You have questions. I know this because you ask me things all the time when I’m out flying, or airwheeling.
I’ve got answers, and here they are, to the most commonly asked questions so far.
1. What is this blog for ?
My amusement and your education if you’re interested enough to read it.
2. Your newer posts don’t have any aerial video in them. Why is that ?
Because this blog is about ALL the technology I discover, learn and use, I make videos about whatever is going on now.
Sometimes now involves gear reviews, airwheeling, general rants and ramblings and photo galleries. Occasionally you might get a bit of music I’ve written. But worry not – I love flying, so there will be more of that, and eventually I aim to combine AirWheel and aerial footage to make more interesting videos, and transport the flyers more flexibly and into places it would be unrealistic to walk or drive to.
All the following FAQ’s refer to my current hex-rotor, AC1-V5.0
1. Did you build it yourself ?
Yes – many times and from many different kits. The build challenge is to make them all work together, and get you rewarding flights and excellent photographic results.
2. Is it difficult to fly?
On some levels no, on rather more levels yes. Whilst there are specialist GPS – assisted flight modes that certainly make it easier, it still needs quite a fast brain and a lot of practice.
Of course without a flight controller doing the mixing between rotors, you wouldn’t be able to fly it at all, so even ‘Manual mode’, without auto-levelling, isn’t strictly that.
3. What is it for ? / Is that a camera on there ?
Yes it is. 2 in fact. Sometimes 3. They are what it’s for. It’s mainly about the aerial photography, but also about the challenge and joy of flying it.
4. Why does it light up ?
Some lights are navigational so that I can fly it at night and dusk, and so I know which way it is pointed (important). Others flash at certain colours and rates to tell me what it’s doing. It’s flight controller morse code essentially.
5. How fast does it go ?
Faster than you can run. About 50 mph. More with the wind behind it.
6. What is its range ?
Control-wise, around 1-2 miles depending on what is between me and it. Although real-time video will usually die before that, thanks to unhelpfully restrictive UK laws about how (un)powerful transmitters can be.
7. What powers it ?
Invisibility and portal jump. Sorry, I thought you asked what powers it had.
It is powered by 14.8v (4S) 30C Lithium-Polymer battery packs.
8. How long do the batteries last ?
My biggest ones (8000 maH) give around 8-9 mins of active flight-time and up to 13 minutes hover. But they re-charge in 2 hours, and I can do several at once.
9. How fast do the rotors go ?
Very. Up to 10,000 RPM/V (revolutions per minute per volt ). At full throttle that is 168,000 RPM. The key is not to be in their way when they are doing this.
10. Is it expensive ?
Yes. You can start quite cheaply, but with FPV gear and cams it tends to mount up very quickly, and into the thousands…
To do it properly, with FPV, pro cam mount, batteries and an arsenal of necessary support gear, you’re not going to get much change out of £2-3000. But of course you can spend a lot more than that. All depends on how important stability and video quality are to you. Pro broadcasting organisations tend to use 1m+ Hex or Octo-rotors that start at around £15K including cam mounts and but not any recording equipment.
11. Can I have a go ?
Not really. Everyone that has ‘had a go’ so far has crashed it immediately. Flying it is harder than it looks, and to do it successfully your brain needs to do a lot of things at once, very fast and without any panic or overreaction. These skills take time to learn, and it is unlikely you will master them in the 2 seconds you have to do so once the craft leaves the ground under your control.
12. Can I see what the hexacopter sees as it flies ?
Yes. You can watch the live view from the craft on my field monitor if you are around when I am flying. And then the better bits on Youtube later.
13. Is it dangerous ?
If its blades touch you, very much so. Contact between multi-rotors in flight and living things never turns out well for either. Do not ever try and touch the craft or go close to it whilst its motors are powered.
It is my job as pilot to prevent accidents from happening, so all the time I am piloting the craft, it is not dangerous to be around except in the event of mechanical faliure, which is rare but not impossible.
You should be aware of its position at all times, and move away if it gets too close to you.
Safety first, all the time. In the event that the machine is falling from high, both pilot and craft will give loud, audible warnings to look up and clear the area.
In the event of the craft causing injury or death I have £25 million public liability insurance arranged through the BMFA.
14. Is it legal to fly one ?
Oh I wouldn’t have thought so. Only joking. Yes it definitely is legal, and it is allowed to fly in common parkland around the UK and private areas with permission, within certain rules.
15. Where can I see the videos it has recorded ?
Right here on the blog.
16. Have you ever crashed it ?
Yes, about 15 times now in a year of flying. But that’s only because I fly loads. The proportion of air-time to crash time isn’t too bad.
These days my crashes are hardly ever the result of pilot error, usually mechanical failure of a part, or some other unforeseen circumstance leads to an unplanned dive from the sky and an instant repair bill, which might be small, or massive, depending on what you fall on and what you break. It’s an arcade game with one life, and it’s going to be expensive to have another go.
I have never dropped it in the sea, although I did come very close once.
