Build, Crash, Repeat … or how to snare a drone!

“I’m on five, I’m waiting,” said Flying Francis over his controller.

“OK, I’m on eight. Going up,” replied CDrama, engaging the copter’s thrust.

The two copters lifted off with a squeal of mechanical delight.

It was a clear Monday evening. The high white clouds and cobalt sky of early summer contrasted against the expanse of green grass so crisply as to suggest we were standing in a Microsoft Windows desktop, rather than in a field on the UofL ShelbyHurst Campus. But while it might have appeared digitally rendered, this was definitely a real-world environment.

The two copters swooped through a series of gates and then banked to follow the contours of the field. Zipping back along the line of a drainage ditch, they came into the curve that would take them into a second lap. It wasn’t an official race, however. There was no ground station set up with a screen to show the pilot’s-eye view. Fellow flyers Zelkien 69, BigZ, Wangel and Bluegrass Multirotor offered line-of-sight commentary instead.

“Is he getting some sag?”

“Shouldn’t be. I just charged that pack.”

“He’s going up — he’s going for a dive!”

CDrama’s copter rose as it approached a stand of trees next to where we stood in the parking lot. And then just as suddenly, it disappeared. The excited chatter turned into a collective “Oh!” of dismay. CDrama’s copter was hung up — almost out of sight.

Everyone ran toward the tree.

Eye in the sky?

Whether you call them quad-copters, multi-rotors or UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), drones are taking off. They may still be a niche hobby for consumers. But they are rapidly going mainstream for business, finding uses in a range of industries, from deliveries and logistics for companies including UPS and Amazon, to the aerial surveys needed by property developers, farmers and oil and gas producers. Then, of course, there is the military’s increasing use of drones in remote-controlled warfare.

All of which raises questions. Drones pose fresh challenges not only for the Federal Aviation Administration, but also for society at large, as we take stock of that brave new world just around the corner, where robots start to take on a larger role in our lives. Whether as coworkers or playmates, guardians or guards, drones are set to become a constant hovering presence, watching over us from above. Some may see that gaze as benevolent, while for others it brings up uncomfortable anxieties around surveillance and worse.

In other words: If you’ve got your own little eye in the sky, wouldn’t you to use it to spy? That was certainly what the guy in Shepherdsville assumed last year, when he saw a drone flying over his yard where his daughters were sunbathing. His response was to get out a gun and shoot down the drone.

A big overreaction, according to the pilots present this evening. Flying Francis shook his head, taking a drag on his vape. “If you could see what we see…” Then he grinned. A thought bubble seemed to form out of the scented smoke wreathing his head: Hey, that’s not a bad idea. He called over his shoulder to Big Z. “You got a pair of goggles for her?”

Here’s what I saw: forms, not even so much features, of landscape. Swathes of grass, blotches of tree. An Impressionist painting cross-hatched by grainy video.

The perspective of speed

For a first-timer, it’s mostly a stomach-churning blur. Pilots, on the other hand, are accustomed to the first-person view that gives drone racing its virusey-sounding acronym. FPV is both virulent to its host and highly contagious to others, thanks to the stimulating clash of fast flying with slow thinking.

“In eight months, I’ve gotten about five other people into it, and they’re just as hungry as I am,” said CDrama, better known as Daniel Nowlin to his friends. Hungry to fly, hungry to learn how to build and tweak their own rigs. Hungry for experiences like this?

At the moment, Daniel’s quad was stuck in a branch a good 100 feet up. From the ground, you could only make out the occasional flash of red plastic when the leaves stirred in the breeze.

Chuck Biddle (Zelkien 69) shouted for a quad-retrieval kit.

“You want me to get my slingshot?” asked Rob Schuhmann (Bluegrass Multirotor), inclining his head toward the parking lot, where all manner of gear lay heaped on, and around, cars with their doors open. Plastic storage bins full of plastic drone pieces, radio transmitters, power cables, a variety of batteries and the gray, fire-retardant Lipo bags to put them in. Metal cases with stickers proclaiming “Build — Crash — Repeat” and “FPV is not a crime.”

