RC (radio controlled) vehicles are a very cool thing. I have owned many ready to drive RC cars, big ones to the tiny micro ones. Those RC cars are lots of fun, but when you’ve got an RC vehicle that can fly… it is an extreme world of difference, being much more cool and more fun.
photo courtesy of HobbyTron
It was not until recently that RC aircraft have become affordable to the novice flyer. I too got hooked into the heli craze of the past holiday season, I got myself a PiccoZ. The tiny little copter only lasted me two weeks before its motors burned out and I was ready give up on being a RC pilot. Then shortly after CES, Judie informed me that she arranged with HobbyTron for a review unit of the 4 channel RC Apache Helicopter (thanks Judie :)). I had renewed excitement over flying again while waiting for the helicopter to arrive. I also was bit worried. Why worried? Our contact over at HobbyTron described the helicopter as “the more dangerous one”. I then thought how dangerous could it be? Well I will get into that later.
The RC Apache comes factory assembled and ready to fly out of the box. You get the helicopter, a RC radio transmitter, battery pack, charger, spare main rotor blades, and a screwdriver to aid in removing/installing the rotor blades and of course a instruction manual. The only thing you need to add is 8 AA batteries for the radio transmitter.
Here are the RC Apache Specifications provided by HobbyTron.com:
- Measurements: Length 16 inches (410mm), Width 5.5 inches (140mm), Height 6.5 inches
- Helicopter weight: 235g (235 grams), including lithium polymer (Li-Poly) battery;
- Rechargeable flight battery: 7.4v 850mAh Li-Poly rechargeable battery;
- Charger: Integral transmitter/charger supplied with LED indicator;
- Charge time: Typically 40 minute charge time for a full charge;
- Flight duration: Up to 10 minutes on a full charge;
- Ready to run: Comes factory assembled and ready to fly; and
- Range: Up to 120 feet (40 meters).
The RC Apache Helicopter is very big compared to the PiccoZ. The Apache is a impressive 16 inches long and very detailed to match the real combat helicopter. The major difference with the RC Apache is the co-axial rotor setup (dual main propellers for stable flight) and its body has sections cut out to lighten the weight of the helicopter. The tail rotor on this Apache is cosmetic only… it does not have a motor to spin.
All the smaller details are present in the weapons systems, Hydra 70 rockets and Hellfire missiles mounted on the side wings, and a heavy caliber machine gun cannon under the nose mounted camera module. The wheels spin too, which is a nice touch allowing the RC Apache to mimic its real life counter part in taxiing down a runway. It is these fine details that would make any RC model enthusiast happy.
Before flying for the first time, the battery pack needs to be charged of course. The charger has a LED light on it, red to indicate charging is taking place and green to indicate that charging has completed. HobbyTron says that it would take 40 minutes to charge the battery pack.
For me, charging the battery takes 1 hour. Several times, the charge time took as much as 1 hour and 30 minutes after running the battery down to the point it did not have enough juice to run the motors. Once the battery pack is charged, it gets plugged into the connector in the belly of the helicopter and clipped into place. There is no on/off switch on the helicopter, so the only way to power off is to remove and disconnect the battery pack.
I highly recommend novices read the manual from cover to cover. Most important is the sections on operating the radio and trimming the helicopter. The radio transmitter, which is your remote controller for the Apache is the most advanced looking transmitter I have ever used for a ready to operate out of the box RC vehicle. On the top of the transmitter, is a battery power gauge, for indicating the AA battery power level.
The frequency crystal is mounted in a socket on the lower right corner of the unit and can be easily changed to a different channel (the one in the helicopter will require disassembly of the helicopter to change out), this way two Apache’s can fly in the same airspace. It has the normal control sticks, but there are two knobs on each of the control sticks. These knobs are used in what is called trimming the helicopter.
