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Sportsman S+ puts you in the air

By Hal Miller
Published: November 13, 2015

Product: A plane anyone can fly? Ten years ago I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but it appears HobbyZone has done it.

The brand’s Sportsman S+ has a host of features that let almost anyone have a good experience right out of the box. The model is based on the Glasair Sportsman, itself no slouch in the looks department. The S+ is for the onboard Sensor Assisted Flight Envelope (SAFE) technology.

That programming brings several features to the aircraft, including one-stick takeoffs, instant flight recovery, a Virtual Fence to keep the plane in a pre-determined area, a holding pattern that makes the plane circle near its takeoff point, and an AutoLand feature that—well, you can probably guess what that does.

Inside, the user will find the plane, in-structions, a Spektrum DX4e 4-channel 2.4GHz DSMX transmitter, 1300mAh 3S 11.1V LiPo battery, a wall/car socket charger, four AA batteries for the transmitter, and everything needed to get in the air.

I’ve beaten up on manufacturers before for including only a wall charger or a car charger, but not both. Inevitably, it’s an inconvenience to have only one. But the wall charger has a socket that the car charger can plug into, so it’s useful at home or in the field. It’s a little thing, but I think it’s a great feature.

Performance: I put the plane into the hands of Cameron, my 14-year-old son, to see just how easy it would be for someone to fly the Sportsman S+. He had the plane assembled in about an hour, which is how long it took the LiPo battery to charge.

We bound the plane to the receiver and oriented the plane’s compass as directed in the instructions. Then it was off to the field.

I held the plane into the wind while Cameron moved the throttle to full and then back to “mark” the reference spot for the plane’s holding pattern, Virtual Fence and AutoLand. Then he throttled it up again, and I gave it a toss. He was flying.

He flew the Sportsman S+ around the field a few times a couple of mistakes high just to get a feel for it. It has lots of wing area and good lift, and performs well with minimal stick input. Then we decided to test the SAFE Features.

There was a 5- to 7-mph wind, and Cameron let it take the plane. The Virtual Fence circled it back toward us, and he once again took control of it. Then he pressed the activation button on the transmitter momentarily to activate the holding pattern function. Sure enough, the plane circled near where we were standing for a couple of minutes until he pressed the button and took control again. “That’s sick,” Cameron said. And he meant it in a really, really good way. He was very impressed.

Nearing the end of our 10-minute flight time, Cameron held the same button for three seconds to activate the AutoLand feature. The plane circled into the wind and descended nicely.

Cameron was all smiles afterward. To impress a 14-year-old is difficult (don’t ask me how I know), but he was already talking about more flying on the way home.

Marketing: If your customer wants to learn to fly and can’t fly this plane, steer him or her toward a different hobby. I’m not sure any company can lower the barriers to entry any more than HobbyZone has done with the Sportsman S+, unless they give it away for free.

The package is as complete a starter set as I’ve ever seen. The box is attractive, and the plane promises and delivers a terrific hobby experience.

Cameron said he’d have liked to have had more flight time. Larger batteries will fit in the bottom of the plane. That should give a few more minutes of flight.

The plane also comes with a mount for the Blade EFC-721 720p HD Video Camera (EFLA801; $49.99). Keep them in stock for add-on sales.


Product: Sportsman S+ RTF

Maker: HobbyZone

Stock number: HBZ8400

MSRP: $399.99

Availability: Horizon Hobby


• Complete starter package

• Truly easy to fly

• A nearly goof-proof entry to the R/C flying hobby