Repairs Revisited

The replacement flight controller came in so I could follow up on the repairs from last time, where I realized I had two bad ESC’s after finishing the rebuild. When flashing my new replacement for the replacement flight controller, I noticed that there were two firmware targets that were very similar: MATEKF411 and MATEKF411RX. I had picked the RX version thinking that was for FC’s with built-in receivers. I’m not sure that’s what the RX means in this case as there’s also an SE target. It doesn’t matter anyway since these FC’s don’t have built-in receivers, I was confusing it with the flight controller that I had recently used on my whoop build.

So for the new flight controller I smartly used the correct firmware, the MATEKF411 version, and the new board tested out fine both in Betaflight and BLHeli. All the ESC’s were recognized and I even plugged in motors and made sure they all spun up. Then I had the thought that maybe the problem with my other FC was because of the wrong firmware. So I plugged that in and flashed the same firmware on that, and checked in BLHeli and all four ESCs were recognized. The board and ESCs were fine all along, I just had the wrong firmware loaded so the resource mapping was incorrect. I’m honestly surprised that it worked at all but I’m guessing that the major difference between the two models is the pin assignments on the main chip. I’m glad I didn’t brick it or burn anything out.

I honestly wasn’t expecting to prove out my comment from last week so soon, but there really is always something new to learn in this hobby.

Now I had two working flight controllers. One was all soldered up and just needed to be remounted on the carbon fiber frame, I even had some extra foam to use since I’d torn off the foam padding that was originally stuck on figuring I wouldn’t need it. The other FC was better designed for a toothpick style frame with it’s sideways mounted USB and motor plugs, but it would have to be soldered to the receiver and video transmitter. So I had to decide on which way to go. While I really liked the design on the new board, I decided to use the other one since it was already soldered and just needed to be mounted. I’d save the new flight controller for when I busted the current one or decided to build a new quadcopter.

I remounted the flight controller and other electronics on the frame, and got the quad rebuilt in time for a little test flight one evening when there was decent weather. The first battery went well. For the second one I bumped the video transmitter power up from 25mW to 200mW, which gives me a better picture when I have obstacles between me and the quad. After making that change the video started to go to snow and then cut out whenever I would throttle up. I was not happy. I’d only got one flight in before a new problem had popped up.

So the next two nights I spent a lot of time troubleshooting the problem. I checked solder joints. I looked for damage to wires and electronics. I tried with the canopy off so the VTX was hanging loose from the flight controller, and noticed that it worked better that way, so I tried a different set of screws and standoffs to have the canopy sit higher off of the flight controller but that didn’t work either. I tried replacing the wires on the VTX harness. I tried direct soldering the wires from the flight controller to the video transmitter. Nothing worked and eventually I’d run out of ideas to try. The problem seemed to be getting worse too as it was a now having issues when the VTX was loose, and started to cut out completely until I restarted it. So I gave up and swapped out the video transmitter for a new one. I’d bought two the last time I needed to replace it, so I already had a spare.

After getting the new video transmitter installed everything worked perfectly. I’m not sure what caused the last one to fail. Possibly I messed up something when soldering, either the board got too hot or I bumped something. I don’t think so, since I normally notice those things. It might just have been cumulative damaged from crashes and just vibration form flying that finally stopped it from working. There’s no way for me to know, and it’s one of the hardest things for me to deal with in this hobby, not being able to determine exactly what happened and why.

We had cold but sunny weather on Sunday, so I was able to get get out and fly my yard for a full six packs before my fingers got too cold. I didn’t have any more trouble with the quad. Finally.

I’ve been very happy so far with the all of the flight controllers, canopy, motors, and frames that I’ve bought from BetaFPV but I think I’m done with their A01 VTX’s. I’m on my third one for a quad that I’ve had for about seven months, and it seem like they should last longer than that. So I’m looking at some other manufacturers for alternatives to switch to when this one dies. Or maybe I’ll find that a couple of months is just about as long as these last. Or I’ll get a surprise and this one will end up lasting for a year.

Repairs and Frustrations

Sunday was a great day for flying, especially for March. It was sunny, there wasn’t much winder, and it hit the mid 60’s. Very rate for this time of year. So when I got up in the morning I made it a priority to get my toothpick repaired, as it was still sitting in pieces from the prior weekend’s crash at the local elementary school.

I’m starting to thing that place is cursed for me, as only a couple of months ago I whacked a pole and broke a motor. On my second battery I caught a branch and crashed to the pavement, which snapped on of the zip ties that I use to mount my receiver antennas, and I found later when I opened it up also knocked the smartaudio wire off of the flight controller.

