RCU Review: Great Planes ZLIN Z-526 Akrobat

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    Contributed by: Mathew Kirsch | Published: February 2010 | Views: 44583 | email icon Email this Article | PDFpdf icon
    Great Planes Zlin Z-526 Akrobat
    Review by: Matt Kirsch Photos by: Papa Jeff Ring Video by: Ed Britton, Greg Covey

    Skill Level:
    Build Time:
    approx. 15 hours
    Frustration Level:
    No problem

    Click here for to learn
    "What these rating mean?".

    • Design that's not often modeled.
    • Engineered for convenient assembly.
    • Quality Great Planes hardware included.
    • Smooth flying characteristics.
    • Perfect color match between covered and painted parts.

    • Cowl fit could be better.

    The Great Planes Zlin Z-526 "Akrobat" is patterned after the full scale version seen at airshows through the 1960's. Moravan Otrokovice of the Czech Republic produced the "26-series" of aircraft beginning in 1946 with the original Z-26, progressing through the subject Z-526, and finally culminating with the Z-726 in the 1970's.

    In its Z-526A Akrobat form, the Zlin's seating capacity is reduced from two to one. It sports a bubble canopy, and a 160HP Walter Minor 6-III carburated six-cylinder engine rather than the long greenhouse cockpit and 106HP Walter Minor 4 engine. At 24ft 4in long, and with a wingspan of 33ft 9in, it is roughly the same size as another airshow performer from the same era: Art Scholl's DeHavilland Super Chipmunk.

    In fact, the Zlin and Super Chipmunk are very comparable. Not only do they both have the same aesthetic ?feel? to them, they were both created for the same purpose, to thrill audiences at airshows. The Super Chipmunk has about 100HP on the Zlin, but the Zlin is about 300lbs lighter. In model form, I'd expect the Zlin to have very similar flying qualities to a Super Chipmunk of the same size and weight. That is, fast and aerobatic, capable of airshow-style aerobatics, pattern maneuvers, and very smooth overall.

    With a full scale wingspan of 33 feet, 9 inches, and a model wingspan of 58 inches, Great Planes' rendition of the Z-526 is roughly 1/7 scale. It's a perfect size for any .46-class 2-stroke glow, .70 4-stroke glow, or a 700+ Watt electric power system.


    Wingspan: 58 in (1470 mm)
    Wing Area: 633 in² (40.9 dm²)
    Weight: 6-6.75 lb (2695-3005 g)
    Wing Loading: 22-24 oz/ft² (66-74 g/dm²)
    Length: 52 in (1320 mm)
    Requires: 4-5 channel radio w/4-5 servos; 2-stroke .46-.55 cu in (7.5-9.0 cc) or 4-stroke .52-.70 cu in (8.5-11.5 cc) engine; OR RimFire? 42-60-480kV outrunner brushless motor, 60A brushless ESC & (2) 11.1V 3200mAh 20C LiPo batteries

    Other than the typical wrinkles in the covering, which you're going to get with any ARF, the Zlin arrived in perfect condition. An extended engine box and removable canopy/cockpit hatch allows you to see most of the fuselage's structure. The fuselage is all interlocking plywood sheeted with balsa. Pretty conventional. Out back, the fin is already integrated into the fuselage structure, and the stabilizer slot has an airfoil profile. Inside the cockpit is the most detailed instrument panel I've seen in an ARF to date. The recessed instruments are a nice touch. Foam core wings with an aluminum wing joiner and pre-hinged ailerons round out the airframe.

    Well, the box is here... Time to get started. Let's see what's inside!

    Unpacking the Zlin is like peeling an onion. It doesn't make you cry, but it does have layers.

    Layer #2 is the fuselage and hardware. The hardware boxes do double-duty by keeping the fuselage protected.

    The first part out of the box, and it looks like it's done already.

    Designed for dual power, the removable canopy opens to reveal a combination battery tray and fuel tank cradle.

    The Zlin has a long nose so there's an extended engine box ahead of the firewall.

    Airfoiled tail.

    The hatch is secured in two ways. First, it slides back and hooks. Second, four rare earth magnets keep it there.

