So You Want to Fly FPV: Initial Questions and Thoughts

Background

The title of this posting is “So You Want to Fly FPV?”. FPV is just another hobby that caught my attention after I got a deal on an Anet A8 3D printer and found an FPV quad frame. I must say that the information and education around this sport or hobby is quite scattered. Since I write a lot technically as an architect and software consultant, I would like to help new FPV enthusiasts with the building part through online education here on my blog. I’ve yet to have a peaceful, smooth, full-pack flight but since I have an electro-mechanical background and 35+ years of software experience, I would like to share my FPV building experience so far and continue to help provide the new folks solid answers to the questions I’m quite sure we all have asked.

Why FPV?

If you want to fly an FPV quad, you should first ask yourself these questions and consider your answers:

  1. Why do you want to fly FPV?
  2. What are your objectives?
  3. Is money an issue?
  4. How serious are you about it?

I’m going to tell you my answers but try to explain how your answers may differ and how you should consider next steps. First, I want to fly FPV because I am totally entertained by the good pilots out there making freestyle videos with awesome music. I’ve been playing guitar since I was 4 years old and I write/produce my own music at home on a macbook pro. I will probably use my music for my FPV videos when I begin. Your reason to fly FPV may be to make new friends and maybe even race your quad. Remember there may be hardware choices that are different for each of us. Keep that in mind.

My objectives was to create a 5″ quad that can fly an HD video device and capture okay-quality video. Also, I wanted to build my own quad, learn from it, and also learn how to fly the quad. Again, our objectives may be different too. These were my goals and the reality of it all has shown the outcome so far to be different than I expected. I’ll explain this in another posting during this series.

Yes, money was and is an issue. I’m trying my best not to purchase the best because of costs. This is not to say that I haven’t chosen some good equipment. And, if money is no object, I will try in the future to discuss the absolute best choice of components. For me, I’m trying to make smart choices that are not based on hype or over-marketing. Later I’ll discuss my story from the beginning to the present and I’ll share the good and the bad.

I’m pretty serious about flying a 5″ quad and looking forward to achieving my goals, stated above. I’m also quite anxious to do everything which is probably bad in some ways because I’ve had some mishaps. Here are a few real examples where being too excited about this (needing instant gratification, lol) has caused me some issues:

  • not knowing about arm and disarm, almost cut my thumb off
  • not knowing the flight controller should be facing a certain way, didn’t quite fly right
  • not reading the instructions, pdfs, diagrams, etc., over-voltage fried a VTX
  • Too big of a hurry to get in the air, did prove failsafe and had a reason to get a new frame

Are You Prepared to Get an FCC Technician License?

If you want to build and fly your own drone by camera and around the 5.8GHZ band you need an FCC Technical License. This is the old HAM radio license where all applicants were required to know Morse code. Remember, I am el Hombre Viejo (the old man). Morse is not required these days. But, it’s not an easy test and you must pass a test to get the license. Technically the FCC requires that use of this band (5.8GHZ+ or -) be used only by licensed individuals. If you get caught flying your drone on one the video transmitter bands or channels and can’t provide your call letters (I’m KJ4GIZ) you will probably get fined. There are also channels that some transmitters block automatically and some that don’t for frequencies that are reserved for other FCC devices.

My message here is that while this is not discussed heavily in FPV circles online, it something you should be aware of and consider when entering this sport/hobby.

Conclusions

If you want to fly an FPV quadcopter, you should have some simple objectives in mind before you spend any money on a new hobby. I have several hobbies but I always consider the investment and what exactly do I want to get out of my effort and time. You also should also consider doing things legally. Get your HAM license to be legal. I haven’t talked about liability insurance in this post but it is something else to consider too.

In my next posting of this series, I will discuss the quad-copter: build or buy?

Peon230 FPV Racing Drone

I got really excited when I purchased an ANET A8 3D Printer this summer for about $160. What a deal! I had to put it together which took about 2 days (I was excited remember?). I got the printer because a friend had given me a model file to print brackets for my AMLogic computers that I use for cryptocurrency mining. These brackets let you mount the boards and also provide holes for stand-offs so that you can make a computing tower from the little computers. So, I built the printer, made the brackets, and accomplished my task. Now I needed some other project to print.

I found model files on Thingverse to make or “print” an FPV Racing Drone frame with a 230 mm diagonal for 5″ props. I watched a few YouTube videos of people flying freestyle (solo) and thought to myself, “this is what I want to do!”. Well, I printed the frame and I’ve started building my drone. This is why I’m building this thing.

The pic you see at the top of this post has what they call a PDB or Power Distribution Board and the black things under the tape on the arms are called ESCs or Electronic Speed Controllers. The little twisted-pair wires (4, one each ESC) will connect to a flight controller and the twisted-pair connections act as a throttle. Each ESC is between the battery and the motor. The twisted pair controls the current to the motor.

The large red and black wires are direct battery connections. I have a PDB in the mail being shipped to me but I was anxious to start my build and I found the Spektrum PDB at a local hobby shop. I’m am very displeased with this board because soldering these large battery wires to little spots on the PDB was rather difficult and did not result in a good solder joint. The Matek PDB I have on order, has a battery connector that is made for the PDB and it sticks out from the board’s footprint. This allows the battery and it’s XT60 male plug to connect easily to the board itself. The connector will be more stable mechanically and the solder joint should have more integrity. I’m currently waiting for the Matek board and I’ll replace the Spektrum board and the work I’ve done so far.

