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Horizon Hobby's ParkZone Cub RTF Instructor-Assisted Beginner Pilot Testing Review

The ParkZone Cub passes the acid test when an absolute beginner assembles and learns to fly it with excellent results. Experienced instructor Albert Wahrhaftig acts as flight instructor and author for this fun and interesting review.

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INTRODUCTION

The finished Cub got a proud smile from a six year old.
The finished Cub got a proud smile from a six year old.
Wingspan:37 1/4"
Weight:15 oz.
Length:26 3/4"
Servos:rudder and elevator, already installed
Transmitter:FM 27MHz proportional, included
Receiver:3 channel programmable Rx/ESC, already installed
Battery:7 cell 600ma. NI-MH, included
Motor:Geared 370, already installed
Charger:DC Peak detecting, adjustable, included
Manufactured by:ParkZone
Available From:Horizon Hobby Dealers or their website

In the world of full scale aircraft, generation after generation of pilots learned to fly on the trusty Piper J3 Cub. This heritage carried over to the world of miniature radio controlled aircraft, where Cubs have always made excellent trainers.

Believe me, those new to electric powered RC -- and with access to an instructor -- can’t go wrong choosing ParkZone’s version of the Cub as a “starter”. For a very reasonable price, everything – and I mean EVERYTHING – needed to get you into the air was included in one box, the end product of which was a well designed and generally rugged semi-scale model with excellent flight characteristics.

This review is going to be a little different. I want to concentrate on the human aspect of this subject. How easy was it for an absolute beginner to assemble the J-3 Cub? Was an absolute beginner able learn to fly with the J-3 Cub? How much help did the beginner require?

Horizon offers the HobbyZone models for those who don't have the luxury of having access to a qualified instructor. These ParkZone models are more complex aircraft, intended for those with the help of an experienced instructor, or for those who have outgrown the HobbyZone models. Let's see just how complex the cub is!

Of course, I will cover what was in the box, how the parts went together, and whether the thing flew well. I have provided the basic information about all of that – probably enough for most readers – and for lots more details I refer you to Mitch Gerdisch’s excellent review of the ParkZone Super Decathlon. ParkZone’s Decathlon construction was quite similar to the J-3 Cub, and all that Polling wrote about assembly and flight applied to the J-3 as well. So, instead of starting with the bits and pieces, I’m going to start with the people. We’ll get to the rest soon enough.

MEET THE BEGINNERS

When I was a young, airports attracted starry eyed kids who stared through the wire fence and dreamed of going up in one of those machines and maybe even flying one themselves some day. Well, these days security won’t let you get within dreaming distance of the real thing, but model airports still attract dreamy kids, both old and young. Anyway, our club airport certainly did, a whole family: Ivan Espinal, his wife Gisele, his brother Jean, and his 6 year old son, Jason. You could tell from yards away that with the least encouragement the whole bunch was going to turn into a modeling family. Ivan told me that he had wanted a model airplane ever since he was a little boy in Peru, and I figured maybe he and his son should have one. EZone’s editor was quick to agree to a review that would focus on the beginner-friendliness of a plane, I told Ivan that I would help him build and fly one if I could photograph each step for a review, at the end of which the airplane would be his, and Hobby Lobby furnished the J-3 Cub which now hangs from the Espinal family’s ceiling. Thanks to all involved in making a family of new modelers very happy.

GETTING STARTED

When the Cub came, I showed Ivan what was in the box, gave him the instruction booklet, told him to take it home and give it a thorough reading, and come to my place on a weekend evening to assemble the plane. The box, by the way, was handsome and covered with many pictures along the side that allowed us to see the assembled airplane from several different points of view. So – Point #1. Yes, I know reading instructions has never been, and never will be, a popular pastime, but I insist on it, for myself and for those I help out. Boring? Maybe. But in the long run, it can save a lot of grief.

On a Friday evening Ivan showed up with one very excited six year old. And yes, Ivan was excited too. Although I have a very adequate workshop with loads of tools and equipment, I had us gather over our dining room table to find out if the plane could be successfully assembled using only what came in the box. After a quick review of the instruction book we opened the box and, with young Jason watching with fascination, Ivan set to work. I kept my hands off and mouth shut, ready to help if asked but resolved to be “scientific” and see them get to it on their own. Conclusion: the instructions were intelligible even to someone whose first language is not English, and even a first timer could assemble the plane in less than one hour with no assistance.

WHAT IS IN THE BOX

ParkZone calls this a “Charge-and-Fly Park Flyer” and claims it was “Ready to fly Right from the Box.” I found this to be true and a bargain.

