Every sport has its pinnacle; for most international athletes, the glory lies in Olympic Gold. For radio control helicopter pilots, the equivalent is a win in F3C competition, which is governed by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI). Success at this level requires the same dedication, commitment and years of practice that are common among Olympic athletes, coupled with lots of talent and top-notch equipment.
Like a Formula 1 race car, F3C helicopters have traditionally been expensive. Kits without electronics often cost more than $3,000. In fact, the market for F3C helicopters in the States is so small that most top pilots had to source their machines and their spare parts from overseas retailers.
F3C machines go fast, track straight and fly true at blistering speeds and handle like a dream. In hover, a great F3C helicopter will sit perfectly still in the slightest breeze or in gale force winds. When pushed in aerobatic sequences, the top performers draw lines through the sky as though guided by a straight edged ruler.
With Aligns introduction of the 700eF3C super combo, the equipment required to compete at this elite level is now easily within the grasp of the masses. Its an opportunity that has many sport fliers thinking about giving competition a try and those dedicated modelers already involved in precision helicopter competition excited about the potential for new blood getting involved in their sport.
A PACKAGE LOADED WITH VALUE
It seems each year that I build a new Align product, the packages become more attractive. The 700E F3C super combo is no exception, as it includes everything required to fly except for the receiver, receiver pack and battery packs; and, the items that are included are top quality.
In the box, youll find a quick building helicopter that is loaded with all the bling todays helicopter pilots expect: stiff carbon-fiber frames and beautifully machined aluminum parts coupled with a very nice hardware package that includes carbon-fiber stiffeners for the push-pull servo rods and flybar.
The package also includes carbon-fiber rotor blades and paddles that are specifically designed for F3C flying. The main difference here is weight. The paddles have the same airfoil as the 700s traditional 3D paddles, but each F3C paddle weighs 38 grams instead of 21, and each blade weighs in at about 215 grams instead of 175 for Aligns 3D blades of the same length. The center of gravity has also been moved farther towards the tip of the rotor blades and slightly forward toward the leading edge. The added weight serves to slow down and stabilize cyclic response, and the forward location of the CG improves the stability in fast, forward-flight while helping to minimize pitching tendencies. Both changes are critically important for a great flying competition helicopter.
The electronics package is also impressive. The included servo and gyro package is already popular with 3D pilots. The DS610 cyclic servos offer plenty of torque and quick response and the 780 gyro coupled with the Align DS650 tail servo provides smooth tail response and proven tail-holding power for any maneuver including the highspeed traveling forward flips that are in the difficult schedule F in F3C competition.
Powering the drive train is a 470Kv 700MX brushless motor matched to a Castle Creations ESC providing smooth operation and plenty of power. The ESC can be programmed with your transmitter and will work just fine, but to get the full features of the ESC, Castle Creations offers a USB interface that offers advanced programming features for $24.95, and it is well worth the price for the added features.
Simply type in the head speed for hover, and for flying upstairs, mine is programmed for 1,550, and 1,900 rpm. The flight logging capabilities of the ESC are also fantastic. Hook the Castle Link up to your computer and you can instantly review many details about your flight. Want to know your peak current draw? How about peak headspeed? Average current? With the Castle Link, this information is available right on your computer.
Like the 700 Nitro LE kit, the 700E comes with an aluminum tail boom and a carbon fiber tail boom. I originally built the helicopter using the aluminum boom for its added stiffness, but switched back to the carbon boom to save tail weight. The one challenge I found with the 700E is that it is difficult to get the battery tray far enough forward to have a balanced CG. By using the slightly lighter boom and a large 3600mAh Thunder Power receiver pack, I was able to get the balance to an acceptable location. But, I may, as others have, add some lead weight in the canopy to further improve the CG.
While the majority of the 700 F3Cs parts are identical to 700E, there are a few important and noteworthy differences that will influence the way the helicopter flies. In the rotorhead, key changes have been made to help the helicopter sit still in hover. These include a high flybar ratio, which is a result of changing the geometry of the washout arms and mixing arms, and the addition of softer (red) rubber dampers to allow the head to tilt more and be less susceptible to gusts of wind. Finally, the helicopter comes with a much larger horizontal stabilizer and vertical fin designed to improve high-speed tracking.
Each adjustment has been made with a single- minded purpose: to make a true competition- ready helicopter.
Though the harsh New England winter has helped develop a healthy amount of rust on my thumbs, the 700E was forgiving. The design features that help stabilize the helicopter also served to mask my shaking thumbs that seemed to have lost some of their muscle memory.
In hover, the helicopter has a solid feel and moves gracefully through maneuvers, a very different feel from my 700 nitro that dances in hover like a child that cant sit still. Put this F3C helicopter in the hands of a beginner that learned on a 450 and theyll hover like a pro, which is good news for competitors, as the hovering maneuvers in F3C are extremely challenging. Thankfully, the new offering from Align is ready to help anyone hover their way to the winners circle.
Upstairs, the helicopter inspires confidence; much like my 700 nitro, there is plenty of control authority to do any maneuver. They just happen a bit slower and perhaps look a bit smoother. The helicopter really tracks well in fast, forward-flight as it moves gracefully through the sky. Going big is easy with the F3C; giant inside and outside loops, huge Cuban eights and stall turns that seemed to climb forever, all the building blocks to precision flying, were no problem for this willing performer.
