Once again I’ve fall prey to Tower Hobbies’ $10 off coupon tactics to get me to buy stuff I don’t need, but can’t pass up because hey, it’s like getting $10 for free. So I bought a Great Planes FlatOut Extra 300S for $19.99 (which came out to $9.99 after the 10 bucks off). I thought it would be a fun little plane to fly around the backyard when the wind is calm and just maybe I could start learning some 3D maneuvers on a plane that I won’t care too much if I destroy. It would also be a nice change of pace from flying my Stryker and just zooming by full speed over and over again (although, that’s still a lot of fun). I picked up a few other things to complete the plane, a GP 20C 640mAh li-po, the ElectriFly C-12 12A brushed ESC and a Futaba S3114 micro servo. I had two servos from my Super Cub aileron mod that I was going to use, but they turned out to be too big, and pretty heavy, so I dropped by the hobby shop in town and picked up (2) HS-55 micro servos (the transparent blue ones). I’m running the S3114 for the ailerons, and the HS-55’s for the elevator and rudder control. While I was at the hobby shop I jumped on RealFlight G3 and pulled up this plane and flew it around for a while. I certainly don’t know how to do any cool tricks, but I at least I got my first few crashes out of the way. =) The simulator flew very easy though and was completely controllable and somewhat predictable. As long as I don’t do anything crazy, I should be able to keep my real 300S up in the air.
So I placed the order Tuesday night and the package arrived on Friday. I’ve basically spent the last three days building this plane, so yeah, it took me longer than 3 hours to make. After placing the order and waiting for everything to arrive, I Googled FlatOut 300S and found several rants and raves about this plane, or the FlatOuts in general, and they were not good. I read several negative comments from forum members who bought this plane and had nothing good to say about it. I’d say about 75% of the posts were negative from people making comments about how the plane is garbage, waste of money, worst plane they ever owned, etc, etc. So then it made me feel bad because it had already shipped, it was in the mail with no way to return it. But I kept thinking what’s $10? I spend more than that on lunch which lasts all of 10 minutes. If the plane gives me at least 10 minutes of enjoyment, then it will have been worth it. Who cares what everybody else thinks about?
So what’s so bad about this plane? After spending several hours putting it together, here’s my short list of gripes:
Snap-in hinge system. It’s a pain to assemble and the C-clips break. Though I didn’t have any problems with the regular straight C-clips, out of 3 of 4 of the control arms’, the C-clip part broke upon clipping them onto the carbon spar. They give you one spare control arm so I didn’t have enough to replace them so I had to use them even though they were broken. The fix I found for this was to cut another slit in the control surface right next to the control arm and then glue in one of the spare straight C-clips and clip it onto the rod. This makes sense, and there really is no need for the control arm to actually be clipped to the rod, as long as there’s a clip very close to it. It doesn’t help when you’re working in a cold garage either, which may have contributed to the parts snapping. My suggestion is to keep the parts warm until you’re ready to snap them all together. Though the manual doesn’t seem to mention it anywhere, the parts tree does actually have a complete set of “standard” control arms (they push through a slot you would have to make in the control surface with a plastic retainer piece on the other side). They still have the big hole in the end for their custom plastic Z-bend part, but as least there’s the option to use a different set of control arms if all the regular ones get broken (say during assembly or after a few crashes.) That’s my guess as to what the parts are for anyway.
Z-bend system. The idea was to reduce slop and improve control. I think the only thing they did was make it a pain to assemble. I broke at least (2) Z-bend parts trying to press them into the control arms. They are so tiny and so fragile and once you finally get them popped into the servo arm, they are pretty tight, with no way to do a fit check. Good luck getting them out to sand them down or open the hole though. You’re more likely to break either the Z-bend of the control arm, or both, getting it back out, which I also did. But to their credit, there is no slop. Only now since they are so stiff, the control surfaces have a tendency to not center well, since they don’t have a super free flowing motion to them, in spite of the fancy clip/hinge system. I followed the Expert Tip which suggests removing any flashing on the inside hole, but I think the hole needs to be opened up just slightly as well. It’s probably my fault too for not ensuring that the Z-bend rotated freely inside the control arm or servo arms before just finishing the plane. I should have used my calipers to measure the ID and OD of each piece to ensure that there wasn’t any interference. [After writing this post, I decided to go back and pull off the servo arms and each Z-bend and re-do them all. It turns out the the stiffest linkages ended up measuring .092-.093″ on the inside hole and .095-.096″ on the outside of the Z-bend. So I rounded out the inside of the servo arms and each control arm to about .098″ and now the entire system moves much smoother and much more freely]. Even still pressing the carbon rods into the tiny hole in each Z-bend and then gluing them in place seems like an extremely permanent way to join the linkages. Just hope that your servo never needs to be mechanically centered again, I don’t see how you could do it. Not to mention it’s also a pain to press each one of those rods into the holes. Why didn’t they use a standard clevis and control horn linkage like every other plane?
I get the feeling they were so concerned about keeping the weight down, that they sacrificed a lot of areas in the plane that really could have benefited from being beefed up a bit or just designed differently or better yet, designed using proven, existing designs. However I am sure that my observations reveal the fact that I’m a novice flyer and builder. A more experienced pilot may have been able to foresee such problems and avoided them. All in the all, the plane went together just fine. It feels like the second I crash it, it will break into a million pieces. It just feels so fragile compared to my Super Cub or Stryker planes. One crash in the dirt and the thing is toast. So needless to say, even after finishing it, adjusting the CG, charging up my battery, setting my radio, and getting all ready to fly, I still haven’t flown it. I know the second I do, all that fun I had building it will simply have been for my good in gaining experience and nothing else. I’d say that if given the opportunity to own another Great Planes FlatOut, I would pass, but only based on the building experience alone. All the fancy engineering that went into their design may have looked great on paper, but in practice is just flatout fails in my opinion. However considering the price of the plane it’s definitely money well spent and worth trying out.
Okay enough griping, here’s some pics of this little wonder. I really actually like this plane a lot. It was fun to build, and so far I’m just having fun moving the ailerons, rudder, and elevator back and forth really fast. It actually is quite amazing. Also, since I’ve got two different kinds of servos, I definitely notice a difference in the HS-55’s vs. the Futaba S3114. Though not from how it behaves in the air, but simple how they respond on the ground. The HS-55’s are quiet and smooth and they sit quiet at rest. They do appear slightly slower than the S3114, as their specs dictate, but the Futaba is loud, you can just hear the gears spinning back and forth, it doesn’t seem to want to center right every time and it doesn’t want to still idle, it just buzzes non-stop. So If I were to do it again, I would go with the HS-55 servos all the way around, even though based on the specs of the two servos, one would be inclined to buy the S3114’s, which I did, and I wish I didn’t. And lastly though I haven’t flown it (I should have, today was dead calm outside) I already broke the prop just running the around out in my backyard. There must have been a rock on the ground or something because it snapped off just the end of the prop, and of course, I don’t have any spares. And Tower wants $8.99 just so ship a set of $3 props. I guess they’ll end up getting my $10 after all.