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    5 Tips for Hobby RC Rookies

    Getting into the RC hobby has never been easier or more affordable than it is right now. There are tons of high-quality, beginner-oriented RC vehicles to choose from. However, there are also a lot of sub-par products as well. Even with the right equipment, learning the ropes can sometimes be a challenge. Making a few missteps as you're just getting into the hobby can ruin your enthusiasm and sour the fun. Here are a few tips to help potential RC hobbyists make a positive start.

    Get Help

    Whether you are interested in aircraft, cars, or boats there is probably someone in your area who is already up to speed and knowledgeable. Seek out RC clubs, racetracks, or hobby shops. You are bound to find folks who are willing to help you get started.

    If flying is your goal, attend a club meeting even before you buy any RC equipment. Most RC clubs have dedicated instructors who teach newcomers how to fly. The majority of aspiring pilots who try learning all by themselves either fail completely, or destroy many models on their path to competency. Also, an instructor can help you choose the right equipment. Some clubs even have models set aside just for training.

    If you're more interested in surface vehicles (cars, trucks, boats), find out what models experienced hobbyists in your area are using and recommend. It can be a big boost to have local experts who are familiar with your specific equipment. You're bound to receive helpful advice for setup, maintenance, and repairs.

    Having a mentor is the best way to make smart buying decisions and learn the skills you need for the RC hobby.

    If you live in a rural area, you may have trouble finding other modelers nearby. There are numerous online forums such as RC Groups and RC Universe that can sometimes partially fill that void. Just be wary of advice received online. There are a lot of self-proclaimed experts who give out bogus advice. With a little research, the true experts are often easy to identify.

    The bottom line is that RC is as much a social activity as anything else. Finding other modelers with similar interests makes the RC hobby more enjoyable and also speeds up your learning curve.

    Shop Tips: Cutting Foam for Propmaking

    Frank shares some of his favorite blades and techniques for cutting foam for prop and costume fabrication. Whether you run a large workshop or just work out of your garage, we want to hear your shop tips that you rely on in your projects. Post them in the comments below!

    Shop Tips: How To Properly Clean Your Paint Brushes

    Frank shows us his workflow and tips for keeping his paint brushes clean after using them, including what cleaners to use and how different types of brushes can be treated differently. Whether you run a large workshop or just work out of your garage, we want to hear your shop tips that you rely on in your projects. Post them in the comments below!

    The Best Unlocked and Carrier Android Smartphone (January 2017)

    It's a new year, so maybe that means it's time for a new phone too? If you've got some cash left over after the holiday season and are looking for a new Android phone, you don't want to drop that cash on something you'll end up hating. That's where Tested comes in. We're here to give you the lay of the land so you can get the best Android phone. This month, the selection of phones is stable, but the software situation is changing.

    Carrier phones

    If you're going through your carrier, you can take advantage of all the payment plans and other enticements, so it's an understandable option. That does limit your phone choices a bit, and the device will usually be locked (or at least band-customized) for that carrier. There are a few solid options, the most notable of which is the Galaxy S7. Although, the LG V20 isn't a bad choice, and the Pixel is technically available on Verizon. I'll get to that later, but first, the GS7.

    The Galaxy S7 has a number of good selling points that I'll get into in detail, but probably the best are the overall design and the display. The GS7 (and especially the Edge) are solid phones. The front and back are both Gorilla Glass, but it feels so well put together. It's IP68 water resistant, and feels very dense in the hand. It's a little heavier than you probably expect when you pick it up, but it has a slight curve, making it comfortable to hold.

    The Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge have Super AMOLED panels at 2560x1440 resolution. The GS7 is 5.1-inches, while the Edge variant has a larger 5.5-inch display. These are still the best panels you can get on a smartphone, though the gap is closing. They're bright, have perfect viewing angles, and the colors are very accurate. Then there's the Edge with a screen that curves down on both the left and right sides. It looks cool, but it's actually less comfortable to hold. The Pixel XL's display is almost as good, but samsung still wins on this front.

    This phone is slightly thicker than Samsung's 2015 flagship, allowing for a reasonably large battery (relative to size). The GS7 has a 3000mAh battery and the GS7 Edge has 3600mA. In both cases, these cells perform very well. Both phones support Quick Charge 2.0 and wireless charging, but they have microUSB ports. The GS7 has held up well in terms of performance. It was never a blazing-fast phone, but it's fast enough. The Snapdragon 820 has shown up in a lot of phones, but Samsung lowered the clock speed a bit to make the device more power efficient. That's why the battery is so impressive. There are no issues with multitasking thanks to the 4GB of RAM, though.

