How much smaller can racing multi-rotors get? When I built my first racer a couple of years ago, I thought it was difficult to cram all of the necessary components into a 250mm frame. Now many quads are half that size or less. Maybe that's why there is also a rising trend in prebuilt racing quads. Sure, there is plenty of benefit to the DIY approach. But when space is this tight, some people can save their sanity by letting the factory fit all of those parts into the right places.
The VIFLY R130 is one of these newer, factory-built racing quads. VIFLY offers the R130 in a bind-n-fly package ($170) that includes pretty much everything you need except a radio transmitter, flight battery, and FPV goggles. You can choose from versions that are compatible with either Spektrum, FrSky, or FlySky transmitters. I tested the Spektrum variant. There is also a ready-to-fly version of the quad that includes a RadioLink 8-channel transmitter ($230).
About the R130
As the name suggests. The R130 has a 130mm frame. It actually measures 134mm between diagonal motors. But let's not nitpick. This is a small quad no matter how you look at it. The main structural components are made of carbon fiber. Most of the electronics are hidden within the double-decker main frame. In fact, the upper deck is a circuit board containing several integrated components.
The R130 uses a 4-in-1 Electronic Speed Control (ESC) rather than four individual units. This approach conserves precious real estate within the quad's small footprint. The only downside is that you have to replace the entire board ($40) if one ESC goes south. VIFLY sells the ESC and other replacement parts on their website.
The ESCs are linked to tiny brushless motors spinning 3-inch-diameter (76mm) 3-blade propellers. In some places, the gap between the propeller arc and a part of the frame is just a few millimeters. Like I said…space is tight. Two of the motors use reverse-thread nuts to secure the props. This helps them to stay tight during flight.
A 700-line FPV camera is mounted on a swivel at the front of the quad. It appears to be well-protected from crash damage. You physically tilt the camera to your desired angle before taking off. I was concerned that the camera angle might drift during flight, but it has not been a problem. The R130 does not include any provision for mounting an action camera to record onboard video. I'm sure it would be a simple matter to whip up a simple mount, but I have not yet done so.
Part of the built-in electronics package is a 5.8GHz video transmitter (VTX). The antenna is included as well. It broadcasts a real-time video feed from the camera mentioned above. Those flying in the US will need an amateur radio license to operate this device legally. A single button on the side of the frame allows you to choose between three output levels (25/200/600 milliwatts) and select from 40 channels, including the much-used Raceband channels.
Your VTX settings are shown on a small LED display attached to the top deck. That same display also shows the battery voltage. It's a good sanity check that helps make sure you aren't inadvertently plugging in an already-used battery. You can also get a read on the battery voltage while flying with the on-screen display that is integrated in the video feed.
The final battery warning is an audible alarm…a loud one! It will beep whenever the battery hits a low voltage. You can also use the alarm to help find your crashed model. If you turn off your transmitter while searching for the downed ship, the alarm beeps continuously. That's handy, because these little buggers can be tough to find visually!
Preparing the R130
While there is no assembly required, you do have to bind the quad to your radio system and configure the flight controls. It's a relatively quick process if you're familiar with the nuances of race quads. It will probably take a little longer for anyone new to this game.
I should clarify that the R130, or any racing quad for that matter is not intended for people completely new to flying. I'm sure that some pilots have learned to fly on such machines. But it isn't a popular route. Racing quads so powerful and maneuverable that little mistakes get amplified quickly. I suggest that you learn the basics of flying with a simulator and/or an indoor micro-quad.
The manual is adequate, but it has a few problems. The information is not very well organized or detailed. Some data (such as the motors' intended direction of rotation) is flat out incorrect. A veteran builder will likely recognize and ignore the mistakes. Newbies could get sidelined by them. Ask for help if something doesn't seem right.
I linked the quad to my Spektrum DX8 transmitter. The process is actually quite easy. I ended up repeating it several times, however, because there is no feedback confirming that the bind is successful. Since I wasn't able to arm the motors after binding, I assumed that the bind didn't stick. The actual problem was that I still needed to configure a few things on the R130's flight controller (FC).
The FC uses Betaflight firmware. The settings in Betaflight determine how the R130 responds to your commands. System parameters are configured by linking the quad to your computer via a micro USB cable and running the Betaflight Configurator software. Again, experienced race quad tuners will have no trouble here. It may look foreign to first-timers. There are lots of great online tutorials out there, so I won't delve too deeply here.
Things got off to a slow start because I couldn't get Betaflight to recognize the quad. I tried a few different troubleshooting tactics with no success. On a whim, I swapped the micro-USB cable with another. Success! I don't blame ViFly for this hiccup. There's no telling what cable I originally used. If a USB cable was included with the quad, I'm sure I immediately chucked it into my overflowing bucket-o-cables.
