The LotusRC T380 QuadCopter (sold by RotorConcepts as the HPQ-1) is probably one of the most affordable ARF quadcopters in its size (1lb payload capacity). The ARF model (no radio, receiver, or battery) can often be found on eBay for under $250 and complete systems, like the HPQ-1, selling for $350-$400 range. The closest name brand model in the same size range is the Gaui 300X-S which typically runs around $400 for an ARF model. Is the T380 worth looking at or is this a case of “you get what you pay for”? Continue reading to see how we put it through its paces and what we thought of it.
The T380 is your basic quadcopter and uses standard 8A and 8B blades which can be found at most decent hobby stores. Given that the blades are the most common thing to break, its not a bad idea to stock up on a few of them. Rotor Concept also sells a set of “high performance” 3-blade props which they claim adds about 60% more payload capacity (up to 1.2 pounds).
- Aircraft size – 16″ x 16″ x 5.5″
- Maximum size w/rotors – 24.2″ x 24.2″ x 5,5″
- Motor to motor – 16″ (diagonal distance between two motor centers)
- Propellers – 8 inch (2 clockwise/2 counterclockwise) props
- Battery – Standard 1P LiPo 3S 2200MAh 20C
- Aircraft weight – 15oz (without battery, receiver, applicable payload)
- Takeoff weight – 21.5oz (with 3S 2200MAh 1P battery, receiver)
- Recommended payload – 13oz or less
- Maximum takeoff weight – 45.8oz
- Flight distance – Within visible area (recommended)
- Flight time – 18-25 minutes using 3S 2200mAh 1P battery, receiver
Rotor Concept takes the base T380 and adds the following as the HPQ-1 package:
- Metal Case
- 2pc. Li-Po Battery
- Camera Mount
- Balance Charger
- 6-channel radio controller (2.4GHz spread spectrum)
If you buy the Almost-Ready-To-Fly kit you will need to install the receiver and bind it to your transmitter. As for the quad itself, the only thing you will need to do is to secure the props. Absolutely, under no conditions, should you attempt to spin up the props without first using some LocTite on the prop shaft threads and tighten down the rotor caps and then letting them dry good. If you do not do this last step, its is very likely that as soon as you spin up the props the prop caps will come loose and go flying, hopefully someplace that you can find them.
I have said this many times in the past, if you have not flown a helicopter or quad before (an AR Drone does not count), then you should have someone do your first flight for you to help get it all trimmed up. If you don’t have anyone available, then you need to take it very easy to make sure it is going to fly well.
Be sure and read the manual carefully and put the blades on in the right locations or things will go horribly wrong very quickly.
Before taking off, install the battery and check your front/back balance as best you can. I do this by sitting the copter on a pencil with the pencil right in the middle of the landing gear arms. The more balanced it is, the more control in the sky you will have.
If you think you are ready for your first flight, turn on your transmitter with the throttle control all the way down. Next, plug in the battery on the copter while the copter is on a flat, level surface.
To get started, give the copter just a little throttle, just enough to get the blades spinning. then slowly add a little throttle while watching the copter carefully. If you see the copter start to tip forward or back, adjust the forward/back pitch trim to keep it from tilting. The same thing applies if the copter is tilting left or right, just use the trim controls to balance it out.
When you think you have it dialed in as best you can, now its pucker-time. Hopefully you are someplace that has a decent amount of open space because things can get hairy quickly if you don’t have much experience. The T380 is going to require constant controller input although much less than a helicopter so just be prepared to mentally control the left/right and forward/back movement to keep it hovering. Give it some throttle and get it about 4-5′ off the ground. Odds are you will find that you are having to hold the controller somewhere off-center, use the trim controls to fine tune things and get it stable.
The T380 is a very light chassis so getting things balanced is pretty critical. Even a half inch difference in the battery placement can have a huge impact. I also found that the props, especially the high performance 3-blade props needed balancing. With the weight balanced well and the props balanced, the T380 flies pretty nice and is very forgiving. Once you get really proficient at flying it, you can flip off the exponential controls and really open it up for some fast action.
I was told by Rotor Concept that the copter had a barometric altitude hold function but you sure could have fooled me. I ended up calling them and asked about it. What they told me was that you need to fly it around for about a minute, then get up to 15-20 feet and if you release the throttle for 2 seconds, it should then hold altitude. Compare this to more expensive copters that can do altitude hold at 1-2′ above the ground.
If you plan to mount a camera like a GoPro, the optional camera mount will work well although you may end up with a weird vibration (the Jello effect) in the video.The following video shows what this effect looks like:
To get good looking video, you need to minimize vibrations that are getting to the camera and the easiest way to do this is to balance the props. Just balancing the props did a very good job of getting rid of the jello effect. You can see how much cleaner the video is in this next video:
As you can see, the difference is quite dramatic although there is still a trace of wobble in the video. This is most likely still caused by unbalanced props as I did a very quick balance job with nothing more than a screwdriver and some packing tape. I will bet that when I get a good prop balancer tool that I can balance them even better and practically remove the last of the wobble.
The LotusRC T380 QuadCopter is currently what I would consider to be a good compromise between functionality and price point. As the overseas manufacturers continue to improve their gyros and sensors, we will see better and better systems at low prices like this. If you want something that is a little cheaper and don’t plan on hauling cameras or FPV gear, the BLADE mQX RTF might be a better choice at under $170 although the mQX is a bit smaller than the T380.
Although I haven’t found a good flight simulator for learning how to fly a quadcopter, I highly recommend using a simulator such as Real Flight or ClearView and practice with helicopters like an Align 450. The controls are identical to flying a quad so if you can fly a heli, you can easily fly a quad. In fact, if you are wanting to get into flying helis, a quad like the T380 is an excellent way to learn how to fly a heli since a quad is much more forgiving and the controls are the same.
The LotusRC T380 is a decent starter quad and while I am a bit concerned that any warranty issues since they are overseas and do not have a real distributor in the US, only time will tell if it will hold up under regular use.