RCU Review: Great Planes Pluma

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    Contributed by: Andrew Griffith | Published: September 2008 | Views: 59966 | email icon Email this Article | PDFpdf icon
    ElectriFly Pluma Biplane

    Review by: Andrew Griffith

    Distributed exclusively by:
    Great Planes Model Manufacturing Company
    3002 N. Apollo Dr Suite 1
    Champaign, IL 61822
    Support Phone: (877)504-0233 
    Sales Phone: (800)338-4639 

    Website: www.electrifly.com

    Pluma 3D ARF
    CLICK HERE to Watch

    Ease of Assembly
    Aerobatic ability

    Flight performance!!
    Assembles quickly.
    Pre-printed color scheme.
    Good top to bottom contrast.
    Pre hinged and beveled control surfaces.
    Easy battery access.

    Minor problem with pre-assembled wheel pants

    I recently became convinced of the need of a small, inexpensive, aerobatic plane with which to practice 3D style flying. When I was asked to review the Pluma from Electri-Fly I did a little research and surmised that it would not only cover my need for a close in, aerobatic practice plane, but it would satisfy my affection for biplanes in general.

    The Pluma (which is Spanish for feather) is a foam, Almost Ready to Fly (ARF) biplane, with flat sheet wings and tail, a built up fuselage, and HUGE control surfaces. Combine the light wing loading with a well matched power system, and the Pluma will be at home outdoors in calm winds. Install the optional airbrakes and use the indoor power package package, and the Pluma will be perfect in a gym or aircraft hangar.

    Tower Hobbies carries the basic airframe and two combination packages. The combination packages include a Rimfire brushless motor, and the appropriate speed controller. There is an indoor or outdoor package available depending on where you intend to fly the Pluma. This review consists of the basic airframe equipped with the outdoor flying package.

    Kit Name: Pluma Bipe 3D ARF
    Price: $49.95 (kit) $110 (Outdoor combo)
    Wing Span: 830mm (32.5")
    Flying Weight as tested: 8.8 ounces
    Motor: Rim Fire 28-26-1000 Brushless
    ESC: GP Power Series SS-12 Brushless
    Battery used: GP Power Series 11.1V 640mah 20C LiPo
    Radio equipment: Futaba 9C, 146iP Receiver, HS-65HB Servos

    • Square
    • Hobby Knife
    • Ruler
    • Small Phillips screwdriver
    • Foam-safe CA
    • Foam Safe CA Accelerator (optional)
    • 3 Micro servos
    • 4 Channel receiver
    • 3 cell 11.1v Lithium Polymer Battery
    • Soldering iron (I'd suggest an old tip)

    Kit Contents
    Wings and tail assemblies
    After receiving the Pluma I unpacked it and inspected the contents for shipping damage. The airplane seemed to have made the journey safely so I unpacked the instruction manual and read it cover to cover. I say manual because, as usual, Great Planes has provided excellent instructions. Some kits in the price range might have nothing more than a 2 sheet fold out with some diagrams and notes. The Pluma however, came with a 23 page instruction book that has detailed photographs, clear instructions, and even side bar tips. It details nearly everything you need to know to get the Pluma from the box in to the air.

    The basic kit includes everything that you need with the exception of the electronics and a prop. They even packaged a section of hinge tape and enough velcro to mount your battery and speed controller.

    There isn't a whole lot that isn't covered by the manual but I will pass along a few things I learned along the way.

    Built up fuselage
    Foam Safe CA
    The first thing I learned is to take some scraps of foam and test your CA, and if you use it, your accelerator (kicker) for compatibility with the foam. I had obtained foam safe CA but my kicker caused problems. Save yourself some trouble and test first!

    The second item of note is that the foam parts, especially the flat wings and control surfaces are not very tough. Cover your work area with a cloth and make sure you keep your tools and glue away from where you will be moving the pieces about.

    The foam parts are easy to crease, or worse, if you are heavy handed. All of the interlocking parts fit pretty well but make sure you dry fit everything before gluing. If the parts don't go together easily, do a little trimming. Don't force things or you will break something or fold it in half.

