|FORM500 RTF by Helimax (1 min 29 sec)|
|Diagonal Dimension:||19.7" (500mm)|
|RTF Weight:||3.91 lbs (1774g)|
|Lights:||LEDs under motors|
|Lifting Capacity:||2.2 lbs (1kg)|
|Gyro:||Build-in 6 Axis Gyro|
|Battery:||11.1V 5000mAh LiPo|
|Flight Time:||13-15 minutes approximately|
|Available From:||Tower Hobbies and Fine Hobby Stores Everywhere|
The Helimax Form 500 is classified by Helimax as a "Utility Drone. It has accessory mounting rails to allow for attachment of a variety of accessories open to your imagination. It comes with a camera holder that allows for a Go Pro camera to be attached and carried aloft but one I can also use to carry my DroneView camera from Hobbico so I can take video, stills as well as see FPV on my own tablet (camera and tablet are not included. The Form 500 is designed with extra lift capacity designed in so that we hobbyists can equip virtually any helicopter accessory and still fly with full capabilities. (Yes it can haul canned beverages per review testing.). It is also a fun copter for Beginners to experts to fly either day or night. The Form 500 is equipped with GPS and altitude hold as well as Headless Mode to keep flight direction the same as stick input. These make it easy for the new pilot and helps with taking video or still pictures for all pilots. It even has Return Home to help everyone keep their Form 500 if they become disoriented while flying her or encounter visibility problems.
The bright LEDs with blue in front and red in back help with orientation day and night and make night flying especially enjoyable. The orange balls on the front two legs are a great help with orientation in the day time when I fly her out a ways from me. Whether flying her for fun or to do some camera work I have enjoyed my time flying the Form 500 for this review. As new items for aerial use keep coming out it is nice to know that she has the lifting capability to handle more than an additional two pounds and can fly for fifteen minutes plus with the included 5000mAh battery that uses a Star connector and batteries with Dean connectors can be used as well. They even have an optional 3-cell 8000mAh available for her if longer flight time is needed.
They advertise the Form 500 as coming completely assembled and that is basically accurate but I did need to perform some very minor final assembly and some calibration procedures before flying the Form 500 and I strongly recommend that everyone perform the calibration procedures and not stop with the very minor final assembly. I have briefly covered these items below.
I plugged the power cord for the supplied Li-24 Charger into a wall outlet. The status LED on the charger started flashing green. I plugged the supplied charge adapter into the charger as shown in the manual. I set the battery type on the charger to LiPo and set the charging rate to 3A. I connected the balance lead on the supplied 11.1V 5000mAh battery pack into the center balance port on the charger and the main battery connector to the charge adapter I had previous connected to the charger (Star Connections). The charge status turned red and the three cell status LED came on to show charging had started. When the charging was complete the status LED turned green and I disconnected the battery and installed it under the Form 500 using the supplied battery straps.
The battery mount locks in place under the main frame for the Form 500 but easily slides out to allow for the battery to be charged away from the main frame. The battery can be removed from the holder by loosening the Velcro like straps that secure the battery to the battery holder if optional additional batteries are purchased to allow for more flight time without charging immediately but rather by switching the battery. Here are pictures of the battery secured to the battery holder.
It is possible to mount the body over or under the rotor arms. But the body fits best under the rotor arms and the rear LEDs are more visible with the body on the frame and under the rotor arms.
The rotor arms come folded down and they must be secured in the upright and locked position for operation. To do this I removed the four arm bolts, one per arm. I placed the plastic drone body shell in place and installed one rotor arm above the body shell and placed one of the bolts through the first motor arm, the body shell and then into the Form 500's main frame. I then tightened the rotor arm bolt with the supplied 3mm hex wrench. I repeated this process three more times until all four arms and the body shell were firmly in place and properly tightened.
I next did the calibrations with the propellers not yet installed. To do this I had to learn about the LED Indicators on the back left of the Form 500. There are three LEDs with blue on the outside, red in the middle and green on the inside. A steady blue LED on powering up indicates that the Form 500's controller is receiving signals from the transmitter. Flashing slowly indicates that Headless mode is active (the LEDs on the bottom side of the rear arms will flash at the same time. This blue LED is also involved in the Sensor Calibration Process.
Sensor Calibration is recommended if the Form 500 starts drifting while hovering in calm conditions, the flight controller has been replaced. I recommend doing the calibration when one first gets the Form 500 and periodically thereafter. It is quick and easy to do. With the form 500 on a flat level surface turn on the transmitter and then connect the battery on the Form 500 to power her up. When the blue LED is on and steady I moved the throttle up and pushed this same left control stick to the left so it was in the top left corner as shown in the picture below. The blue LED and the LEDs in the back rotor arms went out for five seconds. They then came back on and after that a moved the left stick back to top center and then back down to the middle starting position. Sensor Calibration had been completed. Next came Compass Calibration.
