Ares Advantage Decathlon 350 RTF Review

If flying as easy as 1,2,3 sounds farfetched, it isn't where this fantastic model is concerned.

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Introduction

Ares Advantage Decathlon 350 RTF

Wingspan/Chord:29.25" (743mm)/5.25" (133.3mm)
Wing Area:152 sq in (9.8 sq dm)
Flying Weight:12.6 oz (357 grams)
Length:22.75 in (578mm)
Construction:Expanded polyolefin airframe; plywood wing and carbon fiber stabilizer spars; plastic cowl, wheel pants and strut covers; plastic main wheels with foam tires; plastic tail wheel; plastic propeller with rubber spinner
Servos:Three Ares AZS1207 9g analog micro
Transmitter:Ares 2.4GHz six-channel aircraft
Receiver:Ares 2.4GHz six-channel aircraft; Aegis NFP control board
Battery:Ares 600mAh 3S lithium polymer with JST connector and JST-XH balancing tap
Motor:Ares 350 AZS1409 1400Kv brushless outrunner
Propeller:Ares AZSP06540 6.5 x 4E
ESC:Ares AZS1410 15A brushless
Operator Skill Level/Age:Beginner; 14+
Available From:Ares-rc.com or any participating HobbyTown store
Price (USD):$199.99 plus shipping and applicable tax

This review will focus on a truly amazing bit of technology wrapped in one fun package for all skill levels. The exciting new Ares Advantage Decathlon 350 RTF from Firelands Group, a supplier of exclusive R/C products to HobbyTown stores goes from a self-righting trainer with limited bank angles and coordinated turn mixing to an all-out aerobatic park flyer with a flip of the switch on the transmitter. It's made possible by the amazing Aegis Natural Flight Progression or NFP system. In either Beginner or Intermediate modes, releasing the sticks brings the model back to straight and level flight. Even in the all-out Unassisted mode, the NFP system can aid in getting reoriented simply by switching back to either Beginner or Intermediate via the transmitter. The Aegis NFP system's Tail-Lock technology helps keep the rudder straight on both takeoffs and landings, eliminating the sources of a lot of beginner stress.

For pilots who already own a Spektrum or JR 2.4GHz radio system with at least six channels, the RTF's receiver will bind with that of the Decathlon with the aid of an off-the-shelf Spektrum satellite receiver. If one owns a Futaba S-FHSS or FASST protocol system with at least six channels, an RFR, or ready-for-receiver version of the Decathlon is available. The NFP system on that version will interface with a Futaba receiver via an S.BUS adapter as well as the aforementioned Spektrum and JR systems.

Very little needs to be done to get airborne, so let's get started once we sneak a peek at the full-scale Decathlon.

Prototype

The American Champion Aircraft Corporation 8KCAB Super Decathlon is an aerobatic light aircraft which traces its lineage to the Aeronca Champ of 1945 and subsequently the American Champion Citabria of 1964. Aerobatics were the intent of the design; spelled backwards, the name is "airbatic."

The original Decathlon was introduced in 1970 and the Super Decathlon as represented by this model in 1976. The aircraft was discontinued in the 1980s due to an overall slump in civil aviation sales, but was reintroduced in 1990. The original Champ was also reintroduced in 2007 to take advantage of new light aircraft rules. Both remain in production today.

Contents

Everything needed to get airborne is in one box:

  • Preassembled and decorated fuselage, landing gear and tail surfaces
  • Ares six-channel park flyer transmitter with delta/elevon mixing
  • 600mAh 3S lithium polymer battery
  • Eight heavy-duty AA-cell transmitter batteries
  • DC li-po balancing charger with AC adapter
  • Spare hardware and propeller
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • Photo illustrated manual and quick start guide

Optional but recommended:

  • E-flite 3" lightweight servo extension (EFLREX3L) or equivalent to aid in connecting and disconnecting the aileron servo when the wing is installed and removed

Waiting inside the very sturdy shipping carton was a very attractive display carton. HobbyTown shoppers are going to have no problem finding the Decathlon on the shelves.

