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Review: HobbyZone Firebird Outlaw

  • Written By: Matt Boyd
  • Posted: 2004-11-17

The folks at HobbyZone have a genuine talent for creating variations on a theme. When they introduced the first iteration of the Firebird platform a few years ago, we were impressed with its durable design, affordable price and amazing ease of assembly. Since then, they have continued to impress us by imbuing those virtues in half a dozen other Firebirds, including the newest member of the Firebird family-the Outlaw. It is more of a cousin to the original than a direct descendant, and a couple of key differences illustrate how HobbyZone recycles the Firebird's basic pod-and-boom design to create a model with a markedly different character while maintaining the traits that made the original so popular.



YOU NEED
The desire to get in the air quickly and easily—and that’s all!

SCOREBOARD
+ Best-flying Firebird yet (no kidding!).
+ Excellent entry-level package.
+ $55 ready to fly!
- Transitional response could be crisper.

 

The Outlaw comes with absolutely everything you need to get it flying; the transmitter even comes with a 9V battery installed. There’s also an LED on the charger to let you know when the battery is charged. The instructional CD-ROM is a nice touch for beginners.

Two things about the Outlaw immediately stand out—literally. (Hint: they stick out about 2 inches from both sides of the fuselage on a carbon-fiber rod, and they point forward.) The sleuths among you may have figured out that I refer to the twin 180-size direct-drive motors. These motors represent three firsts for a Firebird: the first twin, the first non-pusher, and the first time a Firebird uses differential thrust for control. This is easily the biggest departure from the established Firebird formula, and I was eager to see how the Outlaw would stack up.

BREAKING OUT THE OUTLAW
My first thought when I opened the box was, “Hey; somebody already played with this one!” All the assembly was done—even the decals, and I was getting ready to be upset until I realized that this is how the Outlaw comes. All you do to get the plane flight ready is:

  1. Turn on transmitter (included, with 9V battery installed).
  2. Snap in landing gear.
  3. Secure wing with included rubber bands.
  4. Connect included drive battery.

SPECIFICATIONS

Model: Firebird Outlaw
Manufacturer: HobbyZone
Distributor: Horizon Hobby Distributors
Type: 2-channel differential-thrust park flyer
Smallest flying area: baseball outfield
Ideal for: beginner who wants a ready-built, great-flying first plane
Wingspan: 27.25 in.
Length: 21.38 in.
Weight: 6.5 oz.
Drive system installed: twin 180-size differential-thrust motors
Radio system installed: 2-channel, 2-stick FM radio
Battery used: 5-cell, 300mAh NiMH
Flight duration: 10 min.
Price: $54.99

Features: plastic-pod and carbon-fiber boom fuselage construction with foam wing and tail; twin-motor differential-thrust system and all electronics included and installed; 5-cell NiMH drive battery, charger and 9V alkaline transmitter battery included; booklet and video CD instructions included.

Comments: the newest, smallest, most affordable and most unusual of the Firebird clan, the Outlaw is targeted squarely at the beginner. A $55 turnkey price might be the best RC bargain out there, and the this little plane’s performance is light-years ahead of anything else in the price category.

That should take you about as long as it did to read this far. I laughed because the instruction manual is 27 pages long, but only three pages actually deal with assembly! The rest offers useful information for first-time fliers about troubleshooting, field selection and basic flight technique, supplemented by a nifty video CD that will play on any computer with Windows Media Player installed. A basic wall charger for recharging the drive battery rounds out
the package.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS
At first, I wasn’t quite sure what to think about this latest Firebird cousin. It’s cool to see new and interesting ways to use a proven design, and I’m all for any model that lowers price and difficulty hurdles for first-timers. On this score, the Outlaw makes measurable gains: I’ve already outlined
how ridiculously easy it is to assemble, and at just $55, you won’t find a more affordable turnkey RC airplane.

