Futaba 6L Sport Aircraft Radio and Receiver

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“Everything you need, nothing you don’t.”

Return with us now to a simpler time in radio control, one where menus were mostly limited to restaurants and programming limited to computers – or perhaps network television broadcasting.  A time when R/C transmitters needed nothing but batteries and receivers nothing but crystals.

Today, many heritage manufacturers seem to have abandoned the notion of basic, easy-to-use radios due to an influx of inexpensive yet powerful “mail order” radio systems.

For those modelers seeking to move up from the sorts of sport radios provided with many RTF models or who are simply looking for an affordable, full-range, no-frills system, one heritage manufacturer has the solution.

The manufacturer is Futaba and the radio is the new Futaba 6L six-channel, full range, T-FHSS sport radio and receiver combo.  For US$89.99 through Tower Hobbies or any vendor which carries Hobbico products, the lucky buyer gets a T6L transmitter and a R3106GF high voltage, T-FHSS receiver with fail-safe.

I’ll be demonstrating the 6L system in two different electric models. One is Hobbico’s own Flyzone Switch sport trainer.  I reviewed this model online on behalf of the Academy of Model Aeronautics a few years ago and it’s exactly the kind of model which would benefit from this radio, i.e., no need for exponential settings, end-point adjustments and the like.  The airframe is in as-tested condition right down to the original propeller.  The only changes made were to the stock ESC and motor replaced under warranty soon after I got the model and recent replacement of the original TACTIC servos due to jamming of the gear trains from lack of use.  The old SuperTigre batteries were, in a word, shot.  Natalie Rodrigues, VP of marketing at Hobbico came through with a pair of FlightPower FP25  li-pos with Hobbico’s new Star Plug connectors!  These packs are not only less expensive than the originals, they’re far more powerful as well.

The other model is an RTF which is a perfect match as well.  It’s a Dynam Messerschmitt Bf-109 which was another online review subject some years ago.  It too is in as-tested condition except for an upgraded Master Airscrew three-bladed propeller.  Like the Switch, the Bf-109 came with its own sport radio system.  That five-channel system requires a semi-automatic binding procedure each time the model is powered up.  Worse, it has a tendency to require several attempts in order to bind.  I’ve never had the radio fail, but coupled with that problem and limited control throws, I don’t fly this or any of my Dynam models often. All of the models in question work off of the same transmitter; again, the 6L is a perfect upgrade for such affordably priced RTF models.

Features:

Elevon, V-tail and flaperon mixing

Built-in, full-range transmitter antenna

Student-only trainer function; a Futaba trainer cord is required and not included

Auxiliary channel five switch for gear or gas ignition cutoff

Auxiliary channel six dial function for flaps

Fail-safe function on throttle channel three moves the throttle servo
to a predetermined position in the event of radio interference

Servo reversing via DIP switches

Low battery alarm

Link mode

Range check mode

One-year limited warranty through Hobbico Hobby Services

Includes:

Futaba T6L six-channel transmitter

 Futaba R3106GF receiver

Illustrated instruction manual

Requirements:

Four AA-cell alkaline batteries

Servos and onboard power if necessary of pilot’s choice

Transmitter Specifications:

Type: Two-stick, six-channel, 2.4GHz spread spectrum aircraft

System: Futaba T-FHSS aircraft, no telemetry

Power: 6.0VDC via four AA-cell alkaline batteries, not included

Receiver Specifications:

Type: Six-channel T-FHSS 2.4GHz spread spectrum aircraft, no telemetry

Power Requirement: 4.8-7.4VDC flight battery or regulated output from ESC or BEC

Dimensions: 1.7 x 0.98 x 0.35″ (43.1 x 25.0 x 8.8mm)

Weight: 0.3oz (7.8g)

To get the most performance out of the Switch, Natalie forwarded these beauties to replace the worn-out originals:

If not for the hidden, full-range antenna, it would be easy to mistake the T6L for a rig out of the 1990s.  It’s a very simple, uncluttered and unadorned radio which new users will find unintimidating and experienced users will find familiar.  Two sticks, four trim levers, one toggle switch and one rotary knob round out the controls.

Compact yet powerful, the R3106GF receiver is unique to the 6L:

The full-range antenna is built in, so there isn’t even a “rubber duck” aerial on top.  The transmitter is also extremely light in weight and the addition of four AA batteries (not included) doesn’t add much to the heft.  There are no end-point adjustment pots since this is a digital system without computer control, but servo reversing is as easy as popping off the battery cover and flipping one of the small DIP switches corresponding to the channel in question.  The two switches to the far right engage the elevon, V-tail and flaperon mixes.

