August 25, 2013

Radios:Things To Consider

If you have noticed, there is a theme running through these posts. I was interested in getting started in flying, but I knew from the outset that I was under a fairly tight budget. When I would get advice that caused me to re-think my plan, and take me beyond what I had originally budgeted, I tended to reject the suggestion and press on. However, in every case I can think of, there was wisdom in the advice that I eventually came around to embracing. I guess the lesson here is, yes, try and count your pennies (at least if you're on a limited budget like I am) but at the same time consider the long run, and make your purchases count. Having to purchase an upgrade within a year is painful in its own right!

So radios. I already shared that I thought the Phoenix simulator that came with a Spektrum Dx-5 was a great value because it not only taught me to fly, but it did so on the radio that I would eventually be using when I acquired my first plane. This is what happened. However, from almost day one I was hearing several long-timers telling me that one of the smartest things I could do would be to PURCHASE THE BEST RADIO I COULD AFFORD BECAUSE IT WOULD NOT BE LONG UNTIL I WOULD WANT, OR NEED, THE FEATURES THEY OFFERED. Again, this fell on deaf ears. I couldn't imagine having more than one plane for years, and I had no idea at all the benefits of things like expo, percentage of throw adjustments, multiple plane memory and on, and on.

So I sound like I'm contradicting myself, and maybe I am, but one day my good friend who had been with me from the beginning, gave me his old Spektrum Dx-6i as a present. I was blown away by his generosity, and once again, you will discover that RC pilots are a very giving and supportive group of friends. It is one of the blessings of the hobby!

He showed me the adjustments I just spoke of, and I of course, began playing with them on the simulator. What a difference! Expo is the ability to adjust the sensitivity of the sticks so that they don't react in a purely mathematical relationship to the input given. In other words, they can "soften" the effects of your inputs so that the stick is a bit more forgiving of jerks, or nervous pressures on the initial side of the input.

Then there is the percentage of aileron, rudder, and elevator that you allow, which sets the throws. This is important as too much can cause you to be tentative at how sensitive the reactions are, and too little can frustrate you as to non-responsiveness. Most manufacturers will give you recommended distances (in millimeters) for the control surface throws, and part of trimming your plane before a maiden flight should be to set up your plane to at least start with these recommended settings. It will fly more "balanced" and you will not feel like you're fighting it all the time.

For instance, I learned once I got the Dx-6 that the elevator setting was much lower than where I had it for my Corsair. I had been fighting my landings a of the prime problems being "porpoising"...where the plane has too much up elevator on landing, and once it touches down, bounces back up and you have to settle it down again, at which point it bounces up again. By reducing the amount of throw in the elevator, the same amount of input was giving less dramatic up elevator. This let me  give enough to keep the plane level as I slowly reduced throttle, and let the plane settle down on the mains before cutting power. It made a dramatic, and instant, difference in the success of my landings!

The other factor was that the 6i had a memory for up to 10 planes. I had no plans for acquiring more planes than my Corsair, but as I shared, I succumbed to trying a micro T-28 to fly indoors, and after a while my wife gave her blessing on getting a full sized T-28 to improve my flying to repairing time ratio! Now I was up to 3, and the number has continued to grow. This ability to store your settings, play with different settings for your simulator planes as well (each real plane has its own simulator equivalent), is a huge time saver. I keep a document with all my settings recorded, so if anything happens, I have a record, and I am constantly adjusting and refining both the real planes and the simulation clones.

Finally, I don't know how it is where you are, but here there is a big feud between Spektrum and Futaba users. Both are fiercely devoted to their product of choice. I got into Spektrum due to the relationship with Park Zone (there is a compatibility need for the radio to match the receiver in the plane). I knew several who had Spektrum, and had only minor issues, all easily repaired. Futaba is more expensive, and again, was not compatible with the receivers in the planes I had, so it was not an issue. I suspect you will find the same thing, and I guess it just depends on the receiver you start with. If you want a Futaba, then you buy a plane that is "Plug and Play", meaning you buy the receiver you want and put it in the plane so it matches your radio. If you want a Spektrum compatible receiver, and you're getting a Horizon Hobby product, you can get a "Bind and Fly" version which means the receiver is already installed.

One other quick help...The radio I was given had some time on it, and at one point one of the trim tabs broke. As I researched online how to do that repair, so I could avoid sending my radio back to Horizon for a period of time, I came across a small company that manufactures replacement Spektrum machined aluminum trim tabs and "rollers" for setting the screen you're looking at. The company is  East RC Parts, and their website is You can get a single replacement for about $8, or a set for $25. The replacement is simple, tutorials are on You Tube, and they will never break again! Just a thought.

The last thing about radios is the number of channels. The basic channels you need are one for ailerons, one for elevator, one for rudder and one for throttle. A Dx-5 gives you that. As you begin to get into retractable landing gear, flaps, separate aileron controls, etc. (and you will) those extra channels for controlling those items will be necessary. Retractable gear only takes 1 channel, and so can flaps with a "Y harness" connecting the two flaps together. But eventually you will want separate channels for each aileron, and for each flap. Not to mention the better radios give you more program space for more models (something you don't believe you will need now, but it will happen). I am currently trying to figure out how to upgrade to an 8 channel. There's no end to how far you can go with's just like planes, but the axiom remains...GET THE BEST RADIO YOU CAN AFFORD WHEN YOU START SO IT WILL LAST YOU AS LONG AS POSSIBLE!

Well, all for now. I think next time I'll talk about batteries.

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