    How To Make Airplanes from Christmas Cards

    Like many people, my first lessons in aerodynamics came from creating enormous fleets of paper airplanes. Most of my pulp-based flyers were constructed from sheets of folded notebook paper. My creativity soared once I realized that I could also make great-flying airplanes using index cards and other forms of cardstock. In many ways, these cardstock airplanes were simpler to make and more robust than my paper models. More importantly, the rigidity of cardstock released my airplane designs from the straight-lined, angular constraints of folded paper. I could shape my cardstock airplanes however I wanted.

    Not many of us keep a supply of cardstock handy. But, that all changes at Christmastime. All of those holiday cards that you receive can be repurposed as glittery, Santa-adorned living room flyers. Creating these airplanes is easy and a lot of fun.

    Step 1: Gather Supplies

    Most of the Christmas cards that I currently have around my house measure just a shade under 5"x7" (127mm x 178mm). We'll call them 5x7 just to keep things simple. Some are folding cards, while others have only one panel. We'll be using a single 5x7 panel for each model. So if you're using a folding card, cut it in half along the fold. Now you can make two airplanes!

    The size of the card(s) you use for this project actually isn't that important. The concept can be scaled up or down with little effect. The same is true of the weight of the cardstock as well. Just use whatever you have on hand. The one notable exception is cards printed on photo paper. I have yet to make a decent flying airplane with that heavy, floppy stuff.

    In addition to a card or two, you will also need a ruler, something to draw with, and a small amount of modeling clay.

    How To Get Into Hobby RC: Soldering Battery Connectors

    Soldering is a very handy skill to have in the RC hobby. Sooner or later, you'll find yourself with a need to solder something. This is especially true if you're into electric-powered vehicles. One of the more common (and dangerous) of these jobs is soldering power connectors to a battery. There is a lot of potential energy at hand. A poorly executed approach can ruin your battery, start a fire, or even injure you. Despite the risks, this job is nothing to be afraid of as long as you know what to watch for. Today, I'll illustrate how I mitigate the risks of soldering battery connectors using simple tools and a conservative approach.

    Soldering connectors to RC batteries is simple, but it can be dangerous if you do not take the appropriate precautions.

    Not For Beginners

    To be clear, this article does not cover the basics of electrical soldering. You'll want to be confident in your soldering skills before working with batteries. There are lots of online tutorials that can help you get to that point.

    The biggest danger when soldering battery connectors is accidentally creating an electrical short. Of all the different batteries used by hobbyists, LiPo cells pose the biggest risk when shorted. They are very energy-dense and also intolerant of abuse. Even a brief, incidental short can cause a big reaction and inflict permanent damage. Just brushing a metal tool across two exposed contacts is all it takes. Most of the effort involved with soldering batteries is dedicated to preventing that dreaded short. The actual soldering task is usually no big deal.

    In my example, I will be attaching a Hobbico Star Plug to a 2-cell LiPo. The Star Plug is currently my preferred connector. It is compatible with the Deans Ultra Plugs that I have on all of my legacy hardware, but the Star Plug has a large, textured gripping surface that makes it easier to manipulate with cold or sweaty hands. The Star Plug requires extra attention when soldering, so it's a good example to use here.

    How To Make A Custom Drone Landing Pad

    Many of the sites I use for multi-rotor flying have very rough ground. This sometimes makes it tough to find a suitable spot for launching and landing. Even if I do uncover a patch of level ground, I'm sure to kick up a cloud of dusty West Texas topsoil as soon as the props start spinning. After years of improvising with cardboard boxes, beach towels, or whatever else I happened to have on hand, I finally decided to build a proper landing pad.

    My Requirements

    I looked for commercial options before deciding to build my own pad. There are numerous landing pads on the market, but none seem to fit my needs. First of all, most of them are smaller than I wanted. If I used a circular pad of just 16" (406mm) or 20" (508mm) diameter I would still create dust storms when I flew my larger ships. It also seems that most of the commercial offerings are not rigid. This would not help me deal with rough, uneven ground.

    Once I had decided to build my own landing pad, I considered what material options I had available. I didn't really want to use any type of wood because I felt that the pad should be totally weatherproof. The solution presented itself during a recent trip to my local Tractor Supply Company store. One of the sale items stacked out front was a .5" (13mm)-thick rubber mat measuring 4' (1219mm) by 3' (914mm). I didn't want a pad quite that big, but I figured I could cut it down to the size I needed. For only $20, it was worth a shot.

