Lately I’ve really enjoyed piloting radio control fixed wing aircraft. A goal of mine is to build an autonomous aircraft that I can program on the ground and have it fly the circuit and come back home. Not a small circuit but one that covers many miles with many waypoints.
This is not necessarily an expensive task but it is very time consuming. With the advent of drone technology the other technology that drives that market is widely available to be used in fixed wing operations.
But that is a few months away. Maybe a winter project.
In the mean time I’ve been flying smaller aircraft from the ground. They are not intended to be flown “out of sight” of the pilot on the ground.
In years past this hobby has been very niche and can be extremely expensive. Lately, however, all of the parts are becoming very cheap. I don’t know if it’s just availability of things or it’s just easier in all aspects of the hobby. This one comes ready to fly right out of the box with some assembly. I found the assembly easy. Flying? Not so much.
Unfortunately I’m used to drone flying. If you fly a drone and things get a little out of hand you can ask the drone to fly itself off of all of the instruments that are now on them, including GPS and inertial sensors with the aid of a six axis gyro. It’s really kind of nuts what they can do. I’ve seen the drone hover in 20 mile per hour gusty wind and not move an inch.
Fixed wing flying is not so easy. Once you launch the bird it flies just like a normal airplane. If you get too slow it will stall. I think I stalled the aircraft 25 times before I had a successful flight back to the ground. It’s just not the same as quad copter flying.
But after I got the hang of it every flight got easier and easier until I was doing basic acrobatics without any problem. I’m still programming my brain to react to things like control reversal in inverted flight and when it’s coming straight at you. In this case left is right or up is down. You have to fly like you are in it, not looking at it.
Flying RCs is very relaxing and can really take the edge off a long day at the office. Every once in a while I put in a second battery and do it all again! I’ve been able to play with things like strobe lights for night flying and every flight I try to do something “new”. Slow flight, rolls, loops, low passes and the like.
One of the things I like to do with my drones is this thing we call “FPV”, or first person view. What you do is put a camera on the aircraft and look at the video as if you are actually piloting the bird. It takes some getting used to because it is disorienting until you get used to it.. In a drone it’s easy because the drone can fly itself while you play with the video. But I’ve gotten good at it over the years.
So, I thought, I’ll put one on my fixed wing plane. So I ordered one off the Internet from China and it took the slow boat to America. I finally got it and bench tested it before installing on my plane. Everything works great!
On July 3, 2017 I decide I am going to test out the system. I had Gloria look at the video through the goggles while I walk far away on the ground with it in my hand while it is powered by a battery at high power. She said it looked great. It’s time to mount it on the plane!
Mounting it is as simple as putting it on the front of the plane and snap it into place with magnets. We do a final ground check and I launch it into the air. It looks a lot like the picture above of me flying my 1500. It’s way up there. The whole time Gloria says the video looks great.
So I decide to give it a try. My thinking is that I’m going to get it where I can see it on the ground and then when I put on goggles I’m going to make left hand turns in the air space above my property and never let it get too far away.
It all started out OK but soon I became disoriented and didn’t know where I was. Suddenly I couldn’t hear it either. Gloria couldn’t see it. We had really no idea where it was and so had no idea how to bring it back home! For a minute I tried to get it to a place I could recognize my surrounding but in the end I lost the video feed and my little plane flew off into the sunset without me at the controls!
On my drone I have GPS guidance that works to bring itself back home if any communication is lost. This is called “return to home” mode and requires GPS to work properly. Since I was not thinking about going far I didn’t think I needed a GPS module for this little bird. Looking back, since I am not good with fixed wing FPV I think having a smaller circuit closer to the ground and GPS as a backup would have been a good thing to have. 🙂
So, I lost it. It’s gone and has not resurfaced yet. Who knows, maybe a farmer will run up on it when they are cutting hay. Maybe it’s in a tree and we won’t find it until all the leaves fall of the trees in the fall and a strong winter wind brings it back to earth.
In the mean time I am building another plane. All new parts which will likely fly better than the last one. It’s got a stronger engine with larger propeller, stronger electronic speed controller (ESC), stronger and faster servos, a new radio to drive it all. I’ve also got lamination that I am going to apply to the surface that will make it stronger and less prone to break if I were to ever crash. This one is not ready to fly so it’ll take a few weeks to get it up in the air.
But hopefully I’ll be back in the air soon. This time, I won’t lose it. Even without GPS.