Sunday, February 24, 2013

Thunder AC680/AC6 Charger & Computer Data-Logging Software


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Setting Up The Computer Data-Logging Software for Your Thunder AC680 (or AC6) Charger
~By Gabriel Staples, 24 Feb. 2013.
Updated: 3 Jan. 2014
-added a note to check out a comment below this post if you are using Windows 8
-link added for a USB extension cable.

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Brief Charger Description & Review:

Since I recommend so often to beginners in RC that they purchase the Thunder AC680 charger, I thought I better at least help them learn how to setup the computer software for it, which can be a little bit tricky, even for the computer-literate person.

First off, I'd just like to say that I love this charger, and it makes an *excellent* starter charger for someone looking to get a fully functional, computerized, smart charger capable of charging, discharging, cycling, and balancing.  This charger can handle LiPo/LiFe/Li-Ion, NiMH/NiCad, and Pb battery chemistries.  To the layperson, this means that with the right connector, it can charge any rechargeable battery in your house, car, or workshop.  That's pretty impressive.  Also, by using it to discharge a battery, you can measure the capacity (mAh) in the battery to get an idea if the battery is any good, and whether or not the manufacturer of a cheap rechargeable battery (on ebay for instance) ripped you off.  I've used a charger like this to charge and/or discharge (to check the capacity) of cell phone batteries, camera batteries, airsoft gun batteries, 18V cordless drill batteries, and dozens and dozens of various RC aircraft or radio transmitter batteries.  Lastly, by using the charger's cycling abilities, I've been able to reduce or remove the "memory" effect of many of my old NiCad batteries, and I've even been able to bring back "dead" NiCad batteries, which were over 10 years old!, to at least a usable condition after years of sitting around unused.

To top it all off, this charger is available for ~$55 with shipping from, which is a steal-of-a-deal.  Many chargers of this quality sell for 3x this much, so I have got to say, I am extremely impressed.
If you'd like to purchase this charger, you can find it at the "Thunder AC680" link above, or it is located at

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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Heavy Duty Connectors and Large Gauge Wire, & XT60 Soldering Experiment


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By Gabriel Staples
Written: 22 Feb. 2013
Last Updated: 2 March 2014
-added links to full soldering tutorials

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So, tonight I decided to do an experiment to see how large of wire could be used with my favorite connector, the genuine XT60, from HobbyKing.  Ultimately, I determined that a careful hand and hot iron (60W recommended, as my "Beginner RC Airplane Setup" document explains here) can easily handle wires at least up to 7 AWG, which is a very large diameter wire.  In my experiment, I twisted two 12AWG wires together, to make a 7~8 AWG-equivalent wire, which I then soldered to an XT60 connector with no problem.  A smaller diameter wire, such as a 10 AWG, can easily be soldered to an XT60 connector with this iron linked above (as this is the exact iron I used).  However, as 10AWG wire is capable of carrying currents much greater than 60A, you may be interested in using the larger XT90 connector, on which 10 AWG wire comes standard on a HobbyKing XT90 parallel harness or serial harness.

Various Large-Current, Large-Diameter-Wire Connector Descriptions, & Links:
XT60-style connectors are my favorite, hands down, for my personal use.  The 60 means "60 Amps," so as long as your *continuous* current is 60A or less, use these connectors, with any wire up to about 7 Gauge or so (though 14AWG wire is large enough to do the trick).  Anyway, for 60A or less continuous, or ~100A peak (<=30 sec), XT60's are the way to go.  For 90A continuous, or ~140A peak, use XT90's.  For 150A continuous (250A peak), use XT150's.  Also, as a side note, 10 AWG wire is designed to easily handle a high voltage 90A continuous current over short distances (you can verify using this online calculator here, with values of 1% loss, 22.2V DC, 90A, and 0.3m cable length), but again, if your system pulls <60A continuous, feel free to use XT60's, even for wire such as 10 AWG or as large as 7AWG. 

