The JF-17 Thunder (or FC-1 Xiaolong in China) is a single seat, single engine fighter jet designed by the Pakistan Air force (PAF) and the Chinese-based Chengdu Aircraft Corporation (CAC). The Thunder was created to fill a need for relatively inexpensive multi-role combat aircraft to complement the existing F-16s currently in the PAF. Reaching a top speed of Mach 1.6, this jet is no slouch, and it can carry a wide array of weaponry.
With its birth of design in 1999 and first flight in 2003, it came together relatively quickly, but it took several more years to give this aircraft the refinements necessary to be 'fighter-ready' and out into service in February of 2010.
While at the Toledo Expo this year, I was talking with Fai Chan about this new Electric Ducted Fan (EDF) from The Wings Maker. Not commonly seen in the modeling world, these new JF-17 and FC-1 EDFs (same airframe with different color schemes) are fairly large, getting their power from a 90mm fan unit. Molded in EPO foam, the airframe is lightweight yet very rigid. One of the benefits of EPO foam is its ability to be repaired with regular CAs - no need for the foam-safe CA on this plane.
But enough from me - let's get the rather large box on the bench and see what's inside!
Lightweight EPO Foam Construction
NINE Servos Pre-installed
Pre-Installed EDF Unit with 1700Kv Outrunner Motor
Two Large Hatches for Easy Access to Electronics and Batteries
Price: $309.99 (Pre-assembled Combo) Stock Number: GM057S1P Wingspan: 37.5" (950mm) Wing Area: 583 in² (37.6 dm²) Weight: 69 Oz. (1950 g) Length: 57.5" (1460mm) Center of Gravity (CG): 3.3" (85mm) from the leading edge where wing meets the fuselage Radio Used:Spektrum DX8 Receiver Used:Spektrum AR7600 High-Speed Receiver
Channels Used: 5 total - Elevator, Aileron, Throttle, Rudder, and Retracts
Elevator, up/down: 18mm
Ailerons, up/down: 15mm
Rudder, right/left: 25mm
Items Needed To Complete:
5/6-Channel Transmitter and Receiver
60 Amp Brushless ESC (Minimum)
Battery: 6S 22.2V 2800mAh 25C LiPo
LiPo Compatible Battery Charger
5 and 30 Minute Epoxy
Various Shop Tools
The JF-17 arrived in a much larger box than I expected - at least until I opened it and saw how much assembly had been done at the factory! Everything was separated nicely, and the major items were bagged and taped in place to avoid damage during shipping. Mine arrive without a scratch! There are not very many pieces to this aircraft, so my expectation is that it will assemble quickly.
I really like The Wingsmaker's pre-assembled combos - most of the hard work is done at the factory, such as servo mounting and hinging. Yes, even though the Thunder is made of EPO foam, it has plastic hinges epoxied in place, rather than relying on the foam hinge line alone. I also like the fact that all NINE servos - including four that control the retracts and steerable nose wheel - are pre-installed as well!
The Wingsmaker has really gone the extra mile with their pre-assembled combo series - the EDF unit is installed and the motor wires have been run into the large, rear, removable hatch. There is even a cutout for the ESC - even better is the fact that the bottom of the cutout is open to the airways for the EDF. This allows cooling air to flow over the bottom of the ESC.
A few more of the features I liked were the large plywood battery tray, the EPO 'missiles', and the pre-installed pilot figure and canopy.
The manual that comes with the JF-17 covers both the kit version and the pre-assembled combo. While the instructions that apply to just the pre-assembled combo are not identified, it's easy to figure out. The illustrations and captions are good, and assembly was easy after reading through the manual!
Just Add Epoxy
And A Couple Other Minor Things...
The first task I completed was sliding the silicone keepers over the clevises and quick links.
I did mention a concern in the 'misses' section, but it wasn't a big deal. When Fai emailed me to say that the JF-17 was on its way, he did mention that I should check the elevator servos carefully to make sure they were secure. I did find that the servo mounting plates had come loose, so I sanded and re-secured them with a little 5-minute Z-Poxy. When the epoxy had cured, I re-mounted the two elevator servos and proceeded with assembly per the manual.
On to the actual assembly! I started by sliding the carbon fiber rod into the right wing and securing it with the included 3x25mm nylon bolt. The rod was then slid through the fuselage, and the left wing was installed in the same manner. Yes, it WAS that easy!
I mixed up a large batch of 30-minute Z-Poxy, and was able to install the two horizontal stabilizers, the four missiles, and the vertical Stabilizer assemblies. This step took me approximately 15 minutes, but it was MUCH easier knowing I wasn't rushing through it to beat the epoxy setting up on me. A little more 5-minute Z-Poxy was used to attach the nose cone, and I was moving on to electronics installation.
