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Monday, April 6, 2015

Picking The Perfect Extreme Flight 60" EXP

One of our most popular features has always been "Picking The perfect 48" EXP" and I have long meant to do the same sort of article with the 60" variants. First, I had to wait until the 60" Yak became available, and then a lot of things (mostly dollars!) got in the way of my building a 60" Laser. Now that I am flying all of these planes pretty hard, I feel like I can comment on and compare them.

What I will be doing here is a bit of nitpicking, simply because the differences between the airframes is much more subtle than they are in the 48" series of EXPs. These planes are so closely matched that I usually have a hard time making up my mind which one to take out. Usually I just pick the one I have not flown for awhile because whichever one it is, I'm really going to enjoy flying.

While it's fun to point out the differences, we are not buying a house, or even a car.  All of the 60" EXP ARFs cost $269 to $279, so even in the nearly impossible scenario of choosing an EXP that doesn't totally thrill you, three Hamiltons will give you another spin of the wheel.

However, the odds are overwhelming that whichever EXP you choose,  it is still going to be the finest plane you own, even if you don't choose the one that is "perfect" for you. I think they are all kind of perfect.

Now, if you can only have one or two 60" planes it becomes a little more difficult. I chose them all because I love them all, but if I had to sell off one or two I wouldn't even begin to know where to start. Losing any of these planes would kill me.

Once you narrow your choices down a little bit, you can use the archive listing over to the right of this page to find construction and flying articles on all of these planes. There are also good set up photos in those that will help you get the most out of your new 60" EXP.

As in the 48" article, I will rank the planes in the order in which I feel they are easiest to fly, and I will try to point out each plane's strongest suits. Those who have read the first article will find a surprise or two here because the rankings are a little different this time.

Easiest: Edge 540T EXP

I came oh, so close to making this a three way tie with the Yak and Laser, because it is really, really close. The Edge in both sizes has long been the plane most knowledgeable 3D flyers recommend for safe, smooth, easy 3D training.

The Edge's secret is the straight LE (leading edge) of it's wing. This goes a long way toward killing off wing rock, which we will get into a little later. In super hard pitch rotations the LE minimizes tip stall, which is a nasty condition of one wing tip stalling before the other. As you can imagine, with one wing flying and the other not, the plane is not often going to go where you are pointing it. With the Edge, you can slam it into a wall or a parachute or just turn it so hard that other planes would snap out, yet the Edge totally maintains it's composure.

Before I explain wing rock, let me say this is a phenomenon that does not even remotely affect the Edge. This invulnerability to wing rock is the Edge's biggest single strength and what makes is so easy to fly, especially in 3D alpha flight.

The hardest part of learning to harrier (first step of learning 3D) is dealing with wing rock. This is when one wing stalls and recovers, and then the other does the same thing until the wings rock back and forth, getting worse with each rock until the plane just sort of goes off wherever it wants to go. A really bad  plane will simply stall one wing completely, snap roll out and spin into the ground.  A little wing rock is harmless compared to that, but you still don't want any because it just looks sloppy, which is something few of us aspire to.

Edge EXP After The Storm II from Doc Austin on Vimeo.

The Edge just refuses to wing rock at all. I have even flown mine without the SFGs (side force generators) and it was absolutely dead solid in harrier without any trace of harrier rock. Sometimes I will just harrier the Edge around for a whole flight because it is so much fun and so little stress, but the Edge always impresses everyone watching. People are impressed with smooth flying, and the Edge does smooth harrier so well that it is by far most of my friend's favorite all around plane. Even my students who have moved on to more challenging planes still keep an Edge around because they are so sweet. I've got three of them right now. 

The Edge's other trump card is it's ability to do easy, controlled and smooth elevator drop maneuver. I start my students with this first because it teaches them basic harrier skills. An elevator drop is simply stalling the airplane deeply and holding in elevator, allowing the plane to sink belly first in an almost straight down line. You have to play the elevator, rudder, ailerons (minimally) and throttle to steer the plane, keep it level and control the rate of descent, but doing all of these things from the safety of higher altitude teaches you a lot in a hurry. Once you get a good elevator going it is simply a matter of adding a little power so the plane moves forward, and then you have a harrier going! Most of my students transition from doing elevator drops into harrier flight just by my telling them to add a little power, and then they get it all figured out pretty quickly.

