Electric RC Plane Flies For Almost 11 Hours

Electric RC aircraft are not known for long flight times, with multirotors usually doing 20-45 minutes, while most fixed wings will struggle to get past two hours. [Matthew Heiskell] blew these numbers out of the water with a 10 hour 45 minute flight with an RC plane on battery power. Condensed video after the break.

Flight stats right before touchdown. Flight time in minutes on the left, and miles travelled second from the top on the right.

The secret? An efficient aircraft, a well tuned autopilot and a massive battery. [Matthew] built a custom 4S 50 Ah li-ion battery pack from LG 21700 cells, with a weight of 2.85 kg (6.3 lbs). The airframe is a Phoenix 2400 motor glider, with a 2.4 m wingspan, powered by a 600 Kv brushless motor turning a 12 x 12 propeller. The 30 A ESC’s low voltage cutoff was disabled to ensure every bit of juice from the battery was available.

To improve efficiency and eliminate the need to maintain manual control for the marathon flight, a GPS and Matek 405 Wing flight controller running ArduPilot was added. ArduPilot is far from plug and play, so [Matthew] would have had to spend a lot of timing tuning and testing parameters for maximum flight efficiency. We are really curious to see if it’s possible to push the flight time even further by improving aerodynamics around the protruding battery, adding a pitot tube sensor to hold the perfect airspeed speed on the lift-drag curve, and possibly making use of thermals with ArduPilot’s new soaring feature.

A few of you are probably thinking, “Solar panels!”, and so did Matthew. He has another set of wings covered in them that he used to do a seven-hour flight. While it should theoretically increase flight time, he found that there were a number of significant disadvantages. Besides the added weight, electrical complexity and weather dependence, the solar cells are difficult to integrate into the wings without reducing aerodynamic efficiency. Taking into account what we’ve already seen of [rcflightest]’s various experiments/struggles with solar planes, we are starting to wonder if it’s really worth the trouble. Continue reading “Electric RC Plane Flies For Almost 11 Hours”

DRehmFlight: Customizable Flight Stabilisation For Your Weird Flying Contraptions

The availability of cheap and powerful RC motors and electronics has made it possible for almost anyone to build an RC flying machine. Software is usually the bigger challenge, which has led to the development of open-source packages like BetaFlight and Ardupilot. These packages are very powerful, but not easy to modify if you have unconventional requirements. [Nicholas Rehm] faced this challenge while doing his master’s degree, so he created dRehmFlight, a customizable flight controller for VTOL aircraft. Overview video after the break.

dRehmFlight runs on Teensy 4.0 with a MPU6050 or MPU9250 IMU

[Nicholas] has been building unique VTOL aircraft for close to a decade, and he specifically wanted flight stabilization software that is easy to modify and experiment with. Looking at the dRehmFlight code, we think he was successful. The main flight controller package is a single file of fewer than 1600 lines. It’s well commented and easy to figure out, even for an inexperienced programmer. A detailed PDF manual is also available, with full descriptions for all the functions and important variables, and a couple of tutorials to get you started. Libraries for interfacing with accelerometers and RC gear is also included. It runs on a 600 Mhz Teensy 4.0, and all the programming can be done from the Arduino IDE.

[Nicholas] has repeatedly demonstrated the capabilities of dRehmFlight with several unique aircraft, like the belly flopping RC Starship we covered a while ago, a VTOL quad rotor biplane, VTOL F35, and the cyclocopter seen in the header image. dRehmFlight might not have the racing drone performance of BetaFlight, or advanced autopilot features of Ardupilot, but it’s perfect for getting unconventional aircraft off the ground. Continue reading “DRehmFlight: Customizable Flight Stabilisation For Your Weird Flying Contraptions”

ExpressLRS: Open Source, Low Latency, Long Range RC Protocol

One of the major choices a newcomer to the RC flying hobby must make is on the RC link protocol. To add the list of choices (or confusion) there is now a new open-source, low latency, and long-range protocol named ExpressLRS.

ExpressLRS’s claim to fame is high packet rates of up to 500 Hz, with plans for 1000 Hz, and latency as low as 5 ms. Long-range testing has pushed it out to 30 km with a flying wing (video below), but this is not unheard of for other protocols. Most modern RC protocols run either in the 2.4 GHz or 915/868 MHz bands, with the latter having a definite advantage in terms of range.

ExpressLRS has options to run on either band, using Semtech SX127x (915/868 MHz) or SX1280 (2.4 GHz) LoRa transceivers, connected to STM32, ESP32, or ESP8285 microcontrollers. The ESP microcontrollers also allow software updates over Wi-Fi.