“I’ve got a mallet,” volunteered Gary (Wangel) Roberts.

“Try both,” Francis Garthwaite said.

A mallet or hammer, slingshot or any similar tool can be part of a quad-retrieval kit, as long as it’s carrying some heavy-duty fishing line attached to a weight. You throw, or shoot, the weighted end of the fishing line over a tree, then grab the other end and pull. By thus “flossing” the tree’s branches, a trapped drone can be shaken free.

Theoretically.

While the other elements of the kit were being assembled, Daniel started taking free throws with the mallet, hoping to knock his quad loose from the tree’s crown. He sent it high — yet not quite high enough each time.

A short distance away, two of the guys fell into a discussion about the mallets themselves. Not satisfied by speculating about how the mallets’ different weight and weighting might translate into bounce versus striking power, they started an impromptu pound-off on a nearby curb.

Wai Lam turned to me. “Did I mention that we’re nerds? Did I mention we’re all engineers? Did I mention there are no women in this sport?”

Forever a drone?

That doesn’t mean it’s not catching on.

MegaDroneX, the first-ever underground drone race, was held in Louisville’s Mega Cavern on the last weekend in April. “We had 80 of the best pilots in the world, including the top six,” said Wai, one of the main organizers of the event, which he characterized as the second- or third-largest drone race in the U.S. He estimated that about 125 people in all attended (just pilots and event volunteers; there were no spectators as such). Wai owns several businesses geared to drone hobbyists, including the PC Quest FPV Shop on Westport Road. He described his goal as trying to build drone racing into an organized activity, with regular events and its own community. “As a sport, it’s probably only one-and-a-half-years-old,” he said. But it’s taking shape quickly, in tandem with the evolution of the technology. “At first we were just trying to fly. Now we’re trying to fly fast.”

It’s a development worth watching, because drones represent one prototype of how virtual worlds and the so-called real world may intersect. Call it a layer of added presence. Put on the headset that connects to a GoPro strapped to a drone, and you feel like you’re flying. Not like flying in an airplane, but you yourself soaring, Icarus-like, into the sky, high above roads and buildings and power lines.

Yet if drone racing today offers a preview of our augmented-reality lives in the future, it may turn out to be less about experiencing great adventures than maintaining the avatars that go on them.

Even for frequent drone fliers, the ratio of time in the air versus forum chatting, post-flight debriefing, watching and commenting on other people’s videos, editing and uploading your own videos (not to mention promoting them in social media), building and repairing quads, ordering new parts, charging batteries, planning the next flight, etcetera, would be easily 10:1. For more-recreational fliers, that ratio must be closer to 5:1.

So what’s the draw?

It is a hobby that appeals to problem-solvers, optimizers and tweakers. It is a romance of machines and machine aesthetics. Drones are largely black, bristly and have X-shaped frames; hence, the name “quad-copters.” Drones are the flying beetles of model aircraft. They don’t so much fly as buzz or whine through the air.

And the men who man them?

Picture a husky fellow with a pair of video goggles around his neck, taking a screwdriver to a tiny motor. Now put him under a tent outside, rather than a basement or spare room at home. Drone aviators are techies — often professionally as well as recreationally — but for the most part they’re not gamers.

“You’re either here or in front of the TV,” explained Wai. “There’s too much of a time factor to do both.”

For most drone enthusiasts, it was watching a video on a YouTube channel like Rotor Riot, or Flite Test, that sparked their initial interest. But it’s the actual experience of flight that got them hooked. “This is the first RC hobby I’ve been involved in,” said Rob, who is studying to be a marine biologist. “It’s partly the competition aspect and the thrill. When you get done with a race, your hands are shaking, almost like white-knuckle driving.”

Racers and freestylers are the hackers of the drone world. They don’t mind crashing their vehicles because failing fast makes for an accelerated learning curve — and they’re the kind of people who like to take things apart to begin with. Because it is very much a DIY hobby, the barriers to entry are more about commitment than cost. The initial outlay can fall between a few hundred and $1,000 for the drone itself, as well as such accessories as batteries and chargers. After that, it’s primarily an investment of time.

“It takes about 30 hours to build and tune a quad to where you’re happy with it,” estimated Francis, who is a motorcycle mechanic and bartender in the other part of his life. But the happiness comes just as much from the building and tuning as flying the final product. “It’s like an electronic jigsaw puzzle that requires soldering and lots of testing,” said Chuck, a videographer by trade. Locally, Wai estimated, there are only about 50 to 75 quad racers in Louisville. (The 260 aviators counted by the local Drone User Group on its Meetup page likely include a large number of aerial photographers, also referred to as Phantom fliers.)

Once the members of this tribe find each other, they’re held fast by the camaraderie. “It’s nice to meet the fellow weirdos,” joked Eric Baker, a therapist by day who does not seem like a weirdo at all. (With his button-down shirt and distinct lack of stubble, he may in fact be the most clean-cut member of the group.) “The focus on fellowship is what I like about it. We teach each other a lot.”

And they all pitch in when there’s a problem: like retrieving Daniel’s trapped quad.

“That’s literally $400 sitting up in a tree,” sighed Francis, shading his eyes against the setting sun.

Rob’s slingshot had not worked. Gary had attempted another form of tree-flossing with a PVC pipe. Then it was back to Daniel throwing the mallet.

For the better part of an hour.

“This is our best option. It just sucks,” conceded Francis.

As if to underline his point, both mallets Daniel had been throwing got stuck in the tree too.

A few oak leaves drifted down. But the quad itself stayed put. Reluctantly, the guys called it a night.

The primeval dream of flight

In the early days of the internet, it was hobby programmers and open-source volunteers who pioneered the message boards, peer-to-peer file sharing and wikis that later became the foundation of digital businesses and institutions ranging from Wikipedia to Spotify to Whatsapp. But it wasn’t because they had dreams of IPO billions dancing in their heads, or even because they aimed at doing anything particularly useful. They did it for the sheer pleasure of geeking out with their fellow weirdos, exploring the creative avenues afforded by new technology. So it is today with drones. Right now it’s a fringe activity, the domain of techie types who enjoy all the hands-on fussbudgeting. But, in a few years, there will be cheap, easy-to-use toy drones for the consumer.

The primary constraints at the moment skew towards the low end of the technology spectrum: Battery longevity and quality are the main issues. A fully-charged battery pack can power a drone for only a two-to-three-minute flight, but it takes twice as long to charge again. “It’s a terrible ratio for racing,” Wai admitted. “That’s why some people are attempting to do team racing with pitting and laps. When a race lasts 30 to 40 minutes, it becomes something you can build a story around.”

For pilots, drone racing is a story about speed and skill, and mastering an entirely new set of tools. Then there’s that old human dream of flight: escaping the gravitational hold of everyday life and its obstacles. Both the metaphoric, and the literal.

Caveman, meet drone

It had stormed overnight. The wind and the rain dislodged the mallets from the tree, but not the quad.

Now it was Wai’s turn to try. He was standing under the tree with two new guys, one of whom held a bow and arrow. They shot a rope over the tree and tried the flossing maneuver from a different angle.

Meanwhile, Gary and Daniel drove up in a truck with a very long ladder. It barely reached the lowest branch of the tree, but Daniel thought it might be high enough to get in a better throw with the mallet.

It was not.

Back to the bowman. He took out one of his hunting arrows this time and pulled the bow taut, aiming up at the tree at a nearly 90-degree angle.

He let the arrow fly.

With a crash, the quad tumbled to the ground. It had been impaled right through the center. Was it a goner?

Daniel scooped it up and performed a quick assessment. “The flight controller is undamaged, and the motors will be fine.” He shrugged. “I was going to take it apart anyway.”

Build — crash — repeat.

