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Horizon Hobby's Hobbyzone Freedom RTF & Night Fly Module Review

Mike Reviews the Hobbyzone Firebird Freedom and its Anti Crash Technology. After finishing the basic review he takes us for a video night flight with the light pod attachment with the X-Port on the Freedom.

Splash

Introduction


Wingspan:50"
Weight:23 oz.
Length:33"
Wing Loading:xxxx oz/sq. ft.
Servos:2, preinstalled
Transmitter:3 channel proporational on 6 frequencies on 27 M
Receiver:combined receiver and escape, latter is digital proportional
Battery:rechargeable 7 cell 1,000mAh NiMH, included
Motor:480, included
Charger:1.2 variable rate DC peak charger for 4-7 cell packs, included
X-Port:So equipped
Manufacturer:HobbyZone
Available From:Horizon Hobby

Back in 2003 I got to fly a couple of Firebird Commander planes with the then new combat modules and bomb drop modules. My friends and I had fun flying the two of them and engaging in combat. They were good handling planes but we missed the third channel, the elevator, especially in combat. For a two channel plane it was a good stable flyer in calm wind or a slight breeze and we learned again how throttle control allows you to climb, fly level or glide down. But control and especially combat suffered in the strong late afternoon breezes we often get here in the summer. That is when elevator control was really needed.

Now, my new Firebird Freedom has elevator control.

I prefer to teach beginners to fly using three channels so they have control of throttle, rudder and elevator. Since my prior combat review, the Firebird series of planes has expanded, with several additional planes, and includes three channel models as well. The Firebird Freedom is a somewhat radical change in design from its predecessors, with a mid-wing that is slightly swept back instead of an overhead straight wing. It has a stronger motor for its size and weight and is the first three channel plane to incorporate their Anti-Crash Technology or ACT as it is known (discussed in depth in the Commander II review).

Not only was I to review the plane but I was also to review the Night Flight Module that attaches to the bottom of the plane and allows you (after you become an experienced pilot) to fly it at night. We will save the night flying for the the end of the review. Come with me as I assemble this bird and see if she is a good flyer or a turkey.

Kit Contents

Everything I needed to fly came in one box with the Freedom. I didn't need to buy anything else. That is what you want with a beginner plane! My favorite hobby store is RC Country in Sacramento and that's an hour's drive away. It is so nice to tell someone that all they need to get is the one box and it will have everything they need to fly. The box included the pre-built plane, transmitter, rechargeable battery for the plane with charger and even the eight AA batteries for the transmitter. There was also an instruction manual and a video CD with more information on the plane and flying instructions as well.

I also noticed that RC Country had a lot of replacement parts for the entire line of Firebird planes including wings, tail feathers and extra batteries. Speaking of extra batteries you might want to pick up a second battery pack when you are at the store to have one charging while you are flying with the other pack. The plane also has an X-Port so you can consider those options for combat and bomb drop in the future. If you are a beginner don't connect them to your plane until after you have learned to fly.

Assembly

On their website they talk about it taking three minutes to assemble. Gees! I have trouble getting everything out of the box in three minutes normally. Well I have a stop watch ready: one, two, three: GO!

Wing

The wing came in two pieces, and stays that way for ease of transportation and even storage in the box it came in to protect the parts from hanger rash. (To store it, the spar is simply pulled out by hand, no tools required or desired.)

Fuselage

The first thing I noticed was the previously discussed mid-fuselage mounting for the wing. Looks good to me and might help in breezy conditions with penetration and possibly control.

Assembly process:

  • Snap in main gear
  • Attach tail gear
  • FLY! (Oh, darn, first I have to cycle the battery....)

Tail Assembly Steps -- NONE!

I noticed that the tail has slightly larger control surfaces than I remember in the Firebird Commander ,and they are connected to the servos with real control rods not fishing line. This is a BIG IMPROVEMENT over the system that was used in the Commander. It proved to supply positive control and centering of the control surfaces on the ground and in flight.

Radio Installation? None!

Radio came installed with control surfaces connected to the control rods. There was nothing to do but put the enclosed AA batteries into the transmitter. The plastic wrap around the batteries resisted me for a couple of seconds but I got it opened with brute strength and installed the batteries into the transmitter one at a time.

Completion

The only time consuming feature for getting the plane in the air was charging the battery. The supplied charger was a variable pulse charger and for the flight battery the fastest setting was used of 1.2. They estimated that it would take 45 minutes to charge the battery. I ran the battery down before charging and it took me 56 minutes on the first charge. The charger works off what used to be called the cigarette lighter plug in a car. This was convenient for me, an adult who drove to the field. However, it might stop young teenagers from flying on their own if there isn't a car at home to use with their charger. This power plug option on the charger will fit most customer's needs but not all. If they gave a 4-hour wall charger more pilots would complain about it not being good for charging at the field and that it took too long. For the price of the total package I found the charger worked well and give a good charge to the 7-cell battery and an adequate charge to the optional 8-cell battery I bought.

