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FMA Direct CoPilot II Review

The FMA CoPilot II is a huge upgrade to their CPD4 airplane leveling system, incorporating advances in sensors and greatly expanded capabilities. It is suitable for airplanes and helicopters.

Splash

Introduction


CPII Computer:(LxWxH):1.754" x 1.115" x 0.460" - 19 grams
CPII Main Sensor:(LxWxH):0.965" x 0.965" x 0.360" - 7 grams
IRNet Router:(LxWxH):1.205" x 1.005" x 0.532" - 8 grams
Vertical Sensor:< (LxWxH): 0.965" x 0.701" x 0.360" - 5 grams
Price as Tested:$209.95
Manufacturer:Revolectrix
Available From:FMA Direct

What would it be worth to you to avoid one crash? What would it be worth to try new maneuvers and know you can start over if you get in trouble? How about $209.95? With enough altitude and airspeed, there is a product that can recover your plane quickly and put it level. The CoPilot II from FMA Direct is creating a lot of excitement among Airplane and Helicopter fliers. It is an electronic device that levels your plane when you center your radio sticks. It plugs between the receiver and servos on your aircraft and sends corrective signals to put the aircraft in an upright position very quickly. Intended for anyone that wants help in leveling his aircraft, it should be widely appreciated by beginners and anyone who hesitates to attempt advanced maneuvers for fear of disorientation and crashing. The unit is not an autopilot and will not automatically take over all control of the flight path and altitude of the aircraft, but will put the aircraft in a level orientation if enough altitude and power are available. This review will be done with airplanes in mind, because I do not have much helicopter experience. There is a great thread HERE on RCGroups that covers many questions and answers about initial setup and operation of the CPII, and most of the information is about helicopters. Howard Matos from FMA Direct is involved with many of the answers there. THIS is the page for all FMA Direct product questions and answers on RCGroups.

System Combo 3:

Box contents:

  • CPII Computer Module
  • Main Sensor
  • Vertical Sensor
  • IRNet Router
  • Hand Held Programmer
  • USB PC Interface
  • Quick Start Guide

Kit Requires:

  • Fully Tested and Functioning Aircraft or Helicopter
  • Computer with Internet Connection for Reference Manual and Firmware Updates

How It Works

The CoPilot II is an advancement of FMA’s CPD4 leveling system that has been around for several years now. Both units use Infrared sensors to read the difference between sky and ground temperature. Normally the sky is colder than the ground, and these temperature differences allow the sensors to relay information to an onboard computer. One pair of sensors look forward and aft, another pair looks to the right and left of the aircraft and a third pair looks directly up and down. These three orientations cover the 3 dimensions that aircraft move through. When the aircraft is banked, pitched or inverted, the sensors relay a change in temperature orientations to an on board avionics computer which calculates the corrections needed to quickly level the aircraft from any position. “Stick Priority” settings allow the pilot to override the computer when turns or acrobatics are desired. If an emergency develops, the pilot lets the sticks snap to the center, and if there is enough airspeed and altitude, the CoPilot II quickly levels the aircraft.

There are a lot of technical details that are interesting about this product, but space is limited, and you will find all of those answers in the Reference Manual .

Briefly, here are some key points: The CPII senses temperature difference between sky and ground, making it immune to a bright sun in the sky. In fact, it is possible to fly at night with the system, but THIS IS NOT RECOMMENDED!! The sensors convert analog signals to digital before sending them to the computer, making interference unlikely. If the unit is used in large, gas powered planes, a buffer is recommended in the servo lines. With the vertical sensor installed, special aircraft “3D” flight modes are possible, including inverted, hover, knife edge right wing down, knife edge left wing down, and the default upright and level. Options for recovery from emergency situations are level, emergency recovery with increased throws, or no recovery. Gains can be set for the amount of throw used to recover the aircraft. Stick priority is the amount of pilot override of the CPII’s tendency to level the aircraft. And there are a variety of trimming options for all possible flight modes. All in all, you should be able to fine tune this unit to your liking!

Assembly

I will offer a brief summary of the installation, programming or adjustments that need to be made when using the CoPilot II. I spent several hours reading and studying the Quick Start Guide and later, the full Reference Manual to understand enough to do an installation. Because the CoPilot II is so versatile, it has many possible installations and dozens of operation adjustments. It will require you to carefully read and understand the installation steps (and later the programming and operation options) to get the exact flight results you want. For instance, the Reference Manual contains 7 pages of flow diagrams that spell out possible programming routes in the hand held programmer. I recommend you download it, read it, remember it and reread it as new questions arise.

HERE is the Quick Start Guide

HERE is the Reference Manual

HERE are the Frequently Asked Questions.

Basic layout of components

The CPII sits in between the receiver and servos to modify the commands to the servos that are needed to level your aircraft. NOTE: The throttle servo IS NOT plugged into the CPll! There are 3 external components and an internal avionics computer that are installed on your aircraft. All components connect with heavy gauge servo wire and universal servo plugs. The main sensor is a square with 4 Infrared “eyes” that look out of each face. My CPII came with the optional Vertical Sensor, which I would strongly recommend to everyone. There is an IRNet Router which is used to communicate with the onboard computer and hand held programmer. Finally, there is an onboard computer that sits next to your receiver.

Fuselage

After flight testing and trouble shooting with FMA Direct, it was determined that by placing the main sensor at a 45 degree angle (to avoid looking through the canopy), it eliminated several flight modes from operating. This is a limitation of the system. Modes that became inactive were vertical hover and both knife edge orientations. Level mode and inverted mode worked fine. The components were reinstalled in different locations.

Install the main sensor securely so that the IR eyes can clearly see the horizon. The sensor must sit level when the plane is flying level, although small tilts can be calibrated. It can be placed on the top, or bottom of the plane, but it can’t have engine exhaust blowing on it, or dirtying up the sensors. You can rotate the main sensor 45 degrees to avoid canopies or landing gears from blocking the view, however, a 45 degree installation will eliminate the 3D modes of vertical hover and knife edge. The sensors must be out in the open, not under a canopy. The vertical sensor must be at least 6” away from the main sensor with the arrow facing skyward. Be sure the sensors do not block each other’s view. I had a problem when an aileron partially blocked the view of the vertical sensor. The unit still leveled the plane, but the preflight showed "Bad Weather" even on bright, sunny days. A sensor move solved the problem. The IRNet router can be anywhere, as long as the 4 IR sensors can see the outside world. You point the hand held programmer at this router to set the computer options, and perform preflight checks. The IRNet router could actually be removed after the daily preflight setup, but would need to be reattached for preflight, or any changes of aircraft and settings. The avionics computer sits next to the receiver and plugs into several channels, as well as the corresponding servos.

Radio Installation

Flight surface servos are plugged into the CPll computer, then pigtails are attached to the correct receiver channels as needed. Spend time to make sure you have mapped servos to correct receiver channels.

Completion

Once the hardware is installed securely, you can move on to aircraft setup and programming. Programming is not difficult, because the hand held programmer steps you through the initial aircraft setup with simple yes or no questions, or simple choices in a menu. As you begin to choose options to control the CPII remotely, however, many choices need to be made about switches or knobs on your transmitter, the “Flight Modes” you desire and the various “Recovery” and “Trim” options for your aircraft. It is fair to say that it will take many flights to explore and fine tune your aircraft and choices to fly as you would like. Here are some key adjustments that affect the performance of the aircraft.

Key Adjustments:

  • "Stick Priority" sets the level of pilot override of the CPll. A large number (120%) gives the pilot more authority in flying, or more of a feeling that the CPll is not trying to level the plane. A small number (50%) gives a feeling that you are forcing the plane to turn, bank, or maneuver away from level.
  • "Gains" set the amount of movement on your flight surfaces to put the plane level. Higher gains (90%) aggressively bring the aircraft back to level. Lower gains (30%) take a little longer to level the aircraft. Too high of a "gains" setting causes the aircraft to "hunt" or oscillate around level.
  • "Emergency Recovery" uses 2 times the normal throw for up to 2 seconds, to level the aircraft quickly.

SPECIAL NOTE: The CPII attempts to hold the aircraft level, but does not know how fast you are flying. If you get too slow, the aircraft will stall. Do NOT plug the throttle servo into this unit. It is meant for flight controls only, and you need normal throttle control to keep your aircraft flying fast enough for a proper flight path. When you get in a dangerous flight situation with the CPII in control, you generally add power to give it flying speed to work with.

Before your first flight with CoPilot II, do a standard range check of your radio. While outside, activate the CPII with a designated remote switch or knob, then recheck the direction and throw of all your controls. Some controls may move a bit, or sit off center because the computer is working to level the plane, even though it is sitting still. Aim the programmer at the IRNet router and press Enter. The programmer and router will communicate with each other. The first time, go to the Quick Start menu and step through by pressing Enter. Use Inc or Dec to change values or answer questions about the sensor setup and remote switch choices. Next, use Preferences menu to select flight modes, gains and stick priority settings. Finally, step through the Preflight menu to check on weather conditions and centering of control surfaces.

Flying

CAUTIONS: After working with the CPll on dozens of flights, I feel is is important to point out an obvious but essential characteristic of the device. It IS NOT an autopilot! If the aircraft has sufficient airspeed and altitude, the CPll puts your aircraft level. That means you must ALWAYS continue to FLY THE PLANE. If the CPll levels your plane toward the flight line, YOU must turn it away afterward. If you have throttle cut way back and let the CPll level your aircraft, it may stall for lack of airspeed. This is especially true of landing patterns. In short, you must read and follow the instructions for flying in a cooperative way with the CPll.

Normal operation of your aircraft on a day to day basis involves using the programmer to run through the PREFLIGHT menu at the start of flying. It is not necessary to reprogram the other menus unless you change something on the aircraft, or want to try a different flight mode.

Basics

Taking Off and Landing

Decide if you will take off with CPII on or off. If the unit is on, make your takeoff run following the suggestions for either tail draggers or nose wheel planes. Because the CPII is trying to level the plane when you are not moving the sticks away from center on your transmitter, it will give down elevator with a tail dragger as you start your run. You have to hold enough up elevator to prevent a nose over as you start your takeoff, then release it a bit as the plane starts to lift. Takeoff and climb to a safe altitude, and try some turns or maneuvers with the CPII switched on to LEVEL flight mode. Release the sticks and watch the response. Get a feel for the controls with the unit on, and decide if you will land with CPII running. Landing is a little strange with the CPII on the first few times. It attempts to hold the nose level, even if you have cut back power, and this can lead to a stall. You either have to put in down trim on your transmitter as you land, or trim the CPII down a little for "level" flight, or push forward on the elevator stick a bit as you land. Pushing forward on the stick is a very unnatural feeling, and I don't recommend it. The other option is to turn off the CPII for landing.

Aerobatics/Special Flight Performance

If you set stick priority to 120% and gains down to a lower percentage, the plane will respond pretty naturally as you move the sticks. I found that the CPll seemed to take away some of the throws in the flight surfaces when it was on, so I flew at high rates to do aerobatics (that may very well be a setting I have not tweaked in yet). With the unit ON all the time, you can do aerobatics, but you have to hold in controls throughout the maneuver. For instance, if you are doing a loop and pull over the top, usually you ease back on the elevator for the downward portion. If the CPll is on and you relax the stick, if will quickly give UP and flatten the plane to level. Rolls behave in a similar fashion. If you relax the aileron command, the CPll will quickly put the plane level (either upright or inverted, whichever is closer) then finish the roll to be upright. Snaps are fun to execute at high altitude, just to release the sticks and watch the computer figure out the fastest set of moves to level. So far it is way faster than I am!

Is This For a Beginner?

Absolutely!!! This is the greatest thing since frosting in a can! Its purpose and intent is to save the aircraft from pilot mistakes, and it does it very well. No piece of equipment can save every model airplane from every situation, but properly installed, and with normal help from an experienced pilot, the CoPilot II will give most beginners a great deal of success. I even predict that it will pay for itself in wreckage that most beginners will be able avoid (with proper supervision and training, of course).

Flight Video/Photo Gallery

The next photos show Inverted Flight Mode with rudder held in by the pilot.

Knife Edge Flight Mode adjusts flight path for about 1 second, then holds steady.

Hover Flight Mode done at safe altitude, only adding throttle to keep it moving slightly upward.

Here is what I was doing during the videos when I announced "Hands off". It is NOT recommended that you remove your hands from the sticks as you fly with the CoPilotll. I flew quite high to be safe.

Oscillations or "waggling" in the flight path were from too high of a "gains" setting. I will continue to adjust gains and trim through future flights, until the CoPilotll feels more natural in normal flight. I find that I am "growing" into a cooperative way of flying with this hardware.

Downloads

Conclusion

The CoPilot ll works very well, and I just scratched the surface of trimming and gains settings. FMA Direct has a winner on their hands. The CoPilot ll improves on the CPD4 with big advances in computer power for more flying modes. It also features much smaller sensors, and an innovative Infrared Router and Programmer for easy adjustments to the system, with room for future add-ons. A "Flight Pack" of components has just been made available to equip a second or third aircraft with hardware, without getting another programmer.

How well does is work? It works GREAT! I gave the controls of my U Can DO 3D airplane, set up for maximum throws, to a low time pilot. We had the plane way up there with 1/2 throttle, and I had one hand clenched around the handle of my radio for emergency extraction (you know, yank it away from the poor guy if he got in trouble). The CPll was set for LEVEL, and he was instructed to keep some power on and hold the controls over until the maneuver was completed. He flew graceful turns in both directions, or held rock steady headings between turns. He was grinning ear to ear. Just to test the unit, I had him do a high rate roll. The plane quickly rolled about 270 degrees, then he let off the aileron. Instead of laying on its side, the CPll kicked in and finished the roll with a very tiny delay. Next he tried a loop. He let off in a slight dive, the CPll brought the nose to level. I think he will seriously consider getting one!

