After getting hooked on RC planes, I wanted to have something I could use on a limited space. So I started looking for a helicopter. I’ve had a couple of those small two-channel co-axial ones, which quickly gets boring. I want something a bit more challenging.
The different types of helicopters
There are several different types, and all of them has pros and cons. Let’s go quickly through the typical ones:
First of all there is the flybar type. You have the option of flybar and flybarless.
Flybar simply means you have a physical flybar on top of the rotor which controls your heli and stabilizes it – It’s simple and works.
Flybarless means that you have an electrical gyro which stabilizes the helicopter. This is getting more and more common, especially in the higher priced models.
Over to the helicopter types:
The Coaxial one;
– Two rotors on the same axis. The rotors go in opposite directions and will cancel out each other, so you don’t need a tail rotor. To rotate left or right, one rotor slows down. These are very easy to fly, and very stable. The coaxial plane is typically fixed pitch, meaning that you give more throttle to get higher, you’re not adjusting the pitch of the propellers but the speed of the rotor.
– The single rotor ones (normal helicopter). These have a tail rotor, canceling out the torque action from the main rotor. Typically you would want a flybarless one, and with collective pitch for a near real-life helicopter.
Full control with collective pitch
This means that you have a servo for the pitch on the blades which is mixed with the throttle stick. When using the throttle stick, from bottom position to mid position (0-50%) you are actually controlling the throttle from 0-100%. Also you go from negative pitch to neutral. And from mid position to upper position (50-100%) you only change the pitch from neutral to positive.
You can therefore give full speed by having the throttle stick in the mid position, but the helicopter won’t take off, as the blades have no pitch in this setting.
You are able to lock the throttle speed with a switch, meaning you can have full throttle all the time, and then only control the pitch with the throttle stick. This is typically what you want for a 3D-helicopter, you can actively force the helicopter down using negative pitch. This also means the possibility of flying upside-down.
I went for the Turnigy FBL 100 (FlyBarLess) because it seemed challenging, being both flybarless and with collective pitch. It is small (24cm length), and has cheap parts, meaning that a crash to the ground typically won’t break anything (if on grass) because of the low weight, and if there is any damage or wear on parts, you can easily buy new cheap parts from HobbyKing.
It is a bit pricy considering the size, but I wanted something that could easily fit inside a suitcase with its transmitter, batteries, charger etc. and for that, the FBL 100 is perfect!
I bought 5 extra batteries, giving med 7 in total. This typically lasts for an hour or so, which is more than enough for me, and it’s easy to change the batteries. The helicopter is extremely stable! But also very fast. I have mostly hovered with the aircraft for a couple of 1-hour sessions, and I’m starting to get the hang of it. I’ve also tried doing some simple circles, but then I need more space, despite the size of the FBL 100…
Going from a plane to a helicopter was a bit challenging. Just trying to control the yaw, it was easy to accidentally adjust the throttle, making it suddenly jump up or down. To be honest, a helicopter transmitter would be better with shoulder buttons for the rudder simulation. But I guess I will get the hang of it.
The helicopter had one issue – The tail boom was getting pulled out of its socket, so that it only had 1mm left before popping out, which could effectively disable the tail rotor, and give you a in-air wreckage spinning to the ground. I decided to fix this with a small hex-screw. I drilled a hole in the tail boom mount, and slowly tightened the screw, ensuring I didn’t rip the threads. This made it stay properly in place.
My first panic attack
The biggest problem is that it doesn’t matter which direction the helicopter is pointing, you’re basically flying a disc, which can be moved in a 3D environment. The first time I tried flying a big distance, turn around and fly back (like with a plane) almost ended in a catastrophe… Flying straight forward was easy, but a helicopter doesn’t come to a complete stop when you let go of the stick, it continues for a while in the same direction, almost like in a weightless environment. I freaked out, because it was so fast, in a second I almost couldn’t see it on the sky, and then I just quickly pitched backwards to make it stop. In a matter of seconds, it flew straight back over my head, in the same altitude (I didn’t have the nerve to touch the throttle stick), and disappeared again the other way over the rooftop and past some trees. The stick was crazy sensitive! I slowly pitched it forward again, until I could see it, and slowly adjusted the stick until it was close by. In the end I got it stabilized 20 meters from where I was, so I slowly descended it, and let go of the throttle, so it landed in the tall grass, without getting tangled in everything. Then I went looking for it, and got a huge shock. My brand new helicopter was approximately 30cm from a small pond of water, which easily could have ruined the heli…phew…
The lesson is; with a helicopter, there is a much longer learning curve than with a plane. You control the direction with the rudder (yaw control), which is on the same stick as the throttle/collective pitch) as well as using the other stick for roll and pitch control. This is very hard to get in your hands, and I figured quickly that I need simulator training.
After a while I tried just hovering again, standing straight behind the heli, and making small adjustment to the pitch and roll stick, trying not to alter the direction of the helicopter. Then later I tried flying it looking at it from the left side, then right side, then from the front – believe me, it’s not as simple as it sounds, it was for me almost like learning to fly again for each side I saw the helicopter from, because you have to think hard before you act, and if you lose control, it can be hard to stop it. That’s why I used a large open area, and flew it only 1,5 meters above ground. I could then easily cut the throttle and land safely.
Here’s some more pictures of the helicopter. I also bought some spare parts, but there was spare blades included in the package.
Who’s it for?
I’m not sure if I would recommend this to a beginner. If so, a simulator should be used. It is a very aggressive little heli, it is really fast, and you are a bit on your own when it comes to controlling it. Although it is pretty stable, a coaxial heli is dead stable in comparison, and might be simpler to start with. But for someone who’s dedicated, looking for a challenge, and willing to use a lot of time before being able to handle the helicopter properly, it could be suitable for beginners as well. It’s not as dangerous as a 450+ heli, although I wouldn’t stick my fingers in the blades on this one either…
The pros on starting with a flybarless collective pitch helicopter of this size, is that you can much more easily adapt your skills to a 450 or bigger helicopter, as it is based on the same principles, just much larger.
Please leave a comment if you have any questions.