GREAT PLANES SPIRIT ELITE ARF
PRODUCT REVIEW

by Mike Lee

Spirit Elite

SPECIFICATIONS
Name SPIRIT ELITE ARF
Aircraft Type 2-Meter Sailplane
Mfg. By Great Planes Model Mfg., P.O. Box 9021, Champaign, IL 61826-9021. Ph. (800) 682-8948, www.greatplanes.com
Mfg. Sug. Retail Price $169.99
Available From Retail Outlets
Wingspan 78.5 Inches
Wing Chord 8.2 Inches
Total Wing Area 645 Sq. In.
Fuselage Length 46 Inches
Stabilizer Span 21.5 Inches
Total Stab Area 107.5 Sq. In.
Rec. No. of Channels 4-5
Rec. Control Functions Rudder, Elevator, Ailerons, Coupled Ailerons/Rudder, Flaps
Basic Materials Used In Construction
Fuselage Fiberglass
Wing Balsa & Ply
Tail Surfaces Balsa
Building Instructions on Plan Sheets No
Instruction Manual Yes (24 pages)
Const. Photos/Drawings Yes

RCM PROTOTYPE
Radio Used Futaba 8 UAFS Tx/R127 Rx, 6 Servos
Motor Used NA
Battery Used NA
Weight, Ready to Fly 41.8 Oz. (2 Lbs. 9.8 Oz.)
Wing Loading 9.3 Oz./Sq. Ft.

SUMMARY
WE LIKED THE:
High level of quality and completeness, pre-cut hinge slots, servo pull strings for wing, and flight performance.
WE DIDN'T LIKE THE:
Heavy pushrod material.

Spirit Elite

It's always nice to see that a classic design continues to develop and grow with the years. Most of the time, you might see one or two refinements occur, and then the model disappears. Not so with the subject of this review, the Great Planes Spirit Elite. With the Spirit Elite, we find not only the classic heritage retained in the looks of this model, but also refinements of the design that make it a potent contest model.

It has been over 10 years since the first of the Spirit models took to the air, with two versions available: the Standard Class Spirit 100 and then the very popular Spirit 2-meter. Later on, the 2-meter version also became available as an ARF, sparking the popularity of this design all over again with a fine model that took only a few hours to prepare at a price of under $100.00. The Spirit Pro provided an advanced pilot with aileron controls for contest caliber work, and now we have the Spirit Elite. The Elite picks up where the Pro may have left off, with a fiberglass fuselage, ailerons, and flaps on the wings, plus it was done as an ARF. I first noticed this bird in Chicago during the 2001 RCHTA Show and could tell this was going to be a very popular aircraft. Our review begins with a look inside the box, just as you would receive it.

Spirit Elite

Assembly:

The Spirit Elite comes shipped to you in a box measuring 45" x 10" x 6", which is easily handled by any common courier. All main parts are bagged and well suspended within the box to withstand the rigors of being tossed around by the delivery driver. Ours made it through without a scratch on it. Inside you will find there are not too many parts; a very nicely done fuselage with painted canopy, a two-piece wing already covered and with flight surfaces attached, plus one horizontal stab and one vertical fin including flight control surfaces. Topping this off is a 24-page assembly and flight manual, a full hardware package, pushrods, and decals. You will need epoxy, CA type adhesives, and normal hobby hand tools to assemble the Elite.

We begin with the wings, and this is almost too easy. The ailerons are already in place but not hinged yet. Indeed, the hinge slots are already there for you, and you need only to slide the CA type hinges in place and drop some thin CA on the hinge to make the joint permanent. Next, we move to the servo bays, which are already cut out in the wing, but covered with film from the factory. I cut the opening, leaving about 1/8" of extra film hanging off, and this I sealed to the wood with my iron to give the opening a finished look. Now, locate the servo covers in the hardware bag. You will attach the servos to the covers using the kit-supplied mounting blocks and servo mount hardware. In my case, I deviated just a bit by gluing the servo directly to the cover with Shoo-Goo adhesive. It's a bit more permanent and does not facilitate maintenance later on, but this is strictly a personal preference. Once the adhesive is set, you can affix the covers with servos mounted to the wing with the kit-supplied wood screws.

Spirit Elite

The new Spirit Elite sits next to an original kit version of the Spirit 2-meter model, by Bill Hensley of Riverside, CA. You see the relationship!

One of the very nice but subtle touches is the use of pull strings for guiding the servo wires through the wing ribs, and this sure makes life a lot easier. Once the wires are run, the wings are pretty much done, save for the trailing edge reinforcement where the wing bolts are set. At the center section, the Elite uses a 7 mm steel wing joiner rod that goes fairly deep into each wing half. You need not worry about gluing the wing together, as it remains a two-piece wing for you. At the leading edge, I thought I might have to go through the motions of doing an extensive alignment process to determine where the front wing dowels would lie. But then, a close look at the leading edge reveals that the holes for your wing dowels are already there, under the covering film! A quick slit with a hobby knife on the film and we had the dowels glued in place in the wing! Set the rear wing bolts aside and we move to the fuselage.

The Spirit Elite features an all-molded fiberglass fuselage and canopy. It is already color painted for you, painted in the mold so the finish is deep. There is no apparent seam line to finish or knock off, so we can go right to work. The first thing required on the fuselage work is to install the rear wing hold-down blocks under the wing saddle lip. This is simply epoxied in place and then you can set the wing in place to align it. Once aligned, drill the trailing edge of the wing for the wing hold-down bolts and then add the blind nuts to the hold-down block in the fuselage. It goes fast, so no worries here. Going to the tail end, you can now mount the horizontal stab. The stab is a flat airfoil surface, completely covered with film. You will have to remove the film covering from the area where the stab will be joined to the fuselage. Once this is done, use epoxy to adhere the stab in position. From here, you add the vertical fin and rudder. Notable here is the two steel alignment pins used to help glue the vertical fin in place. They reinforce the joint nicely. Once the vertical fin is glued in place, you can glue the control surfaces in place using the CA type hinges and the tail is now complete.

We now move back to the nose area, where the radio tray is installed. This is a laser-cut plywood tray which can accept most any servo. It is glued into the nose area, and I recommend you place it where shown on the plans. This position also adds considerable strength to the nose at the rear of the canopy opening. Anyone who flies competition will tell you this is where you will crack a fuselage most often when performing the classic spot landing. Once set in place with epoxy, you can start fitting your radio equipment into place.

Spirit Elite

First launch, with Mike Lee tossing the Spirit Elite while Vince Botkin pilots the model. Note how the model is perfectly straight on the launch.

The kit provides you with steel pushrods housed within a plastic sheath. All control horns and clevises are also included. There is nothing wrong with this hardware; however, my own personal preference took over and we substituted some of this. The pushrods were replaced with .050" carbon-fiber rods running in outer housings. Threaded brass couplers were used at the ends to allow the clevises to mount. This change did not improve the reliability of the pushrod system, but it did reduce the weight of the model. We cut an amazing 2 oz. from the total weight of the model. Other than this change, the rest of the model was assembled per the instructions.

To drive the control surfaces in the Elite, we used Hobbico CS-12 servos in all positions. These servos provide 35 oz. of torque (@ 4.8 volts power) and weigh just over 1/2 oz. each. They fit into the wing positions as easily as they fit into the fuselage, making life much easier for radio installation. A Futaba R127-FM receiver controlled the signals, while a standard 600 mAh battery pack fit snugly into the nose. On the wing flaps, this was really a lot easier than it looks. The flaps are already hinged for you from the factory, and I think that one change is necessary here. The instructions tell you to place the control horns such that the clevis holes are lined up with the hinge line. On the flap line only, we placed the clevis holes 1/2" to the rear of the hinge line, as this allows the flap to deflect almost a full 90° with less servo motion from here. Believe me, it works.

I recommend keeping as much of the weight as far forward as you can in the Elite, as you will still need to install some nose weight to achieve proper balance. In our case, we inserted 3 oz. of lead into the nose for an exact balance of 3.5" behind the leading edge of the wing at center. Commanding the Elite from the ground is a Futaba 8-UAFS transmitter, programmed as seen in chart above.

Spirit Elite
Vince Botkin, our test pilot, poses with the Elite.

Additionally, the radio was set up for CROW operation (also known as Butterfly), aileron to rudder mixing at 35% rudder to 100% aileron, differ-ential aileron at 40% down aileron to 100% up aileron, launch mode on ailerons and flaps, camber mode and reflex. I know that sounds like a lot, but the Elite is built to handle this. The final two items to complete was the canopy fit and the tow hook with anchor plates. The tow hook plates allow you to place the tow hook in one of three positions to suit your needs for launch. We selected the middle position, as it was just ahead of the balance point on the plane. Total all-up weight, ready to go, is 41.8 oz. over 4 oz. less than the specifications.

Spirit Elite

Flying:

Our first flights were done on a sunny day with nothing but the wild blue yonder. We did a couple of hand tosses to set any trims and make sure the balance worked. Now for the moment of truth, a winch launch. With a moderate amount of tension and no launch flaps deployed, the Spirit Elite was released up the winch line. Our moment of truth revealed a very honest and straight launching model ... no problem here! At the top of the line, the Elite flew off line cleanly and required a couple of clicks of up elevator to hold her on a steady heading. We did two launches to get used to how she handled and get photos, after which we put her to the performance test ... contest work.

Spirit Elite

We simulated some standard thermal duration tasks of 5- and 7-minute flights with precision landings. It did take a little more time to get the elevator mix correct while in the CROW mode, but now was the time for testing. This time, we had the launch mode in the trailing edge, and we were rewarded with a very fine launch. We did not attempt to execute harsh zoom launches, but mild ones were taken in stride. Once off the line, we found the Elite lives up to her name. She is just a sweetheart in the air. Our rudder mix to ailerons turned out to be right on the button, as the Elite can circle tightly with ease. She transmits her entry into lift very convincingly, making the search for lift a much quicker process. The use of camber with this model is wonderful, as it responds very well to the increased lift capability. The use of reflex doesn't do much for you, as it is barely perceptible. Consequently, the Elite may not penetrate like a bullet if needed.

Landing the Elite is just flat out nice! With the flaps down at about 80°, the Elite will slow up to a crawl ... and I mean a crawl. 2-meter birds are fairly notorious for not slowing down a whole lot even with flaps, but the Elite can bring it home slow and controlled, making a spot landing pretty routine. You have to remember that the Elite is not a real light model, either. With our calculated wing loading of 9.33 oz./sq. ft., it is fairly average in weight. Current models from Europe are easily down in the low 8's for wing loading. The Elite seems to redefine a slow and controlled approach. And just in case you were interested, this model uses an SA-7035 airfoil blended into an SA-7036 at the tips.

Spirit Elite

I can well agree with the critics who gave the Spirit Elite their 2001-2002 Model Glider of the Year Award. The quality of the model is very good, the performance is outstanding, and for the street price of around $130.00 you just cannot beat this value. In an age where ARF gliders from Europe begin at $400.00 and simply go up from there, the Spirit Elite is certainly an elite model. You can't lose on this one.

Photos by Mike Lee. Reprinted with permission.
January, 2003 R/C Modeler Magazine
Editor: Patricia Crews