Would an advanced radio and gyro system work together to tame a savage beast?
For years, Suzanne Lepine has been my direct contact at Hitec RCD. I had an idea regarding the test of a new radio and gyro system for review. Suz and Hitec’s Sean Spicer came through with the radio, the gyro and a Hitec Optima 7 receiver. The radio came with a Maxima 9 receiver, but it wouldn’t be compatible with the model’s analog servos, hence the Optima 7. One shouldn’t have to worry, however. The radio is available as transmitter-only or with an Optima 7 instead of a Maxima 9.
My original, agreed-upon “test mule” and the savage beast in question was going to be a repaired and refinished HobbyKing DC-3 PNP. That model was redone as the What’s Up Doc? C-47 tribute plane at the nearby Palm Springs Air Museum. Even new, the model had some bad handling habits which could have easily been smoothed out by a gyro, not to mention a better radio. Unfortunately, my choice of replacement electrics resulted in a badly underpowered model, not to mention minor damage on its first unsuccessful test flight.
Speaking of compatibility, the Flash 8 is reverse compatible with Hitec’s earlier Generation 1 AFHSS protocol, so owners of older Hitec radios can jump right into the Flash 8 without the need to buy receivers. Adding to that wonderfully economic design is compatibility with the Secure Link Technology or SLT protocol. This means that fixed-wing and multirotor RTF models equipped with SLT sport radios can take advantage of the nearly infinite adjustment possibilities of a computerized radio. That’s exactly what I did on this radio’s first flight with a four-channel, SLT-equipped RTF trainer from a competing brand.
The ultimate test would take place on board the replacement for the C-47, a fantastic Hitec product and one which would prove to show the best of the capabilities of both radio and gyro. It’s the incredible Multiplex Rockstar biplane and it’s more than deserving of a review all its own. Available in both receiver-ready and kit forms, I’ll be showcasing the Flash 8 and the HG3XA in the receiver-ready version. That version comes with a full compliment of Hitec HS-82MG metal geared analog servos, so the Optima 7 receiver was again pressed into service.
The Flash 8 is packed with some impressive features as copied here from Hitec’s product page:
Built-in Generation 2 AFHSS / SLT Flexibility
Precise 4096 Resolution
Fast 7ms Frame Rate with Maxima RXs
Five 3-Position and Two 2-Position Switches
30 Model Memory
10 Character Model Naming
Acro / Glider / Helicopter Programming
Digital Push Button Power Switch
Push Button and Jog Dial Programming Interface
Easy-to-Read, Graphic Backlit LCD Screen
Easy-to-Change Stick Modes
What that list doesn’t mention is the Flash 8’s lithium iron phosphate or Li-Fe battery. This is my first experience with a Li-Fe in a transmitter and frankly, I like it. It should be noted that the supplied “wall wart” isn’t a charger at all but rather an AC adapter. This particular battery has built-in charging circuitry which has thus far done a superb job of bring the battery up to a full and accurate charge.
Regardless of the version chosen, the Flash 8 is a very complete package:
- Li-Fe battery already installed in the transmitter
- AC adapter for charging
- Heavy duty power switch for engine-powered models
- Anti-shock receiver wrap and cushion for engine-powered models
- Illustrated manual
- CD-ROM manual
- Hitec decal sheet
- Receiver or transmitter-only depending on version purchased
This box will really pop on a hobby shop shelf:
Here are the gyro and receiver along with a comparison of the Optima and Maxima receivers. Both are full range, but digital servos combined with the Maxima receiver realize the full potential of the system. The Maxima SL in the blister pack was sent for a previous review, but wasn’t used:
Maiden Test Flight:
The C-47 was a long way from completion and as I’d pointed out, I wanted to first try it in SLT mode in another model. The model in question is a common electric EPO sport trainer which came with a very basic four-channel SLT sport radio system. I’m not at liberty to mention the brand, but suffice to say that it turned out to be a perfect choice. Control throws are set to be gentle for new flyers and there isn’t much one can do to increase the throws without resetting the pushrods at the servo horns if the stock sport radio is used.
I wanted to see if the Flash 8 would make a difference without having to readjust the pushrods.
The radio’s instruction manual is very well written and perhaps even better, the radio itself has an easy to use and intuitive menu. It didn’t take long at all to set up everything and bind the existing receiver to the Flash 8.
Without having to do a thing to the model itself, the difference on the bench was stunning. There was now lots of control throw and to keep things from getting twitchy in the air, I added 20 percent expo to the controls.
That flight would take place at the nearby Coachella Valley Radio Control Club in the open desert east of Palm Springs. With plenty of open space and a paved runway suitable for turbine models, I would have time to react in case of a problem. Thankfully, that wasn’t an issue.
A brand new 2100mAh battery from on its own maiden flight powered the model into the air and what a difference! Gone was the slightly vague and mushy control. In its place was a genuinely fun – and fast – model which did almost every kind of aerobatic maneuvers I cared to throw at it. Yes, even the throttle response was better, but I’m not certain that I can credit the new battery by itself. With the increased and more accurate throws, it stood to reason that channel three would have benefited as well.
Once more, Hitec’s terrific product manual made setting up – and understanding – this unit very simple for this first time user. What baffled me was having to plug only one of the aileron servos into the gyro while the other was plugged into the receiver. Apparently, only one aileron required stabilization while the other worked normally. The C-47 required all of the receiver’s channels, so I wasn’t able to assign separate channels to the aileron servos.
