SMALL - Telemetry SMALL - Radio

Horizon Hobby and HobbyZone Sportsman S + RTF and BNF Review

A new plane with a number of electronic features including AutoLand. Find out all about them in this review.



HobbyZone Sportsman S+ RTF & BNF (4 min 10 sec)

Fuel Type: Electric
Wingspan: 54.6"
Flying Weight: 35.5 oz.
Length: 35.75"
Material: Z-Foam
Transmitter: Minimum Spectrum DX4E 2.4GHz
Receiver: Spektrum Glasair S receiver
Battery: 3S 1300mAh LiPo
Motor: 480 Brushless
ESC: 18A Brushless
Propeller Size: 9 x 6
Color Scheme: White with red and silver
Charger: DC powered 3S balancing with AC adapter
Assembly Time: Less than 1 Hour
Manufacturer: HobbyZone
Available From: Horizon Hobby
Price: $349.99 RTF
Price: $309.99 BNF

The HobbyZone® Sportsman® S + sounds like a great trainer plane with all the built in electronic features to help the Beginner pilot. They specifically spell out these features on their Website in words and in several cases videos. For this review I have posted their claims and videos in this review and will cover my findings concerning these claims in the Flight Section of this review after testing these claims in what I strive to be a fair manner and impartial test of the claims. The plane either does or doesn't perform as advertised and I will report on my findings. My second focus in this review will be how this plane performs for a Beginner pilot. A total Newbie! I always recommend getting the help of an instructor and I do that even with the HobbyZone® Sportsman® S+. However, for purposes of this review I am going to assume the Beginner pilot has no access to outside help or assistance. Can a Beginner succeed with the plane and the information in the box and that on the Products Webpage?

Probably the most interesting claim is that landing is no longer a concern for new pilots. I haven't ever met a sober Beginner pilot that wasn't at least a little concerned about landing when first flying their own plane. Frankly, I would be a little concerned if a Beginner said they had no concern but I talk to them and try and reduce their concern. I think that is the real intent of their statement. Here is the statement from HobbyZone.

"Landing has always been one of the biggest concerns for new pilots, but not anymore. Designed to be as intuitive as possible, the HobbyZone® Sportsman® S+ comes loaded with SAFE® Plus technology which is equipped with advanced attitude awareness and a GPS system so pilots can leave their hesitancy on the runway, even if it’s their first time flying. Like the beautiful full-scale Glasair Sportsman, the Sportsman S+ is a natural in the sky with the freedom of four-channel control and a powerful brushless motor that comes pre-installed. If a pilot is skittish about the landing, no problem. In the right conditions, the Sportsman S+ will perform the landing with no help from the pilot."

My review question is can the plane consistently land itself? and what are the "RIGHT CONDITIONS" referenced in the last sentence above? Those and many more questions about the HobbyZone Sportsman S+ will be answered in this review. Additionally, in hopes of making this review a "One Stop" spot for information on this plane I have included the videos from the HobbyZone Website about how to calibrate the plane and activate and deactivate some of the functions.

Glasair Sportsman

The Glasair Sportsman is a single-engine, high wing, strut-braced, four seat kit aircraft, developed by the Glasair Aviation company. The HobbyZone model is a scale version of the plane produced with the companies authorization. This is both a trainer plane and a scale general aviation plane.

Kit Contents RTF Version

RTF Version

  • Spektrum DX4e transmitter
  • 4 AA batteries for the transmitter
  • 3S 1300 LiPo flight battery
  • LiPo balanced battery charger
  • AC adapter for battery charger
  • Fuselage with nose gear, motor, ESC, receiver, GPS module, propeller, spinner, rudder and tail servos installed
  • Landing gear and fairings
  • Horizontal stabilizer and attached rudder
  • Tape to secure horizontal stabilizer to the fuselage
  • Wing with ailerons and aileron servos installed
  • Wing struts and attachment hardware
  • Rubber bands
  • Camera mount for optional EFC-721 camera
  • Receiver binding plug
  • Instruction Manual

BNF Version

  • Same as above minus transmitter and AA batteries

Key Features Promoted By HobbyZone

Key Features

  • AutoLand actively assists with landing with minimal to no pilot input
  • Instant flight recovery with Panic Recovery mode
  • Beginner, Intermediate, and Experienced modes make learning to fly easy
  • Holding Pattern returns aircraft to a fixed point and flies in a pattern
  • Virtual Fence keeps aircraft within a comfortable flying range
  • HD Camera ready with an E-flite® EFC™-721 camera mount included
  • 4-Channel aircraft with working throttle, rudder, elevator, and aileron
  • 1300mAh 3S 11.1V Li-Po battery for long flight times on a single charge
  • Impact-resistant, durable Z-Foam™ construction
  • Tricycle landing gear provides easier handling on the ground
  • Compatible with any full-range Spektrum™ 2.4GHz DSMX® transmitter

SAFE® Plus Technology

"The HobbyZone® Sportsman® S+ features SAFE® Plus technology that provides pilots with advanced GPS position awareness so you can teach yourself to fly with ease."


  • AS3X

"Auto Land: When activated, Auto Land will initiate a landing pattern with a touchdown location near where it took off. In rougher conditions, pilots can provide additional guidance to the system for executing a safe landing."

HobbyZone Sportsman S+ with SAFE Plus Technology: AutoLand (0 min 39 sec)

"Holding Pattern: Push a button and the Sportsman® S+ will automatically circle around a fixed position near its takeoff location at approximately 120 feet until the command gets canceled."

