Innovator MD 530
|Main Rotor Diameter:||28"|
|Tail Rotor Diameter:||5.9"|
|Full Equipment Weight:||29.6 oz|
|Rotor Blade:||Foam Blade|
|Default Flying Data:||PCS-NOR-0001|
|Transmitter:||Innovator TS6 2.4GHz|
|Available From:||Ace Hobbies|
It was not love at first sight when I saw Thunder Tiger's Innovator MD 530 electric helicopter. I liked the body but it looked like too much plastic and too high of a price tag. I probably would have kept on thinking that except that I saw it fly multiple times in a period of two weeks, and I read the brochure on the Innovator. The closer I looked, the more I learned about the Innovator the more impressed I became with it, and I decided I had to try her out for myself. I have since bought one, and I will share my thoughts on the Innovator in this review.
It comes in a large box with very few pieces. The helicopter came fully assembled with the exception of the main rotor bladesí installation.
Main blades, made of foam
I also bought a second set of foam blades and the optional PC software that includes an FMS flight simulator of the Innovator and computer cable.
The Innovator features bundled components while many other helicopters feature individual parts that can be more easily, and often more cheaply, replaced. While I thought I preferred individual parts, I am aware that I may have to pay more for the replacement bundle then I would for an individual part. I was aware of that possibility when I bought the Innovator, and so far no parts have been broken. It is an aspect of the helicopter that I am sure most experienced pilots will consider.
The following promoted or advertised features come from The literature and website for the Innovator-MD530. My comments are in parenthesis at the end of each section.
The gyro has a high quality mini gyro sensor with a heading lock algorithm and unique feedback circuitry driving a high pulse rate digital tail rotor control servo. In plain English, it has a very high quality gyro that works extremely well in controlling the heading of the helicopter. Jeff Fassbinder, who works for Ace Hobby, expressed to me how very impressed he was with this particular component of the Innovator. (After test flying the Innovator I found the gyro to work nicely and hold a heading very well.)
The built in governor system controls the motor RPM up and manages it down. It can monitor the data of the electronic device as well as execute precise RPM management. With optional software, this can be reprogrammed and customized. (This is preprogrammed and worked well. While a beginner will want to learn about the governor system and what it does, they don't need to know anything about the governor system to fly the Innovator.)
Mechanical cyclic-collective pitch mixing system. Digital servos ensure precise swatchplate control. Smart design geometry prevents control bind at full cyclic and full collective extremes. It can go to the extremes, but stops there and avoids binding problems found in some other systems. It does this through self-calibration of the system in the process of setting up the helicopter. (This will be shown in a video below. The servos have worked very well.)
There is a required procedure to engage the motor operation after the battery is installed. This prevents accidental start up of the motor and is a good safety factor for all pilots, but especially beginners. (It was perhaps a bit of a pain the first few times I flew it, but soon became second nature to me and was a safety and operation factor I readily accepted.)
Auto cutoff prevents damaging the flight battery if one fails to remove it post flight. Power will be cut off automatically after a certain period without transmitter stick movement. (With the price of battery packs it is a great function even if you only need it one time. I tested this, and it worked as advertised.)
The 3-Lipoly 1800mAh cells are packed in a thin plastic shell case that has special connectors that match up with the connectors on the helicopterís battery tray. The battery pack has a built-in temperature sensor that measures battery condition to the smart monitor. It can record voltage, current, temperature and usage time that can be transferred to a computer at home by a USB cable connection to the helicopter. (I have a lot of battery packs, and I wasn't thrilled that I couldn't use my existing packs with the Innovator. However, I do like the low voltage warning system, and I do like being able to track the battery and how it is working using my computer. I also like how the battery pack works with the battery tray so the body can stay on the helicopter. I'm told the street price for a second battery pack should be about $69.99. That seems reasonable to me considering the ease of use, charging and having information for the pack.)
As the helicopter reads the voltage, it senses when the voltage is getting low and it is time to land. It notifies the pilot of this by switching the LED on the top of the helicopter behind the main rotors from a flashing green to a flashing red. If not spotted, the tail of the helicopter wags quickly from side to side to signal low voltage. There is also an audio alarm. (I have seen this in action myself and in demo flights, and I really appreciate it. I have seen other people damage their copters when the power to the main motor simply stopped. This multiple warning system should prevent that.)
