Thursday, February 28, 2019

Suits you, Sir!

There are days you don't feel like doing any of this, but the years have taught me that what distinguishes the entrepreneur is a readiness to do it on the days when you're not inclined.

All of this 'fitting' the drone to my waistline could probably have been made a lot easier had I managed to get to Manchester University recently for a 3-D body-scan, when traffic dictated otherwise. As it happens it has not been overly tasking and adds a 'hand-built' touch to the prototype.

There's a shoe-shop in London that keeps personal shoe-lasts for the rich and famous, in order that they can wear bespoke and made-to-fit footwear. Kind of ironic here that I am putting together what is effectively a bespoke flying machine. If you're a potential investor, don't let that worry you... in a digital world everything is bespoke in one way or another.

What is likely to happen is that you will order a chassis for your drone on which a digital 'slice' of your torso at around elbow-height will be superimposed on a stock CNC outline.

Something like the above, in fact: in a quarter-inch ply it forms a template for my own body.

Shows too that the requisite shape is not what I had imagined. The final outline has become symmetrical, which from a manufacturing and an aesthetic point of view is ideal. The width is precisely 33 centimetres (or 13 inches if you prefer) and the depth 23 (or 9).

Compared to the original outline drafted yesterday, it has been 'taken in' by a couple of inches around the waist. In fact it is largely wedged in place by my beer-gut, which will need to go in due time.

And in order to slip it on like a pair of trousers it has to be stepped into sideways, and then rotated as it moves up toward the hips. There's a lot unique about this project, and this will be among my favourites.

I've sourced a local sheet-metal retailer who can cut both the outline of the drone itself (to be 45cm or 18in square) along with the cut-out. It looks like a 2mm sheet will suffice, but in accordance with my 'belt-and-braces' build philosophy for the prototype, I shall doubtless go for the 3mm at the end of the day.

Nonetheless the deeper I get into this the more practical it looks, and the greater the chances of actual retailing these flying machines in kit form.

The world has changed since I started prototyping. Before the internet, sourcing materials was a hit-and-miss affair which depended on word of mouth and the 'Yellow Pages'.

What, my son would say, are they?

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Indiana Jones and the Templates of Doom

The question of the aperture in the flight-deck arises, or in layman's terms, the hole in the drone. The Hole in the Drone sounds like a country pub that serves bitter and fish and chips, so I shall be using it again.

For this task I choose one of those foam seats that you slip into a kayak to prevent boils on the bum next day. I take a photo of it and reverse the image into a negative so as to save the ink cartridge. Then I divide it in two digitally until it looks like the MRI scan above.

Printing two of these at a reduced scale now that they fit on A4 stationery, I turn one over and tape them together to form the outline of the seat, albeit reduced by around ten percent.

This is because old slinky-hips here can squeeze like a rat up a drain-pipe into a 13-inch* gap and I want as much material surrounding me as possible, as this is what clamps the rotor-arms in position.

You can use the above template yourself, and adjust it accordingly.

*Kim Kardashian need not apply.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

My work here is done... for now

All in all not a bad take on a flying version of the UK Post Office's K8 telephone booth?

Enjoying the hottest few days on record for a winter's day here too, which affords ample time to stand in this thing to figure out the optimal dimensions. It is around 1.60 metres from nominal motor axis to nominal motor axis, which means that it can still swing one-metre rotors and yet lie within the competition constraints.

More to the point however although I cannot (quite) squeeze the hips in straight, I realise that I would be able to were I to maintain the surrounds forty centimetres square, but drop the alloys back to 40 millimetres square instead of fifty. Actually there are contingent pluses with this, as the most popular structural or locking aluminium extrusions are quite this size.

I like the fact that I am building this around my frame the way Mercedes build their racing cars around Lewis Hamilton.

Personal Air Vehicle?

Turns out there is a wealth of aluminium stock out there at six metres as well as five, which shows that when pursuing projects it pays to question everything.

Meanwhile I update the website to describe the essentials viz. the loose assembly of three team members along with the more rigid assembly of the three test-types. Take a look at and see if you can figure out the navigation? I can, but then again I wrote it.

Having constructed the metre-model version of the phone-box and tried it on for size, the more I look at the above outline, the more I figure we can get it off the ground. The benefits of which are twofold in that (1) it's cheap and (2) it gets us halfway there and (2a) I like it.

The props are better under-slung, and that's another lesson learned from putting the scale airframe together during the last week.

I like lessons from history though, and the first mass-produced car was Old's (auto)mobile.

