Picking the right radio is one of the hardest choices a beginner must make. Most people recommend spending your money up front on a high-end radio – for miniquads that’d be the Taranis. But, if you’re not sure that radio controlled flying is for you, it’s a tough sell to drop over $200 on a good radio. For this reason, we’ve been looking around for some time for a good alternative to the Taranis.

We believe the FlySky FS-i6 is just that radio. For a mere $50, it includes all of the most important features you need to have a blast flying miniquads without a whole lot of compromises. This week, we’re doing two articles outlining the FlySky radio system. First, we’ll review the radio and then walk you through how to set it up with BetaFlight.

We want to thank Gearbest for sending us this radio so that we could write up this guide. It’s tough to justify spending the money on items like this that we don’t need but many of the new guys in the market might be interested in. Fantastic vendors like Gearbest are what make it happen. If you are considering buying this radio system, check it out on Gearbest using this link. Also consider checking out their extensive miniquad kit listings – they are an excellent value for getting in the air for cheap.

FlySky FS-i6 or Turnigy TGY-i6 or Eachine i6?

This radio is sold under many different names with some special stickers and packaging for each one. Regardless, these radios are identical other than the stickers. They will both work with each other’s receivers and have identical set-up menus. Bottom line: If you are using a radio that looks a lot like a FlySky FS-i6 – chances are it is one.

Form Factor

When I first unpacked the FlySky FS-i6, I was surprised by how thin and lightweight it is.

frsky_flysky

It is easily half as big as my Taranis and DX-18. I like that the antenna is encased in hard plastic like my DX-18 – I won’t have issues with breaking it like I do on the Taranis. This type of antenna is also really valuable for packing your equipment away. It is hugely beneficial to be able to simply throw all your gear in a big backpack so you can go for a hike with it or walk long distances to the field. This transmitter is both compact enough to do that and has an antenna that does not need reinforcement.batteries

The radio is powered by 4 AA batteries. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of non-rechargeable batteries but at least it’s only 4 of them. I would recommend carrying a spare set to the field so you don’t ruin a flying day if/when your radio is dead.

The stick feel is OK. You can tell the gimbals aren’t as good as high end radios like the DX-18 as the sticks don’t snap back to center as readily and don’t have the same precise tension. That being said, the sticks are easily better than some of the really cheap radios I’ve gotten with RTF quads or airplanes. I think they are comparable to the sticks on the Taranis and just fine for any beginners. They are made of aluminum and are adjustable just like the Taranis. For any beginners – I recommend you screw your sticks all the way out, regardless of whether you fly with thumbs or fingers. It really improves your precision.

The radio comes equipped with digital trims for the 4 flight axes. It has 3 2-position switches, 1 3-position switch and two knob inputs. A moderate annoyance to me is that the radio will not turn on if the switches are in the down position – and you cannot disable this “feature”.

Configuration Menu and Software Features

Once I powered up the radio, I found the menu interface refreshingly easy to navigate. If you have any experience in model aircraft, you’ll be able to figure out how to set everything up within minutes of turning the radio on. I can’t say the same about OpenTX radios like the Taranis so this is a definite plus.

020_menu_aux_channelsThe configuration menu is very well filled out with features. It includes all the basics like reversing, EPA adjustment, dual rates and expo, mixing, throttle curves, etc. You can use this radio for any aircraft – RC helis, airplanes and of course quadcopters.

I was surprised to find the radio comes with a telemetry option. You would need to buy some iBUS-compatible sensors to get anything special but by default you get an “error” feed (similar to RSSI) and receiver voltage. Pretty cool.

Speaking of telemetry – another neat feature of the radio is that the RX and TX seem to have some sort of synchronized settings feature. What I mean by this is you can change RX settings like failsafe values, telemetry, iBUS ports, etc from the TX with the RX powered off. Once the RX is powered on these settings sync across and immediately take effect.

The binding process was also refreshingly easy. Simply plug in a bind plug on the RX and power it up. The indicator light should flash red. Next, power up the FlySky FS-i6 while holding down the Bind Key. The indicator light on the RX will turn solid red and binding is done. Couldn’t be simpler.

Receivers

fs_ia6b_rxI’d say the FlySky receivers that come with the radio are the big downside of this radio system. Depending on where you buy the radio, you can get one of two receivers:

FS-iA6 – The more common of the receivers. You can hack this one down to a reasonable size but for now it only supports PWM output, which is a tremendous PITA to hook up and doesn’t even work with most flight controllers. A new feature coming out in the upcoming BetaFlight 3.1 release will enable the use of iBus with the cheaper and comparatively smaller FS-iA6 receiver. Antennas are not replaceable.
FS-iA6B – If you are flying racing miniquads, this is the receiver you’ll want for now. That being said, it’s incredibly bulky, doesn’t break down easily, and will not easily fit in smaller racing quads. Again, the antennae are not replaceable.
A8B – This RX has the right form factor, but has only 1 antenna without an extension. If you can mount the antenna into clean air this might be a good option for you.
X6B – This is the RX that will bring the FlySky system into parity with FrSky IMO. It features iBus output, telemetry and diversity antennae that are replaceable. Unfortunately, it’s only available for preorder at the time of the righting.

