Avios C-130 1600mm PNF from HobbyKing.com

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Every so often, a model comes along which immediately sets the internet totally abuzz.

It’s my pleasure to get down and in depth with just such a model.

The new Avios C-130 1600mm PNF from HobbyKing is available in both military gray with optional markings of several nations and as Fat Albert, the popular Blue Angels support aircraft of the United States Marines and United States Navy.  The visually stunning latter will be the subject of this review, although there are no other differences between it and the gray versions.

Scale features abound on this model, including scale propellers, sequential landing gear and doors, landing and nav lights, automatic interior lighting, two sets of working flaps and a working cargo door.  So too do a lot of performance features such as four high-revving brushless outrunners and modular servo connections which mean quick and easy assembly at the field.  Matched paint is even available for repairs!

First, a quick overview of the prototype.

Prototype

The Lockheed C-130 Hercules is an American four-engine turboprop military aircraft designed and built originally by Lockheed (now Lockheed Martin). Capable of using unprepared runways for takeoffs and landings, the C-130 was originally designed as a troop, medevac and cargo transport aircraft. The versatile airframe has found uses in a variety of other roles including as a gunship, designated AC-130.

The aircraft is used for airborne assault,  search and rescue, scientific research support, weather reconnaissance, aerial refueling, maritime patrol  and aerial firefighting. It is now the main tactical airlifter for many military forces worldwide. More than 40 variants of the Hercules, including civilian versions marketed as the Lockheed L-100, operate in more than 60 nations.

The model denotes BUNO 164763, the retired United States Marine Corps C-130 nicknamed like its predecessors as Fat Albert and used by the Blue Angels since 2002.  The aircraft was used for logistics, carrying spare parts, equipment and to carry Blue Angels personnel between shows as well as being a part of the show itself.  A big part of the show was the use of Korean War-era rockets to assist in performing rocket-assisted takeoffs, shown below.  The practice was discontinued after the supply of rockets ran out.  It was retired from service in May 2019 with 30,000 flight hours. The Navy will be replacing it with a far newer surplus C-130J “Super Hercules” from the Royal Air Force.  164763 will be used as a ground-based training aid in Fort Worth, Texas.

By the way, my grandson Stephen and I were lucky enough to see Fat Albert and the Blue Angels in action in March 2019 at the annual air show at NAS El Centro in Southern California.  That new aircraft will have some large shoes to fill!  In fact, after this review was published, I happened to find the photo below on my phone!  Source:  Wikipedia

Specifications

Wingspan: 62.9″ (1600mm)

Length: 47″ (1195mm)

Flying weight: 5.3 lbs (2400g)

Construction:  Expanded polyolefin airframe; fiberglass wing spar; plastic propellers and spinners; steel and plastic hardware; plastic scale detail parts and canopy; plastic and foam wheels and tires; plywood, steel and aluminum main landing gear struts; aluminum nose gear strut in a plastic frame

Motors: Four HobbyKing 2627 1000kV brushless outrunners

 ESCs: Four 18-amp brushless

Propellers: Four 6.5 x 5 four-blade; two standard and two counter-rotating

Servos: Fourteen HobbyKing nine-gram analog

Radio as tested:  FrSky Taranis X9D Plus ACCST protocol 2.4GHz computerized aircraft

Receiver as tested:  FrSky L9R ACCST protocol 2.4GHz nine-channel long-range aircraft

Batteries as tested: Turnigy 2200mAh 4S heavy duty lithium polymer and high discharge with XT-60 connectors

Operator skill level/age:  Intermediate/advanced; 14+

 Available from: Hobbyking.com

Price (USD):  $357.86 plus shipping and applicable sales tax

Contents

The HobbyKing folks at the western US warehouse in Tualatin, Oregon got the C-130 to me in a couple of days thanks to Rebecca Bestawros in their marketing department in Sydney, NSW, Australia.  It arrived in a sturdy shipping carton, opened for the addition of the FrSky receiver and not one, but four Turnigy 4S li-pos!

