Note – as time has gone by, it seems this model has fallen further behind in terms of features available for the dollar. Please read the review based on when it was done…over a year ago (4/2013) – and use our conclusion and this note to determine whether this fits your exact needs.
Dualsky is a well regarded manufacturer in the R/C model industry, and highly regarded for their motors – one of the key ingredients in any quadcopter. Hobbyists have long been using their motors and other parts to build their own machines, but until now Dualsky did not produce a complete quadcopter. This has changed with the introduction of their Hornet model, billed as an ARF (almost ready to fly) quad which is 90% assembled. Droneflyers.com purchased, assembled and is now flying a Hornet.
Appeal to users:
Advanced Beginners UP for manual flight, payload (camera) carrying and hobby use.
Type of Quad: Consumer / Hobbyist – Full Size
Cost: $450 with quad, TX, Battery, shipping and basic spares
The Hornet is a full size quadcopter. It has a very decent payload capacity, powerful motors and large (up to 10″) propellers. It sells, in the ARF box, for approx. $300 US. However, the Hornet needs quite a few other parts to be able to fly, so your total expense will be larger, especially if you are not already a R/C hobbyist with some of the necessary add-ons. The picture at right shows my basic kit, which includes the following:
1. Dualsky Hornet 90% assembled in box
2. Tunigy 9X Transmitter with included receiver ($80)
3. Turnigy 2200 mah LiPo batteries (3 cell) – ($36)
4. Turnigy Accucel-6 50W 6A Balancer/Charger ($30)
(above needed to actually fly)
5. Spare parts – it’s always good to stock up on some propellers and other parts you may need.
The total tab to get the Hornet flying should run about $450, a decent value when you consider that all of the extra accessories (TX, Batteries and Charger) can be used for other drones in your fleet!
Unpacking and Assembly
The Hornet arrives in a medium sized box which contains 4 smaller marked boxes as shown. The manual identifies the parts by the box letter marking, making it easy to understand what goes where.
The manual is written in English (Chinese subtitles) with decent line drawings depicting assembly. However, I found a number of areas where the manual could be improved and have notated these – as well as added to it and created a more helpful guide. My notated manual is still a work in progress, but you can find the current copy of it in the forum thread which serves as a continuation of this article.
The notated manual as well as many other sites on the internet describe the assembly in exact detail – so I will not repeat those steps here. However, here are some comments about the design and build of this new hobby quadcopter.
Unlike some “kit builds” which are thrown together from various parts, the Hornet is a system which is engineered from scratch – and from the ground up. I was very impressed by the fit and finish of the parts and assemblies.
I had some small problems with assembly, but most were due to lack of clarity in the manual or my own lack of experience with quadcopters. If I were to receive a second one in the box now, I could assemble it perfectly in under 30 minutes.
The four arms come fully wired with the motors mounted as shown. They plug and screw into the main body to form the completed quadcopter. Most of the other steps involved the plugging in of the Flight Controller and Receiver and the mounting of the propeller hubs and propellers. Here is one time lapse video of the complete assembly – more links of this type will be added to our continuation thread in the Droneflyers.com forum.
The multirotor industry is in the middle of transition – from being limited to skilled hobbyists who solder, build, fix, program and otherwise hack their drones- to more of the general public who may enter the hobby interested in the new technology, photography or just flying. Talk to old R/C hobbyists, and you’ll often find out they are engineers, ham radio operators, electronics experts and/or highly technical. A number of Hornet buyers have mentioned they put the quad together and got it flying without any hitches. So, the question arises, can a beginner or an average person easily buy, assemble and fly the Dualsky Hornet or is a certain level of expertise needed? The short answer is that an inexperienced beginner cannot easily get this quadcopter built and working properly, which will be explained below. However, read on, as there are some dealers already offering a COMPLETE solution which could appeal to those who are less technically inclined.
The Right Stuff
The biggest obstacle that newbies will be likely have with this and other ARF quadcopters is their lack of knowledge about what it takes to create an entire flyable system. I am fairly handy and have some technical background (Ham radio, computers, technical manuals, etc.) yet I had to ask a lot of questions and do some reading to understand what I needed – and, then, to make it all work together. The quadcopter itself is really the easy part – it’s the other two systems which can cause some confusion:
Battery and Balancing Charger – There are literally hundreds of types and sizes of batteries and a wide selection of chargers. Are you ordering the right ones?
Transmitter and Receiver – There are a number of brands of transmitters and receivers, each using some of their own programming and protocols. Newbies will find themselves thinking they in the TRS-80 (1978) time warp when they attempt to understand and program these radio controllers!
