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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Parkzone UM Pole Cat BNF Flight Review

Nice looking little plane, but the beauty 
of this bugger is more than skin deep
pole·cat (n).  A chiefly nocturnal European carnivorous mammal (Mustela putorius) of the weasel family that ejects a malodorous fluid to mark its territory and ward off enemies.

Hmmm, ok, well, uhm, with that out of the way...

Great News!  The PZ UM Pole Cat is not one of those smelly fanged rodent thingamajigs.  But whatever it is, it comes as close to hitting it's quasi-advertised mark as any Horizon Hobby micro I've tested since the magical Hobbyzone Champ RTF landed in stores.  Having bounced off Mach 2 for much of my life, personally, I find it both more relaxing and more challenging to fly slow than fast, at least as it pertains to this hobby.  Nevertheless, the Pole Cat is an undeniably endearing little punk with both attitude and character.  It is swift and stable in pitch and yaw, and very quick to roll--more on that later.  You get what you are promised: a little speed and a lot of fun.
The PZ UM Pole Cat doesn't have a 
lot in common with its 1:1 namesake
The purpose-built nature of the Pole Cat is the best UM design effort to date.  Not because it is complex, because it is simple.  The airframe is aerodynamically suited to task, which is, presumably, to accommodate bulimic mice that want to pylon race.  The wing employs a molded airfoil cross section, thankfully.  The base material is $1 ice chest style Styrofoam, weak at best, but there are no exposed PCB servos or delicate plastic gears to drag over pavement, everything is tucked inside the fuselage.  Even the pushrods to the tail surfaces are mounted above the horizontal stabilizer to avoid constant scrape-age.

The only drawback to this terrific simplicity is single channel aileron counter-motion, without the possibility of scheduling flaperons or spoilerons, but that is a small price to pay for HH finally getting the basic layout right.  The real jackpot is a lack of parasite drag from servos and wires and rods and horns--from top to bottom--this stinky-ass euro-kitten is squeaky clean.
The shiny chin and leading edges are from aftermarket 
scotch tape.  Guess I've dinged-up too much foam in my life.
The plane looks and feels almost too simple, I keep wanting to open a hatch or see a servo swing, but there is literally nothing to see here so move along.  The battery sticks to the CG.  That's it.  Well alright, the landing gear pinches out too, for those who want to hurry up and crash-land.
The PC uses a standard 130x70mm Champ prop.  
The motor is well sealed--is it really any any 
bigger, or just geared to spin a bit faster?  The answer
lies on the parts list: it's the same tired, unreliable 
brushed tin can used in most HH micros
This sleek Cat looks an awful lot like an Edge 540 or Extra 300, with a near-straight wing leading edge and small forward sweep of the mean chord. However, it doesn't fly like either one, at least not as set up.  The Edge/Extra design genre is awfully slippery and well suited to any race format that turns rotten dinosaurs into some optimum combination of knots and G, Red Bull style. But where those fiendishly aerobatic designs deviate from the Pole Cat is in the amount of say they give the pilot.

The Pole Cat is different because it doesn't allow you explore the limits and quirks of its inherent stability, there's not enough control surface to get silly.  One glance at the hind end of the Pole Cat reveals an apparent lack of control surface area, and an even more disturbing lack of travel.  It voluntarily leaves the Edge and Extra's huge barn door rudders and big aerodynamic balance horns at the airshow.It takes a highly symmetrical airframe and extracts as much low drag straight line slippery speed as it can break loose.

In the air, the most critical concerns are alleviated with comfortable elevator authority at or near full rates (low rate settings need not reduce elevator travel a heckuva lot).  Rudder authority is minimal.  But straight line speed doesn't demand a lot of yawing and tumbling and assorted Jedi mind trickery, so the design pays dividends.  That said, flat out speed is not outrageous, out of control, or even very spooky, but it is a step above its micro siblings.  It zips.

The result of the plane's go fast first philosophy is better built-in stability than most flying micrometers.   This plane changes heading using its lateral axis, alone.  Kicking the rudder only yaws the plane a little, with no secondary axis coupling.  Holding full rudder for what seems like an inordinate amount of time doesn't change the flight path very much.  In contrast, the Cat rolls effortlessly on the longitudinal axis, and again, with no secondary coupling due to the perfect mid-mount wing.  Neither sideways stick does much in the way of redirecting mass and energy away from the crowd.  That leaves pitch.  The lateral axis is the only effective pivot point capable of altering your flight path.   Roll to place the straight-up lift vector on the new flight path target, then pull to align the nose with destiny.

I like it.  It is fun.  And what more do you really need from a 1-cell torpedo?

Well, I'll answer that.  A little more top end speed would be nice.   Don't blame the airframe, blame the wimp can motor and gum stick battery.  That said, the plane is clearly faster than the other HH micros, and it manages to poop just enough goose juice to deliver some real fun.   The plane's achieved top speed with so little oomph proves that sexy isn't the same as dirty.  At 35g with a 150 mAh in the bomb bay, the Pole Kitten packs a meow instead of a roar, but it also lugs half the mass and fewer strap hangers then the brushless  Sbach, with similar airframe dimensions:
Get off me!
In the end, this plane simply works.  The sleek, simple exterior, the faster gearing, the stability in the air--even the $100 price tag is better than Horizon's usual Ultra Micro value proposition.  If this plane sold for $59, I could give it an A+.  At the $100 price point it gets:

Appearance: B+
Cute plane; color scheme seems stale.

Flight Performance: A
Nicely aligned with its fun theme.

Build Quality/Durability: C-
Molded Styrofoam airfoil; embedded electrics; crap motor--still a foam plane.

Value:  C-
Less face it, at $100 this pipsqueak is overpriced.

Overall Grade:
Fun factor rules in the end; you'll want to fly it a lot.
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