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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Flyzone Albatros Flight Review

Update: Video added. 

After solid success with the intermediate-level BlitzRCworks Nano Corsair, I thought it would be interesting to test a beginner non-Horizon micro. At my point in life, I enjoy a calm morning or evening of relaxed flying, so why not.  I found a little Flyzone Albatros with my name on it. 

It specs-out something like this:
• Ready to Fly
• Flies for up to 10 minutes
• Recharges from the radio
• 3-channel control
• 2.4GHz radio system
• Wingspan: 14.5" (370mm)
• Length: 11.1" (280mm)
• Weight: 1.0-1.1oz (28-31g)

A small transmitter is included, and AFAICT, is the only option to control the plane:
The included radio is tiny and the trim buttons,
built into the stick bezels, are very difficult to use

On the Ground:

Like most micros, the plane comes fully assembled in a large-ish box sufficient to protect it from most nuclear blasts.  All you need to do is charge then Velcro the battery in place.  As you can see in the upside-down photo, there is no forward-aft play in the battery position, so the aircraft CG is fixed in one position.  No doubt, the manufacturer wanted to keep the flight characteristics amenable to beginners, and they succeeded in doing so at the expense of satisfying intermediate+ flyers.  The plane balances nose-heavy.

Build quality of the airframe is poor, like most micros. The wings are stamped from thin foam sheeting and the fuselage is semi-permanently sealed.  The sealed fuselage wouldn't be a big deal if my little bird's gearbox didn't fail after one flight.  One the second takeoff, the shaft pulled far enough forward to disengage the propeller reduction gear.  About three seconds after breaking ground on my first flight, one main wheel fell off.

In the Air:

Like all good early designs, the WWI Albatros takes advantage of advanced aerodynamic principles that modern designs use computer-driven flight control systems to overcome on the cheap.  In RC terms, that means older designs usually fly real good.  Biplanes, in general, are inherently great flyers, which is why nature invented them perhaps 130 million years ago:
Advantages of the biplane are many.  There is improved ability to brace more wing area, higher aspect ratio wings have less overall span, wing area is concentrated near the longitudinal axis for roll authority, the form can be made symmetric without a stabbing a main spar through the pilot or fuselage CG point, more wing area gets blown by the prop for better lift and control, and the pilot gets a better view of the ground with the reduced low or mid wing requirement.

All of these advantages (ok, maybe not the pilot visibility part) are at play with the tiny Albatros, and in the air, it showed.

Flyzone's micro Albatros is an excellent flyer.  The WWI era tail skid works well enough on pavement to taxi and even turn with a prop blast.  The wheels are large for a micro, so short grass might be a player.  Take off is reasonably short and well controlled even without a tail wheel. 

Once airborne, inherent stability is enhanced with pronounced low wing dihedral and some upper-wing dihedral.  The plane settles into a straight-ahead grove very nicely.  When you want to change course, the reduced span of the design (28" of wing crammed into a 14.5" span) allows good maneuverability with only rudder control.  The wing dihedral helps keep the rudder from coupling to a nose down tendency when established in, and rolling out of a turn.

Control throws are too small, especially for the forward CG location.  This makes turns overly wide and landings too fast, or the nose will plow-in.  Even beginners will want to move the two push rods to their inner most holes on the control horns. 

Slow flight and stall characteristics are the best thing about the Albatros.  The plane can fly under very low power and at very high Angles of Attack without drama.  Unfortunately, the radio can't.  Airborne elevator and rudder trim are way too cumbersome to operate continuously during flight; the buttons are embedded in the stick bezels making them hard to find and they require too much force to register.

An unexpected pleasure and pain is the amount noise pumped out by this mini Albatros' over-taxed motor and gear box.   I found the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang nature of the drive system actually added to the WWI appeal of the bright red and black-crossed floater, as it clamors to stay afloat.  Your neighbors' dogs might disagree.

A main wheel falls off and bounces on the ground 
below the plan at the 9 second mark

Overall, this plane flies great.  Unfortunately, Flyzone limited the fun with a nose heavy condition that can't be corrected with battery position.  One might experiment with a lighter battery than the stock 130mAh, but then flight times are going to be hampered as they are only "ok" as sold.
The plane has a few nice little scale details. 
The fuselage foam is much better than the wing foam.
Word on the street is that a Dr.1 Triplane sibling will land in stores soon.  Let's hope a Futaba 14MZ radio is included instead of the Albatros' mini stock radio.

Appearance: A-
Nice little scale replica.  Color scheme is snappy, highly visible and easy to orient in the air. 

Flight Performance: B
Excellent stability and low speed handling.  Poor radio trim controls significantly detract from flying experience.  Too nose heavy with no way to alter battery position.

Build Quality/Durability: F
Disposable build quality. Dropped a wheel on the maiden flight.  Gearbox play decoupled the prop reduction gear on the second takeoff.

Value:  B-
Decent price for an RTF at under $80.  Radio is hard to use with no way to upgrade.  Manufacturer-limited intermediate+ flyer appeal.

Overall Grade: D+
Wonderful flight characteristics limited by lack of throw and clumsy CG. Locked into a poor radio. Un-flyable gearbox after one flight.

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