Money for Nothing, Maybe …

I’ve recently started CPU mining a cryptocurrency alt-coin called XMG or Magi Coin. I’m running two 4-core ARM processors, one Amlogic s912 8-core ARM processor, four X86 Debian GNU Linux machines in the cloud, and an old ASUS laptop on 3 threads. This is pretty fun because I started small and as I’ve been learning about all this, I have re-built optimized miners, and added new CPU power to the mix. I’m getting about 160KH/s with all machines in place. My estimate is a little over $1000 USD in one year.

I keep telling my wife that this is really money for nothing. She’s an accountant and doesn’t trust any of this. She keeps reminding me of computer costs. She’s right. I just purchased another Amlogic s912 and that will give me 8 more cores (threads for processing). My goal is 10 s912’s in a tower setup. This would be a powerful CPU coin miner. My friend in Germany has 15 of these little motherboards running in a tower.

Ginger’s First Audition

I finished my guitar and I still plan to write all about it. Tonight I created a little video to showcase the sound of the guitar. I’m very pleased with the Lipstick pickups (matched set) I got from Guitar Fetish . I named the guitar Ginger. I have a natural finish G&L ASAT Classic (Telecaster model) that I named Mary Anne. I named the two guitars from the characters on Gilligan’s Island that I watched on TV as a kid.

This guitar is my first build from scratch. I’m detailing all the lessons I learned in another post. If anyone would like to build a guitar similar to this, please contact me at david@ciwise.com . I’m ready to build another.

My First Guitar Build

I’ve been playing guitars since I was 4 years old, that’s 51 years as of the date of this posting. I’ve had electric guitars and acoustic guitars. My favorite is the Fender sound. I attribute this to the single coil pickup design. I have owned one Fender product and that was a used Fender Precision Bass I bought to do bass work on an album I did called Legacy. I’ve never owned a real Fender guitar. When I was playing in bands, I used a Stratocaster copy that I purchased for $80. I made a lot of money on that guitar. I currently own a Silvertone Strat copy and I have a G&L ASAT Classic Telecaster-style guitar. The G&L is probably more authentic than the Fender Telecasters today.  Anyhow, I wanted to build my own Stratocaster guitar and make the body myself.

Preparing the Body

I started the project by purchasing a set of plans from the Musical Instrument Makers Forum (MIM) here . I had 5/4 cherry in my shop and my first thought was to use the cherry because of it’s beauty as naturally finished wood. I was going to use shellac because I’ve done a little Shaker end table using cherry and it was gorgeous. The 5/4 cherry was cut at a lumber mill and the 5/4 means it’s roughly 1-1/4″ thick. The stratocaster body in my new plans was 1-3/4″ thick. So I had 2 problems, none of my boards were 14″ wide (width of the body shape) and they weren’t thick enough. So I first cut 4 boards from my rough-cut cherry at about 20″. Now I needed to joint the edges to glue two boards together to get my body width. I used a No. 5 bench plane to start an edge and then I ripped the boards on my table saw until I had a good square edge. I glued these together with Titebond and clamped for 24 hours. I did this to create two wide 5/4 cherry boards. I didn’t touch the boards after I removed the clamps. I brought them inside while I thought about how to plane them. There’s two options at this point. The planing could be done by hand or using a power tool called a planer.

My ultimate goal was two slabs of cherry at 7/8″ thick and then I’d glue them together like plywood to make a Stratocaster body blank at 1-3/4″ thick. So if I hand planed the boards, I would have used a scrub plane first to hog material in a criss-cross fashion and then finished the planing with a bench plane. This would have worked but it’s not easy to achieve a perfect thickness across the entire board. A better solution would be a power planer. A stationary planer where the boards could be fed in to achieve my 7/8″ thickness overall. The quality outcome chances were more favorable with a power planer. Okay, so the decision was made and now will I find a 13-something wide planer?

I don’t have one but the first-level planers are for home woodworkers or small shops and they only support material up to about 12 or 12-1/2″. I needed something bigger. I called around my local cabinet shops and found one close by to plane my boards. The boards got planed, I met a new friend (that plays guitar and builds cabinets), and I went straight home and got the Titebond. I glued my boards, clamped them, and left things to dry for 24 hours.

Cutting and Routing the Body

Now that my body was complete, it was time to prepare for cutting and routing. I watched this Youtube video to learn how to use pre-made templates to cut the body shape and route all the cavities in the body for the neck, tremolo, and the electronics. Before I discuss the process, I want to describe the templates and how they serve you. I made the templates from 1/2″ MDF. I have found several sources that call for 1/2″ MDF. I also found several recommendations for 1/4″ MDF.  I actually bought 1/4″ from Home Depot and then took it back for 1/2″ after I thought about the routing and my new 1″ pattern router bit with a ball bearing that would ride the MDF. I’ll discuss the need for the extra area and 1/2″ of material and depth difference later. For now, I went with the 1/2″ MDF for my templates.

Two templates are needed because there’s routing on the front of the body and the back. The front template contains the neck cavity route and the other cavities on the front of the guitar body. Part of the body shape is outlined by the template, but this is not critical. This template is aligned on the body using the body plan centerline (drawn on the template). Notice that the template on the right in the picture is flat across the top. It’s because the template is only used for the neck cavity and the front cavity routing. This is done before the body shape is cut into the blank. I want to now talk about the details of the process using template no. 1 (neck and front routing).

How the Templates Assist the Routing

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Still under draft! This will be removed when the post is complete.