FMA Direct CoPilot


Created the 6th March 2005

Did you ever wish that when something goes wrong, while your plane, or helicopter, is flying, suddenly, a power coming from somewhere, would just take control of the situation and save the day ?

Good news for us, this power exists and is called the FMA Direct Copilot. As it is, it can work for 3 types of flying machines, but a newer version should expend this to even more types of models and more options of control.


How does it work ?

As explained in the User Manual, the CoPilt looks at the horizon with infrared heat sensors (same technology used for thermal imaging cameras). The earth is warmer than the sky (even covered with snow) . Copilot sees this temperature difference, and sends corrective signals to the Roll and Pitch servos, in consequences, to keep the aircraft level, if you don't touch the stick.

Since the infrared environment is not affected by variation in visible light levels, an airplane equipped with CoPilot could be flown at night. Only substantial changes in weather cause gradual variations in infrared temperature throughout a day. Heavy fog, flying through clouds, or snow on the ground cause the infrared signature to vary. Also, as a model flies over a terrain, there is some variation in the average infrared temperature. Due to this, a calibration procedure fine-tunes performance on the field.

Weight: 1 oz.
Ratings: Accuracy: 2 degrees
Dimensions: 1.35 (octagonal) by 0.53 thick; microprocessor 1.50 x 0.89 x 0.60; power consumption 5 ma.


Who needs a Virtual CoPilot ?

  • Anyone starting in the hobby, or flying a new type of machine he is not used to

  • Anyone wanting to take aerial photos that need either a stable flight, or 1 hand completely free for doing other actions, like pressing some buttons to take shots, while flying

  • As a safety device, to make sure that in case, there is this magic button that will take control


What will it do ?


What it means is that you can do all the possible craziest maneuver and when you feel you lost it, just drop the stick and let your virtual "CoPilot" installed in your flying machine, do the rest, meaning leveling it in a fast and precise way. Then, when you see again that everything is stablelized, you can start again taking controls by moving the stick away from neutral.



How to set it up ?

Make sure to secure it flat, where the manual indicates it could be installed, connect the servo wires into the CoPilot plugs, then connect the CoPilot Plugs into the receiver, you're done for the wiring.

2 phases:

  1. The one  you do once and for all, for the model you install the CoPilot on. This phase it to check that the Copilot controls the Pitch and Roll correctly. Takes about 1 minute.

  2. The one recommended to do at the beginning of each day of flight, or if weather or flying conditions change drastically during the day. Takes about 10 seconds.



Is the User Manual clear ?

It is so nicely done. With many pictures, with each simple step explained to every possible angle. No space for guesses, everything is covered. But a picture speaks more than 1000 words, so here are 2 examples



Anything needed, on the flying field ?

No, just calibrating it once for the day and fly :)


Can you control its effects ?

  • If you have a free channel on your TX/RX. Then just plug the extra cable into the free channel in your servo, and with a knob, you  can control the effect of the Copilot, from 0 to full effects.

  • If you don't have a free channel on your TX/RX. Then you will still be able to control the effect of the CoPilot, but only when the model will be on the ground. There is for this effect a proportional knob, called THROW, on the Copilot, that will enable to set the sensitivity, manually.




Does it work ?

Helicopter: Let's say the following, while reviewing it, it actually saved twice, my helicopter from crashing as I lost sight (just started to learn how to fly helicopters...). Now, I did remove the CoPilot from being used 100% to no Copilot at all, and let me say that it is ok, since I learned already quite a lot with the CoPilot but still, a LOT harder.


Delta Wing: Trying it on the Zagi, I forgot where the CG was supposed to be, as well as the elevons extensions. Well, during each loop, the Zagi would start spinning like crazy, after being about 80% of the loop. I released immediately the stick and magic, took the zagi back to normal, in a snap.


I tried all possible maneuvers I could think of, from forced stall, spins, loops and at each tests, I let the CoPilot only when the model was in the worse possible position. Each time, the CoPilot took control immediately and put back the Zagi in a clean straight level flight, without me having to do anything, except watching how amazing it is. I wish I would have had it long ago, when I learned and destroyed so many electronic components due to my crashes...




Regular aileron airplane (with single Servo): Since all my planes use 2 servos for the ailerons, this test will be performed on a rudder/elevator only plane. Test done, it works perfectly. So anyone learning on a 2 axes plane, can easily use the CoPilot and remove the risks of loosing control of the plane.


Important Note

This said, when you start your flying day, you need to calibrate it. if the calibration returns a 3/10 or below, for the weather conditions, it will not help much. Anything above 6-7 will provide excellent response.


1) The current CoPilot does not handle CCPM helicopters or aircraft configurations that include differential ailerons or flapperons. The CoPilot will only operate in aircraft that use one servo for pitch and one servo for roll controls. The newer version of the Copilot does these models

2) If you operate a Futaba or JR PCM radio please refer to the FMA Direct Web site FAQ section for additional information. 


Let's see it in action


2 axes plane: Omega 180 Windows Format or Real Player Format
Delta Plane: Zagi Windows Format or Real Player Format
Helicopter: Corona Windows Format or Real Player Format


Is it worth the price ?

3 Factors to consider:

  1. Savings

  2. Satisfaction in this hobby for a new comer

  3. Do you just need it

Crashing a plane is rarely without anything broken parts, even when using EPP planes. The plane could remain intact, but the electronic is, on many occasions, damaged. 

  • Receiver: From $40 to $60

  • Battery: From $20 to $50

  • ESC: From $25 to $100

  • Motor: From $9 to $120 for a basic trainer

  • Servos: From $15 to $45

So even taking the cheapest from each category, it is clear that even 1 bad crash could pay for a CoPilot already. It is not unusual already to see more expensive components than the cheapest in each category, so it would go far beyond the price of the CoPilot, pretty fast. Adding that few crashes generally happen to beginners, the savings are important.

There is this second factor which is the satisfaction to learn well, meaning not to crash too often. So many people started the hobby, and due to bad experience, just gave up. Not everyone can pay for lessons or even can find a friend to help during the first few phases of the learning stages. The CoPilot would here do great, replacing these people, to prevent many crashes for the new comer.

As for someone who needs it for photos or videos that require stable flight, there is just no equivalent on the market for such price.

Shipping box quality ?

The shipping box is strong and all the parts are well protected. No way anything could happen to the unit, while shipped.



I can't recommend enough this tiny device. It works as advertised, and is so easy to install and configure. There is such a good feeling of safe flying with it, and it is also not diminishing the learning phase in any way. On the contrary, it certainly helps to progress faster as you can concentrate on the exact phase you need to progress on. While you become more experienced, you can then decrease slowly the effect of the CoPilot to eventually leave the nest and fly like a real bird.

Money wise, it is as much obvious. For a beginner, lot's of $$ saved by avoiding many unnecessary crashes while progressing faster, and with less frustrations.

For the experienced pilot who need more stable flight characteristics like for taking video or photos, there is nothing like this little micro piece of extreme concentrated high tech.

Should it replace the need for an instructor? No ! 
Think about it like how did you learn how to swim. The CoPilot is like the swimming belt that helps you staying above the water. Every lesson, you make this belt less and less strong, and you finally swim without it. Still, an instructor is here to teach and help you.

Well done of the engineers from FMA to have developed such an amazing device.


Latest Update: Monday, 20 June 2005