Drones are pretty common in the electoronics landscape today, and are more than just a fun hobby. They’ve enabled a wide array of realtors, YouTubers, surveyors, emergency responders, and other professionals to have an extremely powerful tool at their disposal. One downside to these tools is that the power consumption tends to be quite high. You can either stick larger batteries on them, or, as [Nicholas] demonstrates, just spin them really fast during flight.
We featured his first tests with this multi-modal drone flight style a while back, but here’s a quick summary: by attaching airfoils to the arms of each of the propellers and then spinning the entire drone, the power requirements for level flight can be dramatically reduced. This time, he’s back to demonstrate another benefit to this unique design, which is its ability to turn on its side and fly in level flight like an airplane. It’s a little bizarre to see it in the video, as it looks somewhat like a stationary propeller meandering around the sky, but the power requirements for this mode of flight are also dramatically reduced thanks to those wings on the arms.
There are a few downsides to this design, namely that the vertical wing only adds drag in level flight, so it’s not as efficient as some bi-wing designs, but it compromises for that loss with much more effective hover capabilities. He also plans to demonstrate the use of a camera during spin-hover mode as well in future builds. It’s an impressive experiment pushing the envelope of what a multi-rotor craft can do, and [Nicholas] still has plans to improve the design, especially when it comes to adding better control when it is in spin-hover mode. We’d expect plenty of other drones to pick up some of these efficiency gains too, except for perhaps this one.
There are a variety of possible motor configurations to choose from when building a fixed-wing VTOL drone, but few take the twin-motor tilt-rotor approach used by the V-22 Osprey. However, it remains a popular DIY drone for fans of the military aircraft, like [Tom Stanton]. He recently built his 5th tilt-rotor VTOL and gave an excellent look at the development process. Video after the break.
The key components of any small-scale tilt-rotor are the tilt mechanism and the flight controller. [Tom]’s tilt mechanism uses a high-speed, high-torque servo that rotates the motor mount via 3D printed gear mechanism. This means the servo doesn’t need to bear the full load of the motor, and the gearing can be optimized for torque and speed. [Tom] also used the tilting motors for yaw and roll control during forward flight, which allows him to eliminate all the other conventional control surfaces except for the elevator. Continue reading “Optimising An RC Tilt-Rotor VTOL”→
eVTOL (Electric Vertical Take-off and Landing) craft are some of the more exciting air vehicles being developed lately. They aim to combine the maneuverability and landing benefits of helicopters with the environmental benefits of electric drive, and are often touted as the only way air taxis could ever be practical. The aircraft from Joby Aviation are some of the most advanced in this space, and [Peter Ryseck] set about building a radio-controlled model that flies in the same way.
The result is mighty complex, with six tilt rotors controlled via servos for the utmost in maneuverability. These allow the vehicle to take off vertically, while allowing the rotors to tilt horizontally for better efficiency in forward flight, as seen on the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey.
The build uses a 3D-printed chassis which made implementing all the tilt rotor mounts and mechanisms as straightforward as possible. A Teensy flight controller is responsible for controlling the craft, running the dRehmFlight VTOL firmware. The assembled craft only weighs 320 grams including battery; an impressive achievement given the extra motors and servos used relative to a regular quadcopter build.
With some tuning, hovering flight proved relatively easy to achieve. The inner four motors are used like a traditional quadcopter in this mode, constantly varying RPM to keep the craft stable. The outer two motors are then pivoted as needed for additional control authority.
In forward flight, pitch is controlled by adjusting the angle of the central four motors. Roll is achieved by tilting the rotors on either side of the plane’s central axis, and yaw control is provided by differential thrust. In the transitional period between modes, simple interpolation is used between both modes until transition is complete.
Outdoor flight testing showed the vehicle is readily capable of graceful forward flight much like a conventional fixed wing plane. In the hover mode, it just looks like any other multirotor. Overall, it’s a great demonstration of what it takes to build a successful tilt rotor craft.
Quadcopters are great for maneuverability and slow, stable flight, but it comes at the cost of efficiency. [Peter Ryseck]’s Mini QBIT quadrotor biplane brings in some of the efficiency of fixed-wing flight, without all the complexity usually associated with VTOL aircraft.
The Mini QBIT is just a 3″ mini quadcopter with a pair of wings mounted below the motors, turning it into a “tailsitter” VTOL aircraft. The wings and nosecone attach to the 3D printed frame using magnets, which allows them to pop off in a crash. There is no need for control surfaces on the wings since all the required control is done by the motors. The QBIT is based on a research project [Peter] was involved in at the University of Maryland. The 2017 paper states that the test aircraft used 68% less power in forward flight than hovering.
Getting the flight controller to do smooth transitions from hover to forward flight can be quite tricky, but the QBIT does this using a normal quadcopter flight controller running Betaflight. The quadcopter hovers in self-leveling mode (angle mode) and switches to acro mode for forward flight. However, as the drone pitches over for forward flight, the roll axis becomes the yaw axis and the yaw axis becomes the reversed roll axis. To compensate for this, the controller set up to swap these two channels at the flip of a switch. For FPV flying, the QBIT uses two cameras for the two different modes, each with its own on-screen display (OSD). The flight controller is configured to use the same mode switch to change the camera feed and OSD.
[Peter] is selling the parts and STL files for V2 on his website, but you can download the V1 files for free. However, the control setup is really the defining feature of this project, and can be implemented by anyone on their own builds.
With cheap RC hardware, powerful motors, and high-capacity battery packs, getting something to fly has never been easier. It also helps that, whether you’re into fixed-wing craft or multirotors, there’s plenty of information and prior art floating around online that you can use to jumpstart your own build. But when it comes to homebrew vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) planes, things are a bit trickier.
How does it work? The downward facing motor just behind the “cockpit” lifts up the front of the foam flier and tilts left and right to provide yaw control, while the two motors on the back tilt down to lift up the rear of the aircraft. Aviation buffs in the audience may recognize this as being fairly close to how the actual F-35B hovers, although on the real jet fighter, downward thrust under the wings is generated by redirected turbine exhaust rather than dedicated motors, and yaw control is provided by swiveling the engine’s nozzle rather than the front lift fan.
Getting the plane to takeoff vertically was one thing, but being able to transition from a hover into forward flight was quite another. To make this aerial transformation possible [Nicholas] actually had to write his own flight controller software, which he calls dRehmFlight. The GPLv3 code runs on the Teensy 4.0 and uses the common GY-521 MPU6050 gyroscope/accelerometer, so you don’t need to get any custom boards spun up just to give it a test drive flight. In the video below he walks through configuring the software for VTOL operation by defining how each control surface and motor is to respond to control input given the currently selected flight mode.
It probably won’t surprise you to hear that this isn’t the first time [Nicholas] has experimented with unusual flying machines. Last year we covered his RC Starship, which managed to stick the “belly flop” landing even before SpaceX managed to get the real life version down in one piece.
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.
[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.
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.