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HobbyKing J-3 RTF Review

Four channels of 2.4GHz control, brushless outrunner power, a three-cell li-po and even scale looks...all for about 120 bucks, ready to fly. Low cost finally means not having to sacrifice fun - nor to say you're sorry for saving some dough.

Splash

Introduction

Anyone who has spent time here at RCGroups has doubtless seen an advertising banner for Hong Kong-based internet hobby dealer HobbyKing. I've been a HobbyKing customer for some time, having purchased quite a few Zippy, Turnigy and Flightmax packs from them over the years. They're almost impossibly inexpensive and often require the removal of the proprietary connector before one installs a Deans Ultra Plug or whatever one prefers, but they work extremely well and do so for quite a long time. Friends of mine who fly R/C and who can certainly afford to pay for the name-brand packs gleefully pay in the neighborhood of ten bucks for a 2200mAh 3S 20C li-po.

Equally inexpensive are their models, but as I wrote in the introductory header, low cost doesn't necessarily mean sacrificing fun or quality.

It's my pleasure to bring before you the HobbyZone J-3 RTF, also known worldwide as the FMS Mini J-3. It's manufactured under the FMS brand name by Shenzhen Famous Electronic Tech Co., Ltd. of Shenzhen City, China and comes equipped with HobbyKing's own brand of radio, servos, brushless outrunner motor, ESC and even a 1000mAh Turnigy li-po with a preinstalled JST power connector and DC balancing charger. The entire package with its preinstalled electrics and a surprisingly high level of scale detail is yours for a mere US$119.99.

Read that again: Four channels of guidance, 2.4GHz frequency-hopping spread spectrum transmission, a three-cell li-po with charger, EPO foam construction, a wealth of scale detail and lots more are yours for less than the cost of many bare ARF airframes.

Too good to be true? I honestly thought so at first. I'd promised myself that I would base this review on the J-3's merits aside from the price and as you'll soon see, there's a lot more to this amazingly nice model than the price would suggest.

Grab some refreshments and get ready for what may be the internet's most comprehensive review of this model.

It won't take much to get this Cubbie in the air, so let's clear off the workbench and get started.


Wingspan:40.5" (1030mm)
Wing Area:230 sq. in. (15 sq. dm)
Weight:22 oz. (625g)
Length:29.5" (750mm)
Wing Loading:1.5 oz/sq. ft. (41.5g/sq. dm)
Construction:Expanded polyolefin foam airframe with vacuum-molded plastic cowl, polystyrene windows, polystyrene engine detail, steel landing gear and tail reinforcements, rubber tires
Servos:HobbyKing PZ-15178 9g analog micro
Transmitter:HobbyKing N-4 four-channel 2.4 GHz spread spectrum park flyer with servo reversing, delta wing mixing and selectable Mode 1/Mode 2 operation
Receiver:HobbyKing YX400 four-channel 2.4 GHz spread spectrum
Battery:Turnigy 1000mAh 20-30C 3S lithium polymer with JST power connector and JST-XH balancing plug
Motor:HobbyKing GC-1300 1300Kv brushless outrunner
ESC:HobbyKing A-ZTW 20A brushless
Propeller:FMS brand composite, diameter/pitch rated at "8.6x9"
Typical Flight Duration:Six minutes
Minimum Skill Level:Intermediate per the manufacturer, beginner per the distributor
Manufacturer:Shenzhen Famous Electronic Tech Co., Ltd., 4/F, Building 5, The 3rd Industrial Zone, Tangtou Shiyan Town, Bao'an District, Shenzhen City, China 518105
Available From:HobbyKing.com
Catalog Number:2HK8Y-RTF
Price (USD):$119.99

Kit Contents

Just about everything necessary to get the J-3 in the air comes in the well-made, plain wrap shipping box:

  • Preassembled fuselage with interior and engine details
  • Preassembled wing with scale correct struts
  • Preassembled landing gear with rubber-tired wheels
  • Preinstalled HobbyKing four-channel 2.4 GHz park flyer radio system
  • Turnigy 1000mAh 20-30C 3S li-po
  • 800mAh DC balancing charger
  • Magnetic-tipped phillips screwdriver
  • Open end wrench to aid in propeller installation
  • Individually packaged screws and bolts
  • Composite propeller
  • Extra wing bolts, access hatch screws, clevises and control horns
  • Contact cement to aid with elevator/horizontal stabilizer installation

To complete the model, the following are required:

  • Eight AA-cell alkaline batteries for the transmitter
  • P1 phillips screwdriver to aid in attaching the wing bolts
  • Foam-safe medium CA to tack down loose parts and the auxillary support bars to the wing

Here's the part in our program where I get to look over the goods. Frankly, the goods looked pretty good, perhaps better than I expected them to be given the low purchase price.

