I'll go out on a limb here and claim that just about anybody who is anybody in the current UK 3D aerobatic scene has cut their teeth on a Weston UK Cougar fun fly. Dubbed the 'hovering machine', the original Cougar has found itself a niche as the ab initio model of choice for the prop-hanging fraternity. Its avid control response coupled with the pokiest of lightweight Weston UK motors has placed it in a position at the top of the class that similar ARTF fun fly models can only hope to aspire to.
This particular trait of the Cougar is not really by design, as the model was originally launched to take on the dominance of other designs in the Fun Fly competition scene of the mid-to-late ‘90s. When prop hanging became en vogue as it were, many of the pilots trying it did so using the ever-popular Cougar.
The performance of the kit is very well known. Its quality is exceptional. The wood selection, simply the best. In addition, the covering is top drawer (Oracover / Profilm all over) despite the need to shrink out a bit of transit slackening. The build is about the easiest of any ARTF model ever crossing my bench, while the low weight / high power of the recommended set up (West 0.36 and mini pipe) gives you an instantly competitive model restricted only by the ability of your thumbs. Oh, and with Weston being a UK company (despite the fact that the Cougar is made in China), it's a model that makes you proud to be British. Why then, is there a need to re-issue it as a Cougar Mk.2?
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I'm very familiar with the Cougar, having flown them on and off for many years in various guises and with differing power plants up front. I never actually owned one myself though – I was more of a 'Frantic' man really. Consequently I was somewhat puzzled when the new kit arrived with its additional box of bits as outwardly it is identical to the original Cougar. In truth, the only true difference I could spot was the colour scheme. A call to head Weston UK honcho Alan Greenfield Snr. was in order. The response was something even I had not expected!
"I want you to look at it as a trainer," he said.
"A second model? I'm with you all the way," says I. "Our club have been using them as that for years."
"No. A trainer," he insisted. "First day at the field stuff."
Now I've often thought of the Cougar in many ways, but a first model? It had never crossed my mind. Sure, the flight characteristics were exemplary and demonstrated lots of aspects that would make the kit an ideal first aeroplane: slow, predictable flight; extremely low stalling speed; fantastic control response even at low throws. A sedate, potter about machine even, with the right motor choice. You could also add that with banded on wings and a very low inertia it's almost impossible to prang one badly, unless you really try hard.
Alan went on to clarify that when they had been teaching people to fly their 'conventional' trainers and they moved onto Cougars as their second models, they'd expressed some level of dismay as to why they didn't start their training with such an easy to fly ship in the first place. The only criticism that they could throw at it was that it was a little difficult to orientate with its colour scheme, which was essentially the same top and bottom save for the decals. Consequently Weston UK are pushing the Mk.2 version as an across-the-board model designed to take you from your first day at the patch to the showline, if you so desired – new 'more visible' colour scheme and all.
In his typically broad-minded approach to kit reviews, Alan had supplied all the gear for the model from his range: the superb West Eurotech 0.36 motor (2.2BHP!) and Genesis quiet pipe, a tiny West 6 channel PPM synthesised receiver (with fail-safe), high torque Hitec servos and a 1000mAh battery pack.
In his own words: "Don't want you putting any old mix of crap in there."
With all this stuff to hand the model was put together over a drizzly Sunday afternoon and was complete in just a few hours. Cyano' wick hinges speed the process as does the fact that the model is designed around the gear Alan had supplied. Captive nuts are pre-installed for Weston's own 0.36 motor. The perfect fitting exhaust is just made for the job. There are pre-fitted servo trays with additional pieces to raise the rudder servo, etc. All you really have to do is remove a little film and stick the tail on. All that’s left then is fitting the tank and linkages plus a few bits like wing dowels. Easy peasy really. But how about a beginner taking on the same task, never having built a model before? First off, how does the new Cougar stand up to the instruction booklet test?
Pictorially the glossy printed colour instructions are very good. As indeed are the words for an experienced modeller on, say, his second or third model. However there are a few areas where, in my experience, a beginner would clearly struggle with even this simple build. Nothing that a bit of a re-write couldn't solve though. Simple stuff too, like the holes for the undercarriage (drilled with the aid of a template) not matching the supplied U/C clamps in the right orientation, the dimension of the elevator pushrod being long (by some 12mm), the tank assembly instructions describing how the bent pipes should point towards the top despite the tank being supplied with straight ones, or the ailerons clashing with the rear wing dowel when they deflect downwards 'cos it's a bit too long.
There seem to be lots of 'extra' bits too like additional hinges, alternative bolts, a different engine mount, spare control horns and the odd bit of extra pushrod.
Although obvious to an experienced eye, the instructions omit details on how these bits can be utilised to complete the model. This bag of leftovers at the end will have many scratching their heads I'm sure. Better perhaps to acknowledge in the text that there might be some 'extras' at the end!
Elsewhere, the instructions for completion of the closed loop rudder control and wire throttle linkage will doubtless add to the confusion. Also missing is the 'usual' trainer advice about joining a club or getting insurance, starting the engine and some necessary safety tips aimed at keeping all your fingers! In short, all the other fluff that more experienced modellers pick up quite quickly and don't need to be told. No! If Weston really want to aim this model at first timers putting the aeroplane together on the ironing board with no help from an experienced hand, then perhaps an 'alternative' set of instructions must be included to dumb it down a little.
Being a conscientious soul I dropped a note to Alan about the instructions and found him very receptive. Accordingly, I find myself re-visiting this portion of the review (having scribed it once) to tell you that they have re-written the instruction booklet to address the mistakes and add some generalised advice as well as including some better information on the radio installation and its set-up. This is especially important as control requires two aileron servos to be linked either via a Y lead or as flaperons. Tantamount to black magic for some beginners!
