(Model) Helicopter Physics

sideways helicopter

If you’ve ever wondered how a helicopter is able to fly, or would just like to see some awesome RC piloting, the four videos after the break should be just the thing! Although the basic physics of how one works is explained in the last three, one would still be hard pressed to explain how [Carl] is able to fly his RC helo the way he does. The video has to be seen to be believed or even explained, but one of the simpler tricks involved taking off a few feet, doing a forward flip, and flying off backwards and upside-down!

As explained in detail in the other videos, a helicopter is controlled by something called a swash plate on the main rotor, which in short translates a linear action into a rotational one. The same thing is done with the tail rotor, but you’ll have to check out the videos after the break for a full explanation! Really ingenious that someone could come up with this analog control system to use before computers were available.

Of particular interest to physics geeks, an explanation of gyroscopic precession is given in the fourth video. Controlling a helicopter may not work exactly the way you thought!

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Decoding, then cloning an IR helicopter toy’s control signals

[Mike Field] got his hands on this Syma S107 helicopter with the intention of hacking it. After playing around with it for a while he set out to build his own infrared controller for the toy. It seems there is some protocol information about it published in various forum posts, but he decided it would be more fun to figure it out for himself.

He started off trying to capture the IR signals using Adafruit’s tutorial which has come in handy on a number of other projects. He could get his television remote to register, but not the toy’s controller. This didn’t stop fun, instead he tore open the controller and grabbed a logic sniffer to see what’s being pushed to the IR LEDs. The signals are a bit curious. It seems two different packets are sent with each command which [Mike] thinks is for use with two different models of the toy. In addition to that the frames are not synchronized. But a bit of 10 MHz sampling helped him to figure everything out, and he believes he’s got a more accurate version of the protocol than had previously been discovered. To prove it he developed an FPGA-based controller using VHDL which he shows off in the clip after the break.

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3D printed helicopter blades

If you’re like us, you’ve been infatuated with the small RC helicopter you picked up on Amazon up until the point where it careened off a wall and broke its blades. Now that you’re wondering about what to do with that small pile of plastic, metal, and electronics, why not print some helicopter blades on your 3D printer?

[Taylor] printed these blades on his Utilimaker, but we don’t see why they couldn’t be printed on a Makerbot or other RepRap. The first set of printed blades worked on the top rotor, but they were too heavy when all four blades were replace. The parts were edited in netfabb using a 0.08mm layer height and now they’re working perfectly. As far as free tools go, Slic3r is the new hotness for .STL to Gcode conversion and now that [Taylor] put the files up on Thingiverse, anyone can print a set of spare blades.

Check out [Taylor] comparing his printed blades to the stock ones that came with his awesome heli after the break.

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Look, it’s a helicopter! it’s a plane! it’s a rolling robot!

The helicopter-plane-ball-bot sounds like a creation [Homer Simpson] would come up with, but it’s a fairly accurate description of what this machine can do. It was developed by researches at Japan’s ministry of defense. The single propeller lets it operate much like a helicopter. But when it needs to get somewhere quick, the body repositions itself with the propeller at the front, while those black panels function as wings. Finally, the spherical body lets it travel along surfaces, vertical or horizontal. It can even roll along the ground.

After the break you can see a flight demo video from the 2011 Digital Contents Expo. It makes us wonder about the control interface. Which part of this is the front side, and how does it know which direction the operator intends to steer it? Perhaps there is feedback on the cardinal orientation of the control unit? We don’t have the answers to these queries, but we think there’s something very Sci-Fi about it. It brings to mind the Dog Pod aerostatic defensive grid from Neal Stephenson’s novel The Diamond Age.

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Persistence of vision helicopter blades with RGB LEDs

A user named [BOcnc] on the rcgroups forums just posted his RGB POV helicopter blades.

The two blades are attached to the heli just as any other whirlygig. The electronics, though, are mounted underneath the blade with a battery pack. We covered a build last year that demonstrated weight added to a spinning blade won’t tear everything apart, but that build used only blue LEDs. This build is full color and makes us feel like we’re living in a cyberpunk future populated by Recognizers and Daft Punk.

The images are stored on an SD card that receives data from a USB port. The microcontroller is a PIC32, and from what we can assume from the schematics, the RPM of the blades is measured by an on-board hall effect sensor (don’t quote us on that, though). There’s no hope of a commercial release from [BOcnc], though. He can’t find anyone to manufacture the blades, and the entire build was too expensive. It sure looks pretty though, so check out the video of it after the break.

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Robots listen only to the leader when building a roving quadcopter landing pad

Swarm robotics is really starting to produce some interesting results. This image is from the video embedded after the break that show a group of five robots creating a landing platform for a quadrotor helicopter. The four that actually make up the platform are not in contact with each other, but instead following commands from the leader. We’re impressed by the helicopter’s ability to target and land on the moving platform. Takeoff appears to be another issue, as the platform bots stop moving until the quadcopter is airborne again.

These robots are part of a Graduate project at Georgia Tech. [Ted Macdonald] has been working along with others to implement an organizational algorithm that guides the swarm. The method requires that the robots have an overview of the location of all others in the swarm. This is done with high-speed cameras like we’ve seen in other robotic control projects. But that doesn’t discourage us. If you already have a flying robot as part of the swarm, you might as well add a few more to serve as the eyes in the sky.

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ATtiny13 powered handheld helicopter game

[Owen] just finished putting together a portable helicopter game. It’s pretty impressive, especially since he used an ATtiny13 microcontroller. That chip uses an 8-pin dip package, offering only five I/O pins (six if you use the reset pin) and 1k of programming space.

The game runs on a small cellphone-type LCD screen. The helicopter remains somewhere in the center column of the screen as the maze that makes up the game board approaches one step at a time. The single button that controls the helicopter will raise it with each step of the maze when held down, or allow it to fall when released. The player’s progress is shown as a hex value in the upper left corner of the screen. When you hit a wall, your score will be shown next to the high score for the game and will be saved in EEPROM if it’s a new record. As the game progresses, the maze gets harder based on the score. Check it out in a video clip after the break.

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