That said, the smoothness of the sticks and knob and the positive feel of the gear switch leave no doubt that it’s a Futaba.  That in turn translates to smooth and positive control via Futaba’s T-FHSS protocol.  Unfortunately, that leaves out the FASST, FASSTest and S-FHSS protocols.  The radio will bind with any T-FHSS receiver, but telemetry on receivers so equipped won’t function.  Likewise, the radio can easily be used as a buddy box via a standard Futaba trainer cable, but in student mode only.

Everything you need, nothing you don’t.

Dynam Messerschmitt Bf-109

Although I’d first set up the 6L transmitter on the Switch since I was going to fly it first, I wanted to check the operation of the Messerschmitt’s fussy servoless retracts and sure enough, one was binding.  This gave me the opportunity to take apart the sticky gear, lube it up, straighten a slightly bent strut and reassemble the unit.  The receiver was already in place and the control throw directions set for the Bf-109, so that model would instead be the first to fly.

The receiver was a perfect fit in the tight confines of the fuselage:

Ah, perfection.  I immediately noticed two things.  First, Futaba has preprogrammed the 6L to work with any brand of retracts, an important consideration since my experience with Dynam retracts shows that the necessary frame or pulse rate needed to operate them is quite limited.  Anyone with an older Airtronics/Sanwa system can concur.

Second, the model had a lot more control throw.  By a lot, I mean at least 60% more.  The original radio limits control throws to tame down RTF models and that was something I noted in the introduction to this review and in the original review.  Control was also far smoother even with the model’s original analog servos, leading me to conclude that the frame rate of the T6L was much faster than that of the Dynam transmitter.

Of course, bench testing is one thing and actually flying is another.  I headed to the Coachella Valley Radio Control Club east of Palm Springs, California with the Bf-109, the 6L and a couple of freshly charged 2600mAh 4S li-pos to see just how well this combo worked in practice.

After a quick preflight check, it was time to boogie.

The added rudder throw made taxiing far easier than it had ever been, although the narrow track meant that it was even more apt to drop and drag a wingtip, so I was careful not to oversteer.

That all disappeared once the model was airborne and trimmed.

This was an utterly transformed model with rock solid control, plenty of control throw and even more throttle response!  If not for the light weight of the transmitter, the feel of the sticks gave the impression of a far more expensive system.  On the original radio, the Bf-109 flew well, but it lacked both the power and control authority to do anything resembling even basic aerobatics.  A 500Kv motor, even on four cells, can be a rather pokey power system without sufficient throttle range.  With the 6L system, I was doing rolls, loops and Immelmann turns with plenty of power on tap.  That may not sound impressive, but aerobatics save for big, mushy loops were almost impossible on the Dynam radio.  Simple barrel rolls were “same day response” at best.  Here I was doing Immelmann turns with this model for the first time ever!  Low runway passes were easily converted into steep climbs and victory rolls.

I even flew the Bf-109 inverted for the first time.

Range wasn’t a problem; I took the Bf-109 higher than usual at a considerable distance downrange.  At no time did I ever feel as if I’d lose control and I soon brought it in for a landing.  It wasn’t on the ground long since I popped in a second battery and took off for more fun, more than I’d ever had with this model.

Our club’s historian had been unavailable to shoot video for several weeks and I thought I’d try shooting some myself with my DSLR.  Professional R/C pilot Rob Thomas agreed to fly the Bf-109 while I would attempt to take video.  The camera takes beautiful video, but the viewfinder is blocked off making it necessary to use the LCD screen which was impossible to see without a hood.  Most of what I shot was of sky, which was unfortunate.  Rob praised the radio and its response, even going so far as to gleefully toss the model about the sky and to perform some very low inverted runway passes!

Again, I must point out that the low-cost Dynam radio was very restrictive in terms of control throw.  I credit any and all control improvements to the 6L sport system.

Specifications:

Wingspan:  50″ (1270mm)

Length:  45″ (1163mm)

Flying Weight:  49.3 oz (1400g)

Motor:  Dynam BM3720A brushless outrunner; 500Kv

ESC:  Dynam 40A brushless with Deans Ultra Plug adapter

Servos:  Detrum 9g standard analog

Propeller as Tested:  Master Airscrew 13x8x3

Batteries as Tested:  2600-3000mAh 4S lithium polymer; mixed brands

Flyzone Switch

This very unique sport trainer is designed to go from high-wing sport trainer to low-wing sport flyer with a simple change of the canopy.  It flies well in both configurations, but I personally prefer the look and feel of the low wing setup.

