Month: October 2015

A Perfect Day for Flying

It was bright and sunny with no appreciable wind today and it wasn’t even all that cold with the sun out. It was also a very busy morning with one very early flier who forgot to put his clocks back. He had a Multiplex Extra 300, plus there was a dad with two small kids both flying a Piper Cub type trainer. I don’t know what they were flying exactly, but it was a white foam high wing type. I think the younger of the two children was about 7, which surprised a lot of people when they saw the little guy standing there with the transmitter and the aircraft whizzing around the sky. I managed to get 3 flights with my RS352, which felt really smooth and controlled compared to the windy and blustery conditions which I’ve been flying it in recently. It really flew like it was on rails. Anyway, in addition to that, I had another flight with the Dynam Hurricane from a couple of weeks ago, plus a brand new Hobbyzone UMX Corsair which I helped carry across the field along with his UMX Beast which I’ve flown before. He had got a train, then a taxi before walking across the field as his electric bike was broken.

Going back to the Hurricane though, it’s not having a very good life at the moment. Out of three flights, two have ended in crashes, including my one today. I was rather annoyed about this as I had managed to land it without any problems on the first flight without the aid of flaps. This time the owner had added the flaps as it was coming in very fast without them. Take off was no problem, I brought up the wheels, flew around for a bit, tested the flaps and familiarised myself with how everything responded. The flaps deploy to a huge angle at 100%, so I was a bit worried about the pitch moment and drag. The don’t make as much difference as you would expect, though, so you could fly around quite happily with 100% flap dropped and a bit of extra power without any huge pitch changes. It was the extra drag which caught me out on the landing though. I wanted to make sure I had plenty of power, so I did a square circuit with 50% flap down to about 20 feet along the runway, then climbed out and repeated the circuit for the landing. Everything was fine until I cut the power right back about 5 feet above the ground and it was like hitting a wall of air. The aircraft just stopped, dropped to the ground and bounced on its legs, turning over and landing upside down in the grass. There was no speed in the impact, so all I did was bend a retract leg slightly and loosen the other retract at the base. It was a bit embarrassing though, although the owner of the aircraft was very happy to have it back in one piece. Next time I will make sure I fly it right down to the ground as it doesn’t glide very well with flaps (air brakes) deployed.

The first flight of the Corsair was a lot easier, although the ailerons could do with being reduced a bit. Also, I think it’s the shape of the cranked wing in the air, but I found it difficult to judge the angle of bank at first. It took me a while to get used to the shape of it in the air. This one got back in one piece though.

Just to round off the day, the guy with the FlyBaby and Cessna was also there and two others turned up just as we were leaving. I think they had a mini Stryker or a Multiplex Funjet (small flying wing, foam, pusher prop), which they were having problems getting to work. The transmitter was a Turnigy type which I’ve not seen before and they couldn’t get the elevons to work correctly. We had to leave them to it as it was time to go home.

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Taranis X9D Plus and X8R Binding Problems and “finding device”

This post explains how to fix a Taranis X9D Plus not binding to an X8R receiver and how to fix the “finding device” problem when flashing the X8R with the new firmware.

The Taranis X9D Plus, X8R receiver, a separate 4.8v battery and my test servo

The Taranis X9D Plus, X8R receiver, a separate 4.8v battery and my test servo

I got my hands on a Taranis X9D Plus radio recently and, although I knew it had a steep learning curve, it’s taken me over a week to figure out how to bind the transmitter to the receiver and make it work a servo. That’s really not very good as you expect the transmitter and receiver to just bind and work straight out of the box. To cut a long story short, the transmitter has the new European firmware, while the receiver hasn’t, so they will not talk to each other. The solution is to flash the X8R with the European firmware update from the FrSky website. The only other problem is that, when I tried this, the flash tool refused to recognise the radio. Only after reading the problems that somebody else had and his solution of pulling out the 5v lead and powering the receiver from a separate 4.8v battery did I eventually manage to flash the receiver. So, in order to help anybody else who has had this problem, here are some detailed instructions.

You can tell which firmware the transmitter has from the boot loader screen, or from the model bind menu:

The Taranis bootlader screen showing the firmware revision number

The Taranis bootlader screen showing the firmware revision number as 2.0.9.2-eu

The Taranis model page showing Internal RF mode as D16-eu

The Taranis model page showing Internal RF mode as D16-eu

In order to get into the bootloader menu, you have to push the horizontal trims under the left and right sticks inwards while switching the power on. If the transmitter is mode 2, that equates to right rudder, left aileron, power on. In the Taranis documentation this is referred to as a “three finger salute”, which took me a while to work out.