The Edge also does high violence maneuvers very well. It does beautiful pops tops and KE (knife edge) spins. In fact, all you do in a KE spin is lock the controls in the right position and watch the nose flop over the tail again and again. Entry is not even that critical. With the Edge, KE spins are almost automatic.

Snaps both inside and out are really crisp, though the straight LE does make hitting them perfectly a bit more difficult than flying a triple tapered wing. Of course, with a simple adjustment to your timing (flying style) you can still get razor precise snaps. It is just when you jump back and forth from one EXP to another that you might notice this. When I fly my Edges a lot the difference just seems to sort of disappear because I adapt to it.

You can also wind the Edge up really tight in a good tumble. I can get mine to actually do a backflip!

In the 48: size, the Edge gives up a little bit of precision to it's other EXP siblings, but again, you can make up for a lot of this simply by adjusting your technique. However, the 60" Edge is so smooth, solid and locked in that this margin is much, much smaller. The big Edge does really smooth slow rolls, point rolls and consecutive rolls. With a good pilot you would never know the Edge is not quite as precise as something like the Extra EXP, just because it is that damm good.

KE flight is also really excellent, though because of the straight LE you give up just a little yaw authority at high speed. This is not much of a problem at all because it's simply a flying adjustment. You just use more stick and the problem never was.

As you can see in the video, the Edge EXP does everything really, really well, and it's 3D manners are unparalleled for learning 3D or for flying all 3D all the time, while still having excellent precision manners. The Edge is a most excellent choice.

Laser EXP: Smooth, Precise, Reassuring

Surefooted as a mountain goat would be the best description of the Laser EXP. You could say almost the exact same thing about the Yak EXP too, so it was very difficult to rate one higher on the easy scale that the other. In fact, I have a hard time separating one of these from the other. I fly them pretty much the same, except with the Laser being new I naturally fly it with a little less abandon, but I am working on that part!

The Laser has a very slight advantage in having easier harrier manners. The fuselage, fin/rudder, canopy and SFGs are so huge that there is a lot of stability inducing area, which also produces lift. Stable, lightweight planes tend to harrier exceptionally well, and the Laser is so close to Edge-like harrier performance that it is, again, really hard to differentiate one from the other. Extending into the elevator drop maneuver, the Laser does this so well that it is easy to just get into a groove harriering and elevator dropping  back and forth, and then forgetting to do anything else It's just that much fun!

The lightweight nature of the Laser makes it excellent for ultra slow speed 3D flying, and this goes beyond harrier and elevator drop performance. On all of my 60" planes I find my rolling harriers, while still pretty sloppy, are getting much better because I have the time to work them without the plane dropping out of the air. Because the planes are lighter you can slow them down more and everything happens much more slowly. The mind learns better this way, sort of like the half speed drills that professional football teams practice.

The Laser has a huge, cavernous fuselage, which is not only a lot of lift producing area, but corresponding drag. For this reason it has a little less outright top end speed than the MXS or Extra, but the Laser still eats up the real estate below pretty vociferously. This is not a slow airplane by any stretch of one's imagination, but the big expanse inside the fuselage soaks up a lot of sound and the Laser is audibly not quite as intimidating. By way of explanation, the MXS absolutely screams, but the Laser sort of whooshes as it goes by. The MXS demands "look at me," while the Laser simply says "That was easy."

Because the Laser has the triple taper wing featured on the Extra, Yak, and MXS, it excels at precision maneuvers. For slow, point and consecutive rolls, all of these planes do really, really well.

Without having a radar gun available, I can only guess from experience that the laser is down a few MPH to the faster MXS and Extra, but this allows more time to set up and execute precision maneuvers. This is helpful at a field like SPARKS where we only have about 600 feet of usable left to right airspace boundary. No one complains that I fly the Laser out of bounds, and while part of this is because the plane turns so well and so tight, it's also that tiny bit slower that I don't run out of room so fast.

The same wing also allows very sharp control of starting and stopping snap rolls, so precision in this aspect is very sharp too. KE flight is very, very solid, and I am finding myself flying KE from right to left with nearly the same ease as the other way, which sort of surprised me the first few times. I am still stronger flying from left to right, but now I am coming the other way more often, just because the plane has me that comfortable.

