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Ikarus 'Fun Piccolo' Electric helicopter

Piccolo

I watched the advent of the Ikarus 'Piccolo' with great interest and had just decided that I needed one when the MS 'Hornet' appeared. The 'Hornet' seemed to me to be rather more attractive, particularly due to it's remarkable resemblance to the 'Lark' on which I learned to fly some 30 years earlier. I spent some some four years playing with a couple of 'Hornets' and built three more for third parties. By now, the 'Fun Piccolo' had appeared and was available from the US for a very attractive price. So, I ordered one.

I rather wanted to try setting up a 'Piccolo' with two separate speed contollers and a gyro, all of which I already had. Information on how to do this was available on the website of the company that I ordered the kit from. No names here, but their initials are 'Helihobby'. Having accepted my order via their website, at their stated price, they then attempted to extort extra money for 'additional postage'. To cut a long story short, it took some three months to receive the kit (they sent it surface mail) instead of the usual 5 days. I then had to pay duty, VAT and a handling charge, plus a journey into London to collect. Some bargain! Don't look for them on my 'Links' page.

I probably should have guessed, but the info on their website was misleading, badly written and - let's face it - wrong. Despite all manner of transmitter mixing, onboard mixing ('V' tail mixer) there was no way that I could get enough offset into the tail motor drive to make things work. So, I now had to buy a 'Piccoboard'.

Now I had some good luck. There have been a number of different Piccoboards. I found one on the importers website (J Perkins Distribution) at 32.99. At first I thought that this must be the early type with no receiver or gyro. Investigation revealed that this was the latest board with 6 channel receiver and gyro, plus mixer. I discovered from Paul Goelz's website that Ikarus have rationalised the design of the board and are selling the 'Piccoboard Plus', minus the socket for the heading hold gyro module, as the 'Piccoboard Standard'.

Er, yes, but the 'Piccoboard Plus' costs 99.99. Yes, you are reading this right, If you buy a 'Plus' board, you are paying 67.00 for four pins. I just checked their website and this still applies. I'm sure you can all work out the solution to that one yourselves. Note that the 6 channel receiver means that it will also work with the collective conversion.

The kit

This goes together very well. I read all of the webpages about the model and took the precaution of fixing the tailboom in place with a small screw. I was intrigued to find that the left and right undecarriage legs were different lengths. After years of telling people that their heli should lean to the right on the ground, here was a manufacturer who had taken the point.

Many of the bearings in the kit are simply nylon bushes. One of the reasons I chose this particular supplier was that they included a 'free' ballrace up-grade. It's become established that there is a risk of losing the head bearings in a crash. On this version, the head had been modified so that the bearings snap onto the head.

The other main difference on the 'Fun' version is that the fuselage pod is a simple expanded foam moulding. You need to think about the glue that you use to attach the tinted canopy. I used the glue supplied in GWS kits, which is a clear contact adhesive. Instructions here are very sparse. The canopy mouldings include reinforcements for the mounting points but you have to work out for yourself how to use/fit them.

Canopy mount

There is very little info on how to stow/attach the battery, or even a recommendation on the type of battery. I had intended to use the 7 cell 720 mAh NiMH batteries from the 'Hornet' but these didn't really fit anywhere because they needed to be between the front undercarriage legs for balance. I eventually made a ply tray to fit in a lower position between the legs and extend forwards so that I could fit a variety of batteries in the optimum position.

Battery tray

I'd better say right now that if someone had told me that it was possible to produce an electric heli with a knock-off rotor head that worked, I would have laughed. I would have been wrong - this one works. My congratulations and compliments to the designer.

Rotor head

I put everything together as per the instructions and it's still working. There are very few model helicopters that you can say that about. I did one cosmetic change. I replaced the plastic U/C skids with 5/32" diameter aluminium tubing. It looks better and aids visibility. Strangely, they are also lighter.

I had changed some of the connectors and then had to change them back to fit the 'Piccoboard'. I used my standard Deans mini connector for the battery with one of my warning lights in parallel.

Installation

I used two Himodel 'SG-50' servos glued directly to the chassis. After years of using the Hitec 'HS-50' servo, these servos are almost identical in performance and less than half the price! So, I can now afford to cut the lugs off and glue them in place - something I wouldn't even have contemplated previously.

It seems a shame that there is not a connector on the 'Piccoboard' to match the one fitted to the motor. I wired it direcly. Everything else went together well after I had refitted the original tail connectors.

Set-up and flying

The 'Piccoboard' resolved all my problems with tail set-up which had been caused by my original 'separates' installation. 'Set-up' is a misnomer because the model will fly exactly as put together if you follow the boards instructions. After that, it's simply a matter of fine-tuning the gyro gain and the mixer setting to suit your preference.

Even with my old NiMH batteries, the model is very light and the standard 'Speed 280' motor is almost too much for it. It flies at quite a low head speed and lifts off very easily. Changes in power produce a pronounced tail swing. The tail rotor is gear driven and relatively massive. The inertia of this arrangement means that the tail will inevitably be slow in response compared to a model with the tail driven from the main rotor.

Massive tail

In fact, the 'Piccolo' - and most of its clones - now have a direct drive tail option!

Because uf the fairly low current used by the motor, I could never get good performance from my NiMH batteries. I have recorded elsewhere the need for these batteries to 'warm up' and the relatively narrow operating 'window' temperature-wise. Adding weight to the model actually helped here. I have tried the 'G-310' tuned motor available for the 'Piccolo' range (actually a timed 'Speed 300') and this makes things worse. Adding a scale fuselage may well help here (that's what the motor is intended for). Ni-cads should give much better results but I don't have a suitable size pack to try.

As the NiMH batteries ran down, there was a marked change in tail trim. As the throttle was advanced to keep the model flying, the mixer added more tail input. The result was that I ended up holding full left tail to hold the model straight. I eventually used the 'rev mix' (actually, 'left' mix on a clockwise heli) in the transmitter to compensate for this so that the tail was straight when I held full power just before landing. There was an intermediate point where things didn't balance and the model yaws to the right when I reduce power to land.

Switching to a 2 cell Li-Poly battery helped with the battery run down effects because they gave longer flights. However, the model became much lighter and the response to throttle changes more marked. The battery temperature window almost disappeared with new batteries, but returned with older ones. See More on batteries and charging for more info.

I have got good results from both a Falcon 700 mAH pack and Kokam 640 mAh pack.

Conclusions

The 'Piccolo' range has become well established as an indoor electric helicopter and other types have struggled to keep up. It seems that this is due to the fact that, being light and slow revving, it can absorb a lot of punishment and simply bounces off things. The 'Piccoboard' plays a very large part in its success because it takes all of the work out of setting-up a machine that could be difficult without it.

To an established heli flyer, the 'Piccolo' has characteristics that make it less pleasant to fly than some of the competition. It does have the advantage of being more responsive, which makes it easier to fly in a confined space.

It is interesting that it, and some of its 'clones', now have an option to go to a smaller, direct drive, tail rotor which should give a better response and remove some of the aerodynamic effects of the large tail.

Going back to where this started, I don't regret my decision to go with the 'Hornet' and I still much prefer that machine. I can only wonder what might have happened if I had chosen the other route.

Piccolo

In real terms, a Piccolo will take a lot more punishment than a Hornet because it is lighter and has a slower revving rotor. It can be flown into things and bounced off things without any real damage. Its also much more responsive than a Hornet and, therefore, easier to fly in a restricted area. The problem is that, in all general terms, the Hornet is much easier to fly because the tail is so much more predictable.

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