|Battery:||Thunder Power 3S 2100 Prolite|
|ESC:||Castle Pheonix 35|
|Available from:||Your local hobby shop|
Since I am largely a newcomer to helis, I think it’s important to tell you a little about myself as we begin this review.
I'm an accomplished aircraft pilot. As the "airplane guy" technician at my local hobby shop, I have the responsibility of taking care of helicopter customers as well. I’ve learned a lot about parts, brands, quality, and reliability and helped a lot of customers with component selection and repairs. I have gotten my feet wet flying some shop helicopters have learned a lot this year without actually owning a heli of my own. Now I'm ready to join the ranks of owners!
I hope that this review will be a concise source of info to help beginners get started with a new helicopter.
With so many good entry level birds on the market, now is an excellent time to get involved in helicopters. In my search for the perfect beginner helicopter, I looked at the volumes of information available all over the web (including many discussion threads here at RCGroups) and I examined factors such as cost, the availability of parts and flight performance: I chose the T-Rex 450.
With so many great beginner models on the market, why the T-Rex 450?
First, I wanted an electric helicopter that wasn’t too expensive but still flew well so I decided on a “mini” class helicopter. These helicopters are much cheaper than the larger classes such as the T-Rex 600 or Logo series. Not only are the airframes cheaper; the parts and the power system of a mini helicopter will also put a much smaller dent in your wallet than a full size model. However, these helis still offer the full functionality of the 600 size products with enough size and weight to carry sophisticated electronics and keep their stability in a little wind. These characteristics set them apart from the less expensive micro helicopters which were smaller and lighter than I wanted. This narrowed down the potential models, but I was still left with a handful of choices.
My choice of the T-Rex 450 was also influenced by the fact that Align has some of the most affordable upgrade and replacement parts available. The popularity of the T-Rex meant that I could get them at any decent hobby shop that carried helicopters. (Ease of locating parts is extremely important to a new pilot, who will undoubtedly crash often.) Furthermore, its well designed head allowed me to look forward to fairly unlimited 3D performance while still allowing me to tune down the rates to yield a stable training helicopter that could handle a bit of wind - in other words, the heli offered me lots of room to grow. And finally, its initial cost was quite low. (Although admittedly the airframe is a fairly small percentage of the total cost of the model when you factor in the fairly extensive amount of electronics that are required.)
I picked the XL version because, when I first started this project, it was the best of the plastic head T-Rex models. I chose to avoid the SE with its fully “blinged” metal head and carbon frame because the rigidity of the metal parts is not worth the extra cost for most people until they start to fly aerobatics.
Align recently released an updated plastic ARF helicopter (review can be found here on RCGroups.com: "Reviewing Align's T-Rex 450SA ARF" ). That helicopter may be the best choice for new pilots because it is prebuilt with some updated parts. However the older XL model can often be found at a steep discount off of the MSRP at local retailers and I feel buliding the model might help familiarize the new heli pilot with the model and its parts which may help when repairing or upgrading.
The build on the T-Rex is very straightforward. Although the manual lacks enough written instruction, it has many step-by-step diagrams. Almost all the parts bolt easily together. Since it is such a relatively easy build, and since the most modern version of the T-Rex 450 (the SA) comes largely prebuilt, I am going to concentrate on electronics choices and a few other key items.
The build starts with the head, which is possibly the most important part of the entire helicopter. Without a smooth and slop-free head assembly, the servos won’t control the blades effectively and the controls will be sluggish and hard to trim properly. Unfortunately the ball links on my T-Rex came slightly too tight from the factory. If you are very meticulous, invest in a ball link sizer to ream the ball links out a bit, but you can also just leave them alone and they will work themselves to the right size after a few flights.
During the head assembly, it is important to read a few steps ahead and double check before you screw any parts together. I found that a few of the build instructions were out of order and that the supplied thread locker was very unforgiving.
Once you get past the head assembly, it is all downhill coasting!
