I was quite excited to have the privilege of reviewing Multiplex's very recent offering on the computer radio market, the Multiplex Cockpit. Although computer radios abound these days, this radio has a few things that really set it apart. First and foremost is the slim, light-weight packaging. Most transmitter cases have changed very little from the offerings of 20 years ago, and some of these radios are a little clumsy in their handling. Not so with the Cockpit. It's so light and comfortable that I almost worry I'll forget it's in my hand! Other interesting features include a 6-cell NiCad battery pack (instead of the usual 8) that charges from your motor battery charger using an included charge cord, easy expandability from 4 channels up to 7, and easy accessibility to internal components. I'll talk about the other features as I go along in this review.
Here's the Cockpit radio shown next to a Hitec Focus 4, demonstrating the size and shape differences of the radios. The Cockpit radio is a little taller, but notably thinner. The Hitec radio is comparable in size/shape to radios offered by most of the current manufacturers.
What you get
Multiplex sells the Cockpit transmitter as a stand-alone item, or with a variety of receiver/servo packages. You can also buy it with anywhere from 4 - 7 channels (I believe they are now offered with 7 channels as standard equipment). Transmitters with less than 7 channels can be upgraded later by adding a switch or knob in the appropriate spot on the case and plugging the connector into the pins on the board. Pretty easy! Mine came as a basic four channel unit, with one extra switch included (used later for spoilerons on my sailplane).
Notable Hardware Features
Convenient antenna stowage is offered on the back of the case. Slide a couple of latches to remove the back and this is what you'll see. Rather than a wall charger, the Cockpit comes with a charge cord to use with your fast charger.
One of the things that caught my notice about the Cockpit radio is the way the antenna fits nicely into a slot in the back of the case. The antenna itself is a fairly stout unit, compared to many radios, but even so it's very nice to be able to remove it and store it in the case. This makes the radio even more compact - very nice if you want to carry it on travel, or keep it in some kind of case.
The back plate of the Cockpit radio removes easily by moving a couple of latches. Once apart, you'll notice the ease with which the radio can be upgraded. Additional switches and knobs are easily installed, with connectors that push onto pins on the board. These can all be ordered from Multiplex USA.
Finally, one of the most unique things I noticed about the Cockpit transmitter was the lack of a charger. Most radios (unless they use dry cell batteries) come with a wall charger that slow charges the batteries basically overnight. In this case, Multiplex provides a couple of charge cords designed to allow you to charge the radio from the fast charger for your motor batteries. Multiplex must have targeted this one almost exclusively for the electric market! One charge cord came with banana clips, while the other came with a connector for Multiplex chargers. The opposite end of each cord has a pin connector that plugs into a port on the side of the charger. This port also doubles as a connector port for using the radio as a "buddy box". I didn't have a Multiplex charger, so I swapped out the connector for some Anderson Power Poles (Sermos connectors) which fit my charger. You can charge the Cockpit's 600 mAh cells at up to 1 amp, but I normally choose to keep the charge rate a little lower just for my own comfort. The Cockpit battery pack is fitted with a thermal fuse that increases in resistance if the current exceeds 2 Amps, bringing the current down to a lower, non-hazardous value (approximately 600 mAh). Once the fuse element cools down it resets itself in about a minute.
The Multiplex Cockpit transmitter can be ordered by itself, or with various receiver/servo options. This radio is positive shift, meaning it works with Airtronics and JR receivers (Futaba and Hitec receivers are negative shift, unless ordered specifically for Airtronics/JR radios). This worked well for me, since I've been a long-time Airtronics user. By the way, receiver port wiring with the Multiplex Cockpit radio varies a little from that of other manufacturers. I always remember my Airtronics radio servo order by the acronym EATR (Elevator, Aileron, Throttle, Rudder) and my Hitec radio servo order by AETR (Aileron, Elevator, Throttle, Rudder) for receiver ports 1 - 4. The Multiplex order is AERT (Aileron, Elevator, Rudder, Throttle). Not a big deal, but you need to be aware of it or you'll be a little surprised! Fortunately, the instruction manual has a chart detailing the connection of servos to the receiver, noting variations for the mixing options. I used the Cockpit radio with both of my Airtronics receivers and with a couple of Hitec 555 receivers (positive shift for Airtronics), with excellent results in all cases. It seemed like the planes just flew more smoothly. It might be my imagination, but I think this radio has a more precise feel than my older Airtronics unit.
Notable Software Features
The Cockpit radio features the following:
- 7 channels (when fully equipped)
- Digital trims (automatically saved for the next flight)
- Screen display showing numeric values and plain text in English.
- Travel adjust on all channels
- FCC legal user swappable crystals (something new for those of us in the USA!)
- Exponential available on all channels
- Dual rates for elevator, rudder, and ailerons
- TX to PC Interface
- 9 model memories
- Training mode
- 13 ready made mixers, grouped according to model type - fixed wing or helicopter.
- Variable mixer inputs and direction
- Stopwatch with alarm
- Operating time display
One very nice aspect of this radio is it's ability to accommodate either helicopters or fixed-wing airplanes. No need to pick up a separate radio - this one does it all! Speaking of which, you can also vary between different transmitter configurations (stick modes). I always fly in Mode 2 (elevator and aileron on the right stick, throttle and rudder on the left), but you can select from modes 1 - 8, if you're so inclined.
