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Dream-Flight Alula Hand Launch Sailplane Review

What is prettier than watching a bird in flight? Flying your own Alula from a hand toss or at a slope in a light breeze! It doesn't get better than this for R/C sailplane pilots.

Splash

Introduction


Wingspan:35.4" (900mm)
Wing Area:259 Sq in (17.7dm)
Weight:5.8-6.5 oz. (164-184gm)
Length:18.9" (480mm)
Height:4.7" (120mm)
Servos:7 gram Blue-Bird BMS-306BB
Transmitter:Spektrum DX7s 2.4GHz
Receiver:Spektrum AR6115e 2.4GHz
Battery:4.8V 300mAh NiMH 1/3AA size flat pack
Wind Range:Wind 0-15 mph
Manufacturer:Dream-Flight
Available From:Dream-Flight
Price:$68.00

While on a vacation to Kauai, Hawaii i was wishing I had a small sailplane with me to fly at what I thought was a perfect little slope flying site. The very next day I learned of the Alula on my iPad, and this review was born.

From the instruction manual: "This design, inspired by the local red-tailed hawks that frequent the sky above our workshop, is in reality a very functional glider. Often overlooked is the forward swept wing configuration utilized by many birds during soaring flight. This configuration is perfect for a hawk flying slow, tight circles to stay within small near ground thermals while searching for its next meal. Not only does the Alula's forward sweep allow you to navigate small, confined sources of lift like a soaring bird, but it also eliminates tip stalling and maintains good control surface authority even at very low speeds. The Alula was designed specifically with the side-arm launch method in mind, since this is a more effective way to launch a glider by hand. the forward-swept wing facilitates the side-arm launch method by aligning the launch point (wingtip) with the center of gravity. This, coupled with the large tail fin, reduces the twisting tendency of a glider upon launch, making for straighter, easier flings to altitude. We call the Alula our 'Urban glider,' due to its ability to soar in the most unconventional of locations. No high-starts, motors, or spinning propellers required... just fling and fly. It's as close to an R/C boomerang as it gets!"

After reading that I was even more excited about flying the Alula. unfortunately, I still needed to read the instructions from cover to cover and assemble the Alula. It is a very well written manual. They have an option to have a removable wing but they recommend against it as it adds weight but if flying just at a slope that would not be a problem. I am glad I built the one piece Alula, and I can pack it in my suitcase.

Kit Contents

Kit Contents

  • Center wing section with embedded carbon spar
  • Right and left wing panels
  • Fin (vertical stabilizer)
  • Plastic belly skid
  • 2 Carbon-Fiber wing spars
  • Instruction manual
  • Decals
  • Carbon-Fiber pushrods
  • Assorted small hardware*

*Black nylon wing joiner tubes *Lightweight pushrod links *Lightweight flex control horns *Plastic assembly tape *Grip tape for the wing for hand launching









Radio Gear Needed

  • Radio transmitter with Elevon or V-tail mixing with adjustable rates
  • 2 Sub-micro servos, > than 7 grams each (Blue-Bird BMS-306BB or similar weight/size*
  • Sub-micro receiver
  • Rechargeable 4.8V Battery Pack for receiver 4.8V 300mAh 1/3AA size NIMH flat pack or equivalent*

They sell the servos and the perfect size battery pack and I recommend you buy the combo.

Dream-Flight included their flight-pack combo with two servos and the NiMH 4.8V battery described above. The combo sells for $31.50 and I recommend it: Good parts at the right weight and the price is good as well. They also included a roll of the 1/2" x 60 yards strapping tape mentioned below that sells for $4.00. It was used sparingly for strengthening the nose under the belly slide.

Tools & Extras

  • Sharp scissors
  • Steel ruler for measuring
  • Sharp hobby knife or razor blade
  • Small curved scissors (ie-nail trimming scissors) for trimming plastic belly skid
  • Small flush cutting pliers or nail clippers
  • Small screw drivers
  • Pencil, ball point pens and fine point sharpie marker
  • Coins and or small weights for balancing glider
  • 150 and 220-320 grit sandpaper
  • Optional Dremel tool (rotary cutter/grinder)

Adhesives and Paint

  • Medium or thin instant Cyanoacrylate (CA)
  • Strapping tape for airframe reinforcement
  • Masking tape
  • Optional Paints: Acrylic paints, Sharpie markers, Tamiya color for plastics were suggested

Assembly

I started using the 220 grit sand paper to sand off the flashing from the foam parts per the instructions. I then proceeded on my own to sand off the foam molding bumps on both of the wing halves. I sanded most of the bumps off of the foam tail section and the bottom of the main fuselage but got sidetracked and didn't finish the top of the fuselage as you can see in the flying pictures below. I spent about a 45 minutes doing the sanding with just a small piece of the 220 fine grit sand paper in my hand and using very little pressure. I think the results are worth the effort and I will do the top center section soon.