A call to Hitec’s tech helpline was all it took. I was able to plug the gyro into channel three and split the output to the servos with an ordinary Y-harness. After that and some adjustments to one of the radio’s three-position switches, I now had gyro on, gyro off and heading hold. In other words, control inputs leave the servos where they are until they’re manually returned to center. A nice idea in theory, but one which didn’t work well in practice, at least where I was concerned since I was having problems with uncontrolled elevator deflection. I’ll investigate further and report back in the comments section.
Other than that, the HG3XA worked as advertised once the model was powered up. It was certainly the largest model I’d ever seen with gyro stabilization; my previous experience was with micros. Sadly, that first flight wasn’t to be because of issues with excessive control throw and not enough power. After an email or two to Suzanne at Hitec, the solution arrived at my door a few days later in the guise of the amazing Multiplex Rockstar!
Gettin’ Down and Rockin’
For those who have never assembled a Multiplex model, a genuine treat awaits. Since my sample was the receiver-ready version, very little final assembly was necessary. Many subassemblies including the landing gear arrived ready to go; it almost took longer to set up the radio and the gyro than it did to assemble the model.
These models are so carefully and artfully packaged that it’s almost a sin to unpack them:
For simplicity’s sake, I was now able to assign the ailerons to separate channels and connect the gyro per the instructions.
This gives me the perfect opportunity to state how easy and intuitive the menu on this radio happens to be. Even without the aid of the excellent manual, I was able to work through the menu surprisingly well on my own.
With everything set and ready, it was time to go flying.
My first flights of the Rockstar were done with the gyro switched off and without having first been calibrated by powering up the model in a level attitude. There’s a lot of power on tap and the natural P-factor wanted to pull the model to the left. Once corrected with rudder input and once airborne and trimmed, I knew I was flying something special.
A responsive model such as this benefits from a radio such as this with its quad ball bearing gimbals and fast frame rate. Once trimmed, I felt right at home with the Rockstar, although I felt it could have used a bit more expo on the elevator. It most assuredly won’t fly itself; coordinated turns with ailerons, rudder and elevator are a must. That’s normally how I fly, but as the model flew further down range, it was apparent that I needed to add more rudder in the turns. The wonderful thing about a computerized radio is its ability to add various degrees of control mixing, something I may try in the near future.
With my friend Ken Alan on the video camera a few days later, I wanted to get footage of a gyro assisted takeoff after an unassisted test flight to check the trim.
I flipped it on, taxied back out to the runway and hit the throttle. Problem: I hadn’t first calibrated the gyro! First, it pitched downward. When I throttled back and tried again, the model veered hard right into a soft plastic safety fence. Damage was limited to a small piece of foam torn from the upper right wingtip, a few small scrapes on the right leading edges of both wings and some “asphalt rash” on the tips of the propellers. This could have been a lot worse, but I’m glad that it happened to me so that I could relate the experience here.
Back on the bench, I powered down the Rockstar, set the tail atop the radio’s display box in order to level it and powered it up once more with a fresh battery. With the gyro switched on, it was time to fly once more.
Gone was the P-factor; the Rockstar hurtled straight and true down the runway and lifted off gracefully, almost scale-like. I should mention that the pots on the gyro were at their factory settings, yet the difference was dramatic. The model now felt tighter in turns and tracked even better than before through loops and rolls.
At “two mistakes up,” I flipped on the heading mode and the Rockstar immediately went into a hard forward loop. The elevator issue I’d mentioned earlier was still there, but switching back to gyro mode immediately put me back in control.
As for the gyro-on landing, the video shows it all with the right turn at the end caused by the rudder trim being off center.
At the start of this review, I asked if an advanced radio and gyro would tame a savage beast in reference to the rebuilt C-47. Instead, I’ll say that the combination of the Hitec Flash 8 radio and the Hitec HG3XA gyro took a remarkably good model in the guise of the receiver-ready Multiplex Rockstar and made it even better. Here is a combination of state-of-the-art radio control and ease of use which is a perfect combination for R/C pilots of all skill levels. The Flash 8 is easy to program and the HG3XA will add an additional level of control to any model. With a Maxima receiver and digital servos, one can take full advantage of the combo’s 7ms control response time. Throw in the quality and product support of a world-class brand and it’s two thumbs way, way up for the radio gyro and yes, the Rockstar!
I can never adequately thank Suzanne Lepine, Sean Spicer and the crew at Hitec RCD in Poway, California for making their phenomenal products available for review. I can predict with certainty that the Flash 8 will be highlighted in many aircraft reviews to come.
Huge thanks as well to Nathan Bannister and Kenzier Lemmons of Common Sense RC in Chatsworth, California for a pair of high performance Lectron Pro 3000mAh 4S li-pos originally destined for the C-47. They were a perfect match to the Rockstar.
Ken Alan is a jack of all trades and master of them all, including professional videography. He spent time on an early Sunday morning with his own camera in hand documenting the flight of the model and as of this writing, I still owe Ken breakfast.
Nathan Maat is at the controls of the administrator’s desk here at RC Universe on behalf of our worldwide audience. To you I say, thanks for visiting and I know you’ll enjoy your own Flash 8!
Here am I running the Rockstar through its paces. It’s an amazing model with or without the gyro:
For those who really want to see the capabilities of the Rockstar, may I present this factory video:
Pluses and Minuses:
- Multiple radio protocols for incredible flexibility
- Fantastic stick feel thanks to ball bearing-supported gimbals
- Menu and manual are among the best in the business
- Li-Fe battery goes a long way between charges
- Affordably priced
- World-class quality and customer support from a respected brand
- The 30-model memory means that lots of models will benefit from the Flash 8
- Adding the gyro to this or any system is simple and affordable
- An outstanding choice for pilots of all skill levels
- Some initial difficulty in setting up the gyro including the heading mode