The EPO foam was finished smoothly with only the tiniest of mold injection marks visible, tinier than those on many brand name models, in fact. The famous "Lock Haven Yellow" paint was nice and even with no runs if a bit brighter in hue than the real thing. There are even simulated linkage access panels at the tail.

The cowl detail is truly exceptional with its multiple-piece simulated Continental cylinder heads and shrouds which extend into the cowl itself. Air filter and exhaust pipe details are present along with vacuum-plated valve covers. The left cylinder shroud on my example has some nasty scrapes on it, but they aren't readily visible. The cowl is also "on for the duration" with double-sided tape holding it in place along with the attaching screws, making it impossible to remove it easily in order to photograph the motor. Impressive as well was the spring-loaded, rubber-tired tailwheel, similar to that on the prototype and looking for all the world like a miniature of the one my friend uses on his 150cc Yak-54. I can't recall ever having seen a tailwheel of this type on a park flyer-class model like the J-3.

The graphics scheme with its mix of British and American registration numbers was a bit on the strange side, or so I thought. A quick Google search of "G-BSVH" turned up the real thing. Instead of tossing a random number on the model and calling it a day, FMS patterned it after a real Cub. It's a 1946 J-3 registered at Sywell Aerodrome Airport, Northampton, England and yes, it has a second registration number on the tail. The aircraft's page may be found here.

However, it would seem that the memo between design teams as to whether or not the J-3 was going to be full-on scale or stand-off scale didn't get received by one of those teams.

Compared to the beautifully rendered scale exterior, the interior is a genuine disappointment. To be sure, the cockpit area is fully and sturdily glazed, including the overhead skylight in the wing. There are no black window decals anywhere on this baby, so the fact that it has any interior detail at all is to its credit. Simulated rivet details surround the window frames and prototypically correct simulated wing supports extend into the interior.

There's a civilian pilot figure, but he lacks headphones. He also lacks a control stick and rudder pedals (not to mention legs) due to the necessarily shallow floor. There's dashboard detail, but only one dashboard. A full-scale Cub has two. Making things "worse" is our wide-eyed, hand-painted pilot "flying" the Cub from the front seat. Flying solo in a Cub or pretty much any tandem-seated aircraft is done from the back seat. A back seat is molded in, but it's empty. The floor pan is white; some green chromate paint would go a long way in dressing it up, but a more carefully planned and executed interior to match the beautifully rendered exterior would have taken little planning and effort. An aftermarket interior would be a worthwhile pursuit for any number of manufacturers currently dressing up park flyers.

Oddities aside, what matters is how all of this comes together in the air, so onward we go.

Assembly

Tail

After four pages of safety warnings, some of which have some rather, um, interesting translations of the English language, all of the assembly steps are found with corresponding thumbnail photos on page five starting with the elevator and its steel triangulation support bars. The photos and their captions are tiny but reasonably clear; it would have been nice to have spread the information over a couple of pages.

How interesting were the translations?

My favorite line warned against exposing the J-3 to excessive heat, stating that the materials used in construction are "tinder" followed by the rather ecclesiastical observation that "transfiguration can easily happen."

I thought that transfiguring the Turnigy 1000mAh 20-30C li-po from discharged to charged would be a good idea before starting per the preflight prep on page six, so I'll jump ahead to page nine and the detailed description and use of the enclosed FMS-08001 charger.

It's an unassuming, unmarked, plain little black box with a power-on LED along with a charge status LED which flashes during charging and which glows steadily after charging is complete. It can be used to charge two-cell packs as well as three-cell packs with its two separate receptacles, but not at the same time. A plug-in DC car battery cord is provided and a power supply with 11-14V, 20W output can be used. The manual does in fact show a photo of the charger connected to a "wall wart."

It did a good job of charging the pack off my car battery; testing the cell voltage with my Dualsky Li-Po-Mate showed all three cells to be perfectly balanced and fully charged after an hour.

While the battery was charging, I turned my attention to putting the horizontal stabilizer together.

