FanWing: horizontal-axis rotary wing 
Monday, March 29, 2010, 01:32 AM - Flying Contraptions
The FanWing is an airplane design that uses an interesting type of wing.

It reminds me of a beach toy I had when I was a kid: a light plastic kite, shape like an airplane whose wings rotated around a metal axis.

The wings of the FanWing are composed of slats arranged as a cylinder that rotates on a horizontal axis. By rotating, the cylinders generate lift at lower speed than conventional wings.

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Monday, March 29, 2010, 01:28 AM - Flying Contraptions
The Vicacopter is a minimalist PIC-based open source auto-pilot for helicopters, tri-copters, and quadri-copters.

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Swisscopter: single-seat helicopter with H2O2 rockets on tip of rotor 
Monday, March 29, 2010, 01:09 AM - Flying Contraptions
Swisscopter AG has a couple demo videos of a single seat ultra-light helicopter that is powered by H2O2 rockets on the tip of its main rotor. The advantage of the design is the quasi-absence of moving parts, and the absence of a torque on the body.

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Aerotrain: the documentary 
Monday, March 8, 2010, 06:00 PM - Flying Contraptions
The Aerotrain was a French R&D project headed by engineer Jean Bertin in the 60's and 70's to build a high speed hovercraft monorail. The first prototypes of the Aerotrain used gas turbines for levitation and propulsion. Later models used a linear motor for propulsion and gas turbines for levitation. There are a few fan sites, that trace the history of the development

Interestingly, the technology was licensed to an American company in Colorado called Rohr Industries. They developed and tested a prototype, but the project was later abandonned.

A French documentary filmmaker tracked down the surviving prototype to a museum in Pueblo, CO. He made a documentary about it. This documentary is available on YouTube in six parts. An English version is also available. The movie is also downloadable.

The project received a lot of publicity in France in the late 60's and early 70's when I was growing up. A friend of my aunt's was a young engineer at Bertin in the early 70's, working on the Aerotrain. Growing up, I was totally fascinated.
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Personal Electric VTOL aircraft from NASA 
Thursday, January 21, 2010, 12:35 AM - Flying Contraptions
NASA is studying a single "seat" battery-powered VTOL personal aircraft called the Puffin. The on-line edition of Scientific American has an article on the Puffin.

The Puffin has two contra-rotating propellers in the front, and four tail booms with tail planes that fold out to turn into a landing gear for vertical landings. The pilot "stands" in the plane (when sitting on its tail), and lie on his belly when the plane flies horizontally.

The 4.1m-wingspan plane is powered by a 45kg lithium-phosphate battery that gives it a range of just 80km at a cruising speed of 240km/h, but progress in battery technology could triple the range over the next 7 years. The motors have an approximate total power of 45kW.

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Operation: No Smoking May 16th, 2010 Plerguer, France 
Monday, January 18, 2010, 11:55 AM - Flying Contraptions
The Aero-Modèle Club de la Côte d'émeraude (AMCCE) in Plerguer, near beautiful Saint-Malo, France, is organizing an all-electric fly-in on May 16th 2010. They call the event Operation No Smoking. The website shows pictures of several electric planes from yours truly (I spend some of my summer vacation nearby and fly there on week-ends).

Here is a satellite pic of the flying site:

View Larger Map
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Parrot AR.Drone: super-duper wifi-enabled, Linux-based quadricopter with vision 
Thursday, January 7, 2010, 02:55 AM - Flying Contraptions
The Parrot AR.Drone is a very exciting and very unusual quadricopter: it is Wifi enabled and has two on-board cameras. At first glance, you could think of it as a flying version of the Rovio. Essentially it is a self-stabilized flying wireless webcam. But the AR.Drone has much more to offer to TechnoToy enthusiasts: it comes with a "shared source" API that allows any wifi-enabled device to get video and sensor data from it and to control it. The website has a number of drool-inducing videos of iPhone controlled AR.Drones, and augmented reality games in which AR.Drones appear to fight giant robots or appear to shoot lasers at each other.

More videos are available on YouTube.