But there is the matter of the model’s flight dynamics: it doesn’t matter how good a model looks on paper, it must fly right, and by abandoning a single pusher prop for twin differential-thrust pullers, HobbyZone is playing with fire. How would making the plane smaller (27.25 inches tip to tip, 4 inches narrower than the standard Firebird II) affect its stability? These were big questions that could be answered only at the field.

THE VERDICT
Normally, it would be difficult (and unfair) to compare a differential-thrust airplane to one with articulated control surfaces, but the resemblance between the Outlaw and its Firebird siblings makes it inevitable. And judged in that company, the little Outlaw comes up huge! I can’t begin to describe my shock at finding the Outlaw the easiest to fly of the Firebird clan! I had thought that its small size and vectored-thrust arrangement would sacrifice something to the bigger birds. Not so! It turns more easily than the standard Firebird! It slows down nicely but has plenty of thrust for climbing when you put the spurs to it. It seems every bit as stable as the others and is only slightly more susceptible to wind.

The Outlaw’s twin differential-thrust configuration gives it surprisingly good performance. Installing the battery does, however, put your fingers close to the prop, so use caution.

My only grudge is with the name; a plane called “Outlaw” ought to be a little, well, ornery in the air. This one behaves like a saint! Maybe the name is a veiled reference to the fact that it is an absolute steal at $55. If anything, it is more durable than its forebears, thanks to the same sturdy design, lighter weight and lack of control surfaces to get bruised. Occasionally, it shows hints of its humble differential-thrust beginnings (especially in transitions), but the effects are minor, infrequent and easy to compensate for. I hesitate to call any plane the “perfect” first park flyer, but the Outlaw’s combination of tidy handling, excellent durability and unbelievable price makes a convincing case. It flies as well as many planes that cost three times as much, and for $55, nothing else even comes close. A HobbyZone; distributed by Horizon Hobby, Inc. (800) 338-4639; hobbyzonesports.com.

TIP
Because the Outlaw has a tendency to hold its turn heading longer than a rudder-controlled craft would, try releasing your turn input earlier and pulse the stick in the opposite direction (countersteer) to get the plane to square up faster.

 

 

That they managed to get this much feel into a plane with a 27-inch wingspan and costing 55 bucks is a miracle!

This Outlaw is far more “Gentleman Bandit” than “Billy the Kid,” and from the first pitch, it was far more entle and composed than I expected. Don’t fly it in winds of more than 5 or 6mph, but given its small size, I doubt most people would even try that. A baseball outfield affords beginners (the Outlaw’s target audience) enough room to fly comfortably.

CLIMB PERFORMANCE. It isn’t a rocket ship, but it has enough thrust at full throttle to get you up and away without drama. The lack of elevator makes it hard to stall, so as long as you pitch it level and don’t turn until you have some altitude, you should get it right every time.

FLIGHT STABILITY. The Outlaw’s level of stability is amazing given its small size and thrust arrangement. It is more than gentle enough for first-time pilots. It transitions into and out of turns a bit more slowly than a rudder-controlled craft, but the behavior is very consistent and predictable, so even newbies will get the hang quickly. Interestingly, the transition speed does not reduce how sharply the Outlaw can turn—only how quickly it happens.

PILOT RECOMMENDATIONS. Because the Outlaw transitions more slowly, the tendency is to hold the “rudder” (right) stick longer, which can result in rotation past the intended path. Get used to pulsing the right stick through the turn, and even try a flick or two of countersteer (opposite direction rudder) to clean up the exit and get the plane headed straight faster. Also, avoid the temptation to hold too much throttle in turns; with a differential-thrust arrangement, you won’t gain much additional airspeed, and it will take more countersteer to pull out of the turn.

PERFORMANCE HIGHLIGHT. Composure is the Outlaw’s performance highlight. The controls are well proportioned and very progressive—perfect for inexperienced pilots. It is never twitchy or abrupt, but it remains reassuringly responsive. That they managed to get this much feel into a plane with a 27-inch wingspan and costing 55 bucks is a miracle!

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