Hackers In Africa Are Building Their Own Aircraft


While you’re trying to come up with an idea for your next project this guy’s been building his own helicopter from whatever parts he can find. He’s just one of the aeronautical hackers featured in a story in the Daily Mail. The article’s narrative leaves us with many questions, but there’s enough info to make it worth a look.

In addition to the heli seen above there are also a couple of airplane builds to gawk at. Africa has already produced a couple of very ingenious hacks like [William Kamkwamba’s] projects which improved his village infrastructure. He gained enough notice from his work to land a scholarship to continue his education and that opportunity has also been afforded the creators of these aircraft.

At first we figured this helicopter project was possible because of lack of air traffic regulation in this part of the world. That’s not the case as [Onesmus Mwangi] — who makes his living as a farmhand — has been forbidden to fly the craft by local police. There may be another opportunity for him to fly later in life. He’s received funding to study aircraft maintenance abroad.+

Unfortunately we couldn’t find any video of this thing in action. If that’s unacceptable to you try getting your fix from this human-sized octocopter.

[Thanks Brandon]

78 thoughts on “Hackers In Africa Are Building Their Own Aircraft

  1. There’s two chances of that helicopter flying: slim and none.

    I don’t see any way of changing the blade pitch which would be how you:
    1. Turn
    2. Accelerate
    3. Decelerate
    4. Stabilize

    But other than that…

    1. Correct me if I’m wrong… but there are r/c helicopters that are fixed pitch that fly just fine. You turn by varying the speed of the tail rotor. It’d be about the equivalent to flying an airplane with just elevator and rudder.

      1. Fixed pitch R/C helis are small and actually rely on being sort of “twitchy” to move around in any form or fashion, something this massive, without having unlimited horsepower to react to the very unstable control of fixed pitch would be next to impossible to fly without crashing. Helicopters as a general rule are pretty much voodoo anyway. It looks like they are using a CV joint from a car and a linear actuator (way too slow to react to anything!) to give them at least forward and reverse flight. But still, this is an accident waiting for a pilot drunk enough to try it.

    2. I don’t know much about heli’s but blade pitch only helps with lift, you don’t have to have it, it just gives more control. He appears to have cyclic ptich just not collective pitch but again I’m no heli pro.

      1. Whether he is using collective pitch or throttle to achieve lift doesn’t change whether or not I think it’ll “fly”. If it gets off the ground (they claim 7 feet) that doesn’t count as flying as far as I’m concerned, it’s working by nothing but ground effect at that altitude.

    3. Keyence was selling an RC helicopter named Revolutor, that had no swashplate, but instead relied on soft fixed rotor hub to alter blade pitch through some rotational imbalance. That won’t make this “helicopter” fly, but swashplates are no requirement, as there are flex-hub helicopter designs around.

  2. Yeah, the blades will spin, but they look like just wood slats. I don’t see any sort of swashplate, which means even if you had pitched blades and could attain lift, you would be right back onto (or into) the ground in very short order!

  3. i’m with the “where is the swashplate” crowd.

    also, the local police giving the guy a hard time has nothing to do with regulations on aircraft. the guy is in africa somewhere. cops spotted somebody doing a thing, and hassled him for it in hopes he’d give them money to go away.

  4. I’d think it would be easier to build a conventional fixed-wing aircraft than any kind of rotary-wing craft with these materials available. You’d just have to know a little something about how a wing works, and center of gravity, plus have a bit of luck.

  5. Didn’t I see iran do a press release with this as their new stealth copter to go with their paper mache stealth plane?

    Well done to Onesmus Mwangi though, awesome that he did this.

    1. Did you know that Tesla motor cars are built using African engineering?
      Did you know that SpaceX makes use of African engineering?
      Did you know that Ubuntu and Thawte Internet Security (now with verisign) uses African Engineering?
      Did you know that PayPal uses African engineering?
      Did you know that the CAT scan was developed by African engineering?
      Did you know that the oil from coal process is African engineering?
      Did you know that Pratley Putty (an epoxy based glue that went to the moon in the 60’s) is African engineering?

      Think twice before making unfounded and racist comments.

      1. How is that comment racist?

        It’s true that in this part of the world, they have generally less resources than what we have in the western part of the first world.

        They do what they do with the resources they have, hence the term “African engineering.”

        Actually, you are the racist for assuming it’s a negative term.

