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Horizon Hobby's ParkZone Brand Super Decathlon Electric RTF Review

Wow! Finally a great looking, great flying 27MHz park flyer with a real proportional transmitter!

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Introduction


Wingspan:34.5"
Wing Area:207 sq. in.
Weight:19 oz.
Length:25.3"
Wing Loading:13.2 oz./sq. ft.
Flight Time:13 min avg.
Servos:rudder & elevator (already installed)
Transmitter:27 MHz proportional (included)
Receiver:27 MHz 3 channel RX/ESC (already installed)
Battery:7-cell 600mAH (included)
Motor:Geared 370 (included)
Manufacturer:Horizon Hobby

I have a problem. Some folks might think it's a good problem to have. But, I beg to differ. My problem is that I live about 1 to 1.5 miles away from an RC Model Airplane field. So, what's the problem? Well, it still requires some level of commitment to go to the airplane field in terms of loading and unloading the car, etc., and sometimes it would be nice to just walk down the street to the field a block and a half away and fly something small. Yet, I can't because of the risk of interfering with a flyer at the airplane field.

So, almost from the moment I entered this hobby I have been looking for a 27MHz plane that I could fly down at the local park. However, all the 27MHz planes I found used the "toy" transmitter with two unidirectional sticks - one for throttle and/or altitude and one to turn - and they were backward with the turning stick on the left instead of the right!

Then, about 7 months ago, at one of our club meetings the local hobby shop owner displayed one of Horizon Hobby's new ParkZone brand of park flyers. He showed the club members the plane and the transmitter and, quite honestly, I wasn't paying much attention since I wasn't in the market for a 72MHz RTF park flyer. But, then he said it was a 27MHz radio system.

What? But the transmitter reminded me of my Hitec Focus III transmitter. It couldn't be 27MHz. He must have misspoken. He hadn't. So, when Horizon Hobby offered their ParkZone Decathlon for a review, I jumped at the opportunity - hoping that I might finally have found a plane I could fly down the street.

Unpacking the Decathlon

The plane was quite well packed and my inspection showed no broken or crumpled parts. The decals were applied well. I found two or three bubbles that were quickly and easily pressed down.

Removing the parts from the box, I could see it was a quick build. The only part not already installed/attached was the wing. The motor, receiver/speed control, servos, pushrods were all preinstalled.

Furthermore, the kit came with everything needed to complete the kit and get the plane in the air: peak charger, battery pack, rubber bands, a screwdriver, transmitter and even AA batteries for the transmitter were included.

NOTE: Also included were small black jumpers that were used for changing receiver/speed controller settings. I did not need these to get the plane in the air. But, I did hold onto them in case I wanted to take advantage of some of the receiver/speed control features in the future (see below).

Building the Decathlon

The plane took me 30 minutes to have ready for flight. I am not exaggerating here. (If anything, I'm overstating the time since I think it really only took me 20 minutes.) In fact, the first step in the instructions was to charge the battery. This was so the pack would be ready at about the same time the plane was finished. So, before anything else, I started charging the pack.

After unpacking the plane, the only issue I found was that the flanges on the rear rubber band hold downs were not secured. A couple of drops of glue solved the problem and the plane was ready for attaching the wing. The rubber bands needed to be attached such that the first pair of bands were put on the wing going from the front right flange to the back right flange and then the same on the left side. Then the next pair of rubber bands should have been crossed from front right to back left and front left to back right.

Although the kit included a screwdriver which was supposed to be used to attach the wing struts to the fuselage, I found the screwdriver to be too small for the screws. This was inevitably going to result in stripped screws. So, I used a larger screwdriver. That said, the included screwdriver could be used in a pinch. And, if nothing else, it was a good addition to the tool box for use with servo screws and other similarly tiny screws.

Once the wing was attached, the plane was ready to fly. I found the best way to insert the battery pack was with the wires pointing down into the battery compartment (which meant they were pointing toward the top of the plane), with the "hump" at the top of the battery compartment (bottom of the plane) going from right to left. This allowed the battery hatch to be secured in place easily. However, if the pack and a wire got wedged into the battery compartment, there wasn't much to grab to pull the battery out. So, I took some of the included red ribbon (which was supposed to be tied to the transmitter antenna for wind information) and taped it to the pack so I had something to grab onto.

Unexpected Surprises

Variable Rate Peak Charger

I was expecting one of those crummy timer-based chargers that I'm used to seeing in 27MHz kits. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was a peak charger. Then, I was floored when I realized it was a variable rate charger that could be adjusted from 0.3 - 1.2 amps. I now have a car-lighter charger that I can use for other 4-7 cell nicad or nimh packs! A very nice bonus!