(The yellow battery tray in the helicopter can be tilted down at the front for easy installation or battery pack removal without having to remove the helicopter body. To install the pack, place the tray in the tilted down position, and slide in the battery until it clicks in place and locks with the black bar. Then just push up the battery tray to the locked and upright position - no Velcro, no fuss, no need to remove the helicopter body. It works very nicely.)
The transmitter and receiver bind so that they only recognize each other. This prevents interference from other controllers.
The transmitter cannot accidentally shut down while the heli is still powered up, a unique safety feature. (I tested this, and it wouldn't shut down.)
If you forget to turn off the transmitter after flying, the transmitter will automatically cut its power after a certain period to save the battery. (If you forget to turn off the heli, it has to shut itself off before the transmitter will turn itself off. I tested this out and it worked as described.)
There is a range check button on the transmitter that reduces the power transmission for performing a range check. (I probably should do this before every flying session but I have to remind myself. I have tested it, and it works.)
The main rotor head and the collective pitch control system come from the proven Thunder Tiger Raptor design. This offers a familiar control feel for any Raptor pilots and offers the rest of us a proven trouble free stable system.
The first step before doing anything else is binding the helicopter to the transmitter. While holding down the binding button on the bottom left of the transmitter, I pushed down on the power button. The binding button started flashing green rapidly. Next, while holding down the red button on top of the helicopter (see picture below), I installed the battery pack into the helicopter. It clicked in place, and the Innovator "beeped" once. the light next to the button on the Innovator turned green, and I let go of the button. Shortly thereafter, the light started to blink green, and the binding process was successful.
To calibrate the gimbals, I pressed and held the red button until it beeped. I let go of the button and moved the gimbals smoothly in a circular fashion, hitting all four corners with each stick. The helicopter beeped again to indicate that the gimbals had been calibrated.
With the gimbals calibrated, I pressed and held down the red button until it beeped three times. I let go of the button and watched for the next three minutes as it set it self up. First the tail rotor moved in and out, then the swashplate moved with cyclic and collective movements. I watched until I heard another three beeps from the helicopter and then removed the battery pack from the helicopter per the instructions. Below is a video of the binding and calibration process as well as the auto setup. Most of the auto setup portion of the video was done in double time to condense two and a half minutes to a minute and eight seconds.
With my transmitter on, I reinstalled the battery pack in the helicopter. I held the landing gear while inserting the battery pack but did NOT press the button yet. The light was flashing red, so using my transmitter I moved the gimbals. The servos moved but the motor could not engage.
Engaging the Motor:
The motor was then engaged. Movement up of the throttle gimbal made the main rotor and the tail rotor start to turn. Success! I moved the throttle down and removed the battery pack.
To complete the assembly process, I installed the main Foam blades using the Allen wrench that came with the Innovator.
The optional software that can be purchased for the Innovator includes an FMS flight simulator with the Innovator helicopter. It allows for practice flying on the computer before going to fly the real copter; a little tune up for the experienced pilot and a way to learn for the beginner. I bought this software to be able to read how everything was working by plugging the computer into the copter. I have enjoyed the simulator, and I highly recommend it for the beginner, especially if they don't have a separate flight simulator.
I turned on the transmitter, pushed the battery into its yellow holder, locked the battery pack in place with the black bar on the battery pack and pushed the yellow battery holder into its locked and upright position. I then held the red button for three seconds until the light turned green and it was ready to fly. I moved the throttle trim tab to its top position so that the throttle would remain constant, and the rotor head would not stop in flight during descent. The following observations are based on flying my helicopter.
In calm conditions I only needed to throttle up, and the Innovator would spool up and lift off into a hover. In a slight breeze I would face the helicopter into the breeze. Some right forward stick or an adjustment to the trim tab would be necessary to keep from drifting backwards. In calm conditions the Innovator hovers as easily as a good coaxial helicopter. I wasn't fighting the tail rotor to control the helicopter and keep it facing forward. It did not try to spin around. At a few feet off of the ground I could go hands-off the transmitter - it was that stable. It was one thing to see Jeff Fassbinder doing it and a very different thing to be able to do it myself!
But it can move too, and do so with much more authority than a coaxial helicopter. The right stick allowed me to fly the helicopter forward or backward and to either side. Left stick movement allowed me to turn the helicopter in place in either direction. Increased movement forward on the left stick made her climb. Throttle reduction lowered it. She works as designed.
