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The Runway

11/9/2005 by Gary Katzer

Copyright:© 2005 Horizon Hobby, Inc.

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New Entry Stay on Target

As a child who grew up in the early ‘80’s, I always dreamed of dog fighting in space in a single-seat snub-fighter of my very own. I spent countless afternoons playing with my different action figures and space ships, all the time my imagination was solidly in the stars. The feeling returned to me when I bolted the HobbyZone X-Port Sonic Combat Module (HBZ4020) to the fuselage of the Firebird Commander 2. But the Sonic Combat Module doesn’t do you any good on its own. You’re going to need someone to fly against that also has a Sonic Combat Module or you can use the Stealth Target (HBZ4025). Since I generally fly alone, I opted for the Stealth Target and took to the sky.

Before I took off, I re-installed the landing gear as a protective step to ensure that the Sonic Combat Module didn’t become damaged on landing. I took off with the 6-cell battery in the battery compartment, just to get the feel of how this whole thing worked. The plane didn’t fly any differently than it did without the module installed, and I soon landed, installed the 7-cell pack, and setup the Stealth Target.

The Firebird Commander 2 once again took flight, this time with a bogey in its sights. I made a few trial passes “down the trench” to make sure that I could line the plane up as I prepared to fire at the target. I was a little nervous at first to fire, because it requires you to hold the throttle stick in the down or off position for a moment in order for the module to “fire”. But after just a few passes I was able to get comfortable and hit the target at will. With each additional pass I was able to strafe the target closer and closer, and just about every time I was rewarded with a loud signal from the target that I was successful. Take that you dirty imperials!

New Entry Sharing the Wealth

While I haven’t had a chance to pick up a Firebird Commander 2 yet, I did recently add a Firebird Scout to my collection. I wanted something that I could fly in a more confined area, plus, with it being slower than my Firebird Commander, I thought it might help get other people around me involved in flying too, such as co-workers. Several people at work have approached me recently to comment on The Runway and ask how they could possibly get involved in flying. I set aside some time over lunch yesterday and took a group of five people to Parkland College to help them learn to fly.

Coworkers John Spencer and John Kim fly the Firebird Commander.

I charged up a few batteries ahead of time and loaded my two planes in my truck. My co-worker John Spencer, who has been flying for a number of years, came out with us to offer his assistance. John and I took the planes, the Firebird Commander and the Scout, up in the air before handing the radios over to the newbies. The new pilots took to flying very well while John and I “called” for them, providing any tips and instructions that they might need. It was fulfilling to see the excitement and the sense of accomplishment on their faces when they were up in the air. One coworker, who actually owns a Firebird Commander but never had the courage to take it out to fly, admitted that she now felt confident enough to go out flying on her own.

New Entry What's Old is New Again

With the new Firebird Commander 2 out and available, I wanted to get one for myself. Once I did get a closer look at one, I was pleasantly surprised as to how similar the Firebird Commander 2 looks to its predecessor, but there are some important subtle differences too. The wingspan appears to be about the same as the Firebird Commander, and it uses the exact same motor, battery and prop. But the fuselage and tail have several significant changes. First of all, there are two sensors in the Firebird Commander 2 fuselage, one pointing up and one pointing down. These sensors “see” whether the plane is flying level or not, and the software makes the appropriate flight corrections as needed. One other big improvement made on the Firebird Commander 2 can be found on the tail. The control surface on the Firebird Commander 2 is about 30% larger than the original Firebird Commander’s, making the new plane more agile and responsive.

The biggest improvement on the Firebird Commander 2 though has to be ACT. ACT smartly combines hardware and software to help beginning pilots avoid the dreaded “death spiral”. Now I need to get one of these bad boys up in the air to see exactly how it flies versus my original Firebird Commander.