It's a simple process which involves using a bit of the enclosed contact cement to hold the stabilizer halves in their clips. I found out quickly that a little goes a long way, so the cement should be used sparingly. The elevator halves are mechanically joined via a keyed male post on one half and a corresponding female receptacle on the other, eliminating the need for a joiner wire. It's a thoughtful touch which aids with scale detail while eliminating the possibility of a misaligned elevator.

Four metal rods are used to stiffen and triangulate the halves to the vertical stab and fuselage, just like the reinforcement wires on a full-scale Cub. One of the plastic receptacles on the fuselage popped off, but a bit of medium viscocity foam-safe CA was all that was necessary to reattach it.

Before I attached the preinstalled clevises to the control horns, I fired up the radio and receiver in order to check the servo centering and clevis adjustment. As for the HobbyKing PZ-15178 nine-gram servos themselves, they're smooth, quiet and fast. Time will tell how well they hold up, but it's quick and easy to replace them. Oddly enough, these servos are not listed at HobbyKing.com anywhere but with the J-3.

The servos were properly centered but both clevises needed some minimal adjustment. The rudder clevis engaged with a very positive click, but the elevator clevis was a bit stubborn, resulting in a damaged retainer pin. No problem here; the J-3 comes with a couple of extra clevises, so off came the damaged one and on went the replacement.

Four 2x12mm screws from their labeled zip-lock bag complete the fastening of the stab halves and therefore the tail section. The separate, prepackaged hardware is an exceptionally nice touch and one I'd like to see more manufacturers adopt as their own.

More on the transmitter a bit farther down.

Wing

The wing with its individual aileron servos is attached next and installation is almost as easy as it gets. I say "almost" because the leads for the preinstalled Y-harness need to be fed up behind the rear bulkhead and the servos plugged into each plug. It took some noodling to fit the front mounting tab and to keep it from popping loose when the Y-harness was gently pulled back to keep it from getting pinched at the mount. I hasten to mention the manual fails to alert the owner to the need to feed the leads up the hole or the need to plug in the servos. It's obvious, but it's also omitted.

The access hatch for the receiver and therefore the Y-harness is held down with a preinstalled screw, but the screw fit loosely in the hole with evidence of plastic shavings on the threads. A slightly larger and longer screw from my parts bin fixed that problem, but I would like to point out the same sort of setup is used to attach the door over the battery/ESC compartment. Thankfully, that screw held fast, but having to install and remove that screw every time the battery is changed will not only be tedious, but will result in either excessive wear of the hole or failure of the very small and weak hole in the hatch. The latter actually happened while I removed the screw on the bench a few days after the maiden flight; the little plastic tab simply fell off the hatch!

I found a mini servo arm in my parts bin and screwed it down in the opposite hole holding the receiver hatch. To ensure that the arm wouldn't move in flight, I drilled out the hole in the arm immediately above the original screw hole in the fuselage and I used the original hold-down screw as added insurance. It threads through the servo arm and engages the hole; that arm isn't going anywhere in flight. The battery hatch itself is hinged, so there won't be any stressed plastic to break like a credit card. I may look at the possibility down the line of using some rare earth magnets to secure the hatch, but the servo arm works well.

Two 6x10mm machine screws attach the wing to the fuselage, but the enclosed screwdriver is too small for the job of attaching them. A regular P1 phillips will do the trick.

Pushing down too hard might cause one of the 6mm nuts pressed into the fuselage to pop off. I found this out later when I had to remove the wing, but all went well after I popped the nut back into place and used a bit more care to thread the machine screws. Between the servo extensions and the now-glued wing braces, putting the wing back on was a real challenge, primarily in trying to keep the ends of the struts from scratching the finish (they didn't) and in tucking the servo extensions back behind the bulkhead. Unless I have a real need to remove the wing, it's staying put.

Landing Gear

More simplicity here, but not without some drama. The gear presses into the slot forward of the battery door, the shrouds and wing strut covers are screwed down with a couple of 2.6x10mm screws (not the 2.6x35mm screws incorrectly listed in the manual and which aren't supplied anyway) and the auxillary wing struts are attached to the wing with some foam-safe CA. The receptacles on the wing needed a bit of careful opening with an X-Acto, but only a bit.

Here's where things started getting a bit ugly.

I'm sorry to report that while the rubber tires look far better than the usual foam and that the wire used for the gear itself seems nice and robust, the plastic used for the details is decidedly on the cheap, brittle side. The "bungees" are in fact functional to some degree as they're actually lengths of shrink wrap tubing intended to help join and protect the otherwise simulated shock absorber system from breakage. The gear assembly is not bad looking overall, but the color of the strut covers didn't match the color of the plane itself; the whole thing reminded me of a toy from the local 99-cent store.

