RCU Review: Eagle Tree Systems, LLC Flight Data Recorder

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    Contributed by: Mike Buzzeo | Published: November 2003 | Views: 36017 | email icon Email this Article | PDFpdf icon

    Review by: Mike Buzzeo (MinnFlyer) E-Mail me

    Eagle Tree Systems, LLC
    4957 Lakemont Blvd SE
    Suite C-4 PMB 235
    Bellevue, WA 98006
    To Order: 888-432-4744
    Information: 425-614-0450
    FAX: 425-614-0706


    • Records altitude, airspeed, rudder, ailerons, elevator, throttle and battery level.
    • USB Plug and Play - No new drivers needed!
    • Fully Compatible with Win 98SE, ME, Win2K and XP™
    • Lightweight - less than 3 ounces with unit and cables
    • Optoisolated servo monitoring
    • Simple and quick installation and removal
    • Retains flight data without battery
    • Graphical flight playback in real time
    • Excel™ compatible data output
    • Ultra-low power consumption - around 35 mA
    • Built-in status LED indicates battery level on power-up
    • Includes app, "Y" connectors, Pitot Tube and USB cables
    • Mode 2 and Mode 1 joystick support
    • Adjustable capture rate
    • Expansion port for future enhancements

    "I GOT HIT!!!"

    We've all heard those dreaded words. Maybe we were the unfortunately one to utter them at one time or another. I know I've said it more times than I care to think about. So what can we do?

    IF we manage to get the plane down safely, our options vary. We can check the battery pack, but if the cause was interference, or a bad servo, the battery won't show us anything. Therefore, we do the next, most scientific thing we can think of…

    So, there you are - sitting with your airplane in the bushes right below the spot where the glitch occurred hoping that it will happen again (If, for no other reason than to prove your sanity - as if sitting in the bushes with a model airplane doesn't shed light on THAT subject for you!). Well, you can pluck the cockleburs from your pant legs and breath a deep sigh of relief, because now, there's a better way.

    Thanks to Eagle Tree Systems, we can keep track of what happened up there just like the big boys do with their new "Flight Data Recorder".

    With this little gem on board, you can keep track of all pertinent events that your aircraft is experiencing. Aside from keeping track of "glitches", the unit records battery voltages and stick inputs on 4 channels, as well as airspeed and altitude. Add the optional Racer Expansion Pack, and you can also log Engine Temperature, and RPM. There is also an optional Electric Expansion Pack, which allows the user to measure Motor Battery Voltage and Current, as well as RPM.

    Sound intriguing? I think so! Time to dig in!

    Name: Flight Data Recorder

    Manufacturer: Eagle Tree Systems

    Base Unit Price: $149.99

    • Optional Racer Expander: $29.99
    • Optional Electric Expander: $49.99

    Measurements: 3.15” x 1.57” x 0.67”

    Weight: Unit, 4 Y cables and Pitot tube, approximately 3 oz.

    Operational Voltage: 4.35V to 7.5V

    Current Draw: < 35 mA @ 4.8 V

    Capture Rate: 1 to 10 samples/second (adjustable)

    Altitude: 0 to 19000 feet (in 1600 foot windows), in approximately 7 foot increments

    Airspeed: 24 MPH minimum (with downloadable slower speed support), approximately 150 MPH maximum (with downloadable higher speed support)

    LEFT: The Unboxed Parts.

    RIGHT: The "Black Box"

    The Flight Data Recorder arrived in a sturdy cardboard box, which, aside from the actual "Black Box" itself, also contained 4 "Y" cords, a Pitot Tube which consists of a piece of what looks like Fuel Tubing with a plastic insert in one end, an Extra piece of said insert, A UBC cord, and a Software CD.

    The unit I received also came with both the Racer and Electric Expanders.


    LEFT: Optional Racer Expander

    RIGHT: Optional Electric Expander

    Each Expander was individually packaged, and aside from the expander unit, each package contained a hall effects sensor, and two sets of magnets for RPM measurement. The Racer Expander also included an Engine Temperature Sensor.

    Manual: The manual is a 6-page document that is informative, and concise. It guides you from uploading the software onto your computer, to downloading and analyzing the data, and it gives you some good tips and troubleshooting advice. It also contains all website addresses and phone numbers for support. The manual is available for download in PDF format here

    Likewise, each of the Expander units comes with it's own similar set of instructions.

    The first decision I had to make was what airplane to put it in. I really didn't have anything available, but since my dad is back at his Florida residence for the winter, I did what any red-blooded American son would do - I swiped one of his.

    Installation of the Flight Data Recorder is easy. All that you have to do is to plug the four "Y" Cords into the unit, then plug your servos into one end of the "Y", and plug the other end into the receiver. At this point, it doesn't matter which slots in the "Black Box" the servos are plugged into, but once the system is setup in the computer, the order will have to stay consistent.

    Once the hookup was complete, I used Velcro to hold the Recorder in place. Placement is almost a non-issue due to how light the unit is. Next, I attached the Pitot tube, which is not much more than a piece of Fuel Line with a plastic insert at one end. I also needed to drill a hole for the tube to exit the fuse, but that's ok, it's not my plane (Dad, if you're reading this, I promise I'll have the hole patched before you come back next spring!). The Pitot tube is for measuring airspeed, and therefore must be placed outside the plane where it can face into the air stream. It must also be placed away from the prop wash for obvious reasons.

    If you are not using either of the Expanders, your installation is now complete.

    Racer Expander

    The plane I am using is a .60 size Extra 300 with a .90c.i. 4-stroke Engine. It's not exactly what you would call a "Racer", but it would still be interesting to see the RPM and head temperature, so I installed the "Expander" package.

