Micro RC Spitfire RTF from Plantraco: 1.7g and 15cm wingspan 
Thursday, March 5, 2009, 07:47 PM - Flying Contraptions
Micro RC manufacturer Plantraco has a Ready-to-Fly 1/72 scale RC Spitfire, with a wingspan of 15cm, and incredible weight of 2.7 grams. The plane is available for $99 including the radio. It uses a 4mm coreless motor with a 32mm prop, a 0.38g 2channel receiver (rudder and throttle), a 0.07g rudder actuator, and a 0.95g 20mAh lipo battery.

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Jump Jet quadrocopter available at Hammacher-Schlemmer 
Thursday, November 6, 2008, 07:10 PM - Flying Contraptions
The Jump Jet quadrocopter that we mentioned early October is available in the US for $120 at Hammacher Schlemmer.

They also have the Flying Saucer quadrocopter for $80.


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Kyosho 4-channel Minium AD: Piper Cherokee and Micro Heli 
Friday, October 24, 2008, 01:30 AM - Flying Contraptions
Kyosho has been distributing the Minium series of micro-R/C aiplanes for a while. The Minium series combine a 410mm wingspan micro-R/C airplane, with a 3-channel 2.4GHz radio at a low price.

The new Piper Cherokee Minium has 4 channels (with ailerons!) with a 410mm wingspan and a mass of 26 grams. Availability is announced for November on the Kyosho web site.

There is also a Minium AD micro-heli, which is a 200mm rotor, 30 gram, full-function heli with 4-channel control.

The Kyosho America online store has the Piper and the heli on pre-order for $180, with delivery in late November. Strangely, some other US retailer has the Cherokee available on pre-order for $170 with expected delivery in late January 2009....

The YouTube video below shows other Minimum planes, some of which don't seem to have been announced.



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How parrots fly: rotating feathers 
Friday, October 24, 2008, 01:13 AM - Flying Contraptions
I was watching an amazing set of slow motion movies and pictures of parrots in flight, and suddenly realized why birds have feathers. I've always thought feathers were a kind of kludge, an accident of evolution. But the videos clearly show the advantage of feathers. The large feathers at the trailing edge of a parrot's wing are flat and overlap slightly, forming a solid trailing edge on the down stroke, like the blades of a closed venetian blind. But in the up stroke, they rotate in such a way that they slice through the ambient airflow. The trailing edge now looks like open venetian blinds. The drag in the upswing is therefore considerably less than the thrust in the upswing. I'm guessing this effect is more pronounced in slow flight where the wings are moved forward in the down stroke and back in the upstroke so as to create more lifts at slower air speed. It's the equivalent of flaps in an airplane. It's a neat trick. None of the R/C ornithopters do this.
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Your next flying contraption made of buckypaper? 
Monday, October 20, 2008, 02:03 AM - Flying Contraptions
Buckypaper is a thin "paper" made of carbon nanotubes. It will be a while before it becomes widely available (at a reasonable price), but someday, your ultralight/ultrastrong micro-RC flying contraption might be made of buckypaper.

Buckypaper is being developed at the High-Performance Materials Institute at Florida State University. It is 10 times lighter than steel and, in theory (not yet in practice), 250 times stronger.


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R/C fish blimp: peaceful 
Friday, October 17, 2008, 04:47 PM - Flying Contraptions
Bertrand pointed us to this nice video of an R/C "flying fish". It's a blimp
with an oscillating tail for propulsion and fins
for directional control. Peaceful.


Air Art from flip on Vimeo

It is reminiscent of the Festo Manta Ray blimp that appeared a while ago.

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Slew of VTOL/quadrocopters from Alien Tech Ltd 
Wednesday, October 1, 2008, 08:57 AM - Flying Contraptions
Hong Kong manufacturer Alien Technology Ltd has a whole series of low-cost micro R/C VTOL contraptions. They are behind the 20cm quadrocopter that we mentioned earlier.

They came out with a new micro quadrocopter called the Jump Jet, with a 34cm wingspan, a mass of 65 grams, and infrared control. The rotors are titled off the vertical axis in opposite pairs, so as to create a torque for better yaw control.

The Jump Jet was actually designed by UK designer Phil Jermyn, and is commercialized worldwide by UK company Snelflight. Snelflights sells the Jump Jet for 65 pounds (about $130 or 90 Euros). Wowzzers in the US claims they will have it around October 10 for $130.

There is a nice video of the Jump Jet on YouTube.

Snelflight has links to other user videos, as well a link to the user manual (PDF).

Alien's secret seems to be that they found a supplier of super cheap gyro sensors (ST Micros?), which allows them to price a flying contraption with a 3-axis gyro for less than $100, such as their 20cm quadrocopter.



(Thanks to Bertrand for the tip).

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Pictures from Crespiere 2008 
Sunday, September 28, 2008, 10:42 PM - Flying Contraptions
Okay, this comes a bit late, but here are some pics and a movie of the Crespiere Electric R/C meeting which took place in the spring 2008. Crespiere is a get-together of electric R/C airplanes which takes place every year near Paris.



The pictures were taken by Jean-Claude Le Cun.

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Picture and Videos from Inter-Ex 2008 
Sunday, September 28, 2008, 10:01 PM - Flying Contraptions
Inter-Ex, the annual meeting of European builders of unusual miniature flying contraptions took place in Boissy sous Saint Yon, in the south of Paris.

I happened to be in France on business that week-end and attended the Sunday session. I took pictures and movies of the event.

Serge Encaoua of Verti-4 fame was present with his Verti-4. I had a nice chat with him about his design.