What we got was:

  • a great looking airplane, fully assembled and with all electronics installed
  • a two stick three channel transmitter along with the necessary 8 AA cells
  • a 7 cell 600 ma. battery
  • a peak battery charger designed to operate from an automobile cigarette lighter or equivalent
  • color-matched rubber bands for the wings
  • a very adequate instruction booklet

Something that made this set special was that it was designed with an eye to future growth. The receiver can be adjusted from a beginner’s mode with coupled elevator and rudder and limited control throws to a more advanced mode which will accommodate brisker and more adventurous flying. The motor-gearbox, receiver, ESC, and servos could all be easily removed for use in other airplanes, and the battery charger was capable of charge rates from .3 to 1.2 amps and thus could serve for a variety of packs.

HOW AN INSTRUCTOR CAN HELP DURING ASSEMBLY

We all know how important it was to have someone experienced assisting newcomers with their first flights, but what about an experienced voice during construction? Ivan and Jason were able to complete assembly with NO assistance. Nevertheless, an evening of relaxed putting together provided opportunity to talk about some essential issues.

First of all, frequencies. These airplanes fly on 27 Mhz and therefore were less likely to shoot down more elaborate aircraft on the 72 Mhz channels. Nevertheless, it was never too soon to emphasize the importance of frequency control, the danger that one can constitute to other fliers, the essentials of courtesy and good practice while at a flying field, and, while on the subject, the importance of joining AMA.

Although there was practically nothing to the construction sequence, it still provided opportunity to discuss some consequential things: why alignment was important and what would ensue if the wing was crooked, why this plane had so much built in downthrust, why the rudder and elevator had to be adjusted to an exact neutral, why transmitters have trim controls and how they work, why airplanes must take off and land facing the wind, and so forth. Full scale pilots have to go to ground school in order to pass their FAA exam. Maybe model pilots should too.

There was some discussion of safety. With electrics, especially, it can be easy to get a finger hacked by a prop, and few beginners have given any thought to why it can be dangerous to leave your plane with the battery connected, even if the transmitter is switched off, especially since these planes have no on-off switch.

From here on, the photos and captions can tell the rest of the assembly story.

PUTTING IT TOGETHER - TOLD IN PICTURES

Summary

The two absolute beginners found the instructions to be clear and readily understandable. They assembled the plane with no help. This was a fine kit and all the parts fit without fuss.

FLYING THE CUB: THE INSTRUCTOR

Even with its controls set for the novice flyer, the Cub was a surprisingly agile little model. Given a gentle push with wings level, it flew straight away from a hand launch and climbed easily. At altitude, its Cub yellow (what else!) color enhanced visibility, and the throttle could be cut back to 2/3 or less for gentle cruising. Even in a considerable breeze near the limits of what the Cub was designed to accommodate, it flew steadily and resisted buffeting. It glided well and was sufficiently stable that once it was in a steady power off descent with level wings, it would land itself. Assuming a competent flier, it could easily be kept within the confines of a small athletic field.

At beginner’s setting, the control throws required small movements. I found that at altitude and with full throttle and up elevator, the Cub would loop and, furthermore, that I could get it to spin (and recover!). This meant that the unassisted beginner could get into trouble, but it also meant that with an experienced pilot ready to assist, the student could explore a broader range of possibilities and problems.

The Cub was very ground loopy. On the gravel track we use I was unable to achieve a take off. Upon reversing the landing gear, we were able to ROG off asphalt. On EZone discussions I have read that take off can be achieved with an APC 8x6 prop and there are those who have also added a small amount of nose weight.

All in all, this is a very capable airplane. Steady enough for an assisted beginner and maneuverable enough to allow for some slightly advanced techniques. I say 2 thumbs up!

LEARNING TO FLY THE CUB

The first day

Ivan and Jason were excited on their first Saturday of instruction, but the weather wasn’t cooperating. Even early in the morning, the sky threatened and a brisk breeze was already present. Nevertheless, we gave it a go.

With just the three of us (counting 6 year old Jason) present, Ivan had to do the hand launching. Instructors: remember that hand launching is something that must be taught. I had a different plane destroyed when a hand launcher failed to realize that the ESC on that particular model spools slowly to full speed and gave it an immediate heave before flying power was achieved. Ivan’s instincts, too, were to give the Cub a baseball throw the moment he heard the propeller spin. Fortunately, the Cub was rugged and survived the initial learning experiences.

Once aloft and at altitude, I handed the transmitter to Ivan. As beginners do, rather than deciding where he wanted the plane to go, he tended to try to get the plane back to stable flight whenever it deviated. I allowed this. I don’t think you can start people with a “flight plan” on the very first lesson. It is best that they get the feel of the controls when the airplane is in the air and learn to hand over the transmitter when disaster is near. The transmitter did get handed over a lot, but even in the space of one flight, Ivan clearly became steadier.

Note that a buddy box was not used, nor is the included transmitter designed for one. All instruction was done solely with ParkZone’s included materials.

