An Epic Story Of 1980s FPV Flight

A staple of today’s remote-controlled flight is the so-called FPV transmitter, allowing the pilot of a multirotor or other craft to see the world from onboard, as a pilot might do. It’s accessible enough that it can be found on toy multirotors starting at not much more than pocket money prices, and reliable enough that in its better incarnations it can send back high definition video at surprisingly long range.

In case you think of FPV flight as a recent innovation, the video below the break from [Larry Mitschke] should come as a revelation. In 1986 he was a bona-fide rockstar playing in a band, whose radio-controlled flight hobby led him into creating an FPV system for his planes and soaring above the Texas countryside at significant distance from his base while flying it watching a CRT screen.

The video is quite long but extremely watchable, all period footage with his narration here in 2020. We see his earliest experiments with a monochrome security camera and a video sender, and a whole host of upgrades until finally he can fly three miles from base with good quality video. 70 cm amateur TV makes an appearance with a steerable tracking antenna, he even makes a talking compass for when he loses himself. It’s an epic tale of hacking with what seems rudimentary equipment by our standards but was in fact the cutting edge of available video technology at a time when the state of the video art was moving rather fast. This is the work that laid the path for today’s $30 FPV toys, and for flying FPV from space.

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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.

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