Everything was very well packed with the only visible flaw being some odd scratches on the left side of the cowl. The decals were nicely applied, but had bubbled in places during transit. No problem getting them to smooth out with a thumb, but a couple of the stars needed a bit of help with some foam glue.

The color scheme features the famous Decathlon star and sunburst pattern in blue over white. What didn't show in the photos and videos I'd seen prior to seeing an actual model is the cream colored lower fuselage. Definite touch of class.

Another touch of class was the well marked hardware bags along with some spares. A very welcome option provided in the spares bag but not mentioned in the manual is a propeller saver. This allows the prop to be attached with a rubber band instead of with nuts. Transmitter batteries, a flight battery, a DC balancing charger and its AC adapter round out the contents along with a beautifully written instruction manual and quick start guide.

It's a nice touch and one which should save propellers during the inevitable hard landings to which beginners may subject this model.

Assembly

Tail and Landing Gear

Attaching the tail surfaces takes but a few minutes to accomplish.

The vertical stab presses in place atop the horizontal stab before the entire assembly is placed on the fuselage. Two small screws placed in the holes beneath the fuselage hold the entire assembly in place. I opted to use the supplied phillips screwdriver as a beginner might and it's a perfect match to the supplied hardware.

Two washer head screws attach the tail wheel bracket in place. The pushrod clevises are then snapped into the outermost holes of the control horns and secured with a short length of silicone tubing. It's important that the clevises only be attached to the outer holes for the NFP system to function properly.

Ares did an outstanding job of centering the rudder and elevator servos and adjusting the clevises to the correct length. They simply snap in place. The manual rightly states later on that the mechanical adjustment be fine tuned later.

The main landing gear are next and simply press in place. They're held in place by a pair of washer head screws offset to one another in countersunk holes. With that, the fuselage is complete.

Wing

As with the fuselage, the wing is assembled and ready to go with minimal fuss. I say "minimal" because the aileron servo lead needs to be plugged into the NFP control board. The manual erroneously instructs one to plug the lead into the second position from the front. That's where the rudder attaches. The correct position is just behind it in the third slot from the rear, but it's a snug fit. Anyone wishing to remove the wing for storage will be well advised to invest in a short servo extension. Before the video shoot, I picked up an E-flite 3" lightweight servo extension (EFLREX3L) which made the tasks of installing and removing the wing a whole lot easier.

The battery lead coming off of the ESC should be fed through the hole leading in the battery compartment before the wing is attached. The wires are on the short side, but the ESC is held in place with hook-and-loop and is easily relocated for a bit more slack, although not much.

I noticed that one of the motor leads had become unplugged which gave me the perfect excuse to remove the cowl and photograph the motor after attaching the wing to the fuselage with its single screw. The label on the endbell had come loose; no big deal. Once the motor was reconnected, I fired up the transmitter in Unassisted mode, plugged in a battery with a JST connector which I had on hand and checked the controls. Everything worked just fine and all of the control surfaces were in trim.

The propeller installation completes the Decathlon. A 3mm nut is threaded onto the motor shaft followed by the prop, a washer, another 3mm nut and a 3mm lock nut.

I quickly discovered that, despite all the spare hardware, a 3mm nut was missing. It only took a moment to get one from the parts bin. Ares recommends that pliers may be used to snug the nuts. I'm fortunate enough to have the four-way wrench from my late '80s Tamiya Blackfoot monster truck; it's the perfect tool for jobs such as this.

Once the prop is bolted down, the spinner is pressed onto the end of the motor shaft.

Done deal!

Completion

At this point, the Decathlon is ready to fly once the flight battery is charged and installed. The model is designed to balance at 40mm +/- 5mm behind the LE of the wing simply by installing the supplied battery.