So I sat down at my hobby table and got set up to do some soldering. I had decided in addition to just fixing the wire and the antenna I was going to finally get around to troubleshooting why my smartaudio wasn’t working.

Smartaudio is a protocol that allows the flight controller to change the band, channel, and power on the VTX. For some transmitters this is a nice bonus and saves a pilot from having to read tiny LEDs and do a bunch of button presses to switch settings. For my VTX thought it’s the only way to change the settings, since it doesn’t have a button and the LEDs only show what the power level is. Up until now I’d just been setting the goggles to the band and channel the VTX got stuck on, but if I ever wanted to go somewhere with other pilots I wouldn’t be able to fly like that. I also wanted to be able to increase the transmitter power, since the VTX would go up to 200mW and provide a much clearer picture when going around obstacles.

I resoldered the wire and tested out the smartaudio but it still didn’t work, which I expected. I’d previously checked the wire and the solder joints, so I didn’t really think resoldering the wire again would fix things, but I wanted to check regardless. The next step was to swap the VTX. I’d been putting this off because I didn’t want to have to move the camera over to the other VTX that I had since it would require desoldering and then soldering three wires. Not that I’d mind doing that, but I’d rather not when I don’t know if the VTX is really the issue. I had gotten a VTX and camera combo though for a possible replacement part for my brushless whoop, if and when it was needed, and it used the same plug and pin-out that my toothpick VTX did. So I was easily able to plug in the new VTX and camera and see if the smartaudio worked there. It didn’t, which was good as it meant I knew the problem was in the flight controller, but bad since that meant I’d have to swap in a new flight controller. Which basically meant a rebuild.

As I was taking the quad apart so I could pull the flight controller out, I found a crack in the front of the frame. I’m not sure if it was from that last crash or not, but it turns out that there was a silver lining for having to swap the flight controller. I probably wouldn’t have noticed that crack otherwise, since I tend to focus on the arms and motor mounts when looking for damage.

Just the foam that the flight controller was mounted to was holding the front together. I found the start of a crack at the rear mounting screw as well, and there was enough stress on the frame when I pulled the mounting foam off that the frame split in half.

Once I had everything disassembled, I soldered up the new flight controller to my receiver and my VTX and tested out the smartaudio again and found it working. So it was some kind of problem with the original flight controller. Not too surprising I suppose given the amount of abuse it’s taken over the last six months or so.

At this stage I was pretty pleased with myself, I’d finally resolve and issue that had been bugging me for months. I got out a new frame and started rebuilding my quad again. I took this as an opportunity to adjust one other thing that had been bothering me.

When I originally upgraded the receiver, I put it on top of the flight controller. Originally it was underneath and I didn’t like that since I was worried about the battery impacting it in a crash, so I put it on top. The problem with that is the canopy is a pretty tight space and it was tough to get the wires for the VTX and the receiver along with the VTX and receiver themselves all tucked in under the canopy without crimping any wires. So this time around I fixed the flight controller mount so there would be a bit more space underneath and moved the receiver back there. I also added more battery padds around the area thinking that would help protect the receiver and the USB port.

My last step in the build was to hook the quad back up to the computer and check the motor directions. I didn’t keep track of which motor was in which position when I took them off of the old frame, so I figured some of them would be backwards and I’d need to change some setting in BLHeli.

I plugged in the quad and when into Betaflight to the motors tab and tried to spin up the first motor, only to have nothing happen. Motor two spun up but it was in the wrong position, I was setting the motor two throttle in Betaflight but it was the motor in position three that was spinning. Motor three spun up but was in the motor four position, and motor four didn’t spin at all. So basically the right-side motors weren’t spinning and the left-side motors were, but they were mapped to the wrong motor positions. Remapping motors isn’t hard, it’s just a couple of commands that need to be entered in Betaflight’s command line interface tab:

resource MOTOR 1 B07
resource MOTOR 2 B06
resource MOTOR 3 B05
resource MOTOR 4 B04 

The problem was I had two motors not spinning up at all. I switched over to the BLHeli configuration tool and it would only read two of the ESCs, 2 and 3 of course.

So now I’m stuck. I’ve no idea if I did something to the flight controller when I was soldering or mounting it to the new frame, or if I just got a bad one with two dead ESCs on it. I’m guessing they were just bad as all of that circuitry is on the bottom of the board and I did all of my soldering on top. But either way it meant I wasn’t able to go out and fly. I mean I could have rebuilt it again with the old flight controller but then my smartaudio issue would be back, and that would be undoing a lot of work.