    That is a very convincing instrument panel.

    • Engine: OS .55AX 2-stroke glow
    • Servos: Futaba S3004 standard on control surfaces, Futaba S3003 on throttle
    • Transmitter: Futaba 8FGA FASST
    • Receiver: Futaba R8000HS FASST
    • Radio Accessories: Futaba and Hobbico
    • Hardware: Great Planes (included with kit)

    Futaba's latest offering in the ever-competitive, high-end sport radio class is the new 8FG. It's a fully-programmable, fully-proportional 8-channel heir to Futaba's legendary lineup of deluxe sport radios including the 9C, 8U and 7U platforms.

    The 8FG is a native 2.4GHz system. Its antenna is in the normal location; there is no add-on module as in previous systems, so there is no "extra" antenna to contend with. With the antenna folded, the 8FG will fit in standard transmitter cases and balances perfectly on a neck strap.

    Completely new to the 8FG, and Futaba systems in general, is the SensorTouch interface. Gone are the old-fashioned programming buttons and dials. In their place is a single round touch pad that takes surprisingly little pressure to activate. It takes a little getting used to, but when you master it you feel like a Jedi knight as you wave your index finger over the pad, programming your radio with barely a touch.

    Programming options are limitless. Any function or mix can be linked to any of the eight switches, two sliders, or two dials. Up to 20 model memories may be stored on the 8FG's internal memory, but model memories are unlimited using common Secure Digital (SD) memory cards up to 2GB in size.

    Paired with the lightweight and compact 8-channel R6008HS receiver, the new 8FG system makes a great step up into a high-end radio, or a great way for owners of aging 72MHz systems to get into 2.4GHz, and give up frequency conflicts, interference, and the pin board.

    My new 8FG in all its styrofoamy glory. Almost too pretty to remove from the package, but I gotta if I want to use it.

    The R6008HS receiver provides an order of magnitude of protection over the FM receivers it replaces. Plus, it's smaller and lighter.

    The squares burned into the aileron servo plates show you where to glue the blocks if you're using Futaba servos. While the epoxy was curing, I prepped the aileron servos and installed the wheels on the landing gear.

    Notice how the main gear legs come flat spots pre-ground on the axles for the wheel collars. That's good for shaving about 30 minutes off the typical assembly, since you don't have to assemble the gear, mark for the flat spots, disassemble the gear and file the flat spots...

    Since the epoxy on the aileron servo blocks was still the consistency of used chewing gum, I skipped ahead test-fit the horizontal stab in the fuselage. It slid right in, looked pretty square by eye, and was easy to square up. The instructions have you measuring from the wingtips to square up the stab, but since the wings aren't done yet, I did it the old fashioned way.

    Pre-ground flats on the landing gear axles.

    These laser etched squares locate the mounting blocks for Futaba Servos. You may need to locate them differently for other brands.

    I kept myself busy by checking the tail alignment while the epoxy cured.

    Measure both sides and make sure they're equal. Triangulation ensures squareness.

    Yup, they're equal...
    Even a seasoned ARF assembler will be impressed at how well things go together, not to mention how quickly: Prep the servos by installing the shock mounts, trimming the extra arms off, and adding a 12" extension. Use the pre-threaded string to snake the aileron extension through the wing. Secure the hatches with four screws. Install the control horns and pushrods. Epoxy three alignment dowels into the wing halves. Add the landing gear. Slide the wing halves on to the aluminum spar tube. Done.

    Presumably because of the foam core construction and the possiblity of thin CA wicking through to the foam core, the ailerons come pre-hinged. I'm not complaining. CA hinges are easy enough to deal with, but if you don't have to... What was that saying about "gift horses" and all?

    It's always a good idea to secure the connection to the aileron extension. I like using twist ties that come with garbage bags, because they're quick and cheap. Simply thread them between the red and black wire on one side, and the red and white wire on the other side. Twist, and trim. That connection is not coming apart.

    The aileron servo hatches are finally ready for installation. I coldn't find my 5 minute epoxy so I had to use 2-hour...

