Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Helicopter UAV Tests: Blade CP+

So, its been a while since I've done any updates, but I should point out that its been REALLY cold, and I was tired, and well... Ok, I'm lazy. I was fortunate enough to get an EFlite Blade CP+ for Christmas from my dad-in-law (he understands my addiction). From my extensive helicopter experience (see previous post), I figured this would be the perfect way for me to get some real flight time in without having to worry about all the problems associated with flying the glow-powered helicopter outdoors (wind, gas, starters, cold weather, rain, earth, lawn gnomes).

I've logged approximately 15 flights so far this Winter since I got the thing. I've also been practicing a lot with the simulator (Realflight G4) for forward flight.

A few of my most recent flights have included the onboard wireless video camera. I'll post the latest one as soon as its available! Unfortunately, with the symmetrical blades, it small helicopter doesn't have enough 'umph' to fly outside of ground effect while carrying the camera payload. I should be able to improve this by using some flight-bottom rotor blades and my lighter camera/tx combo which is currently permanently mounted inside the EasyStar. I also plan on doing the Brushless Motor upgrade in the future.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Aftermath of a Crash: Crashtermath

Well, I thought it would be a good idea to get my Raptor 30 helicopter tuned up and running again. Found a nice guy out at the flying club (www.crskyhawks.org) who got the thing setup correctly. Ended up running three tanks of gas through it while trying to hover, accidently landed with a 'bit' too much left to right 'slide'. Main rotor kissed the ground and a 'pieces-of-helicopter-fountain' materialized.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Upcoming Weekend: Stay Tuned

So, I'm headed back to Old Kinderhook this weekend, and I'm planning on doing a bit more First Person Video if the weather cooperates, so expect more another video post soon afterward. I haven't had much time to do any development due to wedding planning, bachelor partying, float tripping, and wedding attending. I've scoped out a bunch of new places in Cedar Rapids where I'd like to do some 'longer range testing'. We'll see how it goes.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to do any flying as we were REALLY busy getting the house ready for the upcoming wedding. We'll see if I can't get some flying done on the Sunday/Monday after the wedding. (October 4th!)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Seeing is Believing: First FPV Flight

I was able to finally get some real first person video (FPV) flying in! I had left my video recorder at home, so I borrowed an Archos 605 Mobile DVR which made a HUGE difference. Much larger screen made it much more comfortable for me to finally take my eyes completely off the airplane. I got about 20 mintues of video flying at Old Kinderhook (golf course in Missouri). Unfortunately there wasn't a good landing point near where I launched from, so the flight ended in a crash! Luckily, the Easystar was fixed in less than 5 minutes with some epoxy. Check out the edited video below!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Development Stalled: Microcontrollers are Hard to Debug with PRINT Statements

I've done a fair about of tinkering with my UAV code the past month or two. I currently am able to read in a current GPS position, specify a 'desired' GPS position, and receive back the bearing and distance to the desired point, from my current point. I have programmed in some 'starter' code in order to have the rudder deflect to attempt to correct the aircraft's course using the actual track of my aircraft and comparing it to the desired track.

So far so good, except I have run into an issue testing the code. Since I only have one UART (serial port), and since I need it for GPS data, I haven't been able to 'debug' and test the code using PRINT statements like I'm used to. For a few weeks I dabbled with adding an LCD screen to printout relavant information, but that also proved to be a huge headache as type conversions, GPS errors, etc all started piling up and I never knew which part of the system was hosed. In order to solve this problem, I am going to implement a 'Software Serial' interface in order to do some real debugging and continue.

In addition to the above issues, I have had spotty luck with the accuracy of my onboard calculations. I'm not sure if the GPS is overoading the buffer, or what the issue is at this point, but I assume the answer will fall out when I am able to debug properly again.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

GPS Success: Navigation Data Acquired

After fiddling a bit with the ETEK GPS Receiver, I finally got real data to come out! The datasheet included said the default baud rate was 4800 but it is infact 38400 baud. I assumed 4800 and the data being shown piped from the Arduino was all kinds of garbled nonsense. I decided to bypass the Arduino to see what was actually being sent from the GPS by loading a blank sketch (read: empty program which does nothing) onto the microcontroller. I popped up trusty old Hyper-terminal and started reading the nonsense. After setting the baud rate to 38400, the beautiful NMEA strings were happily populating my terminal window.

Next steps are to decode the stings and assign the outputs to readable variables. Anyone have a GPS output simulator?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Progress Continues: Microcontroller and GPS Purchased

Arduino Diecimilia


  • Has a serial input

  • Multiple Analog input/output controls

  • Very cheap (~$30)

  • Familiar programming language

  • Large user help base

After buying this, I realzied I need a GPS first and foremost:



  • Cheap (~$55) seeing a pattern here?