In the end I went online and ordered a new flight controller. I took the opportunity to get one that was more designed for toothpick frames, it has the USB and motor plugs side mounted instead of sticking straight down. That should make them harder to damage, and will be easier to maintain.

I’ve made a point in my whoop build log and this one that you should test out your flight controller right out of the package, and I guess I need to add another step to that. For these flight controllers with the battery leads already soldered on and motor plugs, it’s just as easy to add motors and plug in a battery and test that all of the ESCs work as well.

I love this hobby. Flying is a mixture of exhilaration and relaxation for me. Soldering electronics and building a quad is very satisfying. There’s always something new to learn in this hobby though, and it can be very frustrating to put a couple of hours into troubleshooting a build only to be stuck with an unflyable quad while waiting on new parts.

Brushless Whoop Build – Part Two

Last time I left off at having finished the soldering and successfully tested that I could connect with my radio to the flight controller and receive a video signal on my goggles, and that the video signal was right side up. I tested that the VTX protocol was configured correctly so I could use my radio to bring up the VTX settings in the OSD on my goggles and change the VTX band and channel, and that the frequency the VTX was transmitting at changed appropriately.

Everything worked as expected, so aside from the one solder bridge issue that I had to fix the first part of the build was pretty trouble free. At this point I figured that the hard parts were done as the rest of the work was just assembling the pieces onto the frame, which normally isn’t any harder than building a Lego set.

First step is to put the rubber mounting grommets on the corners of the flight controller and then mount it in the whoop frame. The grommets are hollow and fit over plastic posts that have threaded screw holes in them. I put the screw in at the rear of the flight controller as that one wouldn’t be covered by the camera mount, and it left me get the flight controller partially secured into the frame.

The next step was to get the camera snapped into its mount and then fit that over the two side and front grommets of the frame, and get all three remaining screws in and snugged down. One of the major bad habits that I’ve had to overcome with building quads is over tightening screws. Especially in instances like this where doing so flattens out the grommets and cancels out any vibration protection that they might provide for the flight controller. Or worse stripping out the plastic posts so that the screws don’t hold at all.

Once I got the camera mounted, it was time to get the VTX on. I’d tried a couple different options before starting the build and I thought I’d figured the best way to get the VTX and antenna mounted. I started by cutting some clear heat shrink to keep the VTX from touching the back of the camera and shorting out. It also had the added benefit of holding the antenna in place so I didn’t have to worry about trying to secure that as well. With the heat shrink on then I zip tied it upright to the back of the camera mount with the status LED and button visible.

With all of that out of the way, all that was left was the motors and props. After doing the first motor, I discovered it was easier to plug them into the flight controller before screwing them into the frame. So that’s how I did motors two through four.

Putting the props on requires some attention to detail since props come in two versions clockwise and counter-clockwise, and they have to be put on in a certain order. For my setup, I prefer what’s known as reversed props or props-out. Which means that the front right and rear left props spin clockwise, and the other two counter-clockwise. There’s some aerodynamic benefits to setting up the props this way, Oscar Liang has a good article on that.

Usually I don’t have any problems figuring which prop is which and getting them all on the correct motors, but I ran into a novel problem with the new Azi props I was using. I got one of the motors put on upside down and didn’t realize it until all four props were on. I’d never had a problem with putting a prop on upside down before. To make things worse, these were push fit and didn’t need or use screws. Which meant they were extra hard to get back off in order to fix them.

In the end because the whoop frame was pretty flexible and the props were on so tightly, I ended up having to unmount the motors so I could get a good enough grip on them to pry off the props and get everything back on right-side up and in the correct order.

The last step was to hook the quad back up to my computer and launch the BLHeli utility to make sure that all four motors were spinning the correct direction. In this instance motors two and three were backwards, but it’s an easy software change to make and write to the ESC’s. Once that was done the build was finished.

All together the new whoop weighs 24 grams and 32 grams with a 350 mAh battery, that’s just 2 grams more than my brushed Acrobee.

The last step naturally is to fly it. I charged a couple of batteries up and plugged the first one in to do the maiden flight and ran into an issue where only three of the motors spun up after the quad was armed. I tried disarming and then arming again and all four spun up but not all at once. This is odd as I’ve always had all of the motors spun up at the same time.

At first I thought I might have a power issue or some bad motors or ESC’s or something. But I found that when I connected the quad to my computer and tested the motors individually they all spun up fine. It only seemed to be a problem when I armed the quad and all four would try to start at once. I looked online but wasn’t finding any good results, not until I thought to go to BetaFPV’s site for the motors I was using. There was a link there to a support page that covered the issue I was having, which led me to looking at the startup power setting in BLHeli.

