Inside A Mystery Aerospace Computer With [Ken Shirriff]

When life hands you a mysterious bit of vintage avionics, your best bet to identifying it might just be to get it in front of the biggest bunch of hardware hounds on the planet. After doing a teardown and some of your own investigation first, of course.

The literal black box in question came into [Ken Shirriff]’s custody courtesy of [David] from Usagi Electric, better known for his vacuum tube computer builds and his loving restoration of a Centurion minicomputer. The unit bears little in the way of identifying markings, but [Ken] was able to glean a little by inspecting the exterior. The keypad is a big giveaway; its chunky buttons seem optimized for use with the gloved hands of a pressure suit, and the ordinal compass points hint at a navigational function. The layout of the keypad is similar to the Apollo DSKY, which might make it a NASA artifact. Possibly contradicting all of that is the oddball but very cool electromechanical display, which uses reels of digits and a stepper-like motor to drive them.

Inside, more mysteries — and more clues — await. Unlike a recent flight computer [Ken] looked at, most of the guts are strictly electronic. The instrument is absolutely stuffed with PCBs, most of which are four-layer boards. Date codes on the hundreds of chips all seem to be in the 1967 range, dating the unit to the late 60s or early 70s. The weirdest bit is the core memory buried deep inside the stacks of logic and analog boards. [Ken] found 20 planes with the core, hinting at a 20-bit processor.

In the end, [Ken] was unable to come to any firm conclusion as to what this thing is, who made it, or what its purpose was. We doubt that his analysis will end there, though, and we look forward to the reverse engineering effort on this piece of retro magic.

Building A Rad Super Capacitor RC Plane

[Tom Stanton] is a fan of things like rubber band planes, and has built many of his own air-powered models over the years. Now, he’s built a model powered by a supercapacitor for a thoroughly modern twist on stored-energy flying toys.

It’s not a wholly original idea; [Tom] was inspired by a toy he bought off-the-shelf. His idea, though, was to make one that could be hand-cranked to charge it to make it more like the rubber-band planes of old. He thus built his own geared generator for the job using a big pile of magnets and 3D printed components. It’s capable of putting out around 17 volts when cranked at a reasonable speed. Hooked up to the toy plane, his hand-crank generator was able to fully charge the plane in just a few turns.

His generator was really overkill for the small toy, though. Thus, he elected to build himself a much larger supercapacitor-powered model. He wired up a pack of six supercapacitors in series, designed for roughly 18 volts. The pack was given balance leads to ensure that no individual capacitor was charged beyond its 3.0 V rating. The pack was placed inside a nice aerodynamic printed fuselage. The plane was then given a brushless motor and prop, speed controller, servos, and an RC receiver. Indeed, far from a simple throwable model, it’s a fully flyable RC plane.

The plane is quite a capable flyer with plenty of power, but a fairly short run time of just under two minutes. Though, with that said, it can be recharged in just about that same amount of time thanks to its supercapacitor power supply. [Tom] reckons it should be capable of a 1:1 crank time to flight time ratio in ideal conditions.

Supercapacitors are super cool, but we don’t see enough of them. They’ve popped up here and there, and obviously have many important applications, but we’re not sure they’ve had a real killer app in the consumer space. XV Racers were killer fun, though. Continue reading “Building A Rad Super Capacitor RC Plane”

Formation Flying Does More Than Look Good

Seeing airplanes fly in formation is an exciting experience at something like an air show, where demonstrations of a pilot’s skill and aircraft technology are on full display. But there are other reasons for aircraft to fly in formation as well. [Peter] has been exploring the idea that formation flight can also improve efficiency, and has been looking specifically at things like formation flight of UAVs or drones with this flight planning algorithm.

Aircraft flying in formation create vortices around the wing tips, which cause drag. However, another aircraft flying through those vortices will experience less drag and more efficient flight. This is the reason birds instinctively fly in formation as well. By planning paths for drones which will leave from different locations, meet up at some point to fly in a more efficient formation, and then split up close to their destinations, a significant amount of energy can potentially be saved. Continue reading “Formation Flying Does More Than Look Good”

Adding Variometer Functionality To A GPS

Flying a glider, or similarly piloting a paraglider or hang glider, can all be pathways into aviation with a lower barrier of entry than powered flight. Sacrificing one’s engine does generate a few complexities, but can be rewarding as the pilot searches for various means of increasing altitude like ridge soaring or thermaling. You’ll need a special instrument called a variometer to know just how much altitude you’re gaining though, like this one which is built into commercially-available handheld GPS units.

