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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Align TREX-500 ESP Flight Review

It’s time to review a couple of helis… first up is the venerable Align TREX-500:


I’ve reviewed an awful lot of Blade helicopters, from toys to the entry level Blade 400:


It seems past time to review a more serious helicopter or two.  I’m not a good helicopter pilot, but I know enough to be extremely dangerous. 

No doubt about it, the Align TREX series defines the standard in high-end copters.  The 500 is a classic, maybe because it sits right at the bottom of a more serious class than your typical RTF offerings, which used to top out at around 400 size, but are currently breaching the 500 class.  

Align TREX 500 ESP

T-Rex 500 ESP Superior Combo Features
* Electric power system.
* Simple and light weight design provides awesome flight performance and extreme 3D capability.
* Rigid carbon fiber frame design.
* Beautiful factory painted fiberglass canopy.
* Rotor head/tail with thrust bearings.
* Direct-to-swash CCPM linkage.
* Center of gravity of Battery tray designed close to the rotor head.
* High efficiency torque tube drive system.
* Fully driven tail auto rotation system.
* Tail servo boom mount.

T-Rex 500 ESP Superior Combo Specifications:
* Length: 840mm
* Height: 310mm
* Main Blade Length: 425mm
* Main Rotor Diameter: 970mm
* Tail Rotor Diameter: 200mm
* Motor Ponion Gear: 12T/13T
* Main Drive Gear: 162T
* Autorotation Tail Drive Gear: 145T
* Tail Drive Gear: 31T
* Drive Gear Ratio: 1:13.5:4.68/1:12.46:4.68
* Weight(w/o power system): 1370g
* Flying Weight: Approx 1700g
* Color carton: 48.3x18.7x9.8cm
* Outer carton: 58x50x42cm ,12sets/ctn

Included in Kit:
* T-REX 500 ESP Kit Set X1 set
* 425D carbon fiber blades X1
* RCE-BL60G 60A Brushless ESC X1 (Built-in 5-6V step-less adjustable BEC)
* 500M Brushless motor X1
* Motor pinion gear 13T X1
* DS510 Digital Servo X3
* DS520 Digital Servo X1
* GP780 Head lock gyro X1
Radio transmitter and electronic equipment required for assembly:
1. Transmitter (6-channel or more,helicopter system)
2. Receiver (6-channel or more)
3. Pitch gauge X1
4. 22.2V 6S Li-Po 2100~2500mAh battery X1

Another trend in hobby grade RTFs is the move toward flybar-less heads.  A mini techno revolution is clearly taking shape in micro electronic gyros, which have the potential to replace mechanical stabilizers, like flybars.

Perhaps because the TREX-500 used to enjoy more exclusive rights to the 500 class, and it is still sold with (and without) a flybar, it is priced very aggressively for a pro-class heli.  In my view, this confluence of current events and trends has created a sweet spot for the Align TREX-500, particularly for those wishing to make the jump from cheaply built RTF helis, to a more reliable and much better flying steed.

Interestingly, Align’s marketing model is “Made-in-America” as opposed to other brands which are put together in China.  Well, that’s not exactly their model, their business model is “Make-it-in-America” (<—or, insert your country here).  The not so minor catch being, you have to build it yourself or find someone else to build it for you. 

Building a helicopter of this caliber sounds daunting, because it is…


…but there are real benefits to building a helicopter yourself, namely:

  1. You understand it in and out
  2. The heli was built by someone who gives a $#@%

These are not small things.  Consider:

  1. You might not build an RTF heli, but you will have to re-build it
  2. Nothing is worse than an un-threadlocked screw coming undone or <insert any other super cheap weakest link here> tubing your entire investment

Both of those things will happen. 

Example: In spite of religiously staying within my comfort zone (because I dreaded the thought of re-building something I that did not build) and subsequently never getting sideways with my heavily upgraded Blade 400, the tail blew apart when a hot bearing melted through the ridiculously cheap, stock plastic tail casing. 

So as the saying goes, if you want something done right you must do it yourself. 

The first thing RTF heli buyers are likely to notice when examining the TREX 500 is a pretty eye-popping increase in industrial grade component quality compared to lower end builds. 


There are other quantifiable differences, like a 6mm feathering shaft instead of 5mm that comes in other popular 500 helicopters, etc.  The quality of Align’s offering is evident from every angle except the price tag, which is a little higher but clearly heavy on value.  These are the kinds of price tags worth paying.

A quick look at a major retailer’s price page shows the TREX to be price competitive, especially considering the well known brand quality and large user base:

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