Two Planes in ONE!
Every once in a while, a new product comes along that forces us to look at things in a different light. The standard has been re-imagined into something new, or a new spin has been incorporated into a type of aircraft at which we may not otherwise take a second look. VMAR has done just this, in the form of their new Picanto Alpha 2-in-1 trainer system. Yes, this airplane is two airplanes in one! With no extra accessories to purchase, you can go straight from learning to fly, to your first low wing plane, to learning aerobatics. VMAR has also included a few other tricks up their sleeves that will leave you guessing as to what they bring out next… Interested? Read on!
Wingspan: 64.7 in (1644 mm)
Wing Area: 674 sq in (43.5 sq dm)
Length: 49.2 in (1250 mm)
Weight: 5-6 lbs (2.4-2.7 kg)
.40-.46 (6.5-7.5 cc) 2-Stroke
.48-.70 (7.5- 12 cc) 4-Stroke
700-1000 Watt Brushless Motor
4-Channel Transmitter (minimum)
4-Channel Receiver (minimum)
4 Standard Servos (Electric)
5 Standard Servos (Glow)
The Picanto Alpha arrived in a standard shipping box that was slightly smaller than average for a .40 sized trainer. Inside, I found something that looked a little odd – a two piece fuselage! By splitting the fuse into two pieces, it can fit neatly in a smaller box, which helps save on big shipping charges. All the parts fit nicely in the box, and all were in perfect condition as I removed them. The first thing you might notice is that there is the standard high-wing ‘cabin’ attached to the fuselage, but there is also a bubble canopy in the foreground as well – we’ll get to these in a bit.
All of the main components arrived pre-covered in VMAR’s POLYCOAT ECS covering material – there were no wrinkles, and it adhered to the wood structure well! Though I’m not sure how it’s made, it appears to have the colors applied via a printer. The covering is a little more transparent than other heat-shrink coverings available, but it doesn’t distract from the look of the plane. I like the pre-cut aileron servo openings, and there’s one servo per wing half – because of the unique design of this trainer, two aileron servos are required. The high-wing cabin has a nice access hatch built into the top, and has a light ply frame and is covered with a flexible plastic sheeting.
The two-piece fuselage is a little different than I’m used to seeing, but it should work out fine – there’s plenty of structure hiding beneath the covering, and lots of hatches as well! The nose hatch served two purposes – in addition to being a battery/fuel tank hatch, it also holds the bubble canopy in place when flying in the low-wing configuration.
With the bubble canopy in place, you’d be hard pressed to realize that this was once a high-wing trainer! There are two covers on the lower side of the fuselage that need to be removed when installing the wing in the low position. Hold on to these parts, in case you decide to switch it back to a high-wing trainer. VMAR has even added a hatch on the belly of the plane to make installing the wing retainer screws easy!
All of the hinges are not only pre-installed, but pre-glued as well! The Picanto Alpha requires NO GLUE for assembly – the tail is secured using a pair of threaded rods and locking nuts – I’ll give you a little more detail in just a bit!
There’s a lot of good, usable hardware included with the Picanto Alpha, including glow engine and electric motor mounts, tricycle or tail-dragger landing gear, and even a spun aluminum spinner! Yes, it’s all included!
Equipment Used for Completion
From the ground, I’ll be using my Hitec Flash 7 2.4 gHz Transmitter- I really love this radio! A Hitec Optima 6 receiver and 4 Hitec HS-485HB Deluxe servos will be taking care of the Picanto Alpha in the air.
A Hitec Energy Sport 80 Amp ESC will be controlling the Electrifly Rimfire .46 Brushless Outrunner Motor. Power will come from a 14.8 Volt 4S 4000 mAh courtesy of True RC.com, and a Flacon 12×6 Beechwood Electric propeller from Justmodelprops.com will complete the front end of the Picanto Alpha. Though not pictured, I also used a 12″ servo Y-Harness for the ailerons.
The printed manual does a good job helping even beginner modelers assemble the Picanto Alpha, and it’s one of the better manuals I’ve seen from smaller manufacturers! The only item I found missing was ESC installation for electric power setup, but I’ll show you a good place to install the ESC in a bit.
Assembly began a little differently than most ARF models – this one started with assembling the two-piece fuselage. Four machine screws and washers are used to secure the fore and aft sections together.
The horizontal stabilizer was slid into position – I made sure that the holes in the stab lined up with the two threaded vertical stabilizer mounting rods. With both the horizontal and vertical stabilizers in place, a pair of flat washers and locking nuts keep everything in place. I had to be careful not to over-tighten the locking nuts – this WILL crush the surrounding wood on the bottom of the tail!
