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Monday, March 19, 2018

Slick 580 EXP__Flying With An Electronic Stability System

Electronic stability systems (ESS) have been all the rage lately, and for good reason. A well set up plane equipped with an ESS is simply going to fly better and be more stable. With a good system, you won't even know it's there. All you know is that you can push the plane harder and be more comfortable and confident while doing that. Well, that's my observation anyway.

There are still people who will try to talk you out of using one, but remember, it's your money to spend however you like. If an ESS helps you enjoy the sport more, it doesn't really matter what other people think about it. Resistance to ESS is waning anyway, because anything that makes the plane fly better is going to be part of the future.

On the forums, we spend so much time arguing about which airframe is the best, or which servos, and it gets so ridiculous that we argue about glue debonders, Velcro and even zip ties, all trying to find a way to make the plane fly better. An ESS is the one thing you can do right now that will make as much, and maybe even more, difference as those other things, so why not try one?

As far as using ESS in competition, I don't care either way.  I don't compete any more (so I am not going to tell those that do compete how to do it), but I can see where they would have been really beneficial. From a practical standpoint, some people are always going to cheat and you can hide an ESS so easily they would be almost impossible to police. Eventually everyone is going to be running them, legally or not, if for no other reason than to be competitive with those who already are.

52 Slick EXP__.Ghostrider 2018 from Doc Austin on Vimeo.
I am not married to any particular ESS, though admittedly the only one have tried so far has been the Aura 8. I hope to try the Hitec system next, and then maybe some others. I've been flying an Aura 8 ESS in my 52" Slick for around 25 flights or so now. I've gotten to where I don't even think about the ESS and I just fly the plane. I use one gain and one stick priority setting for all maneuvers, though I still use my conventional high and low control deflection rates. Essentially, from a flying standpoint, I am not doing anything differently than I ever have. I forget about the ESS and just fly the plane. There is not a lot of sense in making it any more complex than it has to be, and leaving the ESS settings alone while flying just gives me one less thing to get wrong.

As you can see, the plane flies smoother and more locked in than ever before, and it was already jolly damm good anyway. Now the Slick is more like an old pair of loafers that are comfy and warm. The plane just feels more solid. The limit of the airplane hasn't gotten any higher, but since the ESS continuously stabilizes the plane, the pilot can use this more stable platform to push harder, and in that sense, the pilot's limit has been raised.

52 Slick EXP__.Uncut from Doc Austin on Vimeo.
First, I am still learning how to set these things up, so I am not going to offer any advise on how you should do it, other than to suggest you get some help from a friend who is familiar with these units.
One hard and fast rule you never break is to always test any new installation with the ESS turned off. If you get any of your ESS gains backwards, you will absolutely crash the plane. Trim the plane with the ESS turned off, and only turn it on the first few times at altitude. You will need plenty of room to turn the thing off if you have it wrong. The ESS will correct, and the plane will go the wrong way, and then the ESS will try to correct even more until you have such a mess on your hands it will just get worse and worse until you can't do anything with it. If you get this, don't even try to fight it. Turn the damm thing off, land and correct it. I experienced this once on a friend's plane and if I had not had a lot of altitude and time to turn it off, we would have had a bucket of shrapnel.

People ask for my config files all the time, but there are too many variables for that. I also don't want to lead anyone down the wrong path because I am still figuring a lot of this stuff out for myself. Generally, though, the manual is a good place to start, but I admit to having a little dyslexia with written instructions. I tinkered around with the Aura config tool for awhile to familiarize myself with it, then turned to a friend who is more familiar with the system. I had a decent grip on the system after tinkering a bit, but my friend's experience really helped a lot.

First, the Aura has multiple "control modes" with different gains and stick priority settings.  On a 3 position switch, you will get off, low and high settings. I like to set the low up for all my flying and use the high setting for experimenting. I don't have a laptop computer yet, so I can't make adjustments at the field. I have to run home, which wastes time, so I only use what I know works on my low setting.

 I start with the "Genric 3D" template in the Aura config tool, and turn the gains back until any ESS induced control oscillation ("gyro shake") is eliminated. This gyro shake usually happens at high speed when you run too much gain, and it can become so violent that I'm pretty sure you could shake the plane apart if you weren't careful. As such, it's safer to start off conservatively, find a good baseline adjustment and then creep up on the max one degree at a time.

The gains in the template are way too high for something as fast as an EXP, and I found this out on my first flight when the plane shook with frightening veracity. I started with the gains (from the template) in the 25-40 range, but the shaking was so violent I backed them off to 5, and then slowly started working my way back up until I hit my current setting of 10. The ESS is extremely effective at this setting and there is no gyro shake. Once I get a lap top and can make adjustments at the field, I will dial in 1% at a time until I induce shake, and them back it off. As it is, the plane flies beautifully and I doubt I will add much more gain.

Some people like to use a higher gain for 3D, and then flip to a lower gain for high speed work. This is too much switch flipping for me, so I leave the ESS set on low gain/low stick priorities, and use my conventional dual rates. It's enough of a work load to remember which rate I am on, and adding ESS control modes and another switch is just too much. Some guys can keep track of all that stuff, but I am better off forgetting about the switches and concentering on flying the plane.

As far as stick priorities, I have not played with them at all. I just use the priorities from the template, and while the low stick priority works really well, the high priority has the ESS fighting me in snaps, spins, pop tops and such. The low priorities from the template are not high enough for you to notice them, and neither is the 10% gain adjustment. To me, I don't want to know the ESS is even there. I just want the plane to fly better, and I think my current set up does just that.

Of course, this is likely to change as I get more experience and knowledge with these systems. So, about the only thing I have to offer in the way of set up is to suggest a gain setting of 10 is a reasonably safe place to start on a 52" EXP. The low stick priorities in the "generic 3D" template are also a good starting point.

Just like everything else, all adjustments are going to have to be tailored to the individual pilot's preference. I've got a good basic formula, but there is no guarantee it will work for you. I think the most important thing is to set your gains up so there is  gyro shake first, and then adjust the rest as you go. The generic 3D template is really, really close except the gains are too high for these planes.

Just for grins, I dropped an Aura in my beloved 48" MXS. This plane was the first I used to try Hitec's 5070 and 5087MH servos, and later I jammed a killer 3910 under the cowling, so she has always been the plane I use to tinker around with. It just seemed right to throw another experiment at her. The MXS is such a wild beast I thought this would be the one EXP that would benefit the most from an ESS, and the results suggest that hypothesis is not that far off. I thought the 52s had left this plane behind a little bit, but the ESS brings the MXS right back into the fight.

MXS EXP__Bad Attitude 2018 Pt.II from Doc Austin on Vimeo.

Of course, any time I try something new, it's with an Extra EXP. The 52" Extra has taken over from the 48" as my go-to front line plane, and it was the obvious choice to use in initial ESS experiments. I flew the Extra enough to come up with a decent baseline set up for the Aura, and I start with that on any new installation.
As you can see, the Extra responds quite well to stabilization, though she was already pretty superb here anyway. The ESS just takes it to the next level.
So, the tinkering will continue. Now that I have a reasonable grip on the gain settings, I can start experimenting with different stick priorities. Eventually I will have some config files available, but I want to be sure they are dialed in perfectly first.

52 Extra EXP__Testing Aura 8 II from Doc Austin on Vimeo.

52 Extra EXP__Grandpa Goes Huckin' from Doc Austin on Vimeo.

52 Extra EXP__Grandpa Goes Huckin' II from Doc Austin on Vimeo