One end of the struts where it met the wheel was detached, but I couldn't tell whether it was because of shipping damage, defective molding or both. A dab of CA was used to hold it in place, or so I hoped.

That brittle plastic extended into the all-important wheel retainers. The wheels would not spin freely and the simulated "CUB" hubcaps did not turn with the wheels and were clearly used to retain them. I made the mistake of assuming that the hubs were pressed on and some gentle prying broke one of the caps clean off. This is where I learned that the hub/retainers actually screwed into place. When I removed what was left of the retainer in the hope that I could CA it back together, it literally crumbled to the touch. Inexpensive or not, this might have resulted in disaster had I not discovered the problem on the bench. According to customers on HobbyKing's own page, the threads are cut in the same direction on both sides with the snug fit resulting in the left hub unscrewing and falling off during takeoff. Indeed, HobbyKing's own YouTube video plainly shows their demonstrator with its left wheel missing the hubcap and the remains helping to retain it.

My solution outside of replacing the wheels and retainers with aftermarket units was to use a couple of spare servo grommets for use as retainers. Pinching the grommets before installation held the wheels firmly to the axles while very small dabs of CA were used to hold them in place for good. I trimmed the crumbling plastic from the hubs and glued them to the tops of the grommets with more CA. I'm pleased to say this approach worked, but the work resulted in one of the simulated bungee straps snapping clean off. I followed the manufacturer's lead of applying some shrink wrap tubing as a sort of bandage and applying a cosmetic "dummy" tube to the other strut which by now had broken loose at the other wheel. Rather than trying to reglue the ends which might surely break them in normal use, I elected to leave them unattached.

I can certainly understand trying to keep costs down and Shenzhen Famous Electronic Tech seems to have done a fabulous job of doing so with an otherwise well-engineered product, but an area like this is the last place the company should have cut a corner.

Completion

All that's left at this point in our presentation is the installation of the propeller and final setup and check of the radio gear.

The propeller is a standard-looking, GWS-style prop with a 3mm hex at the rear which joins with a 3mm retaining nut and jam nut on the motor shaft. A machined aluminum collet-type spinner holds the prop in place and the enclosed wrench can be used to hold the jam nut if need be.

Close examination of the prop for the diameter and pitch numbers turned up numbers around the hub, but they seemed, well, impossible.

I had never heard of an FMS brand (or any brand) 8.6x9 electric prop, to be honest.

Those numbers were obviously incorrect whether SAE, metric or even upside down at 6x9.8; a quick e-mail to Ken Young of SubsonicPlanes.com with a request to crunch the numbers for pitch speed based on that strange specification was answered with the rather amused observation that such a propeller would result in an impossible and totally ridiculous pitch speed of more than 80 MPH (130km/h).

Should the propeller need replacing, Ken recommended a good old APC 9x7 slo-flyer with a collet; a GWS prop of the same size with a hexagonal hole may do fine as well.

This brings up the issue of spare parts, or a lack of them.

FMS lists a plethora of spare parts in the manual, albeit without part numbers. Unfortunately, HobbyKing lists no parts. The few parts HobbyKing does stock are a few odds and ends for other models, but the pickings are incredibly slim.

A bit of online searching turned up a full selection of parts at a US-based online distributor which sells the same model for considerably more money. The link is here.

The parts are reasonably priced and in stock, but one should keep in mind that a landing hard enough to break parts will mean no instant gratification with a trip to the hobby shop for replacements. If HobbyKing is serious about selling models, they should be equally serious about providing replacement parts. On the other hand, given the possibility of spending $50 or more for parts to repair a badly crashed model, it's far more economically feasible to simply order up a new bare ARF kit from HobbyKing in an attractive Civil Air Patrol color scheme for only $67.79, found here.

Since this is where I took up the transmitter once more for the final control surface check, this is where I'll take a moment to describe it.

It's factory-bound to the receiver with reversing switches for all four channels each set properly, a delta wing mixing switch and even switchable Mode 1/Mode 2 operation. It came preset for Mode 2, but Mode 1 flyers are going to have to take off the back of the transmitter and swap the springs and ratchets between the gimbals in addition to throwing the switch if a Mode 2 unit is shipped. There are neither buddy box nor end-point adjustment capabilities, but there is a Futaba-style charging jack for those who wish to go the Ni-Cd route. My Futaba charger had the correct plug, polarity and output stated on the transmitter's label. One can either pop eight AA-cell ni-cads in the battery holder or unplug the holder and plug in a transmitter battery with a matching plug.