We’re excited to see an open-source competitor to the proprietary protocols currently dominating the market, but several open-source protocols have come and gone over the years. Hardware availability and compatibility is a deciding factor for a new protocol’s success, and ExpressLRS already has an advantage in this regard. Existing Frsky R9 transmitters and receivers, and Immersion RC Ghost receivers are compatible with the firmware. There are also DIY options available, and the GitHub page claims that several manufacturers are working on official ExpressLRS hardware.

If you’re already into the RC hobby, and you have compatible hardware lying around, be sure to give it a try and give some feedback to the developers! One scenario we would like to see tested is high interference and congested band conditions, like at RC flying events.

All the source code and hardware designs are available on GitHub, and there are active community discussions on Discord. Continue reading “ExpressLRS: Open Source, Low Latency, Long Range RC Protocol”

A Rocket Powered Ejection Seat For Model Aircraft

As radio control planes don’t typically have human pilots onboard, the idea of installing an ejection seat in one is somewhat frivolous. But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be a lot of fun, and [James Whomsley] has set his mind to achieving the task.

The build process is an iterative one, with [James] solving problems step-by-step and testing along the way. The first task was to successfully launch a small action figure and his flight seat vertically in a controlled fashion. After a few attempts, a combination of rocket motors and guide rails were settled upon that could achieve the goal. Next up, a drogue parachute system was designed and tested to stabilize the seat at the height of its trajectory. Further work to come involves handling seat separation and getting the action figure safely back to the ground.

While action figures aren’t alive and the ejection seat serves no real emergency purpose, we can imagine it would be a hit at the local flying field – assuming the parachutes don’t get tangled in someone else’s model. For those interested in the real technology, our own [Dan Maloney] did a great piece on the topic. Video after the break.

Continue reading “A Rocket Powered Ejection Seat For Model Aircraft”

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.

Continue reading “Dynamic Soaring: 545 MPH RC Planes Have No Motor”

Giant Scale RC A350 Airliner Using Carbon Fibre And 3D Printing

Large scale RC aircraft are pleasure to see on the ground and in the air, but putting in the months of effort required to build them requires special dedication. Especially since there is a real possibility it could end up in pieces on the ground at some point. [Ramy RC] is one of those dedicated craftsman, and he has a thing for RC airliners. His latest project is a large Airbus A350, and the painstaking build process is something to behold.

The outer skin of the aircraft is mostly carbon fibre, with wood internal framing to keep everything rigid. The fuselage and winglets are moulded using 3D printed moulds. These were printed in pieces on a large format 3D printer, and painstakingly glued together and prepared to give a perfect surface finish. The wing surfaces are moulded in flat section and then glued onto the frames. [Ramy RC]’s attention to detail is excellent, making all the control surfaces close as possible to the real thing, and retractable landing gear with servo actuated hatches. Thrust comes from a pair of powerful EDF motors, housed in carbon fibre nacelles.

This project has been in the works for almost 5 months so far and it looks spectacular. We’re looking forward to the first flight, and will be holding thumbs that is remains in one piece for a long time. See the video after the break for final assembly of this beast.

For the next step up from RC aircraft, you can always build your own full size aircraft in your basement. If you have very very deep pockets, get yourself a private hangar/workshop and build a turbine powered bush plane.

Thanks for the tip [tayken]! Continue reading “Giant Scale RC A350 Airliner Using Carbon Fibre And 3D Printing”

A DIY Functional F-35 Is No Simple Task

The advent of affordable gear for radio-controlled aircraft has made the hobby extremely accessible, but also made it possible to build some very complex flying machines on a budget, especially when combined with 3D printing. [Joel Vlashof] really likes VTOL fighter aircraft and is in the process of building a fully functional radio-controlled F-35B.

The F-35 series of aircraft is one of the most expensive defence project to date. The VTOL capable “B” variant is a complex machine, with total of 19 doors on the outside of the aircraft for weapons, landing gear and thrusters. The thruster on the tail can pivot 90° down for VTOL operations, using an interesting 3-bearing swivel mechanism.

[Joel] wants his model to be as close as possible to the real thing, and has integrated all these features into his build. Thrust is provided by two EDF motors, the pivoting nozzle is 3D printed and actuated by three set of small DC motors, and all 5 doors for VTOL are actuated by a single servo in the nose via a series of linkages. For tilt control, air from the main fan is channeled to the wing-tips and controlled by servo-actuated valves. A flight controller intended for use on a multi-rotor is used to help keep the plane stable while hovering. One iteration of this plane bit the dust during development, but [Joel] has done successful test flights for both hover and conventional horizontal flight.  The really tricky part will be transitioning between flight modes, and [Joel] hopes to achieve that in the near future.

The real Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II project is controversial because of repeated budget overruns and time delays, but the engineering challenges solved in the project are themselves fascinating. The logistics of keeping these complex machines in the air are daunting, and a while back we saw Marine ground crew 3D print components that they were having trouble procuring through normal channels.

Continue reading “A DIY Functional F-35 Is No Simple Task”