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Scooter Squad takes to the UP streets

By Kelsie Smith
| September 28, 2016 4:32pm

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Here’s a riddle: what happens when you combine four University of Portland seniors, vintage motor devices and the energy of teen-angst rebellion? You get the “Scooter Squad.” This group not only wears DOT certified helmets and remains under the 35mph speed limit, they also ride in a diamond shape and parade the streets and also go through fast-food drive thru’s in unison. Safety, environmentally friendly practices and bonding are three foundational elements of the Scooter Squad.

The squad consists of seniors Reid Paquet, Connor Saben, Sawyer Reid, and Rob Wortham. One could say that the roots of this group began when Paquet, one of the four founders of the Scooter Squad, was gifted his uncle’s 1980 vintage motorized scooter. Paquet brought the scooter up from California and has been fixing it up himself.

Wortham obtained a scooter made of airplane parts. Wortham found his scooter on Craigslist. The man selling it had originally found it broken down in the middle of a field, so he brought it home, fixed it up with spare airplane parts for a sleek finish and put it up on Craigslist.

“I like to pretend that airplane wings will shoot out of it,” said Paquet.

Saben, too, bought his 2005 model on Craigslist. Reid has the newest of the models.


These men abide by the law, and have a fun time doing it. Paquet is known to be the “lawyer” of the squad, fact checking laws and making sure the squad abides by them. Wortham “provides comedic relief,” said Paquet, and Saben is known as the “innovator,” the motivator behind the squad to ban together and bond. Reid is the most stylish of the group. Paquet and the squad agree that Sawyer has the best helmet.

Even with these different personalities, keeping their vintage scooters safe is a priority.

A 15-foot long lock stretches across the front wheels of all four bikes when they are all at home. Was is mentioned that these squad members are also housemates?

As a squad, the four scoot around the University of Portland/St. John’s area. A favorite outing of the squad is driving in unison through the McDonald’s drive thru. Perhaps because Paquet has had his scooter the longest, he is the only member who can pop-a-wheelie.

Paquet describes the group as a “motorized environmentalist revolution.” As the “lawyer” in squad, he said that the average miles per gallon for a scooter is 70 to 100, depending on the make and model. Paquet thinks more students using scooters would help with UP parking; all four scooters can fit in one parking space. The squad is looking forward to the day when they can purchase electric scooters to be even more environmentally sound.

Apart from the environmentalist perspective, the Scooter Squad is an inclusive group of current seniors. Paquet said that anyone is “more than welcome” to join the group.

“Honestly it’s a squad that’s willing to accept more members at any point,” Saben said. “If there were 100 people riding scooters, do you know how sick that would be? And how much you would save on parking too? I know when I ride my scooter, I will have a spot, no matter the weather.”

Scoot over cars, the squad is coming through. 

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Lessons In Flight Using Paper Airplanes


Lessons In Flight Using Paper Airplanes


Students in Stephanie Stanton’s class took part in a project-based learning lesson on the elements of flight. In front from left are: Stanton; Taylor Trumble; Brian Davis; and Alex Cronk. In back from left are: Nate Dickinson (far back); Jayden Castor; Julianna Britton; Chris Redfield; Chad Bigelow, technology integration specialist; Robert Bolster; Trent Fuller; Leaha Solinsky; and Robin Schreyer, teaching assistant in the class.

Students in Stephanie Stanton’s class took part in a project-based learning lesson on the elements of flight. In front from left are: Stanton; Taylor Trumble; Brian Davis; and Alex Cronk. In back from left are: Nate Dickinson (far back); Jayden Castor; Julianna Britton; Chris Redfield; Chad Bigelow, technology integration specialist; Robert Bolster; Trent Fuller; Leaha Solinsky; and Robin Schreyer, teaching assistant in the class.

PARISH – Research, reading, problem solving, critical thinking and an understanding of the elements of flight and aerodynamics were all utilized when Chad Bigelow, technology integration specialist at Altmar-Parish-Williamstown Elementary School visited with fifth graders in Stephanie Stanton’s class for a hands-on lesson on paper airplanes.