This being the first quad I’d built or used with the combination of brushless motors and 1S voltage, it had never occured to me to think about the initial amp draw that happens when the quad is armed. But it made sense once I read through the page, since the motors were fine when tested individually, and sometimes when arming I’d get a couple of motors to spin up initially and then another one or two a moment later. I ended up increasing the startup power for all four motors to 1.5 going in 0.25 increments until I could consistently get all four motors to spin up simultaneously when arming the quad.

Altogether it took me about 28 minutes to do the initial soldering, another 11 minutes to fix that solder bridge, and nearly 50 minutes to do the assembly including having to redo the motors and props and figure out the motor power issue. So the whole process was about 90 minutes, which isn’t too bad.

I’ve flown a few dozen batteries on the whoop since then and it’s quite a bit of fun to fly inside. It’s just on the edge of being too much power for indoors at least in my home which doesn’t have a lot of open space to fly. I think when I take it to the local fly-in office space it will be a lot more fun than my old brushed quad.

I also tried it outside just recently when there was some good weather and it did okay, but it’s not nearly as much fun as my toothpick is, and I only did two batteries outside out of curiosity. I think most of the time that I can fly outside it’ll be my bigger quads.

Brushless Whoop Build – Part One

It took me a while to actually sit down and do the build for the brushless whoop parts that I got for Christmas.

The first thing I like to do on a new build is test the flight controller. Especially before any soldering is done, it’s good to make sure that the flight controller works, so that later on if it doesn’t I know that it’s because of something that I did and can troubleshoot it instead of wondering if I just got a bad one from the factory. It’s easy enough to do. Plug it into a USB cable to make sure it gets power, and then make sure that Betaflight will connect to it. Test out the gyro by turning and tilting the board and make sure that the movements match up with the animated diagram in Betaflight.

At that stage, it’s not critical to do, but since it’s already connected, I like to download the latest firmware and flash it to the board. It’s just a couple of steps to do, and isn’t any harder or easier to do now or wait until later. But since it’s already connected I figure why not.

The last step I took care of before really starting the build was binding my radio. I don’t always do this part so early, usually because for anything bigger than a whoop build, I don’t use a flight controller with a built-in receiver. So there’s some soldering that normally has to take place first. But in this case since the receiver is built into the board, it’s much easier to do now where the bind button is easier to get to, than to wait and do later.

Binding the radio took me a bit to figure out since I had to find the built-in receiver specifications. I couldn’t find anything about telemetry being available or not, but it would only successfully bind when I picked the radio setting without telemetry, so I’m guessing it’s not supported. Not a big deal for a small whoop like this, but something I’ll have to keep in mind if I ever decide I need to go hunting for it outside.

With the flight controller testing out of the way, I was ready to start figuring out the build. This involves dry fitting the flight controller to the whoop frame and trying to get an idea for where the canopy, camera, and VTX were all going to sit. I found the wiring diagrams for the flight controller on BetaFPV’s site, and used those along with the printed manual that came with the VTX to figure out how everything needed to be wired together.

The only part that wasn’t immediately obvious to me until I’d studied it for a couple of minutes was that the signal wire of the camera needed to go to the camera pad on the flight controller. This would apply the OSD information, and then a wire from the VTX pad to the video in pad on the VTX would take the signal for broadcast. I also didn’t need one pair of the 5V and ground wires on the VTX since the camera already had its own.

Once I figured all of that out, then I rechecked it by fitting all of the pieces together to make sure I knew which wires to cut, which to desoldering, and what was getting soldered to what. I could always fix any mistakes, replacing or lengthening any wires that I cut too short, but I didn’t want to have to mess with that if I could avoid it with a little extra care up front.

After checking a few times though, it’s usually time to just commit and do it and hope I’ve thought through everything I needed to. In this instance that included trimming all of the VTX wires to be just a bit longer than the camera wire lengths. Trimming the plug from the camera, which I wouldn’t need, and then desoldering the two wires from the VTX that I wasn’t going to need.

Desoldering is quite easy. It just requires me to get the piece set up where I can get some pressure on the wire that I’m trying to remove, so that I can have a minimal amount of time for the soldering iron on the board. In this case the extra 5V and ground wires that were going to be replaced by the corresponding wires on the camera.