There was nothing else to do to complete the plane. So while the battery was charging and the plane assembled, it was time to read the instructions and view the CD. The CD is aimed at the beginner and goes through assembly, field check and some flying tips and a good review of the ACT. The CD's target market is for beginners and it hits the mark. My only change would be to cover the field test with a range check with a collapsed antenna. By the way, my assembly time was 10 minutes. In my defense I had to get scissors to cut three plastic ties holding the parts in the foam box. Additionally, I had to unscrew two small bolts in the tail and attach the tail wheel and screw them back in place. Finally I had to install the batteries in the transmitter. I guess I am just a slow worker.

The instructional manual is short but it has a number of good points in it, especially for the beginner. It can be reviewed online at Horizon Hobby. Just look up the Freedom and view its manual. The video CD is also helpful especially for the beginner.

Cycling the Battery Pack

NiMH battery packs don't work really well until they have been cycled between 3-5 times. In the past I have had some planes not even fly with the battery pack on its first charge. I no longer even try to fly until I have cycled the battery packs. I cycle my new packs with full charge/discharge three times before I use them in normal operation. For this review I only did it twice and flew on my third full charge. My discharge method was to run the motor until the battery cut off, changing the speed up and down as I ran it. Run time for the second charge was almost a minute longer than after the first charge. Don't gauge your motor run time by what you get the first few flights.

Anti Crash Technology (ACT) Expectations

Back in 2004 I reviewed the Hobbico Nexstar gas powered plane and its Active Flight Stabilization (AFS) system. I found that system worked well. It requires that you fly in the middle of the day as the location of the sun is critical to the success of the system. Very similarly but at a MUCH lower pricetag, the Firebird's Freedom system also works on the location of the sun and has some important rules for its successful use, such as no flying over water.

What did I expect the ACT to do? I was thinking about this question before I even had the plane or read about the ACT from their advertising literature and I made some notes to myself. I thought I would share them and I hope there is dialogue on the ACT in the discussion following this review.

ACT Expectations:

  • I didn't expect it to be able to save a launch or a takeoff.
  • I didn't it expect to work at low level due to lack of time.
  • I expected it at best to be some assistance to a pilot at altitude.
  • I hoped it could be quickly disabled in flight if that was desired.

Rightly or wrongly, my expectations would be that ACT would be of some help to the beginning pilot and not a hinderance. We are in this hobby so we can fly the plane and not have a machine flying the plane for us, but tools to help save a model are always worth looking at. I'll discuss the results below as part of the flying review.

Downloads

Flying

The wing wasn't supposed to look like a still picture of a flapping Seagull?

I may be drummed out of E-Zone's Review program with this admission but my plane was shipped to me and arrived deformed and I didn't notice! The kit was shipped to me at E-Zone's request and delivered at the end of a day in 106 degree heat, obviously after being in the big brown truck in extreme heat for a lonnnng time. Both wings were the same shape and I was a little surprised by the extent of the gull wing appearance but in the pictures the wing looked slightly drooped, so I didn't think any more about it. I got in three flights with the original wing, while fighting the Freedom tooth and nail. Three full battery packs and on the fourth, shot part of the crash, launch & land video before I looked closely at the Freedom in promotion pictures and realized my wings were very deformed! This deforming was probably a 1 in 100,000 chance but it happened. My best guess was that the wings warped in the delivery truck during that extremely hot day with late afternoon delivery. Replacement wings were $ 14.99 plus tax at RC Country in Sacramento. Since I share my mistakes in my reviews, in hopes others will learn from them, compare the pictures below and don't make my mistake. (This will probably never happen again anyway, but...) 1)Buy from a local hobby store if you can and check the kit out before you leave the store. 2) Treat your plane as you would a beloved pet, don't keep it in a hot car with the windows up out in the hot summer sun.

After my first three flights I accidentally killed my already heat-damaged "pet". I left my Freedom in my closed up car, wings plugged in and ready to fly, in the hot summer sun for over an hour during the heat wave. I only stopped for a minute but I was gone for an hour. My car is a Prius hatchback with no trunk. It was there that I killed the previously wounded wings. I think the right wing warped more during that hour plus and while the plane basically looked the same, it was then unflyable. I know it was unflyable because I tried, and tried and tried. On the plus side it caused me to crash the heck out of the plane trying to fly it and I can tell you the Freedom took a licking but kept on ticking. However all of those crashes got it dusty and dirty (remember that). I checked at RC Country in Sacramento and they have sold hundreds and hundreds of Firebirds, including lots of Freedoms, and they have never seen or heard of a problem like my initial wings. We concluded mine was a freak that once weakened became further aggravated on a hot day in my Prius. I have had no problems with the replacement wing...but neither have I left it in my car in the sun.

Basics

The Freedom comes on six different frequencies in the 27 Megazhertz range. Mine was on "Channel 4" also known as 27.145.

The plane needs to be flown relatively fast. Let me repeat that: The plane needs to be flown relatively fast! You want to get up speed before you try to gain much altitude. Flown too slowly (i.e. using up elevator) the plane was prone to tip stalls if I tried to turn at too slow a speed or too sharply at slow speed.

