Saturday, June 20, 2009
Chris "JustPlaneChris" Boultinghouse
Distributor: ElektroRC.com and GotHeliRC.com
Type: micro electric aerobatic helicopter
For: intermediate to advanced pilots
Flying weight: 379g to 415g (depending on pack / blades used)
Rotor span: 620mm (280mm blades)
Radio: JR X9303 transmitter, Spektrum AR6100 receiver, 3 Hyperion DS09 AMD servos on cyclic, and a DS09 GMD on the tail (Futaba GY401 gyro)
Power system: AXI 2208/20 outrunner, Castle Creations Phoenix 10 ESC with ParkBEC, and either ThunderPower 1320mah or Hyperion 850mah battery
Okay, I admit it. I have a weakness for small helicopters! I know they typically don't fly as well as larger ones, and often the quality of the micro machines leaves much to be desired. For the last several years, the undisputed "best of the best" in the micro (300 size, if you follow the arcane naming conventions) has been the LAHeli MaxiR. It was (is) a relatively unknown and somewhat expensive micro made in the Czech Republic that has the reputation of being what others like the Honey Bee CP2 or Blade CP Pro could only dream to be. Unfavorable currency exchange rates and a perceived lack of parts support seems to have kept the MaxiR in the shadows. Also, for some reason beginners seem to flock to micros.... the worst thing you can try to learn to fly with! But I digress.
Last year LAHeli released the Ricco, which is based largely on the MaxiR but with improvements in the frame design / servo layout and with a much more attractive canopy design. This new design is really sharp looking, and finally pushed me over the edge. I had to have one! A few emails with InsideHeli show sponsor Pete at ElektroRC sealed the deal, and a black Ricco SE was on the way. (For those of you who like colored anodizing, you can also get red or blue.) I also ordered the plastic blades and "base model" paddles so I could sample it as a more tame setup.
A friend and fellow Ricco owner had a spare AXI motor, so I picked that up from him. The ESC and servos were already in my stash of stuff, so it was time to build.
First things first: It is a builder's kit! About the only pre-assembly that's done for you is the head block is already pinned to the main shaft. Everything else you get to assemble. While this is not a difficult kit to assemble, I would not consider it suitable for a first-timer. You do need to know your way around helicopters, or have someone with some building experience to assist. The manual, while it does contain good CAD drawings, is somewhat lacking in text and explanations. Again, if you know how a helicopter goes together you can probably manage without help, but you may find yourself scratching your head a few times along the way.
The tail rotor on the Ricco is shaft-driven via a 2mm carbon driveshaft. The forward and aft gears (plastic) are pressed onto the driveshaft. The shaft is supported in the tailboom with two ball bearings.
One interesting thing about the tail is that the grips are driven via small wire pins, rather than more traditional ball links. It seems unusual, but it's very light and it works very well. Resist the temptation to modify it until you at least try it! The same thing goes for the way the tail blades are retained. Instead of bolts and nuts, there are pins pressed in place.
Now, about my choice of servos: Don't use them. It's not that the Hyperion servos are poor quality, in fact they are excellent. But the DS09 is taller than the ubiquitous Hitec HS-55, for which the frame was designed. This causes some issues with servo fitment and CCPM geometry, so I advise sticking to servos that are the same size as the HS-55. I was able to work around the fitment and geometry, but it added unnecessary complication to the build.
I used a Futaba GY401 gyro, which looks really huge on this heli! A smaller (and lighter) gyro would be more appropriate, but I used what I had on hand. Eventually I will probably replace it with a Spartan or GY520. So far the Hyperion servo is working well for tail duty.
As mentioned, the motor is the AXI 2208/20. This is the "hotrod" choice, so if you are wanting more sedate flying and longer flight times the AXI 2208/26 (or equivalent) would be a better choice. Whichever motor you choose, make sure the shaft size is the same as the AXI since the Ricco pinions are plastic and press onto the shaft. More on this later.