OK, so the transmitter definitely has the European firmware, but unfortunately there is no way of knowing what firmware the receiver has, so if it refuses to bind then it’s a good idea to flash it with the latest revision.

Download the X8R firmware from the FrSky firmware page: http://www.frsky-rc.com/download/view.php?sort=Firmware&down=205&file=X8R/X6R%20%E2%80%93%20EU%20Version

You will also need the Windows driver: http://www.frsky-rc.com/download/view.php?sort=Tool&down=160&file=Driver-Windows%20XP/7/8/Vista

And the S-Port (SPORT) telemetry upgrade tool which contains the program you need to run to flash the firmware: http://www.frsky-rc.com/download/view.php?sort=Tool&down=115&file=Upgrade%20Lite-S.Port%20Telemetry

In addition to this you need to buy a FrSky USB upgrade cable (FUC-3) and a Smart Port converter cable. I bought mine from Robot Birds, costing about £12 and they posted it first class, so I had it the following day (http://robotbirds.com/catalog/product_info.php?cPath=85_438_593&products_id=7685 and http://robotbirds.com/catalog/product_info.php?cPath=85_438_593&products_id=8418).

The two part upgrade cable (FUC-3) is on the left, while the S-Port converter is on the right

The two part upgrade cable (FUC-3) is on the left, while the S-Port converter is on the right

The upgrade cable (left) needs to have the Molex lead unplugged from the USB part (top), which is replaced by the second cable that comes in the pack (bottom). This is then plugged into the S-Port converter (right), making sure that the black leads line up. This is very important as the leads are not polarised and you will damage something if you plug it in the wrong way round.

The upgrade cable has been switched and plugged into the S-Port adapter with the black leads lined up

The upgrade cable has been switched and plugged into the S-Port adapter with the black leads lined up

Now the important bit is to remove the 5v line on the S-Port connector (black servo plug). This is very easy to do with a small screwdriver as you just have to lift up the the black plastic tongue holding the metal connector and pull on the lead gently to prise it out. Don’t use any force, it should slide out easily once the black plastic bit is lifted. The reason for doing this is so that when the receiver is powered from a separate battery you don’t blow up the power supply in the adapter. Ordinarily, the computer’s USB port should power the receiver during the firmware flash process, but the theory is that it doesn’t have enough power, so a separate battery is the best solution. Mine was hanging on the “Finding device” message until I tried the separate battery trick. With the 5v line removed, plug it into the S-Port slot on the side of the receiver.

Remove the 5v power line from the S-Port connector

Remove the 5v power line from the S-Port connector

The Windows device driver install worked fairly easily for me, despite using Windows 10 and the FrSky release notes saying only XP, Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1 are supported. Windows 10 is obviously close enough in driver software for it to still work, although it took me a while to realise that it had. Unzip the “CP210x_VCP_Windows.zip” file that you downloaded earlier, open the directory and double click on the “CP210xVCPInstaller_x64.exe” program to run the installer. If you’re using a 32 bit operating system then use the “x86” version instead.

Taranis_devicedriverdirectory

Double click on the “CP210xVCPInstaller_x64.exe” program to install the device driver

Follow the on screen prompts to install the device driver (take all the defaults), after which it appears as if nothing has happened. Plug the FrSky USB module into the computer now, and open the Windows Device Manager:

The device driver shows the FrSky driver installed and attached to COM3

The device driver shows the FrSky driver installed and attached to COM3

The device driver is now visible as the “Silicon LabsCP210x” USB port on COM3. Remember the COM3 as it’s needed for the next part.

This is the bit that stumped me for a while as I couldn’t figure out where the Go to the “frsky_update_Sport.exe” program mentioned in the instructions was located. It’s actually in the second file which you downloaded, so unzip “FrSky SPORT upgrade adapter.zip” and also unzip the third file you downloaded, “X8RX6R_eu_150602.zip” as this contains the new EU firmware.

The directory containing the "frsky_update_Sport.exe" program to flash the firmware

The directory containing the “frsky_update_Sport.exe” program to flash the firmware

At this point you should have the FrSky adapter plugged into the USB port on the computer, with the other end, the S-Port adapter (servo plug), plugged in to the receiver, but with the 5v lead disconnected. All three zip files downloaded from the FrSky website should have been unzipped and the device driver installed, so the computer is recognising the USB adapter as a COM port. Now the process of flashing the firmware can begin.