My Soldering Experiment on the XT60 Connector:
-My goal was to see if large gauge wire (10AWG or larger) could be soldered to the XT60 connector, in order to use this connector to replace other large, bulky, or cumbersome connectors on very large battery packs where you need less than 60A continuous current draw.  (Note: if you ever replace battery connectors, be very careful not to short out the battery leads by cutting off both wires on the battery connector at once.  Rather, cut off and solder one wire at a time to a new connector).
-Results: I successfully soldered the equivalent of 7AWG wires onto an XT60 connector.  I did not try to solder wires any larger, as this was large enough for the purposes of my experiment.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Building the FliteTest NutBall Swappable


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By Gabriel Staples
Written: 13 Feb 2013
Updated: 25 June 2013


--Since FliteTest has already done so much to support the build of this aircraft, it is likely that the links and pictures I already have below will suffice.  Be sure to check out my Center of Gravity section below, however, as it pertains specifically to the 24" diameter NutBall, which FliteTest does not build.  As you will see in their links below, they prefer to build their 19 1/3" version of the NutBall.

If you have any questions or comments while reading this, or any other article, please post it in the comments section below the article. Thanks!

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So, one of my friends I just helped get into RC was looking at my article above ("Buying Parts for the FliteTest Nutball Swappable - All at Once") the other day, and he asked me if I could post some dimensions, pictures, etc., and a few notes about how I built the airplane.  So, that's why I'm writing this post.

1st: Watch the Build Videos and Read the Flite Test Articles:
-Even watching the non-NutBall Build Videos will give you valuable building tips.  At a bare minimum, watch the Power Pod and NutBall build videos, as they both give you tips and tricks necessary to successfully build the NutBall:

  1. Power Pod Build:
  2. Power Pod Electronics install: 
  3. NutBall: 
    1. The new FliteTest NutBall build video
    2. The original FliteTest NutBall build video (I like this build video better)
  4. Delta:
  5. FT Flyer:
  6. You may also check out this article here, titled, "Swappable Nutball and Hots Dart"

2nd: Download & Assemble the Plans
-Download them, then print them, cut off the edges of the paper as necessary, and tape them all together to make full-size plans:
-I noticed that FliteTest has updated some of their plans in the articles above, so feel free to use those.  However, if you want the exact ones I have used to successfully make several NutBalls now, here they are:

All plans are available here.  To download them, click on the file you want, then go to File --> Download.
A brief description of the files is below.
(Note: I originally got the NutBall plans from page 2 of this RCGroups build thread.  The NutBall was originally made by "GoldGuy," if I'm not mistaken.  Then, FliteTest simply came along and made a swappable fuselage for it, and made it into one of their most popular planes in their "swappable series.")
  1. NutBall_full 17''.pdf - these are the 17 inch diameter plans.  I don't use these, but here they are in case you want them; I prefer the 24" diameter NutBall.  This is a one-page view.
  2. NutBall_tiled 17''.pdf - these are the 17 inch diameter plans, tiled so that you can print them out on a regular printer, cut off the excess paper, and tape them all together to get full-size plans.
  3. NutBall_24_tiled - build this one!!! (will require 2 sheets of 20'' x 30'' Dollar Tree Foam).pdf - these are the NutBall plans I use. They work great.  I prefer the 24" NutBall over the 17" of 19" NutBall, by the way, because it is still very easy to use Dollar Tree foamboard, and it has waaaay more wing area than the 17" or 19" versions, so it will have a much lower wing loading and hence be able to fly much more slowly.  It will have more of a "floaty" feel to it (which is good), than the other two versions, assuming all other things are equal.  
    -For your information, the 17", 19", and 24" diameter versions of the NutBall have wing areas of 908 in^2, 1134 in^2, and 1810 in^2, respectively.  That means that the 24" diameter NutBall has 99% more wing area than the 17" NutBall and 60% more wing area than the 19" diameter NutBall.  Again, this means it can carry much more weight and/or fly much more slowly.  
  4. swappable fuse & Delta fins (print ''poster'', 100%, w-Cut Marks, Labels, & 0.5in overlap).pdf - this file contains the swappable fuselage plans I used for my NutBall and Delta wing.  It also contains the Delta wing fins if you want them for building the swappable Delta wing plane.  Using Adobe Reader X, print as the instructions say in the file name (ie: poster, 100%.....etc).  The fuselage, firewall, and delta fins are to scale, but the landing gear is not.  It's shape is correct, but not its size.
  5. swappable delta (print ''poster'', 100%, w-Cut Marks, Labels, & 0.5in overlap).pdf - Delta plans.  here they are if you want them.

