I think it’s fair to say that I’ve come quite late to 2.4. There are several reasons for this, I’m not an early adopter, I like to see trends and wait for technology to settle down, I’m happy with 35mHz, but mostly it’s because JR didn’t have anything convincing. I did order a JR DSX12, but the supplier was out of stock, and in the interim there were rumours that the Spekrum way of doing 2.4 wasn’t in strict accordance with the rules, i.e. it’s not a true hopping system, so with this in mind I cancelled the order to wait for things to settle.
As it turns out there is nothing wrong with the way Spektrum do things, but then with telemetry on the horizon and DSM not offering it ‘built in’, I again decided to wait and wait while still nothing from JR appeared that I liked.
So following a recent spell in hospital, and time to ponder on the incongruity of life and Futaba's UK stock levels of the 18MZ, the decision was made to buy one. Now this was not an easy decision, I’m a JR man, have been for the last 20 odd years, and I don’t spend that sort on money lightly. My current PCM10x is 10 years old now, so I’ve had my money's worth and any new system will have to last at least another 10 years away but, with the prospect of having to buy into a system, and the fact that the 18MZ will be well received by all Futaba's current crop of receivers, (pun intended), I’ve jumped ship to Futaba.
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So what’s in the box?
- Smart aluminium case
- Bright orange neck strap
- Stylus with integrated tool holder
- Self-assembly manual
- R7000SB receiver
- Switch harness
- Mains charger
Wow, what a transmitter – it's lighter than my 10X, but with the same quality feel. It has a metal / plastic facia, and plastic back. It's busy with switches (it has to be with 18 channels) but the design isn’t cluttered. I do like the levers that appear as trims on each top side – they run through to the back, so as the front goes up the back goes down. This arrangement is much easier to control that the usual Flap levers on each side. The 18MZ has these too, but I’ll be using the trim type ones instead. Another nice feature is the large flat base with which to stand the Tx up.
If anyone can remember a small piece that appeared in the readers letters page of RCM&E; I described changing the sticks on my 10X and fitting coloured covers to the switches, so the first thing to do will be to get some new sticks – I like blue. I have blue ones on my 10X, but JR use 4mm for the stick thread and Futaba use 3mm so I’ll need a new pair. See what I mean about ‘buying into a system'? Futaba go another stage in customising the 18MZ, they provide tools to change the actual switch locations on the Tx, and software to tell the set where they have moved to. I like the position of the standard layout, it suits my fingers, but some will find that a nice touch. You can also change the angle of the sticks, this is not something I’ve ever seen before, but will be trying it out.
Much has been said about the Windows CE the 14MZ and 18MZ use and the possibility of models crashing should CE have a problem. CE only controls the interface, all the flight controls use Futaba’s own processor, so there are in fact two separate systems that work together, the Windows CE front end and Futaba’s own flight system.
The screen touch is very light, there's no noticeable difference to my iPhone in fact, Futaba have acknowledged this and allow the screen to be locked – a simple two-button push to unlock and, as yet, has not annoyed me too much. I also found a company on eBay selling screen protectors, so I’ve a couple of these on order.
FASST, FASSTER or FASSTest
The set comes with the new R7008SB FASSTest telemetry receiver, but can be bound to any of the three Futaba systems. I bought some more receivers (I have several models to move over) a Futaba FASST & S-FHSS receiver and a Fr Sky tr4 FASST receiver. Binding to the FASSTest R7000SB was as simple as pressing the link button on the Tx and turning on the Rx. The LED on the Rx goes from red to green. You can also turn telemetry on/off and set the download interval. Futaba advise that a longer interval will decrease the screen update, but make the stick response faster but without giving any figures. With the telemetry turned on you get the receiver voltage on the Tx screen.
The R7008SB has an external voltage input socket, this will take a voltage up to 70V and at the same size as the Silverlit model chargers. I had one lying around and wired it up to a separate battery pack and wey hey that voltage too was displayed. I have ordered some proper plugs, and this feed will be my flight pack voltage.
There are no instructions for binding to other receivers in the 18MZ manual but, with some playing around, this too proved to be very easy.
And now the surprise – the quality of the Fr Sky receiver. I have seen DSM2 clone receivers where the aerial wire wasn’t coax, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I ordered the Fr Sky from GiantCod. But it’s a quality piece of kit, proper coax and RF plugs / sockets. I recall reading on the forum here that they use the same chipset as Futaba and that’s why they are still relatively expensive for a clone, so maybe they are OK. I bought it for my Alula, so I’ll be able to give it a proper test in a light and inexpensive model. It doesn’t look like there is model match, if you bind to a particular type of Rx and change model and the new model is also on the same transmission type, the Tx will still control the previous Rx. This might be different with FASSTest receivers but with only one Rx, I wasn’t able to test this.
Access to the programming menu is either via the touch screen, the 4 buttons, or the rotary dial along the bottom of the screen. In use the rotary dial is too small to be used, I think you will end up using the buttons and the screen as I do. The buttons are user definable. There is also a user defined menu where you can add all your most used functions so that they are in one place on the screen.
The manual is not brilliant as a programming reference, but as I’m coming from a JR background that's not surprising really – some of the terminology is different, but should be obvious to anyone who has programmed a high-end Tx – JR use 'flight modes' but Futaba call them 'conditions' – that sort of thing.
The manual shows the setup of a basic model, but the process doesn’t work and only seems to give part of the story as you go. Fortunately there are online videos from Futaba that show some more of the process which does make it easier to fill in the gaps. Having read and re-read the manual, it does make more sense now I have had a chance to play, but it helps if the sections at the back are read first where it describes some of the common set up commands.
I dare say that anyone with some Futaba experience won’t have the same problems I had.
There are the usual suspects when it comes to mixers, and some new ones on me (aileron to flap for a 6-servo wing I think), as well as free mixes, I’ve not had a chance to explore these yet.
I think the camera is a bit of a gimmick but it will get used. There is an SD card slot for upgrading the software and expanding the model memories. You can also store songs on it to have them play while flying, but songs must be in WMA format not MP3. This is a shame but guess they didn’t want to pay the license fee. Battery life seems good, when I had it out the box I gave it a charge, and have been playing with it now for just over 4 hours according to the timer and I still have 32% battery, this has been a mix of RF on and off.
In summary then:
- Do I need an 18MZ – No,
- Will it provide for all my model / flying requirements for the next 10 years – Yes
- Does it make me fly better – Yes of course 😉
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