The receiver with the modified S-Port cable attached

The receiver with the modified S-Port cable attached

The S-Port attached, separate battery ready to power the receiver and USB plug

The S-Port cable attached, separate battery ready to power the receiver and USB plug. The USB should be plugged into the computer at this point

Right click on “frsky_update_Sport.exe” and choose “Run As Administrator” just to be on the safe side. The following window shows what to expect:

The upload tool looking for the receiver

The firmware upload tool still looking for the receiver

This is the stage where I got stuck for a long time, because I could never get past the “finding device” part. The theory is that there isn’t enough power in the USB port to power the receiver, despite all the lights coming on to show that it has power. This is why the 5v line was removed from the S-Port connector earlier. If you can get it to work without the additional battery then great, but I couldn’t.

Make sure the COM port is set to the correct number from the “Device Manager” part earlier, although the dialog box will only show a limited number of options so you could make an educated guess. Click on the “File” button and browse to where the “X8RX6R_eu_150602.frk” firmware file was downloaded to and select it. Then attach the spare 4.8v battery to any one of the receiver’s channels in order to power it. This is where “finding device” should change to “device found…”.

The device is found and ready for flashing

The device is found and ready for flashing

Press the “Download” button and it should all happen automatically. The firmware flash process can take a few minutes, so don’t unplug anything while it’s happening, or you could render the receiver useless. It’s unlikely, but it can happen.

Once this is complete, disconnect the battery from the receiver, unplug the USB from the computer and disconnect the S-Port cable from the receiver.

Power on the Taranis, go into bind mode so you hear the “beep, beep, beep”, then plug the battery into the receiver while pressing down the F/S button with a small screwdriver.

The bind sequence is power on while holding down F/S

The receiver bind sequence is power on while holding down F/S with Taranis in bind mode

I did the bind without the servo, then powered everything off, then back on again to check that it was all working. Then I added the servo to channel 1 and verified that the transmitter could control it. Success! I’ve now got a radio that actually works.

 

Things With One Prop and Things With Four

I spent most of yesterday afternoon doing some tests for filming the build of my 250 quadcopter. Having bought a “Joby” suction cup mount and gaffer taped a Nexus 4 phone to it, I was able to suspend the phone above the work area and use the “Lapse-It Pro” App to capture one frame every half a second. The results were interesting, but not that great. I need to get better at this before we try and film the DJI 450 build.

I’ve uploaded the tests to Vimeo here:

 

Anyway, we had more people flying this week than I’ve seen in a long time. First, there were the two French guys flying a foam Corsair and Canadian Beaver, then the EFlite Advance and Multiplex Heron. This was followed by the young boy with the Fun Cub who flew while the rest of his family played a combination of football and frisbee. Then there was the guy from the other week with the Cessna and foam Fly Baby, which we did get to see fly this week (see picture), after having to be rescued from a tree on a previous outing. Next, there was a father and son with a Delta Ray. I’ve seen them before, but not for quite a few weeks now. The strange thing about this was when, after a few flights, they decided to repaint their aircraft using black spray paint and masking tape. I’ve never actually seen someone respray their aircraft at the flying field and we all thought the black paint wasn’t going to dry fast enough for them to fly again. Although still a bit tacky, they did fly it and the black stripes were really striking in the air. This might not be such a crazy idea after all. Next to arrive was another father and son who I helped out with the rates on his aircraft a month or two ago. This time out he had a Mustang profile aircraft which he proceeded to throw around the sky at some speed, plus a high wing foam trainer type which he had modified to carry a parachute. His flew this once and we got to see the parachute and super-hero float back down to the ground which was quite effective. Finally, we watched as a new flyer was walking across the field carrying a brown cardboard box. We all guessed that it was probably a 250 size quad, so I ended up talking to him about the wiring and lack of space for a while, thinking about what I’m going to be doing this afternoon. He was flying it when I left and it seemed to be going really well. As for me, I managed 4 flights with the RS352 and then it was time to go home.

 

The Fly Baby flying

The Fly Baby flying

I’ve built the tail of the Autogyro and have now got to the point where I need to glue the mast and tail longerons with the glue I bought last week. I really need to upload some more photos, but I’m tied up with the quadcopter build at the moment. Hopefully that won’t take long and I can get back to some real building.

Tail End of a Hurricane

It was the remnants of hurricane Joaquin that were dictating our weather this week. When I got up it was a beautiful sunny morning with no wind, but by the time I got to the field it was blowing a gale. I can’t complain really, as they had been forecasting a strong easterly wind and I hadn’t really planned on flying this week.

