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Monday, October 14, 2013

Another Tale of two Yaks__Flying The Twins

Well, not exactly. They aren't quite twins.

It was a bit of a dilemma when the red and white splinter scheme Yaks became available because I had just crashed my Russian Thunder. I have always liked that scheme, but the red looked awesome too. Being unable to decide, I didn't even try, and I got them both.

You gotta have a backup, right? Except, after flying the red Yak, I also couldn't make up my mind which one I wanted to be backup. Not being able to decide, I fly them both!

Click To Enlarge

You might notice my Russian Thunder looks a little different from the others you have seen. I used the white (instead of blue) SFGs from my last (and late) red Yak to brighten up the plane's visibility. I am closing in on senior citizenship, so everything I can do to help me see the plane better is worth it. It seems to have worked well.

In later pictures you will notice I also used the red/white wheel pants from the red Yak, only I replaced the blue trim with gold 3M high performance vinyl striping. I love working with that stuff!

Dialing In The CG
First, the Yak is not temperamental or hard to set up. It just rewards you more if you take the time to get it spot on. It's also simply a different kind of plane that flies a bit differently and likes a bit different set up. None of this is hard. It's the same thing you go through with any other 3D style plane, but with the Yak, having the right set up makes it really come alive. If you are lazy, this isn't the right plane for you, but if you take the time to get it right, it's an amazing airframe.

The Yak seems to be a bit different from the other EXPs in that it is a bit less forgiving on the center of gravity (CG) location. Initially I started off nose heavy, because I generally like them a little forward of having a neutral CG. A little nose heavy makes the plane track and groove better at high speed, but it also makes 3D a little bit more difficult. Everyone seems to prefer something different, and lately I have been moving my CGs back and trying to get closer to neutral.

For this plane, that was a good plan. I just wasn't comfortable flying it really hard. It wasn't bad by any means, but I knew I was not getting the most I could out of the plane. The more I moved the battery pack back, the better the plane felt. Now I can drive it around all day with the nose pointed way up there, and turn it extremely hard on the rudder in a harrier, and both directions too.

Once I got the CG where I liked it, then it was a matter of learning to grab that elevator and hold the nose up as high as I could get it. That was the final step in gaining complete confidence in this airframe, emphasizing once again how critical set up is on all high performance planes.

Click To Enlarge

I always suggest starting with the CG from the manual, but this time for experienced pilots, I recommend starting at the rear of what the manual calls for. That will get you really, really, close, and from there, it's a matter of personal preference where to put it. Don't be afraid to move that CG back, but do it in small increments. This way, if you get too tail heavy you can get it back down without a lot of drama,  and then move the pack back forward.

I got mine too tail heavy and it was not a big deal to land, make the adjustment and then everything was perfect. I generally keep moving back until it gets too tail heavy, and then go back to where I was the flight before.

The Yak has me re-evaluating how I set the CG on my planes. I was already moving the pack back on my Extra EXPs, and now I think I am beginning to prefer something closer to a neutral CG instead of slightly ahead of that. We will have to fly and experiment more, which ain't a bad way to spend an awesome Florida October!

Click To Enlarge

Crazy spins
With the yak having all it's thrust and flying surfaces on a central datum line, everything snaps, rolls and spins on a single axis. Since the components are not fighting each other, the Yak is a bit more agile on that axis.  As a result, I have dialed my aileron end point controls back from 150% to 125%. It rolls so fast that I simply don't need that much, and I can fly it smoother with a little less throw.

One thing you will see on the following video is a crazy spin I came up with. I did it by screwing up a blender and giving it the wrong control. As with any violent maneuver, speed is your friend, so I start by diving the plane straight down, and let it build up to terminal velocity. Yes, this is hard on the airframe, but the EXPs are so hearty that they can take it.

Then, I put the plane into a full right aileron roll heading straight down. From here, the drag on the ailerons slow the plane a bit, so you only want to do two or three turns before you slam in full right rudder and down elevator, and then hang on. The Yak goes absolutely batsnitt crazy. It spins so fast that I simply can't keep up with it and it never comes out pointed where I want it too. If you try this, I heartily suggest you leave yourself a fat margin to the ground, at least the first few times.

Go to 0:45 to see the spin. This one was a bit too low, but we're shooting more video today with Russian Thunder and we'll try to get another one.

Red Splinter or Russian Thunder?
Tough choice if you can only have just one. The Russian Thunder is about as classic as it can get, though the EXP version is modernized a bit and the wing and stab have matching patterns. When the wing, stab and fin are all different patterns, that makes my OCD go a bit whacky, and severely offends my sense of symmetry. I very much like what The Boss did to make this version of Russian Thunder so pleasing to look at.

The Red Splinter scheme is also very symmetrical, though admittedly it does have a bit more visual pop. It is a very visible scheme, made even more so with the underside of the wing sharing the same checkerboard pattern with the Extra EXP. While this is a small detail, I would love to see the bottom of the red Yak's horizontal stabilizer match the wing instead of being pure white. I may cut up some black 3M high performance vinyl and slap it on my red Yak.

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Tale of two Yaks__October Buildfest

The flying report and video will be after the build and set up sections of this article.

