The control panel of a glider winch

A Custom Radio And Telephone System For Glider Winch Operators

While gliding might be the most calm and peaceful way of moving through the air, launching a glider is a rather noisy and violent process. Although electric winches do exist, most airfields use big V8-powered machines to get their gliders airborne. [Peter Turczak] noticed that the winch operators at his airfield often had to juggle multiple communication channels while pressing buttons and moving levers, all with the deafening roar of a combustion engine right next to them. To make their life easier, he built a single communication device that combines multiple radio inputs and an analog telephone .

A stack of circuit boards next to an old phone ringer
The inside of the cabinet. Note the classic phone ringer

The main user interface is a sturdy headset that dampens engine noise significantly. This headset is connected to a cabinet that contains several modules connecting to different audio sources: an analog telephone line, an aircraft radio receiver, a PMR handheld radio, and even a music source in case the other lines are quiet. The system contains automatic switchover circuits based on a priority system, ensuring that important messages are never missed.

The electronic design is based on classic analog components like NE5532 and TL084 op amps, all mounted on small, custom-made PCBs. Audio transformers are used to avoid ground loops between the various signal sources while relays mute sources that are not prioritized. To ensure seamless compatibility with the telephone network, [Peter] used components from old desk phones, including line transformers, a DTMF keypad and even a mechanical ringer. His blog post is full of details that will be of interest to anyone working with op amps and audio, such as how to stabilize an amplifier that has significant wiring capacitance on its input.

At heart this whole project is “just” an audio mixer, although optimized for a very specific purpose. But designing even a simple mixer is by no means an easy task, as we reported a few years back. If you’re more into winches, you’ll be delighted to find that smaller ones can also be used for sledding and even wakeboarding.

Tiny Winged Circuits Fall With Style

Researchers at Northwestern University is moving the goalposts on how small you can make a tiny flying object down to 0.5 mm, effectively creating flying microchips. Although “falling with style” is probably a more accurate description.

A larger "IoT Macroflyer" with more conventional cicruitry
A larger “IoT Macroflyer” with more conventional circuitry

Like similar projects we featured before from the Singapore University of Technology and Design, these tiny gliders are inspired by the “helicopter seeds” produced by various tree species. They consist of a single shape memory polymer substrate, with circuitry consisting of silicon nanomembrane transistors and chromium/gold interconnects transferred onto it.

Looking at the research paper, it appears that the focus at this stage was mainly on the aerodynamics and manufacturing process, rather than creating functional circuitry. A larger “IoT Macroflyer”┬ádid include normal ICs, which charges a super capacitor from a set of photodiodes operating in the UV-A spectrum, which acts as a cumulative dosimeter. The results of which can be read via NFC after recovery.

As with other similar projects, the proposed use-cases include environmental monitoring and surveillance. Air-dropping a large quantity of these devices over the landscape would constitute a rather serious act of pollution, for which case the researchers have also created a biodegradable version. Although we regard these “airdropped sensor swarms” with a healthy amount of skepticism and trepidation, we suspect that they will probably be used at some point in the future. We just hope that those responsible would have considered all the possible consequences.

Mickey’s Big Timer Makes Glider Competitions Better

There’s plenty of obscure sports in the world. Many of them could benefit from bespoke equipment like scoring displays, but are too obscure to support commercial efforts in this regard. Radio controlled glider competitions fit into just this category. This led a man named [Mickey] to develop what he calls Mickey’s Big Timer, to aid in the running of such events.

Glider events run outdoors in full sunlight, so the system uses big bright LED matrix displays to show its timing information. The system, built around the STM32 Discovery platform, uses several of the microcontroller boards to drive several displays as well as the main controller which handles timing. It also packs in an audio system for issuing instructions to competitors. It can also display pilot names as well as instructions such as when competitors should land at the end of a heat.

Some code is available on Github for those interested in how it all works. Word around the RC forums has it that [Mickey] built several systems, some of which ended up as far afield as New Zealand where they helped run many successful glider contests over the years.

We’ve seen plenty of scoreboard projects over the years; a little portable one could be useful for adding some spice to your pickup neighbourhood games. Video after the break.

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Dynamic Soaring: 545 MPH RC Planes Have No Motor

The fastest remote-controlled airplane flight ever recorded took place in 2018, with a top speed of 545 miles/hour. That’s 877 km/h, or Mach 0.77!

