Citabria: March 2009 Archives

1 Year review - Parkzone - Citabria (Kyosho Minium Citabria)

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I have had my little Parkzone Citabria for 1 year now. I figured I'd write up another review, summarizing the good, bad and ugly.

citabria_stand.jpgHere are some highlights:

Bought: March 15, 2008
First flight: March 17, 2008
First grounding crash: March 17, 2008 (broke prop shaft after flying into wall)
Total flight time to date: nearly 13 hours
Number of flights: too many to count
Experience level required: little to none
Recommended extra bits to buy: extra battery (maybe check out 110mAh version), extra props (get at least 2, you're gonna break the shaft and will not be able to reuse the prop), scotch tape (needed to reassemble after oiling the motor and for quick, cheap field repairs - alternatively you could purchase expensive foam safe CA and kicker, but you'll still need the tape to put the top and bottom back together)
Total cost to date: $195 (Cdn, plus taxes, etc)
Biggest complaint: weak prop shaft (if you have not broke your shaft, you will - be prepared)
Best feature: 2.4GHz radio (feel to fly nearly anytime, almost anywhere)
Suggested improvements (other then poor prop shaft): upgrade radio to DSM2 compatible (Bind-n-fly) system, provide better charging options (would like plug charger in and not use expensive AAs)

The Good
Out of the box and into the air in less then 15 minutes! For a Christmas or birthday present to someone seriously interested in flying RC planes, you cannot lose. The plane comes with everything needed - and I mean everything - even 8AA batteries to run the Tx and power the LiPo battery charger (yes the plane also comes with a removable LiPo battery). This plane is probably the simplest of all the real RC planes on the market. By real, I mean radio based Tx/Rx, removeable battery, minimum 3 channels. This is not a toy given to a 10 year old to crash around the living room with.

Easy to fly - if patient. Find a friend who knows what they are doing to fly it first and ensure it is trimmed and working correctly. Then find a large area with no wind. High school gym (full basketball court) is about as small as I'd recommend. I started in an elementary school gym (slightly larger then a full volley ball court) and those walls come quickly when you are new! This plane flies slow and gently enough that if you are outdoors and get confused, just cut the throttle and let go - it will gently glide in for a soft (if maybe nose in) landing. Within an hour most people should be comfortable enough with its flying characteristics to move indoors or to a smaller gym. I can now do figure 8's in a space about 30'x60' (10x20m).

Full proportional 3 channel control. Throttle, elevator and rudder. You are learning to fly a real plane and have nearly all the control required. Learning on the Citabria provided valuable experience I was able to transfer to my larger sailplane and hopefully on to a 4 channel this summer.

Removeable LiPo battery - this means you can (and should!) buy a second battery and swap them once the first one runs out. With fresh AAs in the charger and some throttle management (flying at 50-60%) the charger was able to keep up and with only 1 extra battery I never had to wait for the battery to charge. The battery is compatible with the MCX helicopter 110mAh battery, and the extra weight is negligble. I'm not sure but you may have to stick some velcro onto the battery to attach it to the plane. The 110mAh battery should increase flight times to over 20 minutes on one charge!

The 2.4Ghz radio. The good is that the 2.4GHz radios are virtually glitch free, do not interfere with each other (practically speaking - you are limited to 20-25 planes in the air at once) and use relatively little power. After 1 year and many hours, I am still using the original AAs in the transmitter. (The charger is a different story.)

The Bad
Not necessarily bad, but limiting and good to be aware of: The plane is Very light (by design) which requires either perfectly calm winds or moderately large indoor flying location. It is fast enough that you will not fly this inside your living room or even garage (unless you have a 10,000 sq ft garage...), however it is light enough that even 5-10km/h winds will be bothersome. This limits when and where you can fly.

Despite being modelled after the Citabria (Airbatic) it has limited acrobatic capability. Again, this is by design, but after a year of flying, it does get a bit monotonous. While I have done some inverted flying (after increasing the elevator throw to its maximum setting), this plane is pretty much stuck flying the pattern and doing the odd loop. After a while, you will probably be looking for something more advanced, which leads me to the next concern.

Radio - in spite of being 2.4GHz, the Parkzone radio system is not an industry standard. You cannot use the transmitter with other receivers and you cannot use your Spectrum or Futaba 2.4GHz transmitter with the plane. This means that unlike the Bind-N-Fly series of planes and helicopters, you are forced to buy, get used to and power yet another transmitter. If this is your only plane, it is a moot point. However, if you are planning on expanding into the hobby or thinking of adding this to your collection for those lazy summer evenings in the back yard, then it's an extra cost that should not be required.

After flying for nearly 13 hours (12hr 48' as of March 16th 2009), the original LiPo battery is not holding much of a charge. I'm not sure if this is because I have put too many charge/discharge cycles (doubt it, with the 2nd battery, there is less then 50 cycles on the battery) or because the battery has reached the magical 2 year life span LiPos are know for (maybe, although the plane has been around that long that the shelf life should be an issue) or maybe its just not a good battery. Flight times are down to 5 minutes or less. This is a relative comparison as my plane has lights powered by the battery and the overall wear and tear on the plane is most likely also contributing to shorter flight times (drag from dings, motor wearing out / getting dirty).

(The 2nd battery I bought is still giving me 10+ minute flights.)

The Ugly
Poor design of the prop shaft. The shaft is threaded, which creates a weak spot that will break during a hard crash. I had 2 shafts break, and neither were exceptional hard crashes - in fact, since finding a better (and cheaper) way to repair the damage I have had much harder crashes without damage. The first was into a gym wall - which sounds harsh, except it was not direct. I flew along the wall, the wing snagged something and the plane spun into the wall breaking the shaft. The second was in an indoor soccer arena where I became caught up in a net about 15' (5m) above the ground and did a nose dive onto the hard, but rubber coated surface. Replacing the shaft Parkzone's way involves replacing the entire motor assembly which means breaking it free from the glue holding it to the foam body and soldering very thin wires. By simply enlarging the hole on the new prop a little bit and friction pressing the prop onto the shortened shaft I have had no problems!