Quad Erat Demonstrandum

They’re all the rage at the moment, obviously, but I’ve always fancied having a remote controlled aircraft since I used to make model aeroplanes as a child. I recall a rubber-powered balsa wood biplane that I made with my dad and some sort of wire-controlled petrol-engined plane too. So, with children of my own now it seemed like a fun thing to get involved in. We’re fortunate in having loads of space to fly one in and no immediate neighbours so the only things likely to be irritated by its presence are the local fauna. Note to self: I wonder if our visiting roe deer would be distressed by the presences of a quad?

I didn’t feel the need to start with anything big and would rather learn to fly with something cheap and painless if it breaks, so after taking a bit of advice and hunting around on the internet I opted for a Hubsan X4 H107C:

There are a few things I particularly like about this quadcopter. First it’s small enough that we can learn to fly it indoors or in a barn in relative safety. Across the diagonal it’s less than 150mm from propeller-tip to propeller-tip. Also, the controller has adjustable sensitivity, so whilst we get the hang of flying it’s possible to back off the sensitivity of the pitch, yaw and roll controls to make allowances for being a bit heavy-handed. And finally, it has a camera. It’s just a simple thing built into the body so it can only view in the direction the quad is pointing, but it still leaves room for a bit of fun creating videos.

In addition I ordered a pack of spare parts to fix breakages (which I have to admit is taking its time to arrive) and five additional batteries with a USB charger:

The charger does feel a bit cheap and nasty and the sockets for the battery connectors are very stiff, to the point where I didn’t realise at first that they weren’t fully inserted leading to frustration when they kept falling out.

Also in the above photo you can see the first mod I’ve made, adding a little folded insulating tape to the end of each battery to make it easier to remove from the quad when it needs replacing.

Having the five spare batteries works well as at learner indoor speeds if they are recharged immediately then once all six have been discharged the first is pretty much ready for use once again.

First impressions are that it really helps to wind the sensitivity back on the controller. It was a bit of a handful for us novices otherwise. The battery position is critical. If it isn’t fully pushed into its slot then the quad tends to drift backwards. For that reason the spare batteries I purchased are the same capacity as the originals. There are batteries available that should last longer (from memory, 500mA rather than the standard 380mA), but my understanding is that they are longer and shift the centre of gravity of the quad backwards meaning it will drift backwards unless the drift is trimmed out, which in turn makes it awkward to mix battery sizes. The camera is not brilliant, but actually it’s nowhere near as bad as I expected. I have been pleasantly surprised by my tests. Obviously it’s never going to be as great as a gimbal-mounted camera, but for the price I have no complaints at all. The controller is quite comfortable to use, but it would be nice if the tops of the levers weren’t quite so hard and spiky. Obviously it’s important to have a good grip on them, but they could be a little more comfortable. The quad has also proved remarkably robust. There is a prop guard in the spares kit I ordered, but even without one fitted we’re still on the original set of propellers. Generally I’m very pleased with it and it’s been a great deal of fun.

Oddly our cats, who are brothers from the same litter, have taken to it quite differently. Once is very fearful and will leave the house if he hears it. The other will quite happily sit in its downdraught and when landed will place a careful paw on it just to make sure it can’t get away.

I’m told that a larger and more expensive quad would be easier to fly and it’s certainly taken a while to get the hang of flying, but I have at least now reached the point where I can keep it in the air indoors for as long as it takes for the battery to discharge from full. From there I think we’re going to have to move outdoors as and when the weather allows. Hopefully we’ll be able to get some video of the barn roof replacement as it takes place.

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