For those of us in the northern hemisphere, winter is now in full effect. Many hobbyists, myself included, are turning to indoor flying locations to avoid the wind and the rain. This usually means flying small indoor-specific R/C models, and in this review I’m going to take a look at the FX803 2-channel Piper Cub micro aeroplane. The FX803 is a 2.4GHz update to the older HL803 Piper Cub model which used a 27MHz analogue radio controller. If you are looking for a low-cost ready-to-fly indoor model, read on to find out if the FX803 ‘Piper J-3 Cub’ is worth buying.
The FX803 (sometimes also referred to by the plane identifier on the model’s wing, ‘NC26170’) is a miniature semi-scale Piper Cub aeroplane, manufactured by ‘HuaLe’ in China. The plane is sold as a ready-to-fly kit which includes everything needed to get airborne and has a wingspan of 330 mm, a length of 226 mm and a flying weight of 26 grams.
This Piper Cub R/C model was very kindly provided by GearBest.com as a product review sample. You can buy the FX803 on the GearBest.com website for £20.62 GBP (prices correct at time of publication).
The specifications of the FX803 model are as follows:
- One piece ready-assembled EPP foam fuselage construction
- Twin 7mm brushed motor power system
- 2-channel 2.4GHz wireless radio control
- Maximum control range of up to 150 meters
- Flight times of up to 10 minutes
- Recharge times of between 30 to 40 minutes
- Integrated flight stabiliser to keep the plane flying level
- 3.7 volt (1S) 150mAh non-replaceable rechargeable lithium polymer battery (fixed inside fuselage)
- 6x AA 1.5 volt alkaline batteries are required for the included R/C transmitter
The radio control transmitter included in the package features dual joysticks which provide speed and yaw control. The airframe does not have any servo actuated control surfaces - it is controlled by the automatic application of differential thrust between the two motors. Dihedral geometry in the wing keeps the plane stable, while increasing and decreasing the throttle causes the plane to ascend and descend respectively.
A USB recharging unit is included which allows the small 1-cell lithium battery inside the aircraft to be recharged either using the included transmitter, a computer or a USB hub.
The Piper Cub was shipped from GearBest in China via DHL Express on a Saturday and the package arrived in the UK on the following Monday. I was very impressed with how quickly the product arrived.
The product was shipped in a sturdy brown cardboard box which was secured with plenty of clear tape. There was no damage to the parcel.
Opening up the outer packaging revealed the Piper J-3 Cub model box neatly tucked inside. There was a small dent in the upper right hand side of the box, which hadn’t pierced through to the other side of the cardboard. Apart from that, the retail packaging was in good condition.
The front of the FX803 box shows a picture of the model in action and the included 2.4GHz radio control transmitter. The box claims that this model is a ‘super glider’ and ‘easy to fly’.
Turning to the rear of the box, various English language instructions are provided on how to recharge the plane and what controls are available on the 2-channel transmitter. The transmitter must have six ‘AA’ size 1.5 volt batteries fitted, which are not included with the plane.
There is also some technical data available on the model, with a stated weight of 26 grams, a length of 22cm and a wingspan of 33cm. The control range is stated as 80 metres, however the product page on the GearBest website says the maximum range is somewhere between 100 and 150 metres. With such a small model, it is quite unlikely that the range of the radio control system is going to be a problem.
Opening up the retail packaging, the transmitter and aircraft are found fully assembled inside. The plane is held in place with a section of packaging foam. With the push-fit propellers already fitted to the plane, no assembly or gluing is required to get airborne. Tucked away in the corner of the box is an accessories pack.
The plane itself is incredibly small and lightweight, and should be well suited to almost all indoor flying locations. In addition to the plane, transmitter and accessory pack, two instruction sheets were also inside the box.
The accessory pack includes two spare propellers, the USB charging adapter and the push-fit undercarriage.
The plane has the letters FX803 and NC 26 170 written across the main wing.
As stated above, no real assembly is necessary for this ready-to-fly model. The hollow fuselage is already fully assembled with what feels like very strong glue.
The main propeller on the nose of the aircraft is only decorative, and spins freely. I have read some comments on this plane that this decorative propeller can be removed to reduce drag.
The plane is made from a pre-painted EPP (expanded polypropylene) foam material. The foam is surprisingly robust, allowing the wing tips to be bent inwards towards each other without tearing or snapping. This will make the plane very durable and should take its fair share of crashes.
Looking at the underside of the model, we can see the two 7mm brushed motor units on each wing, the undercarriage slot and the control electronics. There is also a small plastic tail skid at the rear of the plane.
The control board is behind a protective clear plastic cover which is glued in position. There is a small connector for recharging the internal 1-cell lithium battery and an on/off switch. The wires from the two brushed motor units are routed in to the fuselage with clear tape.
