A short history of flight

Dedicated to long lost friends: Phoenix 1.0 and DragonFly

Phoenix

Phoenix 1.0
Phoenix 1.0

With this multi-copter, or “drone” how it’s unfortunately called by so many, it all began. It was in October 2013, when Tom built his first Tri-copter, with wooden booms and a simplistic flight-controller. What I would call “a natural”, it was amazing seeing him fly the copter with incredible precision, despite having no GPS sensor.

Flight Controller /wo GPS
KK2 controller mounted on center hub

We were both awed by the aerial footage that the GoPro camera, mounted underneath the copter, delivered. Unfortunately, not before long, we experienced a not so un-common fly-away event, i.e., the copter just flew away and we never saw it again.

Phoenix 2.0

“Associated with the sun, a phoenix obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor.”

Tom doesn’t get discouraged easily. It took a while to save the not unsubstantial amount needed to build a new copter, but he did. Early in 2014, we took a new version of a Tri-copter to Barnett Ranch for a maiden flight, and in February Phoenix 2.0 where flying perfectly, like seeing here, at Oaks Park.

Phoenix 2.0
Phoenix 2.0

Phoenix 2.0 had a much better fight-controller, the 3DR APM 2.6 and also a GPS sensor, making a fly-away less of an issue.

Phoenix 2.0
Phoenix 2.0

phoenix2.1

Phoenix 2.0 served for a relatively long time and it was quite impressive seeing it in the sky, especially after upgrading it with even longer booms. Still, after about a year of service, early in 2015, one of the Speed-Controllers must have failed and Phoenix 2.0 came down hard, very hard, crashing on to a driveway.

Icarus

In the mean time, I was so amazed by this technology and had started building a quad-copter.

Icarus1

icarus1_2

icarus1_3

Equipped with cheap components from HobbyKing, the copter flew, but was almost uncontrollable, crashing into the ground often.

Icarus 2.0

The next version of the quad-copter re-used almost all component, like the flight-controller and motors, but was built with a more robust hollow metal frame.

Icarus 2.0
Icarus 2.0

With Phoenix 1 and 2 gone and Icarus 1 and 2 unsatisfactory flight controller, we both switched to a new humble, but sturdy design, a quadcopter that was much smaller in diameter, and we called Hercules and Icarus 3.0.

Hercules

Hercules
Hercules /w 3DR Pixhawk controller
Hercules airborne
Hercules airborne

Icarus 3

The Icarus 3.0 had a very similar design to the Hercules. The wooden booms were a little bigger in diameter and the motor layout was a closer to a square. Still, the Icarus had a less sophisticated 3DR APM 2.6 flight controller.

 

Icarus 3
Icarus 3 next to our DJI Phantom
Icarus 3.0 airborne
Icarus 3.0 airborne
Hercules & Icarus 3.0
Hercules & Icarus 3.0 before launch
H-Quad-Copters in the sky

Both quad-copter used a unique body configuration, an H-Frame design, responsible for it’s robustness, but also for a relatively high weight. The biggest disadvantage however was the difficulty to mount and carry camera gear to capture arial footage.

The much longer legs of the DJI Phantom build a perfect cubical cage, to mount and protect a small and light action camera.

DJI Phantom

DJI Phantom w/ Mobius ActionCam
DJI Phantom w/ Mobius ActionCam
Aerial footage captured w/ the Mobius ActionCam
Aerial footage from a Mobius ActionCam

Both H-Frame copter served us well, but were eventually retired, a.k.a, salvaged for parts.

High-Speed Mini Quad and Hexa-Copter

High Speed Mini Quad

After that Tom went small, while I was building a bigger, much bigger copter. Tom’s very speedy Mini Quad was based on the MXP-230E, with a total weight (all up weight) of 565 grams. The copter was so fast that I was never able to capture it in flight. The speed also let to its sudden demise.

High Speed Mini Quad
All-up weight: 565 grams

 

High Speed Mini Quad
High Speed Mini Quad

DragonFly

At the same time, I was building a hexa-copter that was able to carry heavier loads at longer flight durations. The copter utilized a Tarot frame and SunnySky motors. After about six month of serving us well, we experienced our 2nd flyaway, hard to believe, but even after searching for a copter of that size for several days, we were never able to find it.

DragonFly Layout
DragonFly Layout
Dragonfly, Maiden Flight
Dragonfly, Maiden Flight
DragonFly, Final Configuration
DragonFly, all-up: 2,870 grams

Final Chapter .. for now

Titan

Tom started building a new Tri-copter, the Titan. Not quite as large as Phoenix 2.0, but FPV capable and with a thinner frame and longer landing gear, all based on a Fortis design.

Titan Tri-copter
Titan Tri-copter

Icarus 4.x

I’m still building a bigger copter for caring a bigger mirror-less camera, for high quality aerial photo shoots, the Icarus 4. Just like on with the DragonFly, this quad copter uses Tarot frame parts and SunnySky motors. Unfortunately, the first iteration got attract by a hawk and some frame parts and all but one motor needed to be replaced. Let’s hope Icarus 4.5 lives long and prospers.

Icarus 4.0
Icarus 4.0
Icarus 4.0 Maiden Flight
Icarus 4.0 Maiden Flight