Even with some relatively nice features at first glance, this little 7/8-scale park flyer transmitter will never, ever be confused with a Futaba, JR, Hitec or Airtronics unit. The case is made of cheap-looking plastic with lots of "poverty plugs" for non-existent switches. Adding to the cheap look were its slightly haphazard foil decals; loose-feeling sticks made the impression worse, but the trims felt nice and firm. Again, the 99-cent store came to mind.

That said, the exterior belied how sophisticated the innards really were when the model was fired up and the final clevis adjustments made. All the servos responded smoothly with no chatter and although the sticks felt loose, it was more a matter of perception and personal taste. There was no unwanted servo movement because of the sticks. It won't be the prettiest radio on the flight line, but it will work as well as any of them. It's light years ahead of the old 27MHz radios that would have come with a model in this price range once upon a time.

A quick check of the motor operation showed that it revved like crazy with a tremendous amount of torque. Like the servos, the HobbyKing-labeled motor with its thin body and long shaft is not found on their website other than with this model. There was some vibration at full throttle, so a prop balancing session (or replacement) will be in this model's future. The pilot doing the running commentary on HobbyKing's YouTube video claimed that the model was cruising at around 1/4 throttle and it was still honking along well.

Electrically speaking, it's a well-matched combo. After cobbling together some adapter leads made fom old JST and Deans connectors, my Astro Flight "Super Whatt Meter" showed a current draw of 13.95 amps (well within the comfort zone of the battery and ESC) and 10.23 watts of power at 12.4 volts prior to start up. My Hobbico tach showed a prop speed of 9050 RPM. These numbers may not be entirely accurate given the thin leads of the JST adapters, but they're certainly close enough to give a good idea as to how the combo works.

The completed J-3 was a handsome thing with its accurate scale proportions and all that wonderful scale detail, but it seemed to be heavier than the advertised 22 ounce/625 gram advertised weight. So, the Cub and I went out for a weigh-in at my usual location, the Morongo Valley, California post office. Once again, postmaster Margaret Shaw happily accomodated my request. Not only that, she was impressed by how nice looking the Cub was, much more so in her opinion than other models she'd helped me with.

The actual all-up weight with the battery was only slightly above the advertised weight at 23.1 ounces (654.9g). With the CG set at the recommended location of 45mm behind the LE of the wing - it was the same with or without the battery - all that was left to do was to get it flying and trimmed out.

Speaking of the battery, it too is an incredible, almost impossible bargain at US$5.49 each. It's not surprising that these popular packs are frequently on backorder, so my suggestion would be to click on the link on the spec chart at the top of this review and sign up for HobbyKing's e-mail notification service.

Flying

Basics

The enclosed Turnigy 1000mAh 3S pack slides nicely in its receptacle atop the loose-fitting ESC; the power and balancing leads tuck in behind the pack and help hold it in place while the screw holds the hatch shut. Overtorquing that screw is not an option; doing so will certainly strip the hole.

Such was the first step I took at the Coachella Valley Radio Control Club outside of Coachella, California. Spring tends to bring high winds to the desert, setting the wind turbines in the San Gorgonio Pass to happily churning out current, but I was fortunate enough to get to the club at the opposite end of the valley during calm conditions before high winds set in.

My first real test was for ground handling; that marvelous spring-loaded tailwheel is not just for looks. It works and works well. The handling was just about perfect, in fact.

One final check of the control surface operation and a range check were all that were needed before I taxied the J-3 out to the runway.

Taking Off and Landing

The wind was on the rise, so I figured that dilly-dallying was not an option if I wanted to fly safely. I throttled up smoothly, the model's tail lifted from the runway and the J-3 was heading skyward at a surprisingly sharp angle. If there's one thing this bird doesn't lack, it's power.

Nor does it lack speed. I'm "guesstimating" around 45 MPH (72.5km/h) at wide-open throttle. Not bad at all. Given the price, it's incredible.

I eased off the throttle, gave it a couple of clicks of down elevator trim and the Cub was on its way.

Other than some sensitive aileron input, easily changed by relocating the clevises, this $119.99 RTF flew as well as any model with a price tag 50 to 80 dollars higher. Like the model in the HobbyKing video, it cruised beautifully and with scale-like grace at around 1/3 to 1/2 throttle.