Special thanks to Dave Pearcy for the in-flight still photos!

Pluses:

  • Works as advertised, levels aircraft quickly
  • Multiple options for operation and tuning
  • Easy reprogramming of settings and flight modes
  • Highly adjustable “feel” for operation
  • Support for “3D” modes with emergency recovery

Minuses:

  • A 45 degree main sensor installation will eliminate vertical hover and knife edge modes
  • 2 to 3 components installed on outside of aircraft
  • Complex learning curve for full operation of all features
Last edited by Angela H; Jul 11, 2009 at 08:36 AM..

Discussion

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Old Jul 20, 2009, 11:26 AM
Dr. Dave
USA
Joined Nov 2005
1,316 Posts
Tom, seriously, outstanding job. Great dedication to detail and effort. Loved the voice in the background explaining what was going on. Great video too. Way to go.
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Old Jul 20, 2009, 06:29 PM
Oopss. Oh well.
borneobear's Avatar
In the tropics
Joined Jan 2006
3,614 Posts
Just the kind of review I was looking for. Thanks and superbly done.

BB
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Old Jul 22, 2009, 07:20 AM
Playing chicken with gravity..
EYEinSKY's Avatar
Michigan
Joined Apr 2005
263 Posts
Thank you fellas. This is a really interesting product, and can radically change your flying experience!
Tom
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Old Jul 22, 2009, 08:25 AM
Registered User
PatricMichigan's Avatar
United States, MI, Hillsdale
Joined Apr 2008
628 Posts
I saw Tom fly this once and was really impressed with the way it could straighten and level a plane out no matter what it's attitude when turned on.
The only thing I could see wrong- and its minor- is that if it was a brand new pilot he might spend too much time worrying about this and not enough learning how to fly. But on the other hand- set up right this would save a lot of beginners from crashes.
Patric
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Old Aug 10, 2009, 10:53 AM
I hate waiting for parts
Mike_Then's Avatar
United States, NC, Garner
Joined Apr 2001
6,447 Posts
Looks like this is EXACTLY what I need for my Blade 400 while I am learning to fly. I am at the frustration point after my 2nd crash and I bet this helps me gain back the confidence I have lost.
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Old Aug 16, 2009, 06:00 PM
Playing chicken with gravity..
EYEinSKY's Avatar
Michigan
Joined Apr 2005
263 Posts
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mike_Then
Looks like this is EXACTLY what I need for my Blade 400 while I am learning to fly. I am at the frustration point after my 2nd crash and I bet this helps me gain back the confidence I have lost.
Mike,
Check out the FMADirect site for comments / reviews of this product. This review is listed, but under that, there is a mini review by a beginning heli pilot. I think it is exactly what you need to read!
Tom
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Old Aug 17, 2009, 02:30 AM
Alam
RENO
Joined Aug 2007
521 Posts
Some fuel splash covers one sensor window up to 25 % or more

I had a bad experience with the Sensor its a thermopile comes in both analog and digital, please explain the case when some fuel splash covers one sensor window up to 25 % or more. Its very common with 2 stoke GAS engine. Let me know what system will do.

Fakhre Alam
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Old Aug 18, 2009, 08:37 PM
Playing chicken with gravity..
EYEinSKY's Avatar
Michigan
Joined Apr 2005
263 Posts
Quote:
Originally Posted by FAKHREALAM
I had a bad experience with the Sensor its a thermopile comes in both analog and digital, please explain the case when some fuel splash covers one sensor window up to 25 % or more. Its very common with 2 stoke GAS engine. Let me know what system will do.

Fakhre Alam
Here is the section from the Reference Manual...
Must not be installed under a canopy or inside a cockpit (the
infrared sensors cannot sense temperature differences through
a canopy or plastic windows).
 Should be at least 6 inches from other components (including
the Vertical Sensor Module, IRNet Router, digital servos, vertical
stabilizer, horizontal stabilizer and landing gear) and at
least 12 inches from engine and muffler.
 On fuel-powered aircraft, should be located where exhaust
will not accumulate on the infrared sensors during flights.

My guess is that if one sensor is cold from fuel, the avionics computer will think that the sensor is pointed at the sky, and tip the plane so that sensor is more toward the ground. If the cold sensor was pointed forward, the plane would point downward. If the cold sensor was on the muffler side, that side would tip toward the ground.

Take a good look at the Reference Manual link in the article, because it takes some study to understand the proper installation, and the actions of the unit. That said, if it is installed according to FMA's instructions, it works very well, and if you cooperate with it, will save your aircraft in new or unexpected situations.
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Old Dec 22, 2009, 03:17 PM
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frankswd's Avatar
Salem, OR
Joined Sep 2002
884 Posts
I'm thinking of putting this into my 20
% P-40!
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