It seems like only yesterday that Futaba unveiled a successor to the Field Force 8, yet seven years have passed since the FF9 quickly became something the enthusiastic club or competition flyer wouldnt be seen without. As mid-range radios go, the FF9 set benchmarks in quality and ease of use, this reflected in its longevity. Time moves on though, and the FF9s replacement enters a very different marketplace, one which is occupied by a new competitor and an operating frequency thats revolutionised the way we operate our models.
Say hello, then, to the T10, 10C (as they call it in the U.S.) or Field Force 10, as Futaba themselves, and we in the UK, call it. Launching a mid-range radio in the present market presents a manufacturer with a number of difficult decisions. With 2.4GHz firmly indicating the way ahead, do you launch a dedicated 2.4GHz system and run the risk of alienating your (still very large) 35MHz user base, or do you initially launch a 35MHz system and follow it up with a 2.4GHz version further down the line? Futaba have sensibly decided on a modular approach, in other words the FF10 can operate on either 35MHz or 2.4GHz, depending on the module fitted.
Taking the view that the 10 will be bought by many existing FF8 and FF9 owners wholl simply transfer the module from their existing transmitter, Futaba have packaged the 10 with a TM-10 2.4GHz plug-in module, an R6014FS 14-channel 2.4GHz FAAST receiver and four S3152 standard size digital servos.
Specifications and capabilities are important, but appearance and feel still count a great deal where purchasing logic applies. First impressions, then, are very good. Futaba had released a pre-production version of the 10 for the Nuremburg trade fair in February, a version that left me with concerns around the quality of the plastics used; concerns that have vanished now that Ive seen a production example in the flesh. The FF9s champagne finish lent it a classy identity, and although different, the 10s silver / black case and blue back-lit screen maintain the quality, style and presence youd expect from a mid-range Futaba unit. In truth, the 10 feels like a slimmed-down (high-end) 12FG or 12Z rather than a beefed-up FF7.
The FF10 is entirely conventional, with two good quality gimbals, solid two-way switches and nice input buttons. The back-lit blue screen is generously proportioned, whilst the firm on / off switch (borrowed from the 12 series) and metal carry handle do nothing to spoil a reassuring quality feel thats commensurate with the price tag. Theres nothing here to break the mould, but Futaba have gently nudged the ergonomics to reflect a cleaner, classier, less cluttered style to the design.
Now, the Field Force 10 will operate with any compatible PPM receiver, along with all Futaba PCM 1024 receivers when a 35MHz module is used. Two 2.4GHz modes are available: 7 channel and 10 channel – which means that all current Futaba 2.4GHz receivers are compatible.
The TM-10 2.4GHz module operates using Futabas FASST system, which employs frequency hopping, changing the channel 500 times per second. In Futabas words: …making the system virtually impervious to interference using conventional means. Its a very good system and one that Ive been hugely impressed with through many hours of flying the 6EXP these last 12 months.
The 6EXP was launched with Futabas first 2.4GHz receiver, the R606FS, just over twelve months ago. Prior to the 10s launch Futaba had told us that this receiver wouldnt operate with the FF10 and while the manual confirms this fact, Futabas US website contradicts the information. Confusing? Well yes, although Im pleased to say that the R606FS does indeed operate happily with the FF10 in the 2.4GHz 7-channel mode, which is great news for 6EXP system owners who may wish to upgrade whilst retaining the use of their receivers.
The FF10 has 15 model memories. More would have been nice, but then I dont have anywhere near 15 models in my fleet. Whats more, Futabas proprietary CAMPAC memory expansion cards come to the rescue, indeed with sufficient cards you can store as many models as you like. Best of all, FF9 owners can transfer model settings by simply switching the CAMPAC card across to the 10. Very useful.
WALKAROUND There are plenty of computer radio features that we tend to take for granted these days, and these should require little explanation: end point adjustments, servo reversing, model memories, digital trims… that sort of thing. Hopefully youll forgive me, then, if I just hone in on some of the features that have caught my eye over and above those to which weve become accustomed.
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Fail-safe. Fail-safe capability depends on the frequency modulation used. In 2.4GHz 7-channel mode just channel 3 (throttle) is commanded, while 8 channels can be pre-set in 2.4GHz 10-channel mode or PCM 35MHz.
Timers. One of the FF9s great features were the four timers constantly on view, and Futaba have sensibly brought them across to the 10. Theyre completely flexible, so flight times, time remaining, an aircrafts accumulated flying time across a season, total transmitter time accumulated etc. can all be seen. Timers can be activated by allocating a favourite switch to the task or through the throttle stick.
Ailevator. Twin elevator servos are becoming a common feature, even on sport models, so this function is very handy and makes servo reversing gadgets unnecessary.
Logic Switch Selection (LSS). A new feature. Up to 3 logic switches can be set to allow a function to be activated when specific switch and / or stick positions occur. For example, to activate airbrakes on a model youd want the brakes to be active when the throttle is below 25%, and probably only when landing. Control of the throttle without airbrakes is required the rest of the time. LSS allows you to allocate an arming switch; hit the switch and the airbrakes deploy when the throttle goes below 25%. Handy, eh?
2nd Aileron. The FF10 allows a second aileron servo to be allocated to channel 5 (normally 6) when using a 5-channel receiver. Again, a very handy little feature.
Channel assignment. Although the four main stick channels are fixed, channels 5 – 10 can be allocated to any of the remaining switches, levers or dials. As a result, timers, undercarriage, flaps, airbrakes etc. can all be activated from any preferred location.