    The last thing is that you will need a hobby knife to do a few tasks. No matter how sharp you think it is, start with a fresh blade. An old blade will pull on the foam while cutting and make a mess, a new blade will make nice clean cuts.

    Make sure to build it straight
    Carbon and heat shrink pushrods
    Completed aileron pushrods.
    (Note: I followed the steps in the manual for the review but if I were to build another one I would skip to the tail installation step before I put the wings on. Installing the elevator and rudder servos would be a lot easier if the wings were not installed at that point. This is just personal preference and not a fault of the assembly sequence in the manual.)

    One of the things that stood out to me, and sets the Pluma apart from a few of the foam biplanes I have seen, is the use of two pushrods between the ailerons. I highly recommend measuring the part you are going to use each time a carbon rod is called for. There are quite a few of them and they are of similar lengths. The 145 millimeter rods are used to make the 4 aileron pushrods. The manual shows the measurement of 2-1/8" or 156mm for the pushrods. There is an addendum on the Pluma web page that shows the correct measurement but its obvious that the English measurement is way too short and would force you to cut down the rods and result in a very strange looking aileron configuration. The metric measurement is correct.

    After you heat shrink the Z-bends on to the push rods double check the length and then wick just a drop of thin CA into each joint. Don't forget this step because the heat shrink will not provide enough strength, and you don't want your pushrods changing lengths in flight. Too much thin CA and it will run down the pushrod and glue it to your finger (yes I did it).

    Control surface alignment using tool provided in the kit
    Tail feathers glued in
    Rudder servo and pushrod
    Whenever I build a kit from Great Planes I never fail to learn a tip for my bag of tricks and the Pluma was no exception. The aileron pushrods can be built away from the airplane using a heat gun. However, when it comes time to assemble the elevator and rudder pushrods and the pushrods from the servo to drive the ailerons, a heat gun (or lighter) would melt and destroy the foam. Great Planes describes how to use a soldering iron to shrink the tubing and build the pushrods. I suggest using an old tip for this as it will inevitably melt some of the heat shrink on to your iron tip. I had a flat tip that I have never found a use for that worked perfectly.

    Plug in and center the elevator and rudder servos and assemble one end of the push rod. I went ahead and lined up the pushrod guides and glued them in place. This is one area you will have to cut some foam and if you don't have a clean blade you will make a mess. After you have the guides and servo end of the pushrods in place, center the control surface with the provided tool and complete the other end with your soldering iron. Double check your length and if everything is square, go ahead and put a drop of thin CA on all of the carbon rod and heat shrink joints.

    I elected to use HS65 servos in the Pluma. This decision, motivated solely because I had three of them on hand, cost me two minor modifications. The first is they are slightly bigger than the suggested Futaba 3114 micro servos so the mounting holes needed a bit of trimming. The second became apparent when it was time to mount the custom servo arm for the ailerons and it was obvious the arm extension was drilled for the Futaba servo arms. Neither presented a problem but if you're buying servos for the Pluma, get the 3114's, they fit perfectly and are faster than the ones I used.

    Flat tip on my soldering iron to shrink pushrod tubes
    Brushless motor
    12A speed controller
    I was asked to review my Pluma with the outdoor combination package. The meant the business end would be getting an Electri-Fly Rimfire brushless out runner motor. Moving the electrons from the battery to the motor is an Electri-Fly 12 amp Silver Series speed controller. To provide power, I was also supplied with an Electri-Fly Power Series 3 cell, 20C, 640mah LiPo battery.

    Dry fit the motor to the firewall and check that everything is flat. The glue they used at the factory had a bead along the firewall that was preventing the motor mount from sitting square against the firewall. This took me just a few moments to carefully trim away. Make sure you remove and thread lock the phillips head screws that hold the prop saver, you don't want these coming loose in flight. Mount your speed controller in the location shown but don't mount the velcro for your battery until you check the balance. I would also recommend that after you thread the self tapping screws into the firewall you remove them and harden the threads with thin CA.

