Curtek Navigation Lighting System

Matthew Currie is a young man who lives on Vancouver Island and he has developed a wonderful lighting system that utilizes a control module that merely plugs into a spare slot on your receiver and allows you to convert your daytime plane to one you can enjoyably and safely fly at night.

Splash

Introduction

Matthew Currie is a young man who lives on Vancouver Island and he has developed a wonderful lighting system that utilizes a control module that merely plugs into a spare slot on your receiver and allows you to convert your daytime plane to one you can enjoyably and safely fly at night. It even allows you to add landing lights (actually super bright LEDs) that you can turn on and off remotely with your transmitter. I have installed the system I custom ordered for testing in a new GWS Beaver and it works perfectly. The pictures tell the story almost by themselves but a little explination is approbriate so lets get started.

The Curtek navigation lighting system is available at: www.curtek.com

Kit Contents


Instruction manual is in front and box of my components behind it.

The unit arrived in a cardboard box with protective foam lining the top and bottom. Everything arrived in good working order and each piece was in a seperate plastic bag that was labeled for identification. There is a great little instruction book that explains how to set up your unit and how lights are used on real planes for navigation and identification. A short read through the manual and I was ready to go. It clearly identifies how the sockets are wired and which three will cause the LEDs to flash, which four are solid burning and which two are for the optional landing lights. Each light is completely wired and the the topside of the plug that goes into the module is color coded for identification. The plug goes in with the color on top for proper operation. The color matches the color of the light: green plug for green light, red plug for red light, white for clear light and silver/gray for landing lights. These markings are helpful because when the LEDs are off they look very similar but for the paint on the plugs.

The standard unit comes with the control module, mounting tape, a reverse jumper plug (The reverse jumper plug is for use with the landing lights on three channel systems to operate the lights from the throttle when the ESC operates opposite to a standard ESC.) and one red, one green and one clear super bright light emiting diode or LED. The control module has space for nine plugs to plug in and they are wired as follows: 4 that light continuously, 2 that are remote on/off for the landing lights that are optional and 3 that cause the LEDs to flash in a pattern for strobe light effect. The control module plugs right into an empty socket in your receiver and draws its power as well as the control for the landing lights from that connection. It plugs in just like a servo and fits all current receivers but not the old style Airtronics. If your receiver is on, all the LEDs with the exception of the landing lights will always be on. If you don't want the LEDs on just unplug the control module from the receiver. With the standard set you will only be using three plugs. This can supply sufficent light for safe night flying and identification of the direction of your plane. I have tested mine with just three lights and it works well but I prefer to use all ten that I installed.

What's that you ask? All ten! But I just read there were only spaces for nine plugs on the module. Besides additional LEDs you can order Y connectors that allow you to power two LEDs off the same socket and that is what I did as will be explained below. You can also order extension wires if you have a larger plane. The module weighs about 2/10ths of an ounce and three LEDs with wire and plugs weigh about 2/10ths of an ounce. Thus the standard unit adds less then a half ounce to a plane. My unit as tested with 10 LEDs with a weight of .8 ounces for the system.

Installation

Drilling hole for flashing clear LED LEDs installed but wires not yet taped down.

Plug for landing light is on top and clear LED is on the bottom. 
The painted plugs identifies the color and type of LED Finished wing ready to install plugs into control module.
Three construction phase photos

I decided to install a green LED and a flashing clear LED behind it in the right wing tip and a landing light in the leading edge of the wing. (The landing lights are brighter and more directional then the other LEDs.) I decided on the same for the left wing with the exception of using a red instead of a green. I also decided to add a green LED to the right side of the fuselage just under the wing and a red LED on the left side of the fuselage. These light up both the fuselage and the underside of the wing. I added a clear flashing LED to the vertical stab and a flashing red LED on the bottom of the fuselage. These last two are plugged into a Y connector so they flash together and let me use ten LEDs with only nine plugs on the module. Matt assures me I could use more if I wanted to as the voltage draw is so low. In building the fuselage I drilled a hole for the bottom red LED just behind the battery box and glued the LED to one side of the fuselage. I put a clear LED through the space where the vertical stabilizer would be installed and glued the two halves of the fuselage together. For the wings I decided where I wanted the LEDs and drilled holes starting with a small 1/16th  size drill bit and hand turning it with my fingers until I had a hole. I moved up to a 5/64th size bit for the final holes. Then checking the color coding on the plugs to make sure I was installing the correct LEDs where I wanted them I put the bulbs through the holes and glued the bases in place with a drop of foam safe cynoacrylic (CA).

I asked my wife to help with the next stage as the wires want to coil and I needed them straight on the wing. I stretched the wires towards the center and then she held them while I applied a strip of shipping tape reinforced with fiber to hold the wires in place. This also adds strength to the wing as it covers and holds the wires in place. With all six LEDs installed in the two wing halves I then joined the wing halves together. One wing was flat on the table and the second wing with the tip 3 3/4 inches raised from the table. (This is less dihedral then my first Beaver but works fine.) When it came time to install the vertical stabilizer I left out of the fuselage the amount of wire I needed and glued the stab in place with foam safe CA and then glued the clear LED and wire to the stabilizer as well with foam safe CA. Finally I made two slots at the top of fuselage in the center of the wing mounting area for my last two LEDs, green on right and red on left. These light-up the fuselage and underside of the wing.

