Voyager E - Scale Project


The Voyager E has been around since 2000 and when I was looking at getting my first outdoor heli, was high on my list as possible's. However when it was first introduced you had to buy the helicopter with its own speed controller and motor which made it very expensive, also it became common knowledge that the brushed motor simply required replacing after a short number of flights. It was due to these reasons that I opted for an Eco 8. However, In latter years JR gave potential owners the option to purchase just the helicopter, which is great if you are going straight for a brushless upgrade as you no longer have a brand new motor and controller that is redundant with a limited second hand market. They also brought out a range of scale GRP bodies for the VE in 2002, one of which is one of my favorite helicopters, the Eurocopter AS350 so I became interested in the VE again and in January 2004 picked up a second hand VE to form the basis of this project.

The helicopter was supplied with no radio but with the stock motor and a Scorpion body. Now the VE can accept standard or mini servos, and as I was hoping to put this into a GRP body, I wanted to keep the weight down. I opted for the SD200 servos from Ripmax as they work well in the Eco 8, however I found that these servos were too small to fit in the adaptor plates JR supply. The only way to resolve this was to have some ali plates made to order, however although these work well, there is still room for improvement. Personally like the Eco 8 for its radio installation over the VE, at least using the stock frames, with the aftermarket 3rd party carbon upgrades available it looks like this this would provide better options for equipment location.

The only retailer that had one of the AS350 bodies was Midland Helicopters. I negotiated a deal with Trevor and a couple of days later postie was knocking on my door with a big box ! The quality of the kit is amazing, and includes all the hardware including new scale undercarriage. The instructions are in Japanese, but the pictures are clear so assembly is straight forward.

The other refinement was a new brushless motor and controller. After a lot of research I opted for a Hacker C40 8L with a Hacker 40-3 OPTO controller. I took advantage of the good exchange rate between the pound and the dollar and ordered the items from Aircraft World in Japan (American owned company ). The order was received in just four days ! However this ESC has a very abrupt startup, and I opted to replace this with a second hand Kontronics Beat ESC, which has one of the best soft starts and spool-ups I've seen.

So now I had the mechanics and with the long summer evenings had several opportunities to prove them and get the trimming settings sorted. I must admit that the high head speed is somewhat daunting ! Right now on with the project.

The full sized helicopter

I was going to base the model on Cambridge Air supports AS355 and spent a day with them, taking lots of research photos, however as the JR body was of a single engined AS350 and not the twin engined AS355 I opted to look for a suitable alternative. I liked the idea of a police helicopter as you can detail them with lots of additional items like spot lamps etc, so I spent three days trawling the internet for a suitable helicopter with an easy to see paint scheme. The one I came up with was N216LA used by the LAPD, and images were sent off to a guy called Mike Drinkhill who paints a lot of the the models supplied by Motors and Rotors and a quote was obtained. However as he was "op north" and I am "dune south" we never seemed to be able to make the arrangements to hand over the model for painting, so the months passed

June 2004 - The painting begins

I decided enough was enough and I would make the journey "up north" to hand over the model, so I phoned Mike, only to find that he no longer does airbrushing due to the poor return he gets for all the time it takes. This was a knock back as I hadn't intended to take on the task myself as I didn't have the equipment and most of my attempts to spray using aerosols were terrible. However Mike assured me that using paints from any motor factor and the correct masking tape I should be able to get a good result.

So off to Halfords I toddled and came back with half a dozen cans of paint that closely matched the colours I needed. I also purchased some filler and several sheets of different grade 'Wet n Dry'. I then set about the task of preparing the body by cleaning up the seam. This wasn't too bad, but I was a little over zealous with the minidrill and had to apply a little more filler than I intended. By the end of the day I had managed to get the body in a state for the first coat of primer. The conditions were not brilliant for spraying (warm but breezy) but the coat went on OK. I retired to bed and left the body downstairs for the primer to dry overnight.

The next day the primer was rubbed down and the areas that needed attention seen to. A little more filler here and there, a quick rub down with some more wet n dry and on with the second coat of primer. The next day the primer was flattened down with some 400 grade and the results was a nice base on which to apply the paint. The first colour was the silver, which was applied to the front section,and the rear cabin area on the boom section of the body and tail fin. Two coats were applied, having let the first coat dry.

