A slow fly-past for the camera
|Servos:||2 x Micro Servos|
|Battery:||1 x 7-8 cell 700mah NiMh battery (or 2-cell Lipoly)|
|Receiver:||4-Channel Micro Receiver|
|Main ESC:||6A Brushed Micro ESC|
|Tail ESC:||2A Brushed Micro ESC|
|Gyro:||Micro Heading Hold Gyro or Micro Rate gyro PLUS 2-channel mixer|
|Servos:||2 x GWS Pico Servos|
|Battery:||2-Cell ETec 1200 Li-Poly|
|Rx/ESC/Gyro:||Ikarus Piccoboard (Original Mk1)|
After many years of the commercial micro heli market being dominated by two manufacturers -- with Ikarus being the company that started the commercial micro heli revolution - the last year or so has seen an explosion of new, entry-level, micros onto the market. With this in mind, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the Ikarus FUN Piccolo.
Ikarus Modelbau has been involved in commercial micro heli development and production for many years. The original Ikarus Eco Piccolo was revolutionary, being the first mass-produced commercial microheli to be released to market, back in 1999-2000.
The current Ikarus micro heli line up consists of the original ECO Piccolo, the Ikarus FUN Piccolo, and the collective pitch Ikarus PRO Piccolo. There is also a new ECO Piccolo V2 due to be released very soon. The ECO Piccolo V2 will replace the original ECO Piccolo in Ikarus's micro heli line-up.
Ikarus also produces a line of "normal sized" electric powered helis, and a vast range of fixed-wing and other models. Slow flyers, park flyers, scale and semi-scale machines, and gliders are all available, and even a scale M-1 tank for the ground crawler fraternity.
I purchased my FUN Piccolo from Warren Collins at Precision Model Products (PMP). At the same time, I also purchased an Ikarus semi-scale UH-1 Huey body which will be the subject of a later review.
I've been dealing with Warren of PMP for a good few years, and have always been impressed with the level of service he provides. PMP, along with selling micro helis, also designs and manufactures a wide range of very high quality modification and upgrade parts for various R/C helis and microhelis. They have also now released their own micro heli onto the market, which is based around their own upgrade parts.
The FUN Piccolo is Ikarus's entry-level machine. It is a fixed pitch heli, based on the original ECO Piccolo, but with a number of changes made with the intention of reducing the cost of manufacture. The machine is designed primarily as an indoor-only machine (see upgradablity below), with a focus on hovering maneuvers and slow forward flight.
The principle points of difference between the FUN and ECO Piccolo are:
As you can see, it would take very little to "upgrade" the FUN to ECO standards. There are bearing upgrades available at very low cost, and most of the other changes are of a "personal choice" nature. For instance, although the steel shafts are heavier, many people choose to use metal shafts over the original carbon fibre type. In fact, this is considered by many to be an UPgrade rather than a DOWNgrade.
The FUN Piccolo has many "beginner friendly" features when it comes to crashworthy-ness and repairability. First is the elegant simplicity of the design. There are not a lot of complex assemblies to get broken, and re-assembly and setting up after a nasty "arrival" is normally a five minute job. The use of standard dimension carbon fibre rod and tube in "breakable" areas such as the tail boom and landing gear means that repairs can be made quite cheaply.
The machine also features a unique "pop-off" main rotor head. This allows the head and main rotors to detach from the main rotor shaft under high stress situations (read crashes). This has the dual benefit of both helping to dissipate the crash energy, and often throwing the rotors clear of the machine, helping to avoid the classic "beating itself to death with the rotors" post-crash situation with traditional helis.
In addition to the above, Ikarus have also been quite smart with shaft retention. Rather than set-screw collars, they have run with simple rubber sleeves to retain the main and tail shafts. This allows the shafts to move under crash conditions, allowing the spur gears to move away from their corresponding pinions, and helping to prevent gear stripping, and burnouts due to stalled motors.
The basic Ikarus FUN Piccolo kit contains all the mechanical parts required to complete the aircraft, including the motors for both the main and tail rotors, but not including any of the required electronics.
As you will see in the sidebar there are two quite different ways to go with the airborne electronics on the Piccolo.
Ikarus produces for the Piccolo a device called a Piccoboard. This amazing little device contains a gyro, the two motor ESCs, an on-board revo mixer, and an optional receiver, all crammed into a matchbox sized unit.
There are three basic variants of the Piccoboard.
