T1000FC GPS Auto Pilot Review

February 28, 2014 15:00 | By | 5 Comments

The T1000FC is a cheap autopilot for fixed wing aircraft and promises a simple way to have your aircraft automagically return to you at the flick of a switch. But does it live up to that promise? Find out in our detailed review!

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Obvious Terminator jokes aside, Hobbyking’s T1000FC + GPS is a relatively cheap product at $65 and consists of a flight controller and a GPS antenna. Thankfully HK even includes a screwdriver in the box for setting up the sensitivity pots, as well as four servo leads to connect the T1000 to your receiver. If the shape and features of this autopilot feel familiar, it’s because the T1000FC is actually a rebranded Art-Tech EMUC-A200.

Inside, the autopilot doesn’t contain many exciting parts, though the simplicity is not neccessarily a bad thing.

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The front of the board is mostly populated with passives, crystal, two LEDs, a button for storing the GPS home location, DIP switches for airframe type selection, and three pots for adjusting gyro sensitivity and direction. The back is more interesting, albeit only slightly.

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All the heavy lifting is done by an Atmel MEGA328P, there’s a LD1117AG voltage regulator, a ADXL345 accelerometer and a STMicro AGD8 2135 LUSDI gyroscope (as used in the iPhone 4S, for example). In essence, not the most potent microcontroller, nor are the sensors anything to write home about. But there’s a big difference between this and a flight controller for a multicopter: The required sensing range of degrees/sec is much smaller and the PID loop is much less critical for an airplane. Basically, you can get away with a lot less precision and speed and not have the plane behave any differently. Having both a gyro and an accelerometer in there means the board can detect level position. However, there is no barometer, so in automatic flight the board uses GPS altitude to keep its height above ground.

Installation and Setup

There’s good news and bad news: The good is, putting the T1000FC into your plane is dead easy, basically you just connect it in line between the receiver and your servos. The autopilot has to be installed with the connectors facing to the back of the plane, blue label facing upwards. The T1000FC supports normal aileron+elevator+rudder airframes as well as V-Tail and flying wings, which can be selected via the two DIP switches on the flight controller. The fourth possible DIP configuration is used for reinitializing the sensors, which the manual suggests should be done in case of big changes in temperature or whenever you find that autoleveling isn’t quite level.

It should be noted that if you fly a wing or V-tail aircraft the mixing is done in side the T1000FC. In other words, always use a standard type model on your transmitter and don’t set up any extra mixers. Most of the time it’s best to just start with a fresh model and select standard a Aileron+Elevator configuration in your transmitter. This is quite similar to how you shouldn’t use a helicopter program for flying with a multirotor craft because the flight controller will do all the fancy stuff for you anyway.

One extral channel is needed on your receiver to control the flight mode. It’s recommended to use a three-position switch, though in our experience a two -position switch will work fine too, because the middle switch position is less useful than we hoped.

After selecting the wing type, you should check the servo travel direction on your transmitter and change that as required. Finally, you need to set the direction and sensitivity of the flight controller. You do this by turning the three potentiometers with the supplied screwdriver. One thing to note here is that the center position of each pot means zero gain, and turning left or right gives you positive or negative gain. For most planes, turning a quarter to the left or right is enough to get the plane fly smoothly without wobbling. If you notice oscillation, you should land and decrease the gain by turning the pot a bit towards the center position.

Warning: The AIL and RUD potentiometers are mislabeled. The AIL potentiometer actually controls the RUDDER gain, and the RUD potentiometer controls AILERON gain.

As for which direction to turn the pot, you have to observe your control surfaces on your plane while you roll, pitch or yaw the plane by hand. Tipping the nose down should make the elevator move up,  rolling to the left should make the right aileron move up to counteract the plane’s motion, and so on.

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The T1000FC has two basic modes of operation. If you do not connect the GPS, there are three flight modes available, whereas you get four modes as soon as the antenna is connected.

 

Switch position Flight mode without GPS Flight mode with GPS
Low Stabilization + 45 degree limit Stabilization + 45 degree limit
Middle (switching from Low) Stabilization (full control) Direction hold + Altitude hold
Middle (switching from High) Stabilization (full control) Altitude hold
High No stabilization Return home

 

Basically, all the confusion in various forums about the flight modes of the T1000FC stems from the fact that with a connected GPS antenna, the middle switch position has two functions, depending on whether you switched to it coming from the high or the low position.  This may sound confusing, but as soon as you’re in the air things are quite easy to use and logical.

One thing to note is that with the GPS attached, there is no way to disable stabilization. This is both a surprise and, in our opinion, a very bad thing. If you set the gyro gain too high, there’s no way for you to disable the gyro in flight after takeoff. For that reason, we strongly recommend you do at least one test flight without the GPS antenna connected to the T1000FC, so that you can regain control should the gain be dialed up too high. As soon as you’re confident that the gyro sensitivity is fine (make sure not to accidentally reverse the direction while turning the pot!), connect the GPS antenna.

