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Monday, September 24, 2012

Blade 130X Flight Review

blade-130-x-bnfUpdate 9/24/2012:  I decided to adjust the AS3X gains since my 130 seems slightly over-gained, with routine minor tail oscillations and an occasionally several spasm coming out of a flip.  I followed Horizon’s printed guidance and reduced the rudder gain by one click... 

The 130 was immediately un-flyable.  It goes completely out of control on spool-up, well before getting airborne.  Attempting to reverse the change or return to defaults does nothing.

I’m hoping it was a coincidental failure of the D-shape spindle interface on the tail gears, but who knows?  At this point I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s an unfixable quantum entanglement with the helicopter’s evil twin in a parallel Universe.

For now, bird dead.  Again.



Update 9/23/2012:  Z8RC B130 vibration fixes posted. 
See:

http://z8rc.blogspot.com/2012/09/blade-130-x-100-vibration-fix.html


Update 9/20/2012:  All set to go with the new titanium tail pitch slider from MicroHeli.  Run-up… massive vibration:  tail shaft bearing gone bad; also may have widened the seating hole in the toy-cheap plastic tail casing, no doubt from being shaken to death. 

Sweet Jeezus, make it stop.


Update 9/17/2012:  In a mostly inexplicable bout of self destructive behavior, I finished a main blade grip replacement after a brownout dropped the 130 X onto pavement, like a dead duck.  

But alas, after fixing it, it lost the bind and wouldn’t rebind.

Amazingly, and completely by accident I assure you, I figured out the unpublished (probably because it is unknown to Horizon) answer to my 130’s no-bind defect: move the rudder side to side during binding, full right then full left, repeat until bound.  Will this work with all the 130’s out there that won’t bind to DX6i-X’s?  I only wish flaky DSM-X was so predictable.

Happy to have the heli finally flyable again, I ran it up for takeoff.  The ultra-flimsy plastic tail slider’s bottom alignment pin snapped due to the AS3X tail shaking resonance on run-up that Horizon has officially stated is “normal.” 

I’m seriously wondering if this basket case is so criminally cheap that it is un-flyable for more than a few lucky sorties, period.  The product is a disgraceful mess in stock form.  But… since I have $400+ in it now, I’m going to throw more good money after bad and order some third party fixes from MicroHeli in an attempt to remedy Horizon Hobby’s bumbling design incompetence. 

I’m also going to add a small BEC to try to fix the regular brownout and loss of control issues.  Maybe it’ll help, or if not, hopefully my experience can be used to save others’ time, frustration and money.

I will post an update when complete.  For now, the 130X is grounded for so many hazardous manufacturer design defects that it is an absolutely unsafe product as shipped, even if it could fly, which it cannot. 

On a sad but related note, a Spektrum radio brownout terminated control of a 50-size (600) helicopter causing it to severely maul a young girl in Tampa. I predicted that would happen sooner or later.  Disturbing, disgusting, shameful, criminal…

girlmauledgirlmauled2

Horizon Hobby did not comment on the mishap, but their receiver instruction manuals acknowledge that their brownout design defect is now the leading cause of RC crashes: “Inadequate power systems that are unable to provide the necessary minimum voltage to the receiver during flight have become the number one cause of in-flight failures.”

And why should Horizon comment, when they’ve already stated this:

“HORIZON SHALL NOT BE LIABLE FOR SPECIAL, INDIRECT OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES, LOSS OF PROFITS OR PRODUCTION OR COMMERCIAL LOSS IN ANY WAY CONNECTED WITH THE PRODUCT, WHETHER SUCH CLAIM IS BASED IN CONTRACT, WARRANTY, NEGLIGENCE, OR STRICT LIABILITY.”

Horizon knowingly, deliberately, and legally pins the tail of their design incompetence right on you, their customer.  Unfortunately for Horizon Hobby the disfigured girl was not their customer so she could not have read the statement, so it has no effect on their liability for the event.



Update 9/17/2012:  Ok, I tried to bend over backwards for this thing, but it was not to be.  Downgrading to F
overall for one major hassle after another.  This thing is a seagull, you have to throw rocks at it to make it want to fly.  After a variety of mechanical failures and recurring brownouts in the air continuously beating up weak construction, now it unbinds every few sorties and each time it’s harder to rebind.  Flashing bind light as we speak.  Complete POS from a quality perspective.  AVOID.


Update 9/15/2012: Today the 130’s motor started cutting out for a few seconds at a time, sporadically, in flight.  It usually happens after high power has been applied for a while.  Most likely the integral ESC is too small and is overheating UMX Gee Bee style.  A major design flaw.

I will keep an eye on it and downgrade the 130 further if required.


Update 9/13/2012:  The main shaft’s tail drive stripped today from a slight graze on a bedsheet.  Gear shavings everywhere.  There is no reason in the world a $300+ heli should be so poorly built.  Lowering overall grade from C+ to generous C-.