The students in the week leading up to the event researched flight and studied various elements of aerodynamics and the essentials of flight

APW Elementary School Principal Julie Woolson lines up for the long distance - flight time test of her <a href='http://www.modelairplane.com/link/modelairplane'>model airplane</a> as Chad Bigelow gets set to time the flight.

APW Elementary School Principal Julie Woolson lines up for the long distance – flight time test of her model airplane as Chad Bigelow gets set to time the flight.

When Bigelow arrived for the project-based, hands-on application of what they had learned, he gave the students two different sets of instructions on how to fold a paper airplane.

The students followed the directions to complete the airplanes and tested them for two aspects of length of flight: 1) how long they stayed airborne and 2) distance traveled from the start.

The students made revisions following each flight and when they had determined what helped the planes to complete the two determining aspects for points, they then constructed, using their own design, a third plane.

Chad Bigelow gives a few tips to Robert Bolster before he launches his paper airplane during a recent paper airplane interdisciplinary STEM-based lesson on flight. Behind Bolster, Brian Davis and Jayden Castor listen to learn some new techniques.

Chad Bigelow gives a few tips to Robert Bolster before he launches his paper airplane during a recent paper airplane interdisciplinary STEM-based lesson on flight. Behind Bolster, Brian Davis and Jayden Castor listen to learn some new techniques.

They could incorporate some of the design from the previous test models, or create one on their own.

The flights were so successful, the classroom did not prove to be a long enough flight pattern, so the final flights moved out to the hallway where some beautiful flights took place.

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Restoration gives new life to a classic aircraft

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Model airplanes take to the sky during RC model plane festival – Lodi News

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BEA AHBECK/NEWS-SENTINEL Ken Knowles, of Galt, (left) and Dennis Campbell, of Lodi, (right) help Wally Felahy, of Lodi, ready his model airplane for flight during the West Coast Mini Festival of RC Flight, organized by the Delta Valley Modelers, AMA Club 193, at the Kingdon Airpark outside Lodi Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016.

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TWO-STROKE TUESDAY: THE ART & SCIENCE OF PRE-MIX RATIOS

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_dsc5480_brian-pinepple-medeirosBrian Medeiros racing a smoker at REM last Saturday.

The prerequsite for racing a two-stroke is that you have to mix oil in your gas. It is possible to purchase pre-mixed two-stroke fuel from VP Fuels, but most racers mix their own. Companies like Yamalube, Motul, Bel-Ray and Maxima all offer various oils and blends depending on your needs and desires. As a general rule, you are trying to find a ratio of oil to gas that works best for your engine and its state of tune. In the 1970s riders preferred to run 20:1 ratios (20 parts gas to one part oil). Over the years this morphed into 40:1 thanks to modern cylinder liners, piston metallurgy and carburetion.

Three things that dictate oil usage: (1) oil quality; (2) engine size and; (3) engine usage. For example, if you are running a model airplane engine, you have a small displacement engine that runs at high rpm. Oil migrates through this engine at a high rate of speed (referred to as the engine’s air speed). The tiny piston is running at 30,000 rpm, so you need a ratio as high as 10 to 12 ounces of oil per gallon to reach proper lubrication.

Now, look at a large engine, like you’d find in a personal watercraft (1200cc). It runs in the 7500 rpm range, so the oil stays in the engine 10 to 12 times longer. The oil has a longer migration time. In this case, you could probably get away mixing as little as 2 ounces per gallon. Engine usage has to be taken into consideration, too. The same size engine that is used for motocross can run less oil than if it is used for the high revving sport like or karting.

What is the best ratio for motocross? If you stick to high-quality lubricants, MXA recommends anywhere between 24:1 and 32:1 ratios for 125 and under bikes. You can run 32:1 to 50:1 ratios in your 250 and Open engines.

What about oils that claim a 100:1 ratio? That ratio is not based in reality. Once you understand oil migration, it is clear that a blanket statement like that doesn’t make sense.

Can’t you just run more oil to play it safe? There comes a point where too much oil will cause coating in the combustion chamber. The oil becomes a temperature barrier, and that raises engine temperatures. This will lead to detonation.