And that's probably the defining aspect of this plane. Comfort. I knew 30 seconds into the maiden exactly what I had, but it was hard to believe because I was not ready for it to be so solid and reassuring. I had experienced this with the Yak too, so I was sort of half ready to be impressed, yet the Laser feels so good that I know I have not even begun to scratch the surface of her potential.

Yak: Too Good To Be True
The Yak is very hard to differentiate from the Laser, simply because they are both so good at the same kind of things. Both are extremely light weight and they fly that way. Both are so stable that it is hard to believe, and both are rock solid locked in at high speed precision.

The difference is that the Yak has it's wing directly on it's thrust line. This means that everything rotates around the same axis and you get beautiful, clean and perfectly axial rolls. The Yak actually rolls so much easier that I use the least amount of throw on my low aileron rates to get the same roll rate. Everything isn't fighting everything else to roll around it's own axis because everything is on the same axis. I love to slow roll, point roll and consecutive roll this plane simply because it looks so damm good doing it. That, and it makes me look good. It will make your rolls look good too.

It was the 48" Yak EXP that got me working my rollers to start with, simply because it was so natural with that plane. The 60" Yak encourages this even more because, as with the Laser, the plane won't drop as quickly and you have more time to roll, examine and make any corrections.

If the Yak gives up any one thing in an appreciable way, it is on sheer, utter brute top end speed. The big round cowling is a lot of drag, so the slicker EXPs (which would be all of them) are going to cut through the air a bit easier. Strangely, I like it this way, because again, a slower top speed gives you more time to set everything up and get your maneuvers straight and centered. This is extremely handy at a place like SPARKS where you are almost always turning the plane to keep it in bounds. Still, it's not like the Yak is a slug or anything. Every time I bring it in tight at high speed it is still fast enough to make everyone hold their breath.

The Yak does give up just a little in harrier performance to the Laser and Edge. It is not horrible and almost not even worth mentioning, and I'm sure someone like Jase would just make it stop with his superior control. For the rest of us mere mortals, if you get your harrier sloppy the Yak will rock back and forth just a tiny bit, but it is more of a little dance than any sort of problem. You can pretty easily arrest this by carrying the nose higher with a little more power. Once I started playing with a 25% spoileron mix, all of this rock disappeared absolutely and completely.

The overriding impression of the 60" Yak that stays with me even today is how surprisingly stable it is. The 48" Yak is a challenging little plane, sort of a snapping, ankle biting, rabid little flying Chihuahua, but the big Yak is more like a friendly, happy, goofey flying giant poodle. No matter what you ask from it, the Yak seems so willing to please it's master.

It is almost like you can't do anything wrong with the Yak, and when you do, the plane is so stable and floaty, yet responsive, that you just fly your way out like you have all day. Perhaps I have made it sound more easy than it really is, but for reference I cut the maiden flight short because I thought something was wrong with the plane. It was so smooth and stable, again sure footed and reassuring, that I didn't believe it.

Perhaps I was expecting the plane to be more demanding because the 48 is, but the big Yak is so much more docile and stable than the little one it is hard to believe they are the same plane. It took me a few flights to understand that the plane really was that stable, and once I started to trust the plane enough to push it really hard, then it opened up for me. Most planes show their weakness when you lean on them really hard, but the Yak just shows you how good it is.

I am sure in the end I will try something I know I can't get away with and I will be right.....I won't get away with it. It's always horrible to tear up a good plane, but with today's Laser cut parts, jig built assembly, and Extreme Flight's crackerjack factory manufacturing team, with three Hamiltons and you are back in the game. That just doesn't sound like such a horrible price for having so much fun.