It's been a tough year for Yaks. I destroyed a Russian Thunder Yak EXP simply by getting too crazy with it (certainly not the plane's fault), and then I killed a brand new red splinter scheme Yak just trimming it out for high speed. I was so focused on the plane that I never saw the ground coming. They were both stupid crashes, but thankfully I was able to acquire one in each scheme in time for my annual October build fest.

In spite of a little bad luck (and stupid flying), I have really enjoyed these Yak EXPs. They are a bit of a different kind of challenge, but it is certainly a capable enough airframe. I've had Yaks from other manufacturers that were downright deadly if you rotated them hard in that no-man's-land between alpha and on-the-wing, but the EXP exhibits none of that.

I  did kill a couple of these, but it was a valuable learning experience, plus I got to build some more of them, which is always great. I learned enough from flying the last one that I think this could eventually become an equal favorite with the other EXPs, but first we need some more stick time.

The Kit

All of my Yak EXP kits have come out of the box looking nearly perfect. The factory really stepped it up this year as far as making beautiful builds and these Yaks are something else. I usually spend a lot of time getting the covering right, but on these Yaks, as well as the Edge EXPs I have built recently, there was very little to do except iron down a few seams.

The Yak features many of the newer build techniques found in the Laser, such as angled motor box, and  wing panels that recess into the fuselage sides. Composite usage is reduced from earlier EXPs, because it was an expense that wasn't needed.

For example, the angled motor box is much stronger than the older version that was supported by carbon rods. As you can see, you still  have plenty of room for getting the battery in and out of the plane, and this is without sacrificing any strength.

 The actual landing gear (LG) block is still G10 composite, though it is reduced in size, and the block itself is now reinforced to the formers with triangle shaped longerons running side to side. The composites were reduced to save money, but the strength was retained with superior engineering.

The Yak still has some carbon, and it's in the bottom of the fuse, running full length from the LG block all the way to the servos in the tail. This is one area that carbon is very useful because it makes the bottom of the fuselage very stiff without adding unnecessary weight.

Of course, the Yak uses the same hardware pack as the rest of the 48" lineup (though the MXS has a longer rudder pushrod), which means smooth, drag free ball link hardware, lightweight axles, and Extreme Flight's exclusive tail wheel assembly. It's all first class stuff and it's nice that you only need a handful of spares to cover the entire fleet.

The carbon gear leg is a bit different, though. It's much longer, with much better ground clearance, suggesting that perhaps the Yak was meant for a bigger propeller. I keep hoping we will get a Torque that will spin a 14" prop. Right now The Boss is in China, so let's see what he has for us when he gets back.

The Build
Every October I like to build out in the garage with the doors and windows open so I can enjoy the beautiful Autumn climate. In Florida, by the time September rolls around, everyone is desperate for it to cool off even if just a little, but it is usually Mid Oct before it gets really nice. Since I have a good supply of the other EXPs built up, now was a good time to tighten up the Yak fleet.

One of the things I love most about the EXP series is how well the radio installation is already thought out for you. The receiver mounts where all you need is a single 3" extension on each aileron and they plug in with just the right amount of slack. There are holes on the corners of the former to run the wires through and this keeps them from slapping around too much. Also, any extra extension wire from the servos in the back can be pushed back into the tail and it generally stays there, giving you a very, very neat installation.

That sure is a pretty battery!

I saved myself a lot of time on this plane by removing the servos from the old plane with the push rods attached. I unbolted the ball link from the control arm and lifted the whole assembly out as one unit, then dropped it into the new plane. On all surfaces, it only took a turn or two on each servo arm, which I think is a remarkable tolerance on something that is built from wood.

I also didn't have to monkey around with servo extensions because they were already done. The power system was already set up and bullet connectors heat shrunk, so that saved some work too.

The tail wheel assembly was undamaged in the last crash, so all I had to do was bolt it on. I like to file flat spots on the wires where the grub nuts secure the tiller arm and wheel collars. This gives the nut a larger flat surface to bite into, and keeps the tail wheel wire straight. It's also a lot less likely that the tail wheel will fall off!

From there it was a matter of assembling what came in the box, and this particular Yak was outstanding, even in comparison to other EXPs I have built recently. Sometimes you have to struggle to get the wings on because they can be a little tight and the alignment pins can be stubborn, but the wings on this one slid into place perfectly on the first try.

I would have been mildly disappointed that this build was too easy, except the decals on the nose gave me a mild fit. Stretching the shark's mouth around the nose left the decal all scrunched up and wrinkled, and it took some doing to get it all smoothed out. Even 3M high performance vinyl has a tough time going around double convex compound curves, but the nose really came out nice.

Yak wheel pants are a bit odd. My understanding is that, as a Russian plane, the Yaks were flying out of all kinds of places that have mud and snow, which can build up inside a conventional wheel pant. The Yak wheel pant is more like a fairing that breaks up any turbulence coming off the tire. One thing nice about the Yak fairing is that it sits high on the axle, and they don't get scuffed up on the runway very much.

These pants are painted red and white, with the blue stripe being a decal that is supplied in the kit.

Set Up
 Generally I bury the push rod as deep as it will go into the ball link that bolts to the control horn, and then make any adjustments by taking the arm off the servo and  turning that end. Most of the time that end too is very close to being bottomed out, but that's good because you have the maximum amount of threads in the ball links and they are about impossible to pull out.