I have addressed some of these issues in the beginning of the notated manual and more will be added in our forum thread and updated versions of the manual.
Hope for the Newbie
Luckily, some of the merchants who are selling the Hornet have realized this and are now selling complete kits including the quadcopter AND the other accessories needed. Newbies should strongly consider buying such a package if they are not comfortable with understanding the specifications and nuances of the batteries and transmitters. At the minimum, a beginner should purchase the transmitter and receiver from the same vendor so they can receive full support.
Speaking of support, Dualsky maintains a US importer and distributor and the Hornet is offered by a number of US vendors. Support has been good and spare parts are available – however, I noticed that many dealers tend to run low on some important parts. Hopefully, as more Hornet are sold, the importer and dealers will stock up on spares because a grounded quadcopter = an unhappy customer.
Flying the Dualsky Hornet
NOTE: Carefully check your propellers EACH TIME before you fly your Hornet. Check the prop hubs for cracks and tighten the prop nuts if needed. You are now a real PILOT with all the risks and responsibilities that come with the territory. Be safe!
Once the unit is assembled, the transmitter bound and adjusted and the battery charged, the Hornet should be ready to fly. The unit features some self-testing software built in, so it’s quite easy to figure out if something is not yet adjusted properly. The manual gives a sequence to bind and calibrate to your Transmitter which goes like this:
1. Turn on your transmitter (TX) and adjust the throttle to full.
2. Plug in the battery on the Hornet and the unit should boot and give a beep – the props also move a slight bit to indicate a successful connection.
3. Move the TX throttle to the low point – the Hornet will again beep and slightly move the props. This process sets the high and low range of the throttle.
4. Disconnect the battery and wait a few seconds – reconnect.
At this point, your Hornet should be ready to fly! However, for safety, Dualsky has built in an automatic propeller lock. The unit will not fly until you move both sticks on your TX to their furthest down and outside positions. Doing so will unlock the quad, and it will respond by spinning all four propellers in idle speed for a few seconds. DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS with the unit near walls, furniture, lose objects or your body…for the obvious reasons! The Dualsky is “heavy iron” and those powerful motors and large props should be treated with utmost respect. Speaking of respect, this would be a good time to mention that this (and, really, any) quadcopter should never be flown over or near human beings. The total weight of this and other mid-sized models is more than enough to maim or kill if dropped on a human being!
Although the testing and initializing can be done indoors, this quadcopter should only be flown outside or in large indoor arenas/barns and/or warehouses. It is simply too large and powerful to hover in the living room, so please don’t be tempted.
Take your Hornet outdoors, preferably over grass – especially if you are a new flyer. This will assure that any crashes do a minimum of damage to your new machine! The first order of business is to fire up the quad – you may want to repeat the binding steps given above – and test that your transmitter is going to steer it in the proper direction. This can be done by lightly increasing the throttle until the unit almost, but not quite, takes off. At that point, put some forward pressure on the right stick (if in mode 2 – USA typical) and see if the quad leans forward. This control is called the aileron and, in flight, would move the quadcopter either forward or backwards (pitch). If successful, move the same stick to the left or right and the quadcopter should respond by slightly angling in the same direction as your stick is pushed. This assumes you are facing in the same direction as your quadcopter.
If these two tests work properly, you are ready to take off and check the basic stability of your quad. Your first flights should be low and slow as you carefully check the calibration and settings of your transmitter. Various settings can be adjusted if you find that your controls are set too aggressively. This depends on the level of flyer – but most beginners will want the settings turned down so that the quadcopter does not attain extremely steep angles of flight. The settings can be adjusted either on your transmitter or on the Hornet Flight Controller (FC). Consult your local hobby shop or other Hornet users (online forums, etc.) for tips on dialing down…or dialing up, the response of the quadcopter to your stick movements.
Here is a video showing much of the above:
The Hornet is sold with a basic 3-axis Flight Controller, which provides for stability and control in manual flight. In it’s stock form, it is a actively piloted craft and does not have advanced features such as self leveling, hovering, telemetry, GPS or emergency decent. This is as it should be in a $300 quadcopter – and advanced features CAN be added in the future. However, if a “tame” quadcopter specifically for photo or video is your goal, you might be better off looking at more expensive (2-4X+ the cost) 6-axis copters which come standard with those bells and whistles. This is a quadcopter for pilots and hobbyists and is not sold as a working platform for videographers and photographers. That said, the modular platform and powerful motors provide a base for those who want to modify and hack the craft – but don’t want to have to build the basic platform from scratch.
