Monique van Rooyen
The smell, the sound, the tinkering, is what you will probably hear from most pilots when asked, why they prefer nitro engines over electric motors and, these are sometimes the very reasons why many others will tell you, they do not like nitro but, prefer electric instead. And then there’s Gas too, but I’ve never owned a Gas engine before, except for my car but, I don’t think that counts here. So, I can only speak from my experience with nitro and electric.
I’ve always owned nitro engine models, both planes and helicopters. Some of my flying buddies prefer electric and would argue that electrics are just so much better because they are cleaner, they don’t rattle screws loose, etc, etc. My argument was always that, nitro gives longer flight times and batteries are very expensive. And so we’ll debate these two power plants every time we go flying. If my nitro engine won’t start, I’ll hear; I don’t have that issue with my electric motor, I just plug in my battery and go fly. But, when they’re waiting for their batteries to finish charging, they hear; I don’t have to wait for batteries to charge, I just fill up the tank and off I go.
After a big crash with my nitro heli, I thought, maybe its time to give electric a try. So, I got myself a heli that I’ve been eyeing for a while, a GAUI X5 Formula. I started looking around for a well-priced kit, got some blades, some very expensive 6 cell batteries, which was kind of a weird feeling but, even weirder was buying an electric motor. It felt like I was stabbing the “nitro-motor-head child”, inside of me in the back. Nevertheless, I was very excited about the new journey and especially the new kit, I just like me some new kits to play with.
The build went basically the same as any other heli, except for the motor and ESC of course.
The setup wasn’t really different either, apart from not having a throttle servo but an ESC instead and, setting up the motor through the ESC instead of using RPM governor.
After the assembly and setup were done, it was time to take the heli for its first flight. The first thing I noticed was the simplicity of connecting the battery and fly straight away, no fussing with nitro fuel pumps or battling to get the motor running, it was just simply, plug and play. I spooled up the heli and it was business as usual, nothing really different though, I couldn’t do a full comparison of flight characteristics as my nitro heli was an Align 600N and apart from the make, the GAUI X5 is also smaller. After my first 5-minute flight I was hooked, thinking to myself, I’ll never go nitro again.
I never had to clean the heli, just maybe give it a dust-off now and again, never had to tune the motor either nor did I have to buy nitro fuel, which saved me on monthly costs. I was full-on electric mad, learning everything I could about electric motors, batteries, ESC’s, the whole nine yards, also becoming the electric guy in the nitro vs. electric arguments. However, the story doesn’t end here.
As the batteries got older, they also got weaker, which meant that the performance was degraded and now, I would have to pull out a stack of cash for new batteries, and because I had a very tight budget at the time, it also meant the heli got grounded very fast. Which would not have been the case if I only needed a jug of nitro. Then that “nitro-head child” inside of me, stuck out his head again saying; I told you so…
To sum-up my experience with nitro and electric, I never had issues with my nitro engines but, I kept them clean and looked after them well. The issues I did have with one of my nitro engines, started when I did a service on it, bearings, piston, and sleeve. It was probably a mistake made from my side, so I can’t blame the engine. After flying electric for a while, I started to miss nitro plus, nitro helis just sound more intimidating and aggressive when they are doing 3D maneuverers, where I just could not get that same kick from my electric which, always left me wanting more. During the conversion to electric, I also tried electric planes instead of nitro.
With electric planes my experience was a bit different, I found the electric motors to be a little bit torquier than its nitro counterpart and the throttle response was amazing, it has little to no lag. Flight times were a bit better as well, not better than nitro but, better than the electric heli. Sometimes you can get away with a smaller (less cells) battery and less MAH, which intern means less expensive and technically you can also do that with helis but, your flight times and performance will be affected. In the end, I went back to nitro because, I like the smell, the sound and the tinkering. Does this mean electric was no fun or that it was a bad decision, or that it has no place in this hobby?
Definitely not, and not everyone’s experiences are the same, what it does mean though, in the end it boils down to the type of person and pilot you are and I believe this “experiment” proved exactly that. Some pilots like working on their models and the authenticity of combustion engines while others prefer the simplicity of just plugging in a battery pack to go fly. The most important thing is that you enjoy it, no matter what you choose. Having the options of either nitro, gas, electric or even turbine, opens the hobby up to more people and variations of pilots, which intern means more interest in this beautiful hobby which is a big win in my books.