Anyway, with respect to the actual build, in more capable hands the model slots together very quickly – and with an all-up weight of just 1.6kg and a low, low wing loading, it’ll happily float around as a proper fun fly should. How about that motor though?
Well, it’s a pokey little beastie – 14,500rpm on the recommended 11 x 4 APC prop and Weston's 10% Pro Synth 2000 fuel. That's during running in too! Does that honestly sound like a beginner motor to you?
To say that the West Eurotech 0.36 gives the Cougar a sprightly performance is like saying Hanno Prettner's won the odd comp. It's everything you need for a highly competitive fun fly model: fast acceleration, sublimely slow tick-over. Fantastic pick up, low weight and bags of power. I'm a dyed in the wool O.S. man but these Austrian-built power houses are one heck of a tool. Perhaps it's time for an internal review!
A pokey motor indeed, but perhaps not so good on a trainer, eh? Even with the Cougar's general low speed this little motor can ensure that if it does go wrong the end is still going to come about fairly quickly. A slow plodder like a super simplistic plain bearing two-stroke or something much smaller like Weston's own 0.25 would be a much better bet on a first time model of this ilk.
If, however, you fancy the Cougar as your second toy or indeed as a 3D trainer, then do consider the 0.36 over something bigger. The power-to-weight of the small engine and mini pipe should outperform many a 0.46 motor and result in a much more pleasing balance on the model.
TO THE FIELD
Let's get the advanced stuff out of the way first. Generally speaking, if you can think of it and have the thumbs, then the Cougar will suck it up easily. Don't expect to be knife-edging it around the sky. You didn't buy it for that sort of thing, now did you? This is a stick banger's machine when let loose; a good pilot can tie it in knots and let it simply unravel itself. Knife-edge spins, blenders, looping limbos, pancake flat spins and the tiniest bunts are all a doddle.
With the model weight kept as low as you dare the vertical climb rate is almost 100 feet per second and, of course, with this pokey beast on the front the hover is easily attained at little more than half throttle.
I found that with a rearward shift of the balance I could even get it to pirouette (540 degree stall turn) and climb during a flat inverted spin at full power.
Now then. Let's have a think about the Cougar as a first timer's model. What does it give us?
Well there's no denying that rated down on the control throws and with the C of G at the forward end of the range, the model does fly like you might expect a trainer to. Not so much correctional stability mind with its flat semi-symmetrical wing, but it's nice and precise and doesn't wander off doing it's own thing. No real issue here, then.
The hot motor can be throttled back of course, and at a steady burble will potter the model about all day if you let it. There’s too much power in reserve though and mistakes can easily be made if you've not got the hang of good throttle management yet. Flat out it scared the life out of the beginners I let fly it. There's a lot to be said for more benign power plants in the 'first model' scenario.
It's a fairly easy model to land, especially with elevator to flaperon mix dialled in. It slows nicely during the flare producing a lovely, steady approach with good, quick aileron response to pick up a dropping wing. The springy undercarriage and large wheels absorb even quite heavy knocks and the low sink rate ensures that most of the novices could get it on the patch okay. So not much of a beef here either.
Ultimately it’s the ground handling and take off where the Cougar lets itself down as an option for the novice. An advanced pilot can cope somewhat better with a crosswind on the deck and will taxi the model accordingly or dispense with it altogether and just plonk the aeroplane on the floor pointing into wind. Given its high angle of attack when at rest and a decent headwind up the snout, the model is constantly trying to lift off even when still. In this respect, full down elevator is sometimes required to help pin it down. This gangly undercarriage was designed for touch and go manoeuvres, not taxiing about. Fun Fly models never stay on the ground for long and the nose-high gait has blighted many similar models on the deck whereupon they can easily blow over, snapping off the fin in the process. With a quick blast of power (even a small blip with the pokey 0.36) the Cougar is off and into the air doubly quick. Fantastic!
Your novice is not going to learn a lot here though and I'm sure you'll agree that actually learning to take a model off a runway correctly is a key part of flying R/C models. With the Cougar there is simply no need to slowly advance the power and control the rise of the tail. No need to watch for transition speed whilst managing the tricky tracking skills required of a tail dragger. Even if you do try it, the model is so lightly loaded that clipping a worms bonce will fling it skywards! Is that a good thing on a trainer?
ONE OF A KIND
Obviously there’s some merit in Weston's aim, and if the points I've raised do not stand as a barrier to you then that's great. It's certainly a class model and a joy to own. One word of caution though and this applies across the board be you novice, intermediate or expert. Prolonged flying of models like the Cougar in deference to any other type of aircraft can produce flying habits and practices that are not transferable onto other designs. You may well be able to tear up the sky with the best of them or hover under your own tranny aerial but don't be trying to land your scale Spitfire at walking pace or spin your Pitts Special down to the deck like you can a Weston UK Cougar.
For the best rewards, fly the Cougar like you stole it but do please be mindful that there are scant few aircraft out there that can do what a Cougar does.
Model type: 3D aerobatic fun-fly
Manufactured by: Weston UK
UK distributor: Weston UK, Tel. 01795 521030, www.westonuk.co.uk
RRP: £109.99 (Mar 2011)
Fuselage length: 1150mm
All-up weight: 1.6kg
Control functions: Aileron, elevator, rudder, throttle
Rec’d no. servos: 5
Rec’d engine: .25 – .46 two-stroke (or electric conversion)
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