I thought for sure it would go down in a fiery death spiral from which it would never return. Instead, upon being released from my hand, it flew straight and steady and climbed ever so slightly and slowly into the sky high above. With very little additional trimming, she was flying beautifully for the very first time, and it was awesome. My hands were shaking while flying, either from nerves, the cold, or both. There was almost zero wind, and what wind there was, was only blowing at 1-2 mph tops. So the conditions were perfect, which I had been waiting for all week, the sun had just set, though it had been raining all day and the ground was wet and black clouds loomed overhead, there wasn’t a drop in the sky, so I knew today was the day to make my maiden flight.
The first thing I learned with the whole experience of building and flying this plane is to never fly a plane in the same day that you just finished building it. Last week within 10 minutes gluing in the last piece, I had the plane in hand, throttle kicked up to high was ready to throw this thing into the great blue yonder. Well I chickened out that day, and I’m glad I did. Over the course of the week, I spent each night tweaking little things here and there with the plane and dialing in every aspect of it just right. Something I hadn’t done the same day I had “completed” it. I set the throws to match the templates exactly, I fixed the Z-bends and clevises to they moved and glided freely making the control surfaces move smoothly and effortlessly, I adjusted the CG better so it was almost right on (about 1/4″ forward from the recommended) and lastly I stuck a toothpick in the lower-bottom corner of the motor mount giving it just a little bit more up and right thrust (the built-in thrust angle didn’t quite match the recommended thrust angle, so I tweaked it with a toothpick and apparently after flying it, I tweaked it just enough). I believe these minor adjustments helped make the maiden flight a successful one, instead of a disaster. Not to mention is was a bit windy the day I finished it, but like most people, when the excitement builds after just finishing a plane, no matter how windy the day, it’s hard to keep from flying. My recommendation, don’t do it, just wait till the weather is right, and you’ve tweaked all the little details so that nothing can go wrong on that first flight.
The second thing I learned, I have no idea how to do 3D maneuvers. I did a couple of loops, some rolls, and flew inverted but that was about it. I tried hovering, which was a no go, it would either stall, or go over. I tried a knife edge and that too proved difficult without rolling over. Of course I was doing all these tricks as high up as I could still orient top from bottom giving me plenty of room to bail out. I learned my lesson on that one already with my Stryker – keep it high when attempting any kind of maneuver you don’t have 100% confidence you can do and have had a lot of practice doing. So I just flew around, did a few circles overhead, climbed and dove and just got a feel for how the plane flew. It was exciting, and the 300S flew very slow but with plenty of power from that little 370 brushed motor. I couldn’t find another 10×3.5 prop to replace the stock GP prop, so I bought an APC 10×3.8 prop. The extra pitch was noticeable just from my static tests, the plane pulled just a little harder with the APC prop then it did with the GP prop. My lipo and ESC held up fine as well. I didn’t do any current/power checks, but everything was just barely warm to the touch after I landed. The motor as well was just barely warm.
And speaking of landing, I didn’t so much land it as I did crash land. But it came away without a scratch. I felt the power dropping, so I did one last pass around to land coming into the wind and then LVC on the ESC kicked in and killed the prop. I really suck at dead sticking it too. I throttled down and back up again to gain a few more second of thrust but it was already too late. It was falling out of the sky, or rather, it was only a few feet off the ground, but I ended up going nose first into the ground right in the dirt. The prop saver did its job nicely and cushioned the landing just enough. But everything on the plane was fine, zero damage. Which is something I certainly did not expect as I was putting this fragile thing together. Anyway, time will tell how well she holds up, but for a maiden flight, I think it went very well. And now I least have an idea of flight time and exactly how much time I have from when I feel the power drop to land. No more dead stick landings for me.
I was impressed with the first flight. This plane flies slow, it’s stable in the air and has plenty of power to climb straight in the air doing rolls the whole way up. I never kicked in the high rates, and my low rates are currently set at 40%. The control surfaces all swing about +/- 20 degrees about their rest position according to the template provided in the kit. The high rates are set to 80% and give about +/- 50 degree throw. There’s plenty more in there for even more throw, but I figure until I figure out what I’m doing, I should keep even the high-rate setting kinda low. But that’s about it. If I can convince my wife to come out with me next time, I’ll be sure to get some video. But don’t expect anything fancy, I am the ultimate 3D novice.
