Sport pilots for too long have been scared off from trying a lot of good aerobatic planes because they were told those planes were "too hot" for them, or "you can't handle that plane."
I am here to tell you right here and right now, you can. You can do it, and it is not even that hard.
If you can fly a Park Zone T28 or something similar, you can adjust the set up on many different extreme aerobatics capable planes and turn them into really sweet sport planes. This article is aimed at you T28 pilots, and other pilots like you who are learning aerobatics, are finding the T28 a bit too easy, and want to fly something a bit more capable. You need a new challenge, and this is it.
You can go a lot of different directions, but the cream of the crop is the Extreme Flight EXP line up. Of those planes, I believe the Extra 300 is the best suited to tailor to wards sport flying, but the other EXPs are certainly capable.
You can read much more about the Extra EXP, it's design and construction at Extreme Flight Extra 300 EXP__Clean Sheet
First, at 48" the Extra EXP is a much bigger plane than what most of you newer pilots are used to flying. It's going to be a smoother plane, for one, because it is bigger, and for another, it is a very advanced and refined design. Everything about it is designed to make it fly smoother and with laser like precision. The Extra will go and stay right where you put it. While this requires a little more attention from the pilot, it is actually easier because you aren't constantly correcting it to make it go where you want it to go. You simply point it and let the plane do the work for you.
It might seem a little odd that the hardest thing you are going to have to do to adapt to a better plane is to just relax, but that's the truth. Let the plane do the work for you. You still have to fly it, but you aren't fighting it and it isn't fighting you. Point it where you want it to go, and then let it go until you are ready for it to do something else.
There is also nothing to be afraid of from the Extra EXP in the way of bad manners. With a sport set up it is a very, very gentle plane that is easy to fly, yet does all the conventional maneuvers. You T28 pilots might be nervous for a flight or two, but after that you will trust the plane and probably push harder than you ever have.
48" is also as large as you can go and still have a practical airplane. All my 48" planes fit in the back seat or the trunk (with the seat folded) of my Nissan Altima fully assembled. I merely take them out of the car and fly them, which is a welcome relief from the larger planes that have to be assembled and pre-flight inspected at the field. Generally the only time I take a wing off one of my 48" planes is when I do a very thorough maintenance.
From the moment I saw the first pictures of the Extreme Flight Extra 300 EXP, I knew it would be an outstanding choice for either extreme aerobatics or sport flying. With it's long, smooth, flowing lines we knew sport pilots were going to want a piece of this plane. We knew because of the Extra's long tail, big stabilizers and tall fuselage that it would do really good precision, but with the reduced throws and slightly forward CG of the sport set up, it is almost like a competition precision plane.
The Extra grooves really, really well, goes, and stays exactly where you put it. This makes it extremely easy to fly because the plane really does most of the work for you. The plane flies straight, tracks straight and stays right on that big line you are drawing with it.
The Extra flies precision so well that you almost won't care about it's slow speed manners, but those are just as outstanding. The Extra is a big airplane for it's wingspan with a long and tall fuselage, and huge stabilizers. Add in the big SFGs and you have a lot of lift almost no matter what position the plane is flying in. The Extra is nice and floaty, and as a result can be flown very, very slowly.
When you combine irreproachable high speed grooving and impeccable slow speed manners, you've got an excellent all around performer, which incidentally makes for an awesome sport plane. There is one other crucial ingredient for a good sport plane, and that's durability. I have absolutely tortured my first two Extras, and they have thrived where other planes have crumbled under the abuse. I've bounced them, cartwheeled them, and I even drove one straight in at high speed and barely hurt it.
Clearly there aren't many sport pilots who will treat a plane this badly, so I am more than confident the Extra EXP will withstand the rigors of every day sport flying.
THE SET UP
Before you do any set up changes, you need to know what you are wanting from the airplane. What we are after here is very simple..... we want it to be easy to fly, stable, and forgiving, yet still capable of doing all conventional aerobatics. Most of that is already designed in to the plane with the long tail moment, big stabilizers, light weight, etc. The Extra EXP is already a very stable plane, but we are just going to dial even more of that in with the set up.
Remember also that set up is a personal thing and you may want to change yours around to suit your style and tastes better. You may also want to add more control throw as you progress and improve. That's fine too. Nothing is written in stone. We are just trying to give you a good place to start with a smooth, stable and easy to fly plane.
