My Second Quad – The Blade Nano QX. First Impressions

Two months or so after first picking up the ProtoX, I was in my local hobby shop. I was just perusing through the latest toys and thinking how I really liked the looks of the new Platinum series Super Cub from E-Flight… but decided to wait on that for a while. I already have plenty of unfinished projects in the shop. As I continued browsing I came to the section where all the quads were displayed. I started thinking of what I wished my ProtoX could do… Binding to a “real” radio, better stability, maybe just a bit bigger to make it more visible… and not too expensive.

After looking over the options I realized the Blade Nano QX might be a lot closer to what I really wanted… and for only $65 or so plus a couple spare batteries… This thing looks great… I should get one. I deserve one. I was reaching for my wallet when I remembered. I was just looking!! I tore myself away just in time and roared out of the parking lot with my money intact… Whew… that was close.

24 hours later I was walking out of the hobby store with my new Blade Nano QX… I was already thinking about how i could program my DX18 to make this thing smooth. Hey, I’m only human!!

Here are the most important parts arrayed on the table…

2014-11-18 20.30.22

 

To buy your own from Amazon click here –>BLADE Nano QX BNF Quadcopter

In addition to the additional props, extra canopy and grommets (shown above) there is a USB charger for the included 150mah 25C single cell LiPo.

So I’ve only got a few flights but here’s what I’m thinking so far.

First of all the Nano QX can fly in one of two modes, Stability or Agility.  Stability mode utilizes the built in SAFE (Sensor Arrested Flight Envelope) system to keep the 18g quad from getting to far off level to quickly.  The biggest noticeable effect of this mode is that when you release a directional control, the system seems to feed in opposite control in order to arrest whatever motion was happening.  Add this to the slightly heavier airframe (compared to my ProtoX) and this thing is much easier to keep in a smooth hover.

Switch into the Agility mode and “wow” does everything change.  No more automatically stabilizing the Nano when you release the controls.  If you push in some “aileron” and then release… the Nano just keeps on moving.  You now have to push in some opposite control to get things back to level.  It’s very easy to get into oscillations… trailing behind the flight and over-correcting.  It can quickly become a problem if you don’t switch back to Stability mode!  This is no fault of the Nano of course, just my inexperience with the little quad showing through.

Flight times seem to run about 5:30 to 6:00 minutes before she powers down and forces a landing.  The on board LED is used to let you know this is occurring as well as signaling the two modes, for binding, etc…  It is not particularly useful for orientation.  For that you will have to rely on the canopy coloring and shape along with the color of the 4 props.

I have been flying the Nano QX with the setup of my DX18 configured exactly per the manual for the first flights but I now have some ideas about additional programming I intend to add.  I’ll cover that in another posting soon.

Overall I am very happy with the QX so far.  It looks like the Stability mode is doing a very nice job and the overall flight characteristics in this mode are very encouraging.  Having the advantage of full capability radio (the Nano is a DSMX compatible craft) even doing just the very basic functionality allows for much smoother control of the QX.

I’m already seeing that the biggest disadvantage of the QX is the lack of “navigation” lighting.  This means that when moving quickly or when the airframe gets off at a distance, orientation becomes a challenge.  I’ll have to look into ways to address that eventually.  I’m also going to start with some additional programming to help tame the Agility mode.

Otherwise, my initial impressions are that this is a big step forward compared to the ProtoX.  I’m looking forward to getting in some more flying and learning a bit more from the Nano QX.

My Introduction to Quads… The ProtoX

Recently at a charity event I was looking for a way to contribute a few dollars to the “Toys for Tots” when I noticed a tiny little quad on the auction block.  I really was just looking to either contribute some money or drive someone else into giving a bit more to the charity but ended up owning a brand new Proto X.  Since that event, I’ve been doing a little flying with this little nano-sized quad and having some fun with it.

This is a big departure for me in some folks eyes because I am an unabashed… helicopter basher I guess is the phrase.  Much of it is in fun, I have every respect for a good pilot regardless of what he flies.  It’s just that I have very little interest in helicopters, especially when flown 3D style.  They seem to me the epitome of what I dislike about 3D flying of all types.  No grace or beauty… just smashing the sticks and overcoming gravity with pure power.  Sure, I know lots of folks love that kind of thing… I’m just not one of them.  15 minutes of watching “3D” flying or helicopters flying in a “non-scale” manner has me itching to do something more interesting.  Watching a glider “defying gravity” or any aircraft flying a well flown scale sequence is much more inviting and awe inspiring to me.  I know I’m in the minority, but that’s OK with me.

I still have little interest in helicopters in general but the new breed of quad and other multi-rotor platforms are fascinating.  With the development of stabilization systems and superior battery technology these things now have some unique capabilities.

