TOP PICKS FOR PROGRAMMABLE RC SYSTEMS
Top picks for programmable RC systems
Whether you’re a relatively new RC modeler looking to step up to a radio with more features, or an experienced pilot wanting to see what else is out there for programmable transmitters, this radio roundup highlights some of our editors’ top picks for midlevel systems. We selected these six radios because they’re ideal for the sport flier and have lots of features for the price, making them excellent values. Each is a good investment that will pay you dividends in savings, performance, and ease of use.
Spektrum DX6e $179.99
For the price, the Spektrum DX6e programmable radio offers value. Using the same DSMX technology and easy-to-use AirWare programming found in the higher-priced pro-level Spektrum transmitters, the DX6e is loaded with features normally not found in this price range. For newcomers to the hobby as well as experienced RC pilots, this well-equipped 6-channel radio system is a great investment. Beginners can grow into it as their airplanes become more advanced, and sport pilots will appreciate all the bells and whistles.
The well-laid-out transmitter has all the standard two- and threeposition switches for mixes, auxiliary channels, and dual rate selection, and a Bind push button at the upper left. The on/off power switch is recessed. When switching off the transmitter, you depress the switch for about three seconds so that there are no accidental power interruptions. A stylish neck-strap hook is integrated into the case design, but a lanyard is not included. With its 250-model memory, we like the way the programming makes the memory menu easy to navigate. Only the memory slots that appear are the ones that have model settings saved to it. This means that you don’t have to scroll through a bunch of empty slots or move models around should you delete any.
With an attractive price of only $179.99 (with receiver), the DX6e is far from being just a budget radio. It is a feature-rich 6-channel radio, and it has all the features you’d expect from a more expensive system.
Hitec Aurora 9X $339.99
The Aurora 9X has four times the resolution (4096) of the original Aurora 9, and features Hitec’s triple protocol, allowing selection from the G1 and G2 Adaptive Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum (AFHSS), featuring bidirection and single direction, and Secure Link (SLT) 2.4GHz technology. The 9X can be used with any transmitterready (Tx-R) model using the SLT protocol as well as Hitec’s Optima, Minima, and Maxima receivers.
The Aurora 9X has a dual processor, for improved (low-latency) interface response speeds of 7ms, as well as an extensive telemetry monitoring system and more than 30 additional programming enhancements. Like the previous version, the 9X retains the same easy-to-read, 5.1-inch-wide backlit touchscreen. All the switches are dynamically assignable for the ultimate in easy setup and function placement. Available with a variety of receivers and as a “transmitter-only” package, you can order the 9X exactly the way you want it. Another neat feature is an internal vibration device, so you can choose the feel of the transmitter’s programming cues and warnings. Most of the mixes have an optional 7-point curve adjustment. There are four 3-position switches and three 2-position switches, all assignable.
Everything about navigating its program menus and adjusting the radio’s features is easy and intuitive. From the custom submenu to collect your favorite functions and mixes to assigning switch functions and adding telemetry function for increased in-flight awareness, the Aurora 9X provides complete control.
FrSky Taranis X9D Plus $230.48
If you like flexibility and the ability to configure your hardware to your particular tastes, then the FrSky Taranis X9D Plus is for you. Control assignments, transmitting format, and even the internal firmware can be tailored to fit your individual tastes. Distributed by HobbyKing, the Taranis is a comfortable-to-hold 2.4GHz transmitter capable of up to 16 channels. The transmission format is the ACCST frequencyhopping spread spectrum, and it’s compatible with FrSky’s X series, D series, and V8-II series receivers. With X and D series receivers, the Taranis can receive real-time telemetry and will warn you of signal degrades. The X9D also includes a module port that will accept Spektrum or OrangeRX modules.
Dominated by a large backlit LCD display, the X9D has a variety of two- and threeposition switches, sliders, and knobs, all of which can be configured to control any function. The radio offers both voice and vibrating prompts to keep you informed about flight time, low-voltage alarms, and selected flight modes.
Programming is straightforward; you can use the setup wizards or enter settings manually. The X9D’s mixer capability is truly amazing. With 64 programmable mixers, you’re unlikely to ever run out. Telemetry-capable receivers, like the X8R, include a jumper so that you can select the binding mode. Once bound, the receiver is assigned to that model memory, making it nearly impossible to select the wrong model. Including a completely open programming structure, the Taranis X9D Plus requires a little more study and initial setup than some other computer radios, but once you master the programming and operation, there’s almost nothing it can’t do.
Futaba 10J $319.99
The Futaba 10J boasts an array of features usually found only on high-end, pro-level transmitters. It has a modern case design with no visible antenna and a backlit, easyto-read main display. The 2.4GHz FHSS system includes multirotor, airplane, helicopter, and glider programming with user-updatable software and a 30-model memory as well as multirotor programming. The 10J is easily within the budget of the average pilot and even for first-time pilots.
