Friday, January 21, 2022
Home » Product Reviews » Futaba 18MZ 18-Channel 2.4GHz Computer Radio System

Futaba 18MZ 18-Channel 2.4GHz Computer Radio System

Review - Futaba 18MZ 18-Channel 2.4GHz Computer Radio System

For some time now, the 14MZ has been Futaba’s flagship radio system. It was at the time of its introduction one of the most feature-rich radio systems available. With the arrival of the 18MZ however, it appears that it’s time for the 14MZ to relinquish its crown.

For those of you who are in love with your 14MZ you will really love all the new features of the 18MZ. Notably, the 18MZ has increased the channel count by four, added telemetry capability, utilizes an outstanding display with excellent touch-screen sensitivity, contains a built-in camera, and increased its operational time on a battery charge.

DISTRIBUTOR: Great Planes Model Distributors
PART No.: (FUTK9530) 18MZA 18-Channel 2.4GHz radio system mode 2 air; (FUTK9531) 18MZH 18-Channel 2.4GHz radio system mode 2 heli
PRICE: $2999.99
WHAT’S INCLUDED: The contents of the Futaba 18MZ are shipped in a custom fit aluminum transmitter case which seems to be customary of most high-end radio systems.

Included with the 18MZ system are:
• T18MZ transmitter
• R7008SB receiver
• LT2F3500XH 2S(7.4V)/3500mAh LiPo TX battery
• SQN30W12P-08 12V DC/2.5A AC adapter
• Switch harness
• Stylus/tool kit (w/1.5mm & 2.5mm hex keys)
• Screen cleaning towel
• Neck strap
• Instruction manual
• Aluminum transmitter case

TRANSMITTER WEIGHT: 2 lbs. 10 oz. w/battery
OPERATING CURRENT: 700mAh (RF on), 1000mAh (RF and back-light on)
RECEIVER DIMENSIONS: 1 in. x 1.9 in. x .6 in.
WEIGHT: .4 oz.

Review - Futaba 18MZ 18-Channel 2.4GHz Computer Radio System
The Futaba 18MZ comes with R7008SB FASSTest receiver, 3500mAh TX LiPo battery, neck strap, and other accessories all stored in an attractive aluminum case.

The T18MZ transmitter is available in two models; ‘Heli’ and ‘Air’. The two are essentially the same hardware/firmware, with the difference being that the ‘Heli’ model defaults to heli programming and ships with a smooth friction throttle stick whereas the ‘Air’ model defaults to airplane programming and ships with a ratcheted throttle stick.

There are plenty of features with the 18MZ and I really can’t go through all of them in a few short pages. With that, I’ll touch upon some of the major ones:

FASSTest An acronym for Futaba Advanced Spread Spektrum Technology–extended system telemetry, this newly developed protocol was specifically designed to support telemetry. FASSTest is currently available in two modes and both are supported by the 18MZ. FASSTest 18CH mode features bi-directional communications and supports up to 16 proportional and two switched channels. FASSTest 12CH gives priority to latency over channel count but limits telemetry to only the receiver voltage. The 18MZ also supports FASST MULTI, FASST 7CH, and S-FHSS 8CH protocols—making it compatible with all current Futaba 2.4GHz receivers.

S.BUS and S.BUS2 Supports both S.BUS standards, with the latter used for telemetry sensors and telemetry enabled peripherals. The 18MZ also features a built-in S.BUS programmer.

Secure Data (SD) / USB SD cards and USB flash memory drives can be used to store model programming. The SD card can be used to store music, voice, and picture files as well as for loading firmware updates. The USB port also supports attachment of an external keyboard and mouse.

Voice / Music / Picture Up to 24 audio voice files (of up to three seconds of recording using the built-in microphone) can be stored. Any of those audio files can be assigned to individual switches for playback during activity of the assigned switch. Windows WMA files can be stored on SD and USB memory for playback through the internal speaker or through the stereo headphone jack. The latest firmware update as of May 7, 2012 includes synthesized voice readout of telemetry sensor(s) status. Image files, including those captured using the built-in digital camera can be viewed on the display. Images are assignable to a model for easy identification.

Audio / Vibration Alerts Warnings can be programmed to be audible and/or cause the transmitter to vibrate. Warnings are available for low TX battery voltage and potentially dangerous switch positions; including flight condition (mode), throttle cut, idle down, throttle/motor position, motor, airbrake, and snap roll.

Dual Internal Processors Two CPUs along with the Microsoft Windows CE operating system ensure fast response time. A fast boot feature allows the transmitter to be ready for operation in only a few seconds after being turned on (as long as it has been powered on within the last four hours).