    This is how you "tie one on" building a radio controlled airplane. Tying it like this ensures that the extension pulls smoothly.

    Here's the leader line for pulling the servo extension through the wing.

    Give it a tug...

    The extension slides right through because you tied it properly...

    ...and the servo hatch almost falls into place.

    All that's left are four screws to secure the hatch.

    Marking the center point of the aileron horn.

    There are hard points in the ailerons for attaching the horns. No through-bolting necessary. Short linkage helps prevent flutter too.

    This wing half is complete, with landing gear and alignment dowels epoxied in. I used 5 minute for the dowels...

    Sliding the wing halves together on the aluminum wing tube. Wings can be left two-piece or can be epoxied together. Your choice.

    Ready to attach to the fuselage.
    The next phase of construction is attaching the wing, aligning the stab, and epoxying it in place. Having the wing in place not only stabilizes the plane, it gives you two extra points of reference for squaring the stab to the fin. Everything is airfoiled, so you can't really use a square to align the stab and fin. You need to measure up from a level work surface on each side. GP suggests that if the alignment is a little off, use a weight on the high end of the stab. Mine was a mere hair off, so I used a receiver pack to weigh down the high end. Moving the weight in and out on the stab results in varying degrees of twist on the stab to get the measurements just right. Once the epoxy set up, the alignment was perfect with the battery pack at the outermost left end of the stab.

    The major assemblies come together for the first time.

    Blind nuts are already installed in the fuselage. Wing holes are already cleared of covering.

    It looks like an airplane now.

    Time to epoxy the stab in place. A bottle of rubbing alcohol and paper towels are on hand to clean up excess epoxy.

    Using a receiver battery as a counterweight to get perfect alignment on the stab. Still a hair off...

    The further out the battery is, the more twist it puts on the stab. Here it's all but perfect.

    GP has you gluing in the CA hinges for all the tail surfaces before installing the control horns. At least in my experience, this is where the lion's share of hangar rash occurrs because you're holding the plane at odd angles, and pushing down on a screwdriver while tightening the control horn screw. How many +-shaped holes do you have in your planes from the screwdriver slipping out?

    If you can install the control horns BEFORE the hinging, it's a whole lot easier, and you're less likely to ding up the plane. After sliding the pushrods in for reference, I slipped the elevators and rudder in place and marked the locations for the control horns. Back on the stable pink-foam work surface, it was simple to drill two holes per surface and install the control horns. As another anti-+-shaped hole measure, I used #2 socket head servo screws from Micro Fasteners in place of the included Phillips headed screws to secure the control horns.

    After I prepped the three control horns, it was a simple matter to epoxy the tailwheel in place, slide the control surfaces back on, and secure the CA hinges.

    Everything mocked up to locate the control horns.

    A shot of the left elevator pushrod.

    Using a pin vise to mark the holes for the rudder control horn.

    Connecting to the pushrod holds the control horn in place.

    Removed from the plane, it's much easier to install the horns.

    Drill through the plywood hardpoint at the marked locations.

    Pre-thread, then harden the holes with a tiny drop of thin CA.

    Installing the horns using #2x7/16" socket head wood screws from Micro Fasteners.

    All three control surfaces ready for CA hinging.
    Rolling right along, we come up on servo installation and the "controversial" elevator pushrod joining. I say controversial because time and again I've heard that joining pushrods by clamping them with wheel collars is insecure. The pushrods will slip, and you'll lose elevator control.

    With the Zlin's setup, there is very little to go wrong. One elevator pushrod is a direct connection from the servo to an elevator half, so even if the other half slips completely loose, control can still be maintained. The heads on the set screws are oversized, so you can use a large hex wrench and REALLY romp down on the pushrods and clamp them tight. I tried seven ways from Sunday to make the rods slip, and I could not do it.

    X marks the spot, where the two elevator pushrods cross is where you make the bend.

    Bend the left elevator pushrod at the mark so it runs parallel with the right.

    Pushrods trimmed and ready to join.

    These L-bend clips are my favorite way to secure pushrods on servos.

    Putting the screws to the pushrods. They are NOT coming loose.

