A Grey Day with Clouds Brewing

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My Atom autogyro modelled in Blender (work in progress)

The weather didn’t look good this week, so I had decided not to take the autogyro out. It was just that it was very changeable throughout the whole morning, with strong winds, then calm, but always with lots of threatening dark clouds overhead and occasional sunshine peaking through.

When I arrived, I bumped into a guy with a drone on his way home. After that another guy turned up with a Phantom, then the lady with the custom drones, a couple with a DJI Spark (selfie copter) and another Phantom. I had the only fixed wing of the day in my RS352. However, another guy came over on a bike and, after chatting for a while, he said that he was definitely going to bring his aircraft over one Sunday morning to learn. That’s a good result.

Anyway, I had 4 flights with my RS352. My flying was really erratic this morning. I think I must be getting out of practice. I managed some good landings in the blustery conditions, though. Although I didn’t take the autogyro, I have been slowly building a virtual 3D model which I can put into my simulator. That’s the image at the top of the page this week, but it’s still very much a work in progress as I’m not very good at 3D modelling. The only outdoor photos I took this week were a set of selfies of me and the RS352 with the clouds in the background, but I’m not going to inflict them on anybody. They didn’t come out very good.

That’s it for this week, but I’m on an enforced break next week due to being out of the country, so the next flying is in two weeks time.

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My Autogyro is Flight Ready

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And there he is in all his autorotating readiness. I’ve finally finished repairing my Atom Autogyro after only 6 months and it’s now ready to fly again. Except for the fact that the weather isn’t playing nicely. We’ve had heavy rain earlier in the morning and then that sort of light misty almost not there rain that soaks into everything.

Oh, well, that gives me more time to check out all the autogyro’s systems to make sure everything is working perfectly.

 

OK, that’s quite a lot of autogyro pictures, but I’m rather pleased with the results. I can’t wait to fly it now.

Talking about flying, now that I’ve got it all back together again, I’ve been wondering how the propeller managed to shear the blade off in fight the last time.

 

The pictures above show the full forward, centre and full back positions, as near to side on with the propeller vertical and the blade in the directly forward position as I could manage it. By my measurements, even in the full forward position, the blade has to bend down by 13cm in order to hit the prop. The dimensions of the blade and position of the strike just about work, if the first contact came with the prop about 45 degrees on the right side of vertical. There’s what looks like an initial hit on the leading edge of the rotor blade, then the whole thing has sheared off about 2.5cm inwards, so it’s entirely possible that there were two contact points on successive rotations. I’ll never know for sure, but I’m now going to look further into how much the rotor needs to tilt forwards. I think autogyros generally need to keep the rotors in the back position and never forwards of the horizontal, but that’s something I can research during the week.

Let’s hope next week brings some good autogyro weather.

Easter Fools

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It’s Easter Sunday today, in addition to being April Fool’s Day. The weather forecast for the days I’m not working during the Easter weekend went something like this: rain, rain, rain, overcast, rain, snow, rain. Today was the overcast one, so we all trusted the forecast and had a go at some flying.

When I arrived at the field this morning, there was my friend from last week with a 3.8 metre Explorer electric F3J glider. This is a serious bit of kit, weighed almost nothing and could make three flights totalling over an hour on a single 1350mAh LiPo. For comparison, I had three flights this morning, of 7 minutes each, giving me just 21 minutes of flight time. The Explorer looked so at home in the sky, it’s just such an elegant thing to watch effortlessly defying gravity. In contrast, I should have got more air time this morning, apart from the fact that my LiPos weren’t charging properly. There’s a problem with the balance lead connectors which was causing the battery voltage to not be read correctly, and it kept aborting the charge until I fiddled with the wires. Either that, or they just didn’t like the cold weather, because it felt like it was freezing when I was flying. I just couldn’t get warm today and shivered my way through all my flights.

In addition to us two, the lady with the micro drones arrived towards the end of the morning, along with another guy and his girlfriend who had a UMX sized Extra 300, a Falcon helicopter and a small drone. The Extra went really well and looked a lot of fun. I’m sure I’ve seen one of these before, but I can’t remember who the manufacturer is. It might be one of these, though: [nitro planes link].

Along with us, there were also a few drones around. The first was a guy we noticed flying out towards the road, then another in the direction of the rugby field who had what looked like a racing drone that was absolutely lethal. We were at quite a distance, but he obviously didn’t know how to fly it. At one point the group of four looked like they ducked as it was hovering in front of them and then raced over the top. They were still there when I left, so I picked a safe route back across the field.

One thing I did notice this week was that the stream has got water in it again after being dry for so long. There was a huge torrent of water running down and into the drain, which I haven’t seen for quite a few years now. The huge amount of rain that we’ve had over the last few days made it quite boggy this morning.