The end panel shows the available color schemes.  Besides the colorful scheme of the sample, it’s available in gray as a C-130H USAF “Shark’s Mouth,” C-130H USAF Air National Guard, C-130H Royal Netherlands Air Force and C-130H Royal New Zealand Air Force.  Magnetically attached bombs and wing tanks are provided with the latter versions while Fat Albert comes with foam block-off plates in the wings which must be glued with foam glue where these parts would go.  Oddly, Fat Albert has the magnets in place in the wings should one decide to configure it as a C-130H.

Here are the batteries along with the FrSky receiver.  I’ve always had nothing but the best of luck with Turnigy batteries:

The label on the display carton was wonderfully understated yet dramatic, showing a full frontal view of a C-130 barreling down on the viewer.  Very nice.  Nicer still was how well everything was securely and safely wrapped and packed in well-protected layers.  Those models travel a long way in those boxes and HobbyKing does a great job of making sure the end user gets a factory-fresh model every time.

The fuselage simply left me without words.  It was that nice.

Here’s what awaits the lucky end user:

  • Fully wired and decorated model
  • Scale propellers and spinners
  • Scale details including a static display loading ramp
  • Full hardware package with a 1.5mm Allen wrench

Needed to complete:

  • 2200-3000mAh 4S lithium polymer batteries with XT-60 connectors
  • Suitable charger
  • Computerized aircraft radio with at least eight channels
  • Basic hand tools including a 2.5mm metric ball end wrench for securing the wing bolts
  • Blue thread locking compound
  • Instruction manual, downloadable here.

Assembly

Assembly begins with sliding the tail components onto the fuselage, attaching them with the supplied hardware and attaching the pushrods.  Making the process easier were the clearly marked hardware bags and within minutes, the tail was complete.  The manual neglects to point out the need to attach the elevator hardware, but again, the bags are clearly marked and I elected to connect the elevator at this time.  Worth mentioning is the hardware itself.  All of the pushrods terminate in a ball link, meaning accurate, slop-free control.  Like the wings, modular servo connections greatly simplify assembly.

Lots of modular connections also mean lots of wiring, such as found here under the tail:

Note the machined aluminum rudder servo arm:

The wings are next beginning with the spar.  No wiring is necessary thanks to the ingenious modular connectors.  This is where the ball end wrench comes in; it makes it easier to attach the 3x10mm screws without denting the foam.  I didn’t have any, but they’re readily available and dirt cheap here in the US at Harbor Freight. 

Except for a few control surface hookups, the wings and tail surfaces are mostly ready to install:

Step 17 instructs the builder to install the propellers at this time.  Uh, no.  They should always be the last things to go onto any electric model!  Lots of setting up remains to be done and getting “bitten” by an electric propeller might mean a trip to the emergency room.

These look innocent enough and they are.  There are even scale nomenclature decals, each perfectly legible. But, they will bite if one is not careful:

Steps 19 and 20 call for the installation of the flap pushrods, but this is already done at the factory.  Instead, I installed the aileron pushrods which were not.  Again, the clearly marked hardware bags made this job easy once I fished the servo arms out of their recesses.

Connecting the universal battery eliminator per the online addendum completes the assembly.  There was a lot of online chatter about how HobbyKing failed to mention this in the manual, but it’s since been corrected.  Three color coordinated leads are all which need to be plugged in.

Setup

From here, HobbyKing goes into extensive and very detailed procedures for setting up the model, including the standard and sliding Fowler flaps; more on that in a moment.  A switch for the cargo door can also be assigned, but be forewarned.  The manual clearly states that careful setup is necessary to prevent strain on the servo and excess battery drain.  The door does not move via a control module as do the landing gear doors but snaps open and closed with no delay.  The door circuit branches off from the landing gear and interior lighting module.  Furthermore, the door will pop out of its guides if it extends too far.  Closing the door with the door off of its guides will not only strain the servo but the rest of the components as well.  My sample wound up with two blown retract mechanisms as a result, cheerfully replaced by Rebecca at HobbyKing.  Thanks to Ian MacGregor in tech support in Sydney for helping me track down the issue; we had both incorrectly concluded that the control module and not the retracts had blown.  I’m glad this happened to me and not an end user!