From there, the manual goes into great detail on behalf of beginners regarding proper trim, control surface operation, motor operation and so forth. Both the manual and the quick start sheet are well worth the read in order to properly set the NFP system and ready the Decathlon for flight.

It was difficult to look at the completed model and think of it as a trainer. It looks every bit the part of a fully aerobatic Decathlon park flyer, which in reality it is.

After charging the flight battery with the supplied charger in about 45 minutes, it was time to give this model a whirl.

Flying

System Calibration

Soon after the Decathlon shipped, I received a call from Michael Hines at Firelands Group. We spent quite a bit of time discussing the setup and operation of the NFP system and I'll give it to you in a nutshell.

Before the maiden flight, all transmitter trim tabs should be set to neutral and when the model is powered up with the NFP switched off, all control surfaces must also be mechanically neutral.

The model should be placed on a flat surface with the tail raised to straight and level flight attitude, or about 3.5" (89mm). When the NFP switch is flipped back to beginner mode, some movement of the surfaces is normal. Here's the rub: They are not to be adjusted with the transmitter trim tabs. Instead, the NFP trim button on the upper left of the transmitter is held in and the corresponding stick bumped in the direction one wishes the control surface to move. In other words, adding down trim to the elevator is as easy as pressing and holding the button and bumping the elevator stick toward the top of the transmitter, or the normal direction for down elevator. The setup needs only be done in one of the NFP modes.

When all of the surfaces are adjusted in this manner, it's fun time. This video produced by Firelands gives an excellent overview on what one can expect in the three different flight modes:

Ares Decathlon 350 NFP Flight Modes (3 min 5 sec)

Since there was a special event at my club's field, I brought the Decathlon to a nearby grass field for the maiden flight. I wanted to get a feel for the plane without the NFP, so after snapping some beauty shots and performing the usual range and ground handling checks, it was takeoff time, but not before some other flyers asked questions about the model and complimented its great looks.

These are the photos I snapped prior to the maiden flight:

Michael told me that the power was more than adequate to get this little plane hustling. He also told me that the ailerons were very responsive and he was right on both counts. The Decathlon was airborne within a few feet, needing only a couple of clicks of left aileron trim to get it flying right, not to mention flying very quickly. The speed is deceptive; I was well downrange in a matter of seconds.

Aileron response, even with a single servo, was immediate. Steep, high-G turns were the norm with even the slightest stick movement. Once I got a feel for the handling, I pulled off some smooth barrel rolls, loops of all sizes and even a few Immelmann turns for good measure. I came out of one Immelmann and held the Decathlon inverted for a few moments. The semi-symmetrical airfoil calls for some down elevator to keep it flying inverted, but fly inverted it did as I rolled out to straight and level.

Someone flying this model with a different radio will want to add some exponential to those ailerons, but I'll be danged if it wasn't fun just the way it was.

I wanted to try the NFP, so I flew for only a minute or two before landing. And what a landing. This is one of the easiest landing models of any size I have ever flown. Even without the NFP helping to hold the tail, the Decathlon practically glided in with only a small bit of power. I have no doubt that I could have dead-sticked the landing with no drama whatsoever.

I disconnected the flight battery, reconnected it and calibrated the NFP. A check of the control surfaces in Beginner mode showed smooth if shallow coordination of all control surfaces with Intermediate less so. There's also gyro stabilization at work here. Handling the model caused the system to try and compensate by moving the servos. Very nice.

Up it went in Beginner mode. I don't normally care for electronic flight aids, but this was a whole new thing. All I had to do for nicely coordinated if somewhat wide turns even at full stick throw was to simply steer with the right stick. I released the stick coming out of a turn and the NFP brought the Decathlon right back to straight and level flight. Same with a dive. Stick's released, model's flying straight.

Flipping to Intermediate mode was seamless. This mode forces some use of the rudder stick to help coordinate turns. Turns were much steeper, although it was still impossible to either roll or loop. Recovery was the same.