3rd: Buy the Airplane Parts:
Estimated cost of airplane only, with *no* electronics: $5~$15.
Estimated cost of optional colored packing tape (for decorating): $5~$45, depending on how many colors you buy.
Estimated cost of building supplies: $25~$40.
  1. Airframe:
    1. two $1 sheets of 20"x30" foamboard from the Dollar Tree (note: this is ADAMS brand foamboard).
    2. 1/8" plywood sheet (maybe 8"x10") from the Hobby Lobby balsa sheet rack in the back of the store ($1.79 last I checked I believe)
    3. $1~$2 pack of 100 shish-ka-bob (bamboo) skewers from Walmart (in the BBQ section of the Garden Center) or wherever
    4. Jumbo popsickle (craft) sticks at Walmart - pack of like 100 for a couple bucks - to be used to make the 2 control horns
    5. (music wire)
  2. Landing Gear (optional; note: plane is easier for a beginner to land *without* landing gear, since you can just safely belly land it *anywhere* in a large grass field, without having to worry about needing a smooth surface or accidentally flipping it over due to the wheels catching):
    1. (wheels)
    2. (Wheel Collars)
    3. (Music Wire)
  3. Building Supplies:
    1. Tape:
      1. Packing Tape:
        1. $1 roll of cheapo clear packing tape from the Dollar Tree
      2. Fiberglass-stranded Tape (mandatory item, use as the build video shows):
        1. Scotch Strapping Tape (small roll): OR
        2. Duck brand Strapping Tape: OR
        3. Scotch Extreme Packing Tape:

    2. Hot Glue Gun:
    3. X-Acto knife, box-cutter knife, razor-blade knife, or equivalent, $0.50~$8 (note to self: add link to X-blade knife & blades on HK)
    4. Precision Screwdriver set: --add link to the Husky set I have, as well as the decent Harbor Freight set.

4th: Build the Plane!
Estimated build time (this does not include electronics installation):  4.5~5.5 hrs. for the experienced builder, including electronics installation; 6~10 hrs. for the novice builder.

  • The Jumbo Popsicle Sticks are used to make control horns.  Click here for the file, then go to File --> Print.  Make sure to print the file Actual Size, NOT Shrinking it or Fitting it to a Page.
  • 1.94" high parts box, for wingtip polyhedral......follow build video

5th: Buy the Electronics

6th: Install the Electronics & Balance the Propeller

7th: Center of Gravity (C.G.), Maiden Flight, and Trimming
After much flight testing and probably hundreds of flights, here's my Center of Gravity recommendations for the 24" diameter NutBall:
Ideal CG: 5.5"~6.0" back from the leading edge of the wing, measured right along the wing root (ie: down the centerline).  The CG on this plane, however, can be about as far forward as you want (I didn't go farther forward than ~5.0"), and as far back as 6.5".  With a CG of 6.5" the plane can be very fun to fly and with large control throws does back flips (EXTREMELY tight, approx. 3 ft. diameter loops), and flat spins very well.  However, inverted flight is horrible with the CG at 6.5" back, as the plane is somewhat unstable and hence trims out with some down-elevator.  For nice inverted flight, 5.5~6.0" back works nicely.

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Sunday, February 3, 2013

This is What My NutBall Can Do!


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By Gabriel Staples
Written 3 Feb. 2013

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This is a short (very windy) flight review and verbal description of my FliteTest Swappable NutBall airplane.  It flies great, is a blast to fly, and is a solid, economical aircraft!  I made it for ~$70 or so with *everything* I needed, minus the Tx and charger.  I also used home-made jumbo pop-sickle stick control horns.  Despite its 3-channel control, it is very maneuverable and acrobatic, as the video shows, yet with small surface deflections and a reasonably-sized motor, it can also be a very docile and forgiving flyer, well suited to a beginner.  As a matter of fact, with a moderately-sized motor (120W~200W) (or using a 300W 3S motor on a 2S LiPo), and with small control throws, I'd say this airplane is a solid beginner airframe (but slightly skewed more towards the intermediate side of the beginner spectrum).
With a hot 300W high-speed setup and large control surface throws, as in this video, however, it becomes an exciting intermediate to expert airplane.  The setup in the video has a top speed of ~60mph, and in a dive, I've approached probably 80mph.  The first time I did that, however (not recorded :( ), the high speeds caused the vertical stabilizer to flutter and snap nearly off.  It folded down against the body and made a loud "snapping" sound as it slapped against the body.  I quickly slowed down and the vertical stab. popped back up part way and I made a safe landing in the grass.  A bamboo shish-kabob skewer embedded in the vertical stab, and some hot glue, fixed this problem.  
I used Dollar Tree foamboard (20" x 30") sheets, x 2, to make this airplane.

