HELICOPTER JAMBOREE

Dec 28, 2013 No Comments by

Electric news from the IRCHA flightline

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Israeli phenom Eitan Goldstin was a well-deserving selection for the wildcard “Lucky 7” slot in “The One” competition. As Eitan flies, his spotter preps his backup bird. The competition rules allow the usage of two helis to fill the pilot's 7-minute slot, but this takes fast footwork and coordination.

For nearly any RC heli enthusiast, the IRCHA Jamboree is the highpoint of the year. For sheer size, it's in the running with Joe Nall as the world's largest RC flying event, and this year it drew 1,132 registered pilots. The vendor area is a heli pilot's dream, where you can attend educational seminars, buy the latest products, or find out-of-stock spares for a trusted old workhorse. The competitions and industry demos at show center give you a chance to see the best of the best in action, and the informal parties at night top it all off. The event is so enjoyable that even non-heli flying RC'ers from all over the Midwest make the trip just to take it all in.

Invasion of the multi-rotors! IRCHA may be a helicopter event, but this year “multis” were everywhere! From micro quads like the Heli-Max 1SQ and Blade Nano QX up to big professional-grade camera platforms with GPS navigation and capable of hauling large digital SLRs, there were multis everywhere you looked.

Acro isn't just for “fish heads.” Mikado factory pilots put on a smooth and graceful aerobatic demo with a pair of really sharp V-Bar-equipped BO-105s. These large birds flew with real authority and looked great.

ELECTRIC HELI TRENDS

The Gaui X5 is an excellent mid-size heli, engineered for high performance but tough enough to stand up to the occasional mishap. The simple design makes maintenance and repairs a snap. Here Mitch Marozas shows off the X5's rock-steady handling down on the deck.

Darrell Sprayberry's scratch-built Sikorsky H-34 is a masterpiece. Pulled from Darrell's own molds and with scratch-built mechanics, the 12-cell machine weighs nearly 40 pounds. Tail drivetrain issues kept Darrell from showing it off to best advantage, but he'll surely have it sorted out soon.

“IRCHA” is an event for heli pilots, but this year the explosion of popularity for multi-rotors was striking. These ranged from ready-to-fly micros to professional-grade systems with GPS navigation, laptop datalinks, and camera-mounting gimbals with inertial stabilization. In the middle ground are products that are nearly plug and play like DJI's Phantom and Flamewheel. If multis are your thing, IRCHA is the place to be.

Bigger electric helis in the 700 and larger class have really become a major trend in 3D heli flying. These 12-cell machines have been around for a few years, but now they've caught on big with regular fliers. Just about all the major manufacturers now offer 700-class machines. Blade has entered this niche with their outstanding 700X airframe, and established 700-class players like Align and Thunder Tiger continue to refine and upgrade their veteran machines. Add excellent designs to the mix like the SAB Goblin, Mikado Logo, Gaui X7, and Compass HV7, and the only problem is which one to pick! There's no shortage of power options for these brawny birds, with companies like Scorpion, Savox, Castle, and more all offering premium-quality motors for 12S power.

As big helis become such a growing segment, even the small 450-class birds that have traditionally been a major part of the electric heli market are getting size and power upgrades. New releases like Gaui's X3 and Compass' Warp and longtime workhorses like Align's T-Rex 450 and Thunder Tiger's Mini Titan are now running 360mm blades and 4S to 6S power. The great thing is that this added capability comes at such affordable cost; Gaui's X3 kit is available for under $200!

ELECTRONIC NEWS


Blade goes big! Blade RC has long been a big player in small helis. In recent years they've added 450, 500 and 550 machines, but now they've leapt into the 700 class with their excellent Blade 700X. Make no mistake: this is a serious entry in the 12-cell market, with features like direct cyclic drive and a tailcase CNC-machined from billet aluminum. I watched a number of impressive demo flights by the likes of James Haley and Jared Granzow, and this heli can do it all.

The gear for electric helis just keeps getting better. High-capacity chargers, like Progressive RC's iCharger line, offer ease of operation and the ability to parallel charge up to six battery packs at up to 30 amps. As a guy who goes back to the early delta peak chargers that could charge one NiCd battery per hour (and that battery capable of providing maybe five minutes of flight time), I feel like I've died and gone to heaven now that I can literally charge batteries faster than I can empty them.

In the electronic speed control world, Castle Creations' outstanding Edge controllers have really raised the bar. These high-voltage speed controls are compact, easy to program, and offer improved data logging for performance diagnostics. Not to be outdone, Kontronik's JIVE and Scorpion's Commander lines have been upgraded for even better performance. As with heli airframes and motors, there's no shortage of choices.

IRCHA 2013

IRCHA features some really impressive duet flights, and here two Gaui factory pilots mix it up close-in with their 12-cell X7s. The heavy shift to bigger electric machines in the 700 class was even more obvious this year. Big just flies better.

Flybarless systems have taken over the RC heli world, and these days you really have to look around to spot a mechanical flybar. Airframe manufacturers like Mikado, Thunder Tiger, and Align, and electronics specialists like bavarianDEMON (formerly HeliCommand), Futaba, BeastX, and Skookum Robotics all have outstanding units for fliers of all levels. Flybarless units on the market can be grouped into those that are directly programmed using buttons on the unit and the transmitter and those that are programmed via a laptop computer using a USB interface. I've programmed and flown a number of units in both camps, and it's really just a matter of personal taste.

The most notable development on the electronic front this year was the huge growth of GPS autopilots. Just last year, GPS stabilization was a real novelty, but this year they were everywhere, with DJI's Naza and Wookong systems flying off the shelves. GPS stabilization isn't just for aerial photography; sport helis and scale machines alike can really benefit from this added layer of safety and reliability.

IRCHA COMPETITIONS

Indiana Air Search and Rescue's full-scale Huey was on hand for the event and selling rides to lucky attendees. There is just nothing quite like a Huey, and IASAR's example is particularly well-maintained.

The premier competition of the weekend is “The One” event, with seven world-class pilots facing off to complete for a first prize including $7,000 in cash. This year Kyle Dahl and his Logo 700 topped the field with a truly outstanding and inventive routine. 3D competition just doesn't get any better.

IRCHA features some impressive competitions, with electric power a major presence in all of them. One of my favorites is the IRCHA Speed Cup, in which contestants fly their helis through a 200-meter course. There are several classes for wet and electric power, but the Electric Unlimited class is the one to see. Oliver Jellen traveled from Germany to take first in the Unlimited class, with his highly modified 14-cell TDR Velocity clocking runs up to 158mph! The sight and sound of these electric missiles is something any speed junkie would love.

The headline competition of the weekend is “The One” event, with seven world-class pilots competing for a cash prize of $7,000. This year, the five-judge panel of world-class heli fliers crowned Kyle Dahl as “The One.” Kyle's flight routine was truly something to see, and his win was well-deserved.

Curtis Youngblood's Stingray is a quad with something different! This amazing bird has full collective pitch, making it fully aerobatic as CY demo pilot Kenny Sierra shows here. The 2200-4S power train is belt-driven, and with very low blade inertia, the 'Ray is remarkably durable. Flight stabilization is provided by a special version of the Total-G 3-axis gyro unit, and the performance really is mind-boggling.

As a natural fit with their outstanding line of Edge controllers, Castle Creations has rolled out their line of “Vertigo” motors for helicopters ranging from 450 to 700 size. The 700-size 4540 shown here is an 8-pole design with a 490Kv. Castle will be selling the Vertigos direct to fliers.

The contests wrap up Saturday night with the hugely popular night fly competition. Night heli flying is an absolute blast, and the world-class competitors in this competition really raise the bar with their choreographed lighting systems and spectacular flying. This year, Bobby Watts topped the field with his very entertaining routine, but every competitor brought something truly different.

NEXT YEAR

Swiss master scale modeler Roland Kaufmann was a well-deserving first place in the IRCHA Scale competition with his immaculate Alouette III. Believe it or not, this 15-pound scratch-built beauty is 25 years old and still flies with vintage Heim mechanics, now converted to 10S LiPo power.

Sandy Jaffe's MD-500 Explorer was one of the most technically impressive electric models flown at the event. Getting a NOTAR system to work properly is challenging, and yet Sandy's machine showed absolutely steady tail hold even in gusty conditions.

I no sooner get over the post-IRCHA daze when I start looking forward to the next year's event, which in 2014 will take place August 6 though 10. Make your plans now!

Special Helicopter Section

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