Bookmark and Share

The Blade 350 QX quadcopter is an almost-perfect example of its class. Three flight modes provide almost the perfect range from well behaved and safe to crazily agreeable to any insane set of control inputs you supply.

Blade 350 QX

Blade 350 QX

It is light, provides a reasonable flight time with the supplied battery, and you’re pretty well guaranteed to have more fun than you expect fooling around with it.

But that’s not all. The 350 is powerful enough, and stable enough, to carry a Go Pro camera and take awesome HD movies and stills from the air. You can spin the quadcopter in place and create a fabulous pan, or fly right up to something you otherwise can’t get to and take a closeup. Or just fly around and take a look at the countryside.

Everything you need is supplied in the package; the quadcopter, the hand controller, batteries, a charger (12 vdc… meant to hook to your car’s electrical system so you can recharge in the field), and you even get a set of extra blades. Which you are unlikely to need if you are even just a little bit careful. The manual is a little dense, and because of that you’ll have to read it carefully, but everything you need to know is actually in there within twelve pages.

I have a little quad, an Estes Proto X Nano, which I used to train myself in how they fly. That exercise was, more or less, a success, at least to the point where I thought I wouldn’t send a more expensive quad nose-first into the ground at a hundred miles an hour. Turns out, I needn’t have worried at all. Because the 350 QX is really easy to control. Unexpectedly, surprisingly, almost unbelievably easy. And then it flies like a dream. The first thing I thought of when watching it go in Smart mode, outdoors, was “this is exactly how the mythical ‘flying car’ should behave.” After many hours of flight time, I still think so. So where’s my flying car???

The Magic Ingredients

Here are the primary features that make this quadcopter so awesome: First, it has a GPS on board. It knows where it was when it took off, and can return there safely — just by pressing a switch. It also knows where it is when you tell it to hover, and it can just sit in one location until you tell it differently. It has an on-board compass; it not only knows where it is, it knows which direction it is going. It has internal sensors that it can use to keep itself level. And finally, it has an on-board altimeter, so it knows what height it is at, and is able to hold that height without any trouble — or pilot input. All of these on-board sensors combine with on-board control electronics that ensure stable, predictable flight. I take my hat off to the design team. For the money, this thing is amazing.

Flight Modes

There are three flight modes. The first, “Smart Mode”, uses all the sensors to create a safe, easy to deal with flight experience. This is almost certainly what you’ll want to use with a camera on board, because the quadcopter will stay “nailed” to any location and orientation you move it to. In this mode, the left stick is used as an altitude control from ground level to about 45 meters (about 135 feet) and the right stick is used as away/closer and left/right relative to your initial position when the 350 takes off. A little strange to describe, awesomely simple to use. This mode cannot be used indoors.

One of several great features you get in “Smart Mode” is a “return home” function. Just flip and hold a momentary switch on the flight controller and the quadcopter will meekly return to the GPS location it took off from and it even lands, just as soft as you please.

Imagine you’re fooling about, and you lose sight of the quadcopter. What to do? This: Fly it up high by pushing the left stick forward, then use the return home function. It’ll fly back at altitude, then land, straight down. Perfect!

The second, “Stability Mode”, retains the ability to stay in one place as long as it can see a GPS signal, but the left stick is now an actual motor throttle, and so the quadcopter becomes extremely lively; the only reason to have a camera on it here is if you become so proficient that you want footage of the landscape going by in a most nauseating fashion. Indoors, where the quadcopter can’t see the GPS signal, control is extremely difficult; I don’t recommend you even try it.

The third mode, “Agility Mode”, is for those of you who don’t worry about crashing and losing all the money you spent on the quadcopter. Seriously. There’s no auto level, no GPS, no nothing — you’re either instinctively good with copters in general, or the 350 is flying straight into the ground very soon after liftoff. It’s a tough little thing, but enough of that and you’ll have only broken parts. Me, I don’t use this mode. At all. Even Stability Mode is tough enough to deal with — when I called Stability Mode “extremely lively” I wasn’t exaggerating at all. If I had to find something to call Agility Mode, I’d probably call it “the mode you should never use.”

Obviously, stable flying is now a solved problem. So: Where’s my flying car???

But Wait…

Let me offer one important caveat to you: Don’t fly this quadcopter indoors until you are an expert with it; an expertise you can only build by flying it outdoors. Why? Because indoors, it can’t see the GPS satellites, and it then defaults to Stability Mode”, which as I said above, is very lively indeed — which means you’re going to crash the quadcopter. It will not operate in Smart Mode if it cannot acquire a good GPS signal. So take it outside, and have fun, instead of trying it inside, where you’re almost certainly going to wreck it.

Shortcomings

There’s only one thing I think is missing in the product. It would be a cross between Smart Mode and Stability Mode. In this hypothetical mode, the left stick would be altitude instead of throttle, and otherwise all controls would act just as they do in Stability Mode. If the quadcopter could do this, I’d be willing to call it perfect: You’d have a copter you could fly aggressively, yet which would hold altitude and position any time you wanted it to — just let go of the sticks.

Another thing is that the very mode that makes it possible to fly accurately and safely in close quarters, Smart Mode, makes it very difficult to fly in close quarters. What? Yes. Bear with me. This is because of the feature called “safe circle” which won’t let the quad get within 16 feet of you. That’s a lot of area; so if you try to launch it off your porch, you’re inside the safe circle, and it’s a lot harder to be precise when you’re 16 feet from a small landing area. I did this very thing; got it off ok, flew it around fine, but when it came time to land, I couldn’t get close enough to get an accurate parallax on the landing spot, and I clipped a rotor on a rock I thought was behind the quadcopter. I wish I could turn this feature off.

Summary

Overall, I find the 350 QX to be eminently worth the price, and have become addicted to taking it out and flying it until the batteries die. I say batteries, because I charge up several of them before I go out so I can have lots and lots of flight time. Right now, the weather is really nasty, and I’m taking the quadcopter out anyway. That alone ought to tell you what you need to know!