Trimming the helicopter involves lifting off the ground slowly and observing which direction the helicopter wants to go. You use the trim control knobs to adjust and keep the helicopter from moving in that direction. For example, if the helicopter moves left sideways, you need to adjust the rudder trim to the right to counter the direction. And if the helicopter turns/spins right, you need to move the aileron trim to the left until it stops turning/spining. These adjustments are fine and should be done by moving the trim knob a little bit until the helicopter is not moving in those directions anymore. The throttle stick is set to all the way down before powering on the transmitter, this will keep the helicopter from suddenly powering up the main rotors. For the throttle trim, I found that I do not need to have it set more than half way or a few clicks under.
A word of advice on the transmitter, do not have the throttle up and turn off the transmitter and back on again. I did that on my second flight and it somehow caused the transmitter to lose contact with the receiver in the Apache and it spun out of control on the floor doing a impersonation of the Tasmanian devil. With no way to control the helicopter… I could have let it run out of battery, but I only let it run down part way. I then reached my hand under the scary high speed spinning rotor blades (I guess this is why this helicopter can be considered dangerous) and caught the tail. Once I had hold of the Apache by its tail (lucky the tail rotor is cosmetic huh? Yep), I had to remove and unplug the battery pack with my other hand. This was not easy and was scary with the rotors spinning so fast and so close up. For safety, do not get up close and personal with the Apache or any RC helicopter while the rotors are engaged and spinning.
For flying, it is best to pick a area with lots of open space. You do not want furniture getting in the way and causing a crash. HobbyTron recommended a outdoor grassy area, but during my review time… there was snow/ice outside so I had to settle for the big lobby of the office building at my day job. There is some carpet areas, so that helped a little with cushioning some of the landings. Novices should expect some crashes. I had some hard landings and crashes which caused a couple of cracks in the body, but the cracks are not enough to keep the helicopter from holding together to keep flying. I tried to Krazy Glue the cracks, but either the type of plastic or the flexing of the body during flight is keeping the glue from holding. The Apache is a tough heli!
Also, of note, a loose stabilizer weight will cause the Apache to wobble during flight. This happened to me during one of my most recent flights. Its best to check these once in a while to make sure they are not coming loose. The weights screw on the stabilizer rod (located on top of the “A” rotors) and a simple twist will tighten it right up.
Flight control of the Apache is full 3D. What does this mean? Well, the movement is just like a real helicopter. Up/down, left/right, forward/backward and hover movements. Even with the co-axial rotor system, flying the Apache helicopter takes lots of practice. It took me many flights to learn the basics of movement. Hardest for me was flying with the nose facing me. While doing this, all control left/right is the opposite. Landings are a bit tough too, but practice here makes for perfect as well, try to hover and reduce throttle slowly to get a gentle landing. The key thing for take off is controlling the throttle smoothly and gently. Never max out on the throttle, as this will surely send the helicopter off and out of control at high speed.
When I was learning the basics of fight control, I searched the Internet for more information on RC helicopters and one of the things I found was a freeware RC flight simulator called . This is the best thing, you can practice without fear of badly crashing your real RC helicopter. While you are not using the real stick controls, you will still get a understanding of the directions and movements needed for flight control. I practiced a lot of the movements and controls and still use the simulator for practicing flying. And you can even download a Apache helicopter add-on too. 🙂
screen shot of Apache add-on for Flying-Model-Simulator
Link to Apache add-on
Once basic flight control is learned, flying around and hovering the Apache is cool and lots of fun is had. The only bad thing is the flight time, the battery will give you 10 minutes of solid flight time before the low battery will degrade the flight quality. If the helicopter feels like it needs to be trimmed after flying for a while, its the battery getting low. I did not know this when I was running the battery down to nothing during my early flights and was adjusting the trim needlessly. There is a LED on the control board of the Apache, which is supposed to indicate battery by flashes. This LED is tiny and hard to see from a far when the Apache is in flight. I find its easier to set my watch’s countdown timer to let me know when the 10 minutes is up.
If you’re looking for a starter RC helicopter, the RC AH-64 Apache RTF 4 CH Electric Helicopter is the way to fly without spending too much of your hard earned cash.