Like always, I set my EXPs up by the book with one or two exceptions. Most notably is that I used an HS85MG on the elevator. This gives me a little more weight in the tail and I can now use the Dubro heavy Duty servo arm, which boosts elevator throw from 76 or so that you get out of the included G10 servo arm extension to a full 88 degrees.

I didn't find that I needed a longer arm for the rudder, though. The standard Hi Tec single arm that comes with the servo is enough. I miss hitting elevator with the rudder by about 1/4", so that's close enough.

Ailerons are exactly the same as they are on the other 48" EXPs, but this is a good thing because it is about as foolproof, goofproof and murphyproof as they could be made. You have ball links on both ends of a short, stiff push rod, giving you smooth, drag free operation without any looseness or slop.  This is exactly what you need for a silky smooth and precise flying plane.

One setup deviation is on my aileron low rates. The low rate from the manual is a little bit too fast to give you a perfect three rolls in five seconds, so I shoot for that. It is usually not all that different from the manual, but it's different enough that I take the time to get it just the way I want it.

Harrier was a bit tricky at first, but not unmanageable. I found that the Yak seems to fly better for me if I get it very close to neutral, and I did not try that until the last one. I put a heavy tail wheel on the plane and it was completely transformed. Before I was getting a bit of wing rock, but balanced properly you can drive the Yak EXP around with the nose way up in the sky with complete confidence.

The Yak's strong suit is in it's rolling maneuvers. The wing, stab and thrust are all on one common datum line, so everything rolls on the same axis. On other planes sometimes the thrust and/or stab is lower or higher in relation to the wing, so in a roll they sort of orbit around the wing's roll axis.

With the Yak's central set up, everything rolls together instead of fighting each other, and rolls are very, very pure and axial. This makes for absolutely straight down axial spins, though the Yak will go another 1/4 to 1/2 turn after you let off, simply because it's going so fast.

Back to harrier and elevators and such, with the CG more toward neutral, the Yak harriers with it's nose way up there. I need a bit more stick time, but I think this might be even easier to harrier than the other EXPs with the exception of the Edge.

We shot this video in the dying light, so it will look a lot better if you view it in a dark room. Sunsets seem to be very difficult or cell phone type cameras, but the sky was so spectacular we wanted to shoot it anyway. We have more video in the can, and we'll post it in a few days after I have a chance to edit it down and get it up on Vimeo or Utube.

For now, though, you can clearly see I am getting pretty comfortable with my new Yak, and I've also got a Russian Thunder on the bench.

EDIT: I finished up my new Russian Thunder Yak EXP and I am really pleased with it. We'll be getting video with both planes shortly.


I wanted to do something a little trick on these wheel pants. They are left overs from my last departed red Yak, and I put a gold stipe on them with 3M High Performance vinyl.

Or new pilot, "Spook" approves.

The white on the nose looks good, but since I had the gold vinyl on hand I covered this part. I think it's a nice contrast.

 Spook seems to approve.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

48" MXS__Maximum Xtreme Sickness


My solitary red MXS has been hanging on the ceiling for over two years because I have had so many other great EXPs to fly. Of course, I also flew a few of the blue MXS too, but the red has always been a special plane for me. I guess I was saving it, but now that I have a back up, I hope to get out with this plane much more often.

My first red MXS and I survived a heart attack together. While I was in the hospital I couldn't wait to get out of there so I could go home and order another one! Unfortunately by then, they were out of stock, but that just led to my first Extra EXP.

Most Extreme
All of the EXP series planes share a lot of flight characteristics. They are all designed to do achieve the same thing, which is extreme aerobatics, so the differences are all fairly subtle, and I fly them all pretty much the same way.

Except the MXS, that is.

What separates the MXS from the rest is that it is designed to fly even more extreme aerobatics than the rest. The moment (the distance between the wing and the horizontal stabilizer) is the shortest of all the EXPs, and at the time of it's release, the MXS had the largest elevator.

If you add the Dubro heavy duty servo arm on the elevator, you can get over 90 degrees of deflection. I use the second from the outside hole on the Dubro arm and crank my end points. That will give me about 88 degrees of throw, and believe me, when you yank on the elevator the MXS delivers.

The design of the MXS coupled with all that throw gives it nearly obscene pitch authority that makes for spectacular wall and parachute maneuvers. Most planes will climb a little when you pop them up into a wall maneuver. The MXS, however, rotates so hard that both wings stall instantly, and the plane will stand up on it's tail and actually sink toward the ground. I have bounced the MXS off the runway with the back of the rudder a time or two doing my walls a little too low, and I have to remember to start the wall higher than I want because it's going to drop some. That, and lately I have started adding power to arrest the sinking.
As you can well imagine, this means you have to fly the MXS a little differently, but it is not scary or anything. It's just different and after a flight or two you get used to it. I've found that I get the most out of the MXS when I dedicate myself to the plane and fly nothing else. I can jump around to the others with no trouble, but the MXS is another level of extreme and you have to fly it that way. 

Most MXS pilots love the plane for it's tumbling ability. The plane does lovely snaps and I've been working on a double snap, turning the plane 180 degrees from direction entry and coming back in an elevator. It's just a turnaround move and the MXS looks really lovely doing them.

