Monday, 25 February 2019

Wings over Wairarapa 2019

Back when we were at Makerfaire whizzing around with our tiny drones at what was effectively our public debut, we were approached by one of the organizers of Wings over Wairarapa asking if we could bring our micro-drone racing to their airshow and present to schools who were coming through for their awesome STEM event on the Friday. We were also invited to hang around for the whole weekend and provide ground entertainment for the weekend.

And what a weekend it was!

We had a large marquee set up with all of our gear - lights, hoops, poles and tunnels - arranged in a fun little indoor course, set up a TV to display what we see on our headsets, and managed to wrangle together enough laptops to have drone simulators available for the public to use and have a go at flying drones themselves.

We talked to hundreds of kids of all ages about our micro-drones, how they work and how they are a way to take all the technical skills from STEM and turn them into a fun hobby that can also branch out into tons of real-world applications (such as you'd do with larger drones, or even just electrical engineering in general).

We even managed to help a few more experienced kids who have already done some work building drones, encouraging them to check back in with their hobby and answering questions that should help them get over their next hurdle.

The night show was spectacular - who would have though we'd ever see gliders firing skyrockets and trailing glittering fire! It was superb... so mesmerizing to watch. After the night show we were back in the tent flying around, and our hoops and lights made a fantastic night light show of our own. Our tent absolutely glowed and could be seen lighting up from across the airfield. That's the sort of thing we have to do more often.

Unfortunately the weather turned on the Sunday and the last day of the show was called off. Along with the organizers and everyone else we were gutted, but the call had to be made to keep the full-sized planes and crowds safe. The team sadly headed back to the site to pack down (although we may have had a little bit of a fly before we packed everything down).

Of course we couldn't pull off a show at an event like this without our friends and family helping us out. It was hard to ask for their help, but they were there for us for the whole weekend, wrangling our gear and helping us inspire people to give drones and STEM a go. Thanks you lot, you're awesome.

Overall our experience at Wings over Wairarapa was absolutely fantastic. The organizers were solid in the face of 1000s of moving parts, the show itself was amazing, we met 1000s of people and shared out passion for flying and making stuff, and best of all we might even be invited back to Wings 2021! Watch this space!

Monday, 18 February 2019

Our Gear

We've just created a new page that has lots of links to the gear that we use. It has all the general stuff that we recommend, as well as some of the other kit that we use that we might not talk about quite so much.

Check it out here

We'll expand on the details of that over time, adding links to product pages or reviews on the items, because there's a lot of ground to cover.

If you're interested in something we do, drop us a line and we'll see if we can get you the info you're looking for.


One of the questions we get asked all the times at our demos is ‘can I have a go’?

I love hearing the question because it means we’ve captured someone's interest and they want to know more.

The unfortunate thing though is that there is a learning curve to flying drones. There’s all these sticks and buttons, and even after you know what they do you have to figure out how to make them do what you want.

It’s not fun to say ‘no’ to people all the time, so we’ve experimented with bringing simulators along to some of our demos so we can start saying ‘yes’ when we get asked for a go.

Simulators give you a pretty good idea of how things work, and best of all you can crash over and over without breaking your drone, or (possibly) worse, having to walk for miles to go get it back when it goes down!

Simulators also come in all shapes and sizes - there are drone (multirotor) specific ones, and there are ones that focus more on planes, gliders or helicopters. Some have awesome graphics and even multiplayer, some are more simple, and as with all things they range from expensive to cheap, or even free! We're a great fan of a whole lot of them but our go-to for just getting off the ground is...

FPV Freerider

The one we love using for demos and you’ll have had a go with if you’ve come along, is FPVFreeRider.

It’s very well priced - around $9 NZD for the standard version (we've not tried the 'Recharged' version yet) - so if you also buy an inexpensive PlayStation 3 Controller for around $10, you can have a basic sim setup for slightly less than the price of something that costs about $20!

Given that you could end up spending hundreds of dollars to get into the hobby once you do decide to get some real drones and an awesome transmitter, so this is a very inexpensive way to test the waters.

A final word on FPVFreeRider setup. If you’ve been flying at one of our demos and gone home to find that your version is really ‘twitchy’ compared to ours, that’s because we tweaked the settings to make them pretty soft and easier for everyone. FreeRider has a great number of things to tweak, but what we did was this:

  • Select the ‘Sluggish’ preset as a base
  • Change Camera angle to 10
  • Change Throttle to 41 (this makes it hover around mid-stick on a PS3 Controller, tweak to your liking)
  • Set Yaw to around 200
  • Set Pitch/Roll to around 200
  • Save and exit
And tweak it to your liking of course!


As we kinda mentioned, we use PlayStation 3 controllers during our demos.

They’re not the perfect controller for flying a drone (they have big dead-spots, and the throttle controller is self-centering, which isn’t the same as a proper transmitter), but they do a good enough job to give people an idea, and being a game controller they’re familiar to someone who may have never held a transmitter.

Plus you can pick up cheap copies of them for around $10 on Trade Me.

When you do upgrade and get a new transmitter and drone, modern transmitters have USB plugs, and when you plug them in they register as joysticks. With a minimal amount of messing around you can get them working and practice in the simulator with an actual transmitter, which is a good way to bridge between flying in the virtual and real worlds.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

FPV Hoops (Video)

I've had a wee project going on over the last little while, to create some neato FPV hoops for the micro quads to fly through.

The initial prototype for these came from an article on how to control RGB LED strip (non-indexable) from an Arduino. Not only did I have the RGB strip laying around after an impulse AliExpress purchase, but I also somehow, miraculously, managed to salvage the MOSFETs I needed from an old computer power supply that I had stuffed under my desk.

A bit of fiddling, some code copying, a few tweaks, and voila! I had a working led strip, and a few minutes later I'd made a circle out of some garden hose and I had a hoop to fly through.

I played with the idea for a while, pricing things up on AliExpress to see how I could make more, and in the end settled for some pre-build LED strip controllers, plus some other bits and bobs, and managed to price these hoops up at a fairly reasonable rate.

So I purchased the parts for 10 of them.

Mark and I spend an evening putting together the first one - ironing out the assembly process and figuring out what works and what doesn't. We managed to get one done, so along with the prototype had two hoops.

We had grand aspirations of assembling many, but we didn't get much further than that - with the Mobius Mini recording in the corner of the room we went off to see what we had created, and it was absolute madness.

The hoops are awesome - in a dark room where they are the only source of light they provide a decent amount of illumination, or if turned down they provide a good night challenge (the stock cameras on the QX95 is really good in low light conditions - grainy, but good). We weren't so sure about the insane flashing modes - when one of the rings was set to insane-speed-flashing it was actually causing problems with our VTX. Not sure if this was to do with the frequency of the switching in the LED controller or something else, but interesting to note at least.

We had too much fun.

All in the name of product research of course. We could have stopped any time.


A few days later we now have 9 of them in various sizes between 80cm and 60cm, and they are the best thing ever. One rainy day we did a little indoor flying, and have plans to get these out in the Playground as soon as the weather starts behaving itself.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Taranis, V8JT and V8R4 receivers

My shiny new FrSky Taranis X9D Plus SE Carbon arrived the other day, and since then it's been a mad scramble to learn how it works and get it attached to everything.
Previously I was running an old analogue JR PCM9X-II Transmitter and was using an FrSky V8JT transmitter pack to get 2.4G goodness. This has worked well, but it was time for an upgrade. I temporarily upgraded to the DJT transmitter pack so I could bind to my current-favourites, the Eachine QX95 Micro Quad, but immediately found that it wasn't backwards compatible with my old V8R4 receivers. (note: we're not talking about the V8R4-II here, that's a different receiver).

I worked around this, and when picking out my new Taranis I was aware that it also wasn't backwards-compatible with the original series receivers - they use a protocol that is no longer supported by any of the currently produced tech.