When I arrived there was already a French guy flying a foam Corsair. I saw it flying for a bit, but he was landing as I walked across the field and that was his final flight of the day. His timing was a lot better than mine, though, as the wind was already picking up by this time. I had a flight with my RS352, then the next guy to arrive had an EFlite Apprentice S 15e, along with a foam FlyBaby. The Apprentice had a gyro on board, which you could tell by the way it was flying in the wind. You could see it side-slipping into the wind as it was flying along.

One of the locals calling to his friends.

One of the locals calling to his friends.

The FlyBaby, which is actually made from foam

The FlyBaby, which is actually made from foam.

I have to say, this was some of the worst turbulence I’ve seen for a long time and I was actually wondering whether my radio had failed. The next two flights I had with the RS352 were really affected by the conditions, but it was rather fun. The East wind is an unusual direction, so we haven’t seen these effects much before. Despite its agility, the RS352 was wriggling around in some really weird ways, especially on a vertical up line when it was yawing left and right all the way to the top.

The FlyBaby never flew, as it was to be a maiden flight and the conditions weren’t exactly sensible. A little later, we had an EFlite Advance and Heron, plus the guy with the Stryker and telemetry system arrived. I haven’t seen him for quite a few weeks and he had a couple of flights with the Stryker before going home happy. I noticed that he had a DX9 transmitter and, when he was showing me the Stryker’s controls, it turns out that he has airbrakes on the twin rudders. This isn’t something I’ve seen before, but, when he deploys the brakes, both rudders move inwards to slow down the (very quick) aircraft for landing. Apparently, he downloaded the configuration and copied it to the model definitions on the CF card in the transmitter. That’s technology for you, in my day we had to sit there and program everything by hand.

Apart from the wind, the most eventful thing to happen this morning was my left wheel coming a bit loose after the first flight. I checked the nuts fairly recently even though they’ve never moved since I first put the wheels on three years ago. It must have been that really fantastic landing I did where the flare was precisely on the level of the grass strip so it looked like it came down on rails. I’ve never done that before, but the rotation brought the wheels down precisely in the right place on the grass strip, so the vertical speed on touch down was zero. The other two landings were a bit wind affected, so we won’t mention them.

Finally, I am going to try and finish the autogyro, but I’ve had too much work to do recently, so it’s just not getting done. I now desperately want to see it fly, so I need to make some time. I’ve also gone over to the dark side and bought a quadcopter frame from UnmannedTech. I know I said I was planning something a little different, but they were only £5.49, so I couldn’t resist. I’m going to build the quadcopter with this frame first, then replace it with something else later. The ideas I’ve had so far are a wooden antique style frame that looks like something from about 1910, an AvroCar type of flying saucer design from the 1960s, or the Apollo Lunar Lander (LEM). That is definitely going to have to wait until after the autogyro though.

You get a lot of polycarbonate bits for £5.49.

You get a lot of polycarbonate bits for £5.49.

Lots of New Bits

Lots of new flying stuff to play with.

Lots of new flying stuff to play with.

Today my latest order from Robot Birds turned up, which is pretty good when you consider that I ordered it on Friday and here I am unpacking it on Monday evening.

I needed some epoxy to stick the tail on my autogyro and I’d given my last tube to a certain person to fix his radio controlled range rover. I’m going to to another blog post later about how I fixed the bell crank on the ATOM, but there’s obviously more in the box than just glue. I know I should really finish the autogyro first, but it’s close to flying and I had another project that just couldn’t wait.

It should be obvious from the photo that it’s a 250 size quadcopter, but there’s no frame as I wanted to try something a bit out of the ordinary. You see far too many of these “radio controlled car” aircraft which people have just bought and screwed together. The design isn’t completely ironed out yet, but I’m definitely going to build something unusual.

 

Can you guess what I'm making?

Can you guess what I’m making?

So there you have a quadcopter with all the parts laid out ready for soldering. But I promise that I’m going to finish the autogyro’s head and tail bits with that “z-poxy” epoxy resin that’s hiding in the bottom of the box. OK, so there are 12 props in the picture, but I bought some different pitch ones and the radio is coming out of my flying wing temporarily. It should be fun programming the NAZE controller and I also have another 10 degrees of freedom sensor board which I’m keen to try out with the Arducopter software in an Arduino Nano. The controller here is a really fast one, so it should vastly out-perform the Nano. It was designed to be a test bed to for experimentation though. I’m really not planning on racing it.