    At this point, when I picked up the airplane it was like about as stiff as a glass of water without the glass. I was surprised to find out that after all of the carbon cross braces are installed the structure is quite stiff. This step is a bit tedious but make sure you take the time to dry fit all of the rods and glue them one at a time while ensuring everything stays square. The end result conjures images of an X-Wing fighter.

    When the cross braces are dry it is time to install the aileron servo and the landing gear. The instructions indicate that you need to attach the wheel pants to the landing gear leg but this step has already been done at the factory.  When the struts were installed and the wheel aligned correctly, the front of the wheel pants were canted downwards.  I tried to adjust them, but it didn't appear possible without breaking something.  The result was the wheel pants grabbing during landing and causing a nose over.  I removed the wheel pants and didn't have any farther trouble with the landing gear.  It is very possible this was only an issue with the particular kit I received.

    With the Pluma sitting on its landing gear the only thing left was to mount the propeller and check the balance.

    3S 640mah LiPo
    Rimfire motor installation
    Aileron servo installation

    When you have everything completed, mark the wing as indicated in the instructions and put some velcro on the battery. Figure out where the battery needs to go and install it in the front of the fuselage making sure the bulk of the weight of the battery is even with the center line of the motor. This will help keep the airplane from corkscrewing when doing aileron rolls. Great Planes designers already set the plane up with aileron differential by virtue of the provided servo arm.

    The instructions indicate that for indoor flight the CG should be set at 67mm from the leading edge of the top wing, for outdoors it should be set to 63mm. The manual also says the total range is 44 to 85 mm, a 41mm range is huge considering the size of the wing. I went with 67mm because I knew the farther back it was the better it would perform 3D maneuvers . After all, I wasn't setting my Pluma up for IMAC practice!

    For guidance I chose my Futaba 9C with a 146iP PCM receiver. I fished the wire antenna inside the fuselage because I didn't think the foam would interfere and I was planning on flying the Pluma in close. Great Planes provides a template and suggested control throws for three control ranges: low, high, and 3D rates. If you're using dual rates I would set the low rates and high rates as suggested and increase the high rate as you gain confidence. The control surfaces are huge and when flown with the 3D rates the Pluma can be quite a handful if you aren't ready for it.

    Since the 9C is a very versatile radio I was ready to spend a few flights testing mixes for knife edge correction and any other bad habits the airplane might have. It turns out that if you build this airplane straight, you could fly it with a basic four channel radio; none of the fancy computer radio mixing was needed. I would suggest a radio that offers dual rates and expo on the primary flight controls though, the Pluma would be quite a handful on high rates with no expo. Keep in mind when I say that I fly 3D helicopters so I'm used to twitchy controls.

    When the weekend finally arrived I drove to the flying field amid the air of anticipation that surrounds any maiden flight. Unfortunately that air was moving to the east at 12 to 15 knots. I topped off the battery, checked the CG, and verified control throws and directions. After waiting for a couple of hours the wind didn't abate so I decided to go for it.

    With all of the control surfaces carefully centered the Pluma didn't need any trim. The plane tracked well during some basic maneuvers so I took it up a bit, pointed the nose into the wind and brought power back and added elevator to see where the plane stalled. I had bought the power back until the prop had stopped and it was just floating down, wings level with about half the available elevator. I realized I was still on low rates! I also realized that the airplane was actually going backwards! Landing should not present any problems.

    The second day of testing there was very little wind and things went very well.  In no time at all I was hovering, doing torque rolls, harriers, and flat (REALLY FLAT) spins, both upright and inverted. I tried everything I could think of, and the Pluma handled it with ease. Even on low rates the Pluma will fly around knife edge all day long. Knife edge loops? It does them so fast and tight I thought the prop was going to cut the tail off.

    The Pluma had a surprising amount of power. The suggested 10x4.7 slow flyer prop won't win any pylon races, but while hovering there is enough power that just a blip of throttle was all it took to get out of trouble. Control authority, as one might imagine when 30 percent or more of the wing area is aileron, is outstanding. Mixing in a healthy amount of expo, especially in 3D rates, made the aircraft very controllable. Less expo in high rates and the Pluma looked very crisp and precise.

