Radio Controlled Flight

Ken’s Gun Day

A while back, Ken heard about a nice/safe/legal place to shoot out on some federal land. He was nice enough to take Logan and I there and reveal its secret location. We got there around 10am on a Saturday and there was another group setting up. Thankfully, they were friendly and very safety conscious. We had a safety meeting with them before any shots were fired and agreed on some protocols to make sure the day stayed fun for everyone. Aside from making the shooting area a little more cramped, they didn’t bother us at all.

Logan and Ken provided all of the guns and ammo. I can’t even tell you the names of everything they had, but I had fun shooting them. I brought along my shotgun but with the other group there, we decided not to throw any clays.

I snapped a few photos with my camera and also brought my quadcopter along. I figure if we’re going to participate in an activity that needlessly frightens big portions of the population, I might as well throw a DRONE into the mix too. The quadcopter was a little unbalanced producing some jello-y footage. I forgot to set it on 720p60 instead of 1080p30 which would have produced a little smoother video. But it’s still fun to see the site from the air and I popped it up a couple hundred feet high to take a peek around.

Thanks Ken for showing us your secret spot and thanks to both Ken and Logan for letting me play with all their toys!

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airshepherdpoachingPoaching is a $19 billion industry in Africa. It’s a big problem with a huge ecological impact, but it’s a very difficult one to solve. There’s too much ground to cover to do it with actual humans, but there is now a team in Africa doing this with drones. Obviously it’s good because it’s helping to save animals, but the tech angle is awesome.

First, they use big data processing back in Maryland to predict where the poachers will be. Then they send out UAVs with ~2 hour flight times to monitor the area. If poachers are detected, an enforcement team is sent out to stop them before they kill any animals. A ground team is there to rotate batteries and they have a 3D printer so they can fabricate just about anything they need to keep the planes aloft. The system works. In the last six months, they have completely shut down poaching in one of the parks where they were previously seeing 12-19 deaths/month.

The operation costs $500K/year for just a single team. It’s not cheap, but it’s important. They’ve set up an IndieGogo campaign to fund their work.

There are so many negative stories in the press about “drones”. It’s nice to see a good story come through.


dronefieldThere’s so much negative press around the radio controlled hobby right now. Any time I see a headline with the word “drone” in it or I hear someone on the radio start talking about “drones”, I feel compelled to look away or change the station. It’s almost certainly going to frustrate me. Sometimes neighbors walk up when I’m flying my multicopter and say “Is that a drone?” The snarky reply I want to give is “Only if you watch too much TV”, but instead I try to give them a little education about what it can and can’t do.

It’s not their fault for being uneducated about a hobby that is going through a massive period of change. The electronics needed to succeed in remote control flight are orders of magnitude better than they were 10 or even 5 years ago. This technological growth is allowing whole new groups of people to enter the hobby, and while the vast majority of us are responsible, there are always a few people who feed the media frenzy around “drones.”

Why the big change now? Ten years ago, if you wanted to fly anything remote controlled, you needed to like learning/building as part of the hobby. You probably needed a friend to help you decipher it all and you probably flew at a club site where lots of other people could teach you how to fly safely. With all the new technology, you can walk into a hobby store, plop down your credit card, and walk out with something that would have been science fiction a decade ago. You don’t need to know anything about actual flight. Just push the stick and the computers will translate that into some sort of “safe” flight using lots of sensor to back you up. What might have taken you a month of learning and training with other people helping you can now be accomplished in hours on your own.

It’s that “on your own part” that is causing all the trouble. You didn’t build it yourself to learn how it works and what is dangerous about the device, and you didn’t have someone there how to be safe. It might all be ok, but you learn how to fly completely reliant on all the onboard computers and sensors. You might not even know that there’s a GPS receiver on there that is keeping your multicopter from flying away. What happens when that GPS receiver loses it’s signal? What happens when the accelerometer board has a glitch? Can you fly it manually and safely get it back home or are you going to crash into the White House lawn or a crowd of kids in a park? This is how news stories get made.

It’s easy to cross the line here and sound like an old curmudgeon that doesn’t want new people in his hobby. It’s awesome that so many people are getting excited about this hobby, but it’s not awesome that they are taking a “shortcut” and skipping a lot of the background needed to do it safely.

The FAA is scrambling to try and enact some regulations around this. So far, most of those have been overreaching and ridiculous. We already have laws to cover things that people are concerned about with “drones.” We don’t need extra ones. But what might make sense is requiring a license before you can fly either privately or commercially. Make people take some basic training/online test that teaches about the safety rules and guidelines both to protect other people and to protect the pilot.

Eventually we’ll get to a point where the onboard sensors and computers are SO good that you really can fly these without much training or knowledge. It’s just this interim period that is dangerous for the future of the hobby. Overreactions at this point can put a real damper on the progression needed to get to that safe point.

UMX F4U Corsair Review

For my birthday, Tyla bought me a Bixler 2 which was a nice step up from the foam board airplanes I had been building before. I’ve had a ton of fun with that and only one bad crash (but it was flight ready again in less than 15 minutes.)

For Christmas, she bought me another step up in difficulty: the UMX F4U Corsair BNF with AS3X from E-flit. That’s a mouthful, but as you might have guessed, it’s an F4. And it’s TINY. The wingspan is less than 16″! The “AS3X” part of the name is a little on-board computer that helps keep the tiny plane from feeling too touchy. The net effect is that it flies like a much bigger plane as the computer seamlessly counteracts the effects of wind.

This plane is small but it’s still a bit too fast to fly in our cul-de-sac. It’s a great one for a soccer field though and the schools down the street provide lots of flying opportunities for it.

The tiny plane doesn’t skimp on the details. I took my own pictures but these photos from the marketing site are much better. Want to fly it sometime? I’d be happy to buddy box with you!


Spider Quad First Flights

quad_rainiercroppedMy new Flite Test spider quad was all put together and the first flight was a success. So what do you do on the second and third flights? Strap a GoPro to it! I specifically built it in this style with the front arms spread wide so that the video image wouldn’t have any obstructions. Might as well see how it works.

It works fantastically! There is no fancy camera stabilization system on this. The camera hangs from some bent wire that absorbs some vibrations. That, combined with time spent balancing each propeller, produces some pretty clean video. It’s significantly better than I expected and will be more than fine for the type of projects I have in mind for it.

What you see below is from the second time out. It turns out that my house DOES have a view of Rainier. You just need to get a few hundred feet up in the air to see it. Enjoy!

P.S. So why am I calling this a “quadcopter” or “multicopter” instead of a “drone”? I’m not a big fan of the word drone because it feels like the media has given it a negative connotation. Plus, I believe that a drone is something that is capable of autonomous flight. Granted, this quad that I’ve built could be autonomous with about $50 worth of electronics but it’s not a drone yet.