Furthermore, I was pleased to see that Horizon Hobby recommended a charge rate of 0.9 amps, which was a reasonable 1.5C charge for the 600mAh pack. All too often I see manufacturers forcing the consumer to use low, C/2 or C/4 charge rates, which would mean waiting forever for the pack to charge.

Dual Rate Transmitter

The Decathlon has two modes - A & B. Mode A offers a low-rate setting recommended for less experienced pilots. Mode B has a high-rate setting and pretty much provides full servo throw. I found this to be a very nice feature that I had not seen on 27MHz transmitters before.

Adjustable Control Horns

Adjustable control horns seemed unworthy of being in a section called, "Unexpected Surprises." But, again, my experience in the 27MHz park flyer universe has shown that planes in this product category generally have fixed, single-hole control horns that can't be adjusted. This was not the case for the Decathlon. The control horns could be adjusted to provide for even bigger control throws than those provided when in mode B. So, once the pilot is comfortable with the standard set up, the plane can be adjusted for larger control throws which allow for more aggressive flying such as loops.

"Programmable" Receiver/Speed Control

The Decathlon's integrated receiver/speed control has some programming options that can be set by the use of the included jumpers. One setting can cause some up elevator to be input when turning. This is provided as an aid to less experienced pilots, but it is not the default setting. Additionally, there is a jumper to switch from a T-tail plane (e.g. the Decathlon) to a V-tail plane (obviously the same unit is used in other planes such as the Slo-V). Although this setting is not useful in the Decathlon, it does mean you can reuse the unit in a V-tail plane if you wanted to. Similarly, there's a jumper that can change the low-voltage cutoff so that an 8-9 cell pack or 3S lipo pack can be safely used. This means that if (or in my case, when) the Decathlon is no longer flyable due to sudden stops on planet Earth, I'll have some options for outfitting another plane with the electronics. For example, I could build a V-tail plane that flies on a 3S lipo pack and use the same RX/ESC.

Flying the Plane

Preflight

Although the plane is not for a beginner, accomplished glow pilots may find this plane a nice change of pace. So, in case the reader is not all that familiar with electric airplanes, here are my three tips for successful e-flight:

First of all, the moment you connect the battery to the plane, you should assume only one thing: the motor and propeller have a single goal -- to chop you up as much as possible. If you think this way, you will give the prop the respect it deserves. Although the transmitter and receiver are programmed to protect you to some extent, they don't protect you from bumping the throttle lever on the transmitter or from the guy who walks up and fumbles with your transmitter as you are putting the battery hatch on. So, treat the prop with respect and you'll go far in this hobby.

Second of all, ALWAYS check your elevator and rudder trims. (OK, I guess this tip is not so much for the first time e-flyer as much as it is for people like me that seem to be followed by trim-moving gremlins.) Make sure the rudder and elevator are in neutral positions. Transmitter trims have a way of moving between flights so always check them. Furthermore, if you need to use 100% trim on the transmitter to achieve neutral control surfaces, unplug the battery and mechanically adjust the control surface using the adjustable control horns I was so pleased about above.

Third, if you can, I strongly urge you to "peak" the battery pack right before flying. In other words, put the battery back on the charger (at the normal 0.9A setting - or even less is not necessarily a bad thing) right before you are ready to fly. Then when the charger indicates the pack is fully charged, take it and put it in the plane. Doing this has several benefits. First of all, it ensures that the pack is charged - maybe you thought you had charged it since the last flight but actually hadn't. There's nothing more annoying than trying to launch and fly a plane on a depleted pack. Second of all, it warms up the pack a bit. NiMH like to be warm when flown (not hot - warm). Third of all, the pack has the most punch right after charging. So, this gives your pack a bit more oomph for the launch/takeoff and makes for a more pleasant experience.

First Flight

I thought I would beat old man Winter and try my maiden flight at a local golf dome flying venue. Unfortunately, the plane is a bit too big and requires a bit more space to fly. So, I ended up boinking it into the ground and decided to (really) maiden it outdoors.

For the first (real) flight, I decided to hand-launch the plane. I was pleased with how easy the plane launched and climbed. I was a bit concerned, since the plane's all up weight was 19 oz. as opposed to the documented 16 oz. But, the plane didn't seem to notice the extra weight. And, really since there's no way I could have added weight when building the plane (the tape and ribbon on the battery pack did not add 3 oz.), I'm guessing the specifications are simply wrong.