    The Temperature Sensor is centered on a loop of wire, which is placed around the cylinder and held in place by sliding a piece of tubing to cinch the loop. While examining mine to see if the loop opened, a solder joint broke loose (I didn't pull it that hard, really!), so I took advantage of the situation and re-soldered the connection after I routed the wire through the valve pushrod tubes.

    RPM Sensor

    The second component of the Racer Expander is the RPM Sensor. Now things get a little tricky. To measure RPM, magnets must be placed in such a way that the magnetic force can be picked up by a hall effects sensor. Eagle Tree Systems provides 2 sets of magnets for this purpose. After a thorough cleaning, I used Medium CA to glue one of the sets to the back of the Spinner Plate. (Note: The magnets are labeled with black paint on one side for easy recognition of North and South)

    Attaching the hall sensor was probably the only real tricky part. It must be placed in such a way that its face (The side with the numbers) will come within 1-2mm of the magnets, and must be mounted firmly (No vibration). I was able to accomplish this by adding balsa blocks to the engine mount, then, with the sensor bent at 90 degrees to it's wires, I attached it to the balsa with a piece of shrink tube.

    At this point, installation is complete.

    The software loads like any other. Simply insert the CD into your Computer, and follow the Setup Instructions. Once loaded, you open the program and follow the setup proceedures.

    The first time you open the program, you are prompted to establish a Flight Log. To begin with, you must type in the name of the plane you are using. Next came one of the really cool parts; With your radio turned on, you must follow the instructions to "Teach" the software which control is which. This is done in a very simple manner. The screen prompt tells you which control to move, then you hold it until the "Stick" on the screen moves with you. The only thing I found misleading in the setup was the first command for the elevator was to move the stick "UP". I pulled the stick "BACK" to provide "UP" elevator, but the stick on the screen moved to the "Down Elevator" position, so I had to hit the "Back" button and start again.

    The next step is setting your field's elevation. If you don't know it, don't worry, it's not that critical, and the Flight Data Recorder will still work properly without it.

    Next, you must tell it what data you would like it to keep track of, as well as setting other functions. Finally, you can decide which functions you would like it to display.

    That's it, setup is now complete. It's time to go flying!

    The Flight

    The day after I had set everything up, the winds died down. I took the opportunity to spend an extended lunch break at the field. The conditions were far from what I would call good flying weather (38° F and damp), but at least it was calm, and I knew I had better take advantage of the situation. When I got to the field, I had to adjust the altitude as the instructions suggested. This is simply done by turning an adjustment screw on the unit until the LED emits a single flash (As opposed to the 4 flashes I was getting). With the radio turned off again, I mounted the wing, and fueled her up.

    With the wing in place, it was time to mount the Pitot tube. I used a lump of modeling clay to get it positiond and taped it down to the wing.

    Ok, time for the real thing. Radio on - glow plug igniter connected - and (Thank Goodness) despite the cold, the engine kicked right over. I taxied out, and not wasting any time, I advanced the throttle and got her airborne.

    I kept the flight short, a few laps of the field, a loop and a roll, and I brought her in. Maybe the cold didn't bother the engine too much, but I was freezing! Time to pack up and get back into a warm car.

    Once I was back in my nice warm office, I removed the Recorder from the plane and again hooked it up to the computer with the supplied USB cable.

    When the software is opened, you are prompted to select the model you were using so it can load the parameters, which you previously set. Next, a simple click downloads the data into the computer.

    With everything ready to go, I hit the "Play" button. What followed next was nothing short of amazing. I couldn't help but chuckle as I watched every move played out in front of me. The RPM rose as the engine was started - followed shortly by an increase in Engine Temp. I even made a point of wiggling the Rudder back and forth just before take off as a sort of signal when reading the data, and there it was, the tell-tale rudder movement, followed by the throttle stick advancing. Immediately afterward, I could see the backpressure removed from the right stick as I let the tail rise, and soon, I was getting altitude readings. I was airborne!

    I should point out that at our field, we rarely have any interference, so I invited some by changing my Tx crystal from ch. 38 to ch. 16 (A definite No-No). In addition, I was flying on a day when we were getting a lot of flak from Solar Storms. So it was no big surprise when the Flight Data Recorder reported numerous glitches.

    After a few minutes, I saw the throttle stick come down, and the RPM and Altitude dropped. I followed along in my mind as I reached Base Leg, and Final Approach. I could only guess as to the actual touchdown time, but another wiggle of the Rudder told me that I had come to a complete stop.

    THAT was COOL!

    The Eagle Tree Systems - Flight Data Recorder is truly an amazing piece of equipment. To think that something this sophisticated can be installed in one of our miniature aircraft is nothing short of a minor miracle. The unit is not overly complicated to set up and use, and the data is easy to read.

    After seeing it for myself, I brought it to my next Club Meeting, and now the guys are standing in line to borrow it! (I never should have showed it to them!)

    This little "Black Box" is really a gem, and I can't wait to use it again. (Providing I can ever get it away from the other guys!)

    Eagle Tree Systems, LLC
    4957 Lakemont Blvd SE
    Suite C-4 PMB 235
    Bellevue, WA 98006
    To Order: 888-432-4744
    Information: 425-614-0450
    FAX: 425-614-0706

    Futaba Corporation of America
    Distributed Exclusively in the U.S.A., Canada and Mexico by:
    Great Planes Model Distributors
    P.O. Box 9021; Champaign, IL 61826-9021
    Website: www.futaba-rc.com
    Product: Futaba 6VH SkySport

    HiTec RCD USA, Inc.
    12115 Paine St.
    Poway CA, 92064
    TEL 858-748-6948
    Website: www.hitecrcd.com

    Comments on RCU Review: Eagle Tree Systems, LLC Flight Data Recorder

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    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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