F3J models have been rapidly developing in the last 5 to 6 years, perhaps as much if not more so than many other F3X classes. The advances made have enabled the latest generation of F3J planes to launch faster, launch higher, range further and float better than previous generations. New performance levels have been reached by a combination of aerodynamic research and advances in composite materials and constructional techniques. Modern F3J planes are larger in span, lighter in weight and stronger than ever before. Wings now feature proprietary transitional airfoil sections based on chord location, span wise flow and local Re numbers for the best lift distribution, lower drag and optimum handling characteristics. Composite technology and new building techniques have allowed manufacturers to utilise spread tow carbon and pre-preg high modulus spars caps for wings and light stiff honeycomb lay-ups for fuselages.
Latest designs are now around 3.7m in span compared to the 3.3m they were just 5 or 6 years ago. Weights have come down from 2200g to 2000g and under despite larger spans and stiffer structures. L/D and L3/2/D ratios are now exceptional giving excellent minimum sink characteristics for marginal conditions, fantastic range in active cycling skies and good penetration (with ballast) in wind.
NAN models Xplorer
The most successful model in recent years with a World and two European championships under its belt and numerous other major contest wins. Initially available in a 3.5m span and with a choice of X-tail or V-tail configurations at competitive prices it’s popularity was assured. When a number of top pilots started to use it, particularly Benedikt Feigl who used it to win the 2008 World Championship in Turkey, other top pilots followed and the rest is history. By popular demand a 3.8m version appeared shortly afterwards and this has also gone on to great success and is in keeping with what the NAN Xplorer is all about – top performance, top handling and competitive pricing. The latest development is a 4m version which is more of an acquired taste and not so widely used but it’s smaller spanned siblings continue to pick up major wins all over the world. You can be assured the Xplorer still stands a very good chance of winning the World Championships again this year in South Africa despite some newly developed rivals having just been released.
Samba Pike Perfect
The plane that started the ‘one model for all conditions’ trend that is now standard practice. Designed by Philip Kolb and first released by Samba in 2006, the 3.55m Perfect really raised the bar in all aspects of performance and was far in advance of many of the models available at the time. As a result, it won the 2006 World Championship in the hands of Australian David Hobby and went on to win a lot of major contests for a number of years afterwards as top pilots favoured the Kolb design. Not least Philip Kolb himself who won may Eurotour events and won the overall Eurotour championship title a number of years running with it. For several years the Perfect was dominant and exhibited a performance advantage over many of the existing models at the time but is still capable of winning major contests today. It’s unlikely a Perfect will feature much in the World Champ fly-offs as key Samba pilots will have moved to the new Pike Perfection and others will have migrated to the E.T or Xplorer.
Samba Pike Perfect E.T
A development of the original 3.55m model was introduced in early 2009 and features new tip panels that take the span up to 3.78m and a larger rudder as a result. E.T standing for ‘Extended Tip”. The rest is identical to its smaller sibling. The result is a model that ranges even further and can hang better in marginal conditions which is exactly what the maths suggest. It has gained great popularity with a number of top pilots and has won numerous contests all over the world including a podium position at the 2010 World Championships in France. Still a popular choice and capable of upsetting the form book at this years Worlds.
Vladimirs Models Supra
What can one say about the Supra? It is a landmark in modern F3j design. Mark Drela originally designed it for home construction and vac-bagging but it’s full performance and popularity was only realised when Vladimirs Models from the Ukraine took it and made it a hollow composite ARTF option. The first model to feature transitional airfoils (thanks to Mark Drela’s own Xfoil design algorithm) and some unique thinking lead to a very different looking model but with fantastic performance. The Supra is known for big fast launches, wing flex and light weight and has been the choice of many top pilots, not least Joe Wurts, but for some reason it has never really caught on in Europe. It is extremely popular in the USA but one could call it the ‘Stirling Moss’ of the F3j world – i.e the best plane never to have won a world championship. It combines light weight with good penetration and can often fly unballasted in strong winds when others are nearly full. It’s tail lay-out, once a unique feature of the Supra, is now featured on the very latest models such as the Icon 2, Prestige and Pike Perfection proving the Supra was ahead of its time. Recently updated for the new F3j landing rules, the new competition and Pro versions feature a new fuselage to help it stick on the landing spot and new lighter tail feathers to help reduce it’s weight even further.
It may well remain the best plane never to have won a world championship as key pilots will no doubt choose the new Maxa instead for South Africa this year.