    Was it really that simple? I guess so!
    Time for the power system. The fuel tank includes parts for a conventional 3-line system (fill, vent, carburetor), which is my favorite way to set things up. While the instructions suggest 1/4" foam above and below the tank, there isn't enough room for foam on top with the tank's neck inserted into the hole in the firewall. Since the tank's a snug fit on the sides, and sits tightly against the firewall, the foam on top really wouldn't help much to isolate the tank from the fuselage.

    Blind nuts are already installed in the firewall for the included Great Planes engine mount. Attaching the 55AX engine is a matter of locating the engine on the rails, drilling four holes, tapping for 6-32 screws, and running them in.

    Off camera, I test fit the cowl over the engine. There's plenty of clearance for the head, something that you'd need to trim for with a 4-stroke. It looks like I'll only need to cut three holes, one for the carburetor, one for the needle valve, and one for the muffler port.

    The Zlin is designed for two-stroke, four-stroke, or electric power, even down to the throttle pushrod routing. Four-stroke carburetors are "backwards" compared to two-stroke carburetors. That is, the throttle arms are on opposite sides of their respective engines. There are two servo mounting locations, and two holes in the firewall for the throttle pushrod tube to cover either internal combustion possibility.

    Since I'm using the .55AX two-stroke engine, the servo and pushrod tube ended up on the left side of the airframe. The hole in the firewall positions the pushrod such that it makes a nice smooth curve from carburetor, through the firewall, under the fuel tank, and back up to the throttle servo with no bending required.

    The fuel tank pops in place, like the plane was designed around it. Oh wait...

    This is the last time the engine will be upright, except during inverted passes.

    Shiny new engine... I had to get a closeup.

    Now it's in its proper orientation.

    Mounting options for 2- and 4-stroke engines.

    Throttle pushrod with no bends required.
    Next on the agenda is fitting the cowl. This is more of an art than a science, and one that I'm still trying to perfect.

    If you're not a fan of fitting cowls to engines, a 2-stroke engine will be a better choice over a 4-stroke. There's plenty of clearance for the head underneath the Zlin's tall narrow cowl, with only a slight bit of interference at the carburetor. A couple of passes with a Dremel sanding drum opens up the front to clear the carb and provide smooth airflow to the intake.

    Once the carburetor has been clearanced, the cowl will slide back into its final resting place. Let me warn you right here: There is a lot of installing and removing the cowl to get it to fit properly. Take your time and only remove a little bit of material at a time. Your patience will be rewarded.

    The instructions describe a technique for fitting the cowl that uses a strip of paper taped to the fuselage to locate the muffler hole. I've used this technique for years. In fact I picked up the technique while building another Great Planes product almost a decade ago.

    With four hardwood blocks already on the firewall to mount the cowl, I wanted to make sure I hit them, so I used the paper strip technique first to mount the cowl. First, I located and drilled 1/16" holes in the exact center of each block. Next, I cut four 6"x3/4" strips of printer paper. I taped one end of each strip to the fuselage such that the free end of the strip covered my predrilled holes. Using my Higley hand drill, I poked a hole in each strip to match the predrilled holes in the blocks.

    When you slip the cowl in place between the airframe and the free ends of the strips, and lay the strips down flat on the cowl, you now have the exact location of the screw holes to mount the cowl! It's a simple matter of drilling the holes.

    Start by predrilling holes in the cowl mounting blocks.

    Tape strips of paper to the fuselage to transfer the holes to the outside of the cowl.

    Punch holes through the paper at the predrilled holes.

    Use the spinner to locate the front ring of the cowl.

    Lay the strip of paper over the cowl and drill through the fiberglass.

    Insert screws as you go and the cowl ends up mounted at the end.
    Once the cowl is located on the airframe, it's time to make the rest of the holes. In this case, the total number of holes required appears to be three:

    1. A hole for the muffler.
    2. A hole for the glow igniter.
    3. A hole for the main needle valve.

    That muffler hole is the most complicated one to deal with, so I started there. The same basic paper technique is used to locate all the holes in some way shape or form. In the case of the muffler hole I used the paper and pieces of cutoff pushrod to mark the two muffler bolt holes. After transferring those marks to the cowl, and drilling the holes, I literally bolted the muffler to the cowl and traced the flange with a marker to get an idea of how large the hole needed to be. Over several fittings, the muffler hole slowly took shape, by removing small amounts of material each time, and checking the progress.