Inside and outside snaps are very crisp, though with all the elevator throw you get a cleaner maneuver using about half the travel. There is so much pitch authority that if you use it all in a snap the plane will rotate so hard that it will turn itself out of it. It will just sort of look like it is wallowing through, but if you work on your snaps you'll get the timing right and the elevator movement will become natural. All 3D planes are like this in that they snap better without using so much elevator, but the MXS is a little different because it's elevator is so much more effective that you use less of it in a snap.

The MXS' big surprise is that for all of it's violence, the plane is still  very, very capable of buttery smooth precision work. You can see my big sky stuff looks very nearly as good as what I do with an Extra. Even with all that pitch authority, the MXS still has a big enough fuselage, fin, stabilizers, and SFGs to generate lift for good 3D, and locked in grooving at high speed.

I hope to be doing a lot more with the MXS this fall. There are so may good EXPs that it is hard to just take one of them and fly it extensively until you learn all it's intricacies.  I wish I could pick one and stick with it for awhile, but I just like all of them too much for that.        
Bonus Footage!   
Below is some footage from last year that I edited before with Windows XP Movie maker, and I have since learned that's a very low resolution editor. After re-editing with Windows Seven, it turns out this was HD footage and it is much, much better than before and worthy of a repost.

These were all taken in either blindingly bright conditions, or in near darkness, but they are still beautiful. You just need to turn off the lights to get the best viewing. The sunset video is especially pretty, but you will want to watch that one in a dark room so the colors will come out better. 



Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Edge EXP__Tweaking The Night Set Up

After a reasonably successful pitch black night test, I wanted to make a few changes to the way I mounted the light bars of my Aurora Genesis light system. If you have seen the video you'll remember how well the SFGs were lit up, which just showed how much light they were blocking from getting on to the airplane.

Also, the wires came out the end of the wing, where I taped them down on the SFG to keep them from flapping. This made my OCD go totally ape and I wanted to find neater way.

When I first inquired about the system, I spoke to Alex at Aurora RC and he suggested notching out the tips of the stab and mounting the rear light bars there. It did not occur to me at the time that I could do the same thing with the lights on the wing, but when brainstorming how to mount the wing lights in a neater way, I remembered this.

I really hated to cut out the notches on the wings of a brand new plane, but they are not so bad. I had to be careful to do a neat job, and also to get the notches the right depth. The idea is for them to bottom out in the notch and for the outsides of the bars to be flush with the outside of the wing tip

Once the wing was notched, I pushed the light bar into the notch and bolted the SFG down over top to hold it into place. This is a very elegant solution to mounting the lights. There are no wires hanging out, and no aero knots and light bars sticking out in the breeze.  Because of where I notched out the wing for the light bar, the wires go straight into the wing and from the outside you can't see a single wire. It's just very, very clean.

This arrangement resulted in some really important improvements beyond cleaning up the aesthetics and getting more light on the plane, though I feel much, much better now that I have a clean installation.

Now with the light bars tucked almost up against the inside of the SFG, they will create much less turbulence and upset the plane's aerodynamics much less.  Also the wires now go straight into the wing instead of on the outside of the SFG. When you remove the aero knots on top of all of this, the airflow around the SFGs has been cleaned up enormously. There was a lot od stuff out there messing up the airflow, but now it's righteously tightened up.

Because I no longer have to worry about the SFG blocking the light, I can go back to the lighter and larger original size EXP style SFG. The plane flew fine with the smaller SFGs, but I still missed having the KE lift and yaw authority afforded by the full size versions.

I save weight by losing the aero knot mounting points and the heavier plywood SFGs. Losing weight is always really good.

Because I mounted the lights further forward, along with losing the aero knots, and that moved a lot of weight that was previously behind the CG to right about on top of the CG.  Right now I've got my battery all the way forward in the radio compartment and the plane flies dead neutral. I generally like them a little forward of that and I think this will get it dialed in dead on.

Lastly, you'll notice on most planes when you hit an SFG on the ground it grinds  the bottom of the SFG near the rear. The way I had the lights mounted before, that's right where they were, and they were very vulnerable in that position. Now they are well past mid cord forward, and hopefully a little safer from ground strikes.

You can see how much better the light now hits the plane. We're going to try really hard to get some footage Thursday night, but it all depends on getting one of my camera guys to come out.

You know, this improves and corrects so many things that I feel a bit silly I ever did such a sloppy job the first time. I'm actually a little bit embarrassed by it, but that's what happens when you do LIVE reports. Sometimes people see your warts.

I knew from the beginning this was going to be a learning process and I would probably screw it up. With this in mind I was very careful not to do anything that I couldn't simply unbolt so I could change it. I notched the wings as a last resort, but again, it's not so bad.

If I ever want to convert the plane back to day use, I can cut a small piece of red 3M High Performance Vinyl out and slap it over the notches. The stuff goes down and sticks so well, and the seams are so close to invisible that I can live with it.

Just for reference, here is the mess that I made for myself before. Every so often my aileron trim would change, so I either had a poor centering servo or the wires were moving around and disrupting the airflow. The wingtip creates the most turbulence of the entire airframe, so you don't want any loose stuff out there.  I checked the servos over and over and they are fine, so getting everything out of the airflow seemed to be the next logical step.

You can also see how far behind the CG the light bar and it's mounting pieces are.

That, and it just looks like crap. When I was building the plane in my mind it did not look this messy, but once I paid the money to get the SFGs custom laser cut and ran all over town looking for aero knots, I was going to at least try the damm things!