Compass Calibration should be performed when ever flying at a new flying site (or different from last flying session site) or when the red LED in back is not steady. That gave me two reasons to perform the calibration before the first flight.
To start the Compass Calibration I again turned on the transmitter and with the Form 500 on a flat smooth surface outside in an open area away from buildings and other possible sources of magnet interference I connect the flight battery. When the blue LED was steady I held down the right (elevator) stick as low as possible and the left stick up and into the right corner.
The red LED flickered showing the Form 500 had entered the Compass Calibration. Per the instruction manual I set down my transmitter and picked up the Form 500 and rotated her 360 degrees horizontally in a clockwise direction two times. Next I pointed the nose to the ground and I again rotated her horizontally 360 degrees clockwise twice. Next I returned it to a level position with the nose pointing away from me and rotated her up and over and around vertically for two 360 degree turns. I placed the Form 500 back on the ground and picked up the transmitter. I again held the right stick all the way down and this time I moved the left stick to the top left corner until the blue LED flashes. I then released the right stick and returned the left stick to the zero throttle position.
|Helimax Form 500 Compass Calibration (1 min 49 sec)|
To attach the propellers I followed the diagram on the technical update which had nuts and propeller direction from the instruction manual. I installed the propellers with the V on the propeller matching the V on the rotor arm so they were installed properly. They worked perfectly installed per the update. Later after working with the computer to update and make changes to the programming which was done with the propellers off. When I went to reinstall them I was looking at the manual and had forgotten about the update completely. I figured out what needed to be done with my friend Don. I later found the update. It is now attached to the instruction manual and I recommend everyone do that with the update or risk looking as clueless as I did.
To tighten the propellers I simply held the motor and spun the propeller on in the proper direction and hand tightened the propeller. The propellers have self tightening nuts and they have kept themselves on tightly throughout the test flying for this review. The propellers can be swiftly removed if desired and the bolts can be removed that secure the rotor arms in place to lower the arms to store the Form 500 which I have done for travel and storage.
Pre-Flight Check List (page 6 of the manual before every flight)
Switches 5 and 6 are on the top outside of the transmitter with five on the left and six on the right. The switch positions control flight modes and are explained in the manual. I start almost all my flights with both switches in the middle position. If I don't want GPS such as for an indoor flight I have switch 5 in the back position which is stabilize mode without GPS. The middle position I use is position hold mode and uses GPS. If during the flight I want the Form 500 to return and land I pull switch 5 to the forward position RTH. On switch 6 back and center position calls for Altitude hold and the forward position is for Headless Mode. In headless mode it doesn't matter which way the drone is facing as it moves the direction I move the right stick. This is a very helpful mode for most beginners who don't yet have their own head in the copter for orientation and directional control.
With the copter outside and away from buildings and trees the green LED will indicate if I have satellite link when I first power up the Form 500. After connecting the battery the GPS unit starts looking for satellites with switch 5 in the middle position. It takes about a minute for this process at times. A steady green LED indicates 3-4 satellite signals are being received while a flashing green LED indicates 5 or more signals are being received. In Northern CA I have been getting flashing and then solid as there is good satellite coverage where I live. Depending on where you live this amount can differ.
After a bit the Green LED returns to flashing and that indicates it is time to arm the motors as discussed above in the check list.
Both of these functions are performed by moving the left and right sticks on the transmitter to the bottom inside position for each stick. If off the motors should now turn on. If On they should turn off. I let the sticks go back to their normal position slowly and I power up with the throttle to take off.
The Form 500 is programmed to RTH if she looses signal from the transmitter. This is explained more fully in the manual. During my review this never activated on its own. It was tested by turning off the transmitter and it worked as expected. With GPS and Altitude hold on it returned to very close to where the flight started.
There is a live JST connector in the front of the plane. It can be used to power a variety of items available now and possible items for the future. I could power a separately obtained gimbal camera system that I could attach to the rails. I could also power a LED light strip system with the power supply.
The Form 500 has several flight modes and the desired mode is selected by the combination of positions chosen using switches 5 & 6. One position is Stabilize Mode that is selected with switch 5 back and it is programmed to keep the Form 500 stabilize and limits the amount of tilt and roll that can be obtained using the right stick and there is no GPS available so I can't use Return to Home when the flight is in this mode. It can be used with altitude hold on switch 6.