This is simply a baseline set up. Start with this, fly it, adjust as necessary. It turns out this is so close to my idea of perfect (for sport and precision) that we didn't really have to do much, and you may not either.
Step One: Clear Programming
First, start with a clean program on your transmitter. Don't copy an old one. Format or clear a program so you start from scratch. We don't want to have to deal with any left over mixes or chase any other digital ghosts from the last plane.
Set all of your high rates at 100%, and the same with your end point controls. It is crucial you do this now so we get the right amount of throw and maximum mechanical advantage from the servos. I like to use the end point controls for fine tuning and make the major set up adjustments mechanically. Also, by starting at 100% end points, you have the capacity to add throw electronically as you become more comfortable with the plane and demand more performance.
The plane came off the bench nearly perfect. We knew it would be close because we used the low rate from the manual, but we got a lot closer than we thought. All I did was turn the aileron rate down a little on our own low rate.
Aileron Set Up
Whenever I develop a sport set up I shoot for an aileron roll rate of three rolls in five seconds. This is part of the required sequence in the old AMA pattern, and it also happens to be a rate the average guy can keep up with. With just a tiny application of down elevator when the plane is inverted, and then a touch of up when it comes around to upright, you can very comfortably string consecutive rolls together without losing or gaining any altitude. The rate is fast enough that you aren't waiting and waiting for it to come around, but it's not so fast that you get behind on your controls. Essentially, it is the perfect rate for a sport or precision plane. With our set up's high rate, the Extra rolls a little quicker than this, but the low rate is dead on for the three in five.
For sport, I like to run my exponential at 30% on the ailerons and elevator. This is enough expo to smooth out the controls at the center, but it is not so much that you are aware it is there. It simply takes the edge off and the only difference you will notice is that you are flying smoother. The plane is already pretty tame, so we don't want to go much further than 30% expo and make it downright numb.
For sport, on ailerons use the largest double arm arm that comes with the Hi Tech HS65 servo. If you put it on the servo and it doesn't center just right, turn it 180 degrees and it probably will. If it doesn't you will be close enough to take care of it with the sub trims. You can snip off the unused arm, or just leave it...that won't hurt anything. It just looks neater to snip it off.
For ailerons, put the ball link on the second hole from the inside. Here's you'll end up with:
Elevator Set Up
For the elevator, use the longest double arm that comes with the servo. This plane was originally intended for extreme aerobatics, so I went with a larger HS85 servo. The HS65MG will be fine for sport, but if you are wanting to move into extreme aerobatics later, I personally feel more comfortable with that beefy servo back there.
The elevator set up just happens to be the least throw we could mechanically put into the plane, but it is dead perfect. It is a subjective thing, but I feel really comfortable with the elevator just the way it is.
For this, I used the standard two armed servo arm that comes with the Hi Tech HS85MG servo and bolted the ball link to the innermost hole.
Again, I like 30% expo.
One thing I like to do with all the sport projects is run as much rudder throw as I can get and run a full 75% expo to smooth it all out. This will give you snappy yaw response, but the big expo will help you use all that rudder authority smoothly. You need a lot of rudder throw to do clean snaps and spins, plus it's really helpful in stall turns. The EXP has that long tail moment that makes it super stable, so I personally like my rudder to be maxed out on both high and low rates.
If you aren't comfortable doing snaps, spins, stall turns and such, dial your low rate back to about 20 degrees and see how you like that. You can always dial it back in as you get more comfortable.
The whole idea is to give you a gentle plane you can be comfortable with, that will also still be lively enough to do all the conventional maneuvers. Most sport pilots will find the high rate to be lively, but not too much. The low rate is simply the high rate with the ailerons dialed back to give you that three in five roll rate. Like this, I think guys moving up from something like a Park Zone T28 might just find this plane even easier to fly.
MeasurementsI am going to give you the set up measurements in degrees because I believe it is much easier and more precise to use a gage instead of a ruler. Even if you don't measure it, you can use the mechanical set up in the pictures above and get the same results.