I was also getting some wing rock, which I have never, ever, ever seen on an EXP, especially not on an Edge EXP. Since I have never ever seen that kind of thing on one of these planes before, the only possible cause simply has to be all the junk hanging off the wing tip, so cleaning all of that up was essential.

Another nice touch is that by going back to the original, full-size EXP style SFGs, I can run my cool new Sphere Of Doc Austin decals.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Beyond The Edge Of Darkness

Note: Final Thoughts on the Spectacular Aurora Genesis light system will follow the flying section of this report.

Finally, after literally going through hell (surgery) and high water (a flooded field last week), we got to pitch black night fly the Edge of Darkness.

But first, we had a blistering late summer Florida sunset at Sarasota Silent Fliers, and I took advantage of that to do a final trim and systems check in slightly lit conditions. You can see that in the video below.

I love sunset flights because I love flying and I love sunsets, so it's a natural to mix them. The only unfortunate part is that even with lights it is hard to see the plane. It's too light for the light system to effectively illuminate the plane, and it's too dark to fly without lights, so you are sort of in a limbo, twilight (pun intended) kind of state. It was very difficult conditions, but the sky was so awesome we simply had to shoot.

One thing to note here: don't judge the light system from this video. First, cell phone cameras don't pick up low light conditions very well. The sky is too bright and the plane is too dark. I could see the plane much better in real life than the video depicts. Sunset flights are actually kind of awful except they make for a really pretty video.

For a fairer assessment of the light system, check the second video, which has much darker conditions. Thanks to Ed Boyett for shooting this footage. This was his first time shooting video and as you can see, he never missed a shot.

After letting the sun completely disappear it was time for the big show. Admittedly I was a bit nervous with this being my first night flight in three summers and trying out a brand new type of system, but confidence became high when I plugged the lights in and could see how well it works in total darkness.

You'll see a lot of black sky here, but that's how it is out in the middle of nowhere Florida. We also still had a lot of cloud cover, so there was no moon and no stars to help out. As always, it seems the camera never quite captures night flying, but rest assured the Aurora Genesis really lit the way for us.

Thanks to my new friend Drew for shooting this footage. He's got an Edge EXP and we are planning to go flying again. Another new flyer that I can corrupt.

Aurora Genesis
Very appropriate is my choice of the Aurora "Genesis" system, because like the name suggest, this is just the beginning.

The Genesis was easy to install (though it took a little thought) and it performed past expectations, so I am extremely pleased with it. Since I went to such trouble to make the system detachable, I probably won't need another one. If I want to night fly something else, I can just move the system over.

However, this has been such a good product so far that I will probably set a 64" MXS up to night fly, and for that I will probably purchase an Aurora Andromeda system. Being pleased enough that I am already planning to be a repeat customer is my seal of approval.

With Genesis, I could see the plane just fine and only once while in a spin did I have any orientation problems. It was whipping around so fast that I probably would have lost it even in the daytime.

Flying with white LEDs vrs the old strip type LED is a bit different because with the Genesis you have to fly the plane and it's color scheme instead of the LED pattern. I adapted to this almost right away because the sunset flight give me a lot of visual clues and I almost knew what to expect.
Remember that no one in any of my local clubs night flies, and I have not been to an event since this type of lighting has been available. I had no idea how to install the system or any of the pitfalls to watch out for, so going in I knew this was very definitely going to be an exploratory project. I got a couple of things completely wrong, but since I didn't make anything permanent, they are easily changeable. 
I will be making one change to the system before we take it out again. You can see how well the outside of the SFGs are lit up, and that means that they are blocking that light from getting onto the plane. I'm going to slightly notch out the end of the wing so the light bar will slot into that notch and then the SFG will bolt down over top of it to hold it into place.  I might even hot glue the light bar in there, but we will have to start notching and see how it goes.

I will also be able to go back to the full size EXP style SFGs, because with the lights inside there is no need to use small SFGs.
I'm mildly pleased with the way my canopy mounted light bar lit the tail up, but it is not as good as the ones I have seen that are mounted directly to the tail. I would like to experiment with maybe using a single light bar per side of the canopy, and maybe angle them back. Then again, with  replacement canopies costing $19.99 apiece, plus shipping, I don't want to experiment with too many of those. I'm hoping that  mounting the wing lights inside the SFGs will also cast more light on the tail.
Outside of remounting the wing light bars, I think we have the plane mostly right. We are planning to get some Hi-Def video soon and when I post that I'll include some close up pictures of the new light installation.

In all, this has been a really solid project, but then again, we have had the best of everything to work with, so it is sort of what I expected. Since I love night flying so much and night flying season is just about to get started, you'll be seeing a lot more of this plane slicing through the darkness.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Edge of Darkness__Sunset Shakedown Video

Those of you who have come to expect our blog reports to be a little different only do so because .... well, because you have been paying attention!

Once again I am  going to stray from our format (what format?) a bit, and open on a personal note, but this time it was a bit out of my hands. I had intended to fly the Edge Of darkness the day after I published the report, and then add on the video as soon as I got home.

That was the plan, anyway.

Instead, I ended up in the hospital for a bit of emergency surgery. It's almost a week later and things are much better now, though I have to admit for a few days I felt like I had been run over by a truck.