Another seamless transition to Unassisted mode and I was back to doing loops, rolls and Immelmanns with glee, not to mention another perfect landing.

Since I only had the battery which came with the model, I was going to call it a day when one of the other modelers offered to charge up the flight battery. Heck, I wasn't going to say no to a bonus flight.

Once more, I was looping, rolling, doing low passes and generally having a ball. I didn't wish to tempt fate without first getting video, so it wasn't long before I performed perfect landing number three.

The day came at last to get video at the Coachella Valley Radio Control Club east of Palm Springs, California. Club videographer George Muir was on hand to record the action.

I had some difficulty readjusting the NFP before takeoff; I wanted to get video of the system in action. The electronic trim simply wouldn't respond, but as it turned out, the model flew fine. My guess is that the system, once adjusted, cannot be improperly readjusted.

Up it went for its first flight off a paved runway in Beginner mode. The Tail-Lock system did its job well in the breeze. Once more, that Beginner mode showed its tendency toward very shallow turns; it almost didn't want to turn left at all once I was in the pattern. In retrospect, my airspeed may have been too fast; although the controls are mixed, the throws are shallow. Things were better on Intermediate mode, but it only took a few seconds for me to decide to put the Decathlon through its paces in all-out manual control.

There's a lot more room at the club than there is at the grass field where I first flew, so I had no qualms about opening the throttle for some fast passes and a full compliment of aerobatics, including some surprisingly nice inverted flight. This airframe and power system are a joy to fly for any pilot. They're efficient as well.

As before, I didn't bring a charger since I didn't intend to fly a second time. Another pilot offered up his charger to bring the pack back up to snuff; it was charged and ready in only 30 minutes.

George offered to shoot additional video and I agreed. Off it went once more, but the model acted as if the wheels were jamming. I didn't want to take a chance since I thought it possible that the NFP was improperly calibrated. I switched it off for another round of full-control flight and upon landing, I quickly discovered that the tires had in fact pulled away from the hubs and were rubbing on the insides of the wheel pants.

Pity that I didn't have the time to stay around for another charging session. I was simply having too much fun watching this seemingly innocent park flyer blasting over the desert at some truly impressive speeds.

Aerobatics and Special Flight Performance

I can't recall any recent review in which both aerobatics and special flight performance were at the forefront. Switch on the training aids and the otherwise aerobatic Decathlon becomes a pussycat. Switch them off and the experienced pilot can command a full compliment of loops, rolls, stalls and such.

Most electronic flight aids I've experienced have been less than useful in my opinion. Not so the Aegis NFP. It's completely unobtrusive, seamless in transition as stated earlier and perhaps best of all, it feels natural. In fact, the Tail-Lock feature can be used by any pilot. It does a superb job of keeping the tail in line during takeoff. Once the Decathlon is airborne, it can be switched off for full control.

Is This For a Beginner?

Absolutely, emphatically and unquestionably yes. This may well be among the best choices on the market for a surface R/C enthusiast to join the world of model aviation. Such a modeler would already have overcome obstacles such as control reversal when the model is flying toward him or her. Once mastered, this model is unlikely to gather dust in a closet or garage since it's a fast and fun aerobatic bundle of energy with the NFP switched off.

Needless to say, this is an excellent choice for a beginner already comfortable with an aileron trainer. A raw beginner with no R/C experience can probably teach him or herself to fly, but such a user must keep in mind the sheer speed when flying and gliding capabilities while landing. It needs to be flown in a very large area, especially in Beginner mode if the airspeed gets a bit high. My recommendation would be to seek the help of experienced pilots at the local R/C club field and to learn to fly on the Intermediate mode.