    Now with the muffler fitting perfectly through the cowl, I added the fuel lines. My original intention was to feed the muffler pressure line out through the same hole as the muffler itself. However, the pressure tap turns out to be too close to the cowl, and there's no way to attach the line without kinking it over. A fourth hole is necessary to get the correct angle on the muffler pressure line.

    It quickly became evident that I needed two more small holes on the opposite side of the cowl to access the muffler bolts. These were easy enough to locate using another piece of cutoff pushrod chucked up in the drill.

    Later on when I went to install the battery hatch / canopy, it was clear that the cowl needed some more tweaking, as the canopy would not slide under the cowl as it should. It took a good amount of extra effort to adjust the cowl so the canopy would slide in place while maintaining alignment at the nose. My recommendation here is to make sure the canopy is in place during the entire cowl fitting process to avoid this frustration. In the end, I ended up with an absolutely microscopic gap between the spinner and cowl that impressed even the most experienced builders in my club.

    The cutoff pushrod leftovers make great locating pins.

    Align the pushrods to the muffler mounting lugs through the engine

    Use the pushrods to punch holes in the paper.

    Transferring the muffler mounting hole locations to the cowl.

    Use the muffler itself as a template for marking out where to cut.

    The result is a hole that's good enough for government work.
    After the cowl fit is finalized, it's time to install the switch, receiver, and battery. Yet another of the many nice touches that are part of this Zlin' design are the lite ply switch plate backers. There's a version for the Hobbico heavy duty switch, a version for a standard switch and separate charge jack, and a version for the Great Planes switch/charge jack mount, which I happened to have. How you set the charge jack up is your personal preference, but I normally set them up so push is ON. That way it is impossible to accidentally turn the radio OFF by bumping the switch. I'd rather have a dead battery from an accidental switch bump, than bump the switch off on a running plane at the taxiway.

    Included plywood backer pre-cut to fit the Great Planes switch mount.

    Use the plywood backer to locate a suitable area on the fuselage and mark the hole.

    It makes for a nice clean installation.

    Radio installation is straightforward using the included velcro strapping and slots laser-cut into the servo tray.
    IT'S DONE!!!

    A sneak peek at the completed airframe.

    Maiden flight day was definitely not ideal for flying. At noon, the winds were pushing up around 20 miles per hour, with gusts up to 26MPH. But it was sunny, and this time of year, you never know when you're going to get another chance to do a test flight. It's quite possible there won't be another decent weekend day, so I went for it.

    It's been a while since I've had a new glow engine on anything but a combat plane, and from past experiences, I was expecting at least a short breakin period. I was also expecting to do some carburetor tweaking due to the inverted installation. This OS .55AX is impressive. Priming the engine is a little tougher with the inverted carburetor, but once it got a whiff of the Byron 15%, we were off to the races. The engine ran so well there was no point in wasting fuel on the ground. Time to fly.

    With all the wind, the poor Zlin had all it could do to taxi crosswind, let alone turn downwind, but there were no tendencies to nose over. If it was ever going to nose over, that would've been the time. Persistence paid off and after quite a bit of stick waggling, I managed to get it in position for takeoff.

    Long story short, it flies as good as it looks. The first flight was a short one, a trim-and-tune. After a couple of low passes for the camera, and the obligatory first roll, I brought it down for its maiden landing. Hopefully you'll hear the wind pick up and REALLY start to howl just as the Zlin swung onto final approach in the first video. It wasn't my best landing, but even our "tamed 3D pilot" was bouncing some landings today.

    Download and Watch in Windows Media Player here! (19 MB)

    You'll see that I spent a little more time wringing it out on the second flight. I almost passed it off, but I was having too much fun. Our tamed 3D pilot have to wait his turn.

