WiFi Controlled Plane Is Cheap Flying Fun

The world of radio controlled aircraft used to be an expensive and exclusive hobby, limited to those with the time and money to invest in difficult builds and pricey radio gear. More recently, the hobby has become more accessible, with cheap ready to fly planes available that can be flown in smaller spaces like suburban parks. [Ravi Butani] has built just such a plane, and you can even fly it with your smartphone!

An ESP8266 does double duty here as both the brains and the communication system. A custom smartphone app communicates with the plane over WiFi. Touching the screen increases the throttle, while steering is achieved through tilting the phone. There’s also monitoring of signal strength and battery level, with the phone vibrating if the plane is getting out of range or low on battery.

Flight control is via differential thrust, with power coming courtesy of two small DC motors controlled by tiny SMD MOSFETs. The plane flies remarkably well in still conditions, and the WiFi connection is stable in an open park environment. [Ravi] reports that control is possible at a range of around 70 meters using a Motorola G5S smartphone.

Despite the simplicity of the build and the low cost of the components, the final product performs admirably. It would be a great weekend project, and at the end of it, you get to go and fly your new plane! If you’re worried about keeping your batteries charged, don’t worry – there’s a solution for that. Video after the break.

15 thoughts on “WiFi Controlled Plane Is Cheap Flying Fun

    1. With the right balance and thrust vectors, high thrust = climb, medium thrust = flat flight, low thrust = descend. It won’t be doing any 3D aerobatics, but quite a bit of control is possible.

  1. In esp8266 internal adc can sample vcc with fixed internal reference without any external components… As vcc in this case is riughly vbat-0.6 as voltage drop across diode is approx 0.6.

    When vcc is below 2.7 v means vbat is below 3.3v cellphone shows low battery indication..
    Lipo can be safely discharged to 3.4v no load voltage.. on load it’s 3.2 v
    It’s ugly way but works fine…

  2. Wha? The ESP8266 is a power hog (think like 440mA sometimes and on average 100-200mA communicating with WiFi all the time)! I think it’s a bad idea for a little battery limited RC model airplane. Remember, airplanes are not like copters (quads), they can sustain flight with much smaller motors (hence energy). That’s why you don’t want to be dumping your batteries into the radio. Read this:

    https://www.ondrovo.com/a/20170207-esp-consumption/

    And this:

    https://bbs.espressif.com/viewtopic.php?t=133

    On the other-hand, for unobstructed line-of-sight small model flight, Bluetooth seems like a much better option. Dirt cheap BT breakout modules (search for HC05) are available everywhere (just like the ESP8266), and developing a smart phone app to control the plane is likely no more or less complex with Bluetooth compared with WiFi. You will need a small microcontroller and a few transistors, diodes, and resistors to go between the Bluetooth module and the servos. In the ESP8266 the microcontroller is part of the WiFi capable device. In the Bluetooth case you’re better off with the external microcontroller because it will be much smaller and less power hungry, plus you wonl’t have to fight to multitask with the WiFi stack which runs on the ESP8266.

    Just because something can be done – and you get on Hackaday for it – doesn’t make it a good idea.

    1. Thanks for your feedback..
      Agree with your comments on power consumption..
      All Idea about the project is to make something which can fly easily using things lying around and as low cost as possible.. just like cool weekend project with kids..

      Seriously thinking about using bluetooth after you just mentioned.. Searched my inventory and having HC-05, HM-10 and Arduino pro mini as well..
      But finalize dirt cheap HM-10 (CC2541 based) as standalone SoC with mpu6050, BLE+uC for communication and flight controlling…
      Challenge accepted :) and will soon come here with one more weekend project (DIY BLE based dirt cheap Plane and Drone)

      For me critics is more important than appreciation… :)

      So again thanks for your feedback…

      Cheers,
      Ravi

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