I'll talk about some of these features in the next section. You can get this basic information from the website - what really matters is: How does it work?!
How it works
This close up of the Cockpit shows how the switches are arrayed. My radio has three ports available for optional switches and accessories. The large knob in the upper right is the "digi-adjuster", used for all programming operations.
Here's a picture of the basic display, showing that the radio is set in airplane mode for model number one, and that the battery has a charge of 7.7 volts.
In a word: Very Well! As mentioned earlier, the Cockpit is light and trim, making it very comfortable to handle. I also like the feel of the sticks. You can vary the tension, height, and neutralizing or ratcheting action of the sticks, but I liked them as they were. This radio just has a wonderful feel about it.
This is my first computer radio, and two things became immediately evident: It's more complex to setup than a standard radio, but it also opens up a whole world of neat opportunities. I held off on writing this review until I could use most of the features of the radio and get a little experience with it. Incidentally, one of the fun things about showing up at the field with the Cockpit radio is all the attention you get - this radio generates some serious interest!
All the programming for the Cockpit radio is taken care of by what Multiplex calls a "3D digi-adjuster". Basically, all your options are accessed by turning and pushing the knob on the upper right quadrant of the radio. You typically turn the knob until the desired menu option appears, then push the knob either to click down to a lower menu level or to an option for that menu. The first few times through you'll have to stick closely to the instructions or the supplied menu flow chart, but it soon becomes almost second nature. As with most computer programs, you have to learn to "think" like the software.
Multiplex's provision of 9 (!) model memories is a great feature. I never thought I would be in the position of needing more than a few memory locations, but my work with the E-Zone has blessed me with much more in the way of airplanes than I ever thought I would have. It's very nice to be able to fully setup an airplane in one location, then move on and give another airplane a completely different setup. With a standard radio you might have to remember changes in trim and perhaps even reversed controls (a disaster waiting to happen), but here you only need to remember to set the radio to the correct program. The simplicity of the Multiplex scheme has one drawback - you can only reference your model by number. Some radios have a feature that allows you to program in some letter combination to help you associate your plane with that radio memory location, but there isn't a way to do that with the Cockpit radio. It isn't a major issue, though - I simply put a number on each of my planes with self-adhesive trim to remind me which setup to use.
Digital trims are something of a love/hate feature. The nice part is that once set, you don't need to bother with them again - the transmitter remembers the settings and restores them each time you switch to that model. On the other hand, they aren't as fast to use as slider switches when you first need to trim out your plane, and you can't conveniently "fly with the trims" if you just want to adjust your sailplane to fly gentle circles (for instance). After getting used to the trims, I think the memory feature wins out over the convenience of sliders for my personal preference.
Servo centering and end point adjustments are nice features of computer radios, and they're particularly easy to perform with this one. Work your way through the menu to the correct servo, then rotate the knob until your flying surfaces line up correctly to center the servos. End points are adjusted by giving the stick full deflection and rotating the adjuster knob until the surfaces are deflected the desired amount.
I had the opportunity to try out elevon mixing on my Velkom Twist (see the review of the Twist on the E-Zone) and spoileron mixing on my Graupner Chip sailplane. The mixers were easily setup and very effective. The switch on the upper right side of my radio even gives me two position spoilerons - kind of a neat feature that allows me to slow my landing while maintaining more control, then really dumping the speed when I get close to the ground.
I didn't have the extra switch for dual rates, but it is available. The dual rate switch operates on all three basic control surfaces: aileron, elevator, and rudder. I have somewhat mixed opinions about this, since I like being able to switch the control surfaces separately. If you have some knowledge of the plane it would be easy to program your controls so that they give you the proper decrease in sensitivity when the switch is thrown, but for a first flight you might find you want less elevator but more aileron (or something like that). In this setup you couldn't choose until you're back on the ground - it's all or nothing!
Multiplex provides two means of preventing low battery situations: A low-battery warning system for the transmitter lets you know when the battery voltage falls to 7 volts (user variable between 6.8 and 7.2 volts), telling you to land and recharge the radio. On optional timer will let you know when to land your plane, if you like to fly for a specific amount of time and land with a power reserve.
Of course, there's a whole range of options for helicopters, but I don't presently have a chopper in my hangar. Someone else will have to tell you how the Cockpit works for helis. I also didn't try the computer interface. According to Multiplex, you can download airplane setups and program the radio from the computer. A neat idea, but beyond what I intend to do at this point.
I highly recommend the Multiplex Cockpit radio, particularly if you are looking for a compact, light-weight radio that will handle everything most sport flyers could want. I understand that Multiplex is now equipping all the newer radios with the full 7-channel layout, making it even nicer. You'll need to have a little understanding of what you want when you order the Cockpit, since there isn't really a "standard" setup. It can be obtained as a stand-alone transmitter, or with several receiver/servo options. Outside of the previous mentioned limitations on naming models and on using dual rates, I couldn't come up with any areas of complaint, and those things are pretty minor. I've switched almost everything over to the Cockpit now, and I'm very happy with it in all regards.
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