For the servos, I chose to use the popular HS-56HB sub micro servo all around, which I purchased from Soaring USA. They were a little more expensive than some of the other micro servos on the market, but 56’s are strong and fast with a nice, tight gear train. To complement the HS-56 on the tail, I decided to go with the Futaba 240 Gyro, which is a precise and accurate unit. From my experience in the hobby shop, I know that a lot of beginner modelers will skimp on the gyro, but it is the piece of equipment that you will want to make sure is of high quality.
As far as the power system, I decided to go with a three cell Thunder Power battery with the light Neu 1105 motor and Castle Creations Phoenix 35 ESC speed controller. This setup is fairly mild when compared to some of the high voltage power systems that the 3D fliers are using, but it is light and efficient and gives excellent run times and good performance. I also tested the T-Rex with a battery recommended to me by Dymond Hobbies. Unfortunately, the Dymond battery was considerably heavier than the comparable TP pack, and its extra weight on the nose accounts for the tail weight you may see in some of the pictures.
Since I’m a beginner, for set-up I chose to trust the manufacturer's recommendations, all of which worked out nicely. Remember, more is NOT always better when it comes to model controls!
If you are a newcomer, be sure to get help from an experienced modeler to at least trim your helicopter for you, check your blade tracking, setup, CG, etc. I also highly recommend using a simulator before flying. It is almost guaranteed that a simulator will more than pay for itself in saved parts costs, time and frustration. Give yourself as large of a space as you possibly can for your first flight.
I performed the maiden flight in the evening, so that there would be little or no wind when I was trimming it out. The model required minimal trim input, and its hover was very stable. Only a little cyclic input was needed, and the Futaba gyro held the tail solidly in place. Even with my fairly inexperienced thumbs, I could easily hold the helicopter in a 1 foot cubed box which made later backyard flights fun and easy.
After I had the model trimmed out, I took it to the local school yard to get some open area flight testing.
The model performed as expected in forward flight. It has exceptional response on the collective, and could climb quite strongly (which meant that my “mild” power system was more than enough for standard flight and simple aerobatics). The lightweight motor was easy on the batteries, and could yield flight times almost half an hour in length with conservative throttle use.
Collective and tail response were both fast and crisp with full servo travel, but with the rates dialed down to 60% as recommended, the T-Rex was very smooth.
Finally, I found that the model handled wind surprisingly well. Compared to most of the popular micro helicopters I have flown briefly (such as the Blade) it was much more manageable. I could fly the T-Rex fairly easily in winds up to 10 mph, and even 15 mph winds were not a problem as long as the air was smooth.
(After I had broken the blades that came in the kit, I discovered a nice surprise at my local hobby shop: The Align Pro Blades. These blades are thick and stiff wood blades and felt quite a bit more precise than the stock ones. Considering that they cost little more than the standard replacements, they are a nice upgrade when it comes time to buy repair parts.)
Overall, I think the T-Rex is the perfect beginner helicopter. It is fairly inexpensive, flies exceptionally well and has great parts availability. It offers awesome aerobatic ability for a new hobbyist who wants to grow into an advanced pilot. Although I could fly fairly easily with the T-Rex from the outset, I feel that the experience I gained has made me a much more smooth and competent heli flier overall.
Here are a few important places to look for further reading on the T-Rex:
Finless Bob's Videos feature a wealth of knowledge of building and setting up the T-Rex, and are invaluable for beginners. Take a look at the stickies on this page for the various vids.
T-Rex Tuning is a great site for info on the various T-Rex models and the countless aftermarket parts available to modify them.
RCGroups T-Rex FAQs has lots and lots of links to T-Rex threads here on RCGroups.
Hey nice little mini review. I am building my TREX 450XL right now and plan on doing a lot of hovering in and out of the sim. Went with the Logictech Gyro I hope it is remotely good as the Futaba. Also went with the Spektrum DX6i Radio and some Thunder Tiger servos. I am pretty green so I am basically going off what the hobby shop owner told me to get. Just putting the rotor head together now. Hope to have to totally built by the end of the day on Monday.
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