For quite a while, I’ve wanted an electric radio controlled (R/C) helicopter–one of the small ones you can fly around inside the house. Over the last couple years, I’ve tried cheap versions (complete waste of money; they fly like crud), and the expensive versions seemed too, well, expensive for what would be nothing more than a silly time waster.
Then, just before Christmas, E-Flite released the new Blade mCX, a smaller, lighter, and easier-to-fly version of their Blade CX2. The CX2 was one of the expensive models I’d passed on earlier. The mCX, however, comes in $50 cheaper than the CX2, and came close enough to my self-imposed $100 limit that I bought myself one for Christmas :). (Click the image at left [and any image in this writeup] for a larger view.)
After only a few minutes with the mCX, I was hooked. This machine is unlike any other R/C helicopter I’ve ever tried to fly. Within a couple minutes of my first power-up, I had it hovering in place, and could maneuver it relatively well. Even for me, a complete novice to R/C flying, this machine is incredibly easy to fly. R/C purists probably dislike it, though–relying on dual counter-rotating rotor blades and a gyro, the mCX isn’t a “real” R/C helicopter in any sense. But for my desires, it’s (nearly) perfect.
The mCX weighs one ounce (with battery), and has a rotor span of just 7.5 inches. Everything about this machine is tiny, including the motors (the round items in the image at left) and the battery (visible at the bottom of the image; it’s got a red dot on it). The front of the machine is the brains, though–a circuit board there holds the gyro, motor control units, fully proportional servos, and radio receiver. Amazing that it all weighs but an ounce.
Combine that with very sensitive flight controls, and you can fly the mCX almost anywhere–I’ve flown it above the garage’s workbench, for instance. The throttle is amazingly precise, making it easy to fly at whatever altitude you desire. As a brief example, here’s a video of me flying around in the den, trying to keep the mCX within view of the fixed video camera:
Read on for more about this amazing little machine…
In flight, the mCX is incredibly stable. How stable? Check out the image at left. I took that picture myself, with the helicopter hovering in place–so it’s stable enough in flight to put down the transmitter unit and take a few pictures with my camera without any ill effect. The previous cheaper helicopters I had tried were definitely hands-on units at all times–and even then, it was a major accomplishment if I could keep them airborne for more than 30 seconds or so.
The helicopter is relatively damage resistant, though it is possible to break and/or lose parts. If you look at the large shot of the helicopter, you’ll see two black dots on the side of the fuselage. These are the posts where the body attaches, and the body is held on by tiny rubber grommets on the posts that stick through the holes. When (not if!) you crash, these grommets can pop off, and if they do, don’t even bother looking for them–they’re so small they’re basically invisible. E-flite includes a number of replacement grommets in the kit, knowing that this can happen.
I managed, in a particularly bad crash, to break a piece on the upper rotor of my machine. Replacement rotors were cheap ($3), and easily replaced. Other than that, though, I’ve not had any issues with damage, despite taking more than a few tumbles. Flying over carpet is good advice until you’re quite comfortable with the machine.
The transmitter is a nice unit that can be set up in one of two different control layouts. I’ve got it set up with the cyclic (throttle) and rudder (body spin left/right) on the left stick, and elevator (forward/back) and aileron (left/right tilt) on the right stick.
The four buttons around each stick are for trimming, and they work quite well–they beep as you change their values, and the center position has a unique tone, so you know where the default position is.
When I first started flying the mCX, I found it easiest to trim one axis at a time, landing to actually set the trim. So I’d basically lift off the ground a bit, see which way the body was twisting, for instance, then land and press the proper trim button a couple times. Take off again, make sure it’s right, then repeat with aileron and elevator, then you’re set to fly. After you get comfortable with controlling the machine, you can do this in the air, which is how I do it now.
Flying time on the included battery is pretty good–anywhere from five to eight minutes or so, and a recharge takes about 15 minutes. Spare batteries are $11, so buying one or two more is a good idea. The only really stupid thing about this machine is the recharger–it’s actually battery powered, too, which just strikes me as really silly design decision. Not only is it a waste of money and batteries and (if you’re using disposables) an environmental concern, but as the batteries lose their charge, recharging takes longer.
The internet to the rescue! With some Googling, I found this thread on rcuniverse.com that offered up a solution. After a trip to Radio Shack (remember to purchase a couple bits of red and black wire, too, if you don’t have any around the house), and some time with a soldering iron, drill, and Dremel, my battery-powered charger is now wall-powered (the battery option still works, if portability is desired).
As seen in the image at left, the end result looks pretty good, and recharge times are now both quicker and completely consistent. I imagine the company didn’t include wall power as a cost saving measure, but it would have been nice if they’d at least wired it for a wall connection in the factory.
Thankfully, this fix was relatively easy, even for someone like me who uses a soldering iron about once a decade. The only really tricky bit is soldering to the circuit board, as you have to solder two connections that are quite close together. The instructions indicate that splicing is an alternative, but I didn’t try that approach.
Overall, the mCX is an amazing little helicopter. It’s very easy to fly, super stable and maneuverable, relatively crash resistant, and lots of fun to fly around the house. Highly recommended if you’ve been thinking of getting an indoor flying machine but were scared off by the complexity of a helicopter or by poor flying characteristics on cheaper models. It’s not inexpensive, but for its price point, it performs very well.