Flight Video and Photo Gallery

Firebrands' own YouTube video shows just what a great flyer the Decathlon is: Ares RC Decathlon (3 min 36 sec)

Here's my turn at the sticks. Bounced my first asphalt landing, but this model is so forgiving that it almost looked like a touch-and-go:

Ares Advantage Decathlon - RCGroups.com (1 min 45 sec)

Conclusion

If this great new model is any indication, Firelands Group and HobbyTown have a winning brand on their hands. The Ares Advantage Decathlon 350 RTF truly is a model for everyone. It helps teach basic flying skills with or without instruction (again, I recommend flying with an instructor anyway) and grows with the literal flip of a switch into a fast, fun and exciting aerobatic model. Couple that with its great looks and this model deserves nothing less than two thumbs way up.

The Ares Advantage awaits at HobbyTown stores across the US or online. Don't keep that Decathlon waiting!

Special thanks go to Mike Hines at Firelands Group for making this model available for review. I can't begin to fathom how many times George Muir of the Coachella Valley Radio Control Club has assisted me with his video shooting skills. Jim T. Graham of RCGroups.com arranged for this review to take place and, of course, Angela Haglund of the authors' forum gets all of our reviews and news stories together for our vast and growing audience.

Super special thanks to you in that audience of R/C enthusiasts! Enjoy your stay here at RCGroups.com.

Pluses and Minuses

Pluses abound, including:

  • Outstanding flight characteristics regardless of the flight mode
  • Sales, service and support are available at any HobbyTown store or online via their website
  • The NFP system does its job well with seamless transition between modes
  • Excellent instruction manual
  • Can be flown with a Spektrum or JR radio with nothing more than an onboard satellite receiver
  • Users with Futaba S-FHSS or FASST protocol radios can choose the receiver-ready version, requiring only their receiver and an S.BUS adapter to interface with the NFP system
  • Nicely made and finished; the attractive color scheme is easy to see in the air
  • Full-sized, six-channel transmitter is a cut above many transmitters supplied with entry level models
  • A marvelous all-around model which will grow as a pilot's skills do

Very few minuses:

  • The Beginner mode seems to work a little too well if the airspeed is too high
  • Tires fit loosely on their hubs, although that's easily corrected with a dab of foam-safe CA or foam glue
  • Aileron response in Unassisted mode is touchy with the stock radio
  • Decals have a tendency to lift, especially the windshield
Last edited by DismayingObservation; Feb 08, 2015 at 11:16 PM..
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Old Feb 19, 2015, 05:51 PM
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While many tout the HZ Champ as the go-to plane for learning how to fly RC, I chose the road less traveled and selected an Ares Gamma 370.
That was 3 years ago and I still tell folks about that plane and what it taught me.
This Advantage Decathlon is whole 'nother world from the Gamma and shows how the Ares line is maturing and bringing well thought-out products to the forefront.

Smaller and more accessible than the Apprentice S (you can fly this one any where), plenty of power, ability to work with different radio systems, it's simply amazing and open minded how far we've come these last 3 years.

Congrats to Ares/Firelands Group and thank you Dismaying Observation for a very nice review.
If I was just starting RC all over again, I'd be all about this one.
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Old Feb 20, 2015, 10:47 AM
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I like the fact that they have allowed for various radio systems.

$200 is a considerable investment for a beginner that isn't sure they will pursue RC planes.

Compare this to the EFlite Sport Cub S, which by all accounts is an amazing beginner flyer.
Just recently a dad posted a video of his 5 yr old flying that plane and landing it in beginner mode.
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Old Feb 20, 2015, 02:21 PM
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hmm..... interesting. I wounder how this will compare to my $100 HZ mini super cub I learned on.
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Old Feb 20, 2015, 03:24 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by benskoning View Post
hmm..... interesting. I wounder how this will compare to my $100 HZ mini super cub I learned on.
Good question.

The Super Cub was a three-channel model with a 180 brushed motor and gearbox along with a 300mAh, two-cell li-po.

