[WattAge Sporty]I got frustrated crashing the Formosa over and over.  It's fairly fast and heavy, so whenever it crashed, it broke lots of body parts and I had to give up another entire evening to epoxying it all back together.  No fun.

I wanted something lighter, something that could take a hard landing -- or an engine or radio failure and subsequent spin-and-crash -- without destroying itself.

Besides, I love small things ... small cameras, computers, cars, whatever.  They just appeal to me aesthetically.

I'd been ogling the WattAge Hawk for its lovely looks and small size, but by all accounts it's a very fast plane.  I don't want raw speed; I do want fairly quick handling and good aerobatic capabilities.

Then in one of the local hobby shops, I saw another WattAge plane that was similar to the Hawk, but with slightly longer, less swept wings, a foam fuselage (instead of plastic), and a smaller engine.  The Sporty looked like it might be just the ticket (and my husband talked me into buying it after I went home despondant from another Formosa-crashing day).


The kit seemed very well made, a cut above the GWS kits I'm used to or the only other WattAge kit I've seen, the Mini Blue Max.  The manual was clear and well written, with lots of photos.

Mostly, the plane went together in an evening, but I did hit some snags.  The instructions don't mention hinges at all: apparently they expect the control horns to just push on the foam and make the foam bend.  Which it doesn't, particularly.  Ew!  I tried scoring the foam then trying to bend/crack it, but didn't have much success with that either.  Forget about all that and just cut the control surfaces off and use full-length tape.  Scotch tape seems to work fine (but of course I'm keeping an eye on it).

Finding a place to put servos and receiver so they don't all collide was quite a challenge.  Maybe the servos that WattAge expects are smaller than the GWS Pico and Hitec HS55 servos I had.  In fact, the HS-55 was completely out -- it was too tall for the aileron, and too wide to fit two side by side in the cutout in the fuselage (though that could probably be widened), so I used GWS Picos.

[Sporty, underside]As it happens, I built it for aileron and elevator only.  It looks like it will be easy to add rudder later, but at first I was aiming at minimizing weight, and I don't use rudder much except on takeoff, and figured I could do without it there.  When I get to the point where I'm doing hammerheads and slow rolls, I can add rudder.

The battery tray is irritating.  It's designed only for the special WattAge batteries that no one carries (and they're somewhat heavy anyway, now that I have a charger that can do lithium, and I've had some really bad experiences with NiMH) and requires modification to use standard lithium cells.  But it's not easy to modify, being molded plastic, and once you do, it no longer has any structural strength.  I ended up building a sort of a hammock of packing tape slung between the two sides of the battery cradle, and it took a while to do that.  I wish they'd just used foam (and I'll probably try to replace it with some sort of foam piece eventually).

I worried about the aileron design.  The WattAge instructions say to hinge the ailerons from the bottom, but their aileron wires lay along the top of the aileron.  So the aileron and the aileron wire are not pivoting around the same axis.  This means that you can't glue the wire into the foam of the aileron; the wire slides as the aileron pivots.  This seemed like a bad design, which allowed for a lot of play in the ailerons.  But I built it as designed (more on that later).

The biggest problem was the wheels.  WattAge supplies a couple of funky wheels plus wheel centers.  The wheel centers (which are supposed to hold the wheels onto the wires) slip easily onto the wires.  Wait, how are these supposed to hold anything on when they're loose to begin with?  In fact, if you press them on, they sort of stick ... but not really, it's still fairly easy to pull them out.  I pressed them on as hard as I could, but they fell off on the first takeoff roll, before the plane even got off the ground.

No problem, you say, just buy a set of wheels and collars and stick them on?  Well, the problem is that the outer bends in the WattAge landing gear are so incredibly short that no wheel sold anywhere will actually slip on and still leave room for even the narrowest retainer.  I'm currently using some GWS wheels, but even their narrow hub is too wide, so I had to take a Dremel and sand them down, which didn't work all that well.  I'm still working on a better solution.  I found a set of Firebird landing gear in the weeds downwind of the landing field, with some lovely small foam wheels attached; the center section is too wide to fit in the WattAge mounting slot, I cut a section out of the center between the wheels, bent them a little more, and jammed the two sides in.  Surprisingly, that actually works.  I'd try just bending a new wire, but I'm not confident of my ability to bend wire that thick to a shape precise enough to fit into the WattAge motor mount.