The quad I picked up is the Proto X Nano-Sized, Ready-to-Fly.  The Proto comes with most of what you will need to fly.  A couple AAA batteries inserted into the also-Nano-sized transmitter and a quick charge at the nearest USB port and you are ready to go.

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You can buy your own Proto X at amazon by clicking here –> Estes 4606 Proto X Nano R/C Quadcopter

Above is most of what comes in the box… note that you get a spare set of props.  The wall wart USB charger is NOT part of the package.  I quickly added it to the box so I’d always be able to charge the on board battery if I could find an AC outlet.

Here is my experience with the little quad so far.

First, the good.  This little flier is tough.  Running it into furniture, ceiling fans (off), walls, etc… has resulted in almost no damage.  I have always tried to drop power whenever a collision is imminent, and I believe that helps.  Occasionally a blade will pop off… or two… but as long as you can figure out which motor they came off of (they are coded by letter, blade A to motor A and B to B and you will be fine) it is usually just a matter of press fitting them back in place and you are ready again.  In theory you want one color of blade in front and a different color in back but once they start spinning neither are highly visible.  There are 8 LEDs on the Proto (Blue in the front) and these serve to keep directional orientation much better than the colored props ever will as well as warning of low voltage (blinking with ~30 seconds left before power loss forces a landing).  These make a huge difference in keeping orientation… a real concern for such a small quad.  It also has plenty of power and seems to fly for a nice long 5 minutes on a charge.  I’ve never timed it but it seems like 15-30 minutes will have it recharged and ready to go again.  Here’s a shot of the LEDs doing what they do.

IMG_1775

The range of the radio seems to be more than sufficient… I haven’t been able to get far enough away to lose radio link.    The Proto is to small to fly more than about 50 feet away anyway!  I have read on-line that the battery in the Proto was not meant to be replaced but upon taking off the canopy, I found the battery simply taped in place with an easily removed connector and batteries order-able on line from several sources.  I presume earlier models did not have this options so Kudos to Estes/HobbiCo for getting it right!

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Above is what it looks like minus the canopy.  As you can see the battery is easily replaceable.

Another big hit is the price… at $40 (and even $30 in some places) the value at the price seems quite good.

Now for the bad.  The included controller for the Proto is more toy than RC hobby grade.  For my big hands it is difficult to find a comfortable position to hold the controller.  The trim buttons only exist for the right stick and are oddly placed.  Finally, the on off switch has “ON” to the left… OK, I realize that may not be universal but it seems like 90% of everything in the world is up or right = on.  Here is what it looks like.

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I understand there is a better controller available out there that will mate up with the Proto and also enable some additional functionality but that is not what comes with the Proto, and I don’t think I really want to double down on my investment.  I find the included controller very distracting/difficult to master.  The sticks are just very toy like/very short sticks and not comfortable to my feel.  Granted, I’m spoiled with my DX-8 and especially the DX-18.  I’d love to try flying this with a real RC radio but sadly just about every manufacturer these days is incompatible with every other.

Continuing on, here are my general impressions of the Proto.  I think the Proto is a fun little quad.  I don’t know if it’s possible to make such a small and light quad any more stable but I find it to be quite difficult to get the Proto to hover in place or really fly in a truly straight line.  It always wants to twist or drift one way or the other.  I can herd it in the direction I want it to go and maneuver around obstacles but you have to be constantly correcting to do it and forget getting it trimmed to hover “hands off” and hold position.  If that’s possible I haven’t figure it out yet.  Add to that the understandable tendency of a craft this small to get pushed around by literally any air movement and stability is not really in its ballpark.

In spite of that, I enjoy flying the Proto.  Hopefully, I can still learn some directional awareness the way you can learn control reversals for a fixed wing by flying on your simulator.  Fixed wing craft don’t do much flying tail first as a rotary craft can, so that is probably a useful skill to work on.  Otherwise the small controller and stability issues will probably limit my learning much I can apply to larger quads.  That’s not to say I won’t keep flying it for a while.  It’s still a lot of fun.  Just more toy than RC fun in my estimation.  For $30 it would be hard to find anything better.  This is the definition of a beginners quad.

Pick one up if you want some basic flying fun in the living room.  Just make sure you turn off the ceiling fan! 🙂

 

Hangar 9 Alpha 40 Trainer… Experiences good and bad.

At my local RC Club we have had several of the Alpha 40 RTF trainers (the orange model) used by students while learning to fly.  In general, these have been excellent flying airplanes.  Stable and well behaved with the included Evolution engine providing more than adequate power.  We usually ended up swapping the three blade prop for a 2 blade, especially if the 3 blade got broken.  Two blades are more efficient and much more widely available.  We would often eventually remove some of the limiters on the motor (needle valve collars) to get more power out of the engine as well.  After all, to much power is almost enough!  Generally these planes have been pretty trouble free and fly well.

