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Reviewed by a helicopter, sailplane, and airplane model pilots
Digital exclusive as three pilots share their thoughts on the DX 18.
Read the full article in the January 2013 tablet app and on page 47 in the magazine.

Bert Kammerer - Helicopter Pilot

The new Spektrum DX18 is the best transmitter Spektrum has to offer. I am happy to have played a role in its development by being a part of Horizon’s test team. I have been flying the transmitter for several months now and I couldn’t be happier with it!

For all of you familiar with helicopters, and specially the new flybarless (FBL) control systems, you know that you can get by with a basic transmitter. Most helicopters nowadays, when used with a FBL system, require little setup and adjustment from the radio; most of the settings are configured and fine-tuned via the FBL system itself. However, there are many important things to consider when buying a transmitter.

Transmitter Feel
The first thing I look at believe it or not is the feel! The transmitter has to feel good in your hands; if you don’t feel comfortable with it, simply don’t buy it! The DX18 feels awesome, has the right height, right thickness, switch spacing, etc. I’m sure you’ll love how this transmitter fits in your hands.

Once again, if you are a helicopter pilot who flies FBL systems, you really don’t need many features, but some are still quite important. The DX18 has many interesting features that are a must for pilots such as me:

• DSMX as well as backward DSM2 compatibility with 2048 and 1024 resolution.
• 50-model memory slots allow you to have all your helis, including the little E-flite ones, in one single radio.
• Multiple swash types, including 120 CCPM, 135, and 140 and it even supports swash plates with four servos for some Scale applications.
• Switch configuration: The DX18 is incredibly flexible when it comes to its switches; you can almost assign any switch to any function.
• Trim setup: With the DX18 I can change my trim step to “0,” preventing me from bumping into AIL, ELE, and RUD trims which are unneeded on FBL helicopters and can cause adverse effects.
• Seven-point curves: The DX18 has seven-point throttle and pitch curves, allowing me to fine-tune the curves with more resolution. This is particularly useful in Scale applications or for FAI helicopters.
• Gyro and governor settings can be assigned to any switch or flight mode. This is useful when setting things up.
• The DX18 has plenty of mixes—more than you’ll ever need.

One thing I like a lot about the DX18 is its antenna. It is built into the radio itself and it is practically impossible to break. I typically get on a commercial airplane about 20 to 30 times per year with helicopters. I travel to Europe, Asia, and South America to attend events as well as travel to Italy for testing with SAB Heli Division.

The days of replacing transmitter antennas are over. This antenna can handle all the abuse in the world, especially airline luggage handlers!

Finally, I can’t forget the vibration feature, just like the DX8 and DX7S, the DX18 has a vibration feature that can be used as a timer alarm. This is extremely useful when flying large electrics or in noisy environments, such as fun-flys. I also enjoy the DX18’s ability to transfer models easily via an SD card.

Whether you’re a newbie or an experienced RC helicopter pilot, you won’t regret owning a DX18!

Michael Smith - Sailplane Pilot

I was asked by one of the DX18 architects how many flight modes I would conceivably use. At that time, my answer was five. I had used three, and even four, but I hadn’t even used five separate flight modes yet, so I stretched my answer and thought I left some room to expand.

The DX18 has 10 available flight modes and as soon as I installed the system on my latest F3B model, I found myself thinking about utilizing all 10. The idea of that many flight modes just makes the mind cramp a little. How in the world would someone manage that many different sets of mixes and rates, and for that matter why would anyone even consider it?

My ah-hah moment came from a conversation I had with Joakim Stahl, a Swedish RC glider pilot and one of the Spektrum program testers. I asked him how many modes he used and was astonished to hear him say “all 10 and more would be better.” Of course, I had to ask why.

The reason was far more logical than I thought it would be and made sense. He said he would use a separate flight mode for every conceivable flight condition. For gliders or Sailplanes, that is more simply translated as speed—more precisely, airspeed.

For all sailplane flight, especially for F3B gliders, making the model handle the same at all airspeeds makes it much easier to fly the glider precisely and efficiently. Having the ability to trim all flight surfaces, mixes, and rates for each flight mode individually is essential. So I began thinking about just how to enable and use all 10 flight modes in a logical and meaningful manner.

The DX18 is a radio that is the essence of flexibility and power for its price point. It’s flexible enough to allow the user to set it up any way he or she so chooses, and powerful enough such that nearly each menu item is available and assignable to a switch, a combination of switches, a stick switch, or flight modes.

Before I ever started programming, I sat down with the transmitter in my hands and imagined how I would use the flight modes and why, and which switches I would use to make it all work in the simplest manner possible.