Once I climbed to a safe altitude, I tried some power off stalls to see how the plane reacted. It was quite docile and only dropped a wing after a few seconds of being stalled. So, the plane gives the pilot plenty of time to react when it stalls. I also tried some loops. Although they require a pretty good dive to do, loops are possible. Otherwise, I found I just enjoyed flying lazy 8 patterns around the field.

ROG-ing

When I tried the maiden at the golf dome, I found the plane had a substantial ground-loop tendency during the takeoff run. In other words, it would spin around when trying to take off from the ground. To try to counter the ground-loop, I tried bending the landing gear to give it toe-in. This means that the left wheel is "pointing" a bit to the right and the right wheel is "pointing" a bit to the left. This did help some.

In the video, you'll see the plane lift off quickly from a parking lot, but to be honest it was really too windy that day to be a fair test(as indicated by some of the bouncing around the plane did). On a "normal" day of less than, say, 5 mph winds, it'll take a longer run before liftoff and the plane may ground-loop. If so, I suggest keep trying and you'll eventually get it to ROG. I was able to successfully ROG the plane in a golf dome (i.e. no wind to speak off).

Durable!

And, although I was able to ROG the plane at the dome, I found the plane was a bit too big and somewhat challenging to turn in that space. As a result I boinked it in pretty good a couple of times. The only damage I had was cracking the cowl which I subsequently repaired. Add in a couple of other less-than-perfect landings with minimal damage and I give the plane a big thumbs up for it's durability.

Skill Level Needed

I would not consider this a beginner's plane. It's really for intermediate pilots or maybe advanced beginners. Because the plane doesn't have much wing dihedral for a rudder-elevator plane, it doesn't have much self-righting tendency. Thus, I found that I had to pay attention and make sure I brought the plane fully back to straight and level flight after a maneuver. This isn't a bad thing. It just means that a beginner should probably first try the ParkZone Slo-V or J-3 Cub before trying to tackle the Decathlon.

Flight Video

The plane is happiest in winds up to 5 mph. The first part of the video was flown in about 3 mph winds. The second half (with the takeoff from the parking lot) was in 8 mph gusting to at least 10. I strongly suggest avoiding winds like that. Flying the plane was no fun and landing even less so.

Downloads

Conclusion

I'm really pleased that Horizon Hobby has finally developed a line of 27MHz planes with transmitters and controls that match "traditional" 72MHz planes. It finally means I have something for those quick flight fixes down the street. And, although not a beginner's plane, the ParkZone Super Decathlon offers the accomplished glow or electric pilot an enjoyable park flying experience. And, it cuts a nice silhouette in the air.

Discussion

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Old May 12, 2005, 03:38 PM
Registered User
Sebastopol, CA, USA
Joined Dec 1996
538 Posts
Applause!

Applause to you, Mitch. I consider this a model (no pun intended) review. Every facet of the plane and its use is covered along with the bonus of additional hints (such as warming up NIMH batteries), and the prose is smooth and uncluttered. You leave me knowing exactly where this plane fits in the world of RC flight. I hope we'll see more of your work in the future.
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Last edited by wahrhaftig; May 12, 2005 at 03:40 PM. Reason: correct typos
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Old May 13, 2005, 10:23 AM
Mitch G's Avatar
Naperville, IL USA
Joined Nov 2000
1,886 Posts
wahrhaftig: Thanks so much for the kind words.
I'm finishing up another review and so now I'll have to make sure it lives up to your expectations!


Mitch
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Old May 28, 2005, 04:13 AM
sensitive artsy type
Treetop's Avatar
Tucker, Georgia, United States
Joined Feb 2004
3,166 Posts
I must concur on the Hobbyzone charger that comes with the plane, cheap and nice, not having a decent peak charger caused me all kinds of problems with my first entry level planes that came with a wall wort. I bought one of these for like $19 and it saved the day. No more going flying, only to have to come home because the batteries were not charged properly. tt
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Old Jun 15, 2005, 10:10 PM
Bit-Twiddler and Flyer
USA, VA, Chantilly
Joined Apr 2002
1,666 Posts
jbourke,

Another modeler requested a simulator version of the ParkZone Super Decathlon and I just completed one for Flying Model Simulater (FMS) version 8.

If you get a chance, could you download the pz-decathlon.zip model, fly it and let me know what I need to fix to make it more realistic.



Thanks!

-- ggunners
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