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Product Reviews

HiTec QuadRacer 280

If you're looking to start racing drones, the HiTec QuadRacer 280 might be the vehicle for you

April 14, 2017

Highlights
  • Includes a 2.4GHz, 6-channel transmitter
  • 4.3-inch TFT LCD monitor
  • LiPo battery and USB charger
  • Extra propellers
Not long ago, the only way to get a multirotor aircraft was to build one from a kit or completely from scratch. While the rest of us were satisfied to shoot video with little thought about flying the craft, others were seeking the thrill of flying fast — racing.

Now, drone racing has evolved from small groups of drone builders competing within the R/C community to flying in NFL football stadiums and appearing on ESPN. And thanks to drones like the HiTec QuadRacer 280, almost anyone can get in on the fun.
Before you fly

For those unfamiliar with the numbering for racers, “280” refers to the farthest distance in millimeters between two motors on the vehicle (usually on the diagonal). The QR280 is not a large aircraft: The entire RTF box is not much bigger than a standard shoebox and fits all necessary components.

The vehicle comes fully assembled — with the exception of the mushroom antenna and props. Take care when installing the antenna not to overtighten the SMA connector; it’s mounted directly to the video board.

If you are used to flying off-the-shelf consumer drones with self-tightening propellers, take note of the propeller markings and motor rotation direction indicators on the QR280. As much as self-tightening propellers may have become standard, this aircraft — like many racers — doesn’t have them.

On the transmitter, simply mount the FPV monitor/receiver, attach the antenna, and install the AA batteries.

After the quick assembly of the aircraft and transmitter, it’s easy to appreciate the details of  the QR280. A translucent quick-release polycarbonate canopy covers the airframe, ready for a fresh coat of customized paint. The arms leading out to the four motors are made of a durable plastic that appears to be stout enough to survive a couple severe tumbles.

The nose-mounted camera is attached to the vehicle by a adjustable mount, which offsets the pitch of the aircraft while moving at maximum speed. Two high-visibility LED lights flank the camera.

Prior to flight, you need to charge the included 2000 mAh LiPo battery — yes, the charger is there, too. Unfortunately, you also need to scrounge up a mini-USB cable to charge the FPV monitor because one doesn’t come in the box. Thankfully, the four AA batteries necessary for the transmitter do.

Just power up the transmitter and video receiver, then the vehicle; the video will quickly populate the FPV screen. Now, you’re ready to fly.
The HiTec QuadRacer 280 comes fully assembled — except for the antenna and props, but those are easy to install. Bill Zuback
Specs
HiTec QuadRacer 280
  • Available: Tower Hobbies
  • Rotor type: Quadcopter
  • Weight: 1.25 pounds with battery
  • Flight time: Up to 8 minutes
  • Price: $399.99
Into the blue

For my first flight with the QR280, I headed out to a large, empty lot with hard-packed gravel. I’m not new to UAVs, but I am new to drone racers, and I quickly learned that racers sit much lower than their video-gathering counterparts. Within a few seconds, I had already destroyed my first set of props from sucking up the fine Arizona gravel and sand.

With the first lesson learned, I used the cargo liner out of my SUV as a landing pad. Lucky for me, props are readily available online — and in large quantities.

With the props replaced (and on correctly), I wasted no time pulling the vehicle into a hover to get a feel for the controls. The QR280 transmitter has two stabilization modes and two responsiveness settings; I used high stabilization and mild responsiveness initially.

The difference between this racer and a conventional quadcopter is immediately detectable. The racer moved with every slight control input. Although the QR280 is stabilized, a beginner could easily put it in the dirt.

Once I had a feel for the aircraft, I flipped the switches to low stabilization and high responsiveness and was treated to a fast, nimble quad. I was thrilled with the level of responsiveness that the vehicle offers, but keep in mind that the QR280 is my first racing drone.

Using the FPV screen when flying is not as easy as using fully immersive goggles, but it can be done. I found that daylight flying was difficult, due in part to screen glare and washout on the camera as the vehicle headed into the sun.

While it’s nice to have an RTF FPV setup to help get the feel for racing, goggles are the way to go.

After about eight minutes of hovering and flying orbits, I came in on a low pass and the vehicle motors slowed down to a stop as the battery power ran out. The QR280 dropped about five feet and hit the ground. I dusted  off the debris and found the drone no worse for wear.

On post-flight inspection, I noticed that there are two low-battery indicators that tell you to come in for a landing. Unfortunately, the operator’s manual doesn’t mention these, nor how that would work with goggles.
Final thoughts

The Hitec QuadRacer 280 proved to be exactly what Hitec wanted: The gateway drug to an FPV racing addiction. The stick skills necessary to fly the racer will keep conventional R/C hobbyists entertained, while the familiarity of the quad’s setup allows a fairly easy transition for consumer multirotor users.

Hitec put together a nice RTF package that is well thought out, functional, and compatible with a wide range of FPV accessories. If you’re looking to kick off your racing hobby with a vehicle that allows you to build your skills, the QR280 just might be the drone for you.

Note: A version of this review appears in the January/February issue of Drone360.
Featured image: Jason McNally