Review - Futaba 18MZ 18-Channel 2.4GHz Computer Radio System
A door on the back of the transmitter reveals the charge, headphone and serial interface jacks.

First and foremost we have to talk about how the transmitter feels in your hands. If you’re a ‘thumbs’ flyer you’ll have absolutely no problem handling the 18MZ; as it’s quite comfortable using that grip. On the other hand, if you’re a ‘pinch’ flyer, like I am, then you’ll probably feel that it’s just a little bit big. Using a neck strap definitely helps out with that. The switch spacing is excellent, with plenty of room to get even the meatiest fingers in between the two shoulder switches.

Moving on to the gimbals, I find them to be among the best I’ve experienced. Dual ball bearings support each axis, and simply put, they are both smooth as silk while at the same time exhibiting a tight and precise action. Stick length, centering tension, and throttle stick friction (selectable as either smooth or with detent) are all adjustable. The gimbals can also be adjusted laterally, allowing for optimal stick movement ergonomics, regardless of how you hold the transmitter. Digital trims are employed on all four stick axes.

In addition to the four primary stick controls, there are two rotary proportional knobs, one rotary digital encoder (which also functions as a momentary push-button switch), four proportional levers, five 3-position switches, two 2-position switches, one momentary 2-position switch, and two digital trimmer switches; all of which can be freely assigned to functions. An audio cue signifies when any of the digital trims and rotary controls is moved to or across its ‘center’ position. To address personal preference, any of the eight shoulder switches can be repositioned or replaced with a 3-position, 2-position, or 2-position momentary switch simply by removing the top shoulder panel(s). The included toolkit contains everything you need to swap and replace the switches; a hex key for the shoulder panel fastener and a switch nut wrench (under the rubber tip in the stylus) for the switches.

Review - Futaba 18MZ 18-Channel 2.4GHz Computer Radio System
The 18MX comes with the Futaba R7008SB FASSTest receiver.

The 18MZ’s color display can only be described as outstanding. With a whopping 640×240 pixel HVGA touch-screen, its transflective LCD properties make it very readable outdoors while its back light provides exceptional indoor viewing. But if using a touch-screen just isn’t your bag, you can alternately use the four push-buttons and rotary encoder just below the display for input.

The side panel on the right of the transmitter opens up to reveal the battery, SD Card slot, USB port, and a button for initiating a firmware update. On the back of the transmitter are the camera lens, trainer port, stick centering tension and throttle stick friction / ratchet adjustment access holes, and a small door that opens up revealing the SBUS programming port, charge port, and stereo headphone jack.

I feel compelled to point out that the included instruction manual can use some work. There’s enough there to get your feet wet so to speak, but there’s so much to the complexity and power of this system that just isn’t going to be gleaned from it. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of on-line resources and forums with experienced users that are more than glad to help with any question you may have. And of course there’s always Hobbico’s customer support.

The 18MZ features programming (model types) for helicopters, airplanes, gliders, and motor gliders. Up to eight flight conditions (or modes) can be programmed per model. To help dampen the transition when switching between flight conditions, delays can be assigned on a per-channel basis.

Organizationally, programming is grouped into three menus; ‘System’, ‘Linkage’, and ‘Model’. For completeness, I’ll list all of the functions that appear in these menus, although some may not be applicable to a particular model type:

System Menu Used for setting up the transmitter; System Menu features include: Trainer, Display, Date & Time, User Name, Switch, H/W Setting, Sound Volume, Player, Camera, S.BUS Servo, Information, and Range Check.

Linkage Menu Used for adding / selecting / deleting models, selecting model type, protocol, and basic model setup; Linkage Menu features include: Servo Monitor, Model Select, Model Type, Picture, Sound, System Type, Function, Sub-Trim, Servo Reverse, Fail Safe, End-Point, Throttle Cut, Idle Down, Swash Ring, Swash, Timer, Dial Monitor, Function Name, Telemetry, Sensor, Warning, and Data Reset.

Model Menu Common to all model types, Model Menu features include: Servo Monitor, Condition Select, AFR (D/R & Expo), Programmable Mixes, and Fuel Mixture.

There’s also a personalized ‘User’ Menu to which you can add all of your favorite (or most used) features. And with that brief introduction to the 18MZ programming feature set, I’d like to now go over some features that I believe are noteworthy.

Review - Futaba 18MZ 18-Channel 2.4GHz Computer Radio System
The side door on the transmitter opens to reveal the battery access, SD memory card and computer interface.