(Ironically, I have since removed the wheels entirely, since I'm now mostly flying at grass fields.  I installed a skidplate of blue fanfold foam on the belly, protecting the battery and held in by the rubber bands, and that works nicely.  Sometimes the prop catches in the grass, but the plane's light enough that I haven't lost a prop to this yet.  Hand launching was nerve wracking the first few times, but works okay now.)

[Sporty, ready to fly]So that's a pain.  But aside from those issues, the kit went together nicely and makes a lovely little compact airplane.  The stock stickers aren't bad (you have to cut them out yourself, but they're easier to cut than the ones in the Blue Max kit) but I don't like the look of white styrofoam, and I wanted colors that might be more visible from a distance, so I took some Tamiya spray paint to it.  The underside of the wing has some red on it (so I can tell normal from inverted) and I'll probably paint the upper side of one of the wingtips (since I had trouble telling coming from going).  I did use a couple of the stickers, for the canopy and cowling.

Flying weight is 9 oz, with everything including a two servos and a 1300mAh two-cell lipo pack.


The manual is very clear about control throws, and includes a dire warning not to set the elevator throw to exceed their recommendations since the Sporty is so short and therefore will be too sensitive.  So I set the elevator to their recommended "Test flying" setting, and ailerons closer to "Normal flying".

That was probably backwards.  I've ended up turning down the aileron throw a lot -- down to 70% for learning the plane.  I initially wanted more elevator throw than the "Test Flying" setting gave me, so I changed it to the "Normal" setting, and that was too much so I adjusted it back down at the transmitter.

[Sporty taking off]With the stock 280 engine, the Sporty has enough power to get off the ground and fly reasonably, but not a lot extra.  But it's very quick and responsive -- roll and pitch changes happen extremely quickly.  While getting used to the plane (and before I turned the ailerons down to 70%) I got a lot of "Did you do that intentionally?" from Dave (with a "No" from me, usually).

The quickness makes it easy to get into trouble, if you're a rusty flier like I am; but it's also easy to get out of trouble, as long as you can see the plane.  Unfortunately, flying at Rancho San Antonio, it's common to get the plane flying out of sight below the hilltop, and things happen fast with the Sporty, so I had quite a few crashes due to that.

After a nose-in dive cracked the engine's gearbox, I was persuaded to upgrade to the 370 motor (an upgrade even suggested by the manual) by the fact that the local hobby shop had one but didn't have the 280 gearbox.  With the 370, the Sporty has plenty of power; unfortunately, it's also about .6 oz heavier, so its slow speed performance is hurt, and I get the impression that the evil snap roll tendencies (see below) are worse with the 370.

Aerobatics: The Sporty flicks into a roll at the mere suggestion of aileron input, and it's also great at abrupt pitch maneuvers.  So rolls, immelmans, split-esses and similar maneuvers are a breeze (but see below).  I suspect it could knife-edge if it had rudder (and a capable pilot) and I'm confident that inverted flight would be no problem, though I haven't gotten there yet.  Looping is surprisingly more difficult: it's hard not to give some aileron input during a tight loop and have the plane spiral off in some unexpected direction, or tip-stall and spin, which can also happen from engine torque.  I've managed big gentle loops but not small tight loops.

Evil Tendencies: The biggest problem, though, is that the plane has a tendency to snap-roll into a spin, especially on tight left turns -- say, when rolling left into a split-ess.  Split-esses to the right work beautifully, but most times when I try one to the left -- at full throttle, half throttle, gliding -- I end up in a spin, can't recover and I spin all the way to the ground, breaking the fuselage, again.

One theory was that aileron flutter is at fault.  I pulled off the aileron hinge tape, flipped the ailerons over (so now they're hinged from the top), drilled new holes for the aileron wires then epoxied the wires in place.  This made a mess of my nice asymmetrical paint job and the strips which were masked by the hinge tape during painting, but flying characteristics are more important.

But, alas, even with the non-fluttery ailerons, the plane still had evil snap-roll habits.  Flying at Baylands on a windy day after the aileron surgery, I'd be flying along level at half to three-quarters throttle, a wind gust would hit the plane, and it would snap into a spin.  I got better at recovering from these, but if the plane is low, it means another crash (and the nose breaks off again!)

All I can figure is that the Sporty is meant for pylon racing type flying: fly around in circles at full throttle, making sharp turns but not doing much else, and don't ever reduce throttle.  And stay away from wind.

I guess some people like that type of flying, but it doesn't really fit what I'm looking for, so I've retired the Sporty for now and will look elsewhere for a medium-speed small aerobatic plane.

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