These GPS units are normally intended for use on terra firma only, but [Oganisyan] has figured out a clever way to add this flight instrumentation to these units to help when operating a paraglider. An ATmega328 paired with a pressure sensor is added to the inside of the GPS units and communicates with an available serial interface within the units. To complete the modification, a patched firmware must be installed which adds the variometer function to the display. This upgrade is compatible with a handful of GPS units as well such as the BikePilot2+ or Falk Tiger.

For those who already own one of these GPS units, this could be a cost-effective way of obtaining a variometer, especially since commercially-available variometers tailored for this sort of application can cost around $200 to $500. It is an activity sensitive to cost, though, as it offers a much more affordable option for taking to the skies than any powered craft could, with an exception made for this powered paraglider which offers the ability for powered take off and flight extension using electric-powered props.

Thanks to [MartinO] for the tip!

Largest Ever Hydrogen Fuel Cell Plane Takes Flight

In the automotive world, batteries are quickly becoming the energy source of the future. For heavier-duty tasks, though, they simply don’t cut the mustard. Their energy density, being a small fraction of that of liquid fuels, just can’t get the job done. In areas like these, hydrogen holds some promise as a cleaner fuel of the future.

Universal Hydrogen hopes that hydrogen will do for aviation what batteries can’t. The company has been developing flight-ready fuel cells for this exact purpose, and has begun test flights towards that very goal.

Continue reading “Largest Ever Hydrogen Fuel Cell Plane Takes Flight”

2022 FPV Contest: A Poor Man’s Journey Into FPV

FPV can be a daunting hobby to get into. Screens, cameras, and other equipment can be expensive, and there’s a huge range of hardware to choose from. [JP Gleyzes] has been involved with RC vehicles for many years, and decided to leverage that experience to do FPV on a budget.

Early experiments involved building a headset on the cheap by using a smartphone combined with a set of simple headset magnifiers. With some simple modifications to off-the-shelf hardware, [JP] was able to build a serviceable headset with  a smartphone serving as the display. Further work relied upon 3D printed blinds added on to a augmented-reality setup for even better results. [JP] also developed methods to use a joystick to fly a real RC aircraft. This was achieved by using an Android phone or ESP32 to interface with a joystick, and then spit out data to a board that produces PPM signals for broadcast by regular RC hardware.

[JP] put the rig to good use, using it to pilot a Parrot Disco flying wing drone. The result is a cheap method of flying FPV with added realism. The first-person view and realistic controls create a more authentic feeling of being “inside” the RC aircraft.

It goes to show that FPV rigs don’t have to break the bank if you’re willing to get creative. We’ve seen some great FPV cockpit builds before, too.

Continue reading “2022 FPV Contest: A Poor Man’s Journey Into FPV”

24 Hours Of Le Airplanes

There’s no more famous road endurance race than the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where teams compete to see how far they can drive in a single 24-hour window. The race presents unique challenges not found in other types of racing. While RC airplanes may not have a similar race, [Daniel] a.k.a. [rctestflight] created a similar challenge for himself by attempting to fly an RC airplane non-stop for as long as he could, and a whole host of interesting situations cropped up before and during flight.

In order for an RC plane to fly for an entire day, it essentially needs to be solar powered. A large amount of strategy goes into a design of this sort. For one, the wing shape needs to be efficient in flight but not reduce the amount of area available for solar panels. For another, the start time of the flight needs to be balanced against the position of the sun in the sky. With these variables more or less fixed, [Daniel] began his flight.

It started off well enough, with the plane in an autonomous “return to home” mode which allowed it to continually circle overhead without direct human control. But after taking a break to fly it in FPV mode, [Daniel] noticed that the voltage on his battery was extremely high. It turned out that the solar charge controller wasn’t operating as expected and was shunting a large amount of solar energy directly into the battery. He landed and immediately removed the “spicy pillow” to avoid any sort of nonlinear event. With a new battery in the plane he began the flight again.

Even after all of that, [Daniel] still had some issues stemming from the aerodynamic nature of this plane specifically. There were some issues with wind, and with the flight controller not recognizing the correct “home” position, but all in all it seems like a fun day of flying a plane. If your idea of “fun” is sitting around and occasionally looking up for eight and a half hours. For more of [Daniel]’s long-term autonomous piloting, be sure to take a look at his solar tugboat as well.

Continue reading “24 Hours Of Le Airplanes”