Tuesday, June 24, 2014

FPV Flying, The FAA, and the rules.

This morning my inbox exploded with articles about the FAA's recent Interpretation of the rules for R/C flying. Specifically with their consideration for "First Person View" (FPV) flying. (Flying by reference to a video transmitter on board the model aircraft.)




Summary: According to the FAA, FPV flying in the US is not legal, even with a spotter.

Details:  [14 CFR Part 91 , Docket No. FAA-2014-0396, "Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft"]:
Under the criteria above, visual line of sight would mean that the operator has an unobstructed view of the model aircraft. To ensure that the operator has the best view of the aircraft, the statutory requirement would preclude the use of vision-enhancing devices, such as binoculars, night vision goggles, powered vision magnifying devices, and goggles designed to provide a “first-person view” from the model.
Such devices would limit the operator’s field of view thereby reducing his or her ability to see-and-avoid other aircraft in the area. Additionally, some of these devices could dramatically increase the distance at which an operator could see the aircraft, rendering the statutory visual-line-of-sight requirements meaningless. Finally, based on the plain language of the statute, which says that aircraft must be “flown within the visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft,” an operator could not rely on another person to satisfy the visual line of sight requirement. [...] While the statute would not preclude using an observer to augment the safety of the operation, the operator must be able to view the aircraft at all times.

My reaction:
On the surface, that seems rational. Where it falls apart is that FPV flying doesn't necessarily have to be done in locations or at altitude where such oversight makes any sense at all. I am 100% on board with the idea of preventing people from operating R/C aircraft without LOS at high altitudes in places where I might be in my Cessna. 

But does that mean it should be illegal to wear FPV goggles and fly around a field, away from any airports, at < 200 feet elevation? If my Cessna is ever there, it's because I'm doing an emergency landing. Randomly encountering an R/C aircraft (or bird, or baseball) is fine with me.

Does that mean it should be illegal to fly aircraft using FPV equipment under tree canopies (where there can't possibly be other aircraft?)

The FAA rule is draconian. FPV flying is becoming not just a hobby, but a sport. And by passing draconian rules like this the FAA is taking rational conversation off the table and ensuring that thousands of people will just disregard them and break the rules.

And that puts me at greater risk. Thanks a lot.   

FAA , if you are listening - let's have a conversation about this.  Blanket restrictions on very popular, widespread, and largely safe activities are not a good idea.  Let's discuss where FPV flying does and doesn't make sense.  Let's discuss where interference with aviation operations may and may not happen.  And let's discuss how to properly educate the FAA, pilot, and R/C communities about each other's activities, so we can coexist in a safe and harmonious way.  

Today it's a battleground, and each side is largely misrepresented by misinformation to the others.  This isn't the way forward.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Donkey Quad

Update:  Have one?  Building one?   Click Here: Donkey Quad Manual

A while ago I bought an inexpensive HobbyKing F330 frame, thinking I would use it with some SunnySky X2212-9 1400KV motors and 8" props I had.  Unfortunately, that turned out to be a very unstable combination.  It was fast as hell, and good at aerobatics, but I couldn't tune the shakes out of it.  I decided those motors were just too big for that small 330mm frame.

On a whim, I was looking at the cheapest 3S capable outrunners that HobbyKing sells when I ran across these ugly duckings here:

The Donkey ST2004-1550kv, "When pulling power matters and looks.. well.. just don't."

HobbyKing Donkey ST2004-1550kv
The mounts are nonstandard ugly aluminum tangs with holes in them.  The sticker oddly says "ST2204-1550kv" whereas the website part number os "ST2004-1550kv".  They have 3mm shafts, but don't include any collets or prop adapters.

But, they're dirt cheap, they work as advertised, and they're seemingly a lot more crash resistant than the similar-rated Park300 1400kv motors I used to use on a similar sized quad.

I had to use 4" zip-ties to attach them to the F330 frame.  I did it by threading the tie down through one hole, under the frame, up through the opposing tang, and then putting a cut off zip-tie "head" on the other end.  Repeat for the other set of tangs and you have a solid mount with no screws.  ;)
Mounted w/zip ties

Paired with some disused Afro 12A ESCs, a MultiWii MicroWii FC, OrangeRX R100 receiver, and some 7x4.5 props and I have a small, super light, fairly agile quad.  It's not the fastest one I own, but it's light and agile enough to do in-place flips or double-descending-rolls.

It turns out to be a joy to fly, and I've been spending more time with it than my more expensive quads.

Several people have asked me for a parts list, so here it is:
1F330 Frame
4Donkey ST2004-1550kv Brushless Motor
4Turnigy Plush 9g 10A ESC
1MultiWii MicroWii ATmega32U4 Flight Controller
1OrangeRX R100 DSM2 Satellite Receiver
1XT60 Male power connector
4Props: 7045, 7060, or 8038 (2 CW & 2 CCW)
43mm prop adapter
1ZIPPY Compact 2200mAh 3S 25C Lipo

A few build notes:

  • Use 4-inch zip-ties to attach the motors (described above)
  • You can use an XT60 to 3.5mm bullets power distribution cable instead, especially if you choose 10/12A ESCs that have 3.5mm bullets.  I built one this way, and one with directly soldered leads.
  • You'll have to bind the R100 to your transmitter with a separate receiver (or by flashing special Spektrum Satellite Bind Code to the FC first.)
  • This quad can actually carry a 2600mAh battery for 10+ minutes of flight time!
  • Add a lipo alarm to warn you when the battery is low.
I have two built right now.

One with 7060 phosphorescent props, UV LED strips on the arms, and a 4W spotlight:

The other with 8038 props, a GoPro Hero 2, Minim OSD board, and video transmitter on it: