Extrinsic Motivation: Smart Antenna Tracker for R/C Aircraft

dishes

Long distance FPV (First Person View) flying can be a handful. Keeping a video feed alive generally requires a high gain directional antenna. Going directional creates the chore of keeping the antenna pointed at the aircraft. [Brandon's] smart antenna tracker is designed to do all that automatically. What witchcraft is this, you ask? The answer is actually quite simple: Telemetry! Many flight control systems have an optional telemetry transmitter. [Brandon] is using the 3DRobotics APM or PixHawk systems, which use 3DR’s 915 MHz radios.

The airborne radio sends telemetry data, including aircraft latitude and longitude down to a ground station. Equipped with a receiver for this data and a GPS of its own, the smart antenna tracker knows the exact position, heading and velocity of the aircraft. Using a pan and tilt mount, the smart antenna tracker can then point the antenna directly at the airborne system. Since the FPV antenna is co-located on the pan tilt mount, it will also point at the aircraft and maintain a good video link.

One of the gotchas with a system like this is dealing with an aircraft that is flying directly overhead. The plane or rotorcraft can fly by faster than the antenna system can move. There are a few commercial systems out there that handle this by switching to a lower gain omnidirectional whip antenna when the aircraft is close in. This would be a great addition to [Brandon's] design.

R/C Plane Flies with a Cockpit View

baehawkMosaic

That’s not a jet jockey making a low altitude turn up there. In fact, the pilot has his feet planted firmly on the ground. [Reliku] has built a radio controlled BAE Hawk which is flown via First Person View (FPV). FPV models often have a small camera mounted on the exterior of the craft. This camera gives a great field of view, but it isn’t exactly how full scale planes are flown.

[Reliku] took it to the next level by creating a scale cockpit for his plane. The cockpit is accurate to the real BAE Hawk T2, and features back lit simulated screens. Even the pilot got the FPV treatment. Micro servos move the pilot’s right hand in response to aileron and elevator inputs from the radio control system. The pilot’s head has been replaced with the FPV camera, which is mounted on a pan tilt unit. Pan and tilt are controlled by a head tracking system attached to [Reliku's] video goggles. The entire experience is very immersive.

All this is built into a Hobbyking BAE Hawk Electric Ducted Fan (EDF) model, so space is at a premium. Even with the Hawk’s relatively large cockpit, [Reliku] found he was tight on space. While attempting to keep the cockpit scale from the pilot’s view, he found he was barely able to fit a single seat cockpit into a space designed for two! Adding all these modifications to a plane and still keeping the model flyable was not easy, as displayed by [Reliku's] earlier attempt with an F-16.

The ends do justify the means though, as the final model looks great. We’d love to see those static cockpit displays replaced with small LCD or OLED panels for an even more realistic experience!

[Read more...]

A Hexacopter with FPV

hexcopterRetrospective

[Robert's] been hard at work becoming a hexacopter expert over the past two years, and he’s offered up a retrospective of his multi rotor build experience since he first clicked the “buy” button on Hobbyking. He’s come a long way from his first build, which used inexpensive carbon rods and 3D-printed parts for a frame, supported by scrap wood and hot glue. It met its end in his car; exposed to direct sunlight, the 3D-printed components melted.

The latest iteration—seen above on the right—is a complete redesign, with a laser-cut frame that dramatically reduced the overall weight and new “Donkey” motors off Hobbyking. It’s strong enough to lift a 1.6kg (3.5lbs) stuffed animal suspended from a rope! Most recently [Robert] has worked out streaming first-person video after fitting a camera to the hexacopter via a 3D-printed attachment and pairing the experience with Zeiss Cinemizer 3D glasses. He still has some bugs to work out, namely screws loosening from vibrations and adding a HUD to the display so he’ll know when the battery levels are low. You can see the poor teddy bear getting hanged along with some other videos, including the first-person video flight, after the break.

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Remote Control FPV cockpit

cockpit

FPV flying, for how awesome it actually is, still consists of fiddling around with a remote control transmitter and either wearing video goggles or squinting into a screen. Awesome, yes, but not as cool as [Brett Hays]‘s enclosed cockpit ground station. It’s a trailerable flight sim that allows you to have the same experience of flying an aircraft over your local terrain without actually leaving the ground.

The centerpiece for this build is a 42 inch flat screen TV that was picked up for $160. This was placed at the front of a large plywood and 2×2 box along with a computer joystick, throttle, and rudder controls.

The pots inside the controls needed to be switched out to match the resistance of the ones inside an old Futaba transmitter. From there, completing the the cockpit was just a matter of fabricating a few panels for a video switcher, gear retract lever, flaps. and RC radio settings.

It’s a truly amazing build and when placed on a trailer towed by [Brett]‘s jeep, has the potential to be the closest thing to flying a manned aircraft you can get without a pilot’s license.

Videos of the cockpit in action below.

[Read more...]

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