Fail of the Week: Leaf Blowers Can’t Fly

Leaf blowers, the main instrument of the suburban Saturday symphony, are one of the most useful nuisances. It doesn’t take much work with a rake to convince even the most noise-averse homeowner to head to the Big Box Store to pick one up to speed lawn chores. Once you do buy one, and feel the thrust produced by these handheld banshees, you might wonder, If I let go of this thing, would it fly? 

[Peter Sripol] had that very thought and set about building a couple of leaf blower powered planes to answer the question. It’s probably not a spoiler alert to report that the answer is no, but the video below is a fun watch anyway. The surprising thing is just how close both planes came to succeeding. The first plane was a stripped-down Ryobi two-stroke leaf blower suspended from a giant wing and tail section that very nearly got off the ground. Version 1.1 gained a retractable electric boost propeller – strictly for take-offs – and lost a lot of excess weight. That plane practically leaped into the air, but alas, servo problems prevented [Peter] from shutting down the electric and flying on Ryobi alone. Even a servo fix couldn’t save the next flight, which cratered right after takeoff. A version 2.0, this time using a brutally modified electric leaf blower, was slightly more airworthy but augured in several times before becoming unflyable.

What can we learn from all this? Not much other than it would take a lot of effort to make a leaf blower fly. We appreciate all of [Peter]’s hard work here, but we think he’s better off concentrating on his beautiful homebrew ultralight instead.

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An Englishman’s Home Is His (Drone-Defended) Castle

Retiring to the garden for a few reflective puffs on the meerschaum and a quick shufti through the Racing Post, and the peace of the afternoon is shattered by the buzz of a drone in the old airspace,what! What’s a chap to do, let loose with both barrels of the finest birdshot from the trusty twelve-bore? Or build a missile battery cunningly concealed in a dovecote? The latter is what [secretbatcave] did to protect his little slice of England, and while we’re not sure of its efficacy we’re still pretty taken with it. After all, who wouldn’t want a useless garden accoutrement that conceals a fearsome 21st century defence system?

The basic shell of the dovecote is made from laser cut ply, in the shape of an innocuous miniature house. The roof is in two sliding sections which glide apart upon servo-controlled drawer runners, and concealed within is the rocket launcher itself on a counterweighted arm to lift it through the opening. The (toy) rocket itelf is aimed with a camera pan/tilt mechanism,and the whole is under the control of a Raspberry Pi

It’s understood that this is a rather tongue-in-cheek project, and the chances of any multirotors falling out of the sky are somewhat remote. But it does serve also to bring a bit of light back onto a theme Hackaday have touched upon in previous years, that of the sometimes uneasy relationship between drone and public.

Parcelcopter Drone Project Delivers In Rough Terrain

It’s a known fact that the last mile is also the longest mile in the parcel delivery service. The further removed from a hub city a delivery location is, the more required stops in between. Every part of the process slows to a glacial pace when the drop-off spot is inaccessible by land or air. Now apply this in the case of a medical emergency, and timing is everything.

Enter the joint project between [DHL and Wingcopter] dubbed Parcelcopter 4.0. The half plane, half helicopter drone design was recently tested over a six month period by making medical supply drops to Ukerewe island located in the middle of Lake Victoria. The remote island is home to roughly 400,000 people and many areas around the isle remain out of reach to traditional delivery vehicles. The island’s closest southern port is separated from mainland Tanzania by a four hour trip by barge and over six hours by road which makes drone delivery a potentially life saving option.

The Wingcopter drone itself is capable of vertical take off and landing (see 1:53 in the video below) while holding up to 9 lbs inside the thermally insulated cargo hold on the underside of the craft. It is controlled via 3G and/or 4G LTE, and according to the manufacturer website is capable of flying up to 60 miles on a single charge. Tests showed the drone made the nearly 40 mile trip across Lake Victoria in an average of 40 minutes.

It is interesting to see a real world commercial application seemingly ready to meet the needs of a vastly under served community. There are certainly many tests left to go before drone delivery goes into wider use, but thanks to this project the Parcelcopter 4.0 is 1400 air miles closer to that future.

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Disney Builds Autonomous Graffiti Drone

Ever seen a bit of graffiti in a strange location and wondered how the graffiti artist got up there? It might have been a drone rather than an athletic teen. Disney research has just published an interesting research paper that describes the PaintCopter: an autonomous drone fitted with a can of spray paint on a pan-tilt arm. It’s more than just sticking a paint can on a stick, though: they built a system that can scan a 3D surface then calculate how to paint a design on it, and then do it autonomously. The idea is that they want to use this to paint difficult-to-reach bits of theme parks, or to add seasonal decorations without sending someone up a ladder.

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Drone + Ground Penetrating Radar = Mine Detector?

Most civilized nations ban the use of landmines because they kill indiscriminately, and for years after they are planted. However, they are still used in many places around the world, and people are still left trying to find better ways to find and remove them. This group is looking at an interesting new approach: using ground-penetrating radar from a drone [PDF link]. The idea is that you send out a radio signal, which penetrates into the ground and bounces off any objects in there. By analyzing the reflected signal, so the theory goes, you can see objects underground. Of course, it gets a bit more complicated than that (especially when signals get reflected by the surface and other objects), but it’s a well-established technique even though this is the first time we’ve seen it mounted on a drone. It’s a great idea: the drone allows you to have the transmitting and receiving antennas separated with both mounted on pole extensions, meaning that the radio platform can move. Combined with a pre-planned flight, and we’re looking at a system that can fly over an area, scan what is under the ground, and store the data for analysis.


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Will Drones and Planes be Treated as Equals by FAA?

Soon, perhaps even by the time you read this, the rules for flying remote-controlled aircraft in the United States will be very different. The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) is pushing hard to repeal Section 336, which states that small remote-controlled aircraft as used for hobby and educational purposes aren’t under FAA jurisdiction. Despite assurances that the FAA will work towards implementing waivers for hobbyists, critics worry that in the worst case the repeal of Section 336 might mean that remote control pilots and their craft may be held to the same standards as their human-carrying counterparts.

Section 336 has already been used to shoot down the FAA’s ill-conceived attempt to get RC pilots to register themselves and their craft, so it’s little surprise they’re eager to get rid of it. But they aren’t alone. The Commercial Drone Alliance, a non-profit association dedicated to supporting enterprise use of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), expressed their support for repealing Section 336 in a June press release:

Basic ‘rules of the road’ are needed to manage all this new air traffic. That is why the Commercial Drone Alliance is today calling on Congress to repeal Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, and include new language in the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act to enable the FAA to regulate UAS and the National Airspace in a common sense way.

With both the industry and the FAA both pushing lawmakers to revamp the rules governing small remote-controlled aircraft, things aren’t looking good for the hobbyists who operate them. It seems likely those among us with a penchant for airborne hacking will be forced to fall in line. But what happens then?

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The Carbon Fiber Construction Of Large Propellers

Props for your little RC airplane or drone are effectively consumables. They’re made of plastic, they’re cheap, and you’re going to break a lot of them. When you start swinging something larger than 12 inches or so, things start getting expensive. If you’re building gigantic octocopters or big RC planes, those props start adding up. You might not think you can build your own gigantic carbon fiber propellers, but [Tech Ingredients] is here to prove you wrong with an incredible video demonstration of the construction of large propellers

The key ideas behind the build are laid out in a video demonstration for building a single prop. The base begins with a CNC wire cut foam air foil. This foam airfoil is first modified for the attachment point by cutting a plug out of the root of the airfoil which is filled with epoxy.

With the skeleton of the airfoil complete, the build then moves on to laminating the foam core with carbon fiber. The epoxy itself is West Systems Pro-Set laminating epoxy, although we suspect the ubiquitous West Systems epoxy used for all those live-edge ‘river’ coffee tables will also work as well. This epoxy is spread out on a table, the carbon fiber laid over it, and a second layer of carbon fiber (check ‘yo biases!) laid over that. This is wrapped around the foam core, then cured with an electric heating pad.

Of course, this is only a demonstration of making a single blade for a prop. The next trick is turning that single blade into a propeller. This is done with a cleverly machined hub, attached through that epoxy plug placed in the foam core. The results are just as good as any large prop you could buy, and this has the added benefit of being something you made, not bought.

This is really a master class in composite construction, and well worth an hour’s of YouTube viewing. You can check out the intro video below.

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