Wing

I trial fitted the supplied long carbon fiber pieces into the bottom of the wing halves and where necessary I pushed down on them with the butt of a pen per the instructions to make sure they were completely "above" the bottom of the wing surface. Working with the wing upside down and slightly tilted I slowly added regular thin CA to glue the spars in place getting glue on both sides of the spar and well into the foam valley where the spars rested.

I next installed the elevon control horns into the elevons. There is a oval depression with two marks on each elevon so the location is well marked. I started to push the pointed prongs from the elevon horns into the marked locations. I added two small drops of CA to one location and pushed the horn all the way in and held it firmly against the foam for thirty seconds. I repeated the process on the other elevon. Next I turned the wing sections over and used my toe nail clippers and cut off the excess plastic prongs and put a very small drop of CA on top of each piece and the CA wicked into the wing. It was easier to do then to describe and a lot quicker.

Fuselage

The next process was trimming the plastic belly skid, and there I just followed the instructions. I got close to the cut line with scissors and then ground off the last bit with my Dremel tool. I would have cut if I had better scissors. I trial fitted the servos in their molded spaces in the fuselage and the battery pack in the nose. Using my Exacto knife I cut out a space as far forward as possible for my Spektrum receiver making sure the wires would connect. Again just follow the excellent instructions. I also trimmed away the excess foam molded onto the carbon fiber spars. I worked at final fitting of the radio gear into position.

After the Belly slide was trimmed I fit it over my receiver, the battery pack and the bottom nose of the fuselage. I marked where I want to cut an access hole for plugging in the flight battery to power my Alula. I used a sharp Exacto knife and cut light repeated scoring lines to gradual cut through the belly skid to make the access hole. I used my Dremel tool to make the end curves a little smoother. I spray painted the inside of the nose skid a light coat of white paint and set it aside to dry.

Now remember I said I read the instructions. Before joining the wing halves to the fuselage I read them twice more looking for a discussion of where I glued the foam. You really don't! The two wing joiner tubes get glued into the wings in the spots molded for them. But first I trial fitted the fuselage molded spar into those tubes and trial fitted it all together. The tube joiners get glued into the wings but the wings get taped onto the fuselage. Holding the wing in place I temporary taped one side together with masking tape. With the wing in place I used the supplied plastic tape in two strips to glue the wing to the fuselage on the other side. I then removed the masking tape and used the plastic tape on the other side. I then repeated the process with the other wing half. The wings were installed. They are secured in place with the carbon fiber rod from the fuselage into the joiner tubes I glued into the wings and by taping the edges of the wing and the fuselage together all the way around. It has worked great in actual flight. The servos were not glued in place but rather they also were secured with plastic tape over them and the foam. This has also proven to work well in actual operation.

Radio Installation

Using my Spektrum DX7s I thought I would be using the Elevon option but I found the V-tail set up gave me the best control of adjusting the servos so I used the V-tail option. the clevises are glued onto the control rods and when try the clevises were attached to the servo arms and the control rod was slid into the elevon control horn. I used masking tape to secure the elevon in the desired position which simply followed the flow of the top wing. With everything aligned I glued the control rod into the control horn in the "neutral" position. I used some kicker to help the CA set up quickly.

Tail

The tail slides tightly onto the back of the fuselage. I had slid it in place before finishing the radio programming and gluing of the control rods into the control horns. Now I secure the tail to the fuselage and again not with glue but with the plastic tape that came with the kit.

Completion

I decided to add a 3" aileron servo wire and the weight that goes with this extra part to have the extension wire plugged into the receiver's battery channel and I will connect the battery to the extension to power up the Alula. This works well for me and I will live with the weight penalty. I needed to use four nickels next to the battery pack and some strapping tape to balance the Alula on the proper C/G. the strapping tape strengthens the nose of the plane and was installed where it will be covered by the belly skid. Tape secures the battery pack and nickels and the skid plate covers them and secures them in place as well. the belly skid is secured in place with ... the supplied plastic tape all around the edge of the skid. This makes the skid and the nose secure together all the way around.

Flying

Basics

Basic two servo elevon/v-tail control. the elevons perform both aileron and elevator functions. If this is new for you the manual will guide you through it so I won't go into detail here.

Taking Off and Landing

First flights were straight forward glides and a couple of clicks of up elevator were used. My first real flight was at a slope in light lift and one toss was good for a fifteen plus minute flight. The Alula climbed, dived, rolled and looped. She even caught a thermal and kept going up and up until I put her over into a dive. and brought her back to the hill. At the slope a simple toss into a light wind is all that was needed.

Hand tosses are demonstrated by my friends Jeff Hunter and Guy Van Cleeve in the videos below. Jeff throws the Alula harder and with his left hand. He likes to start a lot of flights with a loop at the top of the launch. Guy has a slightly smoother half step spin launch that seems to get just about the same amount of height as Jeff's more forceful launch. I have a temporary bad back right now and I copy Guy's tosses and get pretty much the same result as Guy and it mostly doesn't hurt my back.

For landings the Alula can be caught and slid to a stop for a landing. I recommend against dorking her on her nose as I think that will cause problems to the fuselage in the long run. She handles very well so good landings have not been a problem for me. As for Jeff and Guy the video below will tell the tale.

Aerobatics/Special Flight Performance

This is an aerobatic sailplane and at the slope I was able to do spins, loops, rolls and split S's. She can also be thermal flown from hand tosses and Jeff had the longest thermal flight on New Year's Day. She looks and handles great in the air and she will fly the way you want to fly her depending on the conditions. No lift you can still toss and do a loop and roll on the way back down. Or you can see how long she will fly in light lift or how long will the battery last at the slope?

If you love sailplanes and the joy of staying aloft on a breeze or a thermal you will understand when I say this plane has brought a smile and some giggles to everyone who has flown her so far. She looks like she belongs in the air and she can make you feel almost like you are one with nature. I know that there will be more Alulas in my club after the success of the New Years Day flights. Jeff may have said it best when momentarily lost for words he waved at the electrics in the sky and pointed at the Alula in the air and said: "Now this is flying!" Guy and I shook our heads in agreement, smiled, and then Guy caught the Alula and launched her again with a big smile on his face.

Is This For a Beginner?

Some of my students in the past found elevons a difficult way to start. The Alula can be flown by a beginner who understands small movements with elevons are all that is needed for control. I think she will be enjoyed more by the pilot who knows how to fly and is looking for a fun plane to hand toss on a nice day at the thermal field or when the wind is light at the slope. But a beginner with a trainer or good flight simulator could start with the Alula, but it would not be my first choice for a beginner.

Flight Video/Photo Gallery












The Alula sailplane being hand tossed at our club's Polar Fun Fly. Jeff is in red and Guy is in Blue.

Downloads

Conclusion

The Alula is fun as well as quick and easy to assemble. I recommend the combo servo and battery pack for convenience and having components of the proper size and weight. I assembled mine on a Sunday with a couple of football games on in the background. It could easily be done in under three hours. She is great at the slope when waiting for the real wind to come up or at the local park for some lunch time flying for either thermals or a few quick loops and rolls. The discus launch as shown by Guy is not too strenuous as even I am doing it with my temporary bad back. If I were the type who talked to his planes; I can picture myself with the Alula at the end of Casablanca and hear. "Alula, this is the start of a beautiful friendship." But I don't talk to my planes so I'll just think of it as a movie clip that never happened. The scene fades with me discus tossing the Alula and walking down the runway with her flying around me.

The Alula is not newly released sailplane, and I am sure a number of you have, so please post pictures of your Alula at the end of this article and share what you used to color yours yet keep the weight down. I'm looking for people to share their "birds" here.

Pluses

  • Affordable kit and servo battery combo available
  • Can be flown at the slope in light breeze
  • Can be flown with hand launches almost anywhere
  • Easy assembly
  • Looks very bird like in the air
  • Easy to store or transport

Minuses

  • Ticked off a live Red Tail Hawk for flying in his territory at the slope (OK that was really a plus)

Thanks

My thanks to Dream-Flight for providing the Alula and the flight combo pack for this review. My thanks to Jeff and Guy for their help with the media and to our editor for her assistance with this review.

Last edited by Angela H; Jan 08, 2013 at 05:35 AM..

Discussion

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Old Jan 08, 2013, 01:33 PM
quick, stretch into a monster!
Mr.Me's Avatar
Everett, WA
Joined Apr 2007
978 Posts
Great review! i bought my alula on impulse one day at the LHS and i absolutely love flying it. it's an awesome flying little plane and has given me countless hours of toss-it-catch-it fun! i've even used it to teach a friend to fly. i think it's a pretty good little first plane mostly because it's bombproof and it's really easy to fly with the proper setup. have fun tossing your little white chunk of foam!
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Old Jan 08, 2013, 07:58 PM
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r0beert0's Avatar
USA, CA, Rancho Cucamonga
Joined Jun 2010
664 Posts
I agree great review!! I love my Alula... have over 17hrs on her. And for those of us that can't make it out to the slopes, I managed to get a motor on this bird and still keep that cool profile. check out my video and blog post with mod photos.