The specifications are nothing short of amazing, really a dream come true for anyone interested in tinkering with flying robots: 6 DoF IMU (3 accelerometers, 3 gyros), 468MHz ARM9 CPU running Linux (which should open the door to custom firmware hacks), an ultrasound altimeter/ground detector that allows automated takeoff and landing. Last but not least, there are two cameras: the first one looks down and is used for vision-based stabilization and ground target detection (176x144 resolution, 60fps, 63 degree field of view). The second camera (640x480 resolution, 15fps, 93 degree FoV) looks forward and its output can be streamed through wifi.

There is no price and no release date, but I'm guessing this is not going to be cheap.....

The coolest aspect of the whole thing is that it is hackable. There is a developer website with a Wiki and downloadable source code (registration required). The system is "open" but not open source in the traditional sense (the license of the API is not an open source license).

Even more interesting, the protocol to communicate with the AR.Drone from the ground (e.g. from an iPhone or a Linus box) is documented in the Developer Guide. Apparently, it consists in sending a bunch of "AT"-style command through a Unix socket. Nice.

Oh, and there is a facebook page

The puzzling thing is that Parrot is a French company which, until now, was involved in high-end cell phone audio accessories and expensive designer digital photo frames. What prompted this 400-employee company founded by a former journalist to get into the hobbyist/toy business?
Perhaps the fact that their CTO used to work at Arianespace?
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Micro heli and 3D-capable plane from e-Flite 
Monday, November 30, 2009, 01:18 PM - Flying Contraptions
e-Flite has come up with two interesting products: the Blade mSR ultra-micro helicopter, and the 4-Site ultra-micro 3D airplane.

The Blade mSR comes in an a "bind-and-fly" version for $150 (requires a separate Spektrum 2.4GHz DSM-compatible transmitter), and an RTF version for $180 (which includes a transmitter). The rotor diameter is 180 mm, and the mass is 28 grams. It uses a 120mAh single-cell LiPo battery.
It's available from Hobby Lobby, and from Red Rocket Hobby.

According to some reviews, the Blade mSR is the first single-rotor (non-coaxial) micro-heli that flies well. Most single-rotor micro helis have a separate motor for the tail rotor. These motors have relatively long reaction times, which makes the heli rather difficult to fly (they will rotate every time you increase or decrease the throttle). The Blade mSR is so tiny that the inertia of its tail rotor is very small, and the reaction time is very short.

The 4-Site Ultra-Micro comes in 2 version: "bind-and-fly" for $170, and "PNP" for $110. A Spektrum DSM-compatible transmitter is required. The wingspan is 386 mm, and the mass is 35.5 grams, with a single-cell 150mAh LiPo battery. e-Flite has other such small planes, but this is the first 3D capable ultra-micro from them. The plane includes a 5-in-1 P board with a 2.4GHz DSM receiver, a brushed speed controler, and two linear servos. Two additional servos for the ailerons are pre-mounted on the plane.
It's also available from Hobby Lobby, and from Red Rocket Hobby.

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Shrediquette: an Arduino-based Tri-copter 
Monday, November 30, 2009, 01:02 PM - Flying Contraptions
The Shrediquette is a tri-rotor helicopter built by William Thielike from Germany. William is a PhD student in biology, who seems to have many talents: micro-controller system design, control, mechanical design, flying contraption construction, as well as film making.

His tricopter is built around an Arduino Pro Mini micro-controller. Oddly, William didn't use the Arduino development tool and C/C++ programming language: he wrote his software in Bascom, a dialect of BASIC.

The yaw control is performed by rotating the tail boom with a servo. This very unlike the more conventional servo-less yaw control of quadcopters, but it's practically unavoidable for tricopters.

Much of the material is available for download, including the schematics, the PC board Eagle files, and the Bascom source code.

An awesome video (below) shows the capabilities of the tricopter.
More videos from William are available on Vimeo.

Tricopter - The Movie... from W. Thielicke on Vimeo.

Thanks to Bertrand for the link.

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eRC Micro P-51 Mustang RTF for $99 
Tuesday, November 3, 2009, 12:05 AM - Flying Contraptions
Hobby Lobby has the eRC Micro P-51 Mustang for $99.00. The diminutive ready-to-fly warbird has a 37 cm wingspan, weighs 30 grams, and comes with a 4-channel 2.4GHz radio. The plane has proportional control for the ailerons, elevator, and throttle. It uses a geared brushed motor.

Apparently, there is no rudder control as with the similarly sized Kyosho Minium Piper Cherokee. But the Minium is $180....