I had excess wire so I simply coiled the extra wire and ran a piece of tape around the coil of wire to keep it out of the way. If you wanted to install the system in a bigger plane you can order wire extensions as necessary. To install in a built up wing you could drill holes throught the ribs to run the wire internally or notch the ribs to make space for the wire without hurting the airfoil.    

Testing

Beaver ready for its first flight. Can you see the red LED on the wing?

Front view ready to hand launch the Beaver without landing lights on.(White lights you see are from the other side of the park.) Enlarge for detail by clicking on picture.

My first concern was how much power do these things draw and will it affect my flight times? I had no equipment to test the voltage draw so I created some practical tests to answer my concerns. Using all ten LEDs and cycling three batteries throught six test runs each with LEDs on for three cycles and off for three cycles per battery I found no significent differences in full speed or half speed motor run based on LEDs being on or off. There were slight differences of a second or two per run per battery pack but I believe it had more to do with being the first or second charge of the day then whether or not I was using the LEDs. I concluded that they do not appreciably alter the flight time.

This Beaver weighed just slightly less with the module and LEDs installed and using two submicro servos then my first Beaver did with the larger and heavier GWS mini servos. But I have also added optional wheels from Northeast Sailplane and that change now makes this plane just slightly heavier then my first Beaver. It flies exactly as did my first Beaver, which is to say it is an excellent park flier. My initial test flights were in daytime and in daylight the color LEDs are most visibile when looking at them straight on and the red color can be seen from several hundred feet when the wing is pointing at you.

Living in Stockton California an area that has ground fog frequently in January I was able to test fly in light fog conditions in the daytime and the LEDs provided almost no help in daytime fog conditions. The red and green can be seen to a minor degree but not enough to help visibility in daytime fog. Having flown the plane in daytime and confirmed it was flying properly I was ready to test in twilight and then darkness.

OH YEAH! The darker it gets the better the LEDs show up! I had no trouble flying in twilight when I could make out the plane and see the lights and easily converted to the darker night time conditions with the system. I never lost orientation of the plane and I flew it at least 700 feet away from me. I have plugged the module into the fourth space on my receiver, the one that controls the rudder in a full house plane. (My rudder was controlled on the right stick by the aileron control.) By just sliding the trim tab to the right for the left stick, the landing lights turn on. When I want them off I just slide the trim tab back to the neutral position. I find the fact that the LEDs light up the foam to assist me in tracking the plane at various angles. I have even done a few loops at night without any problems. The cool factor of viewing the lights at twilight or night is very high. I give this system a very big thumbs up. I have a Gentle Lady glider with battery powered Christmas lights in the wing under clear covering and they aren't nearly as bright as these LEDs. 

Front view without landing lights. LEDs on except for landing lights.



WARNING

While I had no trouble flying with this system the first two times, I do not recommend that beginner pilots fly at night. Wait until you are completely (I mean COMPLETELY) comfortable in your flying skill before you add this challenge. When you are confident about your flying skill, practice flying with the LEDs on in the twilight with this system and become familiar with the color orientation and the planes direction in flight and then continue to fly into the night. I recommend you use a large open field with no obstacles in your way such as trees. (Your depth perception is not as good at night as in the daytime.) I flew the Beaver over a baseball field that is sourrounded with trees in complete confidence. I climbed above the the trees and flew out over the delta to test the visibility of the LEDs and got at least 700 feet away with still good visibility and color differentation. I chose a Beaver because it is a good flying Park Flyer that can fly nicely at a slow speed. I wouldn't recommend using a real fast plane with this system at a local park or in front or your house (If you live in a normal neighborhood.) just for safety reasons. Most of my twilight and night flying has been at half throttle.

The LEDs work even in the fog at night although the range of vision is deminished. (In fog the landing lights especially make a ball of light.) It is easier to orient yourself to the colors if you start flying in the twilight when you can still see the plane and progress into the darkness. I recommend you bring a flashlight and fully check out your transmitter (especially trim tabs) and plane before flying with the lights on in the dark and let me tell you why. On my third night of flying, the first without twilight flight, in the dark I bumped the trim tabs all the way to the left and down on the right stick while transporting things to the car. In the dark I didn't notice this before the flight and I almost lost the plane as a result of this mistake. It was a very dark night and I gave the plane full throttle and tossed it. It immediately started to climb excessively and went to the left. The plane disappeared into the night and I only could see the lights. I saw the green and red do a roll to the left with green on top and red on the bottom. The roll continued with green now on the left and red on the right and the bottom red flasher was now on top. I was slightly panicked as I didn't know why the plane was doing this. It continued to roll and as it got back to almost level upright flight I killed the throttle and  holding full right stick I glided the plane in for a safe landing in the middle of the field. Had I been flying in daylight I would have seen that the trim tabs had been badly bumped and avoided the problem. I now check the transmitter and plane with a flashlight before flying. You can also use the landing lights to examine your transmitter.) Although I flew again that night I didn't really regain my confidence until I flew again in the twlight before resuming more dark night flying.