At the end of just one flight, it was too windy to continue, but both father and son were happy just to have seen their plane fly, have a few minutes of stick time, and bring it home in one piece.

The second day

The weather was only slightly more cooperative on the next Saturday. The first flight concentrated on two skills: moving the airplane to where the pilot wanted to go instead of simply reacting to the plane’s wandering, and keeping the airplane upwind so the wind blew it toward you rather than away from you. I simply climbed the plane from Ivan’s launch and landed at the end of the flight. Ivan did all the rest with minimal transmitter grabbing and indeed none in the second portion of the flight.

After a rest and some flying of my Miss Stik while the battery recharged, Ivan said he wanted me to launch the plane and he would climb it to altitude. No problem. He did just fine. Now Ivan really had the basics under control enough that I could step away and take some pictures. When Ivan was ready to turn over the sticks, I brought the plane to a landing on the runway, right at our feet. Ivan took one look and said “Next time, I want to land the airplane, but on the grass.”

Great. Here was an opportunity to discuss learning by having a specific objective, like practicing landings, for each flight. Wind was up, so that would be next week’s mission.

The third day

Finally, wonderful weather. On this Saturday Ivan took the plane from my hand launch and did all the flying with only verbal assistance from me. I had Ivan do a couple of “no help” landings, that is, getting the plane straight and level, cutting power off, stabilizing the glide, and allowing the plane to land itself. Fortunately we flew on an extra big athletic field, so the plane was able to float as far as it wanted. The “no help” landing allows students to see that what is important about landing is getting the final approach set up. From there on, they can simply relax and trust the airplane. You would be surprised to find how many low altitude stalls this prevents.

On his third day of flying, Ivan was near a beginner’s level of competence. Like virtually all beginners he still found it hard to remember which way to go when he wanted to turn the plane while it was flying towards him, but he at least had learned to make turns very gentle, observe them, and recognize when the plane was going the wrong way, thus allowing for recovery, and if at low altitude (just as in full-scale emergencies) to land straight ahead rather than risking a turn-and-stall disaster.

With one more Saturday to practice turns when the airplane was coming towards him and to learn to hold the transmitter in one hand and launch with the other, Ivan was ready to practice on his own.

A Week Later

Ivan is now flying the Cub alone in a park near his house. Last Saturday Ivan, helping little Jason, adult brother Jean, and cousin Jorge came to the field where I fly. Although by now the Cub has a wrinkle or two, it is still flying great.

Flying Summary

After three days and only about six flights, this highly motivated 29 year old beginner was almost ready to solo, and his airplane, having performed excellently, was intact. He was proud and happily displayed his unscratched plane to his friends and family. On the 4th flying day, he flew totally solo, and I began helping other novices in the family learn to fly.

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CONCLUSION

The ParkZone J-3 Cub has winning ways. It is a handsome airplane with more than adequate performance for a beginner. The airplane and all the equipment supplied with it are of high quality. In contrast to some of the substandard all-in-one-box sets offered in some big box stores, this is a “real miniature airplane” which will last for many flights and which keeps up with a pilot’s increasing skills. Any beginner could assemble it, and any beginner with a skilled helper could fly it. For absolute beginners it could be an excellent second airplane, and for glo pilots wanting to try out electric small field flying at minimal expense, it would be an excellent choice.

Discussion

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Old Aug 10, 2005, 10:49 AM
Gravity is a harsh mistress.
Tim Wolff's Avatar
United States, MI, Temperance
Joined Sep 2002
6,566 Posts
Nice to see a RTF/ARF "trainer" that actually flies like a trainer. One that actually looks like an airplane is certaintly an added bonus.
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Old Mar 24, 2006, 11:04 AM
Registered User
Joined Mar 2006
7 Posts
Parkzone J-3

How do any of you who are familiar with the Parkzone J-3 Cub parkflyer feel about installing another radio that is capable of using a "buddy box" to help train a beginner? I am totally new to electrics, but have been flying glow RC for several years. Thanks.
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Last edited by drbyrnes; Mar 24, 2006 at 11:05 AM. Reason: spelling error
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Old Mar 24, 2006, 11:51 AM
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Sebastopol, CA, USA
Joined Dec 1996
541 Posts
There is no reason why you can't swap out the radio as long as you use equipment of equivalent weight.
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Old Jul 26, 2007, 10:21 PM
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Russian knight's Avatar
Charlotte nc
Joined Jun 2007
315 Posts
I have the same plane . I havent flown it yet but it feels solid and sturdy .
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Old Jul 26, 2007, 11:11 PM
Registered User
Sebastopol, CA, USA
Joined Dec 1996
541 Posts
Nice to hear from you Russian Knight. Good luck with your Cub.
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