HobbyZone Sportsman S+ with SAFE Plus Technology: Holding Pattern (0 min 45 sec)

"Virtual Fence: Choose from a circular or rectangular boundary box that keeps the aircraft within sight and prevents the Sportsman® S+ from getting too far away."

HobbyZone Sportsman S+ with SAFE Plus Technology: Virtual Fence (0 min 44 sec)

"Panic Recovery: If you ever lose control of the Sportsman® S+, just switch to beginner mode and release the control sticks. SAFE® Plus technology will return the aircraft to level flight. 1 Pilot loses control of the aircraft in any attitude. 2 Pilot releases both sticks. The aircraft will roll wings upright and level and pull out of a dive... 3 ...once the aircraft is flying straight and level, the pilot can continue climbing to a safe altitude and resume flight."

"Flight Envelope Protection: Pitch and roll limits protect the Sportsman® S+ from entering into extreme flight conditions. 1 Beginner Mode: Limited Pitch and bank angles. Panic Recovery Mode activates when sticks are released, returning the aircraft to level flight. 2 Intermediate Mode: More freedom in pitch and bank. Panic Recovery Mode automatically returns the aircraft to level flight when the aircraft descends below 30 feet above ground level and the sticks are released. 3 Experienced Mode: No pitch and roll limiter Panic Recovery Mode. Panic Recovery Mode can be activated by switching to Beginner Mode and releasing the sticks."

"AS3X: Works to stabilize the Sportsman® S+ in whatever attitude you command with the sophistication of 3-axis gyros to help battle the influence of turbulence on windy days."

HobbyZone Sportsman S+ with SAFE Plus Technology: AS3X System (0 min 31 sec)

Those are the promoted features for the Sportman S+ in their own words. How well I found them to work will be covered in the Flight Conclusion portion of this review. How they are activated or turned off I cover in the Assembly Conclusion section.

Batteries: the Flight Battery and AAs for the Transmitter

A 3-cell 1300mAp flight battery was included in my RTF Sportsman S+ kit. The charger can be used in the field by plugging it into the DC 12 volt electric power supply socket in the dashboard of most cars. The charger can also be used at home with the included AC adapter with a socket that fits the plug on the charger. I used the adapter with the charger to charge the included battery while I assembled the Sportsman S+.

The DX4e Transmitter

A notice was included in the kit alerting users that the DX4e transmitter included in the RTF kit does not work DSM2 receivers but does work with DSMX receivers. During recent years most receivers sold by Spektrum worked with both DSM2 and DSMX and the transmitter should work with those combination receivers. This only excludes the older DSM2 only receivers from years ago. I plan to keep my DX4e transmitter as a dedicated transmitter for the Sportsman S+.

While dealing with batteries I installed the four supplied AA batteries into the Transmitter.

This is a full range transmitter and despite having only two switches and a push button it is able to program and control all the functions designed into the Sportsman S+.

The push button on the top left is labeled: "Trainer/Bind." In the Instruction Manual it is referred to as the Bind/HP/AL Button and in most places as just the HP/AL button. Per the title it is used to bind the plane and transmitter together if necessary but they are supposed to come already bound together and mine were. In the course of reading the instruction manual I figured out the HP stands for Holding Pattern and AL is for AutoLand. The use of the button for those features will be described later.

The three way switch on the top left front of the transmitter is marked channel 5. In the Instruction Manual it is referred to as the "SAFE Plus Mode Switch. Position 0 at the top is Beginner Mode. Position 1 in the middle is Intermediate Mode and position 2 at the bottom is Expert Mode. This switch also performs other functions as will be described in this review.

This switch is also used in deactivating the GPS in flight among other things.

The final switch is a two way switch on the top right front of the transmitter and is the rate switch. The top position is for High Rates and 100% of normal control surface movement and the bottom position is for Low Rates and 70% of normal control surface movement. This switch is used with the Button to perform range testing by holding down the button and toggling the switch four times (Down, up, down, up). The button must be continuously held down during the range test. From 90 feet away make sure the rudder, elevator, ailerons and throttle (with someone holding the plane) all operate smoothly.

This switch is also used in deactivating the GPS system.


I want to start by discussing the Instruction Manual which I consider CRITICAL for the first time RC pilot. If it doesn't tell to the new pilot what to do and expect when they have no coaching where will they find the information? I am very happy to say that I found this Instruction Manual to be EXCELLENT! If this was my very first plane and I lived in a remote area with no one to help me: 1) I would have no trouble assembling this plane. That is due to a low parts count as well as this manual with its excellent pictures and very good written descriptions of how to assemble the plane. 2) In addition the manual supplies a lot of information on how to test the transmitter controls with the control functions of the plane to make sure it is operating properly. 3) The manual describes what the switches do and what positions they need to be in for setup and the desired control that should be demonstrated. 4) The manual goes into detail on the electronic functions and how to activate or deactivate them with the DX4e transmitter. I give HobbyZone a huge two thumbs up on this excellent Instruction Manual!

