This year marked the 15th year that the AMA has wooed winter-weary modelers to Ontario, California, for its annual exposition and trade show. Held at the spacious and conveniently situated Ontario Convention Center each year in January, the Expo is a great place for enthusiastic modelers to gain glimpses of the new and upcoming products, network with fellow hobbyists and industry insiders, and even purchase some must-have, cool new products.
This year’s event was January 9-11. Key features of the Expo included a static model competition, indoor flight demonstration areas, and scheduled speaking presentations by a variety of industry-related professionals on topics pertinent to the hobby.
The list of vendors and exhibitors numbered well over 100 and ran the gamut from Align helicopters and multirotors to Zurich International sunglasses. I spent most of the day Friday and Saturday plying the aisles and rooms of the Ontario Convention Center and offer the following highlights, observations, and opinions.
The Year of the Multirotor?
Expo attendees could not help but notice that multirotor vehicles continue to experience an explosion in popularity and availability. Every aisle featured numerous vendors and manufacturers displaying the latest in multirotor technology.
From easily affordable nano-size quadcopters, tiny enough to fit in your pants pocket, to large hexacopters and octocopters, capable of hoisting full-size, gimbal-stabilized DSLR cameras aloft, Expo attendees keen on taking in, and perhaps even taking home, everything multirotor were not disappointed.
Indicative of the connection between multirotors and digital imagery was the appearance of a brick-and-mortar camera store. Samy’s Camera, a West Coast camera franchise and online retailer, occupied a large area of the floor space and even had a newly announced DJI Innovations Inspire 1 on display. As a bit of a photography nut, I was thrilled to see them in attendance. This is the first time that I can remember seeing a camera retailer attend the Expo and it illustrates the popularity of these airborne aerial vehicles as a perfect media-gathering platform.
Align, known for its quality nitro and electric helicopters, had its new M480L 800mm quadcopter and M690L 900mm hexacopter on display. These robust-looking, foldable frames both feature moisture-resistant canopies and retractable landing gear. They are designed to carry gimbal-stabilized camera gear. Control is via the APS-M Multicopter Control Unit, Align’s proprietary flight controller.
Another multirotor product that caught my eye was Hobbico’s ORA. This 370mm quadcopter promises fully autonomous operation and can be easily programmed via the Android-powered touch-screen interface of the included Journey 10-channel transceiver. Flight durations of up to 30 minutes are promised, and that’s believable given the capacity of the included 7,000mAh LiPo battery.
Another exciting multirotor product on display was the JR Ninja. This 400mm quadcopter is but one example of a new breed of aerobatics-capable multirotors. Three Ninjas were flown several times in the indoor flying venue, demonstrating this aircraft’s unique abilities. The capacity to instantaneously reverse the motor’s rotation serves as the anchor technology behind the aerobatics-capable class of multirotors. The Ninjas performed flips, spins, and other tumbling maneuvers that were exciting to watch!
It was no surprise to see a proliferation of multirotor-specific storage and transport solutions on display at the Expo. Go Professional Cases (GPC), one of the AMA Expo 2015’s main sponsors, is one of the better-known purveyors of cases.
The company’s family of multirotor storage products is expanding. If the perfect product for your equipment isn’t available, GPC offers custom solutions. I have been using a GPC to haul my gimbal-equipped DJI Phantom for nearly two years and it does a superb job of protecting my equipment.
Several other case vendors also had full selections of storage-based wares on display, leaving attending multirotor enthusiasts little excuse for leaving their assets unprotected.
Big and Small
The AMA Expo has always been a great place to preview products from large manufacturers and distributors. Midwest-based Hobbico and Horizon Hobby both had multiple new products on display.
Horizon Hobby’s E-Flite NIGHT VisionAire aims to make nighttime the right time for developing one’s 3-D skillset. A preinstalled array of internal LED lights had this foamie aerobat glowing, as it perched in the shadow of the colossal Hangar 9 4.7-meter ASW 20 sailplane hanging overhead.
Hobbico announced that it would be releasing the 56mm Hyperflow electric ducted-fan-powered L-39 Albatros in a new receiver-ready version from Flyzone. The long-awaited Tactic TTX850 eight-channel SLT compatible 2.4GHz transmitter was also on display in the Hobbico booth. The set of features included with this sub-$200 radio set is unparalleled.
Many smaller vendors and manufacturers took advantage of the Expo to announce their products as well. Several key Weatronic staff members came from Germany to introduce the company’s BAT 60 2.4 GHz transmitter. This Linux-driven product features a color touch screen and places strong emphasis on system redundancy. I was excited by the innovation and exciting technology of this German-engineered radio system and look forward to getting a closer look at one of the four color schemes.
Another interesting display was the Smith & Williamson Boomerang high-altitude flight control system. This combination hardware/software package can transform a normal latex weather balloon into a recoverable, reusable, high-altitude reconnaissance vehicle. Unlike products used in similar applications, the altitude can be remotely managed. And this system is friendlier to novice operators than comparable ones.
Tyler Collins was on hand to display and discuss the PrecisionHawk Lancaster Mk III UAV platform. This fixed-wing vehicle is the core component of a complete aerial mapping system. It is designed to stay aloft for up to 45 minutes and its maximum altitude of 10,000 feet helps make the Lancaster a perfect platform for many agricultural and geographic information system-related tasks.
The Past and the Future
Some members of the hobby may reminisce about past AMA Expos and a time when the aisles were not dominated by ARFs, RTFs, BNFs, and turnkey, instant-gratification products. Many of the exquisitely detailed models entered in the Expo’s static competition and around the perimeter of the large hall paid tribute to a time when scratch-building a kit from plans or a box of wood was the only option. Those hungry for the thrill of the build spent time browsing the twin rooms devoted to the swap meet where there were many old kits available for sale.
Vintage aircraft and gear were also available at the estate sale of Leonard Anthony Ball who recently passed away. It was held in a separate room adjacent to the swap meet and proceeds were donated to the AMA Foundation.
One purpose of an event such as the Expo is to introduce the hobby to those who may not already be familiar with it. The AMA works hard to do this, as do many of us who have spent our lifetimes enjoying it.
` The future of the hobby is dependent on newer generations cultivating an interest in all things RC, but in doing so in a responsible manner. The roster of speakers at the Expo presented a composite message that was squarely centered on safely and responsibly enjoying the hobby in 2015.
The advanced sensors, programming, and technology used in multirotor flight controllers have made it possible for nearly anyone to purchase and successfully fly one of these amazing aerial vehicles. Unfortunately, this development has also resulted in the FAA actively seeking to redefine its interaction with and authority over the model aircraft.
The message presented by the AMA Expo speakers throughout the weekend was to take the safe and responsible operation of our RC vehicles seriously. May all of us continue to focus on these priorities, and encourage other newer enthusiasts to do the same, as we pursue this hobby in 2015!