No Night Flying In Pinellas County
 One problem I face with night flying is that all the clubs in Pinellas County are on county park property. County law says all parks close at dark, so night flying at one of the clubs would actually be illegal! Unfortunately, outside of the clubs, there is no suitable open land where you could fly at night, and that's why we night fly at Sarasota.

This is why any test of a new night plane is done at sunset, because that's the closest I can get to night conditions without breaking the rules/laws. I suppose I could have waited until I actually go to Sarasota Thursday night, but that's a long way to go and then find out the plane isn't right.

Sunset Shakedowns
I also like sunset test sessions because you can still see the plane, and if the light system isn't adequate you can bail out while there is still ambient light. The very first time I went night flying I had no idea what to expect, and a sunset flight gave me enough confidence to go ahead and do a full night flight.

Before today I had flown the plane once without the lights, and it was perfect. I just wanted to retrim it and check the CG with the lights installed, and make sure they stay lit when they are under flight load and vibration. I'm probably just being too thorough and deliberate, but I want to have the lights right on it before I take it out into a black sky.

 I got two flights on the Edge this evening. The first flight was in broad daylight to reset the trim and make sure the CG is right and that went well. My second flight was right at sunset and everything worked well. It was not dark enough for the lights to really light the plane, but it was too dark to fly without them, so it was probably the worst lighting conditions I could have flown under. I should have gone earlier or later, but in the end this will be good because I know the plane is lit up enough even for bad conditions.

The plane may not appear to be lit up very well, but cell phone cameras tend to get a little weird in poor lighting. Cameras like the sky to be one consistent level of light, and swinging back and forth in contrasting lighting confuses the camera. It was actually darker than the video shows, and the plane was better lit up. The lighting conditions were very poor for both the camera and myself. The sky was sure pretty, but I could not have picked a more visually challenging time to fly.......... too light for the plane's lights to be effective, and too dark to fly without lights. I still didn't have any trouble seeing the plane, so I suspect Thursday's pitch black night flying will go really well

The sunset was absolutely beautiful. Looks like we are set for Thursday Night,

Aurora Genesis__Initial Evaluation
So far, I am really pleased with this light system. Here I'de like to point out how poor the lighting was when we shot that video, and I could see the plane much, much better than you can see it in the video. I'm sure when we get some decent conditions the lights will be more than effective enough. We've seen videos of this system before, and that was impressive enough to convince me to try it. I'm not the least bit worried.

I do plan to do a few things differently when I get some time, though. I'm going to have some new SFGs made up with a notch cut in them so I can mount the light bars inside the SFGs right where the wires go into the wing. This way, no wires will show, which will look a lot better.  Also, the SFGs do block a little bit of light, so getting them inside the SFGs will light the plane up better.

The lights are currently way behind the CG, so mounting them further forward will also shift the CG a little. This was becoming a minor concern since I have my battery pretty far forward. Also, next time I will mount the the unit's driver system on the rear of the battery tray instead of behind the CG.

These are all minor little things that were my own fault for planning badly, though I was careful not to do anything that I couldn't undo, like drill holes in the wrong place. In all, though, this was a first effort with something completely new to me and I had to figure it all out for myself.

Sarasota Silent Fliers
While the club field is about an hour's drive from my door, I always love to go fly with my friends at Sarasota Silent Fliers. Every Thursday afternoon and evening we have sport flying, full contact combat with foam delta wings, cook out and pitch black night flying. It is always a very festive, family kind of event with many guys bringing their wives and even a few kids. Then again, it's not even really an event. It's just a good bunch of guys who have mastered the art of having fun. I just love flying with those guys.

This was where I first got to see RC night flying and fell in love with it right away. I built up some night planes, joined the club and have been a member since. Sadly I had not gotten down there this past year, simply because I felt so badly all the time, but post-surgery it is definitely time to get down there and visit my old friends. I'm planning to fly every Thursday until they shut it down when daylight savings time goes away.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Edge Of Darkness__LIVE

The Edge Of Darkness__LIVE
I have always loved the night. It just seems to be when I come alive. I loved racing cars at night and I loved going scuba diving at night. I love to work at night and I love to play at night. Everything seems to have more mystique when cloaked in a little darkness, and flying is really no different in this respect.

The goal of this article is to help those new to night flying have an easier time breaking in. Previously it was difficult to set a night plane up because the light systems were an afterthought ...... a product originally intended for something else and you had to make it work instead of simply installing it. This made things difficult for the new guys, but now we have something much better and much easier.

Older lighting systems also required that you cut holes in the plane and stick lights over the covering which would ruin the plane's appearance in the day time. The way we have installed our new system, it is not only removable, but you can't even tell it was ever there.

This will be another LIVE report, so I will be constantly taking pictures and video, and editing the article as we go.

Night Flying In The Dark Ages
I did a lot of night flying a few years ago using the Hobby King LED ribbons for lighting. While those worked well, that type of lighting did present a few problems. With the stick-on type LED strip of lights you had to drill holes in the plane for the wiring, and there was lots and lots of soldering (not my best skill, BTW) involved. The inside of the plane could very easily look like a rat's nest if you were not careful during the build. Trying to do a neat job on a couple of planes using these lights drove
me absolutely crazy, I didn't want to monkey with them any more.

And, of course, the strips were stuck down on the covering. If you tried to remove the lights from of the covering it would sometimes pull the clear outer layer off the covering with it, which pretty much ruined the covering job. With the old system, you just about had to sacrifice an airframe to make it into a night plane, and an Extreme Flight EXP is simply too nice to do that to.