You can see the instruction manual for yourself by clicking on this link: Sportsman S+ Instruction Manual

Main Landing Gear

The fairings snap onto the outer sides of the main gear and are a cosmetic feature. They are also secured by the screws that mount the main landing gear. The main gear strut plugs into a slot in the bottom of the fuselage and is secured in place in the fuselage with two plate covers secured by two screws each (4 total) into the fuselage. (I used four of the small screws supplied in the kit. The slightly larger screws with bigger heads were saved for the wing struts.) There were six of these small screws Since the nose gear came already installed in the fuselage this completes the assembly of the landing gear.


The vertical stabilizer and rudder came already installed on the fuselage. The horizontal stabilizer with attached elevator slides into the slot for it at the back of the fuselage. once properly positioned it is secured in place with four supplied pieces of tape with one piece on each side of the fuselage/stabilizer top and bottom.

With the stabilizer in place I adjusted the clevis as necessary and connected it to the control horn on the elevator. Once properly positioned I slide the rubber tube over the clevis to further secure it in place on the control horn.


With the wing on the table upside down I secured the right and left wing struts to the wing with screws but did not fully tighten them in place.

I next turned the wing right side up and started to position it over the fuselage and connected the aileron servos wires to the supplied Y-harness for the in the fuselage. I tucked the wires into the fuselage as I position the wing on top of the fuselage.

I firmly pressed the strut sockets onto the fuselage ball mounts on the bottom sides of the fuselage.

At this point I secured the screws holding the struts to the underside of the wing.

Finally I installed the six rubber bands on the front and back rods to secure the wing in place as shown in the pictures below.

Radio Installation

The radio comes installed and with the RTF version it came bound to the DX4e transmitter. There was no assembly required. The instructions are clear that this receiver is ONLY setup for use in the Sportsman S+ and use in any other plane is not recommended or covered by warranty. I plan to keep both the receiver and the GPS module in the plane.

There are a number of electronic functions with this plane and the manual does a job job of explaining how to activate these functions, deactivate some and how to operate others. I decided to make note cards to help me with the activation process at the field so I don't have to use the instruction manual at the field. I strongly recommend that a card be made for the Deactivate the GPS System in Flight as that is a possible emergency procedure and I want that card handy in case I need it. (Actually a review before takeoff refreshes my memory. I have not had to use this but I did test the procedure as part of the review and it worked and the plane went on complete manual handling for me.)

On page 8 of the manual it covers centering the control surfaces. I always recommend to get control surfaces centered as close as possible to center through manual adjustment of the clevises and only use electric trim for final adjustment. The instructs pretty much recommend the same thing.

Optional Camera Mount

A camera mount is included for the EFC-721 camera sold by Horizon Hobby. I have this camera and use it with my Blade 200 QX. Since I have the camera I attached the optional camera mount. Using supplied double sided tape I mounted the camera mount to the top center of the wing as shown in the instruction manual. The EFC-721 camera requires a micro SD card that was not included with the camera.

The camera charges when connected to a USB port on my computer with the computer on. When connected the red and blue LEDs in the camera flash back and forth twice then start blinking together. It takes up to 30 minutes to charge the camera. When the charge is completed the charging stops automatically and the lights are solidly lit.

The EFC-721 camera is capable of taking both still pictures and video. With my Blade 200 it was connected to the mother board with a servo extension wire and could be controlled remotely. With the Sportsman S+ I control it manually. I put the camera in video mode mode by pressing and holding the mode button in for 3-seconds. I start recording video by pressing and releasing the start/stop button. The blue light on the camera slowly blinks to show it is recording. After the flight I hit the start/stop button to stop recording.

The video recorded can be downloaded into my computer using the supplied USB cable or the micro SD card can be removed, placed in an adapter, and the video data downloaded. Holding the power button in for two seconds turns the camera off. When I shoot an interesting video in the future I will post it in RC Groups.


Center of Gravity

The plane's Center of Gravity (CG) is given as being 1.75 inches (45mm) behind the leading edge of the wing. With my battery installed in the battery compartment under the fuselage my plane balanced on the recommended C/G. If it hadn't I would have adjusted the batteries position as recommended in the instruction manual.

The GPS System

The Sportsman S+ has a Spektrum GPS module installed in the fuselage behind the wing saddle. It is activated automatically when the battery is connected to the ESC. However there are recommended steps for it to work properly or it can be deactivated. When deactivated the following features will not work: Holding Pattern, AutoLand, and Virtual Fence.

Initializing the GPS System

To properly initialize the GPS system: After installing and connecting the flight battery the plane should be turned right side up and set on the ground, immobile, out of the wind and under the open sky (Not positioned indoors, next to a building, under a metal shade cover or under trees.) for 30 seconds to establish the GPS lock. As stated above the GPS turns on automatically every time the battery is connected. The GPS lock doesn't start until the plane is turned right side up. If you deactivated the GPS system for the previous flight it will be automatically reactivated the next time the battery is connected.

Deactivating the GPS on the Ground

Deactivating GPS on the Ground

  • Remove the wing to have full view of the receiver.
  • Connect the flight battery and leave the plane in place on a flat level surface on its landing gear.
  • When the receiver's blue and red LEDs blink rapidly, hold tight full aileron stick and quickly toggle the dual rate switch (top right front of the transmitter) rapidly four times. (Down, up, down, up)
  • Within 3 seconds the red LED goes off and the Blue LED blinks slowly indicating the GPS is off.

Deactivating the GPS in Flight

This procedure should be done if a malfunction of the GPS system occurs in flight. Deactivation returns the controls to full manual.