It is critical to remember to move the throttle trim tab all the way to the top when taking off and all the way down after landing. This is the easiest conventional (tail rotor equipped) RC helicopter I have yet flown. In calm conditions I simply moved up the left gimbal for the throttle to power up the Innovator. It was too easy! No fighting with the tail rotor to stabilize the helicopter. I don't like to hover below a foot off the ground because of ground effect but I have experienced no real problems flying low. Landings from a hover were just a slow reduction of throttle. As you can see in the first video below, you can move to the exact spot you want to land on with ease.
The Innovator MD-530 has foam main blades and head speeds of 1500-1700 RPM. This is designed for more relaxed, scale type of flying. If your an experienced helicopter pilot and want an Innovator that will do aerobatics, investigate the Innovator Expert. The Expert uses wooden rotors, and its battery is rated at 25C instead of 15C. It's motor has a higher KV. I have no experience with the Expert Innovator.
On a normal RC helicopter, if you put a main rotor blade on facing backwards there is nothing on the helicopter that will stop you from trying to fly. The pilot may notice a wobble in the helicopter or a strange sound in the air from the turning blades but it is up to the pilot to catch the error. On the Innovator, I ran just such a test to see if the mistake would be caught by the helicopter's computer system. Everything was go with the helicopter. I had a flashing green light, and the motor system had power. I spooled up the main rotor, and as the speed started to pick up, the flashing green LED on top of the Innovator started flashing red, a warning Beep was issued and the motor disengaged. It determined there was a problem on its own and shut down the motor system.
I turned the blade around to face the proper direction and reattached it. I powered up the system, this time with everything working properly, and the Innovator allowed the process to continue and it flew. My friend and I were both impressed that the Innovator caught this.
At times the tail of the Innovator will bounce, and this is not associated with the low voltage warning system. It isn't a hazard or a problem with control, it is just a little annoying to look at. It appears to come from ending fore or aft cyclic action. My friend and I assumed that it was a factor of the programmed low rotor speed of 1500 rpm in the base program. It is something I can live with but would rather not. It is a problem I am working on and may be corrected by increasing the head speed. (See note on support thread at bottom of this review on this subject and more.)
The MD-530 version of the Innovator is very much for the beginner who wants to learn how to fly helicopters. I recommend that the optional computer program and cable be purchased as it contains an FMS flight simulator that the true beginner will find very helpful. also recommend the MD-530 as the first tail rotor helicopter for the pilot who has learned the basic controls on a coaxial helicopter. The stability of the MD-530 and its self checkup will greatly aid the beginner pilot.
I think everyone should enjoy flying it but I especially think the beginner and intermediate pilot will appreciate it. It has given me the most confidence of any tail rotor helicopter I have flown. Check out the information and flight recommendations on the special Innovator website: www.innovator-rc.com. Aside from a good coaxial helicopter, I don't know a better way to fly tail rotor helicopters or to build confidence than with the Innovator.
For the Photo Gallery and two of the videos I have chosen to use pictures and video I shot of Jeff Fassbinder and Gable Deweese flying the Innovator MD-530 at the Arizona Electric Festival. The background of the cactus and the Superstition Mountains are very hard to beat. Another video is from my AMA Expo review.
I had some serious questions about the value of the Innovator when I first saw an ad for it. In fact. I had dismissed it from further consideration. But I saw it fly and investigated it further. I have been impressed by the technology, and more importantly, I have been impressed with how it flies! I love the scale looks and I love how it makes me feel as a pilot.
After writing this review and in the process of proof reading this review I spotted a support thread for the Innovator here on RCGroups.com in the Mini Helis section. I recommend everyone interested in the Innovator read and make use of that thread!Last edited by Michael Heer; Apr 14, 2009 at 05:16 PM..
|Apr 21, 2009, 07:23 AM|
Joined Dec 2007
Great review Michael! The link to our support thread you mention is a bad link for some reason. Here is the link to the thread for anyone interested
|Apr 21, 2009, 05:52 PM|
This is an incomplete review. It's missing a very large chunk of the value of this helicopter; the software that can configure the helicopter, the fact that the helicopter has an in-built data logger to collect and report data, and the options that it has going forward as skills increase.
There is another version of the innovator, the EXP. Both this and the other heli share the same innards with few differences, the notables being the blades and motor. As people get better with this beginner innovator they can upgrade the blades and motor and have a much more capable helicopter. The software that comes with both choppers have settings that allow you to change many factors of the helicopter including how responsive and aerobatic it is.