The control horns (which consist of a backing plate, long machine screw, a threaded backing plate, and a plastic horn) were installed in pre-drilled holes in the elevator and rudder, and connected to their respective pushrods. I did use a drop of thread locking compound (not included) on the pushrod clevis screws to keep them secure.
Moving on, I started installing the landing gear. I’m a tail-dragger guy, and given a choice, my airplanes will always be tail draggers. After installing the tail wheel assembly, I moved the rubber main landing gear mounts to the forward pre-cut holes in the fuselage. These mounts help by taking a lot of abuse as new pilots inadvertently try to rip the landing gear off the plane. They are a nice feature! Moving them was easy – I just had to remove the covering from the forward holes, loosen the 10mm nuts in the fuselage, and move the mounts.
The aluminum landing gear was then attached, followed by installing the axles and wheels. With that, I turned the fuselage over and tested the shock absorbing gear mounts – they worked quite well!
The wings came next, and assembly started with the aileron servos. Because of the servo’s placement in the wing, there is no need for an extra servo extension wire within the wing. With all four of the servo mounting holes drilled, I removed the servo and ran a DuBro Socket Head Servo Mounting Screw into and out of each hole, and then applied a drop of thin CA to each hole. The CA hardens the freshly cut threads in the hole, and will help keep the servo screws from coming loose.
The servo was then installed, followed by the control horn assembly. With the control horn in place, I assembled and attached the aileron pushrod to the servo arm and control horn.
The elevator and rudder servos were installed and connected to their respective pushrods, again using quick connects. The elevator pushrod required a little bending to get the alignment correct so there was no binding, but it was easy enough to do. My Hitec Optima 6 receiver was attached with a small piece of DuBro R/C Protective Foam Rubber and a zip-tie. In the last photo, it’s a little hard to see, but I removed the rear battery stop – my TrueRC.com LiPo battery was a little long to fit properly in the space allowed, so the rear stop came out. I simply grabbed it with a small pliars, and twisted it – the glue let loose, and it came out in one piece!
My Electrifly Rimfire .46 motor was too long to use the included electric motor mount, so I used some old hardware I had in my parts box. The 20mm aluminum stand-offs were exactly the correct length, and made installing the motor easy. Unfortunately, the included aluminum spinner adapter didn’t work with the threads on my motor, so I substituted a white plastic spinner I had hanging on my parts wall. The Falcon 12×6 Beechwood Electric Prop fit perfectly, and really looked nice on the nose of the Picanto Alpha. The one item the instructions missed was where to install the ESC. After fitting the battery on the tray, I determined that there was enough room to attach the ESC to the inside of the fuselage with adhesive-backed Velcro. I also added a couple pieces of adhesive-backed Velcro to the battery tray to help secure the battery. there is a strap included with the kit, but I have always liked to add a little Velcro to the tray as well.
I decided to assemble the high-wing version first – as a result, I started by sliding the ‘cabin’ into place. There is a pair of dowels toward the front of the cabin that lock into holes in the fuselage, and a pair of machine screws and washers secure the rear. A ball-end driver is a really great tool to have here, as it’s a little bit of an angle to get at the machine screws.
I slid the aluminum wing tube through the cabin, and then slid the wing panels onto the tube. An anti-rotation pin toward the trailing edge of the wing half will slide into a hole in the cabin as well. The wing bolts are made from two parts – a machine screw and a wing nut. to keep them together as a single unit, I applied a SINGLE DROP of red thread locking compound (not included) to the bolt before tightening the wing nut. I also wiped away any excess compound and let it dry overnight before using them in the plane.
When the thread locking compound had dried, I installed the assembled wing bolt and gently tightened it. The top hatch was then installed, and I put the flight battery in the tray. I marked the Center of Gravity (CG) on the bottom side of the wing, and checked the CG. It came out perfect without having to move anything! With that, the Picanto Alpha was ready to fly!
HighWing Photo Shoot
Low Wing Conversion
Low wing conversion started by removing the cabin attachment machine screws and front hatch. sliding the cabin forward will allow the complete cabin to be released from the fuselage.
The wing retainer screws were then removed, and the wings and wing tube were removed from the cabin. I also removed the lower fuselage covers from each side of the fuselage. The wing tube was slid through the fuselage and centered.