This is why I abandoned night flying until now. I didn't want to sacrifice such a nice plane by drilling it full of holes, and ruining the covering and appearance of the plane with ugly LED strips.

New Age Lighting
Recently there have been a lot of developments in lighting systems, with Aurora RC Lighting Systems leading the way. Aurora offers lights for foamies, all the way up to giant scale systems.  I chose the Genesis system ($49.87, with an additional $10 light bar for the tail). Aurora assures me this will be enough lighting for the plane, and videos I've seen of the system confirm this. As it turns out,  because of the way I mounted the tail light on the canopy, I did not need the extra tail light, but I might install it on the underside later if I am not happy with how it looks after I fly it.

So, as it stands now, I am into the entire light system for about $50, which is even cheaper than the old LED strip light systems used to be. For what you get, it's not a lot of money at all.

This light system is different from the LED ribbons in that they are not colored LEDs. They are white light that shine on the plane and lights the whole thing up like a spotlight. The main lights mount on the SFGs and point inwards, and the real lights (on my plane, at least) mount on top of the canopy pointing rearward.

One of the prerequisites for this particular project is that I wanted to be able install and remove the lights at will. It's still a little bit too complex to move from airframe to airframe, but the goal was to be able to add/remove the system depending on when (day or night) I wanted to fly. This makes the installation a little more complex, but then again, we used to be modelers and occasionally had to figure a few things out for ourselves. Some of this is fun, and some of it is frustrating, but it's all part of the modeling challenge.

What made me interested in returning to night flying is that the Aurora system can be made to be removable without tearing up the plane or leaving unsightly holes drilled for the wiring. At worst I  had to sacrifice a pair of SFGs for mounting the main lights, and a canopy for the tail lights, and I can buy replacements for when I want to day fly the plane.

Here's what's great about this system: The old LED strips were freaking ugly in daylight and they completely destroyed the appearance of the plane. With the Aurora system you don't ruin the covering job and you don't drill a bunch of holes in a brand new plane. If you want to fly it in the day, you simply remove the SFGs and the attached light bars, and no one will know the difference.

This part could not have been any easier. The choice was so clear that there was never really even a second place. The Extreme Flight 48" Edge 540T EXP was the only airframe ever considered.

At night it is much more difficult to judge speed and distance, so you need the most stable and forgiving plane you can get your hands on. It is especially critical to have a plane with impeccable low speed manners and a solid, predictable stall characteristic. With this in mind, there was no other choice outside of the Edge EXP.

I usually fly my Edge when I want something supremely easy, and at night that is exactly what you need. I have been without an Edge until recently when I built a new one.  I chronicled this in Extreme Flight 48" Edge EXP___A Righteous Build . This plane came out so well and I am so proud of the build that I did not want to convert it to night flying. Instead, since I love building EXPs so much, this just gave me a convenient excuse to start with a new kit!

I'll skip the details of the actual build because I have covered a lot of that in my other Edge articles, plus Herc's Awesome Build Videos pretty much cover it all anyway. If you're building your first EXP, or even second or third, Herc's videos are still a darned valuable reference and resource. I will usually sit and watch one a few days before my kit gets here, and that way I am both psyched for the build and a little better prepared too.

Installing The Light System
I knew going in that my OCD would kick in pretty hard once I started laying the light system out. I was going to have to modify a few things to meet my goals, but nothing too drastic and nothing that a few modeling skills couldn't overcome. That and I got a bit of soldering help from my friend Mad Mikey.

To power the system I could choose either from running the lights straight off the 4s, 14.6 volt battery that also powers the plane, or reduce the voltage to 11.1 by running it through a  Castle Creations BEC set for that. You can also run the system off the plane's main LiPo, or even it's own independent battery, but I am a bit loathe to keep adding weight to a lightweight high performance airframe.

Wanting to keep it simple, I wired the system straight to the  Lipo. This way I just unplug it when I fly in the day.  Here you can see that I soldered a male and female deans plug back-to-back, with the wires to the light system driver (the brains) also soldered on and then heat shrunk.  The ESC is already plugged into this piece, and then the whole thing plugs into the battery. If I want to fly in the day, I just leave this piece out and hook up the battery to the ESC just like normal.

The genesis system is designed for foamies, (which do not generally have detachable wings) and thus, the wiring for the main lights are not removable from the main driver unit (the brains). This would make removing the wings a major pain, and then I would have to fish the wires through the wings again when I reassembled it. To get around this, I soldered some mini deans connectors in-line so I could detach the wiring inside the fuselage. This way I just unplug the lights for the wing much the same way you would unplug the aileron servos when you break the plane down for transport.

Light Mounting
The lights themselves are mounted on the end of a carbon fiber rod.  For future reference we will call these finished units the "light bars." For mounting the light bars to the plane, Aurora supplies Arrow nocks.

Yeah, I didn't know what they were either until I got my hands on a pair.

These arrow nocks are plastic pieces that fit into the rear end of an arrow shaft and they have a slot in them that the bow slides into. This slot is just the perfect shape and size in to which to snap the light bars. I used two on each light bar so it would have a sure mounting. The last thing you want is to sling one of your lights off in a violent maneuver, so a little overkill here isn't going to hurt anything.

