Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Getting started with FliteTest foamboard RC planes

I'm a big fan of the FliteTest planes. I first blogged about them over a year ago here.

Since then, I've built (and destroyed) several more of their designs, and am still going back for more. I've tried to infect a few friends and coworkers with this hobby, and wanted to give them a list of links for more information. Here goes:

1. Watch the beginner series at FliteTest. This is a ten-part series (about 20 minutes each) of videos that are really well done.

2. My go-to plane recommendation for beginners is the FT-Flyer. You can scratch build this, but for first time, I'd recommend buying the "Speed Build Kit" from Flite Test. $33. You get a lot of the little bits and pieces you'll need. Eventually, you'll build an inventory of all this, but having everything you need is really helpful for first time.

3. The kit only includes the airframe. You'll also need electronics. These parts are more expensive, but you can re-use them in multiple planes. Get this kit,  I recommend Lazertoyz. I started with them, and keep buying from them after they replaced a part no-questions-asked that I thought (then) was faulty, but now realize failed due to my incompetence. Note you can buy the laser-cut speed-kit from them at the same time and possibly save on shipping.

4. You'll also need a few other "one time" things to get started:
- A batter charger. LiPo batteries need special chargers. Either somthing really cheap like this or something a little better like this will work. Buy a LiPo bag to be safe. I like this type.
- A transmitter and receiver. The DX6I is a popular first choice. I use this, and am very happy with it, but it's a little more complex to setup. Note that if you go with a 9XR, you'll also need to buy tx/rx modules and a battery for the transmitter. This puts it close to the cost of the better-built, but much simpler DX6I. (Both come in at around $130 complete.)
- The FliteTest foam wheels suck. Get some of these as an upgrade.
- Extra batteries. You want "3S" batteries. With a C rating of 20 or better. At a capacity between 500-1000mAh. Something like this 500 is great, or you could go a little bigger with this. ($3.64? That's crazy cheap. Buy 2.)
- Extra servos: Buy 4 extra servos with your base order from LazerToys or from HobbyKing. What you want are "9g servos". You can buy these everywhere, including eBay. You need 4 extra so you can build all three planes at once.
- Extra props: I have a tendency to crash and break props. Buy some of these with your LazerToyz order. Or some 8x4 or 8x4.3 from another source. (Hobby King, eBay).

Note that you could buy your motor, esc, batteries, props, servos, chargers, and radio from Hobby King at what would appear to be much lower cost, however I would not recommend someone brand new to the hobby start there. HK shipping can be really expensive and a challenge to figure out. The US warehouse is getting better stocked, but they can often be missing the one thing you need to get in the air, and then you need to deal with China shipping. Don't get me wrong, I love Hobby King for their selection and prices...but it's a far cry from shopping on Amazon. If that $50 radio doesn't work, are you really going to spend $40 to ship it back to them?

Or, you could go to your Local  Hobby Store and try to buy everything you need, but they won't have most of this, and will instead point you to one of their starter kits. I didn't follow that option because a) I'm kind of cheap when it comes to spending money on my hobbies, and b) I wanted to build something myself, not buy a ready-to-fly kit. The real problem with the all-in-one kits from the Local store is that you'll be spending $30 to replace that broken wing after your first flight. So, you won't fly it for fear of breaking it, or you'll fly it once and quit. The Foam Board plane won't break, and if it does, you just need a new piece of $1 foamboard from Dollar Tree.

So, at the end of the day you'll need:
Airframe: $33
Electronics: $60
Radio with Tx/Rx: $140 (but you can do this for a lot less...see the FliteTest episode.)
Charger, extra batteries, props, wheels, LiPo storage bag: $30

Then, watch the FliteTest videos on how to build and set everything up (or give me a shout.) Wait for a calm day on a large, open field, and go fly!