FMS Pilatus PC-21 (1100 mm) Review
Image Credit: FMS
Review by Luke Barnett
- Spektrum DX9 Black Edition TX
- Turnigy 2650mah 4 cell lipo
- Non-AS3X Spektrum 6 ch DSMX RX
- Beefy looking but extremely light for its size
- The paint and foam finishes are beautifully flawless and eco-friendly
- Excellent stability and agility in the air
- Huge battery compartment allowing for just about any battery choice
- Quality hardware already pre-installed
- No gluing required in assembly process
- Very robust and rigid frame with adequate reinforcements
- Looks sexy on the ground and in the air
- The prop and nose cone is unlike any model on the market.
- The five blade is awesome!
- Hinging and travel of surfaces is high quality
- Nose is a bit low to the ground making unpaved take offs and landings a bit challenging
- A bit under powered requiring quite a bit of constant throttle
- General stance of the plane makes takeoffs challenging due to front wheel drag and lack of prop clearance
Disclaimer: This writer is now doing reviews directly for ForceRC and FMS. My hope is that they were written with 100% honesty, but I felt it was worth informing the readers of the situation for the sake of transparency.
FMS has done it again with the recently released 1100 mm Pilatus PC-21. I was lucky enough to have received one of the first PC-21s off the line, fresh from China, and was excited to get it assembled and in the air. The appearance of this bird is fantastically sleek and true to the quintessential Pilatus style. I have always been a huge fan of anything Pilatus and when the word came out that this new bird was to release, I knew I had to have one in my fleet. The PC-21 is a training bird used by organizations and militaries in several parts of the world and for good reason……it’s a technical challenge, its powerful and its fast. Not only is it all of this, it’s beautiful and FMS did this plane justice with its choice of color and tastefully elegant graphics scheme. It’s sure to grab attention on the ground and in the air at any local flying field.
During this review, I will give my personal accounts on five main categories as to provide the most well rounded summary of my opinions of this plane. I will focus on categories such as the un-boxing/build process, setup and trimming, maiden flight (including speed, stability and performance), landings and of course, the pros and cons section.
Un-boxing and Build:
For those of you whom have read my reviews, you may notice that I tend focus on the “little things” for it’s the little things that often set FMS apart from their competition. By little things, for example, I mean the way FMS chooses to package their planes for shipping and distribution. Although most of the time discarded, it’s apparent that they invest almost as much R&D time into their superb packaging as they do into the plane itself. FMS did an excellent job of forming the foam packaging to the PC-21 as to offer maximum protection against bumps, scrapes and bruises to their flawless paint and graphics finishes. Even the propeller has its own custom formed slot in the top of the box. Upon un-boxing, the vibrant red paint of the Pilatus was beautifully striking. The graphics, although simple, were just right as to not detract from the body lines, foam molding and paint finish. FMS boasts about their latest “environmentally friendly” paint procedures and for good reason…..not only does it look better than previous techniques, it’s safer and kinder to our world. Great job FMS, the earth loves you too.
The build was a complete snap……quite literally. All surfaces snapped together like they had been previously test fitted and were held in place with simple machine screws and plastic reinforced gussets. Like many of you, I too am impatient when it comes to assembly and frown upon the idea of having to glue anything prior to flying. FMS has done an excellent job of doing away with the need for glue of any kind and have substituted the glue for bolted, more secure, connections. I really like the fact that they also have pre-fitted the surface control linkages. Normally, I spend almost as much time with linkages as I do with the build itself. The battery compartment is large enough to fit a small child and leaves you plenty of room for pretty much any battery choice. I should also mention the PC-21 is incredibly light weight most likely due to FMS’s changes in foam technologies so feel free to take the liberty of experimenting with larger battery packs. The plane would later prove to benefit from a tad extra battery weight.
The last step of the build was to install the eye catching 5 blade propeller with matching red nose cone. The only part of this build that I didn’t enjoy was the trip back to my tool box to grab an allen wrench to secure the nose cone cap to the prop hub. On the PC-21, FMS chose to forfeit the standard Phillips head machine screws for an allen style. Not a big deal, but when you focus on the “little things,” sometimes hardware changes from the “norm” can catch you off guard.
