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Written by George Kaplin
A modern sport model with a classic vibe
Product Review
As seen in the September 2017 issue of
Model Aviation.


Bonus Video


Specifications

Model type: Sport BNF
Skill level: Intermediate to advanced
Wingspan: 55 inches
Wing area: 550 square inches
Airfoil: Semisymmetrical
Length: 45 inches
Weight: 62 to 65 ounces
Power system: E-flite Power 15 brushless motor; E-flite 45-amp ESC (included)
Radio: Spektrum AR636A receiver; A330 servos (included)
Needed to complete: Six-plus-channel Spektrum transmitter; 3S 2,200 to 3,200 mAh LiPo battery; charger
Street price: $199.99 (PNP); $229.99 (BNF)

Pluses

• Goes together fast with only eight screws to assemble the airframe.
• Wings, elevator, and rudder have a faux rib look molded in.
• Factory-installed flaps for shorter takeoffs and landings.
• Removable plug-in wings for easy transportation/storage.
• Innovative hands-free servo connection system.
• Durable aluminum landing gear with wheel pants.

Product Review

We modelers can be a funny bunch sometimes. One instance is how polarizing the mention of a foam airplane can be. For some, it doesn’t matter what the model is made of, but for others it can be a complete turnoff. I’ll admit that I was closer to the latter, although I do have a few smaller foam models for indoor or backyard flying.

I prefer building over ARFs, and I like larger models made from balsa, plywood, and fiberglass. The reason I mention all of this is because I was offered the chance to review Horizon Hobby’s latest design, the E-flite Commander mPd 1.4m park flyer. I accepted it, but I had already made up my mind that this was probably just another average foamie. Boy, was I wrong.

Before I sat down to write this review, I spent quite a lot of time with the Commander and it had several dozen flights. Let me mention, right from the start, that there’s a lot more to this model than the fact that it’s molded from foam, so let’s dive right in.

Unpacking the components that make up the Commander is a quick step because only 17 parts are in the box. Okay, 19 if you count the manual and the bind plug.




Six airframe pieces, two supporting tubes, eight screws, a piece of tape, a bind plug, and the manual are what you get out of the box. This aircraft is quickly assembled.


The first thing I noticed is just how well the Commander is designed. The molding is excellent with a smooth finish. You really have to look to find any mold seams or marks. I especially like the molded-in “ribs” that show in the wing halves, the elevator, and the rudder.

The company also included little extras such as a pilot figure, as well as other molded-in details like panel lines and fuel caps. Functional flaps are not an option—they’re preinstalled and ready to go right out of the box.

On top of this smooth surface is a fantastic mix of paint and pressure-sensitive stickers that make the Commander pop. Swooping stripes on the upper surfaces are complemented by a larger red and white checkerboard scheme on the underside of the wings. Although it’s not a scale airplane, the fuselage’s large registration number, Commander mPd logos on the vertical fin, and the logos on the cowl give the model a look that makes you think it was modeled after a homebuilt aircraft that you’ve seen somewhere.

Supporting the airframe is an aluminum main gear. It’s quite sturdy and comes with the foam fairings, wheel pants, and wheels installed.

Smaller parts include the support tubes for the stabilizer halves and wing halves, a bind plug, four pairs of screws, and a piece of hook-and-loop material to stick on the bottom of the battery.

Rounding out the kit is a 64-page manual in multiple languages—the first 16 pages are in English. Each step is well illustrated and descriptive.

Because this review model is a BNF version, many of the steps shown are already done for you at the factory. A copy of the manual can be downloaded from the link in the “Sources” section.

Of the assembly work done at the factory, the most notable is the fact that the entire radio system is preinstalled. This includes the pushrods, the power system, the propeller, and the spinner. The radio system is all Spektrum components: an AR636A receiver and six A330 servos. The receiver has Spektrum’s AS3X stabilization technology and the optional Sensor Assisted Flight Envelope (SAFE) protection.

Part of the radio system is what Horizon Hobby refers to as its “Hands-Free Servo Connection System.” This plug-in system has been used for years on larger airplanes, but I believe it’s the first time that Horizon Hobby has employed it on a smaller model. It allows you to plug in or remove the wings without having to fuss with servo leads.

The preinstalled power system consists of an E-flite BL15 brushless motor and a 12 x 8 electric propeller paired with a 45-amp ESC that can handle high-output 3S 2,200 to 3,200 mAh LiPo batteries.


Construction

Only eight screws are needed to assemble the Commander. First, the main gear is installed with a couple of screws. Next, the shorter support tube is pushed into one of the stabilizer halves and the halves slide into place on the fuselage. A single screw holds each half in place. This step is finished when the elevator’s ball link is snapped onto the clevis.




You can see the pushrods and tail wheel under the stabilizer. Those two screws secure the stabilizer halves and give you the option to make the stabilizer removable for transport and storage.


The only thing left to do to finish the assembly is to attach the wings. The larger tube is pushed into one wing half, then it slides into place on the fuselage. The other wing half is pushed into place and the wing halves are secured with four screws.

Because the wings are a simple plug-in design, you can easily remove them for transport to and from the field, as well as for storing them in your shop.