After getting the wires cut to length, I was ready to tin the wires and the pads on the VTX and flight controller. Tinning just means to prep exposed wires and any copper pads on PCB’s that I’m going to be using with solder. Ideally so that when it comes time to solder a wire to a pad, I don’t have to add any additional solder, I can simple touch them together with a bit of heat and I’m done.

Soldering a small build like this is a bit of a challenge just because of the sizes of the pads involved. I’ve found using the lowest heat setting along with a lighted magnifying glass, and a very small soldering iron tip helps tremendously for this. I’ve also applied some tricks I picked up in painting miniatures for keeping my hands steady by moving the piece to the iron and keeping my arms are my sides.

Once everything has been tinned and then soldered together, the easy part is over. With the camera, VTX, and flight controller all wired up, it’s time to check for shorts and then plugin in a battery.

Before plugging in a battery and risking releasing the magic smoke, I like to use a multimeter and check that there’s no continuity between the various connections. For example the yellow wire from the VTX to the flight controller should have continuity between the ends, but if I touch a probe to one end and then touch the other probe to the ground then I shouldn’t have any connection. If I do it means there’s a short somewhere, and on a tiny build like this it’s probably because two pads are bridged.

In my case I did have a solder bridge on the VTX between the video signal and the ground. But that’s just a matter of adding some flux to the board and using a soldering iron to try to clean up the bridge. It only took me a couple of minutes to get it cleaned up in this case, and afterwards all of the connections passed the multimeter test.

Which brings me to the last part before assembly and that was plugging in a battery and testing that everything booted up, that the VTX was broadcasting, and best of all that I was getting an image through the goggles from the camera. It’s good to do all of that before assembling everything just to make sure that there’s no more soldering fixes that need to be made, and it’s a good chance to make sure I know which way the camera needs to go so that up is up.

Like Riding a Bike

I mentioned last time that I’d finally gotten my toothpick quad fixed, but too late to actually get it in the air. Looking ahead at the weather last Monday, I wasn’t expecting to be able to fly any time soon. But I hadn’t been paying attention to the sunset times, which had been getting later now that we’re into January. While 6:15 pm isn’t normally enough time for me to fly after I get home, not like during the spring and summer, I happened to be home by 5 pm last Friday. Even better was the rain we were supposed to get didn’t happen despite a heavy overcast, and the snow on the ground was hard and patchy enough that I didn’t feel it was too risky to rip a few battery packs.

I hadn’t flown since December 27th, so it had been almost exactly 6 weeks since I’d flown last, and I was a little unsure how comfortable I’d feel getting in the air again. I shouldn’t have worried though because aside from a little adjustment just after taking off, it was like I’d just flown the day before. I think there’s so much muscle memory involved in flying that it’s actually a lot like riding a bike, just more fun.

It felt so great to be back and flying outside. Flying inside is fun, but it’s not quite the same as being outside. I hadn’t realized just how much I’d missed flying until I landed at the end of that first pack, I couldn’t get the smile off of my face.

Besides just the fun of zipping around and doing flips and loops, I’m always fascinated by the change in perspective. I was particularly struck during this session be seeing how uniform all of the roofs were in the neighborhood where they all had snow still on the north facing sides and the south facing sides which got the sun throughout the day were all clean.

I was able to get three packs in, so about 12 minutes total time in the air, before I lost the light. It’s really reminded me of what I’ve been missing out on the last few weeks while I was putting of making repairs. I’m glad I was finally able to get back out there, but I wish I hadn’t waited so long.

HX100 Repair and Modification

I’m sad to say that it’s February and I haven’t flown at all yet this year. I could have been since my brushed whoop is flyable, but I kept waiting until I got my brushless whoop built. That quad is still in pieces on my hobby table. I keep thinking I’ll get it done over the weekend, but somehow they’ve kept passing by where by the time I’m ready it’s too late on Sunday night. I thought last weekend I’d finally get time to do it but I was laid up sick all weekend. So naturally this weekend was going to be the one, but one again things came up on Saturday that kept me from getting to work on it, and then Sunday I decided I needed to get my toothpick fixed first.

We had some unseasonably warm weather in Indiana over the weekend and I was pretty upset with myself that I couldn’t take proper advantage of it because my toothpick was still out of commission from the crash back in early December.

The Patient

I’d been putting this off because I wanted to fix the issue with the flight controller and the VTX not communicating properly while I did the motor repair, but I decided that I needed to just get the motor fixed and try out the antenna modification I’d been thinking about and leave the rest until later. That way I wouldn’t miss out on any more good flying days that might come along before summer gets here and I can expect some more consistent flying conditions.

