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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Parkzone Spitfire Mk IX Flight Review

Update: Please see my related blog articles:

Update: Latest Mk LFIXe video.  Shows the final variant with retracts, 4S, 4-blade prop and LFIXe mods.  Awesome performance!  A 5-10 knot headwind is slowing most of the high speed passes. It really does sound like an Indy car.  There is a nice pass is at 2:10.
Update:  Latest Mk LFIXe video.  Shows the improved roll rate and slow flight:

My full Flight Review of the PZ Spit Mk IX follows, including one amazing surprise!

On the Ground:
This plane goes together incredibly quickly.  The following photo was taken exactly 9 minutes after the in-the-box photo.  And I was in no hurry.
Top/Bottom paint scheme and colors are very similar to the Mossie. 

The Spit Mk IX has some nice details.  Once the plane is together, which doesn't take long, you can't help but stand back and admire Supermarine's lines.  It is one good looking plane, its a shame they went out of business (actually they were snapped up, but their design prowess was lost in the sale).

Parkzone's landing gear  exaggerate the odd foldaway orientation of the original design, and the model's poor  landing gear proved problematic during my flight tests.  I would up straightening the struts on a vice, to resemble the original plane, with good results (re-bent gear not shown).
The actual landing gear are straighter than Parkzone's pigeon-toed model.
The Parkzone gear not only look way off, they function very poorly.
The wing leading edge gets two long plastic canons, held in place using two small machine screws.  Coaxing the screws into the usual fussy Horizon Hobby misfit plastic foam inserts consumes about half the total assembly time.

In the Air:
Maiden video:

Not the best hat cam work, but not my worst either.
My HD video mode only records 10 min clips
so no landing recorded but the plane was very easy
to land - given plenty of runway for the fast/heavy
glide characteristics as configured by Parkzone.
The surprise I alluded to at the top of this article, and discuss in more detail in my Focke Wulf vs. Spitfire dogfight, is perfect 4S operation--right out of the box:

On 4S, the Spitfire is a lot of fun to fly and worthy of the Spitfire name.  On 3S, the plane can't quite reach speeds that inspire.

The Mk IX airframe is a good version of Spitfire, because it looks cool, but it reflects a time when designers were chasing ultimate efficiency via trendy, theoretically ideal elliptical wings.  Elliptical wings generally don't fly well, and tip stalls in the RC realm are a real problem as Reynolds numbers become too low as the chord fades to zero at the tips--all you really get at the ends is drag on a heavy moment arm.  The pure elliptical wings add interest, but in almost every case they were abandoned in favor of better wing tip designs, at least for high speed warbirds.

The nice thing about Parkzone's visually trendy but poor RC design choice is that the Mk LFIXe is a very easy conversion.  And because the LF is based on a Mk IX, it looks even cooler than the old rounded Spit and it flies a lot better at small scales.  I quickly converted mine and anyone who wants to improve their Spitfire's speed, roll rate, and low speed handling might do the same.  In fact, all warbirds with elliptical wing planforms fly better in RC form when updated to their more advanced clipped variants:

All that said, it you like the look of the full ellipse, it flies fine for the most part, and on 3S the Spit won't set any speed and agility records anyway.  Tip stalls can be tricky as shipped by Parkzone, so you have to carry more juice to land controllably with the round tips in place.  Removing the tips allows you to reduce landing speeds by another 20% or so before dropping a wing, battery weight constant.

The Spitfire Mk IX is a competent flier, but on 3S the plane is too lethargic to give a valid warbird experience.  No doubt, Parkzone would prefer to keep the airplane as beginner friendly as possible, but the plane losses substantial value when flown as shipped.  Aerobatics are lazy and slow flight gets squirrely near the rough bottom edges of the full elliptical wing flight envelop.  It's hard to believe the plane tests at exactly 1:1 installed T:W when running on 3S, as it feels a little lame in the air for a fire breathing monster.

To bring the Spit to life, a 2000-2200 mAh 4S battery is required.  Speed is magnificently improved with almost 1:5 T:W; the graceful high speed airframe is just begging for the grunt to move out.  The Z8RC Mk LFIVe mod adds even more speed and roll performance, plus rights most low speed wrongs although the wing loading is made theoretically worse.  

The Parkzone Spitfire is a fun pocket rocket, and an exciting ride in fully tricked out form like any good warbird should be.  The price is high for a foamie, especially considering tough competition the $140 twin engine J-Power/Hobby King P-38.

Given a stock choice, the J-P/HK P-38 is the easy pick with its impeccable flight manners, built-in flimsy retracts, and yes, even better lines in the air (wow, it is better looking than a Spitfire--now that is saying a lot!).  The 38's half-price tag makes it more appealing still.  But in its very easily hopped 4S Mk LFIXe incarnation, the Parkzone Spit is both more challenging and exciting to fly; in mostly in good ways.
The meaner looking tail sacrifices a bit of yaw 
stability in bumpy flight conditions, but is not 
a control issue.  4-blade prop coming soon.
Final grades:

Appearance: A+

Airframe: A-
Very good behavior can be made even better with a number 11 blade.

Power System: 
Needs Viagra as shipped, but is 4S ready out of the box.

Build Quality/Durability: B+
The plane can handle some abuse (flight tested).  Cheap clevis pins break.

Value:  C+
Bonus points for 4S ready.  Still awfully pricey for a foam warbird.

Overall:  B+ (3S), A (4S), A+ (Z8RC Mk LFIXe)
Since no additional expense is required, I've graded all three.

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