Many maneuvers in F3C require plenty of momentum in vertical lines. The Aligns narrow fuselage and low profile decreases drag and seems to help the helicopter carry plenty of speed in up lines, which allows it to keep climbing in a rolling stall turn or vertical candle. After my first flights with the 700, I was confident that with time and practice, I would be able to guide my 700E through the preliminary (P) schedule and even more difficult final (F) schedule in F3C competition. Some of the maneuvers might not be pretty, but that will be on me, the helicopter is capable of much more.
CURIOUS ABOUT COMPETITION?
Before heading off to the NATS last year, I had never competed in any helicopter contest but I was determined to give it a shot; so I put my mind to it and gave it a try. Im sure glad I did. The competition was fierce, but the people were great.
Everyone at the event is there to help, and even though some were competing for a spot on Team USA for next years World Championships, they also made time to judge our flights. It certainly wasnt the win at all costs cut-throat competition you might expect at a national championship. It was a gathering of helicopter addicts that get as much enjoyment from watching a fellow competitor succeed as they did from having a great flight of their own.
If youve ever considered getting involved in competition flying, now is the time. Here are a few web links that will help you get started.
www.rcprecisionheli.com is a great resource for newcomers to precision flying. Youll find tips that will help you fly better and they also maintain an event calendar for HPAC events. The 2011 HPAC schedule isnt finished yet, but will be updated as events are firmed up.
www.runryder.com Check out the aerobatic FAI F3C F3N contest forum. It is the most active on the net and if youve got a question about competition, you get plenty of answers right there. It is also the place to find out when competitions are happening.
If you are really excited about getting involved and cant wait to go to a contest, plan one of your own. The folks at the International Radio Control Helicopter Association (IRCHA) want to help. They have launched a new promotion to encourage local contests. Its called the 50 in 50 challenge with the hopes of having 50 events in all 50 states. If you hold a sanctioned contest between January 1, 2011 and July 31, 2011, IRCHA will reimburse your club for the AMA sanctioning fees. In addition, one pilot and one contest director will be given a free hotel stay from August 7-10 during the AMA nationals in Muncie. For more information, visit www.ircha.org.
HELICOPTER: 700E F3C
DISTRIBUTOR: Assurance RC
TYPE: Electric helicopter for F3C competition
FLYING WEIGHT: 12 lb., 4 oz.
LENGTH: 53 in.
ROTOR SPAN: 62.25 in.
ROTOR DISC AREA: 3,043 sq. in.
ROTOR DISC LOADING: 9.22 oz./sq. ft.
RADIO: 7 channels required; flown with a JR 9303, JR 921 receiver, 3 Align DS610 servos for cyclic, Align 780 Gyro, Align DS650 tail servo, Align voltage regulator and a Thunder Power 3600mAh 2S 7.4V Pro Lite LiPo receiver battery
POWER: Align 700MX 470KV outrunner brushless motor, Castle ICE HV 120 controller, 2 Thunder Power 65C 5000mAh 6S wired in series for a 12S setup.
MAIN ROTOR RPM: 1,550 hovering, 1,900 for aerobatics: governed by Castle ESC
DURATION: Hover current draw averages less than 20 amps, which means a comfortable 12 minutes of hovering practice with power to spare; 7 to 8 minutes sport flying; 5 minutes 3D flight.
STREET PRICE: List: $1,557.99; Street $1,279
COMPONENTS NEEDED TO COMPLETE: 7-channel radio, receiver battery, 2 6S 4400mAh to 5000mAh LiPo batteries
SUMMARY: Aligns newest release, the 700e F3C, is creating quite a buzz on the RC bulletin boards and its no surprise. In the past, the equipment required to compete on the RC helicopters world stage was expensive and, therefore, reserved for the dedicated few with either the means to buy the best or the at least the resolve to do so out of necessity. The killer question that is causing the buzz: Can Aligns mass produced F3C helicopter compete with the elite for a fraction of the cost? The cheerleaders are proclaiming victory, while the skeptics are taking a wait and see approach. For me, the bottom line is that Align has done a fine job creating a great flying helicopter that can and will see success in competition and in sales. In competition, the helicopter is well suited for the demands of precision flying and it is truly a valuepriced offering that is fully capable of competing at this elite level. Beyond competition, the F3C should also be met with broad appeal and high marks from the sport flyers across the country. It is a joy to fly and it is rock solid in hover, and its smooth flying and great tracking make it a thrill to push to its limits upstairs.
Precision flying is not as popular as many pilots who compete would like. But, thanks to Align, the bar to entry has become a lot lower with this competition-ready package. I hope to see a few more competitors at the AMA NATS this year, and I am confident that a number of them will be well prepared with a trusty 700E F3C in tow.
While I believe the 700E F3C will be a popular helicopter with contest flyers, I also believe that many of the features competition flyers look for in a helicopter are well suited for many others. You dont have to compete to appreciate a helicopter that sits beautifully in hover and tracks like it is on rails in fast forward flight. By creating this reasonably priced package for competition, Align may have also designed the sport flyers dream helicopter.
Assurance RC, www.alignrcusa.com , contact a local dealer for info
Castle Creations, www.castlecreations.com , (913) 390-6939
FMA, www.fmadirect.com , (800) 343-2934
Thunder Power RC, www.thunderpowerrc.com , (702) 228-8883