What Were the Biggest Advancements in RC Helicopters?

Written by Rob Jones on Thursday, 28 August 2014 15:09.

RC helicopters have come a long way in the 35 or so years they've been around. Over that time, there have been many technological adavancements which made them fly better, more reliable, more capable, less expensive, and more durable. Back in the early days of the hobby, some of these adavancements were collective pitch, engines designed specifically for helicopters (as opposed to modified RC airplane engines), better servos, and the advent of the on-board gyroscope to help stabilize the tail rotor.

It seems that recently, though, the pace of development has picked up and breakthrough advances are coming more quickly than ever before. I want to use this blog post to talk about heading hold gyros, electric power systems, and flybarless stabilization systems. I feel that these are the most significant advances of the last few years. Each is a new or greatly improved technology which has advanced RC helicopters to a new level of stability, powertrains, and performance.

The Heading Hold Gyro

rc helicopter mechanical gyroThe very earliest RC helicopters did not use any type of electronic stabilizers for the tail rotor. It was all up to the pilot to maintain a constant heading. Some early models experimented with mechanical stabilizers very similar to the flybar arrangements used on the rotor head. These were better than nothing, but not ideal. The earliest electronic tail rotor stabilizers were actual mechanical gyroscopes (the source of the term "gyro") and had an actual rotating mass inside a housing. These systems worked very well and were the standard for nearly 20 years. But they had drawbacks; they tended to be large and heavy, and consumed a great deal of power. Their response time was also slow and they could be overwhelmed by sudden and extreme tail rotor demands.

gy-601The introduction of the solid-state heading hold gyro ushered in a new era of stability for RC helicopters and made possible the extreme flying that's commonplace today. Suddenly, the tail rotor no longer needed precise tuning and careful attention to the pilot's radio settings. Systems like the popular Futaba GY-401 and GY-601 permitted stunts like tail slides, fast backwards flight, and all manner of "3D" stunts that were beyond the reach of all but the most skilled pilots. Along with these advanced gyros came extremely fast and precise servos. These servos were designed specifically to be used with heading hold gyros and the combination offered such an improvement over the older mechanical designs that the entire market shifted to heading hold gyros and shortly after their introduction the older style of gyros vanished.

Electric Power Sytems

By all indications during the early days of electric helicopters, glow power (fuel) was here to stay. The earliest mass market electric helicopters were fragile, expensive, tempremental, and offered tepid -at best- performance. I had one of these models, the Kalt Whisper, and it was a bitter disappointment. It was roughly the size of a modern 450-class helicopter and was "powered" by a 540-size "can" motor and 8-cell NiCad battery pack. The battery weighed more than the helicopter itself and it was a triumph just to get the thing into the air. And when you did, the victory was short-lived because it only had about a 3-minute flight time. Worst of all, it cost as much as a proven 60-size fuel-powered helicopter.

kalt whisper

The extreme power and convenience of a modern electric-powered RC helicopters has created a revolution in the RC helicopter hobby. The combination of powerful and compact brushless motors and Lithium Polymer batteries has reversed the roles of electric and fuel-powered RC helicopters. It was once a novelty to see an electric helicopter at a fly-in. Now it's the standard and "nitro birds" are the novelty these days!

Flybarless Flight Stabilization

This is the 800-pound gorilla of RC helicopter advancements. The days of mechanical flight stabilization (the flybar) are gone for good. Electronic multi-axis gyro systems coupled with flybarless rotor heads is probably the most important technological breakthrough of the last 20 years. Made possible by the ability to miniaturize components, and do it cheaply, flybarless controllers have changed the way RC helicopters fly and are marketed. One system can be tuned to a pilot's preference quickly and easily. The tuning changes can be tested immediately and further adjustments made until the pilot has it "dialed in" exactly how he or she wants it. Do you want your helicopter to be stable and fly slowly, or do you want to fly "Extreme Smackdown right on the deck"? A few adjustments to a flybarless controller is all it takes to make an RC helicopter as mild or as wild as you want!

Flybarless Controllers

Do you agree with my picks for the most important advancements in RC helicopters? Do you think I'm dead wrong? Post your comments on the subject! We'd love to see what everyone else thinks about the amazing technology available in this hobby.

Tic-Toc, Tic-Toc

Written by Ben Morse on Friday, 18 July 2014 10:22.

Hello it's Ben again!!! I know I'm very clever with my words:). Anyhow, I was flying my TRex 550e DFC today practicing some 3D maneuvers. Tic Tocs, to be precise. Here's a list of what I am flying, pretty much stock.
  • BL 600 mx motor
  • Talon 90
  • Align 615 cyclics
  • Align 655 tail
  • Scorpion back up guard
  • AR7200bx
  • KBDD 550mm main blades
  • Align 90mm tails
  • Carbon fiber 600 boom.
Now you know what I'm flying with,  maybe I can get a little help.

Today's flying session was mainly me practicing Tic Tocs. I can do them, but they're not where I want them to be. When I do a Tic Toc, I start with positive pitch and back elevator, them applying negative pitch and forward elevator. I let the heli come back around 75 degrees, same with forward elevator.

From all the videos I have watched, everyone seems to have there own style.
How do you do your Tic Tocs?

I am very interested in how everyone does theirs.

The whole reason I'm asking is because I want to do a more aggressive Tic Toc. One where I don't have to come so far back and so far forward. I love how the pros can do Tic Tocs and make it look like they are barley using the elevator stick. That's what I want to learn! 
If you can do these aggressive style Tic Tocs, please can you walk us through your controls step by step? How much pitch your using compared to elevator? When are you applying the opposite pitch? What's your headspeeds? Any info will be great!!! Also if any of you have an easier way to learn Tic Tocs please share. I want this discussion to be for everyone who flies helicopters. Feel free to join in. Even if it's not Tic Tocs let is know what's on your mind.

Also discussions to come:
I'mabout to buy a Synergy e5 and will adding a build report to my blog. It will be a 6s set up. So if you have a Synergy e5 I'm open to ideas on motors and servos. Please keep in mind I want to use HV servos. I will also beusing the new Talon 120 HV ESC with it. That's right, it will be available on July 25th. The Talon 120 HV is already preordered -can't wait to test it out!

Introducing Ben Morse

Written by Ben Morse on Tuesday, 08 July 2014 11:42.

My name is Ben Morse. I have been flying helicopters for two years. I started out with Walmart helis. It didn’t take me long to get tired buying new ones all the time, so I figured I would check if there was a way to fix the ones I had. When I googled “RC Helicopter” a whole new world opened up. I saw helicopters flying upside down, perpendicular to the ground, and backwards. I was memorized. Needless to say I no longer wanted to fix my Walmart helis and dove in head first.

My first collective pitch heli was a Walkera CP 100 RTF kit. I had no idea how hard this journey was going to be, until I received the package. I had no clue what collective pitch even meant - never mind trying to set up a computer transmitter! I did what I always do in this situation and turned to YouTube. I found a video of a guy programming that heli and transmitter. I mimicked those settings and got the heli off the ground, and just as fast put it back on the ground, not necessarily the same way it went up. After many many crashes (and rebuilds) I finally sat down and watched video after video on heli builds and programming.

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