One of the unique aspects of the Ricco frame design is that the motor can be mounted either ahead of or behind the main shaft to accommodate the weight distribution of different equipment combinations. If you use a light receiver and battery packs in the 65-90 gram range, along with a big gyro like I did, you will probably want to mount the motor in the forward position. (The photos that accompany this review show it in the rear position, but I have since moved it forward.) The motor pinion is pressed onto the shaft, and is plastic! Yes, plastic. It seems odd, but it works very well and is extremely quiet in operation. The pinion also acts as a fuse in the event of a crash and strips to save the main gear from damage. They are cheap and easy to replace, so I think this is a neat feature. One thing worth mentioning: Do not set the gear lash as loose as you would a traditional setup. Mesh it up tight and let it wear in.
The ESC I chose from my spares bin is the Castle Creations Phoenix 10. This unit can easily handle the current draw requirements, but the onboard BEC cannot handle a full digital servo setup on a helicopter. To power the radio, a Dimension Engineering ParkBEC is fitted and works well.
And finally, power supplied by either ThunderPower 1320 Prolite packs, or the new Hyperion G3 850mah packs (ordered from RREModels.com). I have also used G-Force 1000mah packs (same size and weight as the TP1320) and they work well. More about battery choices in the next section.
Now for the fun part! Even with the larger battery packs, this little guy typically weighs in under 420g even with the heavy plastic blades! To put that in perspective, realize that it has more disk area than a Honey Bee King, yet weighs about 100g (or more) less than the typical King. My Ricco, with carbon blades and Hyperion 850 packs, weighs 379g.
When using the plastic blades, you need to keep the headspeed at 2200 rpm or less for safety. This seems low, but because of the incredibly light disk loading it flies great at that speed (or less). With the plastic blades and solid plastic paddles, the Ricco feels like a much larger helicopter than it is. The really surprising thing is how well it handles wind! With the heavy blades / paddles, it can be flown in 10-15 mph wind without a lot of stress.
When you are ready for crazy fun, swap on the fiberglass or carbon blades, install the light paddles and crank the headspeed up to 2500. Just be ready for it, because it becomes a 3D rocket that can do anything you ask it to do (or more, in my case!) and it handles it with style. And the amazing part is how little power it takes to fly it. At 2200 rpm, the TP1320 pack is good for 12 minutes of sport flying (loops, rolls, flips) and the 850 pack will net you 8 minutes. Crank up to 2500, and the 850 will still deliver 6+ minutes of 3D fun!
The LAHeli Ricco is a blast! It's freakishly quiet, so it makes a perfect yardbird for those early morning or late evening sorties. At 2000 rpm you can cruise around the yard in a relaxed manner, while still enjoying solid and predictable handling.
While true this isn't a beginner helicopter (at least to build) I can honestly say it is far easier to fly than the Honey Bee CP2, Blade CP / CP Pro, or even the Honey Bee King. Some will balk at the price, and exclaim "Why would I pay $180 for the Ricco, when a King is only $80". Truth be told, you will probably end up spending the $100 difference (or more) on the King just to get it to fly almost as well as the Ricco does right out of the box. We won't even talk about what it would take to get a CP2 / CP Pro to fly like the Ricco, because frankly it just ain't gonna happen. :)
If you are looking for a true 3D capable micro, one that can deliver long flight times on small inexpensive battery packs, and isn't run-of-the-mill, look no further than the LAHeli Ricco or Ricco SE.
Videos, Podcasts, Photos, and other resources
I took quite a few pictures during the assembly, and you can find them all in this online photo album. We discussed the Ricco in three episodes of InsideHeli Podcast. Here are direct links to all three shows (mp3 files):
This is an active builder / discussion thread for the Ricco on RCGroups.com
This is the walkaround video:
This is the flight video:
This is fellow Ricco owner Kyle, showing what it can really do: