Single-Rotor Drone: a Thrust-Vectoring Monocopter

We’re not entirely sure what to call this one. It’s got the usual trappings of a drone, but with only a single rotor it clearly can’t be called by any of the standard multicopter names. Helicopter? Close, but not quite, since the rotor blades are fixed-pitch. We’ll just go with “monocopter” for now and sort out the details later for this ducted-fan, thrust-vectored UAV.

Whatever we choose to call it — builder [tesla500] dubbed it the simultaneously optimistic and fatalistic “Ikarus” — it’s really unique. The monocopter is built around a 90-mm electric ducted fan mounted vertically on a 3D-printed shroud. The shroud serves as a mounting point for the landing legs and for four servos that swivel vanes within the rotor wash. The vanes deflect the airstream and provide the thrust vectoring that gives this little machine its control.

Coming to the correct control method was not easy, though. Thanks mainly to the strong gyroscopic force exerted by the rotor, [tesla500] had a hard time getting the flight controller to cooperate. He built a gimballed test stand to work the problem through, and eventually rewrote LibrePilot to deal with the unique forces on the craft and tuned the PID loops accordingly. Check out the results in the video below.

Some attempts to reduce the number of rotors work better than others, of course, but this worked out great, and we’re looking forward to the promised improvements to come.

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Quadcopter Hardware Gets Classic Lake Bed Test

You’d be hard pressed to find an aircraft that wasn’t designed and tested without extensive use of simulation. Whether it’s the classic approach of using a scale model in a wind tunnel or more modern techniques such as computational fluid dynamics, a lot of testing happens before any actual hardware gets bolted together. But at some point the real deal needs to get a shakedown flight, and historically a favorite testing ground has been the massive dry lake beds in the Western United States. The weather is always clear, the ground is smooth, and there’s nobody for miles around.

Thanks to [James] and [Tyler] at Propwashed, that same classic lake bed approach to real-world testing has now been brought to the world of high performance quadcopter gear. By mounting a computer controlled thrust stand to the back of their pickup truck and driving through the El Mirage dry lake bed in the Mojave Desert, they were able to conduct realistic tests on how different propellers operate during flight. The data collected provides an interesting illustration of the inverse relationship airspeed has with generated thrust, but also shows that not all props are created equal.

The first post in the series goes over their testing set-up and overall procedure. On a tower in the truck’s bed a EFAW 2407 2500kV motor was mounted on a Series 1520 thrust stand by RCBenchmark. This stand connects to the computer and offers a scripted environment which can be used to not only control the motor but monitor variables like power consumption, RPM, and of course thrust. While there was some thought given to powering the rig from the truck’s electrical system, in the end they used Turnigy 6000mAh 4S battery packs to keep things simple.

A script was written for the thrust stand which would ramp the throttle from 0% up to 70% over 30 seconds, and then hold it at that level for 5 seconds. This script was run when the truck was at a standstill, and then repeated with the truck travelling at increasingly faster speeds up to 90 MPH. This procedure was repeated for each of the 15 props tested, and the resulting data graphed to compare how they performed.

The end result was that lower pitch props with fewer blades seemed to be the best overall performers. This isn’t a huge surprise given what the community has found through trial and error, but it’s always good to have hard data to back up anecdotal findings. There were however a few standout props which performed better at high speeds than others, which might be worth looking into if you’re really trying to push the envelope in terms of airspeed.

As quadcopters (or “drones”, if you must) have exploded in popularity, we’re starting to see more and more research and experimentation done with RC hardware. From a detailed electrical analysis of hobby motors to quantifying the latency of different transmitters.

Mechanisms: Bearings

They lie at the heart of every fidget spinner and in every motor that runs our lives, from the steppers in a 3D printer to the hundreds in every car engine. They can be as simple as a lubricated bushing or as complicated as the roller bearing in a car axle. Bearings are at work every day for us, directing forces and reducing friction, and understanding them is important to getting stuff done with rotating mechanisms.

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Retrotechtacular: The J-57 Afterburner Engine

The J-57 afterburner engine appeared in many airplanes of notable make, including the F-101, -102, and -103. This USAF training film shows the parts of the J-57, explains the complex process by which the engine produces thrust, and describes some maintenance and troubleshooting procedures.

The name of this game is high performance. Precision thrust requires careful rigging of the engine’s fuel control linkage through a process called trimming. Here, the engine fuel control is adjusted with regard to several different RPM readings as prescribed in the manual.

One of the worst things that can happen to a J-57 is known as overtemping. This refers to high EGT, or exhaust gas temperature. If EGT is too high, the air-fuel ratio is not ideal. Troubleshooting a case of high EGT should begin with a check of the lines and the anti-icing valve. If the lines are good and the valve is closed, the instruments should be checked for accuracy. If they’re okay, then it’s time for a pre-trimming inspection.

In addition to EGT, engine performance is judged by RPM and PP7, the turbine discharge pressure. If RPM and PP7 are within spec and the EGT is still high, the engine must be pulled. It should be inspected for leaks and hot spots, and the seals should be examined thoroughly for cracks and burns. The cause for high EGT may be just one thing, or it could be several small problems. This film encourages the user to RTFM, which we think is great advice in general.

