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.
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.
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!
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.
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! 🙂