New Entry ACT-ing Up

Before I took to the skies with the Night Flight Module, there was a new article on HorizonHobby.com that spoke directly towards X-Port accessories, X-Pand with X-Port. It was cool to find out that the Night Flight Module actually had four different light patterns; I thought there was just one. As the article recommended, I reinstalled the white wing and clipped the module to the underside of the Firebird Commander. The wind was definitely calmer now, and I went to a local baseball field to fly around 7:30 at night. I had played with the light patterns and, while I thought the strobe effect and the lights cycling looked really cool, I knew I needed as much constant light on the wing and tail for this inaugural night flight. Once in the air, the extra weight of the module didn’t seem to affect the flight characteristics of the Firebird Commander much, if at all. It was really amazing to see the Firebird Commander light up the sky. While I was in the air I rotated through the different light patterns; the strobe effect was definitely my favorite. I was totally jazzed, but I had to eventually land the Firebird Commander. Now that I have successfully flown in low light to night conditions, I am itching to do it again!

As I said in my last post, I had heard that there was a new HobbyZone Plane coming out, and I finally have the scoop. It’s an improved version of the Firebird Commander I already own, called the Firebird Commander 2. This big difference between the Firebird Commander and the Firebird Commander 2 is the revolutionary Anti-Crash Technology (ACT) that actually helps keep your plane flying level and prevents it from crashing.  I’ve been able to see it fly and it’s pretty slick. I’ll have more on this new plane in a couple of days.

New Entry Night Vision, Baby!

Once I got home from the park, I visited the HobbyZone website to look into some of the different wing colors and options available for the Firebird Commander when I discovered something really cool: the X-Port Night-Flight Module. With this little gem, I could get some extra flight time later at night when the winds would generally be calmer. I jotted down the part number and called a few local hobby stores to see which ones might carry the HobbyZone Night Flight Module (HBZ3510) and hit the jackpot at Greenfield News and Hobby once again.

Once I was in the RC Department, I spent some time talking with the folks there behind the counter. They asked me what plane I had, and informed them that I had the Firebird Commander and asked why they asked. They told me that, not only did they want to make sure I had a plane with the X-Port on the side, but they also wanted to make sure that I was using a plane that had a white main wing. In this instance I was set with everything I needed out of the box—the standard wing that comes with the Firebird Commander is white.

While I’ve had a lot of fun with the Firebird Commander, I have recently heard rumblings of a new HobbyZone plane that, from what I hear, a newbie like me should definitely get his hands on! I’ll spill the beans next time, along with letting you know what it’s like to fly at night.

New Entry Reading the Weather

With this flying thing, there’s a whole new element: The Wind. Depending on how hard the wind might be blowing, you may need to reconsider taking your plane up in the air. While it does mention flying conditions in the manual, some of us need to learn the hard way. And yes, I am in this category of trying to fly in less than ideal conditions. Here’s what went down.

I took off and soon reached an altitude of about 50 feet, but I quickly noticed that the Firebird Commander was already difficult to control. The wind buffeted the plane around, making it feel numb and unresponsive to my inputs. Then, one particular gust came along and literally tossed my Firebird Commander to the ground. It was as if an imaginary hand had grabbed the airplane around the fuselage and spiked it like it was a football.

Well, it could have been worse. My red wing now had a gash on the trailing edge, which I thought was the extent of the damage until I started to carry the Firebird Commander away. When I picked it up, I noticed that I had actually broken the wing as well. With the wind as strong as it was, I thought it would be best to wait until things were calmer to fly again. In fact, I am going to wait for another night to take the Firebird Commander back up in the air. That’s right, I said at night. Didn’t know you could fly at night? I’ll tell you how soon.

New Entry Back to the Hangar

It’s always bad when I go into a hobby store; I always end up walking out with things that weren’t on my list. For example, as I was looking around, I happened to find a bright red wing (HBZ2523) that was designed as an option part for the Firebird Commander. This was a great find for me, especially since I was having problems determining the orientation of the Firebird Commander while it was in the air. I snapped up the extra wing, the new tail (HBZ2531), and even an extra battery (HBZ1012) so that I could get more flying done in a day. I spent a couple of minutes getting the Firebird Commander outfitted with the new wing and tail, charged the new battery and headed to the park.

Me flying my Firebird Commander.