Setup and Trimming:
Setup, like almost all FMS planes, was a total breeze. I chose to follow the recommended dual rate and expo settings which would later prove to be right on the money. There has been some discussion on various web sites about the appropriate placement of the battery pack to achieve proper CG balance in the PC-21. If you follow the recommended measurements in the manual, you may find that the PC-21 is horribly off balance, even with an appropriately sized battery back (2600-3300 mah 4 cell lipo). You have two options here. You can either add a bit of nose weight like other excellent reviewers have suggested, or if you like to “fly light,” you can simply shift your lipo 2-4 inches toward the nose and securely strap it down with the provided straps. My feelings are, if you have to add weight, it might as well be battery weight, right? FMS has recently begun to add a nice touch with a laser engraved logo on their battery trays which certainly makes for a uniquely finished product. Even the inside of the model, which you hardly ever see, has neat little touches.
Maiden Flight (Take off, Speed, Stability, and General Performance):
Although most of us normally get the “BGs” (bubble guts) before a maiden, the Pilatus brought a calming effect over me for some strange reason. FMS consistently delivers products that offer little to no negative tendencies and the PC-21 did just that. Mild mannered are the two words that come to mind with this bird.
The Pilatus PC-21 has a very low and aggressive nose stance which took a bit of horsepower to overcome the nose wheel drag that is characteristic of almost all tricycle gear planes. My local flying field is well manicured grass so for those of you who will be taking off from anything other than a paved runway, I would highly recommend a bit of “takeoff flap” to give the plane a bit of needed, slow speed, lift. Because the nose is so low, which consequently puts the five blade prop dangerously close to the ground, its takes just about all of the horsepower the ESC and motor can deliver to nose the plane up, clear the prop, and get air under the wings. I previously mentioned that the PC-21 is very light weight so this works to its advantage when you need to keep from “weed eating” the grass with the prop. An extra prop during your initial purchase would also be suggested…..again….because of the nose’s proximity to your runway surface. You are destined to ding the first one up.
The plane performed flawlessly in the air and the recommended rates and expo were perfect and had no ill effect on its performance. I might consider this plane to be more of a “leisurely flier” because it didn’t seem to be a rocket ship like their other (High Speed) and racing plane versions. Although not necessary, a gyro stabilizer of your choice might even allow you to sit down while flying this pretty lady. It certainly doesn’t require you to be on your toes like the high speed/higher performance planes from FMS and RocHobby. Honestly, the plane took a bit more throttle to keep in the air than I had anticipated, at least half to ¾. I would have loved to see FMS’s “high speed” power plant in this one just because it looks so fast, it would be nice to have the performance reserves to match. I found myself craving a bit more power and top speed than the stock setup was able to deliver. I sense an upgrade in the not so distant future. *Evil grin*
The PC-21 although graceful and beautiful in the air, ended up being highly maneuverable and responsive as its full scale big brother. It doesn’t have the mass as might be expected just from the outside appearance so it flies a bit “floaty” when power is dialed back but comes alive when the “juice” is called upon. General aerobatics were no problem at all for this thing and ended up feeling like a great stepping stone to a more advanced model. A “trainer” if you will.
This pilot highly values pristine landings and the FMS Pilatus PC-21 delivered on all counts. If I can’t land a plane without damaging it, it gets removed from my fleet. I enjoy flying planes, not fixing them because they can’t land well. Upon final approach, I decided to cut the throttle down to about 15%, engage retracts, deploy full flaps (with a touch of down elevator mixed in) as it slowed down to a nice crawl with no tip stall tendencies. It landed light as a feather, with plenty of surface control authority and rolled out without even a hint of a nose-over. On paved surfaces its best suited as it would give plenty of clearance between the ground and the beautiful five blade propeller which would allow for a smoother return taxi.
What a beautiful plane. Yet another success story from FMS!
Thank you FMS for allowing me to try the new Pilatus PC-21. FMS has built a cost effective, quality driven, and fun reputation for themselves and the new Pilatus PC-21 has fallen nothing short of “Excellence in the Skies.”