When your battery runs low and your motor shuts off the LEDs stay lit. They continued to work for quite some time and I always landed with power to spare. However, should you use these at the slope with a glider the LEDs will all start to flash when the voltage to the receiver is getting low.

Flying at you from a distance with the landing lights on. On a totally dark night all you see are the lights, blurred here in fly-by.

This slowstick and the biplane at the start of the article are from the Curtek website.

Conclusion

The system works very well and is easy to install, especially on a plane like the Beaver. With reasonable precautions night flying can be done safely and proves to be lots of fun but you need to clearly think about the color pattern before you fly on a very dark night. That is why I recommend flying in the twilight to help you become fully oriented to flying the plane based on just the lights. Even with experience it is best to take some time and picture the plane and the lights in your mind to be prepared to fly with lights only on a dark night. My camera really doesn't do the system justice so check out more pictures and videos at the Curtek website. Additionally, if you want to get your own system you can order it online at: www.curtek.com and you can get a lot more information on the system at that site as well as seeing additional pictures and video. Good luck and have fun.



Thread Tools
Nov 17, 2006, 10:47 AM
Registered User
glmurphy's Avatar
I need y connectors for Curtek lights.....anyone have any?
Feb 15, 2007, 03:22 AM
Registered User
Curtek site is down...

Anyone know a similart system in an other brand ?
Mar 19, 2007, 08:10 AM
Registered User
still no reply ?
May 08, 2007, 08:42 AM
Promoting Model Aviation...
Murocflyer's Avatar
I'm looking also. Looked like a nice system. Any good substitutes?

Frank
May 08, 2007, 08:44 AM
Mayor of Simpleton
Tommy632's Avatar
It was a very nice system, I have one. I'm looking for a substitute also.

Tommy
May 08, 2007, 08:56 AM
Promoting Model Aviation...
Murocflyer's Avatar
Wow Tommy that was fast. How did you see my post so quickly?

I am also on the hunt. It did look like a very nice system -plugs right into the Rx, very user friendly.

I'll let you know if I come across anything.

Frank
May 08, 2007, 08:47 PM
Mayor of Simpleton
Tommy632's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by murocflyer
Wow Tommy that was fast. How did you see my post so quickly?

I am also on the hunt. It did look like a very nice system -plugs right into the Rx, very user friendly.

I'll let you know if I come across anything.

Frank
Hi Frank, I was checking out that new forum spy function and seen you post it. Thanks for giving me the heads up if you find anything.

Tommy
May 08, 2007, 09:03 PM
Veracitarian at large
SAILORMAN's Avatar
Hey you guys. I've had Curteks and others. This is what I use now. A great substitute IMHO. He mainly makes them for heli's, but last time I bought from him, he customized it for my plank. Plus, they're a lipo alarm, either light or sound.
Great guy, great product.
http://www.tjtrc.com/

BTW, I have some orphan curtek stuff, leds, y connectors, extensions I think, from my last set that flew away. If you really could use it, I can dig it up and see what I got exactly. PM me. Too bad I didn't see GLMurphys post back in Nov.
May 08, 2007, 09:09 PM
Mayor of Simpleton
Tommy632's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by SAILORMAN
Hey you guys. I've had Curteks and others. This is what I use now. A great substitute IMHO. He mainly makes them for heli's, but last time I bought from him, he customized it for my plank. Plus, they're a lipo alarm, either light or sound.
Great guy, great product.
http://www.tjtrc.com/

BTW, I have some orphan curtek stuff, leds, y connectors, extensions I think, from my last set that flew away. If you really could use it, I can dig it up and see what I got exactly. PM me. Too bad I didn't see GLMurphys post back in Nov.
Thanks for the link.
May 09, 2007, 04:06 AM
Promoting Model Aviation...
Murocflyer's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tommy632
Hi Frank, I was checking out that new forum spy function and seen you post it. Thanks for giving me the heads up if you find anything.

Tommy

Yea, I stumbled upon that the other day myself.

Here's what I came across along with the other above. Four different systems that I know of.

I have no experience with any of them but hopefully someone can chime in.

Frank
Jan 05, 2008, 05:09 AM
Registered User
NorthwestWolf's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by murocflyer
I'm looking also. Looked like a nice system. Any good substitutes?

Frank
Frank,

I just stumbled across this thread. I just though that I'd give you and others a heads up that I'm prototyping a modular lighting system this spring. Once I have some more info and images I'll start a thread. I have quite a few interesting ideas in the works, but most of all the goal is flexibility in light and pattern arrangement, not too complex but not limiting at the same time.
Jan 05, 2008, 07:48 AM
Promoting Model Aviation...
Murocflyer's Avatar
Cool. Please let us know what you come up with.

Frank
Jan 09, 2008, 04:02 PM
JMD
JMD
Registered User
I to was using the Curtek system and was sad when they were discotinued. I desided to develop my own system like Curtek with some added features like a beacon and 3mm and or 5mm LED's for different size models. They are avalible now as of Dec. 07.
Check them out at www.jmdmodels.com

Jack


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