The Hold Mode uses GPS and the Form 500 will try and hold its position over a spot even in a breeze thanks to the GPS unit. It can also be used with switch 6 in one of the altitude hold positions or in the Headless Mode position. In the Altitude Hold position the controls are oriented to the Form 500 and its forward is forward and its right is its right. It is necessary for the pilot to have their head in the machine to properly control it. In Headless Mode it doesn't matter which way the machine is facing. Push the throttle stick to the pilots right it flies to the pilots right. Push it out and it flies out. The pilot doesn't have to worry about where it is facing as orientation of the copter doesn't matter.
If a flight starts using the Hold Mode as part of the process and thus has active GPS then the Return Home Mode can be activated by moving switch 5 to the forward position and the Form 500 will Return To Home all by herself. As initially setup it fill climb to 20m if flying home and return over the launch point. Mine was VERY slow to descend as seen in the video below which was the first use of the Return Home Mode. It was slightly faster on the second attempt. As discussed below the RTH descent speed can be adjusted using a PC computer and the supplied connection cable and the software on the Helimax website.
If Low Voltage occurs the Form 500 will self activate the Return to Home Mode and land back where she started. This is done automatically.
Return to Home video (First descent shown here was very slow in operation but second attempt [Not shown] was quicker.
|Helimax Form 500 Return To Home First Time Test (2 min 47 sec)|
As sold I found the Form 500 copter to be nicely set up for basic flight with limited speed, pitch and tilt. Still she could penetrate a 10 MPH + breeze.
After going through the Safety Check List and positioning myself a safe distance behind the Form 500 I start the motors and supply enough throttle for the copter to lift off and climb to 3-4 feet up where I go into a hover. There I can quickly confirm that she is operating properly and supply more throttle and fly her where I want to go. With switches 5 & 6 in the middle positions or with switch 6 in the forward position for Headless Mode takeoffs have been easy and well controlled.
To land I can put switch 5 in the RTH Mode and she will return herself and land. Normally I fly to where I want to land and hover and slowly lower her to the ground for a smooth landing. She is not a hard copter to takeoff or land.
Aerobatics do not appear to be the special performance feature for this Utility Drone. The fact that it can lift 2.2 pounds more than its weight even with the 5000mAh battery included that supplies 15 minutes of flight time is special. The rails under the Form 500 supplies locations where additional items can be attached including the camera mount that came with the Form 500. This camera mount (shown below) has rubber isolators that will help absorb vibration to allow for smoother video and clear stills using my Go Pro camera or my drone video camera. The supplied camera holder is perfect for securing my Go Pro camera but I can also separately attach my DroneView camera which both records and supplies FPV using a smart phone or in my case my Galaxy Tablet. For more information on the DroneView camera click here to see the review: DroneView Review
The included camera holder attaches to the support rails on the Form 500 in the front to supply a clear view for the camera. It is secured to the mounting rails with Allen nuts that go into the camera mount. Electric power is also available in the front of the Form 500 that could power a gimbal that might be purchased separately to keep a camera steady. The power comes available through a JST connector and could also be used to power a different add on option that the owner might create or that might be designed in the future.
A USB cable to link the Form 500 to a PC Computer is included with the Form 500 and two types of Software for the Form 500 are on the Helimax Website to upgrade and program the Form 500. When connected properly the PC Interface displays current data from the Form 500 flight controller and allows SOME features to be customized. To use this I followed the instructions in the manual and the Helimax Website and downloaded the flight controller program and the driver for the USB cable and RAN the programs on my computer. The procedure to install is in the manual on page 8.
A ComPort window appeared on my computer screen and this was used to assign a communications port to the USB cable and then I clicked on the connect button. My Form 500 was connected to the PC Interface and there was live data in the sensor window. Some of things that can be programmed include the Distance Limit and the Altitude Limit. The Distance Limit allows me to limit or increase the distance the Form 500 from the launch point in meters and the Altitude Limit lets me change the maximum height the Form 500 can climb in meters. When it reaches that height it stops climbing. The Low Voltage came set at 10.8 Volts. If flying longer distances I might raise this number to start the return Home and Landing process for low voltage. The Land Speed has three available settings for how fast the copter lowers itself. It came set to MED but can be changed to HIGH or LOW.
The controlling Firmware for the Form 500 can also be upgraded as improvements are made. Simply download the upgrade to the PC computer and follow the directions for the updates. Time will tell what future improvements in control will become available using computer programming updates.