List of Recommended Beginner parts for the NutBall can be found here:


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Friday, February 1, 2013

Buying Parts for the FliteTest NutBall Swappable - All at Once


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By Gabriel Staples
Written: 1 Feb 2013
Updated: 16 March 2014
-added warnings about using the wrong prop with the wrong motor
19 July 2014: Hey look! Hobbyking sells a small, EPP (ie: very durable foam) version of the Nutball now!  See here.

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So, this week I built a NutBall (see my NutBall in action here) to give to a friend turning 18.  He has no RC equipment whatsoever, and I am only giving him the airplane, with no electronics.  Here it is all ready to go (see picture ot the right).  It only took me a little over 4 hrs to put together this time, since I've done this a few times before.  It just needs the motor, battery, ESC, servos, etc.

For a good introductory-level beginner setup, for someone with absolutely no equipment, who just wants the basics, here's what I'd recommend:

Note: if any items are back-ordered (the stock status is listed at the bottom of each item on HobbyKing, to the left of the price), then you may want to do two separate orders: one with in-stock items, and the other with out-of-stock/backordered items.  This is to help speed up the shipping, as standard shipping takes 3~5 weeks from Hong Kong, and waiting for a back-ordered item can hold up your order an additional 1 week to ~2 months+ or so (backordered items usually mean about 3~4 weeks extra waiting, but this can be longer or shorter).  ( may be wondering why I don't purchase elsewhere with this type of slow shipping......well, here's my reasoning:  If you want something quickly instead of inexpensively, remove several of the items below because they are so difficult to find elsewhere, then multiply the price of the remaining items by a factor of 3 or 4, and that is the price you can expect to pay at many store-front shops).  
My recommended Order List (Electronics Only, not airplane parts and hardware) is as Follows:
  1. Transmitter (Tx) and Receiver (Rx), HobbyKing HK6S $29: - Note: one really nice feature about this transmitter is that it has a low voltage alarm which turns on at 8.5V to help you know when your transmitter battery is low.  When the red LED starts to blink, and the transmitter begins beeping, it is time to change (or charge, if applicable) the transmitter battery. 
  2. ESC:  Turnigy Plush 30A, $12:  
  3. Motor, Turnigy D2822/14 Brushless Outrunner, 1450 kv, 160W, $8:
  4. 3.5mm bullet connectors to connect ESC to motor, $2:
  5. Heat Shrink tubing (3mm, 4mm, & 5mm in red AND black), ~$2 total:  3mm red3mm black4mm red4mm black5mm red5mm black
  6. HXT900 9g servos x 3 (1 for a spare), $2.70 each x 3 = $8.10: 
  7. 3mm prop savers (will need to be drilled using 1/8" drill bit to slightly enlarge hole), $3:
  8. SF 9x6 Props (these are excellent propellers to use with the motor above and the 2S LiPo battery below; WARNING: do NOT use these props with the motor above and a 3S LiPo, as it will pull too much current and burn up the motor), $3:
  9. APC-Style Props, 7x5E (this is the ideal propeller to use with the motor above and the 3S LiPo battery below; note: though it is perfectly safe to use a 2S LiPo with this prop, and the plane still flies fine, it will have reduced power and speed when using this prop with a 2S LiPo; therefore, if you want better power, use one of the larger props in this list when using the above motor with a 2S LiPo), $2,
  10. APC-Style Props, 8x6E x 2, $1 each x 2 = $2 (these are also good with the above motor and a 2S LiPo; WARNING: do NOT use these props with the motor above and a 3S LiPo, as it will pull too much current and burn up the motor),
  11. 2S LiPo Battery, 1300mAh x 2 or more (for lower-speed flight), $8 each x 2 = $16:
  12. 3S LiPo Battery, 1300mAh x 2 or more (for higher-speed flight), $9 each x 2 = $18:
  13. XT60 connectors x 1 pack, ~$3.50,
  14. Battery Voltage Checker, $10: and/or this one, with beeper (to notify you when your battery is low, so you can land), $4: 
  15. Cheap Charger & Power Supply, $11:  
  16. LiPo-Safe Charge Bag, $3:
  17. Velcro, $2.50 (this stuff is better than anything in a local store, and 1/3 the price, so I really recommend it--a mandatory item to secure your batteries to the plane): 
  18. Quick connectors/EZ connectors for push-rods, $1.50,
Item Total: ~$149
Guestimated Shipping, based on past experience: ~$35'ish
Order Total: ~$185