At full throttle I found it turned sharply and well if I started my turn with rudder and added in up elevator as the plane banked for the turn.

I found initially my plane flew as if it were slightly tail heavy to my personal preferences and so I added half an ounce of weight in the front of the battery box with the seven cell battery pack and no extra weight when I used an optional 8-cell pack I bought at RC Country. In speaking with Horizon, they indicate they check every model's CG prior to packing, and that they have never had a model not have their recommended CG range. They indicated the model may 'porpoise' a bit in higher winds, making it 'feel' tail heavy, and that might've been the case in my circumstance. Regardless, the model is certainly flyable at the stock position, and it may've been a fluke with my model or it may have simply been my preference.

Do I Need More Power? -- testing the 8 cell upgrade

I have never been terribly fond of the 480 size motor on seven cells and so when I bought the new wing I bought the eight cell battery pack from HobbyZone that they sell for the Stryker. It is the same size pack but it is rectangular and fits in the same space in the fuselage. With this battery pack the Freedom flew with more authority, a little faster and climbed quicker. The included charger didn't give the eight cell pack a completely full charge but it charged it enough for a good flight. However, since I had other chargers, after testing the supplied charger with the eight cell pack I was able to get the pack fully charged with my other battery chargers.

While I think the eight cell pack is a good option I must say that I found that I didn't need it. My Freedom flew fine on the supplied seven cell pack with 1/2 an ounce of lead added by me in the battery bay. The videos shot for this review were all flown using the seven cell pack so you can judge for yourself. Contrary to some reports I did NOT find the one I tested to be sluggish or feel heavy or under powered. If I tried to fly it too slowly, with a bit of up elevator that it didn't need, then it felt all of those things. Again watch the videos and judge for yourself.

Taking Off and Landing

I found that, from hard firm dirt or asphalt, the plane did very well in ROG (Rolling Off the Ground) take-offs. All my flights, whether I started with an ROG or a handtoss, were always into any existing wind! My Freedom would nose over and could not take-off from loose sandy fields. (See failure to ROG in Night Pod video.) Again, hard surfaces worked fine.

How to of Hand-Launch Take-Offs

Most of my flights were started by hand launches where I firmly tossed the plane to start the process. There are right ways and wrong ways to toss the plane so let's go over that process.

Some people just run up the motor and expect the plane to fly out of their hand. While that works with some planes it doesn't with most and it usually leads to a crash. It doesn't work with the Firebird Freedom! I am right handed so I toss with my right hand and hold the transmitter in my left hand. I normally run the throttle up to about 3/4 speed and step forward with my left leg and make a hard firm level throw so that the plane goes straight away from me in level flight. As I complete my throw my right leg swings forward. No running, just stepping forward with a good hard throw. With the Freedom I found I was starting at or near full throttle when I tossed.

Some beginners try and toss the plane upwards and this usually leads to a stall and frequently a crash. Firm and level (or five to ten degrees upwards max) is the way to hand launch. The plane has to have flying speed for the control surfaces to work and allow you to control the plane.

With the Firebird Freedom a weak launch will most likely be rewarded with a roll over crash. I did three creating this review -- only one was truly intentional. (The first was an accident, the second for the video and the third one occurred when I wasn't focused on my launch.)

If there's no air flow or insufficient air flow going past the wings and tail control surfaces, the motor torque will induce a roll and if severe enough a crash. The weaker the toss the greater the likelihood that will happen. You do not need to be an athlete to hand toss your Freedom successfully. The Freedom launches very nicely with a firm straight forward toss. If you have any concern about this, than just take off from the ground. With the pusher prop configuration I expected the roll would be to the right but all three of my launch rolls were to the left -- two with my initial wing and one with the replacement wing.

Landings

"Well you didn't crash on launch but you'll get another chance at the landing." That quote was said to me decades ago and somewhat in jest by one of my first flight instructors -- but it carries all too much truth for what beginners are feeling. I lined up the Freedom into the wind and from 10 to 60 feet I killed the motor and she just glided in for a landing.

Into the breeze, hands off from 10 feet, she lands herself.

The problems occur when people over steer and over react as the ground comes up and they over steer the plane, causing the plane to stall in a turn and crash. Set up for your landing and fly as much level and hands off as you can. In the relatively calm conditions that a beginner should fly in the Freedom lands itself in calm air or when pointed into the breeze. I usually flared (touch of up elevator) just before touchdown but was otherwise normally hands off.

Tight turns at or below ten feet usually lead to a crash. Don't do it! Even with the motor off the Freedom continues to glide down rather quickly. Let it settle down all on its own, or VERY gently flair (supply a little up) to bleed off a bit of that speed just before touch down. Try to fly it too slowly with too much up elevator and it can stall and fall.

The following video shows what happens with a weak launch toss, a proper hand toss launch, a roll off of ground launch and a landing. No damage was done to this plane in the making of this video! However, the wings were replaced once I learned my original wings were deformed. Thus for the ROG and the landing you will see the replacement wings without decals. The replacement wings were used in all videos thereafter.

