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Blade 550 X Pro Series Kit
I get all warm and fuzzy about a Blade helicopter
Text, photos and video by Tom Hintz
Posted – 1-3-2014
As anyone around me knows I swore off Blade helicopters a while ago - particularly the 300 and under sizes – as they seemed to work best as parts selling machines. But more recently I began hearing about the new Blade Pro series including rumors of solid design and manufacture along with great flight characteristics. On my next trip to my local HobbyTown I had the opportunity to see a real live Blade 550 X Pro Series and not-so-long-story short, I bought a Blade 550 X Pro Series Kit.
The Blade 550 X Pro Series has a flying weight of: 7.39–7.72-lbs (3.35–3.50 kg), is 14.8-in (375mm) tall, 8.62 in (219mm) -wide and 44.5-in (1130mm) long. It sports carbon fiber frame sides and CNC-machined aluminum flybarless head block and swash plate. The head is supported by a 10mm steel main shaft that runs in three large ball bearings. This kit came with a set of Revolution® 550mm carbon fiber main blades that produce an overall main rotor diameter of 49.0-in (1245mm).
The tail rotor is torque-tube driven through tough bevel gears with a nicely machined aluminum rear case at the end of the aluminum tail boom. The tail rotor is controlled through a dual-point tail pitch slider and balanced tail grips. The tail rotor has an overall diameter of 9.45 in (240mm).
The Blade 550 X Pro Series uses a 6S 5000mAh 30C Li-Po battery (approximate 4-minute flight times) controlled by a Castle Phoenix Edge HV 120 ESC that is included in this kit. The kit also comes with an E-flite 10-Amp BEC but I swapped that out for a 20-amp Castle BEC (battery elimination circuit) to make sure that the servos and receiver are fed all they might need. For a motor you get an E-flite® Heli 550, 1360Kv brushless outrunner motor that turns a 14T pinion and a 169-tooth main gear for a final gear ratio of 12.07 to 1. That means that swinging the 550m blades you get in the kit is not a problem.
Where most helicopters in this size use two main shaft bearings the Blade 550 X Pro Series adds a third below the drive and autorotation gears. That third bearing adds a bunch of support to fight the deflections pinion gear and engine forces are trying to inflict. Three bearings mean longer shaft and bearing lives and smoother overall operation.
I like that the torque tube tail rotor drive is supported by two ball bearings running inside individual rubber dampeners. The tail rotor blade grips are all aluminum as is most of that mechanism. It also has lots of ball bearings to keep the tail control smooth and bid-free.
Although the assembly of the Blade 550 X Pro Series went smoothly for the most part there were a couple minor binds along the way. Generally the instructions are helpful and not too hard to understand. There are a few places where better illustrations would help but overall, not bad at all considering what some manufacturers laughingly call “instructions” these days.
I used the Spektrum H6040 cyclic and H6080G tail servos as recommended (and included in the combo kit #BLH5525C) yet had to file all of the cyclic openings to get the servos into position. I found that filing a slight ramp on the bottom of the servo opening allowed me to get it rotated enough to come through and get seated.
Other than these small exceptions assembling the Blade 550 X Pro Series went smoothly and by the end of the second day I had it complete and set up, including the BeastX AR7200BX receiver that I also bought separately. I should note that all of the Castle ESC’s I have used come programmed in airplane mode which doesn’t sound bad until you flip off the throttle hold and the motor tries to jump right to full RPM. Using the free Castle Link software you can change that to helicopter mode which spools the rotor up rather than try to go to full speed all at once. I love Castle products but will never understand the frustrating logic of making you send for the free link you need to get this control connected to the free software. You can order it on line using a code on the card that comes with the speed control and after you go through all of the pages of information they require to get the free link, they in fact will send a free link to you. Hobby shops often sell this link with a matching USB cord so I bought an extra setup just to be sure I don’t have to do the on line forms for a free one later on. I
had a swash plate leveling tool for my Align 550E and it fit the main shaft of the Blade 550 X Pro Series so that helped get the swash (also 120-degree like my Align) set up correctly. I looked but could not find a swash leveling tool for the Blade 550 X Pro Series in any of their parts listings.
Later on the second day I was able to get the Blade 550 X Pro Series out in the yard for simple hover tests. I had to add three clicks of forward and two right in the AR7200BX to get the Blade 550 X Pro Series hovering cleanly. I had set the collective limits to 12 degrees positive and negative and the Blade 550 X Pro Series seems to like that.