Flight modes list:
1) Launch A
2) Launch B
3) Launch C
4) Speed - Switch B, position 0
5) Distance Fast
6) Distance Normal
7) Distance Slow
8) Thermal
9) Float
10) Landing

The trick to making them flow in a logical and usable manner is figuring out how to use them. I decided the easiest way for me to handle all these modes was to have only two primary flight mode switches.

One would activate Launch modes, and render the main flight mode switch inactive. When launch was off, the main flight mode switch would allow me to select Speed, Distance, and Thermal modes. A third switch, Switch C in my case, is what I consider to be a “modifier” switch for whatever flight mode I am in at the time. For example, when I am in Launch mode, the main flight modes switch does nothing (except establish the flight mode that will be active once I turn off launch mode) and the “modifier” switch will allow the selection of Launch A, Launch B, or Launch C.

I do use all of these during each launch of my F3B model. When out of Launch mode, the main flight mode switch set to speed, the modifier does nothing. I only have one Speed mode. In Distance mode, or cruise, I use the modifier to select Fast, Normal, or Slow distance modes. In Thermal mode, I use the modifier to select either my normal thermal mode, or a Float mode.

Finally, Landing mode is selected any time I pull the flap stick down past the 85% point (100% is fully closed). Since I have set the priority switch to be the flap stick, it doesn’t matter what mode I am might be using at the time, but when the flap stick is pulled to apply landing flaps, the system is switched to Landing mode.

Other handy programming features include:
Direct Model Select allows the quick change from one program to another. This is critical for competitions such as F3K where models can be changed in the middle of a round, and time matters.

Dual Rate and Exponential curves can be assigned to any switch, combination of switches, stick switch, flight mode, or combination/group of flight modes.

Menu Items are either turned on or off automatically depending on the sailplane type (wing type and tail type, and motor/no motor). This means that the user will not have the V tail differential menu item if a normal tail is selected.

Channel Assign allows the user to switch the location for the specific receiver port for any servo. Suppose your aileron servos are in the wrong slots, and the left aileron is responding to subtrimming the right aileron and vice versa. You don’t have to dig out the receiver and switch the plugs manually. Just reassign the Rx port for the left aileron to the right aileron, and the right to the left and you are in business.

Camber Presets menu allows for the precise camber adjustments to be made to each individual control surface in each activated flight mode.

Priority Switch assignment allows the user to select a switch or stick switch to be the priority, or overriding flight mode. The user can assign anything here such that when activated, no matter what mode is currently selected, the priority mode will override all other flight modes. This is a handy feature.

Flight Mode Names are totally customizable to fit individual tastes. Name the flight modes the way they make the most sense. The user is not required to use only those that come with the system, and won’t have to learn new nomenclature.

SD Card access allows all models to be saved, uploaded to a computer, shared and reloaded easily.

Differential, as with any other mix, rate, or trim setting, can be customized for each individual flight mode.

Camber System allows the user to drive the flaps or other camber/landing functions to be driven by any stick or switch. In the case of a 10-12 channel Scale Sailplane, the flaps can be driven by the side slider while leaving the throttle stick (flap stick) available to drive spoilers. This is a method more in line with how flaps would be used in a real sailplane: flaps set to establish either a steep, or shallow glide path, and spoilers used as a throttle to either shorten the glide (open) or lengthen the glider (close). Modulation of the flaps, which most of us are accustomed to with our other competition models for glide path control and energy management, are better used in a “set and forget” manner if the glider is equipped with spoilers (in my opinion).

Telemetry information can be read from the transmitter, and with the onboard telemetry module installed in the glider, the base information of reception information and voltage can be augmented to include altitude, G-forces, and airspeed depending on what sensors are installed in the glider. The DX18 currently is enabled to record telemetry data, which can be written to the SD card and, as soon as the application is finalized, stored, viewed, it can be shared via computer.

2600 mAh Lipo battery easily provides a full day’s flying.

Fit and Feel are very good.

Robert Vess - Airplane Pilot

My first impressions, as I held the Spektrum DX18 transmitter in my hands, were that it had the look and mass I had come to expect from a quality radio. I’m a thumb flier and my fingers nestled perfectly around the properly formed grips on the back of the case. This actually surpassed the nice grip feel of the DX8, which I liked very much.

Although I couldn’t initially pinpoint the additional ergonomic enhancement that made my hands and wrists feel comfortable, I eventually realized that it was likely because the stick gimbals are actually ½ inch farther apart than other radios. Interesting.

The antenna also caught my attention because it was short, fixed, and certainly more robust than the ones I had broken at the flex joint on other nice radios.

The use of the handle to provide multipath RF functionality was another clever feature. All of the switches were in the places I expected, so my routine actuation muscle memory would not have to be relearned.

Now that my exterior inspection was favorably completed, it was time to turn on the transmitter and see what useful software advancements had been made. I received my DX18 radio from Horizon Hobby a several weeks prior to the official public release and the manual had yet to be printed.