Downloads

Anti Crash Technology (ACT)-- The Reality

First, let me say, the ACT worked exactly as I expected, and has real potential to save a beginner's model when the new pilot gets disoriented and doesn't realize he's gotten into a dive, or can't think how to get the plane out of it.

I have taught a lot of people to fly over the years and my most recent student was my friend Dave Harmon. Dave would have benefited from the ACT in his early learning stages. When flying overhead at altitude Dave would sometimes use too much elevator and put the plane into a dive and not even know it. Fortunately, I was there to tell him that he was in a dive and to get off the elevator or give it some up elevator. If Dave had been alone with my trainer plane he might and probably would have crashed the plane on one of those occasions where he unknowingly put the plane into a dive. If he had been flying the Freedom back then, the ACT would have pulled him out of the dive and he would have realized what had happened.

Now if you don't remember your early days of flying R/C, or if you don't work with beginners very often, you might think Dave was an isolated person and blow off the ACT as unnecessary because you don't need it now. Dave has now flown about 10 -12 battery packs and even he might not need ACT anymore. (He did fly the Freedom and controlled it just fine and his flying didn't activate the ACT technology in the flights he has had.) However, at least half of my beginners over the years have made the same mistake and been unaware of it as disorientation early in the flight learning process is very common. That disorientation usually happens at altitude and normally in my experience half way or more through the power in the battery pack in one or more of the first six flights. If there was a long layoff from flying for the beginner this problem often returned for the first flight or two when they resumed flying. For the person flying alone ACT lets them know they made a mistake and pulls the plane out of the dive.

Similarly, many new pilots accidentally overcontrol and put the model into a 'death spiral'. Panicked, they don't know what inputs to give or how to get out of it. Allowing the ACT to take over will either save the plane or at least minimize the decent and damage at the end of the spiral. If at altitude, the ACT system may give the pilot time to let go, collect their thoughts, and regain control prior to crashing.

My expectations discussed above were met by the ACT. It is a capable but limited purpose tool that has a limited time life in the training of most pilots. That said, it can save the plane of a disoriented pilot and they normally don't even know they were disoriented if flying alone until it is too late. After the pilot gets past that stage and is certain they are past that stage then they don't need to turn it on any more. I didn't find the limited movement of the control surfaces to be a problem at all at altitude. So there was no reason not to turn it on at altitude.

Now, some folks think the ACT will fly the plane for them, so I'd like to get rid of that idea right now. It is meant to be a corrective tool, a learning tool, a HELPER when a beginner gets in trouble, and it does these jobs VERY well. It is NOT to be used on take off or landing. Here are the other key limitations and things you should know before trying flying with the ACT...

ACT is a limited function tool that is of assistance to a pilot who is in an unintended dive: ACT pulls the plane out of a dive, levels the plane and reduces the motor speed. When ACT is on, movement of the control surfaces is always limited, that is when compared with the off setting of the ACT. Per the instructions, it is for use at altitude (above 150 feet) and does not help for take-off, hand launch or landing. It is NOT an auto-pilot. It can't be used in the early morning or late afternoon or evening, as it depends on the suns position to function. It can also have trouble in bright sunshine as we have here in California in July. Additionally, it can't be used over water, asphalt, light sand, snow or ice. Despite the limitations described in the instruction manual, mine worked over brown dried grass in bright Ca. sunshine at 9:00 in the morning. I believe it is a helpful tool for the beginner and the beginner only. Once you master the basics of flight you won't need it. I don't recommend you have it on when taking-off or landing but for the beginner I do recommend you turn it on when you have climbed to altitude.

Since it limited my control of the plane when it was turned on, all the time it was on, I didn't want it on when I needed the most control...when I was near the ground. The good thing was I could turn it on and off with the flick of the switch on my transmitter. I kept it off near the ground and only had it on when at altitude where it can help me. The manufacturer does suggest that a total beginner can leave it on near the ground -- even if it cannot save the model completely, it may help stabilize the model, slowing it and getting it flatter, prior to a crash.

Dirt Affects the ACT

Wanting to video the ACT working, the Freedom was intentionally placed into a dive. It kept diving and diving and oh crap... I flicked off the ACT and pulled back hard on the elevator. The plane pulled out of the dive and skimmed just above the grass very quickly. With a rush of adrenalin I circled around and landed. Was the sun to bright? Was the dry grass too sandy colored? Oops! All the playing I had done in the sand and dirt trying to take off in soft dirt had covered the ACT openings with dirt and heavy dust (very dirty). Cleaned them off and took-off again. Flew a little higher this time before I turned on the ACT and placed my Freedom into a dive and spin. This time the ACT worked as described and pulled the plane out of the dive and leveled off the plane. It worked exactly as it was suppose to for the limited but important function it serves. I learned I had to keep the sensors clean to have it work.

I downloaded the following video and a number of stills from Horizon Hobby's website to use in this review. (My camera person missed all of my ACT demo flights for camera and I felt with the graphics on, Horizon's video did a better job of displaying what happens then I could anyway.) My demo flights with clean equipment were similar to the action the video below shows. I don't recommend testing the ACT feature to show it off as it IS limited. Rather use it as the last back-up for the beginner pilot.

