Snow Butterflies


It’s the impression left by the dragonfly quadcopter in the fresh snow.

We had several centimetres of snow overnight and the strong easterly wind is making for a wind chill of about minus 3. I’m quite happy to have a rest indoors this weekend, though, as I’ve just got back from showing the quadcopter flight simulator at this year’s Big Bang Fair.


At this point, I’m quite happy not to go outside in the sub-zero conditions and have a well deserved break instead. I’ve been having a go at filming the Leap Motion controlled drone simulator which counts as having a rest for me. You might see the results on YouTube soon.


Mothers’ Day Flying

The weather is still horrible, but not quite bad enough to stop me flying. I’m back in the air again for only the second time this year.



There was no wind when I set out, and it was sunny, but that didn’t last long. The picture lies. Very soon it was blowing a gale, dark and threatening rain. I got lucky, though, and it didn’t rain while I was there.

I got the RS352 into the air very quickly, as I was very rusty and needed the practice. The dark sky and lack of flying for over a month meant that the orientation almost caught me out right after launch. I quickly got back into the groove and soon enough I was joined by another flyer with a red UMX Taylorcraft that he wanted me to test fly. His last one was destroyed in the bag on the way to the field as they are really delicate. After a judicious bit of insulation tape to keep the LiPo in place, while not pulling away all the red colouring, it was up into the now dark grey sky. I’m sure that an aircraft specified as thirty grammes is capable of flying in a thirty miles per hour wind? Isn’t that what it means? Seriously, though, I’ve flown a lot of these and the thin wing section can cut through the wind very effectively if you know what you’re doing. There was a point where I was hovering it, but I got it up and down safely, with only a few bumpy bits in the middle. For a maiden flight, all it needed was three clicks of right rudder (aileron stick) trim, although these weren’t exactly test flying conditions. Having defied the weather gods once, we decided not to do it again, so he went off happy. I had actually exhausted the LiPo on that first flight.

After that I had another three flights with the RS352, another guy and his wife showed up with a DJI Mavic, which only managed one brief flight, then the lady with the micro drone arrived and flew hers around a few times.

OK, that’s it for this week as I have a lot of work still to do. If I hadn’t got any flying in this week, then the picture was going to be the autogyro with its head plate back on and three blades attached. I still haven’t finished the covering as I haven’t been able to order the new solarfilm iron due to work.

Deep and Crisp and Even



We’ve had heavy snow all week, causing travel chaos. Then it all melts at the weekend and we get left with very windy and the snow turned into rain. Needless to say, this morning was bright and sunny, but with a strong southerly wind (at least that’s a warm one) that’s too strong to fly. With a forecast of heavy showers and prolonged rain towards lunchtime, today was not a day for flying outside. The wind was so strong that you could actually see the bad weather rolling in towards you, and right on cue round about 11:30am, we had the first heavy shower.

In the meantime, though, I’ve almost finished fixing the autogyro, if you ignore the five surfaces that still need covering (three on the fuselage and the new blade). I’ve made an attempt at fixing the broken head plate, but I don’t know whether it’s going to work yet.



What I’ve done is to glue triangular tabs to the underside, over the holes where the blades screw in. This is because the whack that was given to the blade that was sheared by the prop strike left a crease in the plate around the hole position. What I’m hoping is that the epoxy and fibreglass reinforcement is enough to repair the crease and stop the blade pulling out when the head spins. That would never happen as it wasn’t that badly damaged, but it’s the upward flex that concerns me. The plate is 0.8mm thick, which gives the right amount of flex in flight, creating the “coneing” that’s essential for flight and control. Once it’s all back together I should know whether this flex is going to crack the glue joint on the reinforcements. I might just have to replace the whole head plate, but it’s proving very hard to source just the right type of fibreglass board.


Now that the autogyro is almost airworthy again, I’m think about what to build next. I was really taken with the Micro Aces Bristol F2B “Brisfish”, which is featured in the latest issue of RCM&E (March 2018). However, many years ago I had a Peanut scale kit of the WACO SRE and Interstate Cadet aircraft which I never managed to complete – I was only 12 and they were quite hard to build, given that I was using a pencil sharpener blade wedged into some wood as I wasn’t allowed a real knife. You can see the plan above, along with the complete mess I made cutting them to shreds with my improvised modelling knife. It’s always been my intention to finish these two kits and I’m altogether quite fond of the WACO, not having any biplanes of my own. Zipping around the sky with the UMX Beast and DR1 Triplane was fantastic, hence the fascination with the Brisfish, which has incredible scale detail. I want to do another own design, though, and here comes the interesting bit. The Brisfish is 380mm span, while the WACO plan in the picture above is 330mm span. It only needs a small increase in scale and some micro radio to bring it in line with the UMX ARTFs which fly so well (i.e. the Champ, Aeronca etc.). The only problem is how to build down to 38 grammes? I’m going to start looking into Depron and foam modelling. I might even see whether any bits can be 3D printed?