Nail: Just For Now
Some of you may be wondering why I would stop now before I have covered the Extra and MXS. For one thing, this article got really long, but mostly it is because I almost lump the Edge, Laser and Yak together as the same kind of planes. They each have their own strengths, but all of them are super stable and floaty. These are lightweight planes that instill an absurd amount of confidence in the pilot. They are really big planes for their wingspans with lots and lots of lift producing area everywhere. While they fly really superb precision because of their long pattern plane inspired
moments, it is in 3D alpha flight where these three really come to life best.
These two are very similar to each other as well, and thusly I have grouped them together. I have had very long love affairs both of these airframes, and while I am currently without an MXS, I have just put a new Extra together.
Both feature a triple taper precision wing design, so they are going to fly similar. What makes them a little different from the Yak and Laser (which share the same wing) is that they are the last generation of EXPs before the boss started blowing out the fuselages and making them so huge. As a result, they are not quite as floaty, simply because they don't produce the same amount of lift off the fuselage and canopy. You might not think an extra inch or so of canopy makes much difference, but you will after you have flown all of these.
As a result, the MXS and Extra still do wonderful 3D, but really love to be up on the wing and tracking. With their smaller frontal profiles, these are faster planes, and with speed comes stability. Nothing can touch the Extra for cranking off smooth, beautiful big-sky maneuvers. Point and slow rolls are simply ridiculously smooth and dead on. Also as you would expect, snaps are dead solid and you can start and stop them nearly at will.
In spite of being so good at precision, these two don't really give up much in 3D. The Edge/Yak/Laser trio seem to be a bit lighter on their wings and a bit easier to fly, but the Extra and MXS are not far behind at all.

We are unbelievably short on 60" Extra EXP video in spite of years and years and hundreds and hundreds of flights with my first Extra. This is probably because I fly the Extra for me, because this is my plane, and if we happened to get any incidental video that's just a bonus.

For me the Extra in both 48" and 60" sizes have the best rounded performance. This is absolutely the most graceful flying plane I have ever had my hands on. For now, please bear with me and check out this video from last week, but I promise we will get some more 60" Extra EXP video soon. This is a relatively new plane and I definitely plan on putting a lot of time on it this spring.

The biggest differences between these two  are (1) The MXS has a shorter distance (moment) between it's wing and stabilizer, and (2) The MXS has a little less wingspan.

The shorter tail moment increases pitch authority, so the MXS will wall, parachute, snap and tumble with a bit better violence than the Extra.  If you couple the MXS' slightly shorter wingspan with that, the MXS rolls a little faster, spins and poptops a little better, and is generally more of an extreme aerobatic machine.

With more wing and longer tail moment, the Extra is better at high speed precision. The long moment generates pitch stability, and this locks the plane in really hard, and it will not move around much on the pitch axis even in gusty conditions. This makes setting up your precision maneuvers much easier, which makes performing them even easier still. Point it and go.

In short, the Extra and MXS are precision machines that do really good extreme aerobatics. The Extra is biased a little more toward precision, and the MXS is biased a little more toward snaps, spins and tumbles. They are, however, really, really close, and again, the differences are reasonably subtle.

As a result, right now I am willing to live without an MXS, simply because I fly the Extra very much the same way. To me these two are almost interchangeable, with the notable exception that the MXS is completely off the cool looking airplane scale. I really, really, really do miss having a 64" MXS, but I do plan to build another one as soon as I can scrounge up a few dollars.

Power System
Since I am using the exact same power system in each of these planes, you can directly compare their performances, because the difference is strictly in the airframes. On the videos you see here, the power system plays no difference in how these planes fly in comparison to each other.

You can use any number of different power systems in these planes, but for my money nothing comes close to the Torque 4016/500 Mk II motor and Airboss 80 Elite ESC. For one thing, power and reliability are paramount, and for another, since you are buying the airframe anyway, you may as well get the plane/power system combo and save about $70. That puts the whole power system pretty close to the price of a "budget" power system, but the difference is the Torque/Airboss is designed to fit perfectly and balance the plane perfectly, and is backed by one of the finest companies in the industry.

There is just also something really special about how smoothly a torque motor runs and how sweet it sounds.

For all the videos in this report, I use Thunder Power 6s (six cell) Pro Force 70C 3300 packs.  In the past I have used 3850 packs, but you can actually tell the difference when you fly the lighter 3300s. These packs have explosive power and provide long life. Thunder Power batteries come with a two year warranty, and a half price crash replacement warranty.

Special thanks to my friends at Hitec who provided sets of HS7245MH servos for my Extra and Laser. I was not going to build those two planes without anything but the very best servos I could get my hands on, and without Hitec's generous support this article would not have been possible. So, thank you Hitec.

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