Given all of this, when one of our younger members lost his Alpha to a battery problem another was purchased and the job of assembly was mine.  We presumed the new ARF would fly similar to the old RTF… especially using the same motor, servos etc…  Pretty much everything except the battery, switch and one of the servos survived and was moved to the new plane.  As I was building the new airplane I noticed they had redesigned the firewall and added a bottom hatch (surely a side effect of adding an electric power option, which I applaud).

Unfortunately I also noticed a few issues I was not particularly happy about.  First, the throttle rod routing is not ideal.  This is not the first plane I’ve seen with this problem so I did a bit of creative warping and rigged up something that was workable.  I’d recommend skipping installing the rod and substituting a cable type linkage to make the throttle linkage work with much less binding.  Likewise, the nose steering rod binds.  For this one it appears to be a problem with the routing of the rod combined with the flat ground on the steering strut and the straight steering arm.  As the arm rotates back toward the firewall, the wire binds against the edge of the guide and puts a lot of stress on the rudder servo.  If you position everything perfectly and limit the end points during your radio setup you can get a workable setup.  Luckily, there really isn’t much travel needed on either the rudder or the nose wheel so I managed but this seems like a poor design to expect a beginner to be able to successfully handle.

Another of our members suggested the use of an offset steering arm might accomplish the relief of this stress and allow for more travel.  I think it is certainly worth trying.  In the meantime we had a workable arrangement if not ideal.  Onward to the test flights.

A bit of tweaking, a balance check and the usual post build checks and we made a few test flights.  At that point, we started to notice a pattern of difficult takeoffs followed by lots of trim inputs, etc…  This was not good.  We couldn’t hand this ill behaving plane to our young member and expect good results.  He was still just getting comfortable flying without an instructor and not ready to handle this ill behaved ship.

It took a lot of left rudder to keep the plane flying straight down the runway and if it was trimmed for straight takeoff rolls the plane would constantly turn in the air and had to be re-trimmed for straight and level flight.  We tried many different adjustments, re-aligning the front wheel and rudder several times, trying various landing gear bends, insuring the wing was centered etc… but we could not keep the plane from at least often, if not always, veering sharply right when it was near rotation speed.  We also tried to add some lead to the left wingtip after noticing the right main wheel often stayed on the ground longer than anything else which seemed to help.

At that point we tried another Alpha wing which did NOT resolve the issue entirely even though after it was removed it was proven the first wing was very off balance… being heavy on the right wingtip.  This is an ongoing investigation at this point but after spending 3 hours working with 2 other RC pilots with probably 50 years RC experience between us… it makes me wonder what would cause this plane to act so oddly during takeoff.  I don’t believe the new Alpha ARF has this problem generically… it’s just this particular model that is vexing us I’m sure.  Once we figure it out… or get tired of this and just move on to another trainer… I’ll post an update.

For now, I can honestly say the Alpha 40 ARF doesn’t seem to be quite as good as the predecessor RTF model but is still a pretty good deal for the price and the only downsides should be readily avoidable if you know what to watch out for and spend just a few extra dollars on a throttle cable and a different steering arm!  Hopefully with these tweaks you can assemble a good flying airplane suitable for a beginner and still enjoyed by those of who have been flying for 15 years or more.

 

Xion Wing Lock – Pt 3 – Can’t recommend

After another couple flights on my Wild Hare Slick on Saturday I have lost a second wing lock.  Once again, no harm as I have clips on my anti-rotation pins and they once again stopped the wing from sliding out far enough to cause any issues.  I had the wing locks very snug and I believe installed these correctly so I can’t account for how they managed to exit the airplane.

Because of this, I can’t recommend this system.  While I love the idea of quick connect and disconnect and somewhat easier installation than the nylon bolts I was using…. I can’t positively identify why mine have now twice been lost in flight.  If these had been the only thing holding on my wings I would have trashed an airplane… twice now.

I’ll have noticed the studs from Xion seem very sloppy in the blinds that are in my wing so maybe this is somehow contributing to the problem.  Is this just a case of cheap blinds with to much play in them?  I don’t know but I’m done risking my plane to find out.  If you use these successfully I’d love to hear about what you did to make them work but I’m done with them for now.

For my earlier posts on this item, please see:

Part 2

and

Part 1

 

 

Xion Wing Lock – Pt. 2

Last weekend at the field during the IMAC contest I lost one of the cams and the washer on the port wing of my Slick.  No big deal really… I have clips on my anti rotation pins on each wing so I needed a click of aileron trim and all was fine.  After the flight when I went looking for the reason I spotted the wing gap and on investigation found that the cam and washer were gone and the stud had rotated out a bit.  I didn’t have my spare so that wing went back to the nylon bolt for the rest of the day.

