After talking to Paul Nurkkala on episode 53, I got the itch to go fly my quadcopter. The problem is I have a middling-sized one that won’t fly in the house very well and it’s a bit windy and autumnal outside at the moment.
I had been looking longingly at the serious hobby quads every since Paul mentioned that you could get into the hobby for “pretty cheap“, but at the mere mention my lovely wife looked right into my eyes and whispered…. NO!
So what’s a guy with poor impulse control to do?
Well, he takes to the Internet and does some reading on various dark and sordid places with funny names like Reddit and RCForums. And he finds a damn tiny quadcopter that’s under $30; the Estes Proto X!
Yep, I bucked my lovely wife’s insistent “NO” to the tune of $30 and treated myself. And of course the moment it arrived I ripped into it like a five year old on Christmas morning!
So why did I pick the Proto X? Well, for one it’s flippin’ tiny. Like – holy cats – is it small. Here’s a picture of it next to a genuine US of A quarter. Look how small it is (the quad, not the quarter… Though I suppose the quarter is pretty small, too, when you think about it)!
That’s all there is to the thing. A quartet of tiny propellers, a little circuit board, a tiny bit of fiberglass for the body, and (relative to the rest of the thing) a big, honking battery. I should point out that the “big, honking battery” is only 100mAh. So it’s actually pretty dang tiny, even by battery standards. It’s still easily 45% of the total weight of this thing, though.
The remote is also Lilliputian by any normal standards. If you have anything other than the delicate hands of a fetus, you’ll probably get a little crampy holding on to the remote for more than 3 seconds at a time.
That’s it – just a bit of plastic and a couple of D-pad-esque control sticks. You get an on/off switch and a left/right and fore/aft trim setting. That’s it. You can push in on the right stick to switch control modes from easy/beginner to medium to holy-freaking-crap-I-just-pooped-my-pants mode.
You can also push in on the right button to enable what Estes calls “acrobatic” mode, but what should better be know as auto-decapitation mode. It enables you to do flips and barrel rolls which will – inevitably – cause the quad to careen directly into the softest, fleshiest part of your face in a mere nanosecond. Far, far to fast to enable you to do anything other than yell, “Shit!” and try to clamp your eyes closed in a desperate attempt to try to prevent any permanent damage.
Once you get the Proto X charged up – which takes about as long as the Cretaceous period lasted (around 25 minutes, for those of you short on your geologic ages) – you get roughly 5 minutes of flying time which consists mostly of swearing as you try to find the damnable thing after it’s crashed behind the couch for the ninetieth GD time in 37 seconds. The Proto X is helpful though, it has bright red and blue lights which will make you think there is a tiny DUI checkpoint behind your couch.
This color combination also ensures that it is completely, physically impossible to find the propellers when they fall off; which they will do with the slightest possible provocation.
When the quadcopter is actually flying, the red and blue lights help you orient it in space. The blue lights are forward and the red lights are – obviously – the heiny.
It’s a wonderfully helpful setup because if you’re a nearing-forty year old with poor eyes and a bad sense of hand-eye coordination you’ll need every possible aid to help you keep the damn thing oriented in a way that makes any sense whatsoever so you can get a few milliseconds of hovering while slowly rotating in a circle before slamming into the wall and losing the quad behind the couch… again.
Which bring me to… The flying!
Once the batteries are charged, you turn on the remote and then (and only then) you turn on the quadcopter. The lights will do a delightfully little blinkey dance and then lock on solid. Now you’re ready to terrify the dog and possibly get yourself in some serious trouble with your spouse as the moment you touch the throttle the quad will leap off whatever flat surface you’ve set it on, right towards the eyes of the person who happens to be nearest. You would normally think this would be yourself, but somehow it’s always your spouse. So maybe get them some safety goggles before you start, for God’s sake!
Now that everyone is safely back at least 100 feet, you’re ready to just slam the throttle all the way to 100% because that’s what everyone does the first time they try to fly a quadcopter. This will, predictably, send the quad shooting straight toward the ceiling at 200MPH where it will then promptly ricochet toward the sweet, loving, innocent eyes of your spouse.
After a 10 minute hunt for the propeller that flew off, you’ll be ready to try again. “This time will be different!” is what you’ll say to yourself. But what you should know about yourself is that you’re a dirty, dirty liar.
No matter how gently you try to feather the throttle, the damn thing is going to shoot straight up at near supersonic speeds and bounce of the ceiling again. After a few more tries – stopping to find those pesky props, of course – you’ll get a hovering flight. It’ll only be about 0.5 centimeters off the ground, but it’ll be flight, damnit!
With your growing confidence, you’ll soon be able to pull off stunts like slowly drifting forward and then listing to one side or the other while you desperately try to figure out which direction the quadcopter is actually facing and OH MY GOD WHY IS IT GOING RIGHT WHEN I’M CLEARLY PUSHING THE CONTROLS TO THE LEFT?! WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH THIS DAMN THING?
From there it’s just a short amount of practice to actually flying loops and doing barrel rolls. With a little patience you should be able to get there in approximately the same amount of time it’ll take the Sun to turn into a red giant, engulfing the Earth and ending all life and giving you death’s sweet, sweet embrace.
But let me be serious for a minute. This thing is a total blast to play with. If you’re twitchy at all, you will send it spinning into the wall, the couch, your significant other… you get the idea. You’re going buy the farm, repeatedly. You should probably buy some extra propellers (it comes with a spare set) and an extra battery to extend the flying-to-charging ratio a bit.
This thing is so small you can easily turn any room into quite the arial obstacle course. If you have regular ceilings, no problem. If you have vaulted ceilings, no problem. Big space, small space – it makes no difference. This thing can really move around in tight spaces as long as you’re gentle with the controls.
In “easy” mode it drifts gently to and fro – never in a hurry to get anywhere, but not afraid to move across the room.
In “medium” mode, you can flit around a bit. It’s not too touchy, but you can scoot across a room faster than you might expect. Plan ahead and get your flashlight ready because you will hit the wall and you will have a prop go flying across the room.
In “expert” mode you’ll scare yourself. The quad becomes so touchy and nimble that just your pulsing heart will send imperceptible twitches to your thumb which will instantly command the machine to jump about at nearly insane speeds considering the whole thing is under 2″ across diagonally. You’ll definitely hit things. You’ll probably hit yourself. For God’s sake buy some spare props because you’re going to need them!
If you have no previous experience and want to get your hands on quadcopter flying this is a fun little way to do it on the cheap. It’s small enough to fly in just about any indoor space and it’ll fly outside on a calm day (though be prepared to only get about 20′ – 30′ of range with the stock controller).
If you have some quad experience, you’ll probably have a good time terrorizing your children, significant others, and pets. The Estes Proto X is nimble, fast, and a metric crap-ton of fun to fly. You’ll be able to hone your skills to do some pretty impressive precision flying (if YouTube videos are any indication).
For $30 it’s hard to pass up on this. Sure, it’s not anything that you’ll grow with and keep for years and years, but for the cost of a Chipotle dinner for four you’ll definitely get your money’s worth and you almost probably won’t come down with e. coli poisoning. So, win-win?
What are you waiting for? Go and buy one already! http://amzn.to/20vB9Dj