Replacing the broken motor was pretty straight forward and only took me about 15 minutes. It’s the second time I’ve had to do this so I already had a good idea of the order of operations and things I needed to look out for. Remove the canopy, take the tape off of the motor wires, and remove the four nuts holding the flight controller down. Get the motor plug loose and pull the wires out, and then take the two mounting screws out to get the motor off of the frame.

After that it’s the same steps just in reverse. Mount the new motor with the same two screws. Tape the motor wires down, fish the motor plug through the slot cut in the foam that the flight controller is mounted on, and then get the plug seated. This part probably gave me the most trouble because I was trying to do it without taking the flight controller all the way off of the frame. That would mean cutting the zip ties holding the power leads and the receiver antennas to the frame, which isn’t a big deal, but I didn’t want to do all of that unless I had to. Thankfully a little fiddling with tweezers and I was able to get the plug seated.

With that done it was just a matter of getting the flight controller fastened back down, and taking the prop off of the old broken motor shaft and putting it on the new motor. Then plugging the quad into my computer and checking the motor direction in Betaflight.

While I had the canopy off I wanted to try modifying how the VTX antenna was mounted. I mentioned back in my crash post that I needed to do something since I’d noticed that I was getting some damage to it from prop strikes. I’d already tried bending the antenna down a bit to keep it below the prop line but that didn’t seem to be helping. Also, I could have switched from the 65mm bi-blades back to the 2″ tri-blades that I was originally using but I like getting the extra flight time with the bi-blades, and besides I didn’t want to be limited in which size of prop I was using.

My idea was pretty simple. Because of the way the VTX was mounted in the canopy, I figured I could drill a hole just a bit above where the antenna currently stuck out and get an easy 30-45 degrees of uptilt on the antenna which would more than keep it out of the reach of the props. It just required doing a little dremel work and then fishing the antenna through before mounting the VTX.

This was my first time using the Dremel on plastic, and aside from a little slip which you can see above it went pretty well. I used a hobby knife and a file to clean up the hole afterwards and make sure there were no sharp edges to damage the antenna. But I’m surprised at how well this worked. It’s rare that an idea turns out exactly as expected, but I couldn’t be happier with how the antenna is coming out of the canopy now.

There should be no way the the props will hit the VTX antenna any more. I’m looking forward to getting it in the air and seeing how it flies now.

Daily Journaling

A few years ago I signed up for a service called after I reading a post from an author who mentioned that it had helped her get better about writing every day. It’s a very simple service with a blank page for you to write in daily and a word counter at the bottom. If you put 750 words into it before midnight then you get a check for the day, and there’s a string of boxes at the top of the page showing you how many times you’ve succeeded at that for the month. The writing isn’t published anywhere, and it has a $5 a month subscription fee.

I only wrote a couple of days that first year. I wrote even less the following year, and the year after that. I kept meaning to though and I didn’t cancel the subscription as I figured it would spur me to start making use of the site. In 2018 I decided that I needed to either use it or cancel it. I missed 15 days that first month, but even with that I’d still written more on there than I had in the previous three years. In February I only missed 4 days, and in March I managed to get my first month without missing a day. I missed 1 in April, 4 in May, and then started to trail off for the remainder of the year skipping July and missing most of the remaining months.

What I started doing in 2018 was not trying to get in a creative writing session, instead I just started writing whatever was in my head even if it was just, “I don’t know what to write,” over and over again. Usually after a minute of that my mind would start to wander and I’d end up starting to write about my day or about what I was planning for the next day. This surprised me by turning out to be very useful. Yet I still ended up extending my break well into 2019 until September.

I realized I was missing the chance to process what had happened during the day and mentally prepare myself for the next day. So I decided to get back to the daily habit again. This time specifically for the daily journaling and not to help me become a writer or get back into blogging like I’d planned previously. Which is ironic since it did lead me back to blogging last year.

I’ve had a couple of evenings where I haven’t sat down until 11:30 pm to write but it generally doesn’t take me more than 15 or 16 minutes to hit my 750 word goal and get that check mark for the day. I always feel good after I do it. In fact some days I start out in a bad or down mood thinking it wasn’t a good day or very productive or there’s something else that’s bothering me, but as I summarize the day’s events, I often realize there were things that went well which I’d forgotten about, and finish feeling better about the day than when I started.

Since September of 2019 I’ve only missed 1 day in October. I’m not sure if I’ll make it through all of 2020 without missing a day, in fact I would imagine I’ll end up missing at least a couple just because things happen like being sick or going on vacation. I am sure I’ll end the year with more months without any missed days than with them.

