T-Drones Smart.H Hexa – The Flamewheel 2.0

thread on rcgroups / pictures on flickr

Apple’s innovation and design has brought about a whirlwind of change to the entire world of electronics. From their clean layouts to perfected packaging, everything Apple screams of a precision that can’t be found elsewhere. China’s DJI Innovations is Apple in the sky. Their Naza, Phantom, and Ronin have pioneered and dominated markets since release.

T-Drones sets forth with the premise that there is a hole in DJI’s lineup. While aerial videography is amply served by the Phantom, Spreading Wings, and Inspire, DJI offers only the Flamewheel series for the DIY enthusiast. The Flamewheel 450 has been a tremendous success and a great introductory platform (the 450 was one of my first quads), but in the 4 years since the release, copters have gotten smaller, more capable, and regularly adapted for FPV use. The market response has been dozens of carbon and “2-D” plate frames, owing their success mostly to simplicity, strength, and ease of production. T-Drones took a shot at building a shrink ray for the Flamewheels – the Smart series is their attempt to make the ultimate compact and versatile flying machine.

One of the Flamewheels’ selling points is integration. T-Drones follows suit with an optional (highly recommended) power package from T-Motor. The Air Gear 200 series combines high quality 2205 2000kv motors, rapid 15a 2-4s ESCs, and highly optimized 6.5″ propellers. The motors plug neatly into the ESCs via 2mm bullet connectors. The ESCs and LEDs do need to be soldered on, but the solder pads are large and easy to access, right by the arm’s mounts.

 Overview


The unboxing experience is similar to what you would expect from a high end electronics manufacturer – precision cut and textured cardboard, dense & shaped foam slots, and a nice helping of accessories. Each part is nestled in a custom fit foam enclosure. Just look at those gleaming motors. And the arms are preassembled by hand, the fit, finish, and detail are superb.  Its like an awesome collaboration project between TMotor and DJI. Everything just works.

Note: Several people have asked about gimbal support for the Smart.H, but there are no specific design considerations for this. Hopefully we’ll see a mounting location in the next revision.

t-drones-smarth_21092522814_o     t-drones-smarth_21527365898_o

t-drones-smarth_21528347249_o     t-drones-smarth_21527341308_o

Anyone looking to take the next step from a boring RTF model should definitely consider T-Drones. The electronics are top notch and the frame itself was very nicely done ( I love matte black PCBs! )That is what I really like about quality kits – you are almost always guaranteed a smooth experience. While I consider myself a pretty experienced builder, I’ve hit somewhat of a rocky road the past few months – my latest attempt at a TBS Discovery shot into a neighbor’s tree, my 250’s ESCs failed and it dropped from 50 ft, the 450 had a flyaway – you get the picture.

It has been a while since I could fully trust a quad (other than my infallible 200qx’s) and flying a machine that is absolutely rock solid and completely attentive is definitely a step up from the fiddly machines I am used to. The Naza helped quite a bit – PIDs were dialed in by my third attempt. I had a little trouble with screws coming loose – I had only installed the arms by 2 nuts instead of the 5 intended so that I could get faster access to the innards when I was testing – but properly installing and tightening everything (no thread lock needed) made the frame rather sturdy. The solid metal threaded inserts help a great deal. A decent amount of force does introduce some flex, but unless you plan on loading a 10,000 mah battery on, don’t fret.

Flight


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In the air, the Smart.H is rock solid. About 10 seconds of trimming out and the guy just sits in the air like nobody’s business. If you’ve ever flown the 200qx, you’ll know what I mean – a properly finished copter is amazingly stable, even without GPS. Of course, credit where credit is due to the rather refined Naza system (FC only, no GPS installed), expertly handling the non-standard “spyder” hexacopter layout that is pushed forward to facilitate camera use (no props in view). Just make sure to tighten down the props, as self tightening nuts are known to come loose when braking hard or rapidly pulsing motor speed, mainly during acro flight.

Since the electronics can be contained between the frame’s plate sandwich, battery support is pretty flexible – both underslung and above the copter (if you ditch the landing gear like me). Anything from a 2000 to 5000mah 3s pack should work fine; larger will fit, but will start testing the boundaries of the setup. I pushed 20 mins with the 3s 4000mah Multistar from Hobbyking on a completely stock assembly, so 15 mins of cruising with FPV gear should definitely be feasible. The light weight (240g frame weight) and efficient (6.5″ low pitch props) setup make for endless options. You can pop on a Mobius,or a GoPro, or maybe even a little gimbal. Toss on a Pixhawk and GPS img_20151009_212249_22074511621_oand make yourself a great autonomous platform. Halloween is right around the corner – though hanging a ghost underneath might be a little bit of a stretch.

I nearly forgot! The LEDs (2 red and 4 green, a the ends of the arms) are amazingly bright at night and make twilight flying particularly fun. Unfortunately there are no diffusors, so make sure to maintain a decent altitude so that the LEDs are visible in both forward and retreating flight. Ping pong ball mod coming up.

My Take


While the design isn’t exactly original, it is a nice evolution of an otherwise stagnant concept, and I really like the Smart.H. While I’d probably be more critical of the Smart.X because of its unnecessarily large frame, the Smart.H’s props have only a few millimeters of clearance. Combined with the self tightening props, setup at the field is a breeze. I’ve got lots of builds I pushed onto the waiting list in favor of the hex – a 6″ Hovership Superbeast (for endurance FPV), a TBS Disco (long range FPV), and a Blade Chroma (casual park flying), but the Smart.H checks all the boxes, and still manages to stay inexpensive and easy to work with. Its versatility and convenience is just off the charts. If anyone reading is interested in my old fleet up, please get in touch 🙂

Final Comments


I’ve been floored by the quality that T-Drones managed to cram in for just $169. Putting together amazing hardware and electronics only leaves you to make sure you pick the right flight controller – its kinda hard to mess up something so simple!

T-Drones’ next big act is the Warrior 200 FPV machine, which appears to be launching alongside a brand new power system from T-Motor, so consider me pumped! My QAV210 efforts haven’t been going to well so this is my easy way out 😀

You can pick up a unit at GotHeliRC, or head over to the T-Drones website for more info.

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