17. Is it fun to fly ?
Enormously so. Also slightly terrifying. When FPVing especially, you could almost be a bird in flight – it really feels very close to that, and it is easy to get lost in wonder with the view and become disoriented and suddenly not know where the hell you are. Even that’s fun in a way.
18. Is it weatherproof ?
More no than yes at the moment. It can fly in (and win most battles with) reasonable winds (<50mph, though filming stability is ruined at anything over 12 mph). It can cope with very light rain or even quite heavy snow without problem. Heavy rain and very high winds (50 mph +) are not safe to fly in, even if the craft is weather-proof.
However, I am in the process of modelling the hex in 3D to scale, so that I can design a weatherproof encasement for the electronics, and get that 3D printed to exactly my specifications, dimensions and weight. Once that is done I will be able to fly it through heavy rain and snow with no problem, as exposed rotors don’t seem problematic so far in test conditions.
I have only ascended into cloud once or twice, but the craft seems fine, and I didn’t have any unusual behaviour. Likewise, I have now used it in very cold conditions, and apart from shortened battery pack times, there is very little difference to flying in Summer temperatures.
19. Is it noisy ?
On the ground, being electric powered, it is far quieter than both petrol and nitro-fuelled RC machines. It sounds a bit like an exceptionally well engineered strimmer (quieter, smoother) when on the ground, and when high in the sky you’ve really got to listen hard to hear it at all. This means it can be flown at events and in public and causes minimal disturbance to the public and wildlife.
However it is not quiet enough to do any reconnaissance work or spying-type missions, so there is no need to worry that it could be used to invade your home privacy – you would definitely know it was there !
20. What happens if the battery dies or you fly out of range while it’s in the air ?
It’s very clever. Mostly, it will know about either in time, climb to 20 m, fly back to me, land and turn itself off.
21. Where do I get one ?
Watch a lot of youtube videos (search ‘multirotor’ and see what is available – the market evolves very quickly. Beginner models are made by companies like OnlyFlyingMachines, DJI, Gaui, Walkera, EyeSpy, TBS and a few more. My advice is to start with a trainer quad – something really small and cheap like a Walkera QR ladybird. You can get in the air with one of those for about £120. Or a DJI phantom if you’ve got £500 lying about, and can afford a GoPro to go with it. If you are good at flying that, then is the time to move to something a bit bigger and more serious. Good places to see / buy these things are Buzzflyer and QuadcoptersUK, but you can get them from all over the world via the internets, as you’d expect. Expect most of it to have come from China originally. Or you could build your own, if you’re good at that sort of thing, and that is a lot cheaper.
A word of warning. You cannot fly multirotors unless you are prepared to learn / do project building and at the very minimum, soldering. As flying these craft is a relatively new market, you will invariably have to make your own connectors and integrate a number of systems to work together, or setup new parts in the event of a crash or upgrade. Doing this yourself is essential to your understanding of how the craft works and flies. Likewise, research on flight physics and aerodynamics is a good idea. Some people also use flight training software. I didn’t, but I hear it’s good and it does mean you can crash endlessly without damage to your expensive flying machine. Also be prepared for regular maintenance and safety checks and prepare to spend a lot on rechargable batteries and electricity. And spares. And upgrades.
22. Why are you wearing sunglasses all the time ? Are you a spy ?
I am not a spy, or using my hex-rotor to do spying missions; I am primarily interested in beautiful views of nature and historic buildings from above, and if I’m honest, the less people or modern life that is in my videos the better :) Also, when flying I need to look at the sky quite a lot, and would prefer not to be blinded by the sun whilst doing so. Also, to go from FPV Pilot camera view to normal ‘eyes-on’ view is less disorienting if you have readily available shades.
23. I’ve got something I could use your help with. How can I contact you ?
You can contact me by going here and filling in a nice easy form.
24. What if me or my house / kids / dog etc has turned up in one of your vids, and I would rather it wasn’t there ?
Just tell me and I can make that video unlisted, or in extreme cases re-edit to exclude you / it / them.
25. Can I advertise on your site ?
No. This web site is a bastion of quality web-surfing, and I will never ruin this by blasting annoying adverts out of it. Unless you really are offering silly money.
26. Can I steal / use your pictures / video ?
If you are going to make any money out of them, or sell them on as part of something else then no, I’d rather you didn’t, but have made no effort to stop you. For pretty much any other reason, yes, that’s fine – you don’t even have to ask, though it’s nice if you do.
I’ve made no effort to secure any of my media files and I don’t watermark anything. I am in this mostly to create interesting content to share with anyone interested, so this is the sharing part – help yourself…
27. Are you on Facebook ?
No. But I am on twitter. But probably won’t follow you back. But you will get early access to all pics and videos from the flights, usually just hours after they happen.
28. Why don’t you have comments on the blog ?
Mainly because I can’t be bothered to administrate them or enter into the battle with comment robots – life is too short, and if you really want to comment, do it on my youtube channel or send me a mail or something.
I will be compiling my own Airwheel FAQ as time goes on, but for now, go here for all your wheely important questions.