An Obsession: To Fly a Collective Pitch R/C Helicopter – in 3D

In February 9 of this year, I bought a remote-controlled micro helicopter, the Syma 107G for $17 at a discount store near our house which is situated in one of the cities that comprise the East Bay of California.

I had so much fun flying this 7-1/4 inch long toy which I had mastered in just a few minutes.  And this was when my obsession began.  And, my unknowing journey into the world of aerodynamics, physics, chemistry, microelectronics, and countless Google searches.

To start with, I had a brief fling with R/C back in 1982 when I was a contract worker in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. To kill my boredom, I bought the glow-powered Cox Cessna Centurion set, the radio system (made by Sanwa of Japan for Cox), and the maintenance kit, all for about $300.

Prior experience in my goal to fly a collective pitch R/C heli
Cox Cessna R/C trainer kit

I had very memorable days flying this molded-foam glider (powered by the Cox 0.049 ORC engine)  in the deserts of Saudi Arabia, especially when the wind was almost at a stand-still during the hottest months.

Fast-forward to 2004.  The guy who I purchased an Apple PowerMac G4 from somewhere in Lodi, CA, just gave me all his truck R/C stuff including all accessories & transmitters – – for free!

As a concession to his very generous gesture, I bought his still-in-the-box, HobbyZone Firebird Commander ready-to-fly (RTF) R/C plane for $30.  He informed me that he only flew it once and crash-landed without damage.  The set also included a brand-new, molded-foam wing – as spare – for this beginner’s R/C glider.

I played with the R/C truck – powered by a ROAR-approved, 4000Kv brushless motor that ran on Dyna-Sport 1700 mAh NiCd batteries – for a few days with my niece and just simply got bored with a land-based R/C afterward.

The beauty of R/C airplanes & helis – let alone, flying a kite – as a hobby is that, it seems you’re trying to control your destiny as well.  Nothing can compare to the feeling you get when you have that plane or heli up in the air and that you’re now using your skills to command it to the direction you want it to go.  It’s simply exhilarating!

So, after getting my feet wet once again in R/C with the Syma 107G heli, I bought E-Flite’s RTF Blade 450 3D (the set came with Spektrum’s DX6i transmitter which is a very popular 2.4GHz, 6-channel programmable radio.  It’s compatible with newer R/Cs using 6 channels or less) – with the grandiose thought that I could easily fly it outside my backyard.

I was wrong and that was lesson #1:  The Syma 107G is co-axial while the Blade 450 is a collective pitch helicopter.

A collective pitch heli has a single set (if you will consider a pair of blades to make one straight, helicopter blade), of non-curved, rotor blades.  Lift is controlled by changing the angles of the blades by tilting them along the longitudinal axis. Hence, the altitude is controlled by how much pitch you apply to the rotor blades while in flight.

A co-axial helicopter is the easiest to fly since it has two sets of rotor blades that spin in opposing directions.  Hence, the torque generated by the spinning blades cancels each other out, resulting in a very stable helicopter.

But, all this type of heli can do is hover up & down, move forward & backward, and forward flight is generally on lower altitudes only.  It can’t even be made to bank on a turn.

My attempts – both inside & outside the house to just hover my Blade 450 3D a few feet in the air, resulted in costly trips to several hobby stores – to replace damaged rotor blades, main gear, and just about all the small parts above the swashplate.

Frustrated and humbled, I Googled to find out what would be the easiest way to fly a collective pitch heli without having to learn the technical details – I just wanted to get one up in the air & to control it!

I was so wrong again and this was my lesson #2:  You can’t learn to fly a collective pitch R/C helis unless you’re willing to learn & understand the underlying science and art of the hobby.

In the process of my continuing education, I also purchased John Salt’s ebook “Setup & Tips For Electric Collective Pitch RC Helicopters” and tried as best I could to understand all the new terminologies and jargons in this now getting-to-be-complex-and-expensive hobby.

So on February 23, I purchased the E-Flite Blade SR (RTF) – there is no BNF (Bind and Fly) version – plus an assortment of extra parts at a HobbyTown branch in Vacaville.

Learning from my Blade 450-3D fiasco, I also ordered the Phoenix RC Flight Simulator V3 from Amazon, to hone my flying skills on a computer screen before I even attempt to hover the new Blade SR.

Popular among beginners looking for their maiden CP helicopter flight - the Blade SR seems to be the right size
E-Flite’s Blade SR

Wrong again and that was lesson #3:  A simulator can, indeed, help you learn how to control your transmitter and pilot your model heli.  But, in the real world, no flight simulator can truly recreate the environment you’re flying your model R/C in.

And so, just as I had with the Blade 450, my dream of simply hovering a collective pitch with my new Blade SR (which E-Flite touted as “the heli to make your transition to a collective pitch as smooth as possible”) ended with “shattered results” also.

Not only did I break the wooden, 325 mm rotor blades, the bell mixer & pushrods, I also almost broke my right middle finger when I tried to stop the erratic heli as I was spooling it up.

Back to my drawing board, I assumed I that was simply trying to fly a big-sized CP heli too fast for my own good.

So, why not try a small collective pitch heli – so that I can even try practicing with it inside the comforts of the house?

And so, on March 3rd, I went to a discount hobby shop – Low Price Hobbies – in Newark, CA and purchased the E-Flite Blade mCP X2 (BNF version), plus an assortment of spares for the Blade SR.

I also bought an aluminum case for my Blade 450 3D.  I knew that it would take a bit of time for me to fly this bird so I wanted it to be protected from the elements.

The Blade mCP X2 is a miniature collective pitch heli that measures about 9.5 inches in length.  It is also flybarless so it only weighs about 46 grams.

The small Blade mCP X2 looks like a good candidate to finally hover a collective pitch R/C heli
Another R/C heli in the collection – the Blade mCP X2

A typical collective pitch heli comes with a mix of both the Bell & Hiller rotor heads, which have a flybar.  This flybar is typically oriented at a 90-degree angle to the main rotors.   The flybar helps stabilize the heli by changing the pitch angles of the main rotors in gusty wind conditions.

By getting rid of the flybar and placing all the servos in a single system board,  E-Flite was able to make the mCP X2 very light.

And so, was I successful in, at least, hovering this ultra-micro collective pitch heli?

Yes, I was but the duration of all my attempts never even lasted a full minute.

It really takes a finely tuned transmitter –pitch & throttle curve settings and all that transmitter settings – and a really steady hand to deftly guide a CP heli.