The manual supplied with the FF10 is typical Futaba – pretty thorough, yet sometimes lacking in depth as to how certain functions could be used. It tells you how to do things, but not always how to get the best from the radio. For instance, the logic switch function sounds clever, but I would have welcomed some examples of situations where the facility could be used, especially having never come across such a function before.
As I mentioned at the start, FF9 users should get on famously with the 10, and with scant reference to the manual, such is the similarity of the two operating systems. The 10 places the main sticks a little further apart when compared to the 9 and is 3.5oz heavier, yet in use these differences arent noticeable and the transmitter feels nicely balanced, whichever aerial is in use. Speaking of which, dont forget to extend the aerial for 35MHz use when switching over from 2.4GHz. Trust me, its possible to forget, although Id rather you didnt ask me how I know! Ripmax, Futabas UK distributor, has packaged the transmitter with an 1100mAh NiCad pack, a good size that provides plenty of juice for extended flying sessions. That said, the battery cavity is large enough to accept many of the after-market 3-cell Li-Po Tx packs available, giving the option of substantially extending the operating duration.
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Switching on the transmitter elicits a little double bleep, whilst the red power LED and solid blue transmission LED indicate that the unit is ready for use. A flashing blue LED denotes that the unit isnt transmitting normally, perhaps when a 2.4GHz power-down range check is being performed.
The transmitter modulation (35MHz or 2.4GHz) may require altering according to the module chosen for use – a simple task, this, accomplished by holding down the mode key, using the cursor lever to scroll to the parameter menu and then scrolling down and changing the setting by turning and pressing the dial. Incidentally, the transmitter must be switched off and back on again to make the change permanent.
Screen brightness and contrast can be adjusted according to preference, along with the time the screen remains backlit. In this respect it can be left permanently lit or can remain on for a certain period after an input switch has been pressed. My preference is for about 15 – 20 seconds after use, although Im sure that battery drain would be negligible if it were to remain on. Mind you, screen character information is perfectly clear in direct sunlight without the back-light.
The FF10s model modes (aircraft, glider or helicopter) are reflected by a graphic symbol on the main home screen, although the helicopter symbol can be replaced with an alternative showing the machines current throttle and pitch positions. In addition, the model naming function on the home display extends to ten characters, whilst the word Futaba can be overwritten with a user name if so desired.
Futaba has always advised users not to point their 2.4GHz transmitter aerial directly at the model, as this creates a weak signal for the receiver. In the case of the TM-10 module, the company suggest pointing the aerial down and perpendicular to the transmitter case so as to achieve the best communication (not forgetting to move the aerial up so that it isnt damaged when the transmitter is set down after use!). However, Ive flown my 6EXP and the FF10 with the aerial pointing directly at my model without any problems, so whilst Id advise you to follow Futabas guidance theres no need to panic if you forget to position the aerial correctly. Its probably best to land quickly rather than re-arrange the aerial in flight – a move thats more likely to cause problems as Futaba also mention that touching the aerial can degrade reception quality.
A unique selling point of a 2.4GHz system is the improved latency or response that flyers should feel when steering their models. Futaba have been keen to point out the 10s pure digital data stream, which provides virtually instantaneous real time response. Ive been flying 2.4GHz for over a year now, and I do think that the models Ive flown are just that little bit more responsive. Using the FF10 hasnt changed that view. WORTHY SUCCESSOR?
Ive clocked up a good three hours of flying using the Field Force 10, and many more playing with it on the workbench using both the 35MHz and 2.4GHz modules. In my opinion its a very fine set of radio – clean, stylish, comfortable, well made, well specified and easy to use.
Futaba have come to dominate the radio marketplace over the last 30 years, a market thats probably never been as competitive as it is now. Thats no bad thing of course, and Futaba would probably be honest enough to admit that they needed a good mid-range radio like this to retain brand confidence and market share. Well, take it from me, the Field Force 10 is very good. Itll do everything the enthusiastic sport, scale or competition flyer could want. Packaged with a high-end receiver and servos, I genuinely believe its good value.
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The FF10 is perhaps more evolutionary than revolutionary, although this is no bad thing. Lets face it, the FF9 was always going to be a hard act to follow. That said, the Field Force 10 takes all the 9s good bits and adds some new features – including that lovely screen and 2.4GHz handling capability – to deliver a very accomplished box of tricks.
Six Months on….
I wrote the review above mid-summer 2008 and haven’t changed my opinion of the FF10 since that time. It has been my main radio for the last 6 months, in use 2-3 times a week and has clocked up many hours primarily flying 2.4GHz. It hasn’t missed a beat during that time on either 2.4GHz or 35MHz and the big screen and easy to use menus mean it’s going to be a favourite for many years to come. It’ll operate with all Futaba 2.4GHz receivers and Ripmax have recently announced that a dedicated 2.4GHz version of the set will soon be available. Some retailers will split the set for those who only wish to purchase the transmitter or combo (Tx and Rx) so it’s worth shopping around in this respect.
Name – Futaba Field Force 10 (10C)
Radio type – Modular 10-channel system
UK distributor – Ripmax Ltd, 0208 282 7500, www.ripmax.com
RRP – £649.99 (full system)
Supplied with – R6014FS 14-channel 2.4GHz receiver, 4 x S3152 digital servos, 4.8v 1100mAh receiver Nicad, neck strap and instruction manual
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