Deactivating the GPS in Flight

  • Hold down the HP/AL button (AKA the transmitter/bind button on the top left of the transmitter) for three seconds.
  • After 3 seconds continue to hold the button down and toggle the mode switch (Marked channel 5 on the top front left of the transmitter.) at least five times from position 0 to position 2. (Down, up down, up down)
  • GPS should be off and manual control in place. They recommend moving the switch to the Beginner mode (the 0 position).
  • The GPS system will remain off till the battery is unplugged and a battery again connected to the ESC.

Emergency In-Flight GPS Deactivation video from HobbyZone:

Emergency In-flight GPS Deactivation on the HobbyZone Sportsman S+ (4 min 18 sec)

How to Activate the Electronic Features

Compass Calibration Procedure


If at any time you experience no throttle response after power up and the ailerons are deflected full right, the airplane is indicating compass error. Disconnect the flight battery and then follow the compass calibration procedure.

I am familiar with Compass Calibration with my Blade 350 QX quadcopter. I had to do it several times and once was due to exposure to a fairly strong magnetic source. It was easy enough to do and it brought my Blade 350 QX back into great flying condition. I did the procedure with the Sportsman S+ as suggested before the first flight. During the course of this review I have kept magnetic sources away from the plane to the best of my knowledge and the systems have worked fine. However, based upon my experience with my Blade 350 QX I can vouch that at least with it the compass calibration brought the GPS system back to great working condition and I suspect the same is true with the Sportsman S+. Should I have a problem that may be related to the compass I won't hesitate to do the Compass calibration procedure again!

Compass Calibration Procedure

  • Power on the receiver and place the model on its wheels on the ground.
  • With transmitter trims centered: hold both sticks down and both to the center and power on the transmitter. Hold the sticks in place until the ESC sounds to enter compass calibration mode.
  • With Wings On: The ESC will sound and the ailerons will move up and down continuously to indicate that compass calibration is activated.
  • With Wings OFF: The blue and red LEDs on the receiver will flash alternatively indicating that compass calibration is activated. Once in calibration mode the throttle is not active and the transmitter sticks should be released.
  • The transmitter must remain on.
  • Rotate the plane once for each position showed in the illustration below.
  • Set the model back on the ground, on its wheels, wait 3 seconds and turn off the transmitter.
  • Wait three seconds and then disconnect the flight battery.

Here is the Compass Calibration Procedure video from HobbyZone.

HobbyZone Sportsman S+ with SAFE Plus Technology: Compass Calibration (4 min 23 sec)

How To Set The Virtual Fence Park Mode

The Sportsman S+ comes with Virtual Fence Park Mode as the default selection. The GPS will establish a 650 foot circle to fly within based on where the Sportsman S+ is turned right side up and set down on the ground after the flight battery has been plugged in. This position should be at the center of the runway in the center of the CIRCLE you want to fly in and facing in the direction (into the wind) you want to take off in. This action will also set the position and direction for AutoLand when the plane actually takes off which should be into the wind. When the plane gets more than 650 feet from its starting point it will turn to stay within the Virtual Fence. The HobbyZone video below explains all of this very well. If you switch to Virtual Fence Airfield you can switch back by following the procedure on page 16 of the manual and explained in the video below. It simply involves powering up the plane, turning it right side up and then having the left stick down and the right stick held down and all the way left. When I heard the sound indicating the satellite link the transition back to VF Park Mode was complete.

How to set the HobbyZone Sportsman S+ Virtual Fence to Park Mode (4 min 30 sec)

How To Set The Virtual Fence Airfield Mode

Virtual Fence Airfield is the method I need to use because I don't want to fly behind the flight line at my home field and it gives me a larger flying area that is approximately 1300 feet along the flight line and goes out 650 feet away from the flight line. As with the Park Mode the GPS system in the plane determines the virtual fence area when the battery has been plugged in, and where the plane has been turned over and placed on its wheels. To get into VF Airfield Mode I powered up the airplane, set it right side up on the ground and then held the transmitter sticks with the left stick down and the right stick down and all the way to the right while the plane connected to the satellites. When I heard the tone and saw the ailerons move the programming was completed. It was now in VF Airfield mode.

To set the Virtual Fence at the Airfield I plug in the battery and turn over the plane and set it down on its wheels next to the runway with the plane facing the area where it will fly and with the pit area behind it. After it has found the satellites it will give a tone and I can taxi out to the center of the runway and turn the plane to face it into the wind. When I give it full throttle for take off, the system will note the direction it is facing and use that information later for AutoLand.

To deactivate VF Airfield I do the same procedure but this time hold the right stick all the way to the left and it goes back into VF Park Mode. The plane remains in VF Airfield mode until it is deactivated as described above. It is not deactivated by switching batteries. With my testing of this function complete I will be keeping my plane in VF Airfield Mode for my normal use.

How to set the HobbyZone Sportsman S+ Virtual Fence to Airfield Mode (5 min 54 sec)

Holding Pattern

If at anytime the plane seems to far away or if I become disoriented as to the plane or I simply need a short break during the flight I can activate the Holding Pattern by pressing and releasing the HP/AL button on the left top of the transmitter. If the plane is below 20 feet Holding Pattern will not activate. But above that altitude the response should be immediate. The plane should maneuver to an altitude of 120 feet and begin to fly a circular pattern at half throttle. in VF Park Mode it flies around the center point from which the flight started. In VF Airfield Mode the plane will fly as described above but the circular pattern is out from the runway so it doesn't cross over the edge of the runway.