Well, that’s it! At this point, the Commander is finished and ready for binding and control setup. The assembled Commander mPd weighed 4 pounds with a 3S 3,200 mAh LiPo battery installed.

After you remove the canopy/hatch you have plenty of room to slip in the battery of your choice. A couple of straps are preinstalled, as is a strip of hook-and-loop fastening material on the floor of the battery compartment. You can cut a bit of the included hook-and-loop material and fasten it to the bottom of your battery for extra grip, but the two straps easily held my batteries in place.




The canopy/cockpit doubles as a hatch to access the radio and to install a LiPo battery for power. It’s held in place with magnets and comes with a preinstalled pilot figure.


When binding the AR636A receiver, you’ll need to decide if you want to utilize the SAFE Select system. The binding procedure is slightly different with or without it.

SAFE is different from AS3X stabilization, which works all of the time. SAFE can be turned on and off with the flip of a transmitter switch. When activated, SAFE offers pitch- and bank-angle limits that keep the model from rolling or pitching upside down. It will prevent excessive climb or dive angles during takeoff and landing. SAFE also has automatic self-leveling that instantly returns the wings to level when the sticks are released.

Before I get to the flying portion, I want to mention what a great-looking design the Commander is. It has the look of one of today’s sleek—dare I say sexy—homebuilt aircraft, but actually it’s not. Horizon Hobby described the design process as being drawn from a variety of full-scale and model aviation influences so that it would stand out from the crowd.

Regardless of how the the company did it, Horizon Hobby knocked this design out of the park as one of the best-looking models I’ve seen in a while.


Flying

Then came the time for the Commander’s maiden flight. I was curious to find out how well it would fly because it’s a 4-pound model with only a 3S battery pack. My job is to review the aircraft as recommended, so I throttled up and took off. To my surprise, the 3S pack and 15-size motor provided ample power.

When photo passes were out of the way, I opened up the throttle and gave the Commander its first workout. First, I tried a few high-speed and rolling passes to check its stability at speed. The Commander is rock solid and you can feel the AS3X stabilization working behind the scenes, especially when inverted because it takes far less down-elevator to hold the model in level flight.

Not knowing how long the flight would be, I set up for a series of low-speed passes, slowly dialing in the flaps so I could see if any snapping tendencies would show. I’m happy to report that I could slow the Commander to a ridiculously low speed with full flaps deployed and still have plenty of control, so landings were uneventful.




In the air, the E-flite Commander mPd 1.4m BNF Basic is simply fun to fly. Cruise around slowly, throttle up for high-speed passes, or snap, roll, spin, and loop your way through the sky.


With a fresh battery, it was time for a more aerobatic flight and I soon found myself performing nice large loops, Figure Eights, and more from level flight. The AS3X system is always working behind the scenes and it made the Commander feel smooth and sharp, even in wind.

About the only time that I had to work to keep the Commander on path was during knife-edge flight. I had to do more steering with the elevator to keep it going straight because it tended to pitch down (toward the gear).

One of the more attention-grabbing maneuvers that I did was to bring the Commander in at approximately 3/4 throttle, roughly 5 feet off the ground. I pulled up just before the center point of the runway and threw in full up-elevator, full right rudder, and full right aileron—holding it there for three high-speed snaps. When I timed it right, the Commander came out level and on its initial flight path.

I admit that it’s beyond my capabilities right now, but Horizon Hobby stated that rolling circles feel crisp and precise and can be performed with power to spare.

Be sure to check out the video that accompanies this review. You’ll see me putting the Commander through a range of high- and low-speed maneuvers. It’s a tough job, but thankfully I was the one to do it.


Conclusion

I have fallen in love with the Commander mPd. It looks fantastic on the runway and in the air. In the air, the 15-size brushless motor and 3S LiPo battery pack have proven to be a perfect match for the airframe. All of this available power—along with the functional flaps—work together to give the model a wide flight envelope.

When combined with the built-in AS3X stabilization, the Commander is smooth, predictable, and agile. It isn’t a trainer, but pilots moving up from a trainer will feel comfortable right away with the safety net of the optional SAFE Select system.

The manual suggests that pilots use a 3S 2,200 to 3,200 mAh LiPo battery to power the Commander. I’ve not only used this size, but also larger batteries (up to E-flite 4,000 mAh Thrust batteries) with no problem. They’re nearly the same size as the 3,200 mAh packs, but with little weight difference. Expect flight times in the 8- to 12-minute range, depending on how aggressive you are with the throttle.

There’s one other thing I want to mention in closing. Horizon Hobby, if you’re reading this, is there any chance of making a larger, built-up version of the Commander? This guy could use a big brother!

—George Kaplin
flyingkaplin@yahoo.com


Manufacturer/Distributor:

Horizon Hobby
(800) 338-4639
www.horizonhobby.com

E-flite
(800) 338-4639
www.e-fliterc.com


Sources:

Spektrum
(800) 338-4639
www.spektrumrc.com

Commander manual
www.horizonhobby.com/pdf/
EFL4850-Manual-EN.pdf



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