The Piccoboard family offer a very simple to set up, integrated in-flight electronics package. As the components are all designed and integrated to work together, setup simply consists of setting the revo mix and gyro gain.
The alternative to the Piccoboard is to go with separate and discreet components for your airborne electronics. This does have the advantage of being able to choose exactly which ESCs, gyro etc. that you want to use, but has the disadvantage that some devices do not like to work together. This can make it quite frustrating (and expensive) to find a combination that works well. This arrangement is also generally more difficult to set up and configure, especially in the area of getting the separate tail and main motor ESCs armed, while still trying to keep the gyro correctly centered.
I ordered my Fun Piccolo from Precision Model Products, along with the Ikarus UH-1 body kit and a few spares for my other helis. The parcel was shipped via USPS Global Priority Mail and arrived here in New Zealand ten days after placing my order.
The box that everything came in was enormous! I opened it, to find that Warren had allowed plenty of "crush space," with lots of packaging separating the various boxes within. It is a credit to PMP's packaging that both the FUN and Huey boxes looked as though they had taken them off the display and handed them to me personally, rather than shipped them half way across the world!
Opening the FUN Piccolo box, I found a well laid out arrangement. Two cardboard dividers separated the box into four compartments. The canopy parts were in their own compartments to avoid damage, with the remainder of the parts split between the other compartments. One nice touch was the stapling of the bag containing the main motor to one of the cardboard dividers. I can only imagine the damage a relatively heavy motor could have caused, should it have been left to float around inside the box.
I unpacked the contents and laid them out to see what was supplied. The manual, two canopy halves, the canopy windscreen, the c/f tail boom, and the decal sheet were all packed "loose". The balance of the components was spread over a number of tear-off plastic bags, which roughly equated into the individual sub assemblies of the helicopter.
The manual (in German, English and French), is quite comprehensive. It also contains a lot of supplementary information such as a glossary of terms, a basic explanation of how a heli flies, a rudimentary training course, a troubleshooting chart, and a complete parts list with exploded view.
As the manual is quite comprehensive, I will merely highlight the main points rather than going through a blow-by-blow description of assembly.
Note that the left and right undercarriage struts are different lengths. This is to "lean" the heli over and reduce the tendency to skid off to one side as you bring in hover power.
It was important that I ensured that the fly bar paddles and fly bar levers were perfectly in line, to avoid tracking and handling problems later.
Next came the fitting of the tail rotor assembly to the tail boom, and the boom to the mainframe. Again it was important to have perfect alignment to keep everything square and true. A quick "eyeball" along the heli from the rear showed everything to be fine.
(Note: There are two things to watch when attaching the boom. Ensure that the alignment is perfect before gluing in place. And, if using CA to attach the boom and tail, apply it sparingly as the boom may need to be replaced later. Some people use hot glue rather than CA at this point. It is easier to remove, if it becomes necessary, and allows a little more "fiddle time" to get the alignment perfect.)
Then it was on to the Canopy, and the biggest "mistake" (omission) in the manual! The manual said to glue the two halves of the canopy together. But, they forgot to mention that CA glue was unsuitable for this job, and could dissolve the foam in a most spectacular fashion! Fortunately I was already wise to the possible ill-effects of CA on foam, and joined the canopy halves with PVA (White glue). The trimming and fitting of the canopy transparency was a very fiddly and time consuming job, but was finally achieved with the assistance of "blu-tack" to hold things in place while testing the fit.
Once the canopy was complete, the addition of the tail fin and decals completed the primary construction of the heli.
Next I moved on to the electronics. I chose to use my original Piccoboard for simplicity of setup. Note that I had decided to solder connectors to the various leads rather than using the supplied "twist and crimps". This was personal choice. I have a number of micro helis and like to have the ability to "mix and match" components as I need to. The servos I attached to the frame with double sided tape, after aligning them as close as possible to neutral at the head. Once I had all the electronics fitted up, I cabled everything up, fired up my transmitter, attached a battery to the heli and set up my radio.
The electronics setup with a Piccoboard was fairly simple.
First I set the Piccoboard revo and gain to the factory recommended positions using the trimmer pots. (Note: No revo mixing is required at the transmitter). I then checked the cyclic servos for correct direction and throw, adjusting as required at the transmitter using servo reversing and ATV functions. Finally I checked the throttle direction for both the main and tail motors, once again reversing and using ATV as necessary to achieve the desired result.