Serges flew his Verti-4 in rather turbulent wind, but impressed the crowd with his hover/translation/hover transition, as shown on this video.



The winner of the day was a scale model of White Knight 1 and SpaceShip 1.

Other participants showed a variety of unusual flying contraptions, including a bunch of autogyros, a giant flying daisy flower (by the unequaled Peter Haas), a flying Eiffel tower, a flying squirrel, and a...well, a... how can I say this, a...awww, chucks, just see for yourself. This "thing" didn't fly, but it clearly looked like it was going to fly soon.

The unparalleled Gerard Jumelin brought his Calder-inspired plane, several bird-shaped planes, and "Vague Souvenir", a beautiful translucent blue flying wing shaped like a wave.



Some more videos shot by Stephan Brehm are available here.


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$100 quadrocopter, 20cm diameter 
Sunday, September 28, 2008, 09:19 PM - Flying Contraptions
A $100 micro-quadrocopter, with a diameter of only 20cm is available at ThinkGeek and Hammacher Schlemmer.

It is the lowest cost and smallest quadrocopter I have ever seen. There is a demo video on YouTube. This flying contraption is manufactured by Hong Kong company Alien Tech Ltd.

How can they sell it for so cheap when an InvenSense IDG-300 dual axis accelerometer chip is $35 in quantity? Perhaps they use two LISY300AL from ST Micro, which still cost about $9 in quantity.

Incidentally, ThinkGeek also has an ultra-tiny flying saucer , which they claim is the smallest flying R/C device ever. The good news is that it's $25, the bad news is that you can only control the thrust (you can't actually make it go anywhere, other than by blowing on it).



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R/C hovering surf board at Hammacher Schlemmer 
Saturday, September 27, 2008, 03:43 PM - Flying Contraptions
Hammacher Schlemmer has yet-another-r/c-toy that is out of the ordinary: a R/C hoverboard. It's a helicopter with two contra-rotating rotors, one in the front, one in the back. It's entirely clear to me how the roll stability is ensured, but unlike with other low-cost R/C toy helis, this one should have good pitch control.
It sells for $90 only at Hammacher Schlemmer, which probably
means that you will find it for $50 in every store in a few months.


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UAVP: open source quadrocopter design 
Monday, August 25, 2008, 01:23 PM - Flying Contraptions
The Universal Aerial Video Platform is an open source design for a quadrocopter. The UAVP controller board is based on a PIC microcontroller, and has a number of optional sensors, such as gyros, accelerometers, and altitude sensors.

Several sites in Europe and the US sell the UAVP controller board and associated components. QuadroUFO is a US supplier of parts for DIY Quadrocopters. Most parts that they sell, except for the controller board, can be found from R/C store, such as BP Hobbies, or electronics/robotics suppliers like Sparkfun.

A fully populated controller board with all the sensors is $435. The blank PCB is only $15, but the sensors are expensive.

I'm working on a cheap Arduino-based DIY quadrorotor controller. Stay tuned.....

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Huge Quadrocopter link collection 
Monday, August 25, 2008, 01:12 PM - Flying Contraptions
Quadrocopter building has become an increasingly popular activity in Europe, particularly in Germany.

The MikroKopter Wiki has tons of information (mostly in German), equipment, instructions, and software for quadrocopters.

In particular, it has this huge list of quadrocopters with characteristics, pictures, and links to more details.

Among other things, the site has the schematics and software for a brushless motor speed control, something I have never seen anywhere else.

This other site contains a huge collection of pictures shot at the 2008 Quadrocopter meeting in Germany. There is a bunch of nice-looking QCs there.


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Smartflyer: micro-size quad-rotor flying contraptions 
Monday, August 25, 2008, 12:27 PM - Flying Contraptions
Hartmut Kaak in Germany has produced a series of extremely impressive micro-sized quad-rotor flying contraptions over the last few years. The most impressive aspect is the size of his latest creation, the diminutive Smarty: 15g, and 80mm in length.

TheSmarty uses 4 motors and props cannibalized from a Silverlit X-Twin R/C toy airplane.

Hartmut built his own mixer/stabilizer/controller around an Atmega88 microcontroller and three ADXRS300 solid-state gyros. His software directly produces the PWM signals for the (brushed) motors. More interestingly, he was able to power the whole thing with a single 145mAh LiPo using a MAX1686 voltage pump chip from Maxim (which generates 5V from the LiPo 3.6V).



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Inter-Ex 2008: September 6 and 7 near Paris 
Monday, August 25, 2008, 03:20 AM - Flying Contraptions
The 2008 Inter-Ex will take place September 6 and 7 in Boissy sous Saint Yon, a few kilometers south of Paris.

Inter-Ex is a get-together of creative R/C modeler who design and build unusual flying contraptions. There are pictures of previous editions on the web site.

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New Aerobatics video of the Stanford autonomous helicopter 
Saturday, August 23, 2008, 03:48 PM - Flying Contraptions
For several years, my friend and colleague Andrew Ng at Stanford has run an autonomous helicopter project in his lab, with two of his PhD students, Pieter Abbeel and Adam Coates. They have developed new reinforcement learning techniques to automatically learn how to stabilize and control the helicopter. They reached the point where they can pretty much get their heli to perform every aerobatic figure known under the sun. There is a bunch of videos on their website, as well as on their Youtube chanel.



Interesting implementation details: they have no on-board intelligence on the heli. They use a GPS and an IMU with serial outputs directly fed into Xbee Pro modules. The signals are received by a PC on the ground, which remotely controls the heli through the training port of a conventional R/C transmitter.

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