In case you are wondering what is so fascinating about flying RC helicopters – maybe you just got bored flying your own 4 channel helicopter – it is 3D flight. One might say that basically all helicopters are flying in 3D (up/ down, left/ right, forward/ backward), but 3D in this context means flying 3D pirouettes like loops and rolls which is not possible with an ordinary coaxial helicopter. See the following video to get an idea of what I am talking about
If you liked the video, but have no idea what collective pitch or 4 channels means, you might be interested in my introduction to RC helicopters.
In this post I want to discuss which machine one should get if one wants to progress from a simple 4 channel helicopter. Of course you might skip the 4 channel helicopters altogether and directly start with a 3D helicopter – but be prepared for a steep learning curve.
Choosing the right Helicopter
So one obvious choice is the SAB Goblin 700 from the video above, which is definitely capable. But there are a few hurdles with starting with that beast. First of all there is the price of about 1000€, then there is the size; the span of the rotor is about 150cm and it weights around 2kg. Thinking about physics and forces this means, that you can perfectly kill yourself using this thing (the guy in the link was only using a 450mm class helicopter), but also that on each crash something expensive will break (again due to the forces). Besides you will also need a small flight field to fly it.
I would rather suggest you to start with a micro sized collective pitch helicopter in the 100mm (rotor radius) class. They are basically capable of flying all the manoeuvres the big helicopters can, but as they are smaller and lighter, they do not break as much on crashes and do not hurt much in accidents. So what are the choices?
This is the helicopter I unfortunately started with. Priced around 125€ RTF it is probably the cheapest entry and also quite powerful in flight, but it is not really suited for beginners. As Nine Eagles use a cheap plastic, it breaks easily on crashes, which rules it out for indoor flight. However it might be acceptable if you only fly on grass. But based on my experiences I would not recommend it.
Somehow Walkera is not much present in europe. They have very nice build and technically advanced helicopters however. This one costs around 200€ RTF which is quite a number, but the package will get you one of the most durable helicopters out there. You have to try really hard to break it. Additionally you get 6 axis gyro/ accelerometer stabilisation and telemetry. While 6 axis stabilisation sounds better than the 3 axis stabilisation of the contenders on paper, it is not always an advantage. It literally nails the helicopter in the air – ignoring wind and performing some auto levelling. This is very good for beginners coming from a fixed-pitch helicopter, but gives you less control during 3D. Still the stabilisation helped me while learning flips and rolls, so I guess this makes it a good stepping-up helicopter. The telemetry is a less arguable feature; by sending voltage and temperature to the radio it you saves your battery and motor.
Probably the only bad thing about this helicopter is however that the landing skid is fused together with the main frame. The landing skid is the Achilles’ heel of this heli, meaning that it actually breaks sometimes. It is not that often, but when it does you have to disassemble the whole heli to replace it.
This probably the most prominent helicopter in this class. It will set you back around 200€ RTF and according to forums it has the best flybarless system. However it is said to be less durable than the Walkeras. I have no personal experience with this one, so I cant say much more here.
These tow are really similar. Lets start with the Mini CP. It costs around 170€ RTF and features an improved construction and a stronger motor over the Genius CP v2. It uses the same durable materials, but has separate landing gear/ main frame, which makes it much easier and painless to repair. Furthermore the battery bay is larger, also fitting the walkera 350mAh batteries – whereas the Genius CP only fits the 240mAh batteries.
If the Mini CP would not lack the 6 axis stabilisation system, it would make the ideal beginners CP helicopter. As it is however, the Genius CP v2 is still a little bit easier to control (not much though).
The Super CP is a streamlined(i.e. cheaper) version of the Mini CP. It uses the weaker Genius CP v2 motor and has no temperature telemetry function. Furthermore Walkera moved the servo controllers onto the main board, which makes the servos cheaper in production (also the spare servos). All together makes it 150€ RTF. This makes it a pretty good package for beginners as saving 50€ for spare parts is worth more than the 6 axis stabilisation of the Genius.
While choosing the helicopter(-system) is the most important part, there are also some accessories you might want to consider:
If you are coming from a flybarred helicopter, you should consider getting yourself a training gear along the way, was flying a flybarless helicopter is quite different. While a flybar helicopter stabilises itself when you release cyclic control, a flybarless helicopter keeps flying in the current direction until you bring it back to hover manually. What seems just to be a small difference in theory is actually a quite big difference in practice, so prepare for crashes
Unfortunately most super-glue does not hold the Walkera plastic. This is especially unfortunate if you have to disassemble the Genius CP just because the landing skid cracked. However the Pattex Plastix superglue does hold the plastic, so this a clear recommendation. (hint: Pattex is called Loctite in the US)
Swashplate leveling tool
While you can use the trim function on the remote to compensate an uneven swashplate on a flybarred helicopter(not that you should), you would most likely confuse the flybarless system when doing so on a flybarless helicopter. Therefore evening out the swashplate mechanically by adjusting the servo arms is a much better idea. A swashplate leveling tool comes in handy here. See this video, for instructions on how to use it.