Downloads

Aerobatics/Special Flight Performance

On the standard seven cells, with a dive and full power the Freedom did a nice loop whether the battery pack was fully charged or through most of the pack. It had more trouble doing a loop after flying for several minutes, unless the dive to start the loop was greater. With the eight cell pack it did the loop very nicely and the loop can be made a bit bigger.

Is The Freedom For a Beginner?

Yes, but I don't think it is for every beginner! For the timid beginner who wants to fly slowly, AND is willing to wait for no wing, there are other Firebirds and planes for that matter that better fit that slower type of flying. For the confident beginner who isn't afraid to fly the plane at the speed it was designed to be flown at, the Freedom is a good plane, and allows that pilot to fly in mild wind with good control due to its higher flight speed. Mine flew well and I found it to be fine for an adventurous beginner with a good size field.

Personally, I think the true beginner especially will find it a better flyer, easier to control plane with 1/2 an ounce of lead added to the front of the battery compartment of the plane. Or, with the 8-cell battery pack I described above, the plane flies with more authority and no useless lead was needed.

The ACT as discussed above can be very helpful for the beginner pilot. From my experience half or more of the beginner pilots will make the types of mistakes that would benefit from having ACT early in their flight career. This is especially true if they are learning on their own. Most pilots won't even need to turn it on after they get past the problem of occasionally becoming disoriented. I know one or two pilots who have been in our hobby for years who should probably never be without ACT. They would benefit if it could work down to about 1 foot of altitude (it doesn't), but they are exceptions.

Flight Video

Downloads

Parts availability

Availability of parts has become a major factor in the selection of a trainer plane. Beginners have the most accidents and therefore the greatest need for replacement parts. Nothing is worse than being grounded while waiting for a spare part, especially if you are reviewing the plane on a four day weekend. My favorite hobby shop sells a lot of all of the Firebird series of planes. I needed to replace my original wing so I drove to the hobby store and got the replacement wing that day and was back in the air that afternoon. (While at the hobby store I flew their Real Flight 3G flight simulator and a custom plane set-up to fly like the Freedom. It was fun but I think their custom model needs to be a little faster with motor on or in glide to match the Freedom -- but otherwise it was well done, and a great way for a beginner to get the feel before flying the aircraft!)

More and more hobby shops are keeping the replacement parts in stock to better serve the needs of the new pilot. Here are some pictures showing you the stock that RC Country had on hand for the Firebird Freedom.

Night Flight Module

Night flying is not for the beginner! It is much easier for the pilot to become disoriented flying in the darkness of night than the light of day. Since most beginners are already battling to some extent to be oriented with their plane at all times it only makes sense that they should not try and do that which by itself can be disorienting. So night flying is for the more advanced pilot. Beginners ... it gives you something to look forward to.

I have done night flying on occasion for years using chemical sticks, battery powered Christmas lights, a professional R/C lighting system and even a bunch of little individual battery powered LEDs sold as "jewelry." They have all worked... but it is important to plan for success, especially flying at night.

1) Plan to fly close to yourself and more above yourself than out away from you. 2) I found darkening twilight to be the best time to start. It is dark enough for the lights to have a good visible effect and yet bright enough that you can see the outline of your plane in the sky. 3) Practice the routine you are going to fly in the light a couple of times before you try it in the darkening twilight.

After a couple of night flights you won't need to practice or fly a set pattern but trust me, in the dark you can panic quickly, so knowing your pattern and the motion you expect from the plane is a big help. Never fly any plane for the first time in the dark even if you are an expert.

With that as a guide to getting started lets review this X-Port module.

Installing the system was as simple as it gets. I plugged the X-Port Night Light System into the X-Port in the side of the Freedom Fuselage and clipped it on under the fuselage in the designed location. It was powered from the motor battery and its location didn't adversely affect the plane's Center of Gravity. The pod had super bright LEDs and some were directed up at the wings. It was the reflected light off the white bottom of the wings that was the main object for my eyes to track and that was why flying more overhead than to the horizon was so important.

The Night Pod video was shot on July 2nd. Unfortunately my Sony camera works in very low light and made the sky look much brighter than it really was to the human eye. But you get the idea of what you can see with the Night Pod. Being an "Expert" I didn't read the instructions that came with the night pod, besides it was dark out. If I had read the instructions first, I won't have had the night pod on backwards or been surprised that the lights flash when the X-Port button was accidently pushed.

Downloads

Continuing the fun

The best thing about X-port equipped planes is that you never out grow the fun! Most modelers outgrow their first and second planes pretty quick. The Freedom, with its slightly faster speed and sharper turning, should entertain the pilot longer than some other trainer planes would. However, most people get an itch for a second/third plane, as they feel (perhaps mistakenly) they learned all they can from this model. Not anymore! With the X-port you can get the accessories and have the fun continue with the challenge of mastering these modules.