  • 5 Hz refresh rate (say wah!?, most are 1Hz, or even 1/2Hz)

  • Serial NMEA output

Anyone know where I can get cheap, accurate pressure sensors?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

EasyStar Completed

The EasyStar is finally finshed. I was able to fit all of my 'current' components inside without any issues. There is not a lot of 'extra' room to fit the microcontroller board and wiring internally, so I will more than likely be attaching the electronics to do temperature, pressure, gps, in a separate detachable module. This will allow me to use other aircraft as test beds as well without having to tear apart a perfectly good plane!

Construction Continues: Organizing Internal Components

Here is a closeup of the motor mount (aircraft plywood) which I cut out to support my brushless motor. The original plans called for a brushed Speed 400 motor which was to be glued into the aircraft. Since my brushless motor is an 'Outrunner' (outer part of motor actually turns), I had to mound it to something immobile inside the motor fairing. Luckily, nothing was rubbing when I glued it all together.

One more motor mount closeup

Two halves of the the aircraft just before I glued them together

Here you can see some of the internal components (from front to back):

  • The 6-Channel JR Receiver

  • 500mW Video Transmitter

  • Camera Voltage Regulator

The following items round out the rest of the components:

  • Camera Battery

  • Flight and Video Transmitter Battery

  • Brushless Electronic Speed Controller

  • AXI 2212/20 Brushless Motor

Monday, January 14, 2008

A New Beginning: EasyStar Construction Begins

After ordering on Thursday evening, my EasyStar (and accessories) arrived on SATURDAY! I spent a few hours Saturday and a few hours on Sunday getting the thing whipped into shape. The rudder looked awfully inadequate; so instead of proceeding how the kit recommended, I decided to modify the tail to use an aerodynamically balanced (and larger) rudder as you can see in the picture.
I discovered I was short one HS-80 servo for the elevator, so I'll be stopping by the local Hobby Shop to pick that up today.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Platform Selected: Multiplex EasyStar

The decision was between three aircraft; all available from Hobby-Lobby.

1. Multiplex EasyStar

Very affordable ($59)

Probably fits all my current equipment (propeller will most likely be too wide)

Easily upgradable

Spare parts available

2. Hobby-Lobby Wingo

Most expensive of the bunch ($99)

Landing gear

Greatest wing area (for slower flights)

Not as easily modified

3. Graupner UHU

Sort-of Landing Gear

Relatively expensive ($98)

(Honestly, I didn't research this one much)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Search Begins: New UAV Platforms Being Evaluated

Due to the damage, and lack of suitable upgradeability, I am going to forgo repairs on the Tipsy Nipper and instead buy a larger, more repairable, more upgradible test platform for the system.

Key features to consider:

  • Portability of current power system (Motor, Speed Controller, Battery)

  • Availability of spare parts and/or repairability

  • Slow speed

  • High lift

  • Pusher prop (so propeller doesn't get in the way of the video feed)

Many people have been using the Mutliplex EasyStar, but I feel this may be due in part to the large success of vrflyer using this platform (essentially many people probably just copy his setup).

I am looking at possibly buying the Wingo Porter (see picture above). It has two motors, HUGE wing area, and is very durable and repairable. In addition, the Porter is also designed to carry a payload. Unfortunately, it appears as though it may no longer be available.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Disaster: Nipper Damaged

Sadly, after hosting a raging halloween party, somehow the Tipsy Nipper got knocked from its perch in my basement. The wing spar was broken causing the wings to come apart, the rudder was broken in the middle, and two holes were punched in the monokote. Sad day indeed.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

First Video

Success! The system worked like a charm, except for some sporatic interference mainly due to me flying behind a hill which was blocking the video RX. Erik served as Ground-station Master General and manned all the electronics on the ground while I flew. We flew for about 15 minutes and captured a lot of great video. Since I didn't have a free channel to control the pan mount of the camera, I decided to couple the rudder to the camera movement. Unfortunately, the ratio of camera movement to rudder movement was far too small. This resulted in almost no pan ability because the massive rudder control threw the plane into death spins. Landing was 'interesting' as I tried to slow the plane down to a safe enough speed for Erik to catch it; unfortunately, in addition to my shoddy piloting skills, the heavy plane just wouldn't fly slow enough for a mid-air retrieval.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

First Platform: Bohemia Models - Tipsy Nipper

The Bohemia Models 'Tipsy Nipper' will be my first platform for integration of my video equipment. Smaller parkflyer for a brushed Speed 300 size motor.

  • KX-131 Color Camera
  • 600mAh Camera Battery
  • 300mW TX
  • 1800mAh Main Battery
  • AXI 2212/20 Brushless Motor
  • 8x6 APC Propeller