The wire-sprung undercarriage has two pre-fitted black plastic wheels and is simply slotted in to the black plastic recess in the fuselage.
Instructions provided in the kit were written in what appeared to be Chinese and German, but not English. Presumably much of this information is the same as the notes found on the back of the retail box, but looking at the diagrams it appears there is some additional information such as details on other planes available in the ‘FX’ micro series. The paperwork also states ‘CE’ conformity for the product.
The radio control transmitter that is included with the product is made from a reasonable durable feeling plastic and should withstand a few knocks and drops. There is no information about what protocol the transmitter uses, only that it operates on the 2.4GHz radio band. It is almost identical to the previous HL803 radio controller, which had a telescopic external metal antenna for its 27MHz transmitter.
The transmitter is just under five inches wide and has a comfortable-to-hold weight with the six ‘AA’ size batteries installed. Both joysticks are mechanically restricted to move in only one axis. The left hand stick moves up and down to control the motor throttle, while the right hand stick moves left and right to steer the aircraft. In the middle of the controller is a small trim knob for adjusting the centre position of the right hand stick. An on/off switch and power LED rounds off the radio transmitter features.
At the rear of the radio transmitter there is a clip-in door to access the battery bay. There is a small screw hole in the door to retain it, however there was no screw included with the kit. The screw is not particularly necessary however, as the two sprung clips are more than adequate to hold the battery bay door in position.
Fitting the six ‘AA’ 1.5 volt batteries is quick and easy.
The transmitter case consists of front and rear halves, which are held together using four self tapping screws. Opening up the case we find a basic but well constructed circuit board.
Taking a closer look at the transmitter circuit board, what appear to be the same two integrated circuit chips found on the controller circuitry in the plane can be seen along with a few other components. The quality of the printed circuit board is good, as is the factory soldering of the various parts.
The two microchips towards the bottom of the circuit do not have any readable markings on them. The black wire at the bottom of the board is the 2.4GHz antenna, which is simply curled up in the top of the transmitter casing.
Recharging the FX803 is simple thanks to the included USB charger and takes about 30-45 minutes for a charge cycle to complete.
It is important to connect the recharging device to the plane in the correct order otherwise charging will not take place. The order advised in the instruction material is as follows:
- Connect USB recharger to R/C transmitter (or computer). Red LED on charger will turn on.
- With the aircraft switched off, connect the aircraft to the USB recharger. Red LED on charger will turn off to indicate charging in progress.
- When charging has completed, the red LED on the recharger will turn back on.
Flying the FX803 is an easy and enjoyable experience. Anyone with no prior knowledge of model aircraft can be successful at flying the plane. It is best suited to indoor flying where there is no wind, but is capable of flying outdoors too when there is only light wind. The very small wheels on the undercarriage mean it is necessary to hand launch the plane outdoors, unless there is a very smooth floor surface available.
As described above, this two-channel aircraft has no control surfaces, so flying the model can be imprecise at times, particularly outdoors. A large open space is very much a requirement for flying the FX803. On my first few flights it was necessary to manually ‘trim’ the elevator by bending the foam to achieve a slight up-elevator position. Altitude is controlled by increasing or decreasing the throttle and allowing the plane to glide up or down. Yaw (side to side turning) is controlled by differential thrust between the two motors, which is mixed automatically by the controller circuit in the plane.
I was impressed with the FX803 Piper J3 Cub model considering the very low price. As a ready-to-fly kit which only needs six ‘AA’ batteries for the transmitter, this plane can be airborne within just a few minutes of unboxing. This makes it very well suited to those new to the R/C hobby, including children. The box states that the recommended age for children is 8+ years.
At just over £20 (~$30) the FX803 model is one of, if not the least expensive indoor plane models on the market today. Whilst the 2-channel radio control design is quite simple and imprecise, it is great fun to fly. The EPP foam material used for the aircraft is remarkably resistant to damage and should last a long time.
The only real downside to this model is the 1-cell battery is located inside the plane and cannot be swapped out at the flying site for continuous flying, so a rather lengthy 30-45 minute wait is needed between each flying session while the battery recharges. It should also be noted that there are no spare parts available for this plane, although the foam construction will be easily repaired with glue, while the brushed motors and push-fit propellers can be easily sourced from eBay and specialists such as Micro Motor Warehouse. I think these shortcomings can be readily overlooked considering the exceptionally low price of this plane.
In conclusion this is a good quality entry-level radio controlled aircraft which is quick to get airborne and great fun for beginners and experienced pilots alike. The micro sized Piper J3 Cub is ideally suited to indoor flying in these cold winter months, but can also fly outdoors in dead calm conditions. To learn more and buy the FX803 NC26170 Piper J3 Cub micro plane, please visit the product page at the GearBest.com website.
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