Introduction to programming these surprisingly complex devices.
Electronic speed controls have a computer embedded in them. These computers have gotten a lot more powerful over the years. Some of this extra power has been used by manufacturers to add more intelligent safety features, which are much welcomed.
With power has also come complexity. Even the most inexpensive speed control has a long list of options for the pilot to fiddle with.
This is a two part article series. In this part 1, I will give an overview of the ESC programming process. In part 2 I will get into recommendations for specific settings.
A big danger in years past was accidentally turning on the transmitter with the throttle stick up from the off position. If the receiver was already on, then these simple-minded speed controls would immediately start the motor running. Nothing good ever came out of that.
Nowadays all speed controls that I know of refuse to turn the motor unless you first move the throttle stick to the off position. Some transmitters have started incorporating the same feature.
Another big problem used to be speed controls that would burn themselves up if overloaded. This happened to me a couple of times, and I can tell you, it is no fun. If the speed control gave up the ghost, then it was extremely likely that you would also lose radio system power. Then you effectively had a free flight glider on your hands.
My recent experience has been that they now have a temperature sensor and act to protect themselves from damage. I do not know for a fact if all modern speed controls do this. But I have not burned up a speed control in many years. This is good. You might lose motor power, but you will not lose radio control.
Be aware that these overload protection circuits are there. Many times pilots do not realize that this is what happened when they lose power. By the time the model lands the speed control has cooled off. The puzzled pilot turns on the motor and it runs fine. Gee, it must have been a radio glitch…
I have yet to come across a speed control that did not have a reasonable set of default settings from the factory. If all you have is a park flyer with a three cell battery pack, then you are good to go.
But if you are going to fly with a different number of cells, look in the documentation to see how it is setup. Many speed controls have an “auto” setting for the number of cells, which will work fine most of the time. Otherwise you are going to have to tell it exactly how many cells are in your battery pack.
Even if the number of cells is fine, you might still want to change some of the other default settings.
Programming Via Transmitter
As far as I know, you have always been able to program a speed control using your radio transmitter. In the bad old days, when speed controls had few options that could be changed, this was a reasonable way to go.
Nowadays it is common to see a dozen or more settings that can be changed even in entry level ESCs. I gave up years ago trying to program an ESC this way. Was that 12 beeps or 13? Did I just move the stick four or five times? The process would drive me nuts.
ESC Programming Card
It is far easier to program the ESC using a programming card. But there are a couple of downsides.
First, each brand of speed control needs a different programming card. Sometimes even different ESC product lines in the same brand use different programming cards.
Second, these programming devices cost money. An inexpensive one might be just $10. But do not be surprised if the vendor wants you to pay $50 for the privilege of easily changing the settings.
Not all of the manufacturers agree on what to call the settings and how they work, either. All of this adds up to a strong incentive to stick with one speed control brand.
Recommended Settings in Part 2
Look for part 2 tomorrow where I will discuss specific ESC setting recommendations.