    The raw 4' x 3' rubber mat was larger than I needed and weighed almost 40 pounds. I cut it into three smaller sections using a utility knife.

    When I picked up the mat, I wasn't quite ready for its nearly 40-pound weight. This is a substantial piece of recycled rubber! I just hoped that it wouldn't be too heavy to handle once I had cut it to size. Once I got the mat home, I decided that I could make three separate landing pads with it. I made one larger pad measuring 3' (914mm) by 2' (610mm), and two 2' (610mm) by 1.5' (457mm) pads. The large pad would be useful for my 350mm-class and larger multi-rotors at particularly rough sites. The small pads were intended for my racing quads, or even the larger ships when I fly from relatively smooth areas.

    I made the two cuts using a regular utility knife. It took numerous swipes of the blade to cut all the way through the thick rubber, but it was not difficult to do. If you're a minimalist, you could actually be done with the project at this point. Turning a big mat into little mats is not very challenging or time consuming. I decided, however, that I wanted to personalize my new landing pads.

    Bits to Atoms: Printing My Custom Cutaway Lightsaber

    With all the design work done for my Custom Cutaway Lightsaber, it's time to 3D print everything on the Form 2 SLA printer. We were lucky enough to get a pre-production Form 2 from FormLabs and had been printing a ton of projects before the official release. We were very pleased with all the prints as Formlabs had upgraded all of the items (and then some) on my wishlist from my time with the Form 1+. The Form 2 had been living up to my expectations but I designed some of the lightsaber parts to torture test it further.

    While the Form 2 was more than capable of printing out an entire half of the saber in one piece, I broke it up into many parts for a few reasons. First, I wanted to show off various resins and designed the saber to make use of the black, grey, clear and flexible materials, most of which had just had formulation upgrades. Second, I wanted to see what the tolerances and fit quality were like for assemblies. Third, as we have talked about before, prints tend to look better when all the parts aren't globbed together but instead printed as individual pieces. Plus, the quality of parts can sometimes be affected by orientation and printing everything as one piece is not always optimal.

    Mesh repair - problem areas highlighted

    Once modeling was finished, the next step was to export all the parts as STL files - generally the standard for 3D printing. The grips and pommel were exported as a whole piece and then cut in half using Netfabb - this was a case of using the right tool for the job. Netfabb (recently acquired by Autodesk) is also my goto program for mesh repair which is a vital part of 3D printing. Any holes, flipped polygon faces or other irregularities can cause a print to fail. Formlabs PreForm software has Netfabb repair functionality built in and will warn you and offer to fix possible issues upon model import.

    How To Paint a Realistic Rusty, Metal Helmet

    This is a plastic helmet. Urethane plastic, to be exact. It's a resin kit that I got from my pal Allen a while back and I was chomping at the bit to get it painted, but really wanted to make sure that it didn't end up looking like that original plastic. I wanted it to look like an old, weather beaten hunk of battle scarred steel. I wanted it to look like real metal.

    I've covered metallic finishes here on Tested before, but this was a very different beast. It couldn't look chromed and shiny like Rey's blaster. It needed to be dark, textured, rusty, and grimy. When painting something that needs to be metallic, there tends to be an impulse to reach for a "metal" can of spray paint cover every square inch of plastic in a silver metallic sheen. This is the easy way to do it, but if you look at a piece of bare steel, something that spends its days exposed to the elements like a manhole cover, you'll note that there isn't a single bit of shiny silver anywhere on it. This is why I started with a dark color.

    The kit was already primed, so all I needed to do was hit it with the base color. In this instance I used a rattle can of nice bronze paint.

    Once this base coat of dull, dark paint dried, then the real fun began. I started with some silver acrylic paint. Yes I said earlier that we wouldn't see any silver spots, but don't worry, I was incredibly subtle with my use of this bright paint. My application was a slightly heavy drybrush. I applied just a little bit of silver paint to a ratty old brush, wiped most of that paint off on a paper towel, and then "scratched" the bronze base coat with the brush.

    Bits to Atoms: Designing a Custom 3D-Printed Lightsaber

    We've been using the Formlabs Form 2 SLA 3D printer since its release and have loved our experience with it so far. The Form 2 produces high-resolution models using liquid resin cured via laser. Formlabs recently introduced new formulations of most of their resins and various software and firmware updates, which I wanted to put to the test. So when the opportunity came to create a custom project with Formlabs, I wanted to see how far I could push the detail and precision of the Form 2.

