With a close eye on the weather radar, Guthrie and I decided to go flying this afternoon.  We spent about twenty minutes repairing and reinforcing the plane with hot glue, bamboo skewers, duct tape, and some popsicle sticks and headed out around 2:30.  After a fairly sunny morning and forcast for a decent afternoon, we drove through rain and hail to our flying spot.  We sat in the truck through some more hail, then discovered that the electronic speed controller had come loose from the plane.  We fixed it with some double-sided tape, then sat in the truck through still more rain, hail, and gusty winds.  Finally, the dark cloud passed and it was time to fly.

Hacked together and ready to go!

Hacked together and ready to go!

The first flight ended fairly quickly in a relatively gentle crash, and this was the only crash of the day.  The many other flights ended with actual landings on the “runway,” though some landings were far prettier than others.

In the crash, the battery mount came loose, so we fixed it with double sided tape and duct tape.

In the crash, the battery mount came loose, so we fixed it with double sided tape and duct tape.

I  got fairly comfortable flying the plane around, doing some low passes, and even a couple of loops and rolls (intentional this time).  Guthrie wanted me to do a roll during a low pass so he could take a picture – uh, no.  While it wasn’t super windy, there was a light breeze and some gusts (maybe 5-7 mph, according to wunderground.com), and the plane handled them really well.  It’s smallish as RC airplanes go, but it’s big enough and stable enough to handle some wind, even with its long wing.  A common beginner mistake is to get a teensy little airplane – a bigger plane is actually much easier to fly, and easier to see at a distance, which is important.


Low pass for the camera!

 While I still have a long way to go as an RC pilot, I think we had a really productive outing today.  We actually depleted the battery to the point where the electronic speed controller (ESC) started reducing power – LiPo batteries don’t like to be discharged beyond about 80% of capacity, so the ESC lets you know when to quit.  There were many takeoffs and landings, and lots of controlled flying around.  I got out of several hairy situations without panicking or over-correcting.  There are some issues to fix.  The plane pitches up under power, even though it glides really well with power off.  I think I need to adjust the thrust angle of the motor mount, and maybe move the CG forward a tad.  The pitching up isn’t all bad, since if I hit the power, the plane will climb, but it makes low passes and fast flying difficult.

This was not one of the pretty landings, though I did get it straightened out a bit.  I honestly never noticed how the color scheme of the plane matches my truck.  Draw your own conclusions.

This was not one of the pretty landings, though I did get it straightened out a bit. I honestly never noticed how the color scheme of the plane matches my truck. Draw your own conclusions.

Guthrie is getting pretty annoyed that I won’t let him fly the plane yet.  I was once eleven, and I feel his pain, but I’ve tried to explain that the experience will be frustrating for him, and result in the total, final destruction of the plane.  While anyone can learn to fly an RC plane, the initial learning curve is very, very steep.  I’ve found that I can get a cable to connect our transmitter to a computer and use any number of free RC simulators, so I’ve ordered the cable (from Hong Kong, of course), and I’ll let the kids have some simulator time before they get to destroy the plane.


This is Very Serious.


For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been slowly building a radio controlled airplane, primarily out of foam board from Dollar Tree, packing tape, plastic gift cards, and lots and lots of hot glue. You can use plain old clear packing tape, but I ordered some colored 3M tape to make things more fun. There’s also a fair amount of duct tape on the airplane (more to come, no doubt), and a bit of double sided tape and sticky Velcro for mounting things. We used super cheap Chinese electronics (is “Chinese electronics” redundant?) from Hobby King, which are way nicer than the high-end stuff from my youth. The actual airframe probably cost less than $10, and the more expensive stuff will likely survive to be reused in the next airplane. Having built one of these, I bet I could knock one out in a couple of evenings if I really focused. It’s fun, crafty work and the kids helped, especially Tape Meister Guthrie.


I didn’t come up with this scheme myself, but followed the techniques of Ed of http://www.youtube.com/user/ExperimentalAirlines . Ed is a crazy mad genius cheapskate geek of RC airplanes, and his how-to videos are well-organized and exhaustive. Our plane is a slightly modified version of his “Axon.” We made the wing a couple of inches longer, and our fuselage three inches shorter than his specs. We also put on some pretty beefy landing gear, because taking off and landing is fun, and it helped balance the airplane. I really appreciate the open-source approach that Ed promotes. Just dive in and build it.


The very first flight. Amazing precision to hit such a small target.


Today, we went flying. Well, I went flying, Guthrie watched and took some pictures, and Sayer wandered off into a swamp. Flying an RC airplane is not easy, and we built this plane with the understanding that it might not survive its first flight. That’s the whole point of the cheap airplane. I hadn’t flown for well over twenty years, and I never flew enough to get very good at it back in the day. In spite of the “disposable” airplane, I was really nervous. My hands were literally shaking on the first few flights, which certainly didn’t help. The very first flight, I crashed right into a fire hydrant, the only solid object within fifty feet (gotta use the rudder on takeoff). After the first “real” flight and crash, I moved the battery way forward, and programmed the transmitter for 70% control throws, which made things much less twitchy. Roll, especially, was very responsive (there was one accidental barrel roll). Several crashes later, some semi-controlled, I finally got my nerves settled (the plane was damaged enough that I didn’t care anymore), and actually started to fly. With minimal trim the plane would basically fly hands-off. Most problems were caused by my interventions and over-correction. I used the controls to make “suggestions” to the plane, and it worked really well. I made three decent landings (four if you count the one after the big bounce). The hardest part about landing is that this plane glides like crazy. At around 1050g, by the kitchen scale, I thought we were a bit heavy, but after shutting off the power, the plane just goes and goes. The battery was never depleted, and I decided to quit while I was ahead, though the plane was still quite flyable. After some hot glue, bamboo skewers and duct tape, I’ll be back for more.



Final Approach

Turning on to final approach.


Gliding in to landing. Really, this one was pretty good.


Recovery crew. He was pretty busy.


The nose after many crashes – this was after the last flight. I fixed it once with red duct tape. I was worried about the battery being way out there (to keep the center of gravity forward). These batteries tend to catch fire when abused (ala Boeing 787). This plane took an amazing amount of abuse, and it will fly again.

I’ve promised the kids that once I learn to consistently fly and land, I’ll give them a go at it. We’d probably better build a back-up airplane first.

Just a quicky, here, after listening to Monday’s DemocracyNow! http://www.democracynow.org/shows/2013/3/4 , which covered the 2013 Freedom to Connect conference, a gathering to promote Internet freedom and universal connectivity. Freedom-loving geeks among us will know that the late, lamented Aaron Swartz (a man I was admittedly only vaguely aware of before his death) was the keynote speaker at last year’s conference; here’s his excellent speech – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PG-faBBotZI regarding the infamous PIPA/SOPA machinations of 2010. In a nutshell, Swartz was a victim of incredibly zealous prosecution by the Feds for copyright infringement, in spite of the fact that JSTOR, the alleged victim of his crime, declined to press charges and subsequently made the material he had “stolen” universally available. Under this pressure and the threat of decades in prison, Aaron Swartz took his own life. The efforts of the FBI and Federal prosecutors to destroy the lives of lefty/freedom activists are nothing new (MLK, cough, cough), and something I plan to explore frequently in this blog.

I will further recommend listening to this interview with Derek Khanna , a free-market Republican and former Congressional staffer, regarding possible jail time for “jailbreaking” your phone. You think you own your phone, but you might not if this goes through. Every Liberal, Conservative, Libertarian and Anarchist should be outraged. Mindless subservient drones will not notice the change.