My recommended Order List (for Airplane Parts, Tools and Hardware is as Follows: 
  1. Dollar Tree foamboard, $1/sheet x 2 sheets = $2 for the 24" NutBall version (get plans for it on my post here).
  2. bamboo skewers (ie: Shish Kabob skewers), 12" long, 1 pack of 100 or so, $1~$2 at your local store
  3. 2mm (0.078") diameter music wire, for the landing gear, ~$3.50 at your local RC hobby shop or toy train store, or ~$10 (with shipping) on Amazon here
  4. 1.19mm (0.047") diameter music wire, for the control rods, ~$3 at your local RC hobby shop or toy train store, or $8.33 (with shipping) on Amazon here
  5. control horns, $0.50,; or, as I prefer, build your own from jumbo Popsicle craft sticks (see here, under the 4th section, called "Build the Plane").  
  6. 50mm wheels, $3,
  7. 2.1mm wheel collars, $2, 
  8. X-blade knife, $1,
  9. extra X-blades, $1/pack x 3 packs or so = $3,
  10. simple prop balancer, $1.50, (I have this nice one, if you want it instead, $20:
    1. Having a well-balance prop can potentially make a huge difference in minimizing vibration and power losses and prolonging your equipment life.
    2. For propeller-balancing instructions, techniques, and tips, read the Top Flite Power Point Propeller Balancer manual, pgs. 3-6, here: Of the three methods described in the manual, I prefer "method 2" (using super glue and accelerator to add weight to the back side of the light blade on the propeller).
  11. super glue, medium viscosity, with clog-free cap, $2.50 (I love these caps, and this glue is 1/3 the price as you'll find elsewhere):
  12. super glue accelerator, $5 (this stuff allows the super glue to cure instantly, and is necessary in order to balance a propeller),
Item Total: ~$30
Guestimated Shipping for the HobbyKing portion of the order, ~$12
Order Total: ~$42

Grand Total: $185+$42 = $227
Note: this may seem like a lot, but REMEMBER:  most of this equipment is support equipment you have to buy ONE TIME (ex: batteries, charger, glue, radio transmitter, battery voltage checker), or parts that come in bags with enough pieces for 2~4+ planes (ex: prop savers, wheel collars, music wire, control horns, velcro, bamboo skewers).  Not only that, but the power pod is swappable!  THEREFORE, THE COST OF YOUR NEXT PLANE WILL ONLY BE ABOUT $15~$20, OR LESS, IF YOU USE THE SAME SWAPPABLE POWER POD but buy new servos, OR ~$70~$80 if you buy a new motor, speed controller, battery, and receiver.  See how cheap this can be once you get started!?

Miscellaneous Extras to buy locally:
  1. Clear Packing Tape at Walmart or wherever else you choose to buy it. – good for repairs where the full stickiness and strength of strapping tape is not needed.
  2. Scotch strapping tape at Walmart, Meijer, or wherever else you choose (strapping tape has fiberglass strands running down it), or on Amazon here for only $5.09!
  3.  ***Dual temperature*** Hot Glue gun and glue, ~$15 (with glue sticks) from Walmart.  “Dual temperature” means that the glue gun MUST have dual heat settings, high/low so that you can use low setting when you need to and not melt the foam plane, yet you still have high to help it heat up faster and get more sticky on surfaces that can handle a little more heat (hotter = more sticky). You can also buy a good one of these glue guns from Amazon here: <-- Note: I own this exact glue gun and it works well. It works fantastic for RC planes and has a nice, precision tip and hasn’t broken on me with regular use in the past 4 years I’ve had it. If the glue ever gets jammed (has happened a few times after being on high heat for very long periods of time), pull the glue stick out, pull off the melted portion that may be getting stuck in the gun, re-insert glue stick, and continue use.  I use the “high” heat setting to heat it up quickly, then I switch to “low” once it’s hot so I don’t melt the foam.  About 1 minute before each use, I switch back to "high" to get the glue sticky and easier to squeeze out, then during use I switch back to "low" so it doesn't get too hot.  This process can take some practice, but ultimately you know the glue is hot enough when it is hot enough to burn you if you don't roll it off your fingers, but cool enough to *not* burn you if you *do* roll it off your fingers.  You're smart, figure it out. :)  So far that I have found, the quality can’t be beat for its price, though better dual temperature glue guns do exist.
  4. 8 AA batteries for the transmitter

Please leave your comment below:  So, would you recommend this list of parts for a NutBall to a friend?  Why, or why not?

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