Flying in the Holding Pattern is fully autonomous and the transmitter sticks have no control. The plane flies itself! To deactivate the Holding Pattern I could hit the HP/AL button again or I could move the mode switch. Doing either of those deactivates Holding Pattern.

Holding Pattern Failsafe

If the plane looses radio contact the system is designed to automatically go into Holding Pattern until radio connection is re-established. If the connection is not restored it will land near the takeoff location.

Low Voltage Cutoff

If you fly until the battery voltage is getting very low you should see and hear the motor slow down and pulse. If that happens land immediately!


This is described below in the Takeoff and Landing section of this review. As discussed above the setting up for takeoff and the takeoff itself set up the GPS system for proper AutoLanding.

AutoLand does not possess the ability to avoid obstacles. It is important to ensure that the flying location is free of obstacles. Stick inputs can be used anytime during the AutoLand process to avoid obstacles or lengthen the landing.



Before the first flight the compass calibration procedure was performed as instructed by HobbyZone. This made the plane ready for flight and for my testing of the many electronic features that come with this plane.

When full throttle is applied the plane is designed to climb without the need to use elevator. At 50% throttle it is designed to fly level and at less than 50% throttle it is designed to descend. How quickly depends on how little throttle is applied.

The plane has Horizon Hobby's SAFE Technology Flight Modes. These modes are entered using the channel 5 switch positioned in the upper left front of the transmitter. In Beginner Mode (switch position 0) and when flying below 33 feet (10m), pitch and roll angles are limited to help keep the airplane airborne. Above 33 feet the pitch and roll control are increased slightly. At any time release both sticks to activate Panic Recovery mode for self leveling. In Intermediate Mode (switch position 1) below 33 feet the handling is like Beginner Mode and Panic Mode is present. However, above 33 feet there is greater pitch and roll control but no self leveling Panic Mode. In Expert Mode (switch position 2) there are no limits to pitch or roll. There is no panic mode but if needed switch to Beginner Mode and Panic Mode becomes available.

The rate switch on the top right front of the transmitter allows for high rates in the up position and low rates in the down position. High rates allows for 100% of the normal control surface movement. Low rates reduces the movement to 70%. Since beginners often try and over control their planes low rates are recommended for beginners.

As described above the Sportsman S+ is equipped with AS3X. This works to stabilize the Sportsman® S+ in whatever attitude you command with the sophistication of 3-axis gyros to help battle the influence of turbulence on windy days. The AS3X system is not new and I find it to be of great assistance in stabilizing my planes equipped with it on windy days. On calm days I don't notice that it is even there. I found the same to be true in flying the Sportsman S+. It helps stabilize the plane in breezes and isn't noticeable to me at all on calm days.

In flying in Beginner Mode due to the limited roll action I make larger turns than usual but I can tighten then up by using both rudder and aileron and not just relying on ailerons to turn the Sportsman S+. Intermediate mode allows for more roll above 33 feet and the handling is pretty much what I experience in my Sunday Flyer relaxed flying mode. When not actively testing the features and just doing relaxed flying the only feature that stood out to me was the climbing with high throttle. To avoid that I would just hold in some down throttle for high speed level passes. I found the handling excellent over all.

Taking Off

For the first take off on the battery I connect the battery to the ESC and turn the plane over and set it on the ground where appropriate for the Virtual Fence I am using, be it VF Park or VF Airfield. For VF Park it is on the center spot of the 650 foot circle I plan to fly in with the plane facing into the wind. For VF Airfield I set it down on the edge of the runway with the wings parallel with the runway. The area to fly is in front of the plane and the area (the pits) to stay out of is behind the plane. With the VF now set I can take off from where I positioned it in VF Park. For VF Airfield I taxi out to the center of the runway and turn to face into the wind.

With the plane properly positioned facing into the wind I can advance the throttle to full and when it passes 90 % on the throttle movement it notes the direction the plane is traveling and will use that information for AutoLand. In taking off I didn't need to use elevator as the plane automatically climbed when the throttle was higher than 50%. It can take off by itself once I advance the throttle to full.

Typical hands off takeoffs shown in the video below.

Sportsman S+ Hands Off Takeoffs (1 min 3 sec)

The flight can also be started with a Hand Launch. After allowing the GPS to link with the Satellites stand where I wanted it to be to properly set the appropriate Virtual Fence and gripping the plane under the fuselage behind the rear wheels. I Held the plane out in front of me and facing into the wind I slowly advanced the throttle to 100% and tossed the plane forward and slightly upwards directly into the wind. I used no elevator as the plane started to climb on its own.

The Plane, Wind and Weather Vane Takeoffs with Hands Off

If there is a cross wind I can still travel straight down the runway during takeoff by using the rudder to counter the cross wind. That is what I normally do. However, for this review I did a number of hands off take offs by just advancing the throttle. In little or no wind the results were like those in the video shown above. With a strong cross wind the plane can be turned like a weather vane before it has built up speed and turned into the wind and that line that it takes will be established for Autolanding. I discuss this elsewhere in this review but let me make it clear I can steer with rudder during takeoff and maintain directional control without a problem.