    Since we have a lot of gifted pilots at our field but not as many gifted camera operators, I decided to enlist my friend Parker Gilbert to put the Pluma through its paces while I filmed. As you can see from the video Parker was really enjoying himself. His one comment was that he felt I had the CG too far back.  Parker flies IMAC and since I intended to use this plane for 3D practice, I left the CG where it was.  I've tried moving the CG both forward and back a little but for my flying style, 67mm seems to feel best.

    See the ElectriFly Pluma in action!
    Large Version

    Small Version


    The Pluma looks good, builds quickly and easily, and flies extremely well. The one hour build time may be a little optimistic but you could easily assemble the Pluma in one evening while watching television. CA accelerator will speed the process immensely.

    The ElectriFly Pluma definitely met my expectations as a 3D practice plane. It is nice to have just the plane and transmitter in my Jeep so I can grab a quick flight at lunch time or after work. Remember that practice is the one thing that will improve your flying more than anything else.

    The Pluma can be hand launched by advancing the power and it will fly out of your hand at just over half throttle. It will also take off from a smooth paved surface but flying off of grass would require hand launching. It lands so slowly that landing in the grass is no trouble.

    The only issueI had with the Pluma was with the wheel pants.  Also take care when handling the Pluma in and out of your vehicle and in the pits.  My plane blew off the table and tumbled a couple of times on the ground and caused a good bit of damage. That was clearly my fault, but it does support the following recommendation. The Pluma would be better suited for intermediate pilots and up. Those that are comfortable flying a tail dragger airplane with light wing loading and a high power to weight ratio. I don't think this airplane is built to take much abuse.

    If you're looking for a high performance, aerobatic airplane that builds quickly and won't damage the wallet, you should give the Pluma serious consideration. The best complement I can give a review airplane, or any model that I own, is by answering this: If I destroyed it would I buy another one? With the Pluma the answer to that question is a resounding yes!

    ElectriFly Pluma ARF and Futaba 9C

    Distributed exclusively by:

    Great Planes Model Manufacturing Company
    3002 N. Apollo Dr. Suite 1
    CHAMPAIGN, IL 61822
    Support Phone: (877)504-0233 
    Sales Phone: (800)338-4639 

    Website: www.electrifly.com
    email: airsupport@greatplanes.com

    Hitec Servos

    Hitec RCD USA, Inc.
    12115 Paine St.
    Poway CA, 92064
    Phone: 858.748.6948
    Web Site: www.hitecrcd.com
    Product used: HS-65HB

    Comments on RCU Review: Great Planes Pluma

    Posted by: Xpress on 09/21/2008
    Nice review. I bet if you locked everybody out of your workshop, and kept on building the plane, you could probably have it done in about an hour.
    Posted by: deckerv on 09/22/2008
    Nice review! Any thoughts as to how well the indoor built version would do in a small gym? Looking for some indoor 3d stuff for the winter :)
    Posted by: BarracudaHockey on 09/23/2008
    lil, thats a good theory but with 3 kids it can be a bit of a challenge! :) Deckev, I think it would be fine in a gym. I fly it around at our ice rink before hockey games even without the air brakes installed. The airbrakes would probably keep the speed down on the down lines nicely.
    Posted by: GP G-Rod on 09/23/2008
    Very nice job Andrew!
    Posted by: SigMan on 09/30/2008
    wow ! sweet !
    Posted by: williamk1956 on 10/07/2008
    Bought mine and had trouble with the fuse having a warp near the back, but with a phone call to Electrifly I had a new kit in 3 days. Good customer service. Now, how does it fly? It is the only plane I use to try out new manuvers.It is a blast to fly. Perfect size for outdoors and has now bad habits. I built mine with a 370 motor and 910 man lipo so it is a little heavy, but sill flies well. Recommended gentleman.
    Page: 1
    The comments, observations and conclusions made in this review are solely with respect to the particular item the editor reviewed and may not apply generally to similar products by the manufacturer. We cannot be responsible for any manufacturer defects in workmanship or other deficiencies in products like the one featured in the review.

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