For the main lights, I drilled holes in the side force  generators (SFGs) and glued the arrow nocks in, then snapped the light bars into place. You might notice the SFGs on this plane are smaller than the standard EXP version. You don't want the SFGs to block the light going onto the plane, so something a bit more compact was needed. I also wanted a little more clearance because the ground is always a little closer than it seems at night, and again, you sure don't want to hit it on the deck and knock one set of your lights off.

The Edge is so good in post stall, and so stable all the way around that cutting the SFGs down a little would not hurt it any. Certainly I prefer using SFGs, but I've tried the Edge EXP without them, and like this it merely needs a little more rudder application when flying in knife edge. Harrier and other post stall flight doesn't seem to change much. So far the smaller SFGs seem to work just fine: better than nothing, though not quite as good as the full size EXP SFGs.

I copied a Scott Stoops design, and had them custom laser cut locally from thin, lightweight plywood by John Sharpless of Precision Laser, whom I flew with years ago in the old nitro dark ages.

I did not want to mount the tail lights permanently because that would mean drilling holes in the plane for the wiring, and I an still not sure how I would fish them through the stab, so instead I mounted them on the canopy pointing back toward the tail. As you can see in later pictures, this lights it up pretty good.

For the driver system I cut a little balsa shelf and mounted it across the fuselage on top of the carbon longeron stringers. The red and black wires are the mini deans connectors I added so I could detach the wings and leave the wires still inside.

As you can see, it was not all that difficult to get a clean install here. This is much, much neater than the old way. Once I had everything thought out, it only took about an hour to install the system. The worst part was fishing the wires through the wings, which is why I made them removable.

In all, the Aurora system was very complete and well thought out. Again, this particular system is designed for a foamy, so it was going to take some tinkering to get it to work the way I wanted on a balsa 48". I plan to send this blog article to Aurora and perhaps they will offer it with the main wires detachable so the new guys will have an easier time breaking into night flying.

Especially worth noting is that aside from having to solder in the deans plugs to make the wings removable, the entire system just dropped right in and it was a very easy installation. It was immeasurable easier than those old Hobby King light strips.

There is also very little wiring and all the hardware is pretty lightweight, so you won't be loading the plane down with this system. It's very definitely much lighter than what I have used in the past.

As of this writing, I'm still waiting to fly the plane, but I can give you some observations about night flying from my previous experience.

While this will be a little different, I am pretty confident that I know what to expect. The difference is going to be that the plane will be much better lit up and I will be flying the plane and it's color scheme instead of the outline of the LED strips I used in the past.

Generally speaking, if your plane is well lit up night flying is really no more difficult than day flying, outside of a minor pitfall or two. First, speed and distance are harder to judge, meaning that a stall can surprise you if you are not careful. I found that it was much easier to judge my slow flight if it was right in front of me where I could really see it.

Also, for some odd reason I am at a loss to explain, the ground is about a foot higher at night! Again, it is very hard to judge distance because the night robs you of your depth of field. You don't have any stationary objects (or at least you can't see them) for you to use to judge your speed against. I eventually learned to use things in my peripheral vision, such as lights in the distance, the moon, and even the light from the plane reflecting off the runway. These are things that gave me an indicator of how fast the plane was going.

This is all something that you just have to be aware of when you start, though no one told me and I learned by having a few really close calls and a scuffed wheel pant or two. After a few flights I was hammering away and flying my usual routine right on the deck. It's really not any more difficult. You just need to get a flight or two under your belt to gain confidence, and then you will wonder why you didn't try night flying sooner.

It looks like we will try to shoot night video on Thursday, so stay tuned.

Edit, August 20, 2014: We're getting closer. I completely finished up every little detail simply because I have had so much time on my hands while recovering from my hospital stay. I finally got the lights aligned as best I possibly could and used a hot glue gun to weld them into place so they can't slide around inside their aero knots (mountings).
My biggest problem with night flying is that all clubs in Pinellas County (where I live) are on county park property, and county law says all parks close at night. If I try to test the plane at night I'll be breaking the law, and I am kind of trying to stay out of jail, at least this week.
With everything finally completely buttoned up, I do want to trim it out again in daylight, or preferably, at sunset, and make sure I've got the CG right. We did a single flight on the plane in day trim when I built it, but the CG has changed with the lights added. The plane flew perfectly, so I am confident any pre-night flying testing I can get in will be a formality and everything will be fine. I am just being thorough and obsessive.
For tonight I am hoping to do a quick sunset hop just to make sure all the systems are working properly, the CG is good with the lights installed, and the lights stay lit under a flight load and vibration. The great thing about sunset flights is you can see what the plane looks like lit up, but if you have a problem there is enough ambient light to get her back down safely.
Sarasota is an hour away, so I don't want to get down their and find out something isn't working right. I just want to go down there and fly with my friends, so this is why I am a bit obsessive about getting this plane perfect. I also really want to go to one of the Georgia October events, probably the one at Hodges and do some night flying with Manta, Chris Nobles and the rest of the Hodge Hounds. there won't be time or finances to build another one, so this one has gotta be right.
Edit, August 10, 2014: Well, we meant to fly it. We really did. Unfortunately I landed in the hospital the day before we were scheduled to go night flying in Sarasota, so that kind of puts an end to that for now. I'm going to give it a week or two for myself to recover, and then we'll try it again.