I wanted to take it easy with the model since I didn't want anything to happen to it before the video shoot, so I didn't put it through any aerobatic manuevers at this stage. However, flying it to scale was simply a joy, needing only minimal rudder input on turns. It cut an incredibly realistic profile in flight which only added to the fun.

Landings are as simple as can be, but by the time I was ready to bring it in, the wind had shifted and was now blowing across the runway.

There isn't anything quite as nerve-wracking than to land an unfamiliar model in a crosswind, but the J-3 stepped up to the challenge with real aplomb. I kept a bit of power on the approach and the J-3 wanted to settle in perfectly, or at least it would have if I hadn't given it some right aileron before touchdown while trying to compensate for the crosswind. It returned to earth for a shaky landing on the right main.

This would not do, thought I. I taxied the Cub back toward the center of the runway, got it turned around and put it back in the air for a quick loop around the pattern. The wind was starting to blow a bit harder; the J-3 has an uneasy relationship with wind, at least on the runway. It was difficult to keep the tail from swinging around, but some gentle applications of rudder and throttle got it airborne once more.

The next landings were simply picture perfect. It glides well, but it's happier coming in with just a bit of power. Any threats of stalling occurs at a virtual standstill. The J-3 really likes to fly. As you'll see in the video, I flared out a bit early to drop it in the center of the runway for my videographer's benefit and bounced it in much like the landing in the HobbyKing video. The landing gear is a tad on the bouncy side as I've found.

I wasn't sure how such an inexpensive model would fly, but I would have never guessed that it would fly even half as well as it did.

Since the wind was really starting to come up, it was time to pack it in and resume the fun at the video shoot. It took nearly two weeks for the wind to subside and for me to be able to coordinate time with my usual videographer, Ken Alan.

Unfortunately, Ken was back to using a spare point-and-shoot digital camera, so I had to take it easy. One thing I discovered is gentle attempts at takeoff in a light wind results in a tail happy, ground looping little Cub. Power certainly is not lacking as I pointed out earlier: the solution was to taxi out to the center line of the runway, point the nose in the wind and punch the throttle. Result: One very happy J-3 screaming skyward.

Ken was happy as well; the bright yellow model really popped out against the clear blue desert sky. I didn't do any aerobatics for Ken's sake, but as you'll see in the YouTube videos, the J-3 is actually capable of some basic aerobatics.

Aerobatics/Special Flight Performance

I figured that the Cub would be more than capable of looping given the oodles of power under the cowl and that rolls would be possible if slow given the scale-sized ailerons. Inverted? Fuhgettaboutit.

Two out of three is not bad, friends.

Amazing as it may seem, the Cub not only will fly inverted, it will do so beautifully per a YouTube video which I can't seem to relocate. HobbyKing's official video shows that the J-3 is capable of nice if slow rolls.

Is This For a Beginner?

Yes, if the beginner has some prior aileron experience and some guidance from an instructor. The J-3 flies far more aggressively than its sedate looks would suggest. That makes it totally unsuitable for a raw beginner wishing to teach his or herself to fly, especially with the lack of a training system. I'm more inclined to agree with the manufacturer's claim of this being an intermediate model.

Flight Video/Photo Gallery

Downloads

Conclusion

So, what the heck do you want for a hundred and twenty bucks?

If you want a truly huge bang for your rapidly shrinking hobby buck, this is it.

The HobbyKing J-3 RTF is an incredible value, to put it mildly. I admit to approaching this review with a bit of skepticism, thinking this model would be underpowered, a poor flyer, poor quality or all of the above.

All too often, any item with a ridiculously low price turns out to be considerably less than the value the buyer had hoped for. Not so with the J-3.

There are a few issues, such as the substandard plastic on the wheel hubs, landing gear detail and battery hatch. Inaccurate interior detail on an otherwise beautifully scaled model is a disappointment as is the lack of parts support. Most of these concerns are addressable by an experienced modeler, but possibly not by the beginner to whom this model is being marketed. Problems like the wheel hubs and battery hatch are oversights that the factory should have caught during product development. They are more than just annoyances; a battery hatch failing in flight is just plain dangerous. This is a quality product overall, but the factory picked some poor areas to "go cheap."