EXTRA EXP SPORT SET UP
Elevator: Both Rates-15 degrees, Expo: 30%
Aileron: High rate-14- degrees, Low Rate 11 degrees, Expo: 30%
Rudder: Both rates, all you can steal, Expo: 75%
Now I am sure there are some who are puzzled as to why the high and low rates are the same for the elevator and rudder. The short answer is that on high rates the Extra is absolutely perfect except the ailerons are a little fast. Low rate gets the ailerons perfect.
However, we really don't want to encourage the new guys to spend a lot of time flipping switches, so the high and the low rate for this project will be very similar. We want the new guys the spend their time concentrating on flying the plane, and spend no time thinking about which rate they want. Pick one...stay with it and learn. There is plenty of time for all the trick stuff later if that's what you want to do. Get the basics down really good first.
For Futaba users who don't want to monkey around with all the measuring, follow the mechanical set up exactly, and use 100% end point and 100% for a high rate. Dial the low rate on ailerons back to 90%, and you will have exactly the plane I have.
Getting The CG RightFor sport you want a little more forward CG. This just makes the plane more stable. Where we would like you to start is 3.25" behind the leading edge of the wing, measured at the root of the wing, where it meets the fuselage. This is roughly at the front of the wing tube.
Now, remember that this set up is for the new guys and the CG is pretty far forward. You are going to carry some up trim, so I suggest you set the elevator level with the trim centered, and then add in two or three notches of up trim. That could get you real close because that's where mine is.
OK, it's not as scientific as using a micrometer, but it doesn't have to be. You're going to dial it in to where you're happy with it by moving the battery back and forth until the CG is where you want it. This is just a place to start, and you don't have to measure it or anything, or put marks on the bottom of the wing where you can't see them anyway.
You just pick it up by where the front of the wing tube is. If it balances level or a little nose up or nose down, you're there. That's how I do it and it's really fine there. I like it there, so you may never change it.
For sport, and especially the new guys, forward is going to work best for you. Where I've told you to put it is just fine and you don't need to go any further forward. As far as moving the CG back, that will make the plane more agile, but it won't be as stable, forgiving, and it won't track as well. It's still going to be great, but remember this article is aimed at the newer pilots who need the plane to give them as much help as possible.
The Set Up Nail
Finally, nothing is written in stone here. If your tastes and flying style requires more or less throw, or a different CG, feel free to change things around. Our set up is just a baseline starting point that will give you a gentle, easy flying, yet agile sport plane. Also, as you progress with your flying skills, you will know more about what you want from the plane. Don't be afraid to experiment, but make small changes at first. Eventually you'll know how to get the plane exactly the way want it.
You don't have to push yourself unless you really want to, but if you do, you'll end up needing the extreme set up for this plane, and we plan to go into that in a future article.
Using the Extreme Flight power system with Torque 2814 motor and Airboss 45 ESC makes for a clean installation. For sport flying, I think the newer pilots need to fly this plane with a 3 cell pack. I like the Thunder Power 3s 2700 Pro Power packs because you get a good 6 minutes of run time and the battery is large enough to give you that slightly forward CG we are looking for.
There will be plenty of time to switch to 4s later on when you are an intermediate or advanced pilot, but you guys coming from basic trainers and such will be a lot happier with the plane on 3s. On 4s this plane absolutely rips, and is for advanced pilots only. On 3s with the sport set up, almost any pilot who can handle an aileron trainer won't have any problems.
Here I glued a balsa block to the motor box and velcroed the Airboss 45 to it. This location puts the ESC right in the cooling airflow coming into the cheek cowling. Also, like this, it is in the right position so the switch can be bolted to the mounting holes that come pre cut in the fuselage sides.
We have always used Thunder Power batteries exclusively for all our projects, so we had a good supply of 3s 2700 Pro Power 30C packs on hand that worked so well in planes such as The Edge 540T EXP and MXS.
While the Extra was designed to run on either 3s or 4s, this last year I have been flying my 47" class planes primarily on 3s, aiming for that magic 180 Watts Per Pound figure. While I am generally too lazy to do the math, I have a good feel for what I like, and all three of the EXP series planes (Extra, Edge, MXS) that I have owned fly beautifully on 3s. I've tried the MXS on 4s and it will continue that way, just because it's so bad ass. The Extra Sport, however, I plan to fly more smoothly and gently on moderate power. It just seems really sweet like this to me.