So what happened?  While it is impossible to tell for sure, I believe the problem was rooted in not seating the wing down snug against the body.  So when I locked the cam down it pulled the wing in a bit but not enough to put pressure against the cam and therefore with some vibration the cam escaped.  Maybe the stud rotated enough to further loosen as well.  Possibly contributing to this is that I have not glued the washers down inside the body either… perhaps if I had the slack in the system would not have been enough to allow the cam to escape??

The only other issue I can see is that perhaps the stud managed to pull out of the blind nut embedded in the wing root.  I am really not fond of blind nuts in any case.  I find most of them to be ill fitting/loose.  When used in conjunction with a standard bolt there just seems to be a lot of play and I have seen a bolt manage to walk itself out a thread or two before without rotating at all because of vibration and slop.

I have continued to use the system through another 6 flights or so and so far have not had a sign of any movement.  I may add some plumbers tape to the studs to cut down on “rattle” between the studs and the blind nuts before my next trip to the field.  Otherwise I will keep with it and see how it goes.

(Don’t recommend these anymore… see part 3)

New Gadget – Xion Wing Lock System

While walking the aisles at the Weak Signals show in Toledo I ran across the Xion Wing Lock System.  These little gadgets are an interesting alternative to 1/4-20 or 6mm wing bolts that screw into the wing root to hold the wings in place on your favorite aerobatic aircraft.  After watching the demo a couple times and recalling the times I’ve found a wing bolt rolling around in the bottom of the plane or struggled to get a socket wrench or screwdriver onto the wing bolts… I thought these might be an interesting alternative.  So wallet a bit lighter, I pocketed two sets of these and moved on with high hopes.  Here’s a stock image of the Wing Lock system from the Redwing RC website.

http://www.redwingrc.com/images/xion_wing_lock_wing_bolt.jpg

As you can see, the wing lock system consists of a stud that threads into the wing root, a rubber washer that installs onto the stud inside your aircraft body and the lever/cam lock that slots into the stud and, when rotated 90 degrees to flat against the body of the aircraft, tightens the connection.  Here is an example installed in my aircraft.

 

photo 2

To get to this point you have to drill out the wing bolt holes a bit and screw the studs into the wings.  (The enlarged hole is only 1/8″ or less larger so going back to 1/4″ bolts is not a problem if you later decide these are not for you.)

Now I will be the first to admit that I’m a bit of a gadget fan when it comes to RC.  I like trying out the new doodads and these are no exception.  I must also say that my current system of nylon bolts backed up by clips in the anti-rotation pins works excellently… So why the new system?

In addition to the allure of getting to play with a new gadget, I have always had trouble reaching the wing bolts inside my airframe.  The bolts are close up behind the main wing tube and with my large hands it requires a screwdriver to get the bolts inserted and tightened.  I was hoping that these wing locks would resolve that issue.  They looked very easy to connect at the show…

So are these the ultimate RC gadget?  Will they keep your wings firmly in place? Are they the solution to my wing bolt woes?  Here’s my experience so far.

I flew 3 times today after installing the Wing Lock system.  The wings stayed firmly in place and the wing locks didn’t seem to have budged… Not the slightest movement or loosening was apparent.  There’s seems to be a lot of questions out there on the web about whether these things will hold.  I’d have to say I’m no longer concerned about that.  Based on my experience, I’d have to say that they do work as advertised in this regard.  In addition the craftsmanship seems to be excellent and they are very light, which is always a plus.

The major selling point on these seems to be that they make wing assembly quicker and easier.  In my particular application it’s a bit difficult to reach the assembly point inside the aircraft body and at first blush this system didn’t make that any easier.  My fingers still don’t reach there easily and I can drop these into the bowels of the airframe just as I did the wing bolts!  I must say they are significantly faster (no 15 turns of a screwdriver in a tight area) so in that regard the system works as claimed.  I do appreciate this because it can be a back breaker at times to reach the wing bolts.  Using the wing locks doesn’t change how hard it is to reach this part of the airplane but I can’t blame the Xion folks for how my airframe is laid out and they do go together faster than my old wing bolts so less time spent hunched over is an improvement.

Not much can be done about where I have to reach to attach my wings and where things land when you drop them inside this airframe…. so I’m going to try tethering the cam locks to help limit the number of times I have to fish out the parts!  Maybe by doing that and with a bit more practice installing the cam levers I can maximize the benefit of the system.

Overall I like the Xion system and they certainly make assembly of my aircraft a bit quicker.  It’s always difficult to justify spending $15-20 when you have something that works already in place but I don’t regret spending the money for the Wing Locks.  I think I’ll keep using them and will update with any new revelations or changes I make.  So far I’m still thinking these are pretty cool.

(Don’t recommend these anymore… see Part 3)