The wing halves were slid onto the wing tube, and the wing retainer screws were installed through the small hatch in the belly of the plane. This same hatch can be used to connect the aileron servo wires to the aileron servo Y-Harness.
I attached the bubble canopy in place of the cabin, and the front hatch locks it in place. With the wing moved and the bubble canopy installed, the Picanto Alpha looks like a completely different plane!
Low Wing Photo Shoot
Unfortunately, finding a good break in the weather took longer than normal for the Picanto Alpha, but we finally had a couple of relatively good days. My son, Jonathan, and I flew the Alpha in the high wing configuration first. It was a late afternoon, and the wind was blowing at approximately 8-10 MPH. Though not ideal for a maiden flight, we didn’t know how long we’d have to wait for another decent day – fall in Minnesota can be a little weird like that…
I turned on my Hitec Flash 7 and connected the 4S 4000 mAh flight battery. The grass was a bit long for the small stock wheels, so I carried the plane out to the nylon mat runway. The wind was angling about 45° to the runway from the Northwest, which required some right rudder to keep the Alpha on the runway. The plane had plenty of rudder authority, which is sometime lacking in a trainer model. I was happy to be able to keep the Alpha out of the grass! The electric power setup provided more than enough pulling power to get the plane off the ground quickly! When the plane was approximately two mistakes high (my personal favorite place to be with a new model), I checked for trim adjustments. The Alpha needed three clicks of down elevator, and two clicks of right aileron trim – even in the wind, the plane flew very nicely!
It took me very little time to feel right at home flying the Picanto Alpha. In the air, it flew like a good trainer should – light and easy, and not overly sensitive on the sticks! Slow speed handling was good, and presented no issues – stalls were an easy drop of the nose. I added a little power and up elevator and the plane was flying almost immediately! High speed passes did require a little down elevator stick pressure to keep the Alpha from climbing, but this is an inherent feature in a good high wing trainer.
Mild aerobatics were easy to do, thanks to the Alpha’s 4-Channel design. Aileron rolls and loops could be made to look easy with this trainer, and these maneuvers will help budding pilots get ready for their next step!
Landing was also easy – as easy as any other trainer I’ve ever flown! One thing to keep in mind is the main landing gear wheel size – to fly from a grass strip, you’ll want larger wheels. even in short cut, thick grass, the main wheels got hung up quickly, causing the plane to flip over. Thankfully, the Picanto Alpha was built tough enough to handle some abuse! The rubber-mounted landing gear does help to absorb some rough landings too!
Our afternoon at the field was cut short by rain, so the low wing version had to wait for another day. A couple of weeks went by before we had another decent day! My buddy, Jim Buzzeo, and I had a similar day to the maiden flight (the sun was shining though), with the wind blowing around 8-10 MPH again. As I said earlier – Minnesota falls can be weird!
Thankfully we didn’t have to fight a crosswind this time, as the wind was straight down the runway from the East. The now converted low wing Alpha took off easily again! A combination of the wind and power from the electric setup made taking off quick and easy.
As much fun as the Alpha was as a high wing trainer, I really enjoyed flying the ‘sporty’ low wing! Every maneuver that the trainer did, the low wing did better and faster! Loops and rolls were awesome, and flying through a Cuban 8 was a blast! The power to weight ratio made vertical climbs a non-issue, and stall turns were a lot of fun! Surprisingly, the stall speed and tendencies were very close to that of the high wing version. This is a definite bonus to low time pilots just cutting their teeth on a low wing plane!
The Alpha will fly very well inverted also – a touch of down elevator will keep the plane inverted as long as you want. I really was having fun with this plane! The climbing under higher throttle characteristic went away as well, and made high-speed, low passes really fun – they looked pretty cool too!
I was very pleased to see that the Picanto Alpha flew just as well, if not a little better in the low wing configuration. This is truly a great airplane to get a new pilot from trainer to second plane without having to purchase a new aircraft!
Check out the video to see the VMAR Picanto Alpha ARF in action!
It’s time to wrap up this review – I really like the Picanto Alpha. The assembly went well, and it flew great in both configurations! I like the looks of the plane – the bright colors make orientation while flying easy. The Alpha really looks like two different planes when in the high or low wing configuration. I’ll admit that I was a little skeptical of the Alpha when it first arrived – the two piece fuselage, and the quick connects on the pushrods seemed odd to me, but you know what? They worked – and they worked very well! VMAR has done a great job on the Picanto Alpha, and I can see this being a ‘go-to’ plane for lots of beginners! Well done, VMAR!