The moral of the story is to pay close attention to setting up this model.

Adding to the fun is the fact that servicing this model is a nightmare.  Wiring is mostly all over the place, the lighting and landing gear modules aren’t labeled and almost everything is held in place by ordinary reinforced packing tape.  To HobbyKing’s credit, wiring which connects to the receiver is marked and secured with the sort of removable spiral wrapping one might expect to see in a computer.

Wiring running back from the nose wheel is covered with white vinyl trim tape which proved to be a real bear to remove in order to remove the nose wheel retract unit.  As for the unit itself, it’s glued in place and I mean glued.  It’s best replaced along with the fuselage in case of a crash, but in the case of individual component replacements, it’s best to transfer the new parts to the model.  I thought it would lift out after slicing away the glue, but no.  The factory really slathered on the glue when it simply didn’t need that much due to the snug fit of the nose wheel assembly.  The result isn’t exactly aesthetically pleasing; some modeling work will be necessary to make it “pretty” again should I choose as will some of the matched paint I mentioned earlier.

By the same token, almost no glue was used to hold together the new mains.  The assembly came apart in my hand, requiring reassembly and proper gluing.

I would strongly suggest that anyone who might be considering any repairs which involve unplugging components carefully catalog which part plugs in where.  It took an evening to get everything working properly, but persistence paid off.

I know these popular models are being produced at a hell-bent-for-leather pace, but the factory can do better or leave the task(s) to the end user.  I’ve raised these issues with Rebecca and I’m confident that later production runs will show improvement.

Returning to the flaps, they too are not slowed by a module as factory videos might suggest, but rather snap open and shut immediately.  Slowing the operation of the cargo door and flaps is easily done via the setup menu in the Taranis and should be equally easy to do via any computerized radio.

With everything properly set and with the propellers and scale details in place – not to mention some tidied-up wiring – it’s time to get Fat Albert airborne!

Flying

As I almost always do, I performed the maiden flight at the Coachella Valley Radio Control Club in nearby Thermal, California.  I have to be very frank; I was certain that the model would be underpowered.  This is a borderline giant scale model with scale propellers and a power system not far removed from a racing quadcopter.

The factory videos seemed to indicate more than adequate power, so after a quick check of the CG and the flight controls, I was about to find out for myself.

Here it is just prior to takeoff.

With all of those wheels holding up the C-130, I wasn’t surprised to learn that the ground handling was excellent.  Limited nose wheel steering meant wide turns, but not nearly as wide as I’d assumed.

Any remaining doubts about the suitability of the power system were immediately dispelled when the model rocketed down the runway and climbed gracefully into the air!  Advancing the throttle also switches on the flashing red beacon between the wings for additional realism.

The elevator and aileron trims were slightly off, but not bad at all for a maiden flight.  I also left the gear lowered in case I needed to bring it in.  Fortunately, I didn’t need to.

Conditions were on the breezy side, but the big C-130 shrugged them off.  It flew like a smaller, lighter model with no apparent bad habits.  HobbyKing seems to take a great deal of care with their premium Avios brand and the flight characteristics show it.  The big 1700mm Grand Tundra is a good example; it’s incredibly popular as a result.

Adding to the fun was the presence this model presented in the air.  The scale livery which makes it look so good on the ground makes it look spectacular in flight.  The lighting shows up well in the air, even in the bright desert sunlight.

The wind was starting up before I had a chance to try the flaps, so I decided to bring it in without flaps.  The crosswind was determined to blow me off of the shoulder of the runway; it took a couple of passes to get it lined up along with some coaching from club president Dan Metz who was acting as a spotter.  The model wanted to climb instead of flare once I had it over the runway, so I let it float in under gradually diminishing power.  Just fantastic!

The video shoot took place a couple of weeks later, this time with the club’s videographer and historian, George Muir. A quick preflight check showed everything working properly, so off it went once more into the early morning sky with one of the remaining unflown li-pos providing the power.

If there’s anything I can say about the speed of this model, it’s that it’s deceptively fast, even at part throttle.  It gets very small very quickly for a large model!  The takeoff speed down the runway is an excellent indicator of just how fast it is.