What was the limiting factor, preventing the pilot-and-designer Spencer Lisenby’s plane from going any faster? The airstream over parts of the wing hitting the sound barrier, and the resulting mini sonic booms wreaking havoc on the aerodynamics. What kind of supercharged jet motor can propel a model plane faster than its wings can carry it? Absolutely none; the fastest RC planes are, surprisingly, gliders.

Dynamic soaring (DS) was first harnessed to propel model planes sometime in the mid 1990s. Since then, an informal international competition among pilots has pushed the state of the art further and further, and in just 20 years the top measured speed has more than tripled. But dynamic soaring is anything but new. Indeed, it’s been possible ever since there has been wind and slopes on the earth. Albatrosses, the long-distance champs of the animal kingdom, have been “DSing” forever, and we’ve known about it for a century.

DS is the highest-tech frontier in model flight, and is full of interesting physical phenomena and engineering challenges. Until now, the planes have all been piloted remotely by people, but reaching new high speeds might require the fast reaction times of onboard silicon, in addition to a new generation of aircraft designs. The “free” speed boost that gliders can get from dynamic soaring could extend the range of unmanned aerial vehicles, when the conditions are right. In short, DS is at a turning point, and things are just about to get very interesting. It’s time you got to know dynamic soaring.

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Dropping A Glider From 18,000 Feet

[Tarik and Kemal] have an objective in mind: to drop a home-made autonomous glider from a high-altitude balloon and safely return it to home. To motivate them, [Tarik] has decided not to cut his hair until they reach 18,000 feet. Given the ambition of their project, it isn’t surprising that his hair is getting rather long now.

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Infinite Flying Glider

If you’ve exhausted your list of electronics projects over the past several weeks of trying to stay at home, it might be time to take a break from all of that and do something off the wall. [PeterSripol] shows us one option by building a few walkalong gliders and trying to get them to fly forever.

Walkalong gliders work by following a small glider, resembling a paper airplane but made from foam, with a large piece of cardboard. The cardboard generates an updraft which allows the glider to remain flying for as long as there’s space for it. [PeterSripol] and his friends try many other techniques to get these tiny gliders, weighing in at around half a gram, to stay aloft for as long as possible, including lighting several dozen tea candles to generate updrafts, using box fans, and other methods.

If you really need some electricity in your projects, the construction of the foam gliders shows a brief build of a hot wire cutting tool using some nichrome wire attached to a piece of wood, and how to assemble the gliders so they are as lightweight as possible. It’s a fun project that’s sure to be at least several hours worth of distraction, or even more if you have a slightly larger foam glider and some spare RC parts.

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Phantom Express: The Spaceplane That Never Was

Even for those of us who follow space news closely, there’s a lot to keep track of these days. Private companies are competing to develop new human-rated spacecraft and assembling satellite mega-constellations, while NASA is working towards a return the Moon and the first flight of the SLS. Between new announcements, updates to existing missions, and literal rocket launches, things are happening on a nearly daily basis. It’s fair to say we haven’t seen this level of activity since the Space Race of the 1960s.

With so much going on, it’s no surprise that not many people have heard of the XS-1 Phantom Express. A project by the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the XS-1 was designed to be a reusable launch system that could put small payloads into orbit on short notice. Once its mission was complete, the vehicle was to return to the launch site and be ready for re-flight in as a little as 24 hours.

Alternately referred to as the “DARPA Experimental Spaceplane”, the vehicle was envisioned as being roughly the size of a business jet and capable of carrying a payload of up to 2,300 kilograms (5,000 pounds). It would take off vertically under rocket power and then glide back to Earth at the end of the mission to make a conventional runway landing. At $5 million per flight, its operating costs would be comparable with even the most aggressively priced commercial launch providers; but with the added bonus of not having to involve a third party in military and reconnaissance missions which would almost certainly be classified in nature.

Or at least, that was the idea. Flight tests were originally scheduled to begin this year, but earlier this year prime contractor Boeing abruptly dropped out of the program. Despite six years in development and over $140 million in funding awarded by DARPA, it’s now all but certain that the XS-1 Phantom Express will never get off the ground. Which is a shame, as even in a market full of innovative launch vehicles, this unique spacecraft offered some compelling advantages.

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