Original review follows:


Intro:                                                                                   

My last observation on the Blade 130 was that the newest Blade incorporates one of the best Z8RC mods--the mCP X boom truss.  Finally the mCP X’s wobble woes were put to bed when Z8RC dicovered the micro heli’s crazy vibration problems were caused by boom-resonance artifacts amplified in an AS3X feedback loop.  lade never wrote to thank me; not even a Christmas card.  Talk about ungrateful.  …but imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. 

Time to fly the indirectly Z8RC moded Blade 130:

quarterview

SPECS:
- Approximate Flight Time: 4 minutes
- Battery: 7.4V 300mAh 2S 35C Li-Po (included)
- Completion Level: Bind-N-Fly
- Experience Level: Advanced
- Flying Weight: 3.77 oz (107 g)
- Height: 4.80 in (122mm)
- Length: 12.0 in (305mm)
- Main Rotor Blade Length: 135mm
- Main Rotor Diameter: 12.8 in (325mm)

PRICE:
- $280 with one proprietary battery
- $17 for second battery (required due to proprietary connector)
- Aluminum Tail Slider: $20 (required)
- Metal tail gear drive: $15 (required)
= $332 with required upgrades, see below

On the Ground:                                                                         

With the 130X, Blade has wisely incorporated number of user-developed solutions in addition to my off-center, node-dampening boom truss.  They shipped the heli with user invented rubber grommets on the swash ball connections, plus added a user base driven brushless ESC and motor. 

I think it is a good thing that Blade is watching the community solve problems one by one, then incorporating these better designs into future offerings.  What better product evolution model could they ask for than allowing people who actually know what they are doing, doing their design work for them?  It’s less comforting that they seem fine with routinely releasing mostly untested products.

Blade did attempt to make minor improvements to the platform.   The landing gear is stronger, and there is now a torque rod running through that much stronger Z8RC tail design, instead of including their habitually flawed electric motor tail drive.

Unfortunately, there are several well known deficiencies that Blade ignored or were incapable of tackling in their 130X release:

The 130’s servos are larger, more powerful versions of the same flawed design, and as such are still exposed-gear linear design Rube Goldberg specials prone to quickly acquiring the jitters as dirt coats the exposed contact strips and interferes with the critically delicate pickup wipers.  The external gears on these lousy servos remain cheap nylon, giving them a very short half life even under the best conditions.  Shockingly, the copter’s main gear is still pressed on using a friction mounting sleeve, allowing the classic Blade problem of a “shifty shaft” causing main blade pitch control to go stupid.

tail body servos

New problems were introduced, as well.  The LHS rep suggested buying a metal $15 tail gear drive sold by Blade themselves, as the weak plastic gears strip instantly as a result of even the most minor tail strike or the first time inadvertently plopping the heli down in grass.  Huh?  Blade knows the helicopter is defective and decided to charge their customers to fix it?!  See update, above.

The plastic tail slide is also universally hailed as a “must replace” part with a $20 Micro Heli CNC equivalent as it quickly binds slight causing 130X yaw control to be over the place.

I upgraded nothing for this flight review, frankly wondering if the heli would hold up for a while, or quickly fail. 

The first failure was less spectacular and caught me off guard: simple failure to bind.  Of course I googled it and found a parade of people with the same problem.  After around the 50th attempt of trying everything, from taking the Tx into another room to sprinkling the antenna with Montreal Steak Seasoning (for the sake of clarity to the similarly frustrated: that was a joke) I either got unbelievably lucky or figured it out.  The key may have been to input throttle subtrim of –100, input a throttle down-travel adjustment of 125%, and then trim all the way down.  I tired each downward adjustment individually, and even in double-combinations, with no success.  Only the triple solution worked.  I couldn’t risk unbinding the heli to see if the triple-down solution was the ticket or if it just happened to work after a gazillion bind attempts.    Frustrating, to say the least.

Add to the frustration that the triple-down-trim piece of the puzzle was quite a trick, since my DX6i’s trim button is broken like all DX6i and DX7 and DX7S trim buttons are broken or very soon will be.  Luckily, I had an airplane memory stored with full down throttle trim, so I switched to that as a basis for the 130X and added the other two down adjustments in a last act of exasperation before re-boxing the POS. 

With the Sun now long gone due to the 130’s QA and design shenanigans, I hovered the heli inside to at least get a taste of the thing before the next morning. 

Wow, now I know why Blade adopted the Z8RC boom truss.  Basic vibration and resonance is terrible.  In fact, it is so bad around 35% throttle, that the steel rudder pushrod blurs into a frantic sine wave that becomes so big it clacks the tail boom!  The tail’s thin plastic vertical fin resonates so badly it flexes wildly to become literally an inch wide.  