It wasn't his only prototype... there were ten more.

When the barn caught fire one night, however, it was the only one light enough to be wheeled to safety.

And there's a lesson in that somewhere.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Cutting Metal

I deal with Alloy Sales in Hertfordshire for my metal supplies, because I spent sixteen years living just along the road from their warehouse in Welham Green. The only other aviation connection associated with Welham Green is that the first aircraft in WW1 to shoot down a German airship did so thereabouts.

I ordered a six-inch box-section from them recently in order to build a scale model for the second phase of the GoFly challenge, though in the event it arrived too close to the deadline and is thus surplus to requirements. If this was Airbus prototyping an eVTOL it would sit at the back of a hangar gathering dust until relieved by some or other employee who figured it would make say a ventilation duct for the garden shed.

This being TEAM TELEDRONE however it will effectively be recycled, by my swapping it for the lengths of alloy section required for the flying prototype.

They correct a long-held misapprehension of mine, which was that alloy sections are stored in unit lengths of six-metres. It seems they are in fact stored in five-metre lengths, although I figure we can just about construct what we need given two of those, where one will provide for the upper rig and two of the uprights and the other the lower rig and remaining uprights.

I have elected as well to go for the 2mm thickness instead of the three so as to minimise the weight, and because the build-philosophy is basically suck-it-and-see viz. failure means that we will try again at the thicker gauge.

The outline seen above will provide for a 35cm square aperture within a 45cm square flight-deck provided courtesy of the top-plate. This ampler girth allows me to stand full-square if required with a side-stick to each hand, instead of 45 degrees with a 'Playstation' controller.

There's method in this madness...

Saturday, February 23, 2019

The (sedentary) K8

The German polymath Goethe wrote that when you set out to pursue any grand vision, the whole universe conspires to advance your aims.

Having discussed K8 telephone boxes earlier today ~ and after breaking from the project to take the Fokkers for a drive in the unseasonable sun ~ what do we discover on arrival than a lovingly-preserved box of this type?

It illustrates the point we examined earlier, about how such boxes were glazed on only three of their sides and how the flying phone-box will be arranged to look quite the same.

The panel at the rear will therefore form the avionics bay, beside showing direction of travel.


Paint Shop

Delightful little airframe to work on at the build stage. Here it is getting its first lick of 'Post Office Red'. Loosely based on he last of the GPO's cast iron panel-built phone-boxes, the K8.

Of course such phone boxes would have been glazed on just three sides (the back-side would generally be parked up against the wall and used of course to mount equipment and wiring).

This gives me a further prod to mod the design and in fact I am going to imitate this and fit the avionics bay in the back wall.

This has environmental advantages (less likely to get damp or flooded) besides those related to production and maintenance.

The electrical engineer will, I feel, be happier with the more user-friendly means of access.

There are some components that may (like gyros or GPS receivers etcetera) that may require mounting horizontally, but these are ~ small ~ fences that we can cross as we come to them.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

One small step-ladder for a man...

The 'wooden wonder' is wheeled out the hangar for the first time, the staff gathered around prior to the lunch-break and the strains of an oompah band playing 'There'll always be an England" in the near distance. (Ed. make it 'Me gathered round to the strains of birdsong' for the legal bods).

The reduction of the foot-print to 16 inches (400mm) means, as predicted, that a swivel is required to gain entry. I like the idea of that at the gate... Would Sir mind turning sideways for just the second that it takes?

It also means that the hips do not actually clear the aperture (which is down to under a foot, hedged in as it is by the four rotor-arms). I have visions of revisiting Douglas Bader's being trapped in that Spitfire cockpit and the consequent loss of both legs...

Turning sideways however I find ~ as test-pilot in chief ~ that it is not at all uncomfortable and indeed could be used to pitch the hands around an-off-the-shelf dual-joystick controller of the sort familiar to anyone who has raised a drone in anger, or else steered a car on PS4.

And this is the whole point of inexpensive ergonomic mockups, to test the look-and-feel in advance of metal being cut ~ which it shall be shortly.

The full movie is available at (assuming I ticked 'public' on that drop-down)

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Sweet 16"

Moment I disassemble that frame in short order (we're out to dinner in an hour, but that's enough time for a spell in the workshop no, rancheros?) the outline looks decidedly good in a way the larger compartment didn't.

When the printing press was invented in Germany and books published for the first time, Gutenberg had to choose the dimensions for the text and margins. He reverted to a 'golden mean' or perfect rectangle that dated to the ancient Greeks and was pleasing to the eye. It has largely been use ever since, like the QWERTY keyboard, because it simply feels good.