Once I had the radio all sorted, I fitted the main rotor blades and canopy, and voila! One FUN Piccolo, ready for flight testing!
First I made another quick bench test to check throws and orientations. Everything checked fine, so I advanced the main motor throttle to check the main rotor tracking. One blade was high, so I adjusted the fly bar paddles until I had the main rotors tracking true.
(Note: the Piccolo does not use turnbuckle links to adjust tracking. Correct tracking is achieved by adjusting the attack angle of the fly bar paddles, which in turn adjusts the tracking of the main rotors. This is a bit fiddly and takes a little getting used to, but after a while it becomes second nature.).
Once I had the tracking correct, I double checked the CG and moved through to my living room for the initial trimming flights.
One thing with these particular helis is that they are very skitterish when flown inside of ground effect. As I was already aware of this phenomenon, I placed the heli on the floor and advanced the throttle smartly to attain a hover about three feet off the ground.
The initial hover revealed that my revo position was not quite right, so I landed again to adjust the revo mixing on the Piccoboard. A few more hovers and adjustments got the heli settled in quite nicely, so I put it away, ready for its first "real" flight at our local flying Stadium.
The due day arrived. I fitted the heli up with a 2-cell ETech 1200 pack and walked it out to centre floor. Once again I "punched" the machine up to about three feet and started to move it around. To my surprise it actually handled quite well, especially considering that there are no ball bearings in the machine anywhere. Because of the low head speed of the machine, the controls were a little sluggish, and being fixed pitch, altitude control was not as fine as a CP machine, but aside from that, the machine was quite controllable.
Basic hovering maneuvers were easily accomplished, slow (walking pace) forward flight, including simple circuits, was quite attainable. Any attempt to move to fast forward flight was rewarded with a rapid "pitch up" which effectively prevented flying at anything faster than a fast walk.
This "pitch up" in fast forward flight is a characteristic of low-head speed, high lift rotor systems such as the Piccolo's. Once you are ready to advance to FFF, this characteristic can be reduced considerably through various modifications such as a blade cut, or by replacing the stock blades with after market main rotor blades.
Out of the box, I would call it a machine that specializes in hovering and hovering maneuvers. But, as discussed below, there are many modifications that can take its flying capabilities right through to rip-snorting 3D aerobatics.
You really can't do a review of the Piccolo without mentioning the amazing versatility brought to this machine by modifications and upgrades. This is one micro heli that can definitely grow with your increasing abilities.
On the Ikarus "factory" front, there is a range of semi-scale fuselages that can be fitted to the machine to change its looks. These include the venerable UH-1 "Huey" (watch for an article on this great body soon here on E Zone!), the Hughes 300, and even a Bell 222/Airwolf complete with retracting U/C!
Ikarus also sell a collective pitch upgrade kit, so that when the time comes, you can "go collective" and add a whole new dimension to your flying. This upgrade gives the Piccolo the capability to fly inverted, and fly outdoors in moderate winds, along with offering a far finer sense of control to your flying in general.
In the third-party and home modification range, there seems to be no limit to the innovation out there. There are "free" mods such as the "blade cut mod" to improve head speed and stability outdoors. There also any number of after market parts, add-ons and body kits to improve and change the way your Piccolo looks and flies.
There are Piccolos out there today that are so heavily modded, that the only Ikarus parts left are the mainframe and tail rotor assy. To those that would argue that "It's no longer a Piccolo then", I simply say "There had to be a Piccolo there to start with!" On the flip side of the coin, there are Piccolo flyers out there today, who are still hovering around with bog-stock machines, and enjoying every minute of it.
The only limit with the Piccolo is your imagination, and the size of your wallet.
The FUN Piccolo is designed primarily as an indoor micro heli that specializes in hovering and hovering maneuvers. It is aimed at first time heli pilots and has many features designed to keep the cost of learning down.
As a first heli it is extremely versatile in its scalability. The range of bodies, modifications, and upgrades gives you almost infinite possibilities for expanding its capabilities as your own skills increase.
The FUN Piccolo is somewhat tricky to learn to fly, as are all indoor fixed-pitch micros when compared to their bigger collective pitch outdoor brothers. However this is offset by some extent by the low cost of ownership and repair, plus the ability to fly indoors at any time and despite the weather.
For a beginner I would suggest a minimum four-car garage sized area for learning, but I do know a lot of pilots that got started on helis with a Piccolo in a far smaller space. I've also heard it said that once you've learnt to hover a Piccolo, hovering any larger heli is a breeze by comparison!