Alula-e (7 min 39 sec)


http://www.rcgroups.com/forums/showthread.php?t=1787896
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Old Jan 08, 2013, 08:16 PM View Post
yweiuiusdf
A moderator felt this post violated the following rule: Off Topic Advertisement. Show it to me anyway.
Old Jan 09, 2013, 12:42 AM
Born again sloper
ShaneH's Avatar
Australia, NSW, Central Coast
Joined Aug 2011
205 Posts
Thanks for the great review Michael
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Old Jan 09, 2013, 07:33 AM
no pain, no pain
marcioh's Avatar
Brazil, PR, Curitiba
Joined Dec 2006
174 Posts
I love to fly the Alula at the beach, lots of fun!
Alula e a lua - Alula and the moon - Balneario Camboriu (3 min 49 sec)
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Old Jan 09, 2013, 07:36 AM
no pain, no pain
marcioh's Avatar
Brazil, PR, Curitiba
Joined Dec 2006
174 Posts
and even dynamic soaring is possible (and soooo fun)
light wind Alula DS dynamic soaring (2 min 9 sec)
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Old Jan 09, 2013, 08:42 AM
Registered User
Michael Heer's Avatar
Stockton, Ca. USA
Joined Apr 2001
9,370 Posts
Except for the shoe ad (since covered up) great sharing guys! I can't get too much of the Alula. Mike H
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Old Jan 10, 2013, 02:59 AM
Born again sloper
ShaneH's Avatar
Australia, NSW, Central Coast
Joined Aug 2011
205 Posts
Alula Glider @ Wamberal Beach (6 min 35 sec)


fun on the Beach when the wind is light
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Old Jan 10, 2013, 03:14 PM
Official Boat Bum
Eddie P's Avatar
United States, NV, Reno
Joined Mar 2000
7,057 Posts
Looks like fun Mike! With a little bit of paint for the more artistically inclined I'm sure some more fun can be had as well. My daughter and I built a EPP Eagle and it's much more of a slug than this little Aluha but the bird like qualities are a lot of fun to work with (we made ours look like the local Red Tail Hawk family near by). Our EPP Egale needs it's motor but I can assure anyone who is wondering about wild life and bird like airplanes - birds do notice and some will attack (hawks, etc) while others will want to just hang out and soar with a bird like RC plane (Vultures, etc). I will certainly get one of these Aluhas just because the EPP Eagle is so much fun and this little Aluha looks like it might be fun for my nieces and son to try out as it's lighter and simpler than our motor bird.
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Old Jan 10, 2013, 07:57 PM
SSM
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SSM's Avatar
Australia, VIC, Canterbury
Joined Nov 2003
1,220 Posts
Quote:
Originally Posted by ShaneH View Post

fun on the Beach when the wind is light
Great flying Shane. Alula perfection!

Well done, too, to your camera person.

Thanks,
Simon
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Old Jan 11, 2013, 01:32 PM
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TBolt's Avatar
United States, AZ, Queen Creek
Joined May 2004
5,052 Posts
Mike,
Nice review. I just happen to have one stashed in my garage.

r0beert0,
Could you post pictures of your power mods?
Looks like something I would like to do with mine.
Just found your conversion thread, yup going to have to do that.
Semper Fi!
Victor
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Last edited by TBolt; Jan 11, 2013 at 01:52 PM.
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Old Jan 11, 2013, 02:01 PM
<<x USMC
r0beert0's Avatar
USA, CA, Rancho Cucamonga
Joined Jun 2010
664 Posts
Quote:
Originally Posted by TBolt View Post
Mike,
Nice review. I just happen to have one stashed in my garage.

r0beert0,
Could you post pictures of your power mods?
Looks like something I would like to do with mine.
Just found your conversion thread, yup going to have to do that.
Semper Fi!
Victor
Semper Fi! glad you found it... let me know if you have any questions, the only tricky part was finding the right prop to mod as I was not getting the speed I wanted out of 5" props. Again with this setup a 30 to 40 sec. WOT burst will get me up to 300 - 400+ feet, then it's throttle off and glide around for thermals etc.
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Old Jan 11, 2013, 03:52 PM
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ducatirdr's Avatar
United States, MA, Sutton
Joined Aug 2006
1,287 Posts
I picked up an ASK-21 Ultra Micro from E-Flite with a hope that I could find lift in the odd hill side around where I live. The ASK is not a light wind slope flyer BUT it does fly well in a small area. So where trees may be adjacent to a slope or the flying area is rather small I get away with some pretty good flying locations that many would not even think about. Most of my flying has been on parking lot grades that are steep or steep grades along a hill side street.

The ASK being scale is a cool looking little plane but its not that efficient. This Alula looks to be a good choice for my lousy flying areas when there is lighter wind. I'll have to get one and try it out.
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Old Jan 11, 2013, 05:27 PM
Born again sloper
ShaneH's Avatar
Australia, NSW, Central Coast
Joined Aug 2011
205 Posts
ducatirdr, I'm sure you will be very happy with an alula on any slope should you decide to buy one
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