There are eight available swashplate configurations. Individual throttle and pitch curves can be programmed for each flight condition, with up to 17 assignable points per curve. Swash mix corrections for aileron, elevator, and pitch help eliminate virtually all interactions. An electronic swash ring eliminates swashplate linkage interference by constraining swashplate movement to configurable circular limit. Add to this a plethora of virtually any kind of mix that you can dream up. To help with field adjustments, a ‘Condition Hold’ feature allows you to lock the engine at idle while switching though and making adjustments to programming in any one of the flight conditions.

There are thirteen wing and three tail configurations. Functions include Airbrake, Gyro, Aileron Differential, Flap Setting, Throttle Cut and Idle Down (airplane only), V-Tail, Ailevator, Winglet, Motor, Snap Roll, Acceleration, and Multi-Engine. Dedicated compensation mixes cover just about everything, including AIL to Camber FLP, AIL to Brake FLP, AIL to RUD, Airbrake to ELE, RUD to AIL, Camber, ELE to Camber, Camber FLP to ELE, Butterfly (Crow), and RUD to ELE.

Of course I haven’t even scratched the surface as to the comprehensiveness and programming flexibility of the 18MZ. Suffice to say, there is enough there along with the flexibility to implement any control requirement you can dream up.

Review - Futaba 18MZ 18-Channel 2.4GHz Computer Radio System
The telemetry screen illustrates the receiver voltage, temperature and RPM from the model’s on-board sensors.

As is common with most high-end trainer systems, the master can select to transfer all or some sub-set of channels and functions to the student when control is relinquished. Of special mention here is a ‘Mix’ trainer mode that allows the master to input corrections WHILE the student still has control of the model.

The system includes the new Futaba R7008SB receiver. Employing EZ-Link ID, the receiver binds to the 18MZ without even having to press the receiver’s link button. This receiver provides for up to eight PWM channel output ports and allows you to configure them to output either channels 1—8 or channels 9 – 16. You also have the ability to link two receivers to the TX to get PWM outputs of all 18 channels. Using S.BUS, a single receiver is fully capable of outputting all 18 channels; with both S.BUS and S.BUS2 ports provided.

Other features of this receiver include dual antenna for signal path diversity. The receiver scans each antenna for signal strength and will then subsequently use the one with the strongest signal. The receiver is High Voltage capable with an operating voltage range of 3.5 to 8.4V DC.

As explained earlier, the FASSTest protocol provides the necessary bi-directional communications required for telemetry support. Taking advantage of this, the R700SB features integrated telemetry sensors for signal strength, receiver voltage, and an external voltage measurement of 0 – 70V DC. In order to expand the system’s telemetry capability, optional external sensors can be connected to the receiver’s S.BUS2 port.

Review - Futaba 18MZ 18-Channel 2.4GHz Computer Radio System
The helicopter pitch curve setup screen.

Although not the first out of the gate with telemetry, Futaba has certainly made up for that fact by developing what I consider to be a very well thought out telemetry system. Implemented in S.BUS2, telemetry transpires over what is essentially a communications network that allows data to flow bi-directionally between the receiver and any peripheral device attached to the bus; such as servos, ESCs, gyros, etc., and of course telemetry sensors. And because S.BUS2 can make use of terminal boxes and hubs, the number of peripherals and sensors will not be limited by a discrete number of ports on a particular device.

At the time of this writing, telemetry sensors have been announced for collecting metrics such as RPM, GPS, Vario, Altitude, and Temperature. And just as S.BUS devices like servos and gyros are programmed to the channel they will respond to, sensors are programmed to a particular slot to which they report. Should you need to change a sensor’s default programming, the 18MZ’s S.BUS programmer handles that task.

For displaying telemetry data, the 18MZ features a convenient ‘Home2’ screen that shows the timers and up to three telemetry metrics in nice large fonts. And of course there are also dedicated telemetry functions that will display all the instantaneous telemetry metrics as well as drill down screens to individual sensors that allow you to view instantaneous and min/max values and to edit parameters such as the display units, alert thresholds, warnings, and whether or not the metric should appear on the ‘Home2’ screen.

Review - Futaba 18MZ 18-Channel 2.4GHz Computer Radio System
In the Model Type Select screen you can choose from a variety of wing/servo configurations to best match your model.

I don’t think it’s possible to ask more from a programmable RC system than what the 18MZ has to offer. But who knows, with upgradable firmware there’s always the chance that we will be pleasantly surprised. Considering the radio’s high price point, I think it’s safe to say that this is not a system destined for the masses. However, if you have an overt need that only a pro-class radio can fill or you’re simply one of those individuals that just has to have the best, then look no further than the Futaba 18MZ. It’s highly unlikely you’ll be disappointed.

FUTABA, (800) 637-7660