Sunday, 11 August 2013

FrSky Taranis - the start of a beautiful friendship?

The Taranis has finally been put though its paces - three flights with my Acacia F3F, at Ivinghoe. And very successful they were, too!

The telemetry works well, the voice alerts are great, and it even played music while I was flying. Best of all, the Taranis felt more 'connected' than my Multiplex Profi 4000 thanks to the lower latency and smoother sticks of the newer radio.

My F3F setup replicates all the cool features in my 4000, including in-flight adjustment of aileron differential, snapflap volume, snapflap expo and thermal camber setting. Being able to adjust these in the air has been very useful. For more info see F3F setup for the Taranis.

Another Taranis owner - Jonathan Wells with his Needle 124 at the F3F Nats


The Verdict

With flight tests finally out of the way, it's time to take stock and write some conclusions. What's it like to program from the point of view of an F3F flyer? How does the quality compare with comparable sets? And if you already have a Profi 4000, what are the pros and cons of switching to a Taranis?

Let me start off by saying that the Taranis defies easy summary - it's a radio of considerable contrasts!

Operating system

OpenTx may be open source, yet despite this (or maybe even because of it), it's an extremely versatile o/s. Logical switches, programmable timers and event handlers offer a great deal of flexibility, especially when allied to telemetry and voice. Not only is OpenTx more capable than the Profi 4000, it is without doubt the most flexible R/C operating system available.

However, there are some drawbacks. First, OpenTx is not particularly intuitive and complex models like F3X gliders are quite tricky to program. By the same token, a programming error could cause you to crash your plane at the merest flick of a switch. A reasonable understanding of the firmware concepts is essential to using OpenTx, and setups must be carefully planned and tested before flight.

My advice is to anyone thinking of buying a Taranis is to download Companion 9X and try out the programming first.

Other stuff

The mechanics show similar contrasts. The stick units are splendid, however the rest of the box is... well... just a box, and with only so-so ergonomics. Build quality is OK, nothing special. Don't expect Multiplex-quality documentation either - it's skimpy at best, and plain inaccurate at worst. Most of the support you need will come from RCGroups and OpenRCForums.

Finally, while basic telemetry (RSSI and rx voltage) works well, there's currently a dearth of the newer daisy-chainable 'Smartport' sensors for which the the latest X-series receivers are designed. You can use FrSky's older sensors, but you'll need to get a sensor hub and a vario sensor to act as a bridge. If you're a pilot who just wants to get going with telemetry with the minimum of hassle, then Multiplex and Jeti have more enticing offerings.

Conclusion

Despite all the niggles, the Taranis just happens to be darned good in the areas which really matter. Programmability, stick feel, latency, RF link and basic telemetry are all very strong. So strong, in fact, that the Taranis has replaced my Profi 4000 as my radio of choice for F3F competition. And that surprises even me!

Now consider the price. At £140 (or £160 with 8-channel telemetry receiver), the Taranis is a fraction of the cost of other systems with far less capability. The Taranis may not be for everyone, but for pilots with the requisite programming skills and a degree of patience, the Taranis offers truly outstanding value.

Postscript

Since the review above, I've converted a second F3F model (my Sting) to FrSky, and put in a lot more stick time.

The set has been trouble free and the RF link has been rock solid.  However, I've made some minor mods. The layout of the switches didn't suit so I've moved them around, substituted different ones and removed a couple altogether so it looks less like a demented porcupine. I've also run a needle file over the stick tops, as my thumb was beginning to suffer from the razor sharp jaggies. Finally, the screen scratches far too easily, so I am in the market for a screen protector of some sort.

We've been on a long journey - from before my Taranis was even delivered, to programming and flight testing a competition F3F ship, to actually competing in a competition. In short, I've taken the Taranis to heart. Not only that - I've bought a second one! And that's really saying something.

Links

OpenTx Clinic

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