AutoLand is activated by pressing and holding the HP/AL button on the transmitter for three seconds. If the plane is below 20 feet AutoLand will not activate. Otherwise, the aircraft will immediate turn to align itself for an upwind approach. The Sportsman S+ will maneuver to an altitude of 65 feet approximately 490 feet downwind from the takeoff point. It will turn itself into the wind and begin the final approach. The Sportsman S+ will land into the wind near the takeoff point and come to a complete stop. The AutoLand can be aborted by pressing the HP/AL button again or changing the flight mode.

At ten feet up the motor power is cut but I still can make adjustments with the control sticks if needed. If I do nothing the plane will land itself.

Aerobatics/Special Flight Performance

In Expert Mode with no restrictions imposed on the plane in roll or pitch and flying at high rates I could do all of the basic aerobatic maneuvers that I attempted. The Sportsman S+ can do loops and rolls as well as Immelmanns and half pipes. She can be flown inverted and there is a lot of room for the Beginner to grow with this plane as their skills increase. She is not competitive with my most aerobatic planes but for a stand off scale general aviation high wing plane she supplies enough aerobatics for me to enjoy her when not flying her with or for a beginner.

Is This For a Beginner?

This is an excellent plane for a Beginner! The combination of the quality of the plane, the electronic features, the instruction manual and the videos shown in this review and available on the HobbyZone website make this an excellent plane for a beginner. There is some preparation work in learning how to setup and work the various features as spelled out in this review but the person that takes their time to learn how to control the plane and test to make sure she is working as designed should be rewarded with positive results.

Electronic Test Results: EXCELLENT!

Because this plane's special features depend heavily on properly receiving GPS signals I flew at three different flying sites here in the San Joaquin Valley in Northern Ca. I know my quadcopter's GPS system receives 6 GPS signals I trust that was the same with the Sportsman S+. All flying was out in open fields with no buildings or trees creating interference with reception. The only results that varied by location was Virtual Fence Airfield and AutoLand and that will be explained below. Higher winds also affected the electronically controlled flights as will be explained below. Before the first flight I did the compass calibration procedure as recommended but I didn't do it again while I ran 20 batteries through the plane in the course of my testing. I had no trouble getting ten minutes of flying time with the 3-cell 1300mAh battery packs used.

Holding Pattern in Virtual Fence (VF) Park Mode

This was tested a couple of times in calm conditions and in a light breeze of about 5 mph. When the HP/AL button was tapped briefly the plane always went into holding pattern unless it was flying very low and in that case it did nothing in response to the signal. When it did respond it responded immediately and flew to the middle of the field and either climbed or lowered to the prescribed 120 feet (Again an eyeball measurement but it was very consistent.) It would circle around the center spot until I pressed the HP/AL button briefly and took back control of the plane. On one Holding Pattern I had it circle for three minutes before I took back control of the plane. This function performed the same at all three locations. Grade A+

Holding Pattern in VF Airfield Mode

In this mode the Holding Pattern is straight out from the runway and the inner pass comes near but not over the runway and the outer part of the circle is further out. In calm or light breeze conditions except for the changed location for the Holding Pattern the pattern was held just as nicely as in the Park Mode. I also performed several tests in windy conditions and got a pleasant surprise. Here the wind was about 10-15 mph with some gusts. The higher wind and the gusts pushed the plane to my left and away from the line with the starting point for the flight. When it had gotten two far to my left when it flew back instead of doing a circle it did a crazy eight and got back to upwind of the takeoff starting point but again out in front of me. After a few more circles it had again been pushed to my left and it again did a crazy eight to get back up wind of the GPS even position. I watched it do this for six minutes with the transmitter on a table and out of my hands completely. his function performed the same at all three locations except for the wind variation. Totally amazed me and the two fellow pilots who were watching with me in the wind. Grade A++

Virtual Fence Park Mode

This tested out very well! The range in all directions was about the 650 feet described based upon one measurement at a large field and basic eyeball examination at the other two fields. The plane turned around on its own and flew to the center of the circle and went to 120 feet of altitude and entered a Holding Pattern on its own. I could regain control by pushing the HP/AL button briefly after it turned around or after it had entered into the holding pattern. I wasn't expecting to go into the Holding Pattern on its own but I could always immediate regain control immediately if I wanted. This function performed the same at all three locations. Grade A+

Virtual Fence Airfield Mode

Here the barriers are supposed to be close behind me, 650 feet to either side and 650 feet straight out in front of me. Here I found it worked differently behind me than I was expecting. I was expecting the barrier closest to me would be at or near the edge of the runway but it was actually up to 40 feet behind me the whole 1300 foot length or the barrier. Going straight at the barrier it could penetrate almost 90 feet behind me in starting and completing the turn away from the barrier. Thus it was necessary for me to manually turn the plane away to avoid flying behind the flight line. I don't know if my plane was acting as other Sportsman S+ planes do but this result was consistent with my plane at all three flying sites where I tested. Again, it never went more than about 90 feet behind me and it always turned at the same distances which seemed very good for the sides and in front of me but it flew a little further behind me then I expected based on the picture in the instruction manual. Again consistent results at all times. I simply need to encourage students to stay away from the flight line with the plane when flying unless they are making an intentional pass straight down the runway. Overall I felt it worked excellent in three directions and not too bad behind me but just not as good as I expected from the manual. Grade B+

Taking Off into the "Wind!"

In calm conditions or a light breeze with a firm surface under the wheels it always tracked and took off very nicely when full throttle was applied. This set the line that would be used for Autoland at the end of the flight. In my testing in the higher breeze conditions the wind was not coming straight down the runway. It was coming from about 45 degrees to the left of center and as I throttled up the plane would switch it's line from right down the runway to the left and into the wind. I assumed that it was the tail that was responsible for this response. It took off on its own although I was ready to use manual control if necessary. If the wind were more from the left or much stronger I think I would have gone to a more manually controlled takeoff. This line to the left also set the line that would be used by Autoland. For hands-off takoffs I grade it a solid A in calm or light breeze conditions.

AutoLand in Calm Conditions.

In VF Park Mode and two of the three VF Airfield testing locations the plane used the line established on takeoff as its line for the AutoLand. I would hold the HP/AL button down for three plus seconds. The plane would immediately turn and fly downwind from the takeoff position if it was even or upwind from that location. It would turn onto final and start to descend. At about 65 feet from the takeoff point it would drop down even lower and reduce throttle even more and land, roll to a stop and turn of the motor even though i still had the throttle in the on position where it was when I first activated the out land. I had the same very good results at all but one park.

In Ripon we had very little distance from where we linked to the satellites parallel to the runway and from where we took off. It was only about ten feet. Here we were flying off a a big flat dirt field and the plane would consistently land about 30 feet further out than the runway line I had used. The line was parallel but out about 30 feet. Except for being further out the landings were great. I decided to do further testing there and went back the next morning. Here I turned over the plane to get the satellite link where I had the previous day but i moved the plane out to where it had been landing the previous day. This time my AutoLandings were right down my take off line and the planes stopped very near where the flights originated. Further testing at my home field also showed slightly more consistent results when I linked the plane to the satellites a bite further away from the runway center line. Here the distance had already been greater and the landings were already on the runway but adding another ten feet to the satellite link area seemed to make the landings even more on the center line and not between the center line and the far side of the runway. I now do my satellite link 30-40 feet away from the runway center line and the results are a steady A.

AutoLanding in the Wind

As stated above I have only flown in the wind a limited number of flights. In the higher wind with hand off launches the plane adjusted its direction to face into the wind and that line became the same line the plane took for landing. It would fly downwind cross the runway and come back up inside the runway and final approach would be the same line as on takeoff. Two of the landings were short of the staring point by about twenty feet but the plane made it to the right edge of the runway before landing. On one flight it seemed to make a self correction to the left and came up a bit and while it was on the same line as takeoff it made it to the center of the runway, landed and shut off with the plane almost exactly over the starting point.

Remember I had the ability to manually input control commands and still leave it on AutoLand or I could have deactivated Autoland if I felt the need. I did deactivate it on one flight but that was only to test and verify that it would deactivate if so commanded. I didn't have to cancel any AutoLand in the several dozen plus AutoLands I made during this review. I did intentionally give manual commands during Autolandings and the plane always responded and then continued with the AutoLanding. I have had no nose overs during this review but I have been landing on hard surfaces. The propeller is still in perfect condition. Grade A

SAFE Flight Modes

The Beginner Mode definitely has less response at very low altitude and above 50 feet there was more control but still limited pitch and roll.. Letting go of the sticks in Beginner Mode caused the plane to immediately self level. Intermediate Mode worked as advertised as well with more pitch and roll but still with significant limits. Expert Mode allowed me to perform loops, rolls and other aerobatics. I could also get the plane out of control and switch to beginner Mode, go hands off and it would immediately stabilize. The Sportsman S+ racks up another A.

Low Voltage Cutoff

Low Voltage Shutoff was tested by accident before I could get to my planned test. the old battery gave low voltage shortly after takeoff and the motor began to pulse and I immediately brought her down safely. the battery tested okay on a test meter but in actual use it couldn't maintain a supply of the needed voltage. The pulse warning works.

Deactivating GPS

I tested both the on the ground and the emergency in the air deactivating of the GPS system and both worked. Other than performing those tests i always had the system activated as I can do any aerobatic flying manually by going to Expert Mode.

While not perfect the electronic options tested out even better that I expected and I was expecting quite a bit based on my previous testing of some of these features in Horizon Hobbies Multi-rotors and previous planes.

Flight Video/Photo Gallery

Demonstration Flight Video

I asked Chris who was flying the plane to do a hands off takeoff. The wind was comin about 30 degree from the left of center runway and the plane was pretty much facing into the wind. Just as Chris hit the throttle for the taking off the wind gusted suddenly across the runway on the plane's left side about 80 degrees left of down the runway. Almost straight across the runway. Since I had told Chris to do a hands off takeoff he did! As discussed above the Sportsman S+ weather vaned into the wind turning to the left into the wind gust on takeoff. A perfect demonstration of why you want to line the plane up into the wind for takeoff. I kept this takeoff in the video because it shows you should be ready with rudder and even in this wind switch the Sportsman S+ still succeeded in taking off. The rest of this one take video shows many of the available electronic features

HobbyZone Sportsman S+ Demonstration Flight (4 min 53 sec)

A short video with some flying in Expert Mode by the author's friends Jeff and Chris.

HobbyZone Sportsman S+ in Expert Mode (1 min 46 sec)


Assembly was easy and the assembly time was less than an hour as advertised even with the taking of pictures for this review. The assembled plane looks nice, has three flight modes and all the electronic features described in HobbyZone's promotions. The three SAFE flight modes were tested and all three operated as advertised and described above. The Virtual Fences: Park and Airfield covered the areas advertised of an approximate 650 foot diameter circle in Park Mode and 1300 x 650 feet rectangular in Airfield Mode. The plane turned pack from these virtual boundaries on its own. The area behind me was about thirty feet behind the setup for the satellite contact to the virtual fence. This was consistently the case. That was the only discrepancy I found between the promotion and the performance of the Virtual Fence.

When the plane hit the Virtual fence it turned back and if I did nothing it went into the Holding Pattern and flew autonomously until I took back control. I could also send it to Holding Pattern whenever I wanted to if it was above 33 feet with a push of the HP/AL button. Finally, I successfully ended numerous flights with AutoLand and it always landed the plane successfully. I have almost three hours of actual flying time invested in this review and flew at two large parks and one official airfield. I have tested Horizon Hobby planes and quadcopters through the development of AS3X and SAFE flight modes so I was expecting those features to perform very well. I was somewhat surprised by just how well the Virtual Fence and the Holding Pattern worked and how the system compensated for the plane being pushed away from the programmed location for Holding Pattern by a strong wind on a couple of occasions. Outstanding performance with Holding Pattern especially. AutoLand performed much better then I suspected as it flew a down wind leg and a very consistent final approach with landing to shut down on its own while I could still make corrections with the sticks if needed.

My questions have been answered to my satisfaction. With this plane, its instruction manual and the online videos a complete Newbie out alone in the hinderland stands an excellent chance of learning how to fly with this plane. Once they learn how to fly they can improve their skills and become a pilot capable of flying more advanced performance if electronically less sophisticated planes by flying the Sportsman S+ in Expert Mode.

In AutoLand it was able to consistently make good landings. The RIGHT Conditions would be calm to light breeze and open space to 50 feet either side of the runway. if there is wind a Beginner may need to give some stick controls depending on how the runway is situated with other items but in an open area there should be no problems with AutoLand. The Beginner can control the plane to the best of their ability and just use the electronic assistance they need, when they need it, as they learn to fly. To be honest I expected some nose overs and possibly propeller damage but landing on dirt and asphalt I had no such problems.

For Beginners the FUTURE way to learn to fly IS NOW here.

Pluses & Minuses


  • RTF includes everything you need.
  • An exceptionally well written instruction manual.
  • Very Helpful videos on the Sportsman S+ Features on the HobbyZone Website.
  • Quick and easy to assemble (Well under an hour assembly time.) as advertised.
  • Nice looking stand-off scale Glasair.
  • The Spektrum DX4e can handle all of the special features of the Sportsman S+.
  • As described above the electronic features all worked very well.
  • It was able to handy gusty wind conditions but flew even better in calm conditions.


  • Virtual Fence cannot be deactivated without turning off the GPS system and deactivating all the special features.
  • Above half throttle for level flight down elevator must be held for faster level flight.
  • If not lined up with the wind it will weather vane into the wind on hands off takeoffs.
  • What can Horizon Hobby do to top this?


I want to thank HobbyZone and Horizon Hobby for supplying the RTF Sportsman S+ kit to RC Groups for this review. My thanks to Jeff Hunter and Chris Tapangcura for their help to me in capturing the media for this review. Finally, thanks to our editor, Angela for her assistance with this review.

Last edited by Michael Heer; Aug 11, 2015 at 03:35 PM..
Thread Tools
Old Today, 10:54 AM
Rampage is online now
Find More Posts by Rampage
What tree?
Rampage's Avatar
United States, CA, Twentynine Palms
Joined Aug 2005
3,671 Posts
It's a good looking plane, but the original Sportsman was too.

IMO, it's a cool technology but is it making things too easy? To me, all the 'help me' features, especially the auto-land, just screams 'participation trophy'.

Ah well. I still like the airframe and may pick up the foam components. Wish it had a bolt-on wing!
Rampage is online now Find More Posts by Rampage
Reply With Quote
Old Today, 11:17 AM
Michael Heer is offline
Find More Posts by Michael Heer
Registered User
Michael Heer's Avatar
Stockton, Ca. USA
Joined Apr 2001
10,180 Posts
Hi Rampage:
The goal for a beginner is to use the technology as needed such as auto-land while developing their skills until they are not using the autonomous flying and auto-land and eventually flying the plane in expert mode and then moving onto a plane with less technology. I am sure that there are some who will never wean themselves from the technology but hopefully they won't be crashing as they are with their current planes.
Michael Heer is offline Find More Posts by Michael Heer
RCG Plus Member

Thread Tools

Similar Threads
Category Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
Review Horizon Hobby and E-flite's Rare Bear with AS3X Technology BNF Basic Review Michael Heer High Performance 12 Yesterday 08:04 PM
New Product HobbyZone Sportsman S+ (SAFE PLUS) BNF-RTF North_of_49 Beginner Training Area (Aircraft-Electric) 435 Yesterday 03:16 PM
Review Horizon Hobby and E-flite's UMX PT-17 with AS3X Stabilization BNF Review Michael Heer Micro Ready-to-Fly 15 Aug 02, 2015 01:25 AM
Review Horizon Hobby & HobbyZone's Delta Ray RTF with Safe Technology Review Michael Heer Beginner Training Area (Aircraft-Electric) 23 Jun 29, 2015 03:46 PM
Review Hobbyzone & Horizon Hobby's Sport Cub S RTF with SAFE Technology Review Michael Heer Beginner Training Area (Aircraft-Electric) 42 Feb 05, 2015 06:42 PM