I was reluctant to spin the head speed any faster, as the heli seemed to by ripping itself apart straight out of the box, but I pushed it harder with a twisted cringe, instinctivel squinting to protect my eyes if the pieces started to fly.  At about 45% the heli smoothed out to reasonable, though hardly Align-smooth.  Sheeze, that is some massive vibration for a supposedly “flight tested” out of the box sample.  It’s hard to imagine 130’s shakes being much worse without acute damage, more insidious long term damage is a given.  Above 50%, hovers were well controlled once I toned down Blades recommended low-rate travel to 55% instead of the manual’s too twitchy 85% recommendation. 

After just a few minutes of basic control, I found the 130X both a delight and a huge disappointment.  Allow me to explain. 

The platform is clearly stable, surprisingly so, but only when the ball is balanced right on top of the seal’s nose.   Excellent!  Unfortunately, Blade’s ultra cheap analog linear servos utterly let the helicopter down.  It doesn’t matter if the 130 is perfectly trimmed or not, any significant stick movement ruins any semblance of servo centering and the copter drifts with pace, from a little to a lot, in a never ending random walk.   Uhg.

There is no way to achieve solid hovering behavior without manually inputting constant, high frequency tedious corrections.  Once you finally coax the servos to center, the heli seizes a moment of greatness and you can feel the 130X’s terrifically stability.  Move a stick positively, and its gone.  The micro copter is back to acting like a pig on iceskates.    What a shame, great digital micro servos cost a couple of bucks, retail.  Why would Blade deliberately skimp on basic flight control to save a few pennies?  Crazy.

In the Air:                                                                         

The maiden flight of the 130X went as expected.  The mini 130 flies much closer to a real helicopter than the underpowered and boggy 1-cell mCP X. 

The second flight ended in a pre-mature auto-rotation after less than a minute (that went fairly well too) after a brand new E-Flight 300 mAh 2S battery died straight out of the bag.  Unfortunately, this is predictable E-Flight LiPo performance - abysmal batteries that are wildly overpriced, usually defective, and often dangerous - every one of my LiPo fires have been E-Flite batteries.

Back to the initial flight –

After spending a little time in the hover with decent control, I pointed the small heli toward the big world.  The 130’s lack of servo centering precision is less of a problem on the move.  In fact, the helicopter is very cooperative in forward flight and doesn’t display any tendency to run ahead in either turn direction.  Instead, the little Blade stays nicely controlled and is easy to bend around Figure-8s in reasonably symmetrical fashion and under solid control.  If anything, the heli tends to lean back on its haunches and slow a bit without a positive command seeking forward airspeed.  This kind of stability is sure to be welcomed by CP beginners.

It was easy to transition to Idle-Up to fly and flip the 130, but the increased head speed seemed to take the battery from solid to shaky, pretty quickly.  Aileron rolls, loops, and flips all remained predictable within a cloud of quantum uncertainty defined by imprecise servo control. 

The completion of each inverted maneuver resulted in the unwanted loss of a 5 feet or so of altitude (which is around 20% when flying with good visual distance for the tini copter) and about the same amount of random drift.  There is noticeable motor bog, but the 130 is a lot better than the 1-cell mCP X’s boggy brushless.  Also unlike the mCP X, the 130’s torque-driven tail holds.

The helicopter does have an issue with the tail control (the plastic slider) hanging-up unpredictably during positive rudder movement, but it is not overbearing (yet).  Imagine an invisible finger tapping the tail every 5 seconds or so.  Not too bad.  Certainly not great.

Overall, the 130 is a great training platform for the big helicopter world.  It is not without vice.  It is not satisfyingly precise, but beginners could easily blame themselves and not notice for a while.  It shines as a forward flight trainer.  It is an adequately powerful negative pitch trainer with a firm tail gyro spoiled by a cheap plastic twitchy tail pitch slider.

Time for grades:

GRADES                                                                           

Appearance: A 
Great looking helicopter.  Not the coolest but far from the ugliest.

Aerodynamics/Handling:  B+ 
Exceptional inherent stability goes largely unrealized due to disappointing lack of servo centering precision.  Intermediate-friendly general handling.  Tail twang from unruly tail slider can make flips unpredictable.  AS3X resonance wobble.

Power System: B
Good power for mild 3D but with noticeable motor bog at steep blade pitches.  Nasty vibration and resonance.  Weak unreliable proprietary batteries.

Build Quality/Durability: F
Solid airframe. Feeble tail gear set. Weak tail boom.  Screw heads are way too soft (and the included screw driver is too big to fit!).  Thin tail rotor shaft.  Lousy exposed-gear servos with jittery dirt prone wipers. Alarming AS3X resonance issues. Flimsy canopy held together with sloppy Scotch tape.  Recurring bind problems.

Value:  D-
Eye-popping $332 price tag.  Imprecise, delicate servos.   Manufacturer refuses to fix known defects.  Package finds the sweet spot for a front lawn 3D trainer.  Flies bigger than other micros.

Overall Grade: F
Even with imprecision and inexcusable quality fumbles, I want to recommend the 130X but the ludicrous price tag makes that impossible.  I could recommend the 130 X at an MSRP of $99.


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