Yes! While I recommend a smaller quadcopter to learn how to fly quadcopters; this one does have a good working Headless flight Mode that allows a beginner to control the Form 500 no matter what direction it is facing and a good working Return To Home Mode so it is Beginner friendly. I still consider it a better and safer second quadcopter but the person willing to learn and not just buy and try to immediately fly full out can be safe and successful with this copter.
|Demonstration Flight Helimax Form 500 Quadcopter (3 min 43 sec)|
The Form 500 was very quickly made ready for flight by locking the rotor arms into their proper positions with the four supplied bolts. The propellers screwed on as explained in the technical update and the included transmitter worked as described allowing for regular flight with GPS on or off. It does a good job of holding altitude and with GPS in holding position in a hover. It was only tested in winds of about 10 MPH with gusts slightly higher during this review. Return Home Mode worked well and came very close to the launch poin and was within 10 feet on all tests i made. The descent was very slow the first flight but became a little faster after that and they more so when I changed to programming on Land Speed using my computer. The Headless Mode was tested and worked as advertised. I tested its lifting and was able to transport three 12 ounce cans of beverage.
The instruction manual was adequate with the basic setup and flight operations but I would have liked a little more detail about what could be changed at this time using the PC Interface and the software I down loaded. I have described some of what I tested. I would have liked a more advance flight mode available at the flick of a switch for more advance flight but it is designed to be a Utility Drone and not a racer or aerobatic Drone. I might install an infrared camera on my drone to see how that works in detecting heat signatures both day and night. I found her an easy to track night flyer thanks to the bright red and blue LEDs on the rotor arms.
I want to thank HeliMax for supplying the Form 500 to RC Groups for this review. I want to thank my friends Dan and Chris for their assistance in the shooting of the in air media for this review as they flew while I shot pictures and video. Finally my thanks to our editor Angela for her assistance with this review.Last edited by Michael Heer; Mar 26, 2016 at 02:21 PM..
Michael, excellent review!! I read every word with great interest.
I just picked up a Form 500 from Tower Hobbies a week ago. I had a 20%-off coupon, so I only paid $254 for it. What a bargain.
So far, I have resisted the temptation to assemble it and fly it until I can get some concerns answered. I've been flying RC planes for many years and I'm not sure I like the fact that the throttle stick centers itself. When you arm the motors, do the propellers come up to flying speed because the stick is centered?
Is it possible to remove the springs from the throttle gimbal inside the radio?
Did you perform the software upgrades before or after the maiden flights?
After the upgrade, what parameters (if any) did you modify?
Thanks again for the great review.
P.S. Where are you in N.CA? I was stationed at Mather AFB from 1987-1991.
United States, MI, Northville
Joined Mar 2016
I'm thinking maybe I got a good one. Mine flies just fine. I was thinking I've taken it up around 250-300 feet. And probably 4 to 500 feet away from launch point. I try to land around 8 to 9 mins of flight just to make sure I don't run the battery down to much. Good luck with yours mystery
Doug, I still haven't tried mine yet. So, if I understand you correctly, once you arm the motors they spin up to near take-off speed because the throttle stick centered itself? But it does stay on the ground, right? Then...to take-off, you have to push the throttle stick past center to get it to take off? Did I understand all that correctly?
If so, I may look into removing the springs from the throttle stick. I was hoping to see some input from anyone who's done this. Maybe, there's some drawback or disadvantages that I'm not aware of. In all the years I've been flying, I've never had a transmitter that had a self centering throttle stick.
United States, MI, Northville
Joined Mar 2016
Yes when I return the stock back to center it throttles up. But does not take off. Until I push the stick past center. I think it's a bit easier to just give it lots of throttleto get it off the ground then let it go around 4 to 6 feet up. It holds there. Don't be afraid I've tested mine out a few times. I've taken it up around 100 feet. Made it lose control. Then just let go of the sticks. It auto corrects it self. Levels out and hovers. Then I take control again. I've done this many times same thing happens. Good luck with yours have fun.
Thanks Doug. I'm putting EC5 connectors on the stock battery and the batteries I just received, today. Unfortunately, my soldering iron crapped out on me. All my electrics use EC5's or EC3's. So, I really don't want a mix of different types of connectors. Hopefully, I'll get it in the air this week. Thanks again for the encouragement...much appreciated.
Thanks for the thorough review
Michael, thank you for putting your thoughts together to help us understand the Form 500 benefits. I had some minor setting issues with my throttle trim (I too thought the transmitter spring-assisted throttle would cause unplanned take offs). In my opinion, I would just reduce throttle trim to give me added certainty it would stay on the ground. I later found out the throttle trim needs to be about centered to land safely, stay on the ground and then be able to be disarmed. I only found that out with research from the Helimax technical assistance call line. Having made that adjustment I now think this quad is fantastic. The RTH and Headless modes really give you a sense of peace when flying.
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