12-15-07 update: So I’ve got about 10 flights on the 300S FlatOut and the more I fly it the more I love it. I don’t know if it’s just the experience of flying a 3D plane, or what, but it is so much fun to fly and it can do some crazy aerobatics. I’ve gotten the hang of landing better, but I did have one bad crash that broke the lower half of the fuselage which broke the wings off. It was nothing a little bit of CA didn’t fix right up, everything else survived just fine. I love how the plane can literally do a U-turn mid flight with only rudder control. Endless rolls are probably my favorite thing to do, especially while launching straight up, then coming out inverted and flying around upside down. I’ve been trying to do knife edges, but just don’t quite have the skills yet. Nor can I hover. But I can do that one trick where you just throw the rudder and ailerons hard left or hard right and plane does this crazy flip-roll thing (I just found out it’s called a snap roll), that’s pretty fun. I was also doing some fairly poor inverted harriers, but at least sort of doing them. I’ll get the hang of this plane soon, or at least I better, I have a feeling there might be a new plane under the Christmas tree this year, and that plane will be one I certainly will not want to crash into the ground. This 300S is giving me a lot of practice flying a plane with massive control surfaces and learning how to keep it in control. I just need lots and lots more practice.
12-20-2007 Update: Somewhere around my 15th flight, the little T-370 brushed motor finally gave up the ghost, it completely died on me today, mid-flight no less. I has just launched the plane on a fresh charge and about 2 minutes in all of the sudden the prop just quit. I was about 50 feet up or so, right over my house, and I was out behind my house when I was forced to make and emergency crash landing onto the street in my front yard. Fortunately there was a little bit of wind, so I just pointed the nose toward the wind, kept the plane completely level until it went out of site. As soon as it dropped below the height of my roof (remember, I’m in the back-backyard and plane is landing somewhere in my front yard with zero prop) I just kept the sticks right where they were as if I could still “see” the plane landing. I heard a small thud seconds later, so I hopped my fence, into my backyard through the gate and out into the front yard. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the thing sitting in the middle of the street right side up without any damage. Somehow I managed to dead-stick land the thing and completely blind and didn’t break a single thing. I gave the throttle a couple of quick throws and there was nothing. The ESC was blinking nominally, but the motor was gone. What a bummer. I had read that the stock brushed motor doesn’t last long, and they were right. I didn’t even get 20 flights in. Upon inspecting the motor, it appears as though the little graphite brush-end portion broke off on just one of the brushes. See the picture to the left. I’ve had lots of brushed motors go bad, like in my Super Cub, and they usually just lose power and RPMs over time, it’s a gradual degradation, until you get to a point where you just can’t fly anymore. This was instantaneous, sudden failure. Up until now, I hadn’t even noticed that the motor was wearing out at all. It felt just as strong as the maiden flight last week. I’m just glad the plane landed fine and that no one got hurt and that no one ran over it while it was sitting there in the middle of my street before I was able to retrieve it. I’ve been looking at the brushless upgrade from Tower, the Rimfire 28-26-1000 out-runner motor along with a Castle Creations Thunderbird 18 look like a great combination to get me back in the air. Although for now, I think I’m just going to burn $7 on a new brushed motor. I’m thinking this was a rare occurrence and I’m hoping that a different brushed motor lasts me a little longer than 15 five-minute flights over a 1-1/2 week period. On the upside, I can do some pretty sweet knife edges now. So that’s a bonus. Also I ran across some videos that show you how to do some basic 3D maneuvers from the guys over at 3dHobbyShop.com. Check them out here.
12-23-2007 update: I found a 370 motor amongst all my RC junk and installed it yesterday. I got three flights in before the motor died mid-flight again. This time I landed without incident, but it’s definitely time to go brushless for sure.
12-24-2007 update: I wrote Great Planes Customer Support and they’re sending me a brand new motor. Thanks a lot GP!
01-03-2008 update: A package arrived in the mail today and it was quite a bit larger than the size of a motor. Instead of just sending me a motor, they sent me a whole new plane. I’m serious, I have a brand new Extra 300S in its box sitting in my living room, with a new motor inside. That is some amazing customer service. Thanks so much Great Planes, I didn’t expect that. I suppose it helped matters that it was Christmas Eve when I talked to one of the service reps, she must have been feeling generous. I certainly can’t complain, and Great Planes just won over a new customer.
Here’s a picture out behind my house where I fly (and usually land too).