Dream Flight Ahi Review
My first impressions of the Ahi are really positive. I’ve flown the plane three times now, in a variety of conditions from light to moderate, and have collected my thoughts here for those interested in learning more about this great little plane.
Had it out to Ellwood after work and was fortunate to get some decent-to-good lift (didn’t measure but I estimate 9-12mph steady), and just slightly off-center. Typical afternoon conditions, the compression built up in the bowls nicely and really let me put the plane through its paces.
I carefully followed the instructions while building and think they’ll give an outstanding result to anyone. Using the recommended 12g servos and battery from Dream-Flight, the plane needed zero noseweight to balance at a reasonable place (nice eh?). I am experimenting with the CG and am definitely liking it more and more the further I push it back, I’m currently about 4-5mm in front of the main spar and it feels pretty good there. Recommend that you just follow the directions as far as CG goes, start with something a little more forward and work your way back if you feel like it. The instructions have great info on dialing in your CG.
Performance was excellent, despite the small size and light weight it had absolutely no trouble penetrating, carried excellent speed, had a very fast and axial roll, excellent rudder and elevator authority, and overall was just a joy to fly. It felt very familiar – very much in the same vein as all the best slope aerobats I’ve flown in the past 15+ years – but at the same time had its own unique personality.
It presents like a much bigger plane, more like a 1.5m plane than the little 1.2m it actually is. Balanced at the neutral point recommended in the instructions, it will require very little forward stick while inverted, and will fly as precisely as any of the composite/molded dedicated slope aerobats I’ve flown over the years (i.e. Voltij, Wasabi, etc.), assuming the pilot so desires and is capable. It will also allow you to do the type of shenanigans seen in my Le Fish ultrabatics videos.
The semi-symmetrical airfoil is slightly noticeable (meaning: the inverted performance is just a hair different than the upright), but make no mistake: this is a full-on, 100% capable aerobatics glider. You can do multiple outside loops with no problem, and chain continuous upright & inverted figures together easily. One cool thing about the airfoil is that it makes the inverted spin and snaprolls REALLY GOOD. You can do an inverted/negative-G snaproll in the blink of an eye, it’s extremely axial, and recovers as soon as you release the sticks. Looks wild as heck but is easy to pull off and if you flub it, the light weight will almost certainly help you to recover and get going again well before you crash.
Knife edge performance is very good, comparable to a Le Fish, Wasabi or Voltij. To get a long knife edge pass, pick up speed, roll on your side and then feed in as little rudder as possible, just enough to keep the nose at or slightly above the horizon. You should be able to do a nice (for a slope glider, heh) knife pass for a reasonable distance. You can also use the rudder to hang the plane on its side, into the wind, and do the whole “slide down the firepole” thing . In short, side area and rudder effectiveness are very good, completely appropriate for this style of flying.
The plane definitely likes to have a bit of rudder coordination in its turns. You don’t have to do this, but it helps clean it up. Not hard at all, in fact, the feedback you get is so immediate and obvious that I think this will be an excellent plane to learn how to use rudder with. Don’t be put off by this – learning to coordinate your turns is step 1 to learning how to use the rudder to do all sorts of awesome aerobatics. That’s why you want an aerobatics plane, right?
It’s very lightweight, so most “oops” type situations can be corrected just by neutralizing the sticks for a moment. This will quickly bring the plane out of whatever weird attitude you’ve managed to get it in, and give you (hopefully) ample opportunity to recover. The plane is light enough and tough enough that the few pancake landings / crashes I’ve had, have resulted in zero damage. It’s EPO, so it’s not indestructible by any means, but it’s in that sweet spot of being fast but not so heavy that it can hurt itself too easily. Obviously, you mileage will vary, but I am a very “throw caution to the wind” kind of pilot and go for all kinds of low passes and am not afraid to crash. The plane seems to be handling that very well so far.
During my second session, the wind was a steady 8mph (measured) straight-in – a fair bit lighter than my first flight the day before. These are good conditions for a light plane at Ellwood and the Ahi has no trouble at all with them. It was fast, agile and fully aerobatic in those conditions, just really a lot of fun to fly. It was still had plenty of reserve and wasn’t struggling in the least.