Flight Review

To be perfectly honest, we didn’t expect much. After reading horror stories about crashed planes on various forums, and the general confusion about the various flight modes and how you can have four modes with just a three-position switch, we were prepared for the worst. We installed the T1000FC with the GPS antenna in a cheap little “WingWing” foamie so any crashes weren’t going to break the bank. We waited a few minutes for the initial GPS lock (it’s a good idea to wait at least 5 minutes so the measured GPS position is accurate), which the FC1000 indicated via a slowly-flashing red LED, and then pressed the little “Set” button. Luckily the supplied screwdriver just about fits through the hole so you can press the button. Keep it pressed for at least 3 seconds until the red LED stops flashing and lights up solid, then release the button. The red LED will resume its slow blinking after a few moments, indicating that the current position was stored as home position, and that the GPS is now fully operational.

Takeoff was uneventful, and was of course done with the flight mode switch in the low position. The plane was extremely tame and very controllable even though we did not dial the gyro gain up very much. After climbing we tested out the roll and pitch limiter, and indeed the T1000FC would not let us tilt the plane beyond 45 degrees in any direction. Switching the flight mode switch from low to the middle position activates direction hold + altitude hold, the little wing-wing snapped onto invisible rails and ignored any aileron input from our transmitter. Moving the switch to the high position gave us a queasy feeling initially – but the plane banked into gentle turns with such certainty that any tension quickly dissipated. The T1000Fc had no problem finding its way home from any direction, and whenever if flew overhead it then proceeded to circle in whatever direction required to return to the home point.

Moving the flight mode switch from the high to the middle position again activates altitude hold. At first this feels exactly like the normal stabilized mode, but obviously you don’t need to give any elevator input for the plane to remain in the air. This may come in handy when flying FPV flight while controlling a camera gimbal, letting the pilot look at interesting spots on the ground without having to worry about his altitude.

Finally the WingWing plane landed in “Stabilization” mode, feeling very much like any gyro-stabilized airplane. Needless to say, we were positively surprised by the T1000FC!

 

Verdict

The one big drawback of this otherwise excellent autopilot is the fact that the mode selection is so limited. As soon as you connect the GPS you lose the ability to switch off the gyros. Worse, you can’t even disable the 45-degree limiter. This is such a stupid design decision and seriously hampers the usefulness of this product. If only we had a way to separately control the GPS features as well as choose between no stabilization, stabilization, and stabilization with 45-degree limiter, this would be an awesome device to have in any airplane. As it stands, the moment you connect the GPS antenna it’s only useful as a camera platform and a training device for absolute beginners. The manual is confusing and the mislabeled potentiometers are unnecessary mistakes. Finally, it’s very easy to accidentally turn the potentiometers in the wrong direction, making tuning the gyro gain a bit more difficult than it needs to be.

That said, this is a $65 dollar autopilot for fixed wing aircraft with return home function that works out of the box. It has it’s minor faults but all things considered it gets our thumbs up. Go put one into a foamie and then walk away to fetch a coffee while your colleagues look at you, bewildered 😉

What we liked

  • Cheap
  • Simple to install
  • Simple to use
  • Works as advertised
  • Very forgiving, good stabilization

What we didn’t like

  • Mislabeled potentiometers
  • Inflexible flight mode selection limits usefulness
  • Confusing manual

Where to buy

Purchased at HobbyKing

Also available as Art-Tech EMUC-A200 at Aliexpress.

 

 

 

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FPVCentral is a private, independent news and review site for all things related to First Person View RC model flight. Covering everything from hobby, commercial and military drones, RC models and electronics related to FPV flight, we are not sponsored by any manufacturer or affiliated with any company or project.

Comments (5)

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  1. ruud says:

    Hello, is it possible to switch the gps anthenna power supply via
    lets say the gear switch and so disable its function during flight.

    greetings from ruud in the netherlands

  2. Kevin says:

    Great review.. very helpful.
    with the switch positions, does Low mean the default position of switch, or the up position, which is normally default on most radios, right?
    Could you program out the unrequired modes?
    although, I am not sure how it knows you are going from high or low to middle to make the different mode when using GPS..

    Any thoughts?

    • fpvcentral says:

      You’ll have to test which switch position on your radio corresponds to “low”. As for stripping unwanted modes, again, that’s up to how you program your radio. You can not get rid of the weird “it depends where you come from” behavior of the middle position. It would’ve been so much nicer to have a second channel, or even just more switch positions.

  3. Gene says:

    FPVCentral;
    Thanks for your very well written review of this product. It helped me a lot.
    I do have a question: what are the Battery and Autopilot ports for? Your installation photograph shows the autopilot port in use but I can’t tell where the lead goes. And there appears to be nothing in the battery port
    Thanks

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