Like the Dynam, the Switch has low, gentle control throws settings from the factory coupled with relatively gentle servo throw via the supplied radio.  In this case, it was the TACTIC TTX404 transmitter and TACTIC TL624 six-channel receiver.  It’s a basic four-channel SLT-protocol sport radio.

Swapping receivers and setting control direction only took a few minutes.  With the FlightPower FP25 batteries charged and ready, it was time for testing.

The parade grounds in Indian Wells, California shared by Southwest Community Church and the Indian Wells Tennis Garden are free for use by AMA members if no events are taking place.

Once again, the 6L system proved its mettle, but it needed a whole lot of left aileron trim.   This wasn’t a bad thing and could have been easily corrected on the bench if I were to leave the radio in place.  For the time being, I made the best of things.

That was rather easy to do.  The Switch was transformed in much the way the Bf-109 before it had been, perhaps even more so.  Extra control throws and some extra throttle response turned the Switch from a respectable trainer into a very respectable sport flyer. The only problem was catching the landing gear on some thick grass upon landing, slightly damaging one of the wheel pants.

Longtime friend and fellow amateur radio enthusiast Ken Alan later came by the club a couple of weeks later to shoot video.  Unfortunately, I’d run through my newer four-cell packs for another video and the remaining (and positively ancient) four-cell had no punch whatsoever in the Bf-109 and has since been retired.  It would seem fate conspired twice to keep me from getting video of that model, but the video of the Switch which Ken shot is an excellent representation of the improvement made to both models. Under breezy conditions and a wide open desert sky, I really pushed the model to its limits while still on the stock clevis locations.

Now the fun really could begin with low runway passes, victory rolls, split-esses, stall turns and inverted flight.  The latter was all the more impressive given the Switch’s asymmetrical airfoil.  I rolled it onto its back and it flew wonderfully with some down elevator.

In short, I was doing everything this model was designed not to do with nothing more than a change in the radio and without a care in the world.

Specifications:

Wingspan: 45″ (1145mm)

Length: 42″ (1065mm)

Wing Loading: 14 oz/ft² (43g/dm²)

Flying Weight: 39.9 oz (1130g)

Motor:  SuperTigre 35-30-1250kV brushless outrunner

ESC:  SuperTigre 30A brushless

Servos as Tested:  9g standard analog; mixed brands

Propeller:  Flyzone 10x5E

Batteries as Tested: FlightPower FP25 2100mAh 3S lithium polymer with Hobbico Star Plug connectors and JST-XH balancing leads

Gallery:

Futaba’s own video shows off the T6L transmitter well.

Here am I having a lot of fun wringing out the Switch via the T6L:

 

 

Conclusion:

With all of the affordably priced computerized radios on the market, one might question why such a system as the $90 Futaba 6L is being offered.  After all, the niceties of a computer radio seemingly makes one a logical choice and I admit to being skeptical about this system as I began the review.

I’ve come to view this radio as an uncluttered, unintimidating radio for a new pilot with a simple model.  A longtime pilot with infrequently flown but perhaps larger simple models in need of a full range radio upgrade would benefit.  An engine powered model is an ideal candidate for T6L control with its analog throttle trim to shut down a glow engine and auxiliary switch which may be used to shut off the ignition on a gas model.

Another thing which I see here is a nearly perfect club trainer radio.  Once a new pilot is ready for soloing, he or she can solo with what will have become a familiar transmitter.  Add to that world-class Futaba reliability and Hobbico customer support – something unavailable on “mail order” brands – and you’re looking at a winner.  I give this radio two thumbs way up and it won’t be long before I upgrade my other RTF/ARF sport models with Futaba T-FHSS receivers!

My sincerest thanks go to Natalie Rodrigues of Hobbico who was kind enough to offer this radio and its FlightPower batteries for review.  Hobbico also supplied the Flyzone Switch reviewed for the AMA.  Special thanks go to my friend Ken Alan for his terrific video work on short notice as well as to Rob Thomas of the new Rise Again Hobbies in Palm Desert, California for wringing out the Bf-109.

Nathan Maat is at the admin desk here at RC Universe on behalf of you, our readers.  Thanks for visiting!

Pluses and Minuses:

Pluses include:

  • Simple operation
  • Futaba reliability and product support
  • Affordably priced receivers
  • Full range operation
  • Clean, uncluttered looks with the built-in antenna
  • May be used with electric, glow or gas models
  • An ideal club traner
  • Excellent stick feel
  • Excellent control throw range
  • Dramatically improves control response of sport models

Minuses include:

  • May be too “bare-bones” for some
  • Price might be a sticking point for someone looking for an upgraded radio
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