My initial efforts would immediately prove just how intuitive the menu structure and programming features were. I was essentially on my own without documentation and could only rely on my experiences with other radios like the JR 12X and Spektrum DX8. I was pleasantly surprised to find some really powerful software features that were previously limited to very high-dollar radios. Also, the general flow of the menu logic was pretty easy to follow.

With the nearby First in Flight Jet Rally quickly approaching, I decided that my first true test of the radio would be to use it in place of the JR12X in my BVM KingCat in preparation for that event. I already had a Spektrum 12120, 12-channel receiver in the airplane and plunged right into programming on the DX18.

As with most of my large, complex aerobatic airplanes and jets, the KingCat utilizes many servos (13) and the main programming tasks relate to multiplexing yet independently adjusting all of them. This is quite easy and flexible with the DX18. The user can assign any channel to any receiver input and any stick/button/switch/knob to actuate it on the transmitter. Also, there are useful “canned” setup options that facilitate streamlined programming. Rather than go into detail, I’ll briefly list some things that made the setup of my KingCat productive and enjoyable.

• When using a 12-channel receiver, the DX18 provides full 2048 resolution (at a 22ms frame rate) and independent adjustability of all servos (including those plugged into the AUX6 and AUX7 ports) when X-Plus is activated. This handled all but one of the servos on my KingCat. I had previously multiplexed the nosegear to one rudder channel with a Matchbox and that applied perfectly here, too.
• The easily selected Wing: 2 Ail – 2 Flaps plus Tail: Dual Rud/Ele modes in the Aircraft Type menu (found under the System Menu) made it easy to mate these servos for their intended purpose. And, of course, they each show up with appropriate naming conventions in all subsequent menus.
• The servo monitor information for the first 10 channels is resident on all servo setup menu screens. I found this to be particularly useful when programming and mixing, because it eliminates the need to switch menus to view that data, which is a must to understand the cause/effect of programming changes.
• Three-position flap deployment travel, elevator trim compensation, switch assignment, and actuation speed were all adjusted from the Flap System menu. This was an efficient means of completely setting up the landing flaps.
• I use the so-called Crow mixing on my KingCat, whereby both ailerons rise as the flaps are lowered. Programming this only required one mix (Flap>LAL). The logic allows the mated ailerons to move in the same direction on a mix if left aileron (LAL) is used as the slave channel or asymmetrically if the right aileron (RAL) is used as the slave. This is great and made this sometimes cumbersome task a breeze.
• On my turbine I prefer to use throttle trim to control the engine start/shutdown. The DX18 has a digital throttle trim that would be inappropriate for this purpose. But all I had to do was simply assign the throttle trim to the left slide lever (L Lever) in the Trim Setup menu (accessed in the System menu). Again, this was very quick and worked perfectly with my turbine.
• For smoke control, I assigned the right transmitter knob (RKnob) to control the flow rate and mixed in a simple offset from the right aft transmitter switch (switch H) to turn it on/off. This provided easy in-flight adjustment of smoke intensity plus quick on/off control from the switch.
• I’ve been using the power of the transmitter to try different brake actuation options. I assigned the right slide lever to provide the braking pressure with a BVM Smooth Stop valve as most people do. But I have the full-on endpoint setup such that full lever motion provides ample deceleration braking without locking up the wheels. Then I reduced the servo speed to slow this action. So when I land, I pull the lever completely down and the brakes are slowly applied as if pressing the pedal in a car. It works great! I’ve been playing with mixing button depressed offsets into that for taxiing in the pits. This is a work in progress, but it shows promise.

I could go on about things I’ve discovered with this radio that I couldn’t easily accomplish before, and I look forward to much more experimentation with it to enhance the RC experience on all my varied airplanes. It’s apparent that I am already a proponent of its power and capabilities. And all of this comes at a very reasonable price that’s within the budget of most modelers. Nice job, Horizon Hobby!


Not to be impolite but the reviews are essentially worthless. I own the DX18, as well as the DX8 before that. I am a legitmate engineer, and a well known pilot, having been in the UAS (RPV/UAV) for many years. To be candid, the instruction manual is utterly, without defense worthless. End of discussion. A more valuable review would have been to answer a simple question as to how to set dual rates, for example. Meaningful reviews, not by people who've been given the equipment and factory support would have more credibility.

As we noted in the header of this article, you can read the full review in the January 2013 print edition or the tablet app. In the full review we discuss the points you brought up such as programming the DX 18 and the manual.

As the man said the manual is next to useless

Worthless. Might as well have read an advertisement on the back of a box. Wasted my time.

The manual is totally worthless. This has gotten so common.
The "celebrity" endorsements are a joke.
A decent radio with [poor] directions.
What else isn't new ? Doug
PS- spare us the "Did you know at ww ad nauseum you can.....
The manual sucks, plain and simple.

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