As I walked from my car with my 2½-year-old daughter holding one hand and the Firebird Commander in the other, I was feeling a bit adventurous. Instead of hand launching the Firebird Commander, I was going to try to take off from the ground. The park I was in happened to have a nice smooth piece of asphalt that allowed me to take off into the wind. I pushed the throttle forward and nothing happened. Duh—forgot to arm the motor. It’s always the little details that catch up to you. I armed the motor and pushed the throttle stick forward. Once the Firebird Commander lifted off, and once I reached my cruising altitude, I did notice that it was much easier for me to see and determine the orientation with the red main wing on. It was too cool to hearing my daughter “oohing” and “aahing” as I flew the Firebird Commander around the park. Having her there added a whole new level of enjoyment to the experience for me. Once the second battery died, it was hard to tell who was more disappointed that I was done for the day, her or me. I landed the Firebird Commander near by and handed my daughter the radio to carry as I carried the plane back to my car. Now that I had a number of successful flights, I was getting the itch to expand to a plane that had a third channel with elevator, rudder, and aileron control. Sounds like it is time to start doing some more research. See Ya!

 

New Entry How’d That Tree Get there?

Do you remember the comic strip with the tree that ate the kite of the round-headed kid with the dog? Well, I didn’t know before hand that there’s a tree on the property that likes to eat RC airplanes. I hung my head as I walked towards the tree to see how high it was wedged into the foliage and exactly how badly it may have been damaged. It was within arms reach, so I didn’t need to get the ladder out, but there were two sections on the backside of the wing that had chunks taken out of them. This didn’t make sense until I thought about it. The wing got pushed back into the prop when it hit, and the prop is what did the damage, not the tree. I had been up in the air for about 15 minutes and figured I was near the end of the battery, so I headed in for the night, not beaten but surely feeling kind of dumb. I mean, there’s a section in the manual that specifically talks about not flying around trees. Sigh, back inside for repairs and to double check the manual to see if I missed anything else.

Man, was I bummed out that I had I taken a chunk out of the wing. But this was one of those times when I was glad that I actually read the manual, as I remembered seeing a section in there about wing repairs. I could use some packing tape to cover the gashes in the wing. Cool. But I did have another problem, one a little more serious. When the plane hit the branch, it creased and damaged the tail section. I knew I could use some foam-safe CA to repair the damaged section, but I felt I would be better suited to simply replace the tail section. Luckily, I paid a visit to Greenfield News and Hobby in Greenfield, WI this past Saturday and picked up a few spare parts. It was destiny, as I did actually pick up a new tail. But along with finding the parts I needed, they also had some other information and goodies too. You’ll have to click back to see what I found.

New Entry So you did it once; let’s see if you can do it again.

I admit I love my job, but the day following my first flight couldn’t have gone on much longer. The anticipation of getting the Firebird Commander back into the air was killing me. I spoke with Eric Johnson about my experiences with the Firebird Commander the night before, and he told me that he felt that with the higher wind speeds that the conditions weren’t ideal for a plane as light as this to be flying in, but he did have a recommendation: install the included optional 1mm wing shim (HBZ4060). He informed me that this would make the Commander climb slower and avoid a climb-stall-drop-climb-stall-drop problem that I had encountered. He also told me that removing some of the pitch to the wing with the shim would make the Commander fly faster. Being a racer, I love speed, but was a little concerned that it might be too fast too soon. Well, Jason’s been flying a heck of a lot longer than I have been so I followed his advice and installed the shim.

I didn’t have time to head out to Parkland and I really wanted to fly, so I headed out my back door to fly at the cornfield that’s behind my apartment. With the way the wind was blowing, it necessitated that I hand launched it in the direction where a tree and light pole both were. Not ideal since you really want to fly in an area without any obstructions, but with the wind direction I didn’t have a choice. I hand-launched the Firebird Commander, this time with the shim installed, and I noticed a difference immediately. It didn’t climb nearly as fast as it had without the shim, causing me to cringe when I came a little closer to the light pole than I had intended to. I pulled the stick to the left, and the Firebird Commander followed my inputs perfectly. I had been up in the air for a couple minutes when I heard a few of the kids from the neighborhood behind me as I flew. They asked a lot of the common questions that you might expect, did you build that, how much does it cost, how fast does it go, and of course could they try it. Not ready to hand over the controls to an 8-year old, I answered all of their questions to the best of my ability. I had been flying at a higher altitude, but so the kids could get a better look I reduced altitude and flew over where we were standing, with the Firebird Commander still about 50-feet in the air. I did this a few times and the kids all loved it…and then it happened. What is it? Check back to find out.

New Entry So Maybe This Isn’t as Easy as It Looks

One thing that has frustrated me in the past as a surface racer is the preconceived notion that it’s easy. Sure, if you go to an RC race and watch guys like Matt Francis, Brian Kinwald, or even Todd Hodge, they make it look easy because they have so much experience and are really good at what they do. But would flying, which looks so effortless when I watch others, be that easy for me?

With a gentle toss, the Commander left my hand on its maiden flight. It was an absolutely amazing feeling watching the Commander climb quickly. I gave the sticks a little movement to the left to circle back around towards me. I found out that a 2-channel aircraft could be rather challenging to fly in the windy conditions that I was in. I was able to make the Commander go pretty much where I wanted to, left and right, but forward movement was more difficult without making the Commander climb. At one point and time, I was essentially able to make the Commander stall out in one place and hover; it didn’t lose altitude, it just kind of hung there in the air. It was the neatest sight; much like a hawk or an eagle hovering above some unsuspecting prey. After about 10 minutes I decided to bring the Commander back in and call it a night, and things got interesting. The gusts of wind that kept the Commander floating in one spot made bringing it back to Earth, in a controlled manner instead of a death spiral, extremely challenging. It took literally six or seven attempts to reduce the altitude enough that I could completely stop the throttle to land, which it did successfully in the grass. Holy cow, I flew, maneuvered, and landed successfully! With this newfound confidence, I went inside for the night with a plan to hit the skies the next evening after work.

New Entry Pre-Flight Checklist

I have been checking out several areas near both where I work and where I live to try to find a perfect flying area. What I’ve been searching for is a fairly large area without any obstructions. There was one park that I considered trying, but felt that there were just too many trees around the area. Now I am still fairly new to this area, so I go exploring after work every once in a while to get familiar with the town, and yesterday I found it: the perfect flying area. Literally 5-minutes away were the soccer fields at Parkland Collage, a wide-open area without any trees, buildings, or obstructions. This is going to work out too perfectly.

I had completed my pre-flight check before I left work, just to make sure I had everything ready to rock and roll. I turned the transmitter on, grabbed the freshly charged pack off the Prophet Pro Charger and plugged it in. I tested the control surfaces, and both worked appropriately and settled into a neutral position when I let go of the sticks. This is especially important to make sure that the Commander flies straight and true and not pull in one direction. Next I armed the motor and pushed the throttle stick forward and was a bit amazed. This little Mabuchi Motor and prop actually moved a ton of air and I felt like the Commander wanted to take off right in my hands. Well, I need to go fly, so check back to find out how my first flight goes!


Parkland Community College Soccer Field

New Entry It’s Just Like Your Birthday

Do you remember going to the toy store as a kid and picking out that really cool toy that you’d been nagging your parents (for what seemed like forever) to get for you? Once you got it home, cardboard box pieces went flying all over the place as you plunged elbows deep into your new bounty. Take that mental image, but instead of a 9-year-old, picture a 28-year-old grown man doing that. Scary, I know, but that’s what my reaction was once I had gotten the Commander home. I tore the box open as fast as I could, slid out the packaging, and there it was—my first aircraft! I admit I debated about whether or not to actually read the manual, but common sense took over as I sat down, popped the Video CD into my laptop, and began to read through the manual. Soon I had walked through the steps of attaching the wing and landing gear and installed the batteries in the radio. I thought about using the included charger for the first charge, just to see how well it would work, but opted instead to use my Dynamite Prophet Pro DC Charger (DYN4047) with the optional charger pig-tail (HBZ1081). With the Prophet Pro, I could charge the pack at a higher 1.2-amp rate, meaning that I didn’t need to wait as long before I could fly. If you can’t tell already, patience is not one of my strong suits. But before long the battery came to a peak, I had watched the entire VCD, read through the manual, attached the wing and checked the control surfaces. I was about ready to take off…and then the rain started. Darn, guess I’ll have to wait until next time to update you on my first flight.