At the lower end of the lift spectrum, the positive attributes of the clean, low drag design and molded execution really come to the fore. The plane accelerates quickly and maintains its speed through maneuvers in a way that a draggier plane won’t. This gives a small bit of extra margin, enough that things that might feel a little dicey are instead comfortable. I wasn’t intentionally flying cautiously, but I found that I was avoiding situations that might have resulted in a crash with other planes – because this small reserve of speed/energy, thanks to the clean design, meant I had an extra measure of control at lower speeds. It’s really interesting and cool.
The takeaway was that this plane was very comfortable at the lower end of the lift spectrum. 8mph straight-in at Ellwood is generally really fun for the “right” kind of plane – an Ultralight Le Fish, a Weasel, an Alula, etc. The Ahi was no different, completely comfortable and able to deliver really good performance. Got some nice weed whacks in – always fun to fly away from the slope lip with bits of shrubbery wrapped around your leading edge!
My after work session saw the wind shift more off-center, even more than the previous day, and increase in strength to around 11-12mph steady. These are also pretty typical Ellwood conditions, as the afternoon wears on, the wind tends to clock around to the W and NW. It’s a another great test of a glider’s cleanliness – a streamlined plane like a Weasel will have no trouble “beating” upwind, whereas some other, draggier designs will slow to a crawl.
Happily, once again the Dream Flight pedigree was on full display. The Ahi easily penetrated upwind with very little reduction in speed, and was able to make full use of the lift band well out away from the bluff. The lift was more than ample for doing all sorts of high energy aerobatics, and I was once again struck by how similar the Ahi’s performance felt to one of my composite aerobatics gliders. It is completely up to the task of performing precision aerobatics, and offered very crisp and precise responses to all my inputs. My figures were as accurate as I could make them – I didn’t have to fight the plane at all.
One other thing I noticed, and which I really liked, was something that’s been a characteristic of the Weasel since its earliest days. If you fly cleanly, your plane will stay very arrow-straight as it goes through various rolling figures, but if you overcontrol on the rudder, or mistime your coordination of rudder and aileron, you’ll see a bit of side-to-side “yaw waggle.” The Weasel was (for me anyways) famous for this – you could tell a good Weasel pilot from a great one by whether or not his plane would waggle as he put it through its paces. The less waggle, the cleaner the inputs; the cleaner the inputs, the greater the speed.
So, as a training aid for those seeking to improve their aerobatics mastery (present author included), the Ahi will actually teach you to fly cleaner because it gives you subtle yet evident feedback when you’re overdoing it on the sticks. There’s no oversized vertical stabilizer to mute it. Very cool, very good for helping you grow and improve as a pilot. Something I’ve always appreciated about Michael’s planes – probably a totally unintended side-effect of unrelated design choices, but a feature and benefit nonetheless.
Over the past 3 sessions flying the Ahi, one of the most common things I’ve noticed has been inadvertent outbreaks of laughter. I’m constantly being surprised and delighted by this plane and its wonderful performance. As I mentioned in my original flight report, the plane feels very familiar, and on the surface, it is. But as I fly it more, I get more and more glimpses of the Ahi’s unique personality, and I really like it. There’s much to explore here, it’s a new departure from the planes I’ve been flying for the past 10 years and it’s a welcome one. The speed, the energy, the precision are all much more like a molded or composite plane, but the weight, durability and “lightness of mind” that come while flying are foamie through-and-through.
I remain extremely impressed by this plane, and almost pinching myself as I realize that this experience is one that many people will have the opportunity to enjoy. I’m so tremendously excited to see what comes from this plane’s introduction, I genuinely believe that this is a game-changer for slope aerobatics. This is the plane I’ve been dreaming of having on the market for years; it’s the plane that the slope aerobatics niche has needed for 10+ years.
The Ahi flies great, does (almost) every trick in the book* out of the box, is forgiving, and super easy to assemble. It looks cool, can go fast, can go slow, can be flown precise or wild. It’s approachable for a pilot who has never flown an aerobatics glider before, and will satisfy even the most expert pilot with its performance. It’s easily replaceable if it gets S.L.O.P.E.-ed**, and will be readily available (unlike some of the more esoteric designs out there that are often homebrew only).
If you are even remotely interested in slope aerobatics, or just looking for a tremendously capable and fun sloper, the Ahi is your jam. Get one.
Ahi available from Dream-Flight.com.
* It will be easy-peasy to add a madstab for those so inclined.
** S.L.O.P.E. = Smashed Lost Or Pulverized Eventually. The ultimate fate of every slope plane. Embrace it. Replace it.