    Since I've always wanted to make a Star Wars lightsaber and love seeing how things work, I proposed the Cutaway Lightsaber Project. The first decision was choosing what kind of lightsaber to make. The movie sabers have been done many times over, so I decided to design my own--like a true Jedi... or Sith. The lightsabers from the Star Wars prequels tended to be more sleek and refined, but I wanted the chunkier look of the original movies that I grew up with. As most fans know, many of the original props, including the lightsabers, were designed from found objects such as Graflex camera flash handles. Additional details, known as greeblies, were added to complete the prop and make it look appropriately sci-fi. With my background in film & TV repair, I have collected a lot of oddball and cool-looking parts, so I decided to start in the same way.

    Cobbling parts together with Luke's replica as reference

    I used Luke's Return of the Jedi saber replica as a size reference and started cramming my junk parts together until I had a rough lightsaber that I liked. There was a little of everything: optics, camera parts, hard drive spindles, electrical connectors and miscellaneous gears. I knew this wasn't the final form, but there were a lot of features that I liked. I started recreating approximations of these in 3D, adjusting as needed to accommodate size and other features that I wanted. Early on I knew I wanted to include what I refer to as 'Death Star Grate' which many will recognize as the distinctive pattern of cutouts used as windows, lights, grates, etc throughout the Star Wars Universe. Typically it's used in facilities of the Empire, so I figured this was going to be a bad guy's saber. I wanted it to be beefy and look like it could mess you up even when it wasn't ignited--kind of like a D&D mace.

    Building A Cheap RC Airplane, Part 3: Adding Power

    In previous articles, I've shown you how to convert a toy store glider to RC and how to use that glider for learning to fly. After you've spent a little time with the glider, you should have a much better understanding of what it takes to fly an RC model successfully. In this final installment of the series, I'll show you how I added a power system to give the model longer flights, a wider performance range, and more control.

    The glider I've been using is the Air Hogs Titan. Just like every other aspect of the conversion to RC, I approached the power system with the aim of keeping everything as simple and straightforward as possible. What results is an affordable, functional and well-behaved model that is not likely to overwhelm RC newcomers.

    Power to the People

    I was really happy with the power system that I installed in my Airplane! model (another chuck glider conversion), so I decided to repeat it here. It consists of an ElectriFly Rimfire 250 brushless motor, a GemFan 5x4 propeller, a 3S-500mAh LiPo battery, and a Flight Power 6-amp Electronic Speed Control (ESC). This particular ESC is no longer made. The Castle Creations Thunderbird 9 is a good substitute.

    The ESC has a Battery Eliminator Circuit, which provides power to the onboard radio gear from the flight battery. This allowed me to get rid of the 4-cell 1100mAh NiMH battery that previously powered the radio. In fact, the combined weight of the new power system components is within a gram of the weight of the NiMH battery alone. So the Titan is no heavier as a powered model than it was as a pure glider.

    The power system components I used are almost the exact same weight as the radio battery used for the glider version of the Titan (right).

    Rather than locating the motor in the tail, as I did with my knotted airliner, I decided to mount the Rimfire to a pylon on top of the fuselage. Among the benefits of this configuration are short wires and minimal weight distribution. The high location also helps to keep the motor out of the dirt and grass during landings (and crashes). The only significant tradeoff of the pylon-mounted motor arises when you launch the model. I'll talk about that a bit later.

    Sculpting a Realistic LEGO Cosplay Mask

    Frank and Norm show and talk through the sculpting process for our LEGO-inspired Creepyfig cosplay. Frank explains how he formed this massive mask and gave it the necessary detail to make the sculpture look like it had a real skin.

    Building A Cheap RC Glider, Part 2: Flying

    In the first article of this series, I showed you how to add RC controls to a common toy store chuck glider, the Air Hogs Titan. It may not be pretty, but it has elements that most budding RC pilots truly need: simplicity and affordability. This time around, I'll illustrate a few techniques for using the Titan to learn how to fly. You'll probably get some exercise while you're at it!

    No matter what model you are using as your primary trainer, the learning curve is always eased when you have an experienced pilot who can show you the basics. Most RC clubs have a process ironed out for training new pilots. The Titan probably doesn't fit that traditional training template. However, it would still benefit you to enlist the aid of a seasoned pilot to get you over the initial hurdles. If you don't have access to a pilot, any eager helper with a decent throwing arm and tireless legs is a useful alternative. Kids seem to enjoy it and there are plenty of opportunities for hand-on physics lessons.

    Gentle hand launches of the Titan will provide a low-stress path to grasp the rudiments of RC flying without much crash risk.