The Decathlon has four-channel control via a six-channel radio, a 600mAh, three-cell li-po, a brushless outrunner and is fully aerobatic. It's more money than the Super Cub used to be, but you get a lot for that money.
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Old Feb 20, 2015, 03:37 PM
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What about the Sport Cub S I mentioned in my earlier post? 150mAh, size of the champ and is RETA. RTF ~150 with SAFE.
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Old Feb 20, 2015, 04:10 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RyanFromYEG View Post
What about the Sport Cub S I mentioned in my earlier post? 150mAh, size of the champ and is RETA. RTF ~150 with SAFE.
Respectfully, this is an apples-and-oranges comparison. A smaller model with a single-cell battery and a brushed motor with a gearbox is going to win on price, but again, please compare the specs of the Decathlon to the Sport Cub. Also, consider that the Sport Cub was designed to be a trainer and little else.

From what I can ascertain, the Decathlon is an aerobatic plane with the ability to be electronically de-tuned to perform as a trainer. There's also the matter of material. The Decathlon is EPO and the Cub appears to be EPS.
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Old Feb 20, 2015, 05:11 PM
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Fair enough. I was merely looking at it from a trainer perspective and not as a trainer + next step plane.

This is probably more along the lines of an Apprentice.
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Old Feb 20, 2015, 05:32 PM
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That's a good comparison. It's smaller than an Apprentice and arguably "zoomier" looking, but again, a good comparison.
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Old Feb 20, 2015, 05:37 PM
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The thing going for this little bird is just that... It's a little bird that has Big Bird features built in and far less cost than the Apprentice S and you can fly it at the park w/o feeling like it's just too big, like the Apprentice S.
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Old Feb 20, 2015, 08:58 PM
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Question

Quote:
Originally Posted by DismayingObservation View Post
Respectfully, this is an apples-and-oranges comparison. A smaller model with a single-cell battery and a brushed motor with a gearbox is going to win on price, but again, please compare the specs of the Decathlon to the Sport Cub. Also, consider that the Sport Cub was designed to be a trainer and little else.

From what I can ascertain, the Decathlon is an aerobatic plane with the ability to be electronically de-tuned to perform as a trainer. There's also the matter of material. The Decathlon is EPO and the Cub appears to be EPS.
Based on your experiences with the Decathlon, do you think it's possible to fly it indoors? We have access to a local 'sportsplex' with a flying area the size of two soccer fields with 40' ceilings.

I currently have two 'outdoor' planes - an EasySky Wilga and a Yak-12 - that I fly in that space. The wingspans of those planes is just over 37"and they weigh around 14 ounces. Both have flaps and fly slowly enough to feel comfortable.

I'm wondering how fast the Decathlon needs to be flown. No flaps and a 'clipped wing' design typically means higher speed. On the other hand, both of my planes have 'conventional' radio systems vs. the NFP of the Decathlon.

Any thoughts?

Thanks!

Don
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Old Feb 21, 2015, 02:25 PM
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Wow...really good question!

The wing loading seems to be light enough to be able to fly it slowly given how well it glides and how slowly it can be flown in the Beginner mode.

An indoor space that large might actually be useable. I'd contact Firelands and get their feedback.
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Old Feb 21, 2015, 04:12 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DismayingObservation View Post
Wow...really good question!

The wing loading seems to be light enough to be able to fly it slowly given how well it glides and how slowly it can be flown in the Beginner mode.

An indoor space that large might actually be useable. I'd contact Firelands and get their feedback.
That's an excellent idea.

Thanks!

Don
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Old Feb 21, 2015, 04:26 PM
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I just sent a note and will report back when they reply.

Don
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Old Feb 21, 2015, 08:08 PM
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I believe the beginner modes in either SAFE or NFP will limit the roll rate, and that may not be what you want in a confined space. Most people using beginner mode on the Apprentice indicate it takes a lot of distance to make a turn.

The panic button for sure will still be useful indoors, but I suspect you'll want to start, in expert mode when indoors. Flaps might be nice but doesn't seem to have them OOB

Regards
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