Wing Opens the Skies for Drones With UTM

Yesterday Alphabet (formerly known as Google) announced that their Wing project is launching delivery services per drone in Finland, specifically in a part of Helsinki. This comes more than a month after starting a similar pilot program in North Canberra, Australia. The drone design Wing has opted for consists not of the traditional quadcopter design, but a hybrid plane/helicopter design, with two big propellers for forward motion, along with a dozen small propellers on the top of the dual body design, presumably to give it maximum range while still allowing the craft to hover.

With a weight of 5 kg and a wingspan of about a meter, Wing’s drones are capable of lifting and carrying a payload of about 1.5 kg. This puts it into a category of drones far beyond of what hobbyists tend to fly on a regular basis, and worse, it involves Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS for short) flying, which is frowned upon by the FAA and similar regulatory bodies. What Google/Alphabet figures that can enable them to make this kind of service a commercial reality is called Unmanned aircraft system Traffic Management (UTM).

UTM is essentially complementary to the existing air traffic control systems, allowing drones to integrate into these flows of manned airplanes without endangering either. Over the past years, it’s been part of NASA’s duty to develop the systems and infrastructure that would be required to make UTM a reality. Working together with the FAA and companies such as Amazon and Alphabet, the hope is that before long it’ll be as normal to send a drone into the skies for deliveries and more as it is today to have passenger and cargo planes with human pilots take to the skies.

3D Printed Ribs For Not 3D Printed Planes

A few months ago, [Tom] built a few RC planes. The first was completely 3D printed, but the resulting print — and plane — came in a bit overweight, making it a terrible plane. The second plane was a VTOL tilt rotor, using aluminum box section for the wing spar. This plane was a lot of fun to fly, but again, a bit overweight and the airfoil was never quite right.

Obviously, there are improvements to be made in the field of 3D printed aeronautics, and [Tom]’s recent experiments with 3D printed ribs hit it out of the park.

If you’re unfamiliar, a wing spar is a very long member that goes from wingtip to wingtip, or from the fuselage to each wingtip, and effectively supports the entire weight of the plane. The ribs run perpendicular to the spar and provide support for the wing covering, whether it’s aluminum, foam board, or monokote.

For this build, [Tom] is relying on the old standby, a square piece of balsa. The ribs, though, are 3D printed. They’re basically a single-wall vase in the shape of a wing rib, and are attached to the covering (foam board) with Gorilla glue.

Did the 3D printed ribs work? Yes, of course, you can strap a motor to a toaster and get it to fly. What’s interesting here is how good the resulting wing looked. It’s not quite up to the quality of fancy fiberglass wings, but it’s on par with any other foam board construction.

The takeaway, though, is how much lighter this construction was when compared to the completely 3D printed plane. With similar electronics, the plane with the 3D printed ribs weighed in at 312 grams. The completely 3D printed plane was a hefty 468 grams. That’s a lot of weight saved, and that translates into more flying time.

You can check out the build video below.

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3D Printering: Non-Planar Layer FDM

Non-planar layer Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is any form of fused deposition modeling where the 3D printed layers aren’t flat or of uniform thickness. For example, if you’re using mesh bed leveling on your 3D printer, you are already using non-planar layer FDM. But why stop at compensating for curved build plates? Non-planar layer FDM has more applications and there are quite a few projects out there exploring the possibilities. In this article, we are going to have a look at what the trick yields for us.

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Move Over Red Bull, Hot Wire Foam Cutter Now Gives You Wings

Not many people will argue with flying RC airplanes is super fun. One big bummer is when a crash damages a part beyond repair. Sure, the RC pilot could keep buying replacement parts but doing so will add up after a while. RC plane builder and general guy with a cool name, [HuckinChikn], decided to build a hot wire foam cutter so making replacement wings would be quick and cheap.

The actual hot wire part is nothing special, just some wire pulled taut across a frame and a 24 vdc power supply pumping out current and heating the wire so it melts any foam in its path. The unique part of the build is that one side of the hot wire frame is secured in place and only allowed to pivot about that point. The other side of the frame traces an airfoil-shaped pattern. This setup allows [HuckinChikn] to make tapered wings. The difference between a straight wing and a tapered wing is similar to that of a cylinder and cone.

hotwire foam wing cutter

Check out the video after the break for a quick demonstration how easy it is to make a wing when you have the right tool!

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Human flight at 190 MPH with no steering

It’s been a while since we looked in on a TED talk but this one is fantastic. [Yves Rossy] is interviewed about his jet-powered flight wing at the TED conference. He designed the unit as a form of personal flight. He straps it on, jumps out of a plane, then flies across the sky until he runs out of fuel. There’s no steering mechanism; it’s more of a fixed-wing hang glider plus jet turbine engines. But the pilot can affect the direction of the wing by moving his body.

We’ve embedded the video after the break. The first five minutes are all flight footage (which you’re going to want to watch… we specifically kept the banner image vague so as not to spoil it for you). After that, you’ll enjoy the interview where details about the hardware and its operation are shared.

The wing itself is about 2 meters across, hosting four kerosene-powered turbine engines. There’s about eight minutes worth of fuel on board, which [Yves] monitors with a clock while also keeping an eye on the altimeter. Landings are courtesy of a parachute, with a second on board as a backup. If things go badly–and they have as you’ll hear in the interview–an emergency release frees the pilot from the machine.

Want to build your own? Maybe this will get you started.

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First hovering ornithopter NAV

DARPA has awarded an extension to AeroVironment for their work on the Nano Air Vehicle project.  The prototype seen above, called Mercury, is an ornithopter which means it flaps it’s wings. It is the first to show controlled hovering. Look closely, there’s no rudder or tail. Mercury uses the two wings for both lift and control. Ornithopters themselves aren’t new, we’ve even covered them before. Usually they use the flapping wings for propulson and a tail to steer as they travel like an airplane. We would really love to see some detail shots of Mercury.

[via slashdot]