After a week of rain and cold I was finally able to get the Blade 550 X Pro Series out to our flying field. Though it was windy the Blade 550 X Pro Series flew nicely. It certainly does have enough power and for the rookie-level maneuvers I do it wasn’t using much of it at all.
There is one little kink in the Blade 550 X Pro Series flight suit. It is noticeably taller than my T-Rex 550E PRO DFC including the landing gear and the body. On the day I flew the Blade 550 X Pro Series for the first time we had sizeable winds and I was having no problem landing my the T-Rex 550E PRO DFC with its side to the wind. On the second flight the Blade 550 X Pro Series landed and was spooling down when a gust of wind simply flipped it over. Worse despite there being no motor power behind the blades and their speed was way down one of them got into the tail boom denting that and the blade was separated a few inches up from the rotor head. I spent $77.99 for a blade set and $13.99 for a package with two tail boom tubes. Not bad in terms of a helicopter crash but a little disappointing from a simple no-power roll-over.
The only real problem I had with the Blade 550 X Pro Series was when I asked the local hobby store for spare parts. They said that it is a new helicopter and they didn’t know what parts to stock yet and that “most of them were back ordered anyway”. He did say that he could order them but so can I and I don’t have to run back to the hobby shop (26 miles round trip for me) to get them. Not surprisingly horizonhobby.com had virtually all of the parts in stock (that same evening) so while local support may leave you wanting parts apparently can be had on line easily.
Having to open the servo mounts was more annoying than a real problem. Also, the cowl fits CLOSELY to the airframe and can be a chore to put on when you first do it. I also managed to snap of one of the ultra-thin body mounts somehow during assembly. I’d like to see a bit more material there to make them a little tougher. I wound up cutting the cowl back on one side as I mounted the ESC on the outside of the frame to make wiring easier ad expose it to more air.
The Blade 550 X Pro Series is a definite step up for Blade and one that should be considered by those wanting a solid larger helicopter that flies nicely yet is capable of all the 3D antics you can come up with. It assembles easily, adjusts (initial and routine) just as easily and seems to hold the setup well through dozens of flights. Though I have flown the Blade 550 X Pro Series a few dozen times now it never needed tweaking of its adjustments. Being so consistent is a good thing for those of us learning to fly these things!
Performance in the air is very good also. I am not a pro 3D pilot but neither are many who are looking to move into a larger, more capable helicopter. The Blade 550 X Pro Series is stable and responds well to dual rates and expo settings that tame it down to give you time to learn what it likes in terms of control inputs. Then as you get more comfortable reduce the dual rates ad expo and the Blade 550 X Pro Series reacts crisply and predictably to your inputs.
The only real downside I have encountered with the Blade 550 X Pro Series is its height as it stands on the ground. On windy days you really have to pay attention as all of that fuselage so high in the air makes the Blade 550 X Pro Series a bit tippy. I flew the Blade 550 X Pro Series and my T-Rex 550E PRO DFC on the same day within minutes of each other and the Align’s lower profile and stance handled the wind much better. However, once you get into the air the Blade 550 X Pro Series handles the wind with the best of them.
Though Blade is known for price-saving helicopters this venture into a true kit, pro level machine is not overly cheap. I paid $539.00 for the Blade 550 X Pro Series kit (12-8-2013) that comes without servos, receiver or gyro. I added a Spektrum AR7200BX BeastX-equipped receiver for $229.00, 3 Spektrum H6040 cyclic servos for $209.97 ($69.99ea) and one Spektrum H6080G tail servo for $64.99 and a Castle BEC PRO V2 for $38.99 (my choice, the kit comes with a 10Amp E-Flite BEC) for a total (no battery packs) of $1442.94. Blade does offer a “combo” that includes the same AR7200BX and Spektrum servos that I used but with E-Flite ESC and BEC that I have seen selling for $899.99 (12-20-2013). When I purchased my Blade 550 X Pro Series the combo kit was not available locally and showed as out of stock on line when I checked.
Overall, I like the Blade 550 X Pro Series, enjoy flying it and think it is a worthy helicopter for those moving up to a bigger model. It also will appeal to full-on 3D pilots who are forced to tear the sky up with budget restrictions somewhere this side of a full-blown Goblin. So, if you are looking for a 550-class helicopter, check out the Blade 550 X Pro Series before you make your final decision.
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