        1. “African Engineering” conveys a message of shoddy workmanship and poor quality. Your definition of African Engineering can then also be called “Indian Engineering” or “South American Engineering” or even “3rd World Engineering” for that matter.

          I’m sorry for the calling-you-a-racist bit. I should have said continentist or something. I just kinda lashed out in anger against all the trolls that read this website.

      2. Actually oil from coal is German not South African. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fischer-Tropsch
        It is used and even improved in South Africa but not created there. And not to be racist at all but this is just disaster waiting to happen. The build does not know how hard it really is to build a helicopter and built something that looks like a helicopter. At best it will sit there at worst it will fly apart and kill someone. The resources would be better spent build a school, storage building, or frankly a park bench.
        I do not care what race the creator is, this is just dangerously bad.

      3. Thank you Daniel. It is frustrating how little regard the technical class (here in the Bay Area at least) have for their own level of privilege.

        Also, why hate? Has no one on this site jumped off a roof with a queen sized sheet parachute? Has no one tried to build a kit airplane? Has no one flown an ultralight aircraft? Have none of you so desperately wanted to fly, or build a robot, to be a professional cyclist that you dream about it? Have you never take big risks to LIVE THE DREAM?

        If not, you are a coward.


  6. I would not have done it the way this guy did it.

    It looks like the guy used two U-bolts through wooden blades… I could see those coming off real easy… especially seeing how all the force is focused on a single across the chord of the blade, and not distributed along it.

    Lots of bodywork that’s not really necessary.

    And is that an automotive CV joint?

    “Props” for the attempt, though….

    1. Yes, but this guy actually got out there and did something, whereas a lot of the responses in here are along the lines of ‘If I did it, I would have…’. But the guy in Africa is the only one who actually tried. The rest are armchair experts. The Yellow Helo guy has scored a scholarship to study aircraft maintenance in the UK, so go Yellow Helo Guy!

      1. “If I did it”, it might actually get off the ground. Well, not me, but some of the people here. High marks for trying, but for actual flight I think there’s a reason it’s just a still picture of bits of wood and old car parts nailed together.

        If it was that easy it wouldn’t have taken Sikorsky so much effort, and so many people wouldn’t have claimed it was impossible at the time.

  7. Sometimes the readers on this website makes me hate this world. Get off your lazy ass, go outside and build a fucking helicopter using a $100 arc welder and scrap metal. ONLY then can you come here and be an expert about it.

    Who the hell are you to criticize someone else’s work? No matter how stupid, no matter how lame or mundane or unhacky it might be. Someone made something and was proud enough about it to want to share it with the world. HaD is about celebrating DIY and solving problems in novel and unique ways. It is NOT a name and shame website.

    I am officially coining the term HaDCancer. Hackaday has HaDCancer and it’s going to kill this website very soon. People are scared to share their creations with HaD because of the vile criticisms they might (read: WILL) get. I know I wouldn’t want to share any of my stuff here anymore.

    I am looking forward to this website getting better in the near future. Caleb is working hard on making the site better with constant updates and actually listening to your non-stop whining when something changes. The only thing that still need to change is the readers.

    “If you ain’t got nothin’ nice to say then you better shut the fuck up, son.” – my Mom.

    1. Get off your lazy ass, go outside and build a fucking helicopter using a $100 arc welder and scrap metal. ONLY then can you come here and be an expert about it.
      Yeah – and be sure to have someone post a HD-vid to Liveleak or Bestgore – depending how the flight turns out. Use a tripod for the camera so we do not miss the money-shot.

      Hacks have to WORK, IMO.

        1. The US Navy experimented with gyrocopters in the 1930’s. Some used the aircraft engine to turn the main blades to create a VTOL effect. In the same era they also flew aircraft off the Macon and Akron, essentially creating flying aircraft carriers.

    2. EAA.org and yes I am a memeber. Good that he is going to England to study because that helicopter would kill someone. Maybe you are so heartless that someone dieing or getting injured just doesn’t matter to you but to me it does.

    3. I’m looking forward to whiners like yourself, “someone criticised something! that isn’t very nurturing!” getting “better”. I’m imagining that African man now, crying over his joystick, hating himself because a bunch of strangers weren’t impressed with his stationary helicopter.

      Get the fuck over it. Whiners like you give me cancer. We’re men, we’re grown up, we’re anonymous, and above all it’s just the Internet. Don’t let it bother you. People say what they think here. That itself is valuable compared to so many sites and IRC channels where neurotic teenagers spend hours trying to find reasons to ban each other cos they’re so bored of the thing they spend half their life on.

      It’s just the Internet, dude. People think things, and then say them. What I enjoy most is a lot of the stuff I learn reading here, either directly or tangentially related to the subject, that falls out the dusty cupboards of people’s memories, that I’d probably never hear otherwise if I went looking for it on purpose. “The Internet, we digress”.

      More than that, it’s just life. Go heckle the UN or the Israel / Palestine peace talks if you want to tell a bunch of people they ought to be nice to each other. Or a nursery school class, whichever.

  8. Nope these thing will never fly. ( I do not whant to stand even close to these crafts if they should trun there blades ) But.. I love there craftsmanship! These projects are amazing if you understand the limits they have on resourses and tools. They build there dreams and it more like Art.

  9. “Unfortunately we couldn’t find any video of this thing in action. If that’s unacceptable to you try getting your fix from this human-sized octocopter.”

    Sorry, no “getting my fix” from the octocopter video either. YouTube account terminated.

    1. Shame you can’t really hear what they’re saying. Are the twin blades rotating together? Usually in personal helis they counter-rotate to cancel out the torque so you don’t need a tail rotor. This has a tail but it doesn’t appear to do much. Hmmm. Maybe the blades only idle in the same direction, but it sure looks like they’re together. How come it doesn’t spin the pilot round?

      A Japanese man made something similar a couple of years back, it was supposed to revolutionise transport. It flew, but he couldn’t give the journalist a go since he was too heavy, it was only just up to lifting a smallish Japanese bloke. Nice to see this one works with normal-sized people.

      There was yet another design a bit longer back, had 3 small engines, in case 2 failed. It could fly on 2 and land with just 1.

      Personal helicopters turn up quite a lot in the news, but they never seem to go anywhere. I never heard of one getting past the prototype, or even guy in his garage stage. Is it the price, safety, regulations or what? Surely safety’s just a problem to fix, as long as it can idle down safely, or has enough backups. Maybe those ballistic parachutes could help.

      It’s just such a cool thing, and so potentially useful, I’m amazed it hasn’t taken off, ho ho ho! Perhaps I’m underestimating the deadliness, but I’d love one.

  10. But, incredibly, Mwangi has managed to build a plane in just seven months, working around his full-time farming job.
    It is not known whether it can actually fly – but Mwangi says he has managed to get it a full feet off the ground.
    Mwangi said: ‘I built the helicopter to showcase my talent, hoping that people would invest in me and give me an opportunity to build bigger and better things’.
    But shortly after Mwangi unveiled his helicopter earlier this year, his employer fired him claiming the media attention was interfering with his work while police have banned him from flying it, claiming it is a security risk.

    he basicly got it to hover enough to get a scholarship, i dont think it will fly, and according to the article it doesnt seem like they will let him try anyways, but he got a scholarship for it so, mission success.

  11. You would write a headline like “Hackers in North America are building their own aircraft”, would you?

    Africa is a continent with 55 (officially recognized) countries.

    These aircraft hacks are from Nigeria and and Kenya. Please do not lump everything into just “Africa”. It’s ignorant and kind of racist.

    1. It’s neither ignorant or racist. Africa is a continent and Nigeria and Kenya happen to be in it. Continents are referred to a lot. North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Russia. Some people may not know where Nigeria or Kenya is so we say the continent. Racism has to do with race and nobody said anything about race. There are white people in Africa too? What? When? Don’t be a troll!

  12. In a helicopter your life is hanging on a few metal parts that spin fast with extremely large forces on them in varying directions. They had better be able to take it, and some junk from an old car likely with come apart trying. Also, the strength of the parts aside, if the blades can not free-wheel it will just drop to the ground if the engine stops.

  13. HAD I am had to say I am seriously disappointed . Africa is a continent. For the same reason you don’t say North Americans say “eh” a lot, you don’t refer to Africa when you mean .
    ps. Sorry for the Canada jab, just making a point

  14. Guys, the tail rotor look like a fake movie prop… no matter how long you argue or counter argue on the technology used in the main rotor, or how the guy is a hero for hacking a flying machine in his sh1thole excuse of a country. Without proper tail rotor… the torque would kill this thing. So to the clown that say “at least he did something, y’all just criticize…” well maybe you’re right… we just need to lower our standards down to your and it’s all go…

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