They will be rolling out a spitfire in December.
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Hydroptere sails at over 100km/h 
Saturday, October 10, 2009, 09:58 PM - Flying Contraptions
On September 4th 2009, L'Hydroptere, a sail-powered hydrofoil beat the speed record for a wind-powered watecraft with an average speed of 51.36 knots over 500 meters. The boat reached peak speeds of 103 km/h. Back in 2008, it briefly reached over 110km/h shortly before it capsized. L'Hydroptere has been in development since the early 90's under the leadership of Alain thebault. This idea was born in the mid 70's following a discussion between a group of aeronautical engineers and French sailing legend Eric Tabarly.

The previous 500 meter record was held by French kitesurfer Alex Caizergues at 50.57 knots.

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Our Experiments with Engine Sound Synthesizer for Electric Airplanes 
Monday, September 14, 2009, 11:55 AM - Flying Contraptions
Back in 2005, my dad Jean-Claude and I set out to build an engine sound generator that could be mounted in an electric model airplane. This would allow scale models to not only look realistic, but also sound realistic, more realistic in fact than gas-powered model airplanes.

Other people have built engine sound generators before, but my dad's idea was to synchronize the pitch of the sound to the speed of the propeller.

After some semi-succesful experimentations with simple eeprom-based circuits, we built a sound synthesizer using a microcontroller module with some custom software. The module was a Tini2138 from New Micros, which has a 60MHz ARM7-TDMI with 512KB or eeprom (plenty of room for sound samples), and a 10-bit DAC.

We succesfully tested out the system in the summer of 2006, but I only got around to writing a page about it just now, though the pics and videos have been available in my gallery since summer 2006.

The system worked quite well, but it's rather bulky and complicated to build for the average hobbyist. We are now developing a new version based on the hugely popular Arduino microcontroller platform. The new system is considerably more simple and lightweight, and will fit into small park-flyers. Stay tuned....
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Flymentor3D: Vision-Based Flight Stabilization for R/C Helicopters and Airplanes 
Thursday, September 10, 2009, 02:21 PM - Flying Contraptions
Chinese manufacturer Shenzen KDS Model Technologies proposes a new type of flight stabilization system for model helicopters and airplanes called the Flymentor3D. Instead of the usual separate gyros, the system uses an all-in-one IMU (not clear if it contains a 3-axis accelerometer or just 3 gyros), and a CCD sensor with a vision system. The CCD camera points down and can detect movements relative to the ground, presumably using some sort of optical flow calculation. The processing involved is similar to what takes place in an optical mouse, and in fact, I suspect they use the same chips.

There is a downloadable manual in PDF for more details (in semi-non-broken English). Unfortunately, no price is given on the KDS website.

The nice thing about vision-based stabilization is that there is no drift, unlike with gyros and low-cost IMUs. The helicopter will stay exactly in the same place with the same heading for as long as you want.
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Air Hogs Switchblade 
Thursday, September 10, 2009, 02:12 PM - Flying Contraptions
Air Hogs will be releasing a new R/C flying contraption in the next few days: the Switchblade. It's bi-motor flying wing with no servo. The pitch is controlled by the motor power, and the yaw by the difference between the powers of the two motors. The unusual thing is that the two half wings can be rotated and clicked in place so as to form a large rotor. The plane can then take off vertically as a helicopter (probably without any meaningful control, except altitude). Once in the air, the two half wings can be unclicked into a regular flying wing configuration and the Switchblade can be flown like a regular plane. One problem seems to be that the plane seems prone to get into steep dives right after the transition from helicopter to flying wing. The absence of an elevator control surface makes if difficult to escape the dives.

Amazon has it for pre-order for $70.

There is a test video on YouTube.

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Flapping wing micro-UAV from AeroVironment 
Thursday, July 16, 2009, 10:08 PM - Flying Contraptions
AeroVironment has developed a flapping wing micro-UAV under a DARPA-funded project. The prototype made a 20 second radio-controlled flight. There is a video on YouTube, and a short description of the recent milestone.

This is probably the work of micro-RC pioneer Matt Keenon, who works at AeroVironment.

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Huuuge collection of 3 views 
Saturday, June 6, 2009, 04:09 PM - Flying Contraptions
Bertrand pointed me to this positively gigantic collection of airplane 3 views at rcgroups.

They even have one of my favorites: the obscure the coleoptere.

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