerons, it’s a short rod and plenty strong that way. 

Mounting the motor was straightforward, and I loved the adjustable motor mount.  No matter what motor you want to put on your Extra, you can probably bolt it right up without worries.
I was using the Power 32, but I had another little problem.  The recommended 2.25″ E-Flite aluminum spinner was on pan-Galactic backorder at the time, with a long lead time.  I happened to have a nice ‘Ultimate’ spinner in the right size, but it didn’t have enough plunge to engage the motor shaft.  I used some nuts that were a little over 1/4″ tall to space out the motor, and all was well. 

Ultimate Spinner on Extra 32e

When it came time to set up the electronics, I decided to use a tried and true Turnigy Plush 60, powered by a Rhino 3700 4S battery.  I also incorporated a Castle CC/BEC to power the electronics, because I wanted to drive the servos at 6 volts.  I used a Spektrum AR6200 RX, and also incorporated the SPM1600 capacitor.  I probably don’t have any real reason for using these, especially with a quality seperate BEC installed, but I used it anyway.

I closed up the canopy on my trimmed down Hangar 9 pilot that night, after a getting a preliminary idea on CG, and radio setup.  As I mounted the balanced 13×6.5 APC prop, I could not wait for morning to arrive.  It came up to 4.1lbs all up.

The maiden flight was splendidly uneventful.  The ground handling is great, and the big power 32 rolled it into the air with authority at 50% throttle with minimal rudder correction.  I had to give it one click of up trim, and that was that.  I flew it around for a few minutes (half of the expected 7+ minutes) and brought it in for a nice slow powered approach.  I find nice three point landings particularly easy and rewarding with this airplane.

In subsequent flights, I moved the CG a little further back from the recommended for better hovering, swapped out the prop for a PA Vox 14×7 (sounds and flies great!), and tuned the throws to my personal liking. 

I really like this airplane.  I’ve been taking it out every time I go flying, and I have fun flying it slow, fast, and some 3D within the limits of my skill and bravery.  I think it’s one of the best behaved model airplanes I’ve ever flown, and I’d highly recommend it to anybody looking for an economical, versatile sport ship. 

Full build gallery here.

- Eli


Float Fly!

On Sunday 9/5/2010, the Wine Country Flyers hosted a float fly at local Sal Lake up in Healdsburg.  A nice low key event, and a great opportunity for me to try out my Ultra 25e on water.

Setting up and installing the E-Flite fiberglass float kit was pretty easy.  The literature claims that you can go ‘from park to pond in just minutes’, which I’d say was accurate if you add an hour or two the first time, and 30-45 minutes of fiddling for subsequent transitions.

One benefit of using all the E-Flite recommended gear is that the CG was just perfect with no modifications required.  When we got out to the lake, the ‘ground’ handling was good, with a LOT of water rudder authority.  I was flying 4s, so R.O.W. was really easy to achieve off the still pond.

The Ultra is still very aerobatic with all that weight down there.   With a 4S 4900 on board and the GoPro, our AUW was 5.5lbs and the plane still felt nimble.

I was really nervous about landing.  I’ve seen a million videos of people nosing over and getting their stuff soaked.

This turned out to be an unfounded fear.  As long as you keep track of the plane’s shadow on the water, you can judge distance fairly well.  My landings ranged from fair to acceptable, and I called that a success.  

I shot a lot of video that day, but the most fun was the one we shot when Red Jensen was flying the plane:

I ended up flying 3 times, and had more packs ready to go when my RX started glitching.  Turns out, it’s a good idea to treat your electronics with a product called Corrosion X_before_ you hit the shores.  I lucked out in three respects- First, my RX glitched on the ground and not in flight.  Next, Andrew from the Liberty Flyers had some Corrosion X in his toolbox, and lastly, my R790 JR RX tests just fine now that it’s been treated :-D

We’re looking forward to future trips out to the lake.  Special thanks to the Wine Country Flyers for putting on the event!