So you can upgrade just the blades with this helicopter, and start learning some aerobatics with no other upgrade needed ($11 for woodies if you throw in some aligns or something). It wont have the punch of the EXP motor, but the platform is very versatile.
The big part of this package is that you can get almost the full range of setup abilities without the hassle of breaking out a pitch gauge or hassling with it yourself. In conversation with the guys at the Thunder Tiger booth at Toledo, it still wont beat a pimped out Mini Titan, but it is certainly a very capable helicopter. It's not hard to chase down some vids of EXP doing its dance, and it can do a very impressive dance. While admittedly this review is not of the EXP, people should look at the EXP and what it can do because it's a large part of the value of this learner package that the EXP is just a few small upgrade purchases away when the pilot is ready for them. This is a very expensive heli for what it is, but the fact it can go from learner (so stable you can literally push it away without it falling over) to awesome with a few parts, with the software managing the heli along the way (no setup hassles or problems), makes it something to really look at.
There is also no mention or coverage of the configuration software itself (not even one screen shot of it or explanation of what it can do... makes me cry), and some of the inner marvel of the heli's tech. There are third party data loggers on the market, but this heli has it built in. The software not only configures the helicopter, but it will tell you what the heli is actually doing in flight. This will help you know if you're getting the best out of the helicopter, when your packs are starting to die, etc etc. After flying, there's a whole lot of fun to be had tinkering with the inner system all without touching a hex wrench or pitch gauge.
Another good option for people, if they know they want to get into aerobatics, get the EXP and the foam blades from this model. Dial down the helicopter using the software and essentially turn it into this trainer model with regards to flying. Then when you turn up the juice and the settings, you'll have the more powerful motor waiting for you, etc etc... but naturally it doesn't have the scale body (but if you want to get up to aerobatics, you may not even care).
In short, while the review does touch on a lot of the value of this package, it's still managing to sell it short because it's not covering the long term investment of expanding and growing along with your growing abilities; you get a lot of heli and future expansion with this setup indeed. My advice to people is to really go through those other threads... browse the attachments, read up on the piles of things the software can do, and just how expandable the helicopter is. It's a great package, and it will be interesting to see how people grow and expand with it over the next couple of flying seasons.
It's called the innovator not just because it's a stable trainer... if that was all you needed, get a coax and save $400. If you want to really learn and progress to more exciting things with something that will grow with you, look hard at the Innovator
|Apr 21, 2009, 06:10 PM|
Joined Dec 2007
|Apr 21, 2009, 06:19 PM|
|Apr 21, 2009, 07:03 PM|
The Expert has a different motor and blades in addition to very different programming then the version reviewed here. I mentioned it in passing but could in no way review the Expert without having one. I mentioned the software but will be reviewing it later separately after I have more time to play with it. I didn't want to delay the basic review of the helicopter for 6 months while that happens. I did directed people to an excellent thread where it is being used and discussed by many E-Zoners. After all the helicopter can be flown without it and it is a great helicopter even if you keep it in the standard set-up. I honestly didn't want to get too technical in this review and risk scaring away the beginners from this fine machine. Mike
|Apr 21, 2009, 07:51 PM|
This heli is targeted at learning being a path and, unlike any other product currently available on the market, it is designed to be on that path with them longer and further into the process than all the trainer helis out there. This is where all the extra dollars are going, and readers should be able to come away with an understanding of what they're really getting for their money.
|Apr 21, 2009, 11:29 PM|
Looks nice..The way the blades cone makes it look odd though..It would look better on some kind of heavy Bell helicopter.
|Apr 22, 2009, 12:30 AM|
USA, FL, Doral
Joined Jul 2006
funny but from reading the innovator thread it seems like a lot of people have issues with the software and there's a guy who cant even turn the heli on...so im sure its a great heli but to call it beginner friendly....not so sure about that...something so "revolutionary" it going to have a lot of problems.
and still think the using batteries with propietary connectors sucks.
again it looks like a great heli! but im gonna pass.
|Apr 22, 2009, 11:46 AM|
Joined Dec 2007
|Apr 22, 2009, 07:49 PM|
The tail bob was discussed by me in the article under the title: "Follow the Bouncing Tail." As Stated by Xrayted above using the software to speed up the head speed from the preset 1500 to 1800 has greatly reduced the tail bob. Only notice it now on higher speed directional transitions. Mike
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