My modelling ambitions will have to wait for a bit, though, as we’re at the Big Bang Science Fair in just over a week’s time and I need to build a drone controller using a Leap Motion sensor. This is just for the simulator at the moment, but, if it works, then we might try it out with one of the micro drones.

Very Windy with Little Surprises

The weather forecast this week is sunny, gale force winds and sub-zero wind chill. It’s too windy to fly, so I’m stuck indoors again. I haven’t flown outside for ages.

Progress on the autogyro has just about come to a halt as I wait for a solarfilm iron:


I’ve put back all the bits that don’t interfere with the missing covering and the new blade just needs a little bit of sticking and drilling now. There is the slight problem of fixing the fibreglass head plate, but I’ve got a plan for that.

Earlier in the week, I lent my RobotBirds pin vice to somebody, who found that the drill bit didn’t quite fit and then went about undoing all the screw fittings. It turns out that the metal bit holder is double ended, so you can turn it around for bigger drills. Even better, it turns out that hidden inside the barrel is another double ended bit holder that fits smaller drills. I never knew that.


I’m busy building a drone simulator this week, so I’m not going to get much building done, but I’m going to try and finish the new autogyro blade. I might even use my new found ability with the pin vice to make a very accurate mounting hole in the balsa blade before I glue the fibreglass reinforcement in place.

Balancing Act

I’ve no lift this week, so I would have had to go on the bike, but I spent all Saturday working and didn’t quite manage it. The weather forecast for this morning isn’t what I saw on the BBC last night either. When I got up it was bright and sunny, not overcast and cloudy as they forecast, plus the 6mph wind was a lot stronger. I’m going to have to consolidate all my weather forecasting tools and put them online now I can’t just watch it on the news any more.

After spending the week trying to fix my solarfilm iron, I’ve finally given it up and decided to buy a new one. First, I thought it was the oxidisation on the screw connections.


Half the ring is cleaned (shiny brass) and half isn’t (top).

Then, after I figured out how to get the handle off,  I checked out the diode rectifier.

The diode is fine, so by this point I had got down to the heating element at the very bottom of the iron. Running the continuity meter along the element wire I found the point where it had broken. This isn’t something that can be fixed because of the heat, so it would require a whole new piece of resistance wire. Now, while I was tempted to try replacing it with nichrome wire, common sense says spend £30 on a new one.



So, I’m now putting the autogyro back together as best I can, while not being able to solarfilm anything. This morning I’ve been working on the new blade.


It’s not easy to balance one of these blades, but I managed to get it to balance perfectly between two pins taped to some old 12v batteries. When I first made all four blades, I used a profile template cut out of 6mm plywood to make the airfoil. It took me a while to find this again, but it meant that I could run it up and down the span of the blade to get the profile identical to the other two remaining ones. Having cut the fibreglass hole reinforcements off of the broken blade, these are now ready to be glued in position once I work out where the mounting hole needs to be drilled. This is why I’ve been balancing the blade all morning, because the hole needs to go 1mm back from the balance point.

OK, that’s it for this week. I’ve not flown anything so far today, but I might have a go with a quadcopter indoors later on. This is what I should have done this morning, except that I should have put it in a ruck-sack and got the bike out. You never know, somebody might have let me fly a proper aeroplane?

The Universe Hates My Autogyro


I was making good progress building my autogyro last week, up until the point where my solarfilm iron packed up.


MacGregor Industries, my trusty old solarfilm iron, it worked for decades and then it stopped.


It must be over 20 years old, so I can’t really complain. I bought it at Sandown Park all those years ago and have been using it ever since. I spent the whole week trying to fix it, but I think one of the power wires is broken and I can’t figure out how to get the wiring out of the handle. I’ve removed the screw, but it looks like it’s glued inside. Oh, well, if I can’t do anything with it today then I’ll have to go out and buy a new one.

You can see from the pictures above that I’ve got the bottom and both fuselage sides covered and had just started on the top of the nose when the iron gave up the ghost. I’ve just got the nose, the fin outer sides and the trim to finish, then the new blade. I was almost there and then I got stuck, so I’m going to push on and fit any of the equipment that I can while I work out the covering situation.

As for the weather this week, it’s a beautiful bright and sunny day, just with a 30+ mph wind and sub-zero temperatures. I haven’t flown any real aircraft for ages.

Sun With Teeth

I’m told that “Sun with Teeth” is a common Greek phrase, but we also refer to a biting cold wind, so I can’t help but wonder how the similarity came about. Translating this into today’s meteorology we get, “it’s only sunny because the wind has blown all the clouds away”. Today is not a flying day, but then I really need a break after yesterday’s drone masterclass that we ran for thirty kids aged 12 to 13.



The drone masterclasses always take a heavy toll on equipment and the dragonfly was the first casualty, coming into contact with a window and then the floor. I’ve still got to go through all the equipment and test it, but it does look like we got more of it back than last time.