For this Project, I decided to use my Spektrum DX8 Transmitter and an AR7600 receiver. The main reason was that I was able to slow down the speed on the retract servos - this eliminated the 'snap' of the gear and allowed them to move at a more scale-like speed.
According to the manual, a 60 Amp ESC can be used, but I had a 100 Amp speed control that fit the opening perfectly. Three short extensions were made for the ESC - not only to reach the motor wiring, but also to adapt from the 4mm ESC female bullet connectors to the 3mm connectors on the motor wiring.
All of the servo wiring is run in channels on the bottom of the fuselage. It was a little difficult to fit all six servo wires in the main channel (two elevators, two ailerons, two main retracts), but I took my time and it turned out nicely! When they were all in place, I covered the channels with clear packing tape.
With assembly pretty well wrapped up, all that remained was setting the control throws, applying a few decals and balancing this big jet. It was easy to balance the aircraft on its Center of Gravity (CG) by shifting the battery position. With the CG set, I marked the battery and the inside of the fuselage so I could get battery in the exact same position after removing it for charging.
That's it - let's find a runway and go flying!
Well, it was May in Minnesota, so our weather was finally starting to get nice - our winter was longer than expected, but we did get the maiden flight in on a perfect evening! There was a slight breeze blowing, and the temperature was pushing 70 degrees! We'll take that ANY day up here.
After powering up the JF-17 and installing the two magnetic hatches, she was ready for take-off. Advancing the throttle quickly veered the plane to the left a few degrees, but the steerable nose wheel made for an easy correction. The steering is perfect - enough to turn the plane on the ground, but it didn't feel twitchy or over-sensitive.
After the correction, she accelerated VERY quickly, and was off the ground in a much shorter distance that I had anticipated! My first thought was that the JF-17 couldn't possibly have enough flying speed already - but she proved me wrong. Climb out was excellent, and I was impressed by the power of the pre-installed 90mm EDF unit. In just a few seconds, the plane was at a comfortable altitude, and the trims were checked and adjusted - three clicks of right aileron were all that was needed for straight and level flight at half-throttle. Yes, I said HALF-TROTTLE! That lead me into seeing just how slow she could fly. At one-third throttle, with a little up elevator held, the JF-17 was just 'putting' around under complete control! I was very impressed by this, because there's a lot of fuselage to this jet, compared to its wing area.
With slow flight testing checked off my list, I pushed her to full throttle - she'll burn up a lot of air space in short order! That being said, I never felt like the she got ahead of me. I felt completely in control of her through the entire flight. One of the great features of this jet is her size - at nearly 5 feet in length, it was easy to see the JF-17 at all times!
Aerobatics were next, and the JF-17 didn't disappoint. I was a little worried at first, because there is just the one carbon fiber wing tube, but it proved to be up to the task of bearing the load at the bottom of a large loop. Rolls were very axial and require no elevator input.
I started the timer on my transmitter at a four minutes, so when the alarm sounded I brought the jet for a landing. Knowing that this jet slows down nicely was a big relief for that first landing - I kept just a little throttle on until the JF-17 was a few feet above the runway, then cut the throttle. She settled in nicely, and touched down with ease!
During the four minute flight, we were shooting the in-flight pictures and video, but that proved to be a very short time to get everything required finished. Since I hadn't noticed any lag in the battery's power, I gave the transmitter to my flying buddy, Jim Buzzeo, so I could finish shooting pictures and video. The ESC finally shut down the EDF unit at the seven minutes, while Jim was still flying! Thankfully, the ESC had battery eliminator circuitry, so we still had control of this large jet. He immediately put down the retractable landing gear, completed a 180 degree turn and brought the JF-17 down on the runway with no trouble. Now, this can be done with any plane, given enough altitude, but the jet was only 70-80 feet above the ground! I was more than a little nervous about where the aircraft was when the motor quit, but knowing that the JF-17 flew so nicely, made getting back to the runway a lot more comforting.
This EDF jet requires a 6S 2800 mAh battery pack - I had plenty of room inside the fuselage, so I used a 6S 3200 mAh battery. The ESC cut the motor off at seven minutes, but I would feel very safe to say that six minute flights (with a little throttle management) would be pretty easy.
The Wingsmaker JF-17 Thunder Pre-Assembled Combo
It's time to wrap this one up. I really feel that if you're looking to get into flying EDF jets, the JF-17 would be a great place to start. Assembly was quick and straight forward, because most of the assembly is done before the jet is put in its box at the factory. The retractable landing gear adds to the over-all appearance in the air, and the flight characteristics are nothing short of amazing! I most definitely give Fai Chan and The Wingsmaker two thumbs up on their JF-17 Pre-assembled Combo!
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