I enjoyed the aerial drop module several years ago but when I gave the Firebird Commanders to a Missionary and another church member I gave away the parachute/bomb drop modules with them. (The Missionary in Asia still uses the plane to draw a crowd and then he preaches to that crowd.) For this review when I bought the new wing set and 8-cell battery pack I also just had to get the parachute/bomb drop. I really enjoy trying to allow for drift and hit my spot with the parachutist. In fact I got in a number of flights and drops from one battery pack as I took-off and landed just to do the drops. Be careful where you release them as they can be blown quite a distance if you drop from up high on a breezy day. I almost hit Dave, my camera man one day, with the bomb drop.

Even more fun is the sonic combat, if you have an opponent with a comparable plane. (I haven't tried to fight with a Mustang or Focke Wulf yet but if a club member got one I would love to see how I would do against them in my Freedom.) I currently don't have an opponent but I do have the target drone they sell that rests on a stick and is designed for target practice. Below is my bonus video on continuing the fun. Unfortunately, it became too windy to keep flying after I finished reviewing the aerial drop module.

Downloads

Conclusion

Likes

  • I liked the new solid control rods going to the V-tail, they worked well!!!
  • I liked the rubber nose to help protect from nose in "landings."
  • I liked the rear facing motor to protect the motor and prop.
  • I liked that the ACT could be turned on/off with the flick of a switch in flight.
  • I liked the ACT for the reasons I described and its limited but useful purpose.
  • I liked that parts were readily available at local hobby stores, I needed some!
  • I liked the portability of the plane (back in the box) and the ease of assembly.
  • I liked the fact that the motor doesn't turn on when the battery is connected, even if the throttle is left on.
  • I like the X-Port and the toys you can use with it.
  • I liked the speed and glide of the Freedom. Should be good for sonic combat.

Dislikes

  • I disliked the soft metal landing gear that I bent, straightened, bent, etc.
  • I disliked the speed for a true beginner's 1st plane for the most timid of students.
  • I disliked having the battery cover on the transmitter keep coming off.
  • I disliked that I broke the hinge for the battery cover on the plane -- but, on a positive note, it stays in place anyway.
  • I disliked that the shipping box can't be used quickly for storage, as I could not easily get the rod out of my left wing.
  • I disliked my initial set of wings and that I didn't immediately recognize the problem...big time that I didn't recognize the problem.
  • I disliked the factory CG without my added .5 oz lead.

If you will be flying in gusty conditions, I personally recommend that you add a half an ounce to the front of the battery box of the plane -- it makes the Freedom more stable particularly in any wind. This was especially true in the gusty conditions I had during most of this review. The manufacturer indicates the stock CG should be fine for all pilots, but my personal preference was a bit more forward.

If you read my likes and dislikes, you see I am split on the issue of speed. For myself I liked the Freedom's speed envelope. Most of my younger students will probably like its speed as well. They will also be able to continue flying it for a long time with the X-port attachments keeping it interesting. Plus, the slightly higher speed lets it penetrate mild winds better -- and we all know we all hate to wait for the winds to stop when we're anxious to go fly! My older students normally like slower trainers and for them the Freedom is probably a little too fast for their first plane -- yet they are the same ones who would most benefit from the ACT helping in a disorientation induced dive. I like the ACT for the limited role it plays. The disoriented pilot often over-corrects so it is good to have the reduced movement in those situations. Fortunately, the ACT does turn on and off with the flick of a switch at the transmitter once the pilot has outgrown it.

The storage box -- With a little planning the shipping box could have made a quick and easy storage box for the Freedom. The main landing gear pulls out easily and quickly so they can be removed for storage. The rear wheel is held on by a couple of screws but if the box where a little higher it could be left on and stored with the wheel installed. But removing the wheel requires no tools and is also reasonably easy. However the left wing won't fit in the box with the wing rod installed and mine really held onto the wing rod. I found to remove the wing rod from the right wing was no problem. But I couldn't remove from the left wing without removing five screws.

If the box foam had been shaped to hold the wing and rod together, it would be easy storage. While I won't take the wing apart to remove the wing rod to store when I want to fly it on a weekly basis, I will for safe storage if it won't be flown for awhile.

Editor's note: The manufacturer indicates the wing rod SHOULD remove from the left wing without requiring disassembly of the wing. They do not recommend disassembly.

If you are a beginner, once you become an intermediate pilot, take advantage of the X-port. I just had to buy the parachute/bomb drop unit as it was so much fun to try and land that guy on a given spot allowing for wind drift etc. If you have a friend with an X-Port equipped plane then the sonic combat modules are a lot of fun and give continued life to your enjoyment of your plane.

I read your posts.

I normally don't have much, if any, input on how a plane I am reviewing flies for others. Since the Freedom has been out for awhile there were a number of posts concerning it and I reviewed them after I had flown my Freedom. On a too light toss mine rotated left (all three times) while members post theirs rotated right.