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Retrotechtacular: The Jet Story

A plane from Britain is met in the US by armed security. The cargo? An experimental engine created by Air Commodore [Frank Whittle], RAF engineer air officer. This engine will be further developed by General Electric under contract to the US government. This is not a Hollywood thriller; it is the story of the jet engine.

The idea of jet power started to get off the ground at the turn of the century. Cornell scholar [Sanford Moss]’ gas turbine thesis led him to work for GE and ultimately for the Army. Soon, aircraft were capable of dropping 2,000 lb. bombs from 15,000 feet to cries of ‘you sank my battleship!’, thus passing [Billy Mitchell]’s famous test.

The World War II-era US Air Force was extremely interested in turbo engines. Beginning in 1941, about 1,000 men were working on a project that only 1/10 were wise to. During this time, American contributions tweaked [Whittle]’s design, improving among other things the impellers and rotor balancing. This was the dawn of radical change in air power.

Six months after the crate arrived and the contracts were signed, GE let ‘er rip in the secret testing chamber. Elsewhere at the Bell Aircraft Corporation, top men had been working concurrently on the Airacomet, which was the first American jet-powered plane ever to take to the skies.

In the name of national defense, GE gave their plans to other manufacturers like Allison to encourage widespread growth. Lockheed’s F-80 Shooting Star, the first operational jet fighter, flew in June 1944 under the power of an Allison J-33 with a remarkable 4,000 pounds of thrust.

GE started a school for future jet engineers and technicians with the primary lesson being the principles of propulsion. The jet engine developed rapidly from this point on.

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Retrotechtacular: Forces Acting On An Airfoil

floating film title We’ve probably all experimented with a very clear demonstration of the basic principles of lift: if you’re riding in a car and you put your flattened hand out the window at different angles, your hand will rise and fall like an airplane’s wing, or airfoil. This week’s Retrotechtacular explains exactly how flight is possible through the principles of lift and drag. It’s an Army training documentary from 1941 titled “Aerodynamics: Forces Acting on an Air Foil“.

What is an airfoil? Contextually speaking, it’s the shape of an airplane’s wing. In the face of pressure differences acting upon their surfaces, airfoils produce a useful aerodynamic reaction, such as the lift that makes flight possible. As the film explains, the ideas of lift and drag are measured against the yardstick of relative wind. The force of this wind on the airfoil changes according to the acute angle formed between the airfoil and the direction of the air flow acting upon it. As you may already know, lift is measured at right angles to the relative wind, and drag occurs parallel to it. Lift is opposed by the weight of the foil, and drag by tension.

wind tunnel testing

Airfoils come in several types of thicknesses and curvatures, and the film shows how a chord is derived from each shape. These chords are used to measure and describe the angle of attack in relation to the relative wind.

The forces that act upon an airfoil are measured in wind tunnels which provide straight and predictable airflow. A model airplane is supported by wires that lead to scales. These scales measure drag as well as front and rear lift.

In experimenting with angles of attack, lift and drag increase toward what is known as the stalling angle. After this point, lift decreases abruptly, and drag takes over. Lift and drag are proportional to the area of the wing, the relative wind velocity squared, and the air density. When a plane is in the air, drag is a retarding force that equals the thrust of the craft, or the propelling force.

monometer tubesAirfoil models are also unit tested in wind tunnels. They are built with small tubes running along many points of the foil that sit just under the surface. The tubes leave the model at a single point and are connected to a bank of manometer tubes. These tubes compare the pressures acting on the airfoil model to the reference point of atmospheric pressure. The different liquid levels in the manometer tubes give clear proof of the pressure values along the airfoil. These levels are photographed and mapped to a pressure curve. Now, a diagram can be made to show the positive and negative pressures relative to the angle of attack.

In closing, we are shown the effects of a dive on lift as an aircraft approaches and reaches terminal velocity, and that lift is attained again by pulling slowly out of the dive. Remember that the next time you fly your hand-plane out the window.

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‘Vortex-drive’ for underwater ROV propulsion

This is [Lee von Kraus’] new experimental propulsion system for an underwater ROV. He developed the concept when considering how one might adapt the Bristlebot, which uses vibration to shimmy across a solid surface, for use under water.

As with its dry-land relative, this technique uses a tiny pager motor. The device is designed to vibrate when the motor spins, thanks to an off-center weight attached to the spindle. [Lee’s] first experiment was to shove the motor in a centrifuge tube and give it an underwater whirl. He could see waves emanating from the motor and travelling outward, but the thing didn’t go anywhere. What he needed were some toothbrush bristles. He started thinking about how those bristles actually work. They allow the device to move in one direction more easily than in another. The aquatic equivalent of this is an angled platform that has more drag in one direction. He grabbed a bendy straw, using the flexible portion to provide the needed surface.

Check out the demo video after the break. He hasn’t got it connected to a vessel, but there is definitely movement.

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