Build Your Own Avionics Suite, If You Dare

If you’re really interested in aircraft and flying, there are many ways to explore that interest. There are models of a wide range of sizes and complexities that are powered and remote-controlled, and even some small lightweight aircraft that can get you airborne yourself for a minimum of expense. If you’re lucky enough to have your own proper airplane, though, and you’re really into open source projects, you can also replace your airplane’s avionics kit with your own open source one.

Avionics are the electronics that control and monitor the aircraft, and they’re a significant part of the aircraft’s ability to fly properly. This avionics package from [j-omega] (who can also be found on will fit onto a small aircraft engine and monitor things like oil temperature, RPM, coolant temperature, and a wide array of other features of the engine. It’s based on an ATmega microcontroller, and has open-source schematics for the entire project and instructions for building it yourself. Right now it doesn’t seem like the firmware is available on the GitHub page yet, but will hopefully be posted soon for anyone who’s interested in an open-source avionics package like this.

The project page does mention that this is experimental as well, so it might not be advised to use in your own personal aircraft without some proper testing first. That being said, if you’ve heard that warning and have decided just to stay on the ground, it’s possible to have a great experience without getting in a real airplane at all.

Turn Failed Prints Into Office Fun With A Paper Airplane Maker

If you’re anything like us, you feel slightly guilty when you send a job to a printer only to find that twenty pages have printed wrong. Maybe it’s a typo, maybe it’s the dreaded landscape versus portrait issue. Whatever it is, trees died for your mistake, and there’s nothing you can do about it except to recycle the waste. But first, wipe that guilt away by using this one-stroke paper airplane maker to equip the whole office for an epic air battle.

We have to admit, automated paper handling has always fascinated us. The idea that a printer can reliably (sometimes) feed individual sheets of a stack is a testament to good design, and don’t even get us started about automatic paper folding. [Jerry de Vos]’ paper airplane maker doesn’t drive the sheets through the folder — that’s up to the user. But the laser-cut plywood jig does all the dirty work of creating a paper airplane. The sheet is clipped to an arm that pulls the paper through a series of ramps and slots that force the paper gently into the five folds needed for the classic paper dart. It’s fascinating to watch, and even though everyone seems to be using it very gingerly lest the paper tear, we can see how adding some rollers and motors from a scrapped printer could entirely automate the process. Think of the fun a ream of paper could provide around the office then.

Oh, wait…

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Firing Bullets Through Propellers

Early airborne combat was more like a drive-by shooting as pilot used handheld firearms to fire upon other aircraft. Whomever could boost firepower and accuracy would have the upper hand and so machine guns were added to planes. But it certainly wasn’t as simple as just bolting one to the chassis.

This was during World War I which spanned 1914 to 1918 and the controllable airplane had been invented a mere eleven years before. Most airplanes still used wooden frames, fabric-covered wings, and external cable bracing. The engineers became pretty inventive, even finding ways to fire bullets through the path of the wooden propeller blades while somehow not tearing them to splinters.

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Miss Beatrice Shilling Saves The Spitfire

On a bright spring morning in 1940, the Royal Air Force pilot was in the fight of his life. Strapped into his brand new Supermarine Spitfire, he was locked in mortal combat with a Luftwaffe pilot over the English Channel in the opening days of the Battle of Britain. The Spitfire was behind the Messerschmitt and almost within range to unleash a deadly barrage of rounds from the four eight Browning machine guns in the leading edges of the elliptical wings. With the German plane just below the centerline of the gunsight’s crosshairs, the British pilot pushed the Spit’s lollipop stick forward to dive slightly and rake his rounds across the Bf-109. He felt the tug of the harness on his shoulders keeping him in his seat as the nimble fighter pulled a negative-g dive, and he lined up the fatal shot.

But the powerful V-12 Merlin engine sputtered, black smoke trailing along the fuselage as the engine cut out. Without power, the young pilot watched in horror as the three-bladed propeller wound to a stop. With the cold Channel waters looming in his windscreen, there was no time to restart the engine. The pilot bailed out in the nick of time, watching his beautiful plane cartwheel into the water as he floated down to join it, wondering what had just happened.

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3D Printed Airplane Engine Runs On Air

One of the most important considerations when flying remote-controlled airplanes is weight. Especially if the airplane has a motor, this has a huge potential impact on weight. For this reason, [gzumwalt] embarked on his own self-imposed challenge to build an engine with the smallest weight and the lowest parts count possible, and came away with a 25-gram, 8-part engine.

The engine is based around a single piston and runs on compressed air. The reduced parts count is a result of using the propeller axle as a key component in the engine itself. There are flat surfaces on the engine end of the axle which allow it to act as a valve and control its own timing. [gzumwalt] notes that this particular engine was more of a thought experiment and might not actually produce enough thrust to run an airplane, but that it certainly will spark up some conversations among RC enthusiasts.

The build is also one of the first designs in what [gzumwalt] hopes will be a series of ever-improving engine designs. Perhaps he should join forces with this other air-powered design that we’ve just recently featured. Who else is working on air-powered planes? Who knew that this was a thing?