A note about full size quadcopters – they are NOT designed to be used in very confined areas! A smaller quad might make your backyard seem big enough, but a full size quad needs room to run. For decent flying, an area of at least one acre (200 x 200 feet) would be my suggestion. I enjoy my Hornet on some local conservation land, where the open field is approx. 500 feet x 400 feet, or 5 acres. Standing in the center of such a field will allow you full freedom with your quad – and there is little need for larger field because you will lose sight and orientation at those distances.
Longevity and Crash Worthiness
Larger and heavier quadcopters cannot escape the effects of Newtons nor Galileo’s theories and, of course, they are subject to Murphys laws also! Sooner or later – probably sooner – your craft (whatever model) will fall to earth at a velocity greater than you planned for or crash into a tree or building.
Since an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, let’s start with some ways that the harm done can be avoided or mitigated. First, as mentioned above, make 100% certain that your propellers are in good condition, that your prop hubs are secured to the shaft (locktite on set screws!) and that your prop nuts are very snug. Crash protection can also be added to the Hornet, which we will detail further in the forum thread – see link at bottom of article. Taller and more flexible landing gear is one modification I would highly suggest – my experimentation with foam blocks indicates this could save your propellers and perhaps some other parts.
Both myself and others have had hard crashes with the Hornet with the predictable results – that is, some parts will likely need to be replaced. In my case, I crashed the Hornet at high speed and from 100+ feet in the air – about as bad as a crash could be on soft grass. One arm suffered a cracked circuit board and the force pushed the main board connector out of it’s socket. The total bill for repair parts totalled about $80, and a repair such as this is a snap due to the modular nature of the Hornet.
The modular design has it’s pros and cons. For the less handy among us, it means repair is very easy and quick. On the other hand, you may have to replace a larger part than needed – for instance, even if the motor and ESC on the arm is unharmed, you’ll need to replace it because the arm comes complete with those parts. The US distributor has indicated he is willing to start carrying component parts so that those with soldering and other skills can effect repairs more economically.
Every aircraft is a compromise between various factors – materials, weight, price, payload, controls, etc. – the Hornet trades some crashworthiness for style, fit and finish, ease of assembly, price and parts replacement (modularity). You should look elsewhere if you think you will crashing often, as the parts prices will soon add up if your Hornet has too many “unscheduled landings”.
This machine, with proper maintenance and parts replacement, could last a long time. But there is no getting away from the laws of physics, and larger machines will cost more to operate and repair when calculated on a “per hour of flight” basis. In addition, this quad was designed to be in the budget category so some protections (better landing gear, arm bumpers, etc.) are not included (but the user can easily add them!). We rate the crashworthiness as fair and the tendency for unscheduled landings as fairly high with the stock FC.
Those who are on a very tight budget may want to stay with mini and micro sized quadcopters if they have no overriding reason for a larger model. My experience so far indicates that cost of repair is relative to initial price – that is, a $400 system may need $70-$80 in parts after a crash, while a $40 quad may need $8 worth of parts!
As of mid-2013 there are only a few fully built (ARF or RTF) quads of this size available in the $400-$700 price range. Models from well know manufacturers are:
Walkera QRX 400 – this quad features a 6 axis stabilization system, which may make it easier to fly for many.
DJI Phantom – A bit smaller than the Dualsky Hornet, but set up for video and photography (GPS, 6 axis, other stability systems).
AR Drone 2.0 – This model has a lot of features, but limited range and wind resistance. However, you can extend the range with certain add-ons and still be in the same price range as the Hornet. If you live in a very windy area, you may want to take a pass on this model
Many other models are available in “semi-kit” form, where you may have some assembly required or may have to even add parts such as a receiver, battery and transmitter (as with the Hornet). These models include Storm Drone, Armattan, DJI flamewheels, etc.
Important questions to ask concern parts availability, technical support (who can you call?), crashworthiness and the particular design of the quad and flight controller. Some quads are more for “sport”, while others strive to be stable for hooking up a camera or beginner use.
The Hornet Conundrum
The Hornet is advertised as an “entry level quad”, which may refer to both the price and the lack of additional bells and whistles. The problem with this description is that the manual nature of this quad means that any “entry level” buyer is likely to not be able to fly it without numerous mishaps! On one hand, the engineering, fit and finish and specifications are quite good – better than ANY $300 quad on the market. On the other hand, all of that does not do the newbie much good if he or she is worried about crashing, expensive repairs, etc.
Perhaps the answer would be to offer various levels of “trim” including better flight controllers, bumpers and landing gear, etc. for those without as much flying experience. Another option would be to market it as other than entry level. Either way, this is not a quad for those who have little or no experience with R/C…unless they desire to learn the hard way!
This article is a work in progress and more will be added in the near future.
You can find additional information at our forum continuation thread at: