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Impulse RC Helix – Full Review

Possibly the most painstakingly thought out frame in the RC hobby – we present to you the ImpulseRC Helix. Like everyone in the Multirotor Community we at Drone Insider were sitting on the edge of our seats waiting for Impulse RC to release their Racing Frame. I think it’s safe to say we were not disappointed. Last week ImpulseRC kindly sent us their 6″ version and it surpassed all expectation. 0000667_helix-zx5-fpv-frame

 

Specs

Helix Frame –

  • Fully chamfered, high quality carbon fiber frame
  • Grade 12.9 high tensile alloy steel and 7075 black anodized aluminium hardware
  • 30, 45 and 60 degree FPV camera plates
  • 45 degree HD camera plates
  • Custom machined antenna clamps
  • Injection molded ESC fairings
  • High grade natural rubber Lipo pad
  • Self adhesive foam-rubber isolation pad for the flight controller
  • Set of diamond files
  • Nylon 6 antenna tubes
  • 45 degree SMA adapter

Flight Controller –

  • Integrated high current PDB
  • STM32F3 based flight controller
  • SPI based low noise MPU6000 gyro
  • Up to 40V input BEC – 6S capable, no extra filtering
  • PPM, SBUS, Spektrum, SerialRX receiver input
  • Filteres RSSI input
  • Hardware UART telemetry output
  • 128Mbit Blackbox flash
  • Reinforced USB connector
  • Dual mirrored LED strip outputs
  • Tactile boot button
  • Integrated voltage monitoring

Video Transmitter –

  • Integrated OSD
  • Integrated microphone
  • 40 Channels
  • 25/200/500mW switchable output power
  • Power and channels selectable via OSD
  • Cascaded switching and linear regulators for ultra clean power
  • Rock solid 5V camera output
  • Hardware jumper for removing powre to module

Electronics Extras –

  • Dual programmable RGB LED strips
  • USB to Serial adapter for flashing OSD
  • Custom cables

Design

The design is similar in some ways to every other race quad out there. 4 booms that connect in the centre to form a central pod. However, after this the Helix is pretty much different from anything else.

Firstly, what really caught our attention was the supplied ESC fairings. These attach to the bottom of the arms, and house all the escs and wiring. The main advantage of this (in our opinion) is increased “thrust column efficiency”*. In short this is how much the arm blocks the thrust produced by the propeller.  Less thrust blocked means more thrust to propel your quad! It also has an advantage in that it is more aerodynamic than a wider boom at higher speeds and means there is 0% chance of a prop strike. There is the argument that on a hard landing the escs could potentially be crushed by the fairings. However, this has not been an issue in our testing, as the lipo takes the brunt of hard landings. The fairings are also very strong, as they are injection molded rather than 3d printed.

Right in the middle of the quad is the pod. The arms are held together with 2 x 2mm carbon plates. On top of which lies the all in one PDB and Flight controller board (attached by double sided tape to block out those bad vibes). Finally, on top of which lies the VTx and Camera, with the receiver squashed in the middle.

The Flight controller/ PDB Combo has a F3 processer, MPU6000 gyro (proven to work well), can work with up to 40V, has a 128Mbit Blackbox chip as well as a whole load of other useful features. It is well designed, as you would expect from a product designed specifically for one frame. All the pads are in the correct place and are suitable sized, although our only niggle is the size of the holes for the XT60 harness are a little too small. When using 12AWG wire, it was necessary to trim the wire slightly.

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The VTX is the same story, excellently designed as we have come to expect.  Again it has a whole load of features, like an integrated Minim OSD, the ability to switch power output and channel via the OSD, integrated mic, hardware jumper (for checking the quad in the pits without blasting out RF) and solid 5V output for your camera (via a linear AND a switching regulator in series). This has proven to be absolutely solid in testing, with solid power output and no noise due to motors/escs.

Locked between 2 solid carbon plates and 5 standoffs (yes 5!!) on top of the VTx lies the board camera. Completely protected from any possible hits from trees or race gates, it is certainly the strongest pod we have come across. The pod also provides ample protection to the antenna, which pokes out from the back. Impulse give you the option for either 30,45,60 degrees. Or a 45 degree HD Camera plate. This is our only real niggle, we would have preferred a 30 degree HD cam plate as well, or the option to change the tilt on the HD plate. But we understand the reasons for the locked camera angle – it’s extremely strong.

Also included in the package were 6 betaflight programmable LEDS, which you can stick to the rear ESC fairing, and a 5V FTDI adapter to flash the OSD.

Build

The kit came in an unassuming white box, the only giveaway being the sticker on the front of it.

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Everything in the kit was sealed in transparent bags, except the fairings. This made the build substantially easier, as you only had to open the necessary bag when doing a certain part of the build.

The carbon was of high quality and all edges had been chamfered, a nice touch. On the Alien you had to file all the edges yourself which took at least 1 hour. We glad Impulse have done it for us this time.

The build itself is easy, if you follow the guide. In the guide every step is gone through at a comfortable rate and it’s easy to follow. However, if you deviate from the guide in any way, the build can easily become very complicated. For example, we decided to install the XT60 pig tail after we had soldered the motors. This made it harder to solder the pigtail than if we had followed the guide. So follow the guide! The Helix is a rather lengthy build, so don’t expect to rush it off in 2 hours. The hardest part, cutting the wires to the perfect length to fit in the fairings, does take a long time but luckily in the guide they tell you the perfect length for both Tiger and Emax motors.

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The attention to detail was second to none. For example, a set of standoffs are provided with 1 sole use. To correctly seat the flight controller/pdb. After that, they are discarded and not used again. Another example is the inclusion of the 5v FTDI adapter to flash the OSD, again not completely necessary, but a nice touch that the builder can also use for other quads as well. We have not seen a frame yet that has this level of attention to detail. Big props (pun intended) to Soma and his team for really thinking about the build and not just rushing to market.

The flashing and setup was one area that we were concerned could be difficult. Once again however the Helix proved its worth. The FC was pre-loaded with Betaflight 3.0, the latest version.  The OSD was also loaded with the latest version of MultiWii OSD, our preferred OSD. There are guides available for flashing the latest firmware, and they again are comprehensive and go through the necessary steps. All necessary cables are also provided for flashing the OSD and no soldering of any pigtails was required (the pins for the FTDI had to be soldered though).

All up weight (excluding battery) came to 345g, on the 45 degree HD camera plate! Amazing for a 6″ race quad.

Flying

The majority of testing was done using the 45 degree plate with support for an HD camera. For us racing with this is the optimum and the HD camera plate fitted both our Gopro session and the SJCam M20 incredibly well, even with a series of crashes there was no damage to the quad. Our biggest issue with running such a high angle is when on a 2.8mm lens, all you see is sky on take off and landing. For casual flyers however, 30 degrees will probably be optimum.

ImpulseRC very kindly gave us the 6″ version of the Helix and it was beautiful to fly. After six months 5″ tri-blade hype it was very nice to fall back into the raw sweeping power a good old fashioned 6″ 2 blade quad. As its 6″ for many it won’t have the maneuverability for some racers, so the 5″ maybe a better option for those who want race or do extreme acro.

In terms of how it flew, it was high speed and even on stock setting its was locked in. You could tell (as with every ImpulseRC frame) that time and thought had been put into design and flying characteristics. The centralised weight makes for sharp flips and acrobatics even on 6″ and the novel boom design means that there is minimal drag even at high speeds. The raw speed of this thing is unparalleled with our Emax racing motors and 6045 DAL props you could feel the difference on full throttle runs. Boom design may seem trivial but it is important remember that drag increases with velocity^2 so as we go faster and faster every millimetre counts.

Conclusion

The Helix is the pinnacle of Racing quad design currently. Every little detail was taken into account when designing the quad and we have yet to see such a conclusive all round build anywhere else in the industry.  As any good frame should be, the Helix is light weight, durable and flies very nicely. In all honesty our only niggle was a lack of a 30 degree gopro plate, but even this is understandable as it is a racing Frame. Once again ImpulseRC have set a new bar when it comes to pushing the boundaries of MultiRotor design. Through their unique mix of creativity, innovation and tallent they have surpassed all competition. We look forward to seeing another year of the industry playing catch up.

Great Job Impulse RC – This is our first ever Full 10/10

Flying: 10/10
Build: 8/10
Price: 7/10
Overall: 10/10

The Helix is available to purchase from ImpulseRC here.

*Thrust Column Efficiency is not a well defined scientific term. We have used it as we have seen frame designers use it frequently and we think it does make a difference in real world performance.

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