As well as letting the kids have a go at making and flying quadcopters, we also showed them an FPV drone.


I did design my own frame, but then found one on Thingiverse which was better and I was a bit short on time. My own frame flew for the first time on Monday, using some 75mm diameter props which I’ve had from Unmanned Tech Shop for a while now. The problem is that they just don’t work. On both the first test with my own frame and the second test on Tuesday with a different frame, the aircraft exhibited severe oscillations indicative of over-damping in the PID parameters.


These props caused severe oscillations.

Initially, I turned down the PID values, using just a low value “P” as a tuning base, but this made no difference. Having looked at the settings for an identical F3 EVO based quadcopter that worked, I ascertained that I was in the right area and switched to the standard HubSan 55mm diameter props (the black and green ones on the quad in the photos above). The problem was aerodynamic, but I’m not really sure why at the moment. I’ve got four packs of these things as they came with the motors, so I need to do some more investigations. The markings on them are very weird, having A1, A3, B1 and B4 on one set and A2, A2, B4 and B4 on another. I’m thinking that the pitch might be different and they didn’t realise and put them into the wrong packs? I have actually flown a bigger quad where I accidentally put the wrong pitch propeller on, but it didn’t exhibit this sort of severe vibration issue.

Anyway, that’s our current event over until the next one in March, so my time is my own again. Let’s go and fix an autogyro…


That’s Busy Building Quadcopters…

It’s too windy to fly this morning, but I’m really busy with the preparations for the Drone Workshop we’re running next week. Yesterday I got an EVO F3 Brushed flight controller working with Cleanflight and the new Frsky XM16 receiver I bought. This meant flashing my Taranis with the new EU LBT firmware, which was an experience in itself. I spent most of the day getting it to bind, then the rest of the day getting the SBUS to work to the flight controller. Eventually I got it all working, so now I need a frame. After finishing up yesterday making improvements to our existing frames, today I’ve moved on to designing a new one for the FPV quadcopter from scratch. I want to use the bigger propellers for greater efficiency, so I need a bigger frame than we currently have. I’ve spent all day trying to build this in FreeCAD and seem to be getting nowhere fast at the moment. We’ll just have to see how that one turns out in the end.

Raining Raining Raining Raining

Actually, I think it was snowing for a bit. Oh, well, it doesn’t matter anyway as I’m busy converting and fixing quadcopters for the next workshop in February.



I’ve been working on the Honey Bee model and managed to get the frame weight down to 13g, so it should fly well. The interesting part is where the air from the two front motors blows through the wing detail. On one of the failed prints I cut out some bigger holes which improved its stability in the hover. I might do a bit more tweaking around the aerodynamic flow to improve it a bit more, but it’s probably OK as it is. Then I’ve got 6 flight controllers to fix and about a dozen new motors. It’s been a long weekend with the soldering iron while the rain hammers down on the skylight.

First Flight of the Year

It was a very grey day, but hardly a breath of wind for once, so I finally made my first flight of 2018. Actually, I flew somebody else’s Ares Taylorcraft UMX plane first, having not flown since mid December. It appears I can still do it as I had four flights with the RS352 and another with the Taylorcraft. That is until the transmitter started making a really shrill beeping sound. We couldn’t figure out what it meant but thought it a good idea to land as it’s probably a battery warning. Whatever it was, it was really annoying me.

There were a lot of people around today. First, there was a new E-Flite Valiant flown by the guy who had the Fly Baby lookalike and Opterra wing. Another guy and his son were getting back into the swing of flying after a break as they had a new foam Spitfire waiting back at home. They were flying a Carbon Cub, but I think it was having some balance issues. On the first flight, a perfect take off from the ground was followed by a vertical climb, then left hand circles always losing height until it came back down to earth. It seemed to be tail heavy, so, after some fixing, the next flight was a lot better. I’m not sure if they’ll fly the Spitfire next though. We also had two guys, both with Mavics and a lot of FPV kit. One had a ZOHD Dart while the other was managing to fly a small T-Tail foam pusher around for what seemed like ages. Another Dart also turned up while I was leaving and I also saw another guy with his son walking across carrying a DJI Phantom drone. Apparently, there were a lot of them around right after Christmas. Anyway, the final drone flyer turned up with another Mavic, but couldn’t fly it because it had decided to do a firmware update. Personally, that puts me off ever owning one of those things.


As you can see, I’ve started re-covering the Autogyro. Unfortunately, I’ve run out of silver blue, so this one is going to be red up to the canopy line and blue on the upper sections. I’m not sure I like the red all that much, but it should look like my Extra when I put a white line along the join. I really just want to get it flying again at this point, but I’m currently trying to figure out where the best place to source the 0.8mm fibreglass head plate from. I also need to make another blade, so I’m not quite there yet. However, once all those bits on the table have found their way back into the fuselage, then I’ll feel like I’m almost finished.