I’d say the non-replaceable antennae is the biggest problem. If you are just getting into miniquads, you will chop up some antennae. A lot of them. The one good thing that can be said about all of these receivers is that they are cheap. With FrSky antennae running at as much as $3 for replacement pairs – maybe it’s not such a big deal to simply buy an entirely new FlySky RX at $10 when you break the antennae.

Internals

Being an embedded software engineer by trade, I couldn’t resist opening up the radio to try to figure out how it worked. If you aren’t interested in technical details, skip to the conclusion. Otherwise, here goes:

The radio’s internal layout is pretty typical. Gimbals and switches up top and a big PCB behind the LCD screen. Unlike the Taranis and many other radios, the radio transceiver chip (that’d be the one with a metal plate covering it in the picture below) is soldered directly onto the PCB. Here’s what it looks like. Click the image to zoom in.

tx_internals

All of the gimbals, switches and pots look pretty good. Soldering quality is generally pretty nice and the main PCB looks like it was done by a machine – as expected at this price point. The radio transceiver chip is protected from external RF noise by a metal enclosure – standard practice for radios but nice to see nonetheless.

I removed the RF plate to check out what type of chip was being used – it is an Amiccom A7106. The same chip is also used on receivers – which is why two way communication (telemetry) is available on every FlySky product. By the datasheet, this chip is capable of 100mW transmitter output and has a receiver sensitivity of -107dBm at it’s lowest data rate. Both of these figures are actually better than the capabilities of the CC2500 chip that the taranis uses – indicating that this radio should be capable of similar radio performance to the Taranis – especially if you were to install a better antenna.

Speaking of antennae – I was pleasantly surprised to find that the TX has 2 uFL connectors on the main PCB for TX antennae. These two antennae are mounted to the frame at a 90 degree orientation – which should cut out some of the polarity losses that can come from holding the transmitter in the wrong direction:

tx_antennae

Some may consider this “diversity” – but “diversity” as a concept only really works on radio receivers. If you transmit the same signal from two antennas you can actually cause big areas with no signal due to interference between the two antennae. It’s likely that this transmitter actually actively switches between the two antennae while transmitting. Either way – since uFL connectors are used these antennas can be easily replaced by higher gain antennae if you want longer range. Sweet!

To the right of the RF chip is the Atmel computer that controls it. This’d be the computer that drives the LCD, stores settings, interfaces with the gimbals, and receives telemetry information. In other words, it contains the logic that actually makes the FlySky radio be a RC radio and not a pacemaker / GPS tagger / wireless sensor / etc.

Further right is a interesting set of pin headers labeled “Debug”. 3 of these pins appear to be a special sort of SPI interface (which normally has 4 pins). Presumably this header is used to program the Atmel chip at the factory and can be used to unbrick it if you break it by installing bad firmware or something. Thom from Base Junction has put a spectrum analyzer on these pins and found that when the radio is turned on they allow you to see the data being sent between the RF transceiver and the atmel computer. If you wanted to hack this radio, putting your own RF chip on this header might be a good place to start. Cool that it’s broken out here.

Conclusion

My initial thought was the FS-i6 would be a good entry-level radio. After using it, though, it’s hard to call this radio “entry-level” anymore. It wasn’t 5 years ago that we were forced to fly with radios that were configured by dip switch if you wanted to spend $50 – these are true entry level radios. This FS-i6 is actually functionally better than the first 2.4GHz radio I purchased for $400 in 2008. If you want to get into racing miniquads and you are on a budget, this is absolutely the best option on the market. The downsides of this radio are mostly ergonomics and cosmetics – you can and will win races with it; you can do all the acro maneuvers you see in your favorite quadcopter videos.

Props:
  • Fully featured RC TX for less than $50!
  • Really small and lightweight, but still quite ergonomic.
  • Really easy to store in a backpack due to recessed antenna and small design.
  • Surprisingly hackable.
Slops:
  • Receivers leave a lot to be desired:
    • No small receivers.
    • Receivers do not have replaceable antennae.
  • Only 6 channels can be a limitation depending on what you want to fly.
  • Recessed TX antennae are more likely to have reception problems.

Again, we want to thank the team over at Gearbest for providing one of these transmitters for review.  Definitely check it out over at Gearbest by clicking this link, or by pressing the button below!

flysky-fs-i6-gearbest

References

A lot of work has been spent attempting to reverse engineer the FlySky radio. The idea is to improve it by adding more channels or adding the capability to transmit on Spektrum or FrSky radio bands. For this review, I referenced a few of these articles, and I recommend you check them out (and their respective blogs) if you are interested in the hacking side of this hobby:

Disassembling the TX and adding more channels: Base Junction or FliteTest Forums
Adding a 4-band TX module to support every other radio on the market: Nathan Vertile’s Blog

 

 

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