Tuesday, November 12, 2013

First look at the Blade 350QX

Introduction

My Blade 350QX arrived yesterday. I'm impressed. Ok, it's my first large (as in not micro or smaller) 'copter, but still. Here's my impressions after a couple of batteries, including one night flight.

But first, a warning

Note that Horizon has issued recall on the rotor blades on the early releases. They are fragile, tend to crack and then fall apart in flight - just search youtube for 350 qx prop fail. If you get one, check the blades to make sure they have a B on the hub. You'll be able to see it on the mounted blades. Mine showed up with the B blades on it, so it ought to be ok.

Size

After flying mostly micros, this thing just seems big. I feel like I could land a Nano QX on top of it.

It uses a 3S battery. While it's no bigger than the 2S batteries I've used before, it's still the first 3S battery I've run into. Unfortunately, I need more of them.

Quality

Meh. Not bad, but it still feels like cheap plastic. The GoPro camera mount strikes a low point, though.

In particular, the landing skids worry me. That hard plastic doesn't seem like it'll stand up to many rough landings. Possibly I should just punt, and always land with Return To Home or Smart mode.

It does have nice, bright LEDs. LEDs are always good, and these make it reasonable to fly the 350QX at night.

Flight

Stability & Agility modes

It flies very nicely. Stability mode is like flying most six-axis stabilized quads, but much more stable than I'm used to. I suspect that's just the size.

Agility mode gets you somewhere between an FP heli and an entry level CP heli. Very responsive, and you get the entire flight envelope to play with. It'll do acrobatics - flips, rolls and loops - but not 3D flight. Still a lot of fun.

Return To Home

One of the interesting features made possible by having a GPS system and a smart quad is the Return To Home switch. Flip it on, and the quad will take over and fly itself back to home. At least, it will if it's had a good GPS lock since taking off. If it's low to the ground, it'll ascend to above tree-top height, then fly back to over where it took off from, and land itself. Gently, even. Useful if you ever get confused about orientation or lose sight of the quad. I tried this a number of times, just to see what it did. It works quite well, and is kind of cool to watch.

Smart mode

Smart mode is just weird. The manual warns you that going from Smart to Stability mode will take some adjustment. However, going the other way also takes some adjustment.

The throttle stick doesn't controls lift, but altitude - from ground level with the throttle full down, to a claimed 45 meters with the throttle full up. The rudder control is pretty much normal.

The right stick - it's not cyclic controls, and it doesn't control pitch & roll like it does on a heli or the other modes on this quad - is motion relative to you. Pushing it up will make the quad move away from you - no matter which direction it is facing, and no matter where it is in relation to you. Down is back to you, left and right are - well, you know. This is confusing enough that I bailed and hit Return To Home while getting used to it.

If you aren't moving the right stick, the quad will use GPS to lock itself into position. Not like a six-axis system, as those will move a little with the wind and the like - but pretty much rock solid. This works in winds much higher than I'd even think about flying anything else I own.

That said - I can see a real use for this. I've had camera-carrying quads before, and have to agree with a comment on an early blog: they are novelty items, and not really all that interesting on most quads. Flying the things is difficult enough that you can't really pay attention to the camera to get a good shot or video, so all you can really do is run video to record a flight.

Smart mode changes that. Well, the position lock with GPS does. You can position the quad where you want it, and it really will stay put well enough that you can pay attention to the camera, and get a good shot. I didn't order a camera with the 350 QX because I thought they wouldn't be interesting. Now I'm not so sure1, and will probably order a Hero 3 soon.

Oddities

You have to manually initialize things after the quad initializes itself and binds to the radio. Among other things, this establishes the home position for the Return To Home feature, and what ground level is for Smart mode.

The initialization starts the rotors spinning, and they do not stop even with no throttle input. You have to shut the quad down to do that, and then initialize it again. This makes a throttle hold pretty much useless. I might use the shutdown procedure to replace it, but for now what's normally Hold on my controller is Return To Home.

The normal initialization sequence is to throw the rudder to the two extremes with no changes in elevator, aileron or throttle with the throttle at zero. Since I'm using deviationTx - see my blog on open source controller firmware - I can configure it so one switch initializes things when thrown on, and then shuts the throttles down when thrown off. Much more convenient, if you ask me.

Minuses

The balancing charger they shipped with it requires a 12 volt input, and comes with alligator clips. Seriously. I can understand why they did it, but ugh.


  1. While charging people money to take videos & pictures of things for them from a quad is tempting, it's a violation of FAA regulations unless you have a commercial pilots license. Hopefully that will change in 2014, but for now it's a nono.