    As I suspected, the Zlin is fast, smooth, and aerobatic. Sport fliers will like it because when you push the left stick forward, it shoots ahead like a bullet. Aerobatic fliers will like it because of its neutral handling tendencies, though they may find the recommended throws a little slow, even on high rates. In the right hands, such as those of our tamed 3D pilot, I bet it would even hover and harrier, but it's not going to win any 3D competitions.

    Right out of the box, the Zlin has the least control coupling of any .40-size plane I've flown. It'll only take a tiny bit of aileron mixed in with the rudder for a perfect rudder-only knife edge pass. Stock, it wants to roll away from the rudder input just slightly; you'll see that in the low knife-edge pass where I end up having to abort because the Zlin was rolling inverted on me. To be knife-edge, that low, in that much wind, on the second flight no less, is a testament to the confidence that the Zlin instills.

    Ever since I started flying, I've wanted a Super Chipmunk. There were two problems with that: First, it seemed like every third RCer I knew had one. Second, the only version available was a kit, and kits take time to build.

    Great Planes's new Zlin Z-526 Akrobat solve both of these problems for me. It's rare to see this plane modeled, let alone produced in a sport-scale ARF form. There's no "been there, done that" when you show up at the flying field with this airplane, but it still has that 1960's aerobat appeal. Designed with fast, easy assembly in mind, it's perfect for today's modeler on the go. It took me a week of evenings to get from kit form box to runway; keep in mind that I was also taking pictures for this review, so your 15 hours will be a lot shorter than my 15 hours.

    One of these days, I'm going to have to get a balsa-and-ply kit and build it just to see if I can still do it! The only aspect of putting the Zlin together that reminded me at all of my kit-building days was the cowl install. Otherwise, it was simply too easy!

    Great Planes, Hobbico, and Futaba
    Distributed exclusively by:
    Great Planes Model Distributors
    P.O. BOX 9021
    CHAMPAIGN, IL 61826
    Phone: (800) 637-7660
    Sales Phone: (800)338-4639
    Website: www.greatplanes.com
    email: productsupport@greatplanes.com

    Micro Fasteners
    24 Cokesbury Rd Suite 2
    Lebanon, NJ 08833
    Phone: (800) 892-6917
    Website: www.microfasteners.com

    email: info@microfasteners.com

    Comments on RCU Review: Great Planes ZLIN Z-526 Akrobat

    Posted by: kochj on 02/28/2010
    That looks like a fun plane... reminds me that .45 size planes can still be a plesent experience and Zlimple...
    Posted by: CE Taylor on 02/28/2010

    Posted by: CE Taylor on 02/28/2010
    I bought my Zlin a couple of months back and am so far very happy with it. It went together well and looks very nice on the ground and in the air. The only negative thing that I can say about the model is that the canopy is a very tight fit and is hard to get off and on. I am flying mine with a YS 63 and the new Aurora Hitech radio. The .63 is my first YS engine. I did not bench run it. I installed it on the plane and ran two tanks through it on the ground and then started flying. I did not adjust the low speed needle at all and have no dead sticks or problems running inverted. I am still getting used to flying the plane and have not been able to get in that many flights due to my work and the strange weather we are having this winter. I expect to enjoy the plane even more as I get over some of my jitters that seem to come with flying something new and different.
    Posted by: GP G-Rod on 03/01/2010
    Awesome job Matt!
    Posted by: Oberst on 03/16/2010
    Great Job Matt.
    Posted by: Jim Wilkinson on 03/22/2010
    I made a few changes in mine, I am using a Magnum 72 4c and bought a 90 degree muffler elbow from O.S. and mounted the muffler completly iside the cowl and got some plastic fake landing gear struts and glued them on to give the gear a little scale loog. Would have been great to have retracts.. jim wilkinson
    Posted by: markhamregular on 09/26/2011
    Great review. Will probably use it as my manual. Do you think I can install an OS75 on this plane? Thanks,
    Posted by: rob_w27 on 12/02/2011
    in your still pics it shows an antena hangin out the rear of the plane but your review says you used a 2.4 GHZ system????
    Posted by: gazman68 on 12/29/2013

    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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