I went with the default flight mode setup. This includes three modes that can be selected in flight using a switch on the transmitter: Angle, Horizon, and Air. Angle mode has bank limits and the quad will self-level when the controls are released. It is the easiest mode to fly. Horizon mode is like Angle mode until you input large control movements. Then the bank limits are dropped, allowing you to perform flips, rolls, and other inverted maneuvers.
Air mode is pretty much what is commonly known as "rate mode". There is no self-leveling and no bank limits. What is unique about Air mode is that it permits control in all three axes even if you have the throttle pulled down to 0%. Air mode is especially useful when performing aerobatics that involve inverted flight.
On my Spektrum-compatible variant of the R130, the two radio antenna wires protrude from either side of the main frame. After a few outings, I noticed that both antennas were constantly folded back against the side of the frame spacer. This caused me some concern about possible radio reception issues since carbon fiber can block 2.4GHz signals. I was also worried about eventually damaging the thin wires from fatigue. I added small plastic tubes as a conduit to protect the antennas and keep them properly oriented.
Adding the antenna tubes required me to remove the bottom frame deck. I enlarged the antenna exit holes (very carefully) on the frame spacer using a file. Then, I tacked the tubes into place using thick CA glue and reattached the bottom plate. The tubes have been holding up well thus far.
Flying the R130
The R130 can use 3-cell or 4-cell LiPo batteries. I have been flying with Hyperion 3-cell 900 mAh and Lumenier 4-cell 460 mAh packs. Both of these batteries come with XT-30 connectors, which match the integrated connector on the ESC. Both batteries also fit well on the stock battery mount. I just have to be sure to secure the wires so that they do not foul the props.
Obviously, the 4-cell batteries provide more punch and more speed. It's really a silly amount of power. When you jam the throttle, the R130 darts around like a hummingbird and sounds like a Hollywood spaceship. Typical flights are a little under 3 minutes.
This quad is no slouch with the 3-cell batteries either. I choose the 3-cell option when I'm flying in a smaller area or I just want to practice aerobatics. It's more than enough power for me. Plus I get the bonus of longer flight times…averaging somewhere between 5 and 6 minutes.
Small quads such as the R130 are difficult to fly via line of sight simply because it is tough to see which way they are pointing. LEDs on the front and rear help, but I still have to keep the quad close if I'm flying sans goggles. Line-of-sight is fun, but FPV is really the way to go.
I've been using my Immersion RC Transformer goggles to fly the R130 via FPV. Using the 200mW setting on the VTX works well for me at my usual flying site (a large RC club field). My only issue with the FPV system is that the image gets somewhat wavy at high throttle settings. In fact, it only seems to happen when using 4-cell batteries. The distortion isn't bad enough to significantly affect what I can see. It's mostly just an annoyance.
I thought the distortion might be due to unbalanced props, so I switched to Lumenier 3x3 3-bladed units. Using the Lumenier props helped reduce the waviness, but did not eradicate it. I can't tell any difference in flight performance between the different props.
Most of my flight time has been spent in Air mode. I feel like I'm getting very comfortable with it at this point. The default settings seem to have a lot of exponential control. That is, the controls are rather docile near neutral. But they become progressively more responsive as you near the stick limits. This lets you cruise around smoothly using the lower end of the control range. But you retain the authority to perform violent maneuvers when you jam the sticks.
I'm still using the default control set-up across the board. My plan is to try a few tweaks in Betaflight to make the controls slightly more responsive near neutral. That's the beauty of programmable FCs. You can define how you want your quad to perform.
Angle mode works well, with positive and immediate self-leveling. This mode may not allow aerobatics, but the R130 is still fast and maneuverable. Horizon mode ups the ante a bit more. You get the thrill of aerobatics with the safety net of self-leveling. It's a happy medium for those who are not quite ready to tackle Air mode.
I was a little unsure when I first received the R130. I had never heard of VIFLY before, so I had no idea what to expect in terms of quality. When you're dealing with a machine stuffed full of integrated parts, all of which all have to work together, there is little tolerance for subpar components or workmanship.
Now that I've had an opportunity to configure the R130 and log plenty of flight time, I can confidently say that it's a well-engineered and well-built machine. It isn't perfect. The manual could use more clarity and depth. The camera needs some attention too. After all, any FPV ship really deserves a distortion-free video feed. But neither of those things are deal-breakers.
Not only do the R130's parts work well together, they also work nicely with my Spektrum radio and Immersion RC goggles. At the end of the day, this is a budget-friendly package that delivers on its promises of speed and agility.
Terry is a freelance writer living in Buffalo, NY. Visit his website at TerryDunn.org and follow him on Twitter and Facebook. You can also hear Terry talk about RC hobbies as one of the hosts of the RC Roundtable podcast.