Even in stock form, the Piccolo can provide a fun diversion for more experienced pilots on days where the weather is not conducive to flying "big uns" outside. I have whiled away many a happy hour on a rainy evening, flying my Piccolo around the living room, doing spot landings on the coffee tables and such like.
This might not sound like Curtis Youngblood territory, but when you've been grounded for a week or more due to bad weather, the idea of being able to hover around inside the house can become FUN. And if you really do want the 3D adrenaline rush, try seeing how close you can hover to your dearly beloved's prize ornaments, or indoor plants. With the entire future of household harmony balancing purely on your skills as a pilot, it'll give you an adrenaline rush that you just wouldn't believe
In conclusion, if I had to recommend a relatively low cost micro heli to a new heli flyer, who had no club or other support, with the maximum chance of them getting to the hovering stage without spending a fortune on repairs, then the Ikarus FUN Piccolo would be my machine of choice.
Jon has suggested that I add a few comments to the review for the benefit of other readers as I am a newbie to heli's and have just bought a piccolo fun. I previously replied to a thread on the Ikarus forum - check this thread out. I,ll be editting this post as I have more info.
Note that I am NOT having a go at Jon's review, just adding my 2cents worth
with my experience of building the Fun .
This is what I,ve found so far :-
One thing not mentioned in the review was the procedure for freeing up the ball joints. Exactly how free have they got to be?
Also the manual descrepencies - at two stages of build it refers tape and suggests that the tape was supplied in the kit, but it isn't. Or can you use spare decal paper?
I found another manual error as soon as I started to build it. When building the landing gear (page 23), it says, and I quote, "The struts are 4 identical length carbon fibre rods", which they are not of course. Then at the bottom of the same page it notes that "the struts have different lenghts" (note typo also ).
The flybar paddle diagrams are not altogether clear, as they show the paddles as being rectangular. In fact I wasn't too sure which way they should face (being a heli newbie), but close examination of the diagram does show which way they should 'point' - not clear, all the same.
A lot of the paragraphs on page 30 are repeated on page 31'
At the moment thats as far as I can go with the build as I,m waiting for other parts to finish it off (thats another story ).
Christchurch, New Zealand
Joined Feb 2002
I really appreciate your feedback, and it just goes to show that I didn't have my 'beginner's hat' on quite as tight as I thought .
Freeing up the ball joints is a tricky one, I thought the manual described the procedure fairly well, but you are right as to 'How free is free?". I try and aim for a link that is loose enough to fall vertical under its own weight, but not so loose as it falls off!
The tape referred to is just a German Brand of sellotape. The manual is a re-write from the original ECO Piccolo, which had many 'goodies' included such as a set of Jewellers screwdrivers and the aforementioned Tesa Tape. I thought they had removed all references to the old ECO 'included' stuff, but you spotted (at least one) that I missed - well done!
You are also quite right about the landing struts. They used to be equal lengths, with a recomendation to 'raise' one skid by taping a piecec of dowel to the bottom of the skid. They then went to the asymmetric legs, with an 'addendum' sheet in the manual, and finally added the asym legs into the manual proper, but forgot to remove the earlier reference to 'equal length'. Well spotted again!
Heh - no problem.
The aim of course, is the give the newbies as much help as possible by passing on the 'features' of the model and its paperwork. I,m only half a newbie as I,ve come from a fixed wing background, but I,d like to think that total newbies will appreciate the help.
Christchurch, New Zealand
Joined Feb 2002
Adjusting the blade tracking and other tips...
I've received a number of enquiries about "How do you adjust the tracking with the flybar paddles?". Here's a brief overview with a link to more detailed info..
Basically you mark one blade with a piece of coloured tape, and then spin up the rotors to hover speed and look at them end on. Look to see if one blade is higher or lower than the other (this is why you put the coloured tape on..).
You then tweak the flybar paddle that 'leads' the low blade and give it a little positive pitch. (Or you can tweak the paddle that leads the 'high' blade negative, but I have an aversion to negative pitch on any blade..).
Re-check and re-adjust until the two blades overlay each other perfectly when viewed edge-on.
For a far more in-depth description of the procedure involved, I can highly recommend Paul Goelz guide to F/P Piccolo tracking at http://www.pgoelz.com/piccolo_faq.html#172 .
Paul's site really is 'par excellence' when it comes to Piccolo tips and tricks, the above link is just one of the many gems to be found there.
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