However, the original V8JT transmitter pack does talk to those old receivers, and it happens to be a supported module of the Taranis. This means if you have a V8JT and any old V8R4 receivers, or those of a similar vintage, laying around you can get them working with your fancy new TX rather than going out and replacing old RXs that probably work perfectly well.

One of mine survived a crash in the ocean. Bulletproof. They don't make 'em like that any more sonny.

Being able to use the V8JT with the Taranis is actually hinted to in the Taranis quick-start guide, but there isn't any additional info on how to set it up, and the internet wasn't much help.

I'm sure there are a lot of reasons to just buy new receivers and replace the old ones. You can pick up an FrSky compatible receiver with classic PWM servo outputs for as little as $12(NZD) on Banggood, so it probably isn't worth running out and grabbing a V8JT just to do this, but if you happen to have one laying around...

How to get it all working

Here's what you need to do to get your V8JT working with your Taranis. If you have a different receiver the process is probably exactly the same because that is just between the transmitter module and the receiver.
  • Stick the V8JT module in the back of the Taranis
  • Go to your model settings, disable the internal TX and enable the external TX
  • Set the mode to PPM
  • These are the default settings and they work for me. If your defaults are different perhaps try those, but these ones do work for me:
  • Bind the V8JT to the receiver normally, which is something like this:
    • Turn on the Taranis while holding the bind button on the receiver. Lights will flash.
    • Turn on the receiver while holding the bind button. Lights will flash.
    • Done. Restart both devices and test the connection.
Hopefully this helps, and you'll be able to dust off some old receivers, save a few $$, and fly some things that probably shouldn't have ever flown again.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Turnigy Bonsai Mobius Mini and TX02 Mount

The thing I love about having a 3D printer is really the rapid prototyping. I've deliberately avoided posting a whole bunch of stuff about printing, but it is great for smashing out a crazy idea, and has had a huge impact on what I can do in this hobby, and even the way I think about problems.

This was the case with this is the Mobius Mini mount that I designed one evening when I was determined to get both a Mobius Mini and FPV All-in-One (AiO) cam on the Turnigy Bonsai Flying Wing. I played with lots of different positions on the plane, trying to get both the Mobius and the FPV cam in the best positions as possible.

Once I set upon the idea of putting the VTX on top of the Mobius the mount just grew out of that. It took 4 iterations until the final was created.

The mount weights around 9 grams all up when printed in PLA with 5% infill. For my non-3D printing readers that means its a basic type of plastic and the mount is practically hollow.

Being light is important, so I actually printed 5 different prototypes before settling on the final design. The Mobius Mini is 27g, so with a 9g mount this addition accounts for around 10% of the overall weight of the plane (I can't remember if that is with or without the flight battery).

All the extra weight certainly makes the Bonsai heavy nose but there is enough throw in the control surfaces to trim that out. That trade-off also makes it sits a bit more firmly in the air and doesn't get thrown around as much, plus you get HD video.

You can download the STL files on Thingiverse, where there is more detail on the design and how it is mounted to the Bonsai.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Chasing Mustang (Video)

Following other planes in FPV is something I thought would be easy, but when I started flying this way I was surprised just how hard it is. The trick seems to be to fly in the direction that the other plane is going, along a similar trajectory, however my initial attempts were all about flying directly at the plane, which didn't give me much room to manoeuvre when we needed to change direction suddenly.

The result of much practice (this video was cut from around 30 mins of footage) is a slight improvement in an understanding of how it works.

It's really funny being on the ground and realising your neck is twisted to one side because you've been trying to look out the side of the plane to get your bearings. I might look at a head-tracker for my next FPV rig, but not for this one as the Bonsai is teensy and mine is already overloaded with the Mobius Mini and FPV gear.

Perhaps a piston engine fighter is in my future... another Corsair perhaps?

Gear used in this flight:
Turnigy Bonsai with Mobius Mini action cam, multistar 2204 with 5/4.5 prop for about 9 mins of flying time.

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