Once the problems are corrected, the concerns go away the moment the Cub hits the air. It flies as well if not better than anything in its price range or even beyond. Short of serious pilot error, mechanical failure or electronics failure, this model ought to last darn near forever in the hands of a competent pilot. Should the unthinkable occur, a total re-kit is under seventy bucks which almost makes the lack of immediately replaceable parts a non-issue. I don't make that statement lightly since I am of the firm belief that every distributor should sell parts and I'm highly critical of HobbyKing for not doing so. I'll assume that their choice not to stock parts is in an effort to keep the price of their models as low as possible, but at least some basic, possibly breakble items such as props, cowls, wing struts and such should be readily available.

As I promised at the onset, I'm basing my overall rating of the J-3 on its merits. Those merits earned it two thumbs way up for being such a terrific plane regardless of the price. The low price simply adds to the value.

My thanks go to the gentleman I know as "Ryan C.," the advertising executive at HobbyKing for making this wonderful model available for review. Administrator Angela Haglund works tirelessly with company representatives like Ryan to bring you, our audience, reviews such as this. All of us here at RCGroups.com thank you for your time and interest. Have fun while you're here and we'll see you at the field!

Pluses and Minuses

The J-3 has a lot going for it. Among those things:

  • Insanely low purchase price
  • Excellent flight characteristics
  • Powerful brushless motor instead of the brushed "beer can" still found on some low-price models
  • Decent manual despite some badly translated English and far too many safety warnings
  • Discrete, universal electronics instead of proprietary electronics
  • Up-to-the-minute, rugged EPO foam construction
  • Spring-loaded tailwheel results in excellent ground handling
  • Excellent overall scale detail and proportions
  • Additional batteries are incredibly affordable...when they aren't on backorder
  • Rubber tires including the tailwheel look better and should last longer than foam tires
  • Separate aileron servos instead of the single servo found on many low-cost models
  • 2.4GHz radio system is a vast improvement over the old 27MHz systems still found on some inexpensive models
  • Individually bagged, good-quality hardware makes assembly easy
  • Everything but the transmitter batteries are in one box
  • A far better value than the price would suggest

There are a few minuses:

  • Inexcusably brittle wheel hubs and landing gear detail
  • Tiny and weak hole surrounding the screw used to secure the battery hatch
  • Left landing gear hub prone to unscrewing on takeoff if the hub problem is not addressed
  • Interior tub doesn't come close to living up to the scale looks of the airframe and cowl
  • Cowl is taped in place and not easily removed
  • Small battery hatch limits battery choices
  • No parts support through HobbyKing including the electronics
  • Propeller/motor balance problems, noted by other users on HobbyKing.com as well
  • Cheap-looking transmitter case
Last edited by Angela H; May 17, 2011 at 04:12 PM..

Discussion

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Old May 17, 2011, 09:47 AM
Fly Low - Hit Hard
Red Flyer's Avatar
Canada, ON
Joined Oct 2010
1,118 Posts
Great review, thanks for taking the time to share with us all.

One small correction: "There's dashboard detail, but only one dashboard. A full-scale Cub has two."

The full-scale Cub has only one instrument panel.

RF
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Old May 17, 2011, 02:21 PM
JOHN 3:16
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Central Ohio
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Airplanes don't have "dashboards"
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Old May 17, 2011, 03:05 PM
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Aaarrrrgh...!! You're both right (blush)! It was the car geek in me, I swear!

Seriously, thanks for the correction. I can't for the life of me figure out how I missed somethng so obvious as that. I based the "twin dashboard" statement on my memory of a full-scale J-3 I used to see quite often at a local air museum. I guess I should have paid another visit...
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Old May 17, 2011, 05:21 PM
Gravity's a harsh Mistress....
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Great review! But best do some editing in the 3rd paragraph before you get a note from Horizon Hobby!!! lol.....
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Old May 17, 2011, 05:31 PM
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Originally Posted by southernmd_man View Post
Great review! But best do some editing in the 3rd paragraph before you get a note from Horizon Hobby!!! lol.....
DOH! lol...........honest mistake I'm sure!
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Old May 18, 2011, 12:52 PM
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It has 2 tail numbers LOL
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Old May 18, 2011, 02:04 PM
BrainFart RC-Pilot
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Joined Aug 2003
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I fly mine with 2s 1050mAh Rhino 30C packs.
It fits below the ESC and the CG is just right

Great scale looking...great looks in the air. Nice for a warm summer evening with no wind.
With wind...maybe 3s is wiser.