Are there any benefits to a richer ratio? A richer oil ratio can run cleaner, because of the detergents in quality oil. Also, more oil will make the piston rings seal better.

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A weekend to remember

Various Telluridians have banded together to help brighten the life of a Gunnison boy who is paralyzed below the knees from the birth defect spina bifida.

Landon Ruggera, 12, will be traveling to Telluride on Friday where he will be provided his own booth at the airport to display his model aircraft in conjunction with this week’s Telluride Festival of Cars Colors. He’s been building models with his father, Lance, since he was 7, and plans to bring about 20 of his best works to show to festival-goers.

But the booth space, provided by airport manager Rich Nuttall, is not the only perk Landon will receive when he’s here. He and his family will get free admission to the festival, courtesy of festival organizer Ray Cody; $100 worth of meals at Brown Dog Pizza, thanks to restaurant owner Jeff Smokevitch; and free lodging in Norwood, also provided by the airport.

There’s more. Tim Hendricks of Bigfoot Aviation will take Landon for an airplane ride on Saturday. Local resident Michael Danner will give him rides in classic cars that will be featured in the show. Attorney Kent Holsinger, who has offices in Denver and Telluride, has purchased tickets for Landon’s family to attend the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum in Denver. And Avfuel Corp. has donated wooden gliders for the youngster to hand out during the festival, and will also be sending him a limited edition Diecast model airplane.

As if that weren’t a lot, a Montrose radio personality will be interviewing Landon Friday before he makes his way to Telluride.

Landon, who attends Gunnison Middle School, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday, but provided his biography to the Daily Planet.

He said his type of spina bifida is the most severe, but that he has surprised doctors with how well he can walk with orthotic braces.

“Enough about my medical condition, because that does not define who I am,” Landon said. He went on to describe his hobbies and passions, typical pastimes for a boy his age.

“I have always loved animals and history, and pretty much all factual things,” he said. “I am active in 4-H and have done archery, dog obedience, leathercraft and wildlife. …As a family we do a lot of camping, boating, hunting and other outdoor activities. I love to explore the wilderness.”

He received his first model, an Apache helicopter, as a birthday present. “My Dad taught me the meaning of scale and that models are a replica of the real thing, only smaller,” he said.

Aircraft and cars will be on display at the airport on Friday and Saturday in connection with Cars Colors. Landon said he enjoys watching C-130 military planes practicing high-altitude maneuvers above Gunnison.

“They come out to train a lot and often times fly right over our house,” he said. “I am inspired by airplanes because I think they are very powerful and majestic when in midflight and I think are also kind of scary in a way.”

The gifts and pleasures that are headed Landon’s way would not be possible without the effort of Becky Goforth, an airport employee who had a chance meeting with Landon at a hobby store in Grand Junction a few months ago.

Goforth was shopping with her family for a project that they could do together. When her 14-year-old son pulled a model airplane box off a shelf, a small voice from aside them spoke up. The voice belonged to Landon.

“A young man with braces encasing his legs stood there with his father, and began telling us all about the airplane model that we were holding, as well as the history of that particular aircraft,” Goforth said. “It was immediately apparent that this young 12-year-old boy knew more about aircraft than most adults.”

Landon fascinated her, she said, and they had a lively hour-long conversation in the store.

“I explained where I worked and told him that we have a festival at the airport in the fall featuring exotic cars and an aircraft fly-in,” Goforth recalled. She told him she would try to get him tickets to the event.

Goforth called Landon an “exceptional child,” and said she was driven to make the weekend special for him.

“Landon’s going to be super ecstatic,” she said of the attention he will face.

The airport will host a regional fly-in at the airport on Friday and Saturday, and five military aircraft will be on display. Also at the airport, a pancake breakfast is set for Saturday morning at 9 a.m. A special event on Saturday night in a hangar will feature speakers, including an astronaut, a Tuskegee airman and a U.S. Secret Service agent.

Landon Ruggera’s booth will be in the entry area of the airport terminal where festival-goers will be filing by on their way to look at the aircraft and cars.

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