When I did get back into blogging last year, I was briefly tempted to try to write my drafts there to get my check mark for the day and then copy over to the blog. But I just found that doing free writing about my day worked so much better there, and it helped to clear my head and get me in the writing frame of mind. There’s been a couple of instances where coming into a Sunday evening I had no idea what I wanted to post about, and after getting my 750 words in for the day, I suddenly had an idea and I could go into WordPress and just go.

The service has been a great help to me personally and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants or needs to get a little positive feedback on hitting a daily word goal.

Wear and Tear

One thing I’m still not good about with flying quadcopters is checking my drones before and after I fly them. I’ve built up some excellent habits around taking care of my batteries. I don’t charge faster than 1C. I try to charge as close to when I’m going to fly as I can. I charge or discharge batteries back to their storage voltage when I’m done. But somehow I have a blind spot when it comes to the quad itself.

Case in point is the picture above, which was taken during a flying session after I’d already flown one battery. Possibly the nut was still on before I flew but it had to have been pretty loose to come off completely while I was flying. The part that really illustrates my bad habit though, is that I was putting a new battery on to fly again and only noticed the canopy was loose then I was setting it down to take off. Inspecting it then I realized that the nut on the bolt that secured the flight controller had also nearly come off as well. You can see it on the picture below just to the right of the standoff connecting the canopy to the frame.

Now likely the only really bad thing that would have happened if I had taken off with it is that the video feed would have had a lot of jitter in it with the loose canopy. Even if the nut on the flight controller bolt had come off during flight, there’s still three other bolts securing it down, and the nut itself is nylon so nothing would have shorted out or been damaged. But it’s a symptom of a bad habit of mine not to pay more attention to my equipment, and it’s a bit like driving without getting your oil changed.

I just don’t normally think about the wear and tear that’s happening while I’m flying. Once I put one together and start using it, I’m always surprised when it breaks or needs upkeep or stops working as a result just regular use. Obviously after crashing into something I would expect there to be damage, but I don’t think about what all of the vibration is doing to the fasteners on the quad while it’s in the air.

Besides this incident, I’ve also wrapped up flying before and noticed I was missing a screw from one of the motors. Which would be okay if it was because I was doing an inspection after flying, but it was just happenstance just like this instance with the canopy.

I’ve gotten a little better since then about checking the quads over before I fly, but it’s not really become an ingrained habit yet. I’ve considered making up pre- and post-flight checklists to go through, but that really feels like overkill for flying tiny little quads around. I still might at least for the short term just to help get the habit ingrained. Maybe once I have a crash or a motor drops off midair, I’ll start remembering to check things before I fly.

Flying in Public

I don’t know if I’m just lucky or if I’m basing my expectations too much off of news stories and horror stories that I’ve read online about drone pilots having problems when flying in public, but so far my experiences flying in public have all been positive.

I spent quite a lot of time flying around my yard over the summer. If found that the best spot for me to stand for the best signal was at the bottom of my driveway facing the house. This gave me the least amount of breakup flying behind my house even when going through my backyard low to the ground. Of course this also put me right out next to the street, so I was expecting to get a lot of comments and questions from neighbors but barely got any. I had one neighbor mention that it looked like fun when I first started doing it. The same one ask me a few weeks later asked if I didn’t get bored flying in the same place every day. I’d occasionally heard people commenting on it as they walked by, but always in passing, and never had anyone express concern about what I was doing.

I suppose part of the difference in expectation versus reality was what I was flying. Most drone stories you read about are for the larger photographic drones. When I was first outside was with my 30 gram whoop which was smaller than the palm of my hand. Later in the summer it was my 72 gram toothpick which was the size of my hand. Neither of which is especially loud or dangerous looking. My 3″ Acrobrat I barely flew at home, because I wasn’t comfortable flying it in such close proximity all of the houses, cars, and people around me. I’m curious if I had flown it more if anyone would have had concerns about it.

I like the to think that the main reason was how I was flying. Standing out by the road definitely made it apparent who was flying the drone, so it wasn’t like I was trying to spy on people or be sneaky at all. I also tried to always be aware of where the quad would go in the event that it had a failsafe. I didn’t fly over people’s houses or backyards, and I avoided sidewalks unless one of my kids was outside to spot for me or the time of day or weather meant there wasn’t likely going to be anyone walking by. That worked pretty well for me with one exception.