I use my own transmitter and Jeti receiver and did mix rudder with ailerons.
Also aileron diff added. Very smooth scale steering this way.

good review and lovely plane

Ps. I started this thread a few weeks ago...but no other pilots around
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Old May 18, 2011, 06:35 PM
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Hi, Tree! I hope this review drives some users to your thread. It would have been fun to put in a different receiver and do some of the things you mentioned. Aileron differential would definitely help with the slightly twitchy aileron response. Overall, I maintain that it's a great little model even with the stock radio system.

Thanks for the kind words...!
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Old May 18, 2011, 11:21 PM
I like to fly!
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You know, someone brought this into the shop the other day, and the motor was running backwards. We just switched the wires, but this could be a bit of a manufactoring error, or pilot error. Instructions aren't very clear on which way the prop goes either. Well, that was just a little imput I had.
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Old May 19, 2011, 03:02 AM
BrainFart RC-Pilot
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Echt, Netherlands
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DismayingObservation View Post
Hi, Tree! I hope this review drives some users to your thread. It would have been fun to put in a different receiver and do some of the things you mentioned. Aileron differential would definitely help with the slightly twitchy aileron response. Overall, I maintain that it's a great little model even with the stock radio system.

Thanks for the kind words...!
I uploaded the first flight...which is funny because my RC pal is having a blast.
It had trouble to get from the ground because of the bad quality grass and ground.

The stock radio system I overlooked... but this plane has a record in "purchase" button hitting. I believe within 2 nano-seconds.
The moment I saw it... I wanted to have it!!
It is fantastic in the air....and every RC pilots needs a Piper Cup in his collection
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Old May 19, 2011, 12:10 PM
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Originally Posted by alexkmmll View Post
You know, someone brought this into the shop the other day, and the motor was running backwards. We just switched the wires, but this could be a bit of a manufactoring error, or pilot error. Instructions aren't very clear on which way the prop goes either. Well, that was just a little imput I had.
Thanks for that input. With a brushless motor such as the one in the Cub, reversing any two wires will reverse the direction of the motor. Viewed from the front, the motor should spin counter-clockwise.

As for the prop, any plane with a front-mounted engine or motor requires the prop be installed with its manufacturer mark and size numbers facing toward the front. That's the sort of thing that's obvious to an experienced user, but not to a beginner if it isn't mentioned in the manual. In the case of the J-3, it's clear which way the prop faces thanks to the hexagonal opening at the rear of the hub which engages with the nuts on the motor shaft.

A pusher prop jet's motor rotates clockwise when viewed from the rear with the numbers on the prop facing away from the rear. In other words, the prop is rotating in the same direction as a front-mounted setup when viewed from the front.
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Old Jun 03, 2011, 02:00 PM
What tree?
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Yucca Valley, California
Joined Aug 2005
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Quote:
It's my pleasure to bring before you the HobbyZone J-3 RTF
^--

Great review! I've been looking for a smaller, more scale-looking Cub (Tho I still love my HZ Super Cub!), and this one looks great. Thanks for the review!
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Old Jun 03, 2011, 09:38 PM
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You're entirely welcome. Once you address the issues with the wheel hubs and the battery door, what's left is a darn nice little model. I'm pleasantly surprised that it was as nice a model as it was. Been too windy to fly out my way for the past several weeks, but it looks as if we get a reprieve next week and the Cub is going to be one of the models that goes up first. In the meantime, I have a couple more battery packs on the way and I'm really going to put them to use.

Wow...post number 1000! I just noticed where you were from, BTW. You certainly can relate with the wind!
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Old Jun 28, 2011, 02:16 AM
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Good review. Got mine today and after putting it together and having it survive the maiden I totally concur with the conclusions that you reached. Even after reading about the power/speed, it was a shock to have the little cub racing around like a scalded cat and nearly going vertical!
Two attempts to ROG failed due to the small tires on our rough terrain. Ended up hand launching which worked fine, if a bit exciting due to too much down trim. The elevators were somewhat warped (as is the wing--almost a gull shape on one side) and it was difficult to discern a neutral.
After getting the trims closer to level flight it felt comfortable enough for a nice large loop. Didn't have the courage to try a roll on the maiden!
Plane seem a little heavy, but that may be because I have been flying a Mountain Models SmoothE which has a very light wing loading.
Has anyone come up with a better landing gear or found a way to lighten the bird up a bit? Surely needs at least large tires to operate in our rough grassy yard or gravel driveway.
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