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How To Build An Airplane In A Month And A Half

For the last few weeks, RC pilot extraordinaire [Peter Sripol] has been working on his biggest project to date. It’s effectively a manned RC plane, now legally a Part 103 ultralight. Now all that work is finally bearing fruit. [Peter] is flying this plane on some short hops down a grass runway. He’s flying it, and proving that you can build a plane in a basement, in under two months, constructed almost entirely out of insulation foam.

[Peter] has been documenting this build on his YouTube channel, and although the materials for this plane are mostly sourced from either Home Depot or Lowes, the construction is remarkably similar to what you would expect to find in other homebuilt aircraft. This thing has plywood gussets, the foam is wearing a thin layer of fiberglass, and the fasteners are from Aircraft Spruce.

The power system is another matter entirely. The engines (all two of them!) are electric and are designed for very large RC aircraft. These engines suck down power from a massive battery pack in the nose, and the twin throttles are really just linear potentiometers hacked onto servo testers. There’s a surprising amount of very important equipment on this plane that is just what [Peter] had sitting around the workshop.

As far as the legality of this ultralight experiment is concerned, [Peter] is pretty much above-board. This is a Part 103 ultralight, and legally any moron can jump in an ultralight and fly. There are some highly entertaining YouTube videos attesting this fact. However, in one of [Peter]’s livestreams, he flew well after sunset without any strobes on the plane. We’re going to call this a variant of go-fever, technically illegal, and something that could merit a call from the FAA. We’re going to give him a pass on this, though.

This build still isn’t done, though. The pitot tube is held onto the windshield with duct tape. The plane was slightly nose heavy, but shifting the batteries around helped with that. [Peter] is running the motors on 12S batteries, and the prop/motor combo should be run on 14S batteries — $1200 of batteries are on order. The entire plane needs a paint job, but there’s no indication that will ever be done. With all that said, this is a functional manned aircraft built in a basement in less than two months.

With the plane complete and ground tests quickly moving on to flight tests, it’s only fitting to mention [Peter]’s GoFundMe page for a parachute. [Peter] is going to fly this thing anyway, and this is a great way to deflect Internet concern trolls. [Peter]’s just short of the $2600 needed for a parachute, but if the funds received go over that amount by a few hundred, a ballistic parachute will save [Peter] and the plane.

Building An Ultralight Out Of Foam In A Basement

[Peter Sripol] is something of a legend in the DIY RC aircraft crowd. He’s friends with Flite Test, and there he built an enormous RC cargo plane that could easily carry a small child aloft. Now, [Peter] is aiming a bit higher. He’s building an ultralight — a manned ultralight — in his basement. It’s made out of insulation foam.

Yes, this ultralight is constructed out of insulation foam, but you can think of that as just a skin. The real structure here comes from a wooden frame that will be fiberglassed. The design of this aircraft is an electric, twin-engine biplane. The relevant calculations have already been done, and [Peter] is already flying an RC scale model of this craft. So far, everything is not as sketchy as it could be.

As with any, ‘guy builds an airplane in his basement’ story, there must be a significant amount of time dedicated to the legality, practicality, and engineering of said plane. First off, the legality. [Peter] is actually building an ultralight under Part 103. The certifications for a Part 103 ultralight are much more lenient than the next step up in FAA-certified aircraft, a light sport or experimental aircraft. An ultralight is not required to have an airworthiness certification, and pilots of ultralights are not required to pass any tests of aeronautical knowledge or hold a medical certificate. Yes, legally, any moron can jump in an ultralight and fly. Think about that the next time someone brings up the Part 107 ‘drone’ certification.

Next, the practicality and engineering. [Peter]’s plane can weigh a maximum of 254 pounds, and should not be capable of more than 55 knots in full power level flight, while having a stall speed that does not exceed 24 knots. This is slow for a Cessna, but just about right for the gigantic remote-controlled planes [Peter] has already built.  A few years ago, [Peter] built a gigantic remote-controlled cargo plane out of what is basically foam board and a few aluminum tubes. The construction of [Peter]’s ultralight will be a highly refined version of this. He’s using foam insulation sheets for the body of the fuselage, reinforced with plywood and poplar struts. This foam and wood build will be wrapped with carbon fiber and fiberglass sheet, epoxied, and hopefully painted with flames on the side.

The use of poplar is a bit curious for an ultralight aircraft. For the last hundred years, the default wood for aircraft has been either spruce or douglas fir. The reason for this choice is the strength to weight ratio; spruce and douglas fir have the highest strength to weight ratio of any other wood. Poplar, however, is ultimately stronger and available at his local home improvement store, even though it does weigh a bit more. If [Peter] can keep the weight down in other areas, poplar is an excellent choice due to cost and availability. The video (below) is unclear, but we can only hope [Peter] has read up on the strength of aircraft frames and the orientation of the grain of each structural member.

This is the first video in what will be an amazing build series, and [Peter] hopes to get this thing up in the air by September. If you’re concerned about [Peter]’s safety, he’s also put up a GoFundMe page for a parachute. [Peter]’s going to fly this thing if you complain or concern troll or not, so donate a dollar for the parachute if you’re that concerned.

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