    As you go through the process of learning how to fly, you will make a lot of mistakes…that's okay. The airplane will be flying slowly and close to the ground most of the time. So you're not dealing with much energy. Additionally, the Titan has several ways of dissipating energy when it hits the ground. It isn't likely that you will break anything.

    In most minor crashes, the wings will pop loose from the fuselage. Just put them back in. A harder impact may cause the battery to rip free of the Velcro. Again, just put it back in place and keep on flying. If you do manage to break the Titan, repairs can be made with white glue or even tape. So go forth with no worries about breaking the airplane. It's no big deal.

    Building a Cheap RC Glider. Part 1: Assembly

    I'm sure that most of you are familiar with the foam "chuck" gliders that you can buy from toy and craft stores. They are lots of fun in their intended role, but I've always enjoyed modifying these inexpensive airframes into RC models. My knotted "Airplane!" model from 2014 is a recent example. While my chuck glider projects lean toward the whimsical and unusual, I figured out early on that these same models can also serve as low-stress trainers for new pilots.

    The traditional path to earning your RC pilot's wings is to purchase an almost-ready-to-fly kit and then have an experienced pilot provide instruction over the course of several weeks or months. Even though prices for these types of models are as low as they've ever been, the cost of entry is at least $150 dollars…usually much more. That's a significant investment for someone who probably isn't quite sure if RC flying will be something they want to stick with.

    The Air Hogs Titan is a great starting point for creating a DIY RC trainer model.

    Modifying a chuck glider for RC will probably cost about $50 for the airborne components. That is still not an insignificant sum, but it certainly relieves a lot of the crash anxiety that most new pilots feel. Furthermore, you can complete the conversion in a single afternoon. So there isn't much sweat equity required to get off the ground.

    How To Get Started with RC Sailboats

    I know what some of you are thinking: At a time when the RC hobby offers excitement such as speedy FPV racing quads, 20-pound gas-powered dune buggies, and even robots that fight to the death, how can anyone get jazzed about a silent sailboat meandering across a pond? I get it. I used to think the same thing. Although I've known about the existence of RC sailboats for decades, they never captured my attention enough to actually give one a try. I really should have known better after my similar experience with rock crawlers. I soon discovered that even though sailboats are not fast (relatively speaking), they offer abundant technical and skill-oriented challenges that keep drawing me in deeper.

    RC sailing clubs are a great resource to get started in the hobby. Don't be afraid to ask for help.

    Diving In

    Once I had decided to give RC sailing a try, I didn't think twice about going at it by myself. After all, I was fairly competent with the Sunfish sailboat that I had as a kid. Plus, RC sailboats only require 2 channels to control. So how hard could it possibly be? As I'm sure you've guessed by now, the reality of my introduction to RC sailing was much different. It involved a few missteps, some humble lessons, and plenty of help from experienced sailors.

    One of the things I learned early on is that there is a lot is specific terminology used in sailing circles. I'm still learning the meaning of most of these foreign-sounding words. For any of you experienced sailors who may be reading this, I'll ask your forgiveness in advance since I'll endeavor to use layman's terms whenever possible here.

    Even though I knew that RC sailboats were only 2-channel machines, I lacked a fundamental understanding of how the controls worked. The various rigging that I had seen on some sailboats caused me to envision their control systems to be much more complex than they actually are. It turns out that most of the visible rigging on a sailboat consists of static lines that only serve to stabilize the sail mast.

    RC sailboats have simple control systems. But until I had one of my own, the various rigging had me convinced otherwise. (Lewis Dunn photo)

    The two main controls of a RC sailboat are the rudder and sail trim. The rudder is used to control the direction of the boat in the water. A single servo actuates the rudder through direct linkages.

    Sail trim refers to the angle of the sails in relation to the boat hull. Both sails can pivot side to side about their leading edge. Rather than a rigid connection, the sail servo is connected to a pair of rope-like lines that terminate near the midpoint of the booms along the bottom edge of each sail. The servo controls the length of these lines, which subsequently determine how far out the sails can swing. At its shortest length, the sails may only have a few degrees of sway. With the line fully relaxed, the sails could approach 90-degrees of travel. Based on the direction of the wind and the orientation of the boat hull, sail trim is adjusted to harness the wind and keep the boat moving forward.

    How to Build a Foam Cosplay Helmet

    For his E3 costume builds, Frank worked with foam fabricator Evil Ted Smith to make three awesome cosplay helmets. Ted joins us this week to show how he turns sheets of cheap floor foam into shapely sci-fi and fantasy helms. It's not too difficult!