The 10J is available in two versions: Airplane (10JA) and Helicopter (10JH), both of which have the same programming. The difference is in the switch layout and the throttle—the heli version having a smooth throttle versus the airplane version’s ratcheting throttle. No servos are included, allowing the pilot to choose the appropriate ones for the aircraft. In addition to the 10J transmitter, a R3008SB receiver, switch harness, neck strap, and instruction manual are included. The system is compatible with all Futaba FHSS receivers. To take advantage of the telemetry features, a T-FHSS Air receiver, such as the included R3008SB, is required. The default communication system is T-FHSS but can be switched to S-FHSS for other receivers without telemetry. A variety of sensors are available to help you remotely monitor the aircraft’s condition. No sensor is needed for the receiver voltage data. For aircraft with many servos, you can use the S.Bus/S.Bus2 system to simplify servo wiring and clean up their installations.
Graupner MZ-12 $149.00
The MZ-12 is packed with many amenities. The switches are placed for ease of access, and polished hex-head fasteners lock on the silver gimbal surround plate. Digital trim tabs and eight directional/selection buttons handle all adjustments and program setups. The short hinged antenna can be pointed straight out or folded out of the way at 90 degrees to the case. The silver power switch has raised tabs for positive touch activation. When powered up, the main logo illuminates in red and the 128x64 backlit screen lights up in blue. Sixteen bits of info are listed on the main screen, displaying transmitter/receiver signal strength, radio/receiver voltages, timers, trim settings, trainer status, model type, and more. Two operating instruction manuals are mostly filled with screen shots and info about navigating through them. An 8-channel, lightweight receiver (GR-16L) is included, along with a neck strap.
Built-in telemetry includes an integrated screen in the menu list for easy access. You can see the receiver’s (in-flight) operating voltage and signal power among other important flight data, with optional modules/ sensors. The MZ-12 has two extra digital channels when this combo is used, so more receivers can be connected to the primary receiver, allowing you to have up to 32 channels. The unique Graupner HoTT transmission system features built-in telemetry right out of the box. Programming is intuitive.
FlySky i10 $169.99
Distributed by Diamond Hobby, the FlySky FS-i10 10-channel radio includes a 10-channel telemetry-capable receiver and four telemetry sensors—one each for temperature and voltage and two for rpm. Other goodies include an I-Bus receiver, extensions for the sensors, a bind plug, and reflective foil/magnets for the rpm sensors. A 55-page instruction manual is on the included CD.
The first thing you notice while handling the transmitter is how incredibly thin it is. It’s probably half the thickness of a normal transmitter, which also makes it very light. The interface screen is front and center, and presents a lot of information without being too busy.
Under the transmitter battery is a port for an SD card. If desired, an external USB charger and extra transmitter battery pack are available. Using a 2.4GHz AFHDS 2A (Automatic Frequency Hopping Digital System 2), the radio is designed for fixed-wing planes, helicopters, and gliders. Loaded with features that you normally wouldn’t see in a budget radio system, it has a 20-model memory, which is virtually unlimited with the use of an SD card. The high-resolution color home screen has a touchscreen interface, and a stylus (stored in the transmitter’s bottom back right corner) is included to navigate the menus. Using the interface quickly becomes familiar as it’s much like a smartphone. Eight switches (two three-position and six two-position) and three rotating knobs and slider switches are all assignable.
SPECIFICATIONS Model: Spektrum DX6e Manufacturer: Spektrum (spektrumrc.com) Distributor: Horizon Hobby (horizon hobby.com) Band: 2.4GHz Model memory: 250 System: DSMX, DSM2 Telemetry: Yes Receiver: AR610 (included) Price: $179.98 WE LIKE ›› 250-memory capacity ›› Easy programming ›› Budget price
SPECIFICATIONS Model: Aurora 9X Manufacturer: Hitec RCD (hitecrcd.com) Distributor: Tower Hobbies (towerhobbies.com) Band: 2.4GHz Model memory: 30 System: AFHSS (single- and bidirection) and SLT Telemetry: Yes Receiver: Not included Price: $339.99 WE LIKE ›› Touchscreen interface ›› Easy setup and programming ›› Custom screens
SPECIFICATIONS Model: Taranis X9D Plus Manufacturer: FrSky (frsky-rc.com) Distributor: HobbyKing (hobbyking.com) Band: 2.4GHz Model memory: 60 (expandable with SD card) System: ACCST Telemetry: Yes Receiver: X8R (included) Price: $230.48 WE LIKE ›› Clean, ergonomic design ›› Fully programmable switches and functions ›› Unlimited programming
SPECIFICATIONS Model: 10J Manufacturer: Futaba (futabarc.com) Distributor: Hobbico (hobbico.com) Band: 2.4GHz Model memory: 30 System: T-FHSS Air, S-FHSS (switchable) Telemetry: Yes Receiver: R3008SB (included) Price: $319.99 WE LIKE ›› Easy to program ›› High-end functions ›› Multirotor program menu
SPECIFICATIONS Model: HoTT MZ-12 Manufacturer: Graupner (graupner.de) Distributor: Open Hobby (openhobby.com) Band: 2.4GHz Model memory: 20 System: FHSS Telemetry: Yes Receiver: GR-16L (included) Price: $149.00 WE LIKE ›› Budget price ›› Integrated telemetry screen ›› Easy programming
SPECIFICATIONSModel: FlySky i10 Manufacturer:(flyskyrc.com) FlySky Distributor: FlySky (flyskyrc.com) Band: 2.4GHz Model memory: 20 System: AFHDS 2A Telemetry: Yes Receiver: 10-channel (included) Price: $169.99 WE LIKE ›› Good value ›› Slim, easy-to-hold case ›› Unique display screen