New kids on the block
Samba Pike Perfection
Samba have taken all the best bits from the Perfect and Perfect E.T and then shed a further 200-300g off the overall weight by utilising a new Supra style fuselage and a two piece wing. Interestingly the tail features a conventional elevator rather than the more traditional AMT. The new fuselage means the fin no longer has to be a structural element in order to support an all moving tail thus saving weight where it matters at the tail end. The 3.67m two piece wing does away with additional mass out towards the tips such as wing joiners, joiner boxes, end fences, servo connectors, incidence pegs etc and saves the weight of at least 2 micro servos per tip. Not only does this save a bit on the all up weight, but more importantly it should make the Perfection handle even sweeter than the Perfect does and show lift and circle a bit better. Airfoils are slightly modified versions of the Perfect. To date it has only been test flown but you can be sure it will be another winner from Samba and goes to this years World Championships in South Africa with some top pilots at the helm and stands a very good chance of success in the hands of 2 time F3j world champion David Hobby, Carl Strautins and several others who could take the title.
Vladimirs models Maxa
This is an extremely interesting model and is a collaboration between Joe Wurts (design) and Vladimirs Models. The Maxa really raises the bar in terms of light weight spread tow construction and is available as an all rounder at 3.5m or a dead air floater at 3.9m. Amazingly, both versions only weigh around 1750g thanks to Vladimirs own lightweight 40g/sq m spread tow material that he himself developed and produces. The design features airfoils by Joe Wurts and has gone back to a more traditional AMT rear end set up. Fuselage weight is still kept to a bare minimum however by clever use of a super light carbon d-box tailplane with carbon capped ribs and a built up rudder.
The Maxa will find favour with existing Supra pilots and will probably attract a lot of new converts as well. It stands a very real chance of winning the World Championship in the hands of Joe Wurts and will be one to watch.
Jaro Muller Egida
It’s fair to say that Jaro Muller still produces the best quality and the best detailed airframes available today, but the designs have been so different and whacky compared to the mainstream in the last few years that they have never caught on. Models such as the Espada and it’s later development the Espada RL have only been flown by one or two top pilots and predominantly the Slovakian team where they’re made. Despite the continuing top quality and some clever design and original thinking, the popularity of Jaro Muller models is a long way from the heady days of the ubiquitous Ellipse 2. Will the new Egida re-address the balance? No, but in the hands of top pilot Cody Remington it stands as good a chance as any of taking the world championship title in South Africa.
With a span of 3.6m, the two piece wing and V-tail help it achieve its low all-up-weight of 1750g. Interestingly it features both flap and aileron servos mounted at the wing roots to concentrate as much of the mass as possible around the centre. The wing is a more polyhedral design than any other and combined with a lot of the mass at the centre gives very sweet benign handling. Jaro Muller has again innovated in construction and has introduced some new lay-up techniques to make a strong, stiff and light weight model that again looks very different from it’s rivals.
Maple Leaf Icon 2
The Icon 2 is made in Arizona by Maple Leaf designs and won the last Senior and Junior World Championships first time out back in 2010. Admittedly in the hands of Daryl Perkins a bent stick could win, but even so the airframe is still an important consideration. It’s relatively new model compared to Xplorers,Supras and Pike Perfects but has been around for a number of years now. With influences from DP himself and 2002 World Champion Arend Borst from Canada, the Icon 2 was always going to be a winner. It is proving popular in the states as you can imagine, but does not really have a following anywhere else at the moment.
It takes all the attributes of a Supra and wraps them up in a new and improved package. The span is 3.81m for better L/D and minimum sink capabilities but features the same low drag high lift Drela AG40XX airfoils as found on the Supra. The tail end is very similar as well and utlises a large AMT set on a V-mount ahead of the fin for crisp precise control which leads to it’s tremendous reputation as a landing machine. Latest developments include built up carbon d-box tail-planes and rudders to help shed those final few grams and you can bet it will be in or around the winners circle this year in South Africa.
Nan Models Shadow
Pre-cursor to the Xplorer, the Shadow is still a competitive machine and offers great value for money. At a shade under 3.7m and weight around 2000g it is still right on the money although many top pilots now favour newer designs. Available in X-tail and V-tail configurations performance is excellent and it makes an ideal choice for those who want a very capable airframe at a very competitive price. Unfortunately, the Shadow is extremely unlikely to feature much at the Worlds.
Lubos Pazderka Aspire
A highly rated model produced by Lubos Pazderka in the Czech Republic. Quality is absolutely top notch and the Aspire is a model that has really caught on in America and to a lesser extent Europe. At 3.7m span and with a large choice of lay-ups it fits very well into the ‘one model for all conditions’ philosophy. Airfoils are by Andreas Herrig so it is a very efficient model renowned for it’s ability to cover sky and penetrate strong winds well. Light weight versions can hang really well but the very latest designs may have an edge. In the hands of Pavel Kristof it made the 2010 world champ fly-offs and there is no real reason it couldn’t go all the way in 2012, but without any major wins under its belt and lack of top pilots flying it there is only a slim chance we will see much of the Aspire on the podium in South Africa.