I was not disappointed with the Freedom's 480 motor at all. I had no feeling of heaviness or being under powered with mine even on seven cells, even though I expected to, as I previously was disappointed by the 480 motors I used in some fighter planes years ago in the pre-brushless pre Lipo era. I haven't seen your planes or how you fly and I don't doubt any of you. I was able to get the type of performance that was described if I flew with up elevator dialed in using the elevator trim tab. Using up elevator to try and slow it down, it became heavy feeling, under powered and tended to tip stall more easily in turns. (I am not saying that any of you did that -- just that I could get those results flying that way.)

I found my Freedom to be a good plane that had a fairly fast flight envelope compared to most Zone 1 trainer planes. I personally like the way mine flies (with the replacement wings I bought). I think the plane's proper speed envelope has surprised many of you and possibly caught you off guard. Please use the discussion section below to share your experiences. I reviewed the Freedom that I flew, not anyone else's. Just one plane just off the shelf and I shared my mistakes and made my recommendations. Use the discussion section and please do the same.

For Beginners Only: GENERAL INFORMATION FOR ANY PLANE

I have a few ideas for you beginners that I want to share in hopes of making your flying experience a successful one. This is a great hobby and I have had the pleasure of bringing a number of people into the hobby.

My number one suggestion is that if you can find an experienced pilot to assist you, that you do so. While many people are self-taught and learn on their own without a problem, if you know of a good pilot with a good disposition then approach them about assisting you at getting started for your first couple of flights. It should increase your chances for success and help avoid some potential pilot error problems at the start. It will almost definitely speed up your learning curve and decrease your crash count and costs!

Pick your first flying field and day to fly carefully. While ultimately you may want to fly out of a postage stamp size field near your home, your first flying experience should be in as wide open an area as possible. Ideally nothing to hit for as far as you can see...well that may not be possible but get a field that gives you room in multiple directions. Remember Charlie Brown's kite and how it could find the kite eating tree? That kite is your plane when it comes to one tree, or one light pole! If the first day you want to fly is windy then do something else! Go to a movie or fly a kite. On a windy day without experience you can't tell what you are doing vs. what the wind is doing so find a CALM day for your first couple of flights. Here in Stockton Ca. I do dawn patrol training as it is generally calm in the morning but often breezy in the afternoon so I can teach a newbie before work but not always after work.

Number 1 Beginners mistake is confusing the plane's left with its right when it is flying at you or sideways. Until you develop the feel that you are in the plane and its direction is second nature to you and requires no thought on your part, I instruct my students to turn their bodies to face the direction the plane is heading. When flying away from you, you face forward looking straight at the plane's tail. Turn the plane left you turn left and face that direction as well, turning your head to your right to watch the plane. Bringing the plane back at you turn your body somewhat (not completely) backwards and watch the plane over your shoulder. That way your right and left will always line up with the planes left and right. For most people after a couple of flights or flying sessions they can stop doing this as their head is now in the plane. But do it as long as it takes for you!

The number 2 most common mistake is using the elevator way way way too much! The beginner with a three channel or greater system with control of rudder, elevator and throttle often causes stalls and accidentally enters into dives by using more elevator than is necessary. Often the dives are accidental and not even noticed by the student who is a little disoriented. Like your car's gas pedal or steering wheel, a little elevator goes a long way. The beginner who starts flying with only a two channel system realizes immediately that there is a relationship between the amount of throttle applied and whether a plane goes up, flies level or is gliding down. The beginner with three channels is sometimes slow in learning about this throttle relationship as they focus on using the elevator to control climb or dive. Throttle management is an important skill to learn in controlling your plane. Elevator trim tab is very helpful and can be adjusted for throttle on and off. Practice adjusting that trim tab as needed, it will make you a better pilot.

The first few flights should be focused on learning to make level 90 degree turns. Most turns start with the rudder and then involve adding some up elevator as the lift on the turning side lessens and that side's wing drops down as the plane banks. (Example: In left turns the left wing drops down.) My students do not take-off or land during the first few flights. I do that for them. They are focusing on flying that plane as level as possible when the motor is off and they are in a glide or climbing back to altitude when the motor is on. I prefer that they do the first landing in a wide open park or field so they have lots of room. I want them set-up so that at an altitude of 20 feet they can just glide straight with no turns needed to land into the wind. If they don't touch the controls after reducing throttle the plane will normally land itself. If the space is small the beginners are more likely to panic and over control the plane and crash. Set yourself up for success, give yourself a lot of room for the first few flights especially.

After you have mastered the ninety degree (Not 70 or 120 degrees when trying for 90.) turn you can start playing with the elevator for small dives, climbs or even a loop. Just do it with some altitude so you have a chance to recover if you have a minor problem. Hope these tips help you and good flying to you.

Thanks

I want to thank Jason Mancini, Dick Andersen and Dave Harmon for their help in shooting of the videos used in this review.

Last edited by AMCross; Aug 02, 2006 at 12:42 PM..

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Old Aug 07, 2006, 10:17 PM
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Michael Heer's Avatar
Stockton, Ca. USA
Joined Apr 2001
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Brief update

Since submitting this review several weeks ago I have gotten in a few flights in calm conditions and confirmed that my Freedom flies fine in calm conditions without any added ballast. In gusty winds I stick by my recommendation of a minimum of an added 1/2 ounce at the front of the battery space. That isn't much weight but it did make a difference in the wind. Mike
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Old Aug 07, 2006, 11:00 PM
Just one more plane!
JWarren's Avatar
Port Saint Lucie, Florida, United States
Joined Aug 2004
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Real nice review, Mike!

John
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Old Aug 09, 2006, 05:24 AM
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Tucker, Georgia, United States
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Wow, very thorough. Thanks for a job well done.
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Old Aug 09, 2006, 05:50 AM
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Some of the reports of underpoweredness probably stem from faulty speed controllers and/or mis-trimmed transmitters (you can't trim throttle).

My Freedom seemed underpowered, especially since before I bought it I flew my friend's Freedom and didn't have any problems. One day we happened to be setting up at the same time and I noticed that when he did his engine test his engine seemed more powerful. We switched batteries to rule that out, and his was still much more powerful, maybe as much as 10-15 percent. Upon takeoff, his could climb much faster than mine.

Just an FYI.
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Old Aug 10, 2006, 12:50 AM
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Aubry Township, Kansas South of KC.
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Wow. Extremly good job on the review.
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Old Aug 10, 2006, 02:49 PM
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In first video .... the guys got wings on up-side down ! lol
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Old Aug 10, 2006, 11:28 PM
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Now don't go "Postal" but the orignal wings came with the decals applied and despite the warp in the wings you can see they are actually on correct side-up. Unfortunately the molded form on the side of the fuselage kept me from trying to use them upside down. Mike
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Old Aug 13, 2006, 03:49 PM
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I think most will agree that Mike did a superior job w/ his review (above and beyond, etc.)
So to my own experiences with the FF..
It has a tendency to tip stall when slowed down too much, and while the ACT mitigates that to an extent, it won't completely eliminate it!
Given that I've been flying for a long time and have a lot of experience (but NOT an "expert" by any means) I would not recommend this plane for a beginner.
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Old Aug 22, 2006, 01:05 PM
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I concur with Bob. Mike did a superior review however the Firebird Freedom is not a very good beginners plane.

Mike wrote a superior review. I hope that other reviewers follow his lead and provide more information than we can get from the manufacturers. This is probably even more important for planes that are aimed at beginners.

I have a moderate amount of flying experience having owned and flown about 6 or 7 different planes over a number of years. My current planes are a Zagi and ParkzoneTyphoon with 50 flights and counting.
I bought a Firebird Freedom for my nephew to teach him how to fly. He never really got to fly it. I flew it but all 6 flights were bad to passable at best with a few minor crashes. On the last flight it tip stalled badly twice in succession so I lost it in some very tall trees in a forest. Had I read Mike's review I might have flown it faster and that may have helped but it still tip stalled badly at 1/2 - 2/3 throttle. So, I bought a F-27 Stryker. I have successfully taught him to fly, land, and launch using the Stryker in only 3 outings. Note that I don't recommend the Stryker as a beginner aircraft. My nephew is a quick learner and he had me to trim it and teach him. I'm just using it to contrast the overall experience. I would not recommend the Freedom as the plane that the manufacturer is claiming it to be (a beginner plane with "magic" ACT).

Perhaps the Freedom can be an acceptable, but not great, beginner plane. It seems some folks have been able to fly the freedom ok. I'm speculating that the wings are not all "warpped" in exactly the same manner. Perhaps adding some washout to the wing tips would minimize the tip stalling. I'll leave it to the owners of the Freedom who have help from experienced flyers to confirm this.

Thanks again to Mike for providing a very good review.
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Old Aug 23, 2006, 06:44 PM
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Darch, Perth Western Australia
Joined Jul 2006
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Hi,

I read the review and it sounds very good. I was actually thinking on possibly buying a Freedom when I could. I live in Australia. And currently I have a 3 Channel Art-Tech/E-GO Models Cessna 182 ( I you've ever heard of it ). And it's a good begginers plane I flown it about 3 times practiced with the included Sim on my PC. The second time I flew it I kinda accidentaly flew to close to the grown and a down wind gust made it spiral out of control and crash. To be honest the Plane looked un repairable. I was flying with 2 other R/C flyers who are way more experienced than me and they said since it was a Foamie it was easily repairable. Which it was with glue. I was looking at buying a Freedom because it would mean I wouldn't have to wait for the Cessna 182 to charge if ran out of battery's and also get a better understanding on how some of the Hobby zone Planes fly.

I bought an Aerobird Xtreme for 20 Australian Dollars ( Second Hand ). I haven't flown it yet because I'm going to keep practicing with the Cessna 182. But this is another reason why I would also want one. To get an understanding on how some Hobbyzone planes fly. So I can hopefully fly with success when I fly the ABX eventually.
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Old Aug 26, 2006, 06:08 AM
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yes n'deed
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Old Sep 01, 2006, 07:20 AM
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Yes c'mon
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Old Sep 05, 2006, 05:07 AM
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???
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Old Sep 08, 2006, 07:58 AM
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?!?
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