Hurricane

No, not the weather this time, I actually flew my first hurricane. The weather was actually perfect, with virtually no wind and it felt warm in the sunshine this morning. I was beaten to the flying field this morning by a guy flying a DJI Inspire. Not the same one from last week, but he packed up while I was having my first flight, so I never got to talk to him. Then a young boy, his parents and sister arrived with a really amazing little aeroplane. I had to look it up when I got home. It is called an Ares Trainer 100 and is a tiny UMX style plane that uses the same single cell LiPo as the Hobbyzone Champ, but is significantly smaller. With no wind it seemed to fly for ages on that single cell and, for someone who had only bought it the day before, he was flying it really well. Most importantly it survived some big bumps on the ground, so it doesn’t break easily.

Anyway, just after my second flight with the RS352, the owner of the brand new Dynam Hurricane arrived. I had flown his A10 Warthog last week, so the Hurricane didn’t seem such a tricky prospect. After checking everything over, I thought the balance was slightly back, but it was in the suggested range, so we put it down on the runway and I opened up the throttle. I was a bit worried because it feels heavier than you would expect, but it went straight up into the air with plenty of power from the 4S LiPo and that amazing 3 blade prop. There were no problems at all with this aircraft, I think I only put in about three clicks of down the entire flight. I put the gear up after the first turn and just flew it around the sky for about 5 minutes. This feels like a real aircraft, though, as it’s got some weight and presence about it. In the turns you have to maintain momentum and then levelling out it tends to keep climbing on you. All too soon I was thinking, “OK, now I have to get this back down” and flying square box circuits to gauge the speed and rate of descent. There are no flaps on this one, so the eventual landing was a bit fast on the rough grass. I had hit the limit on the up elevator and the flare wasn’t what it should be, resulting in a bit of a bounce, the main wheels catching and flipping the tail over the nose. This was with virtually no speed, so it didn’t do any damage. A check of the capacity left in the battery showed about 50% left, so duration must be about 10 minutes.

Now, I had offered the owner of the Hurricane the transmitter on the first flight, but declined until the second one. Take off was just as easy as before and I settled back down into a circuit at half throttle and handed the transmitter over to him to fly. I won’t go into too much detail, but the flight ended up spiralling into the ground a few minutes later. Standing next to him I thought he was OK, told him to give me the transmitter back if he wasn’t, but he thought it was too late by then. Seriously though, I can crash with the best of them so I would rather have the transmitter shoved into my hands two feet off the ground inverted in a spiral dive because you never know. If you are going to hit the ground, please remember throttle to zero, it always does less damage. As for the recovery, we were both expecting to see lots of bits of aeroplane, but it was pretty much in one piece. That’s really very impressive, so Dynam must build them strong because this aircraft isn’t light. The 3 blade prop was broken, the left landing light cover was missing and some bits of foam from the right leading edge of the wing root had been pushed out by the wheel which looked like it had moved. That was it though, the airframe was still basically in one piece and serviceable. I managed to find the tip light cover in the grass and we suspect that might have been the point of impact, with the left wing tip and prop absorbing the energy as the aircraft hit the ground.

Around that time another regular arrived with his Multiplex Heron, so he saw most of the flight. Apparently, from the car park he said he was sure it was a Spitfire. The wing shape in the air and the underside are the right colour, if slightly more square than the Spitfire ellipse. I managed another two flights with the RS352, while all the time we were watching what looked like a 250 size quadcopter flown by somebody camped out under the trees about 200 metres away. He obviously didn’t want to talk to us for some reason? Seeing the Hurricane flying around close to him must have been quite a sight though. We didn’t get out that far as you could see the quad flipping itself left, right, forward and back. We’re not sure if that was deliberate, but he definitely hit the ground a few times and had to fix it.

That’s it for this week, apart from having to admit that we’ve bought an F450 frame, Taranis X9D, Mini Hawk Flight Controller and Fat Shark V3 to build a quadcopter for work. That’s why I’ve been working on a quadcopter simulator in Unity. We’re doing some 3D reconstruction work using point clouds and have also just purchased Pix4D.

The quadcopter simulator in Unity.

The quadcopter simulator in Unity.

I’ve also bought myself some parts to build my own 250 size quadcopter. Our plan is to film the build and 3D print some of our own parts, so it should make a really interesting project.

OK, so today’s target must be to get the tail on my ATOM autogyro as I’m really desperate to see it fly now. I’ve done nothing all week so I’m off to make the rudders work.