Flying low to the ground is fun as you really get a sense of how fast you’re going, plus it’s good practice for managing your throttle. Normally when I’m flying low I’ll stick to the edge of the street or yards. Because I’m moving so fast and the video resolution on my quad camera’s isn’t great, there’s a real possibility that I’ll hit something or someone before I even know they’re there. When I can though I like using the sidewalks, especially in the evenings when I can see the shadow of the quad running along the ground in front of me. I like being able to zip up the sidewalk and fly by where I’m standing. It’s just a surreal experience to pass by yourself and hear the quad zoom by even though you’re standing still.

I had no problems all summer until one day this fall when the weather wasn’t all that nice and I figured I’d be clear to use the sidewalk. I had just flown past where I was standing when I realized there was a lady walking up the street and I took off away from the sidewalk. She was still ten or fifteen feet away, but close enough to scare me. It actually wasn’t until I saw her and took off that I heard her startle. Apparently she thought I was running an RC car and wasn’t expecting it to zoom off into the air. Even with this sort of close call, she wasn’t angry or anything and kept on with her walk, but I still felt bad afterwards.

Besides yard flying I’ve been to a nearby field a few times where there’s usually people walking or riding bikes. But I’ve never had anyone express concerns there either. I’m standing out in the open and usually there flying so far up that most people don’t even see it. Ive heard a few people talking as they walk by where they’re looking around for what I’m flying, although I’ve never had anyone stop and ask. Again all of the comments when people do see it are that it looks like fun or looks cool.

I’ve also flown both my toothpick and my Acrobrat at my kids’ nearby elementary school and usually there’s no one around. A few times there’s been parents that are walking by to the playground with their kids. Typically if it’s moms they just ignore me, when it’s dad’s I usually hear a comment about how cool it looks. 

All on all, I have to say I’ve had nothing but positive experiences flying an FPV quad in public. I’m looking forward to doing more park flying this coming spring and summer than I did last year. I think as long as I continue to practice safe habits like I have been, I should be fine. 

My First Year in FPV

I had a good first year getting into the FPV hobby. This time last year I was flying my original AcroBee V2, well trying to anyway. It took me a few days to get enough of a feel for the sticks to be able to take off without slamming into the ceiling and let off the throttle without slamming into the floor. I certainly wouldn’t have guess that by now I would have multiple quads and be comfortable flying outside and doing tricks like dives and power loops.

While it started with the NewBeeDrone brushed whoop kit, I don’t think I would still be as interested in flying if I hadn’t gotten my HX100 toothpick for yard flying. Doing laps in the house and then the backyard with the whoop was fun but it started to get monotonous fairly quickly. I also started to run into issues with the aerodynamics, or lack thereof, on the ducted props when I started trying to do dives. Also just the lack of power and responsiveness of the brushed motors. Picking up the HX100 was perfect for me to really start to do more with my outside flight time, without having too much power, noise, or weight like the Acrobrat that I built.

Which brings me to the second major milestone for me for the year. For about the first six months, I was basing everything I was doing and trying to do one information I was getting from other pilots on line, mostly from YouTube or Reddit. The problem with that was most of those pilots were flying full-sized quads, not micros, and they were all flying in larger spaces than I hard access to on the average week night. That’s why I ended up building a 3″ quad to begin with because the conventional wisdom was that anything smaller than that wouldn’t really fly as well as a 5″ quad. So I went with that not realizing, that part of what that meant was the speed and power involved, neither of which I really needed for the smaller spaces I was normally flying in. So figuring that out and getting to the point where I had enough experience with flying and building quads that I could make better decisions on what I needed for my specific situation was a big accomplishment for me.

I had a lot of minor milestones just related to flying this year. Getting comfortable inside, then outside, then learning tricks. Flips, rolls, dives, and yaw spins all came pretty easily to me with some practice. I’m still working on really making them precise but I have the basics. Trying to do power loops or lookbacks though were a struggle. Anything that required me to be inverted I found very disorienting and frightening. Even just trying to chop up a flip into a pair of 180’s required overriding all of the muscle memory I’d built up. I’m better with those things now, for power loops I found it much easier to practice when I started going to nearby parks and fields where I had more space. Learning a new maneuver like that is tough in smaller spaces.

So now that Christmas has come and gone, I’m nearly back where I started. I’m looking at a similar stack of quad parts that I got for presents. I’ll be building a new whoop to fly over the next few months until spring comes and I can get back outside on a regular basis, but this time there’s soldering involved instead of just screws and plugs. I’m using brushed motors instead of brushless. I’m also not stressing about all of the configuration and tweaking that I’ll need to do.

I’m looking forward to another fun year in the FPV hobby.