By the time you read this, most of you are already enjoying the first of the new flying season. Some of you are looking at things and trying to decide whether to replace them, trash them, or stick them on a shelf and forget it. I’m going to encourage you to look at those “outdated” flying machines with an eye toward how you can update them for the least amount of pain, expense, and energy.
Nothing Is Wrong with Brushed Motors!
I think I heard several of you scream in horror! We have great motors at our disposal now, but we had great brushed motors for years. If they are properly set up, many are as efficient as today’s brushless motors—and more so in some cases.
A friend of mine has an Astro Flight Cobalt 60 geared-motor-powered Cub that flies better than almost any Cub I’ve ever seen. The 1/4-scale Cub is big and beautiful and it was scratch-built to be lightweight. It requires weight in the nose, but the big Astro motor nicely provides that.
As battery technology advanced, its original NiMH battery cells were replaced with higher-capacity LiPo batteries. To keep the balance correct, the packs are huge. The next idea was to update the motor, but after much thought, it was decided to keep the big Cobalt motor. It balanced the airplane and was efficient because it was geared and powered correctly with the right propeller.
The next consideration became not using low-voltage cutoff in the ESC. The solution in this case was to make a few test flights, carefully timing them and checking the battery capacity at the end of each flight, until a standardized flight time could be established to land at the proper voltage.
There are some after-market voltage-cutoff devices that can be found online if you’re not into timing carefully. The bottom line is that just because your old airplane has a brushed motor, it doesn’t mean you need to replace the power system.
Checking for Updates and Upgrades
My Blade 350 QX quadcopter started as a version 1.0 release. I subsequently updated the firmware to version 2.0 and modified the equipment as instructed. After flying it in this configuration for a while, a 350 QX version 3.0 was released with considerable updates.
One of the primary upgrades was moving the GPS antenna to an external boom on top of the body. There was also a major firmware update. Some online Googling found that the upgrade parts were available from Horizon Hobby for a fraction of what it would cost to replace the quadcopter with the new version.
I ordered the parts and it took less than an hour to do the complete upgrade. I was able to update the firmware on my control board, so I didn’t order the version 3.0 board. The lesson here is to check to see if your hardware/firmware can be updated and to compare costs.
Don’t Toss Your Sensored Brushless Motor
I have a kit-built Sig Kadet LT-25 airplane that I constructed when it was first released approximately 17 years ago. At the time, the MaxCim motor/ESC combination was one of the best ones on the market, and I converted my LT-25 to electric power using this system. It was expensive and incredibly efficient.
As years went by, the original 14-cell NiCd battery pack was replaced with a higher-capacity 5S LiPo battery pack. The ESC eventually died, and because the motor industry had transitioned from sensored motors to sensorless, I had a decision to make.
The ESC was no longer available, so I replaced it with a sensorless Castle Creations Phoenix Edge ESC. This simply required some experimentation to find the correct ESC settings to make the motor happy, but it runs as well as it ever did.
Why toss a great motor even if it has sensors? Sensors are no longer required, but they’re not hurting anything either.
Wing Ding Resurrected!
Many years ago, I had the honor and pleasure of getting to know Les Garber during the Nats in Muncie, Indiana. One evening, after competition ended, he was flying his Wing Ding that was featured in the November 2001 issue of Model Aviation, and offered me the sticks. I don’t like to fly other people’s airplanes, but I couldn’t resist.
It was wonderful and graceful and weird and funny and … well, you get the idea. I felt like a kid with that airplane. A couple of weeks after I got home, a box arrived and inside was Les’ Wing Ding. He sent it to me as a gift because I enjoyed it so much. To this day, it holds a special place in my heart.
Anyway, it was a 280 geared motor on an eight-cell NiMH battery pack that has long since died. The airplane had a 72 MHz receiver built into the wing, but I no longer have a compatible radio. Until this spring it sat on the display shelf. I replaced the pack with a higher-capacity 1,000 mAh 2S LiPo pack and snipped the antenna wire so I could remove the old receiver.
I had recently acquired the new Tower Hobbies 424 four-channel radio, so I installed that receiver and programmed the airplane. This inexpensive little radio has everything I need for this elevon-equipped airplane.
I made a few test flights to determine the flight time to land, since I don’t have a low-voltage cutoff, but with a current draw of 2 amps and 1,000 mAh capacity, I can fly a lot longer than I need to. This old friend is back in the air and flying better than ever. I just smile the whole time I’m flying it. Thanks, Les!
Wrapping It Up
We can get caught up in having the latest and greatest, but sometimes it makes more sense to tweak what we have and enjoy it. If the old motor flew the airplane well, it will fly it even better with new batteries or an updated radio. Spend your hobby money wisely.
With the new Tower Hobbies 424 radio, I can now look to add some of the many transmitter-ready aircraft available!