Finally, watch this space as I should be autogyro-ing again very soon. The picture above shows the almost complete state of my Atom Autogyro. All I really need to do now is to balance the blades. I had a bit of a problem here as, although there were originally four blades that I made up, I picked the closest matched three to use. This meant that my fourth, backup, blade was a bit heavier. Now, I couldn’t weigh the other two and remove some excess weight from the third because the other two are covered. All I could do was to estimate what the weight of the new blade would be once it was covered. Well, I covered it yesterday and it’s 1.0 grammes heavier. My three blades weigh 26.0g, 26.5g and 27.0g. That’s not a bad result from my guess, but they don’t balance. I’m going to need to add more than just tape as I need a gramme of weight to balance them. It took 12 pieces of tape, which I then weighed and substituted with small pieces of lead shot. What I’m going to do is to slice the two light blades with a knife, insert the lead inside and seal it up so it can’t get back out. Given how fast these blades spin, I’m a bit paranoid about things flying off from the blade tips.

That’s all for this week, I’m now off to do the final blade balancing on the autogyro.

Cloudy, with a chance of Drones

It was a dreary, overcast morning today, but eminently flyable. I bumped into an old friend who I haven’t seen for ages. He was flying a Heron motor glider, at least he was up until the point where the right flap servo stripped in flight. All was OK, but it put an end to his flying for the day.

There were lots of people around when I arrived. An Inspire was hovering away in one corner, another drone was a little further away. The lady with the micro drones arrived later in the morning, and another guy had a drone and a blue high wing Cessna type aircraft (more like an Aeronca?). There was also somebody with an array of flying wings with FPV and a big twin boom foam aircraft which he was running iNav on for the first time.

Early on, we also had a young boy turn up with his parents and sister. I don’t think he could have been more than about 10 years old and he had a brand new, unflown, Ares trainer. I think it was a Gamma Pro 2, but I’m not sure. Anyway, we helped them out with it as the controls were a bit stiff, there really wasn’t much elevator movement and the battery was free to move around inside. After sorting out the elevator and stuffing the battery with tissue, the balance was fine, all the controls worked fine, so there were no excuses left. The thing that makes me nervous with this type of aircraft is the automatic control system. Personally, I would do the first flight on manual, trim it and then let the beginner loose with the computer backup system. It even has a panic button on the top left of the controller in case they need it. However, it’s always a bit of a risk flying a new aircraft and I was mindful that the boy wanted to fly it, so I launched and he had the transmitter. The launch was fine, it just needed a touch of up elevator from him to fly away, but he ripped the undercarriage off on the ground before it escaped terra firma. It flew around quite impressively, though, and I never touched the controls once. He landed OK, then we had another go at launching, this time without the undercarriage. It got away without incident this time and he was flying around quite happily while I was standing next to him watching and talking to his mum. He seemed to be getting the hang of it, but really wasn’t concentrating on what he was doing very much. I’m annoyed as I should have been paying more attention, but his mum distracted me and he managed to fly it into the ground. I saw him do it before it happened, but there was no way I could prevent it. The damage wasn’t too bad, but the wings had parted company at the centre join were the spar locks the two halves together and the tail had snapped off. Looking at the huge strake on the fin, though, you could easily glue it back together and use that as a strengthener. The wings were also easily fixable, so, hopefully, we’ll see them back soon. I did offer him a go of my RS352, but he really didn’t want to. I might be wrong, but I think his mum might be more interested in flying planes than he is.

Because of the clocks going forward this morning, I lost some of my flying time, so I only got two flights with the RS352. They were a good two flights, though, as the plane was feeling very aerobatic. Obviously, it hadn’t flown much this year because of the weather, so it was making the most of the zero wind conditions, even if it was grey and murky and looking like it could rain any minute.

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Finally, I have a new solarfilm iron, so I can finish off the autogyro repairs. As you can see from the pictures, it’s now got the film on the nose and fin, plus some white lines to hide the join. All I need to do now is to cover the blade and balance it.

 

I was very surprised at how different it was using the new iron compared to my old one. You obviously need to learn where to put the temperature dial, but the new one has a much more slippery shoe and the temperatures for the profilm I’m using are all in the top range of the dial. The quality of my covering on the blue nose is appalling, which is strange when you think that I’ve been covering aircraft like this for the last 30 years. I just liked my old iron.

One last thing, but the solarfilm iron wasn’t the only new thing I bought this week. I’ve also got a new Taranis QX7S which I’m going to use for the quadcopters and indoor flying.

 

Snow Butterflies

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.