The flight wasn’t without its issues, however.  The retracts, which worked well on the ground, wouldn’t work in flight as evidenced by a couple of photo passes.  On the ground, the sequence was scrambled with one of the doors refusing to cycle properly.  Installing a new battery with the gear control switch in its proper position relative to the gear seemed to clear up the problem.  George was able to get video of the gear sequence, but I was somewhat reluctant to try it in flight.  Ditto the flaps since I was still sorting out the basic flight characteristics.

Another issue was a near-disaster stall!  The C-130 was turning base to final from a long ways off and I let the airspeed drop too low!  I yanked back the elevator, punched the throttle and miracle of miracles, Fat Albert pulled out of the stall!  I thought it was a goner.  Fortunately, the requisite “two mistakes up” helped as did the power system I originally feared would be insufficient.  Another smooth landing sans flaps reminded me of how lucky I was to have brought it home under power instead of trudging out into the desert to gather the pieces.

Two lessons here.  One, airspeed was my friend.  Two, the gear control switch should be in the same position as the gear when powering up and cycled before takeoff.

Gallery

We begin with the May 2018 product announcement, including factory photos of the model in production.  From here, a few beauty shots which George was kind enough to snap for me prior to sending it skyward for video:

No review would be complete without video, beginning with official HobbyKing videos:

Last but not least, yours truly putting the C-130 through its paces:

Conclusion

There is so much to like about the amazing Avios C-130 1600mm PNF from HobbyKing.  The flight characteristics alone are ample reason to give this model two thumbs up.  The scale details, both operational and static, are like no model I’ve ever reviewed.  At a claimed 1/25 scale, an Avios C-130 can easily be the centerpiece of a beautiful model diorama with other 1/25 scale vehicles.

All is not sunshine and unicorns, however.

This model is incredibly difficult to service.  The factory, it might be argued, has done too much work which might have been better done by the end user.  It would certainly save money.  At nearly 360 bucks in receiver-ready form, it isn’t cheap.  The problems I had with the electronics and the reassembly left me with a model with a lot of hangar rash on the belly from the foam service stand I used to support it.  No wiring diagram also led to a lot of guesswork later, although doing my own diagram of the plug-in connections would have helped knowing what I know now.  Given this model’s electronic complexity, some sort of diagram is a must whether homemade or factory.

Those reasons and more, dear reader, are what we experience here at RC Universe so perhaps you won’t have to.  I’m going to write off the issues with the retracts as an anomaly, one for which HobbyKing went the distance to correct.

That’s why I’ll give this great model my fullest two thumbs up.  Great looks, great flying and hopefully, no end users will experience what I did with the retracts.

I cannot sufficiently thank HobbyKing’s Rebecca Bestawros for the opportunity to review this model.  Rebecca and HK’s new CEO Toby Osmond are two of the nicest people on the hobby and their passion shines through in models like the C-130.  Ian MacGregor in tech support was invaluable in helping me troubleshoot the unusual landing gear problem and he arranged to get the replacement parts to me as quickly as possible.

Dan Metz and George Muir of the Coachella Valley Radio Control Club were instrumental as spotters and videographers.  Special thanks go to my grandson Stephen Squillace – who saw the real Fat Albert with me shortly before it was retired – for aiding as a member of the ground crew during the video shoot.  Oh, and just before this review was published, Dan bought his very own C-130!

Manning the administrative desk here at RC Universe is the one and only Nathan Maat on behalf of you, our worldwide audience of hobbyists.

See you here for the next review!

Pluses and Minuses

Pluses include:

  • Beautifully detailed and finished
  • Excellent flying characteristics
  • Static and operational scale details abound
  • Assembles quickly
  • Modular wing connections greatly speed assembly at the field
  • Affordably priced and plentiful parts
  • Available in several livery schemes
  • Flies with plenty of power on a single, common-sized 4S battery
  • The operating cargo door can be used for candy drops or parachute drops
  • Plug in a receiver, set up the flight controls and enjoy

Minuses include:

  • Very difficult to service
  • Some of the instructions are out of order
  • No schematic for the various modules is provided
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