Then it was on to the masking, now the fun starts! Using 4mm 3M lining tape the design was drawn on the rear section of the body This took several hours and several attempts to get the curves to be as near correct as possible, you will never get both sides exactly the same, but they are as near as damn it as the eye can see ! The tail section was then masked and two coats of dark blue applied, this being left to dry whilst the first coat of dark blue was applied to the main body. This was left for 24 hours before being flattened off and the top coat applied.

Having masked off the dark blue area, the light blue area was then masked and prepared for painting. This again was left for 24 hrs for the paint to dry before the full un-masking ceremony. The result was really good apart from one small area where the tape had lifted, but I can live with that. I then contacted a local company (Retail Grapixs) and had the vinal letters cut to produce the registration mark and LAPD logo all for £7 !!

The lettering was laid up on the model and then the weather turned. It was so windy that there was no way I could apply the lacquer. The next day the wind had dropped and I was able to apply two coats of clear lacquer. The transformation was amazing, the deep shine and the effect on the pearecent and metallic paint really transformed the body.

Overall I am pleased with my efforts. Yes there are one or two areas where I wish I had a better result, but given the tools I had and the fact that this is the first time I've done anything like this, I'm giving myself a well deserved pat on the back !

Fitting the body

I then fitted the body to the mechanics and installed the lighting module. I used 2 PIC chips, one programmed as the switch, the other to sequence the LEDs. Everything was ready for a test flight and on one calm evening I charged the batteries and took the VE to the garden. It was evident that something wasn't right and shortly after, whilst spooling up the tail rotor was seen to slip and on spooling down the tail rotor shaft came loose. Fortunately there was nothing more than a damaged bearing, which was replaced. The reason the shaft came out was that I had put it back in the wrong way round - a simple enough mistake to make. I also noticed that the rudder servo had became detached and I had to remove the body again to rectify this. So I too the opportunity to re-do the layout and soldered the servo extension cables rather than rely on the plugs.

A day later I had everything ready and the weather was ideal for a second flight trial. The heli rose into the air and I found the tail a tad twitchy, so I landed again and made a few adjustments. As you have to remove the complete tail box each time the body was fitted, I expected to have to make several adjustments. Spooled up again and as the heli got about 2 foot off the ground I found the tail didn't respond and then all of a sudden the tail let rip and the heli dropped like a stone with bits of fibre glass flying into the air !

On close inspection I found that the modified ball link on the tail pitch slider had pulled out of the plastic slider nd thus all tail control was lost. The boom had an 8 inch split along the top and a few cracks near the fin. Emotions ran through me, from anger to wanting to cry !!!

The body was repaired and re-sprayed. I've also fitted an upgraded pitch slider on the tail, made from a combination of stock VE parts and an Eco 8 ali slider. The Aluminium upgrade part for the Eco 8 only cost £9.99 and its a simple matter of opening out the plastic ball link so the brass sleeve from the Eco 8 part can be screwed into it.

The VE is quite a handful to fly with its high head speed, and the additional weight of the body, the poor old PG-03 rate gyro has its work cut out. I was going to install a heading hold gyro but funds ran out and I've since found myself in a position of offering the VE for sale. The problem is that now there are loads more newer helicopters like the T-Rex that it has effectively made the VE obsolete. I certainly would not recover my investment in the project..

The Voyager E as purchased. Note the K&N paddels and front half of the Scorpion body, which along with the stock undercarriage was sold to cover the cost of the AS350 body shown below

The full size helicopter. LAPD's N216LA. I must admit that even after lots of e-mails and even some help from a guy who's uncle worked for the Air Support Unit I received no information on the helicopters history.

Having rubbed down and filled the gaps in the joins, the three sections were primed, sanded and then top coat of primer applied.

The Masking and painting begins. I started with the tail section as it was the smallest, and wouldn't be too much of a problem to fix if it all went pear shaped

The three sections all ready for the lacquer. Below the body complete and ready for detailing