The Estonian made Tragi series have an enviable reputation for quality. The 801 Cluster at 3.6m span is a stiff light weight model featuring designer Heino Korvels own HX airfoil to great effect. Well known for good all round performance and with a choice of lay-ups, Tragi pilots have one of the best models available. With a balsa sandwich rather than the foam, repairs are easier making it an ideal choice for the 3-model rule in large Championships but with a lack of top pilots flying them it is unlikely the Tragi 801 will feature heavily where it matters in South Africa.
2K models Super Starlight
Produced by Karel Koudelka in the Czech Republic, the Super Starlight is the latest development of the Starlight series originally conceived and developed back in 2000 by Stefan Eder. It’s known as the Superstar in America where it’s quite popular but many other pilots have chosen to go with more mainstream options such as Xplores, Pikes etc. Traditionally campaigned by the Dutch, particularly Peter Zweers, it features the famous Drela AG40xx series of airfoils and is also 3.4m in span like the Supra. It offers good performance and a choice of X-tail or V-tail configurations at very competitive prices but unfortunately, unless the Dutch feature strongly in the 2012 World fly-offs, it is very unlikely to make much of a mark in South Africa.
The Prestige is a relatively new design with a no compromise approach by designer Philip Kolb. However it’s only an alternative choice to the mainstream models if you’re a German in Turkey or a member of the Turkish team! Yes, the Fineworx Prestige is a team turkey model and not meant for commercialisation. The new Pike Perfection will probably be as close as it gets. Featuring spread tow wings and fuselages with aerodynamics and overall design by Phlilp Kolb and Murat Esabitir the model is already a winner on the Eurotour and will almost definitely be in the South African fly-offs. At 3.6m span and inspiration drawn from the Supras fuselage the model combines very low weight with excellent L/D. Maybe this is the one that can finally take Philip all the way?
Designed by Stefan Eder, the Satori comes with a good pedigree and a big reputation for outstanding L/D ratio. The Satori is a conventional design and spans 3.6m. Aero-o-tec quality and technology ensures a very light stiff structure and it recently won Hollandglide 2011 in the hands of Stefan Eder himself in windy conditions. Is it good enough to win in South Africa? Yes. Will it win in South Africa? Probably not because although it has been gaining momentum in the last few years it unfortunately lacks the backing of top pilots who will be the only ones who can get it on top of the podium.
HKM High End
HKM were the producers of the much loved Sharon Pro. When all models were 3.3m, the Sharon Pro was a massive (at the time) 3.7m and was many pilots choice for a light wind floater before the ‘one model for all conditions’ design philosophy came into play with the Pike Perfect.
Sadly the 3.45m High End has never come close to rekindling the love and popularity for HKM planes and with the exception of German Tobias Lammlein, it remains a very under flown and under achieving plane. It will only be world class pilot Tobias who will be able to put it into the fly-offs and have any chance of a podium place in South Africa.
The old guard
Nan models Xpro
The 3.3m Xpro is still an extremely good model and with it’s HN 354 airfoil section it offers good launches, good L/D and excellent performance in windier conditions. Available in X-tail and V-tail formats, the Xpro won the 2007 European Championships in fine style. Although it’s now considered old school, it still has the capability to win contests given the right conditions and the right pilot. It would be fair to say the Xpro will not feature in South Africa but is still a great all round model.
Samba Pike Superior
Back in its day, the 3.3m Superior was the most popular choice and won a lot of major contests all over the world including the 2004 world championships and 2005 European championships. The HQ 2.5/8 was an excellent choice of airfoil section and it is still a top performing plane but modern designs and construction techniques now allow current models to extend the light weight/ minimum sink end of the spectrum much further than the Superior could ever hope for. Like the Xpro, a great all round plane that will not feature in South Africa.
Vladimirs models Graphite 2
The original Graphite was very popular and featured a composite fuselage and built up carbon D-box wings and tail with carbon capped ribs. The airfoil at the ribs was MH32 but it wasn’t quite the same MH32 profile where the Oracover sagged in between! Even so, it excellent strength and stiffness combined with light weight made it a very capable performer in all conditions where it gave big fast launches and good minimum sink characteristics.
The 3.2m Graphite 2 is a completely different model in many ways. It shares a similar fuselage with the original but it has had some distinct modifications. The wing and tail are now entirely composite and even though it is a great all round model, the Graphite 2 has never found the same love the original did. As a result it has been barely used in any major F3j contest and is guaranteed not to feature in South Africa with the advent of newer and better designs.