And the labours of my second day are wondrous to behold.

I discover too that you can get even smaller than this sixteen-inch (actually 400mm) box so long as you are prepared to stand in it diagonally, so that it flies like a diamond instead of a square. There's a photo down there to show you how, and it may yet be the means we all fly when the GPS is doing the work for us.

Nonetheless I was born a pilot, and I need those joy-sticks to either hand and that is best served with a square 'flight-deck'. As it is, I'm likely to have to twist somewhat to squeeze those hips into that frame, but then I've lots of practise at that, what with those ten-year old dinner-jacket and trousers.

I've suffered for my art... and now it's your turn.

Bin, go...

It looks like a flying wheelie-bin after I mock it up in wood in the garage by way of assessing the ergonomic aspects. But it does teach us, as ever, how it can be put together at full-scale in the materials of choice (next up aluminium and thereafter carbon-fibre).

With the spars planed back to 50mm square (gratis and thanks to NWTT in Ashton, Lancs) the airframe looks altogether more seductive. For any of you that want to follow, the board is of MDF and at about a quarter-inch... cheap and easily worked, but don't try sailing with it later.

I have extended the board by a couple of inches or 100mm so as to overlap the spars top and bottom, with cut-outs top and bottom right to accommodate the rotor-arms. Originally I set the verticals up independently with brackets, but setting them fun-square was a pain in the arse, frankly, and so I have tried the means by which cast-iron phone-boxes were assembled.

Thus the first panel is pinned to its two uprights first, and then 'stood' in place whilst screws are driven through its lower margin to fix it to the base. I then do the same with the opposite side (see photo below) and then it is simply a question of cutting two more panels to attach to the remaining sides.

Cut-outs for the window-spaces are made once the assembly is complete, as this provides the maximum structural integrity in the meanwhile. While I do this however I realise that even better than a 20-inch (500mm) square outline for the booth, a 16-inch (400mm) would serve even better, so long as you can squeeze into it, as it provides for larger rotors again.

I may therefore dis-assemble this quickly before going much further, though I did finish up at five-thirty with all four sides fitted, and re-jig to suit a slimmer human frame. (For those of you wanting to measure yourselves for a flying machine, you need to see what gap you can squeeze into at elbow-level with your forearms raised, as if grasping a pair of side-sticks.)

It's hours of fun, but doesn't pay the bills.

Before we sign out, let's hear it for the Panavia Tornado, the Rolls-Royce-engined swing-wing fighter bomber that signed off RAF service with a fly-by yesterday (while I was doing all this) over the aerospace factory at Warton, just up the road from hereabouts.

This county has a fine ~ possibly the finest ~ reputation for the production of airplane parts.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Er, stairs?

I've looked at clouds from all sides now, and spent much of the night wondering how access might best be provided into the 'mobile drone'. I keep running away from the idea of making anything but a rigid box in which to fly, and as a result eventually I have it... in the form of a loft-ladder up the outside and likely down the inside too.

The design is ideally adapted to such a simple means of entry, being as it stands four-square on an extended base and is therefore supremely stable whilst sat on the ground, something that is only improved by the stock of battery cells in its base.

There is also something of the 'Dan Dare' about it... getting into the capsule at the top of the Apollo spacecraft was rarely an elegant procedure, and what I have most liked about sitting in all of those fighter-jet cockpits in different museums was how you had to be shoe-horned into a place in which you were tightly confined, yet with all the controls well in reach.

Another advantage of the practicality of this cut-down version of the booth is that baling-out is a relatively straightforward affair. Assuming you're strapped to a parachute, given enough height the props can be stopped at which point the pilot and machine drop until such time as the chute is deployed, deftly sliding the occupant free of the flight-compartment: WOOF!

Ladder nothing to be ashamed of though, as this chap proves whilst boarding a 'Shenyang'... the Chinese version of the Sukhoi-27. I have flown into the city of Shenyang many times in command of the more modest Airbus 320, and one of my line-trainers thereabouts was a charming gentleman who had flown this type amongst others.

Does highlight though another benefit of the full-sized flying phone-box.

It'll have a door.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Er, frame?

Mock the thing up at full-scale with 75mm square timber that I knock down at the local yard for £25 instead of £38.90 in view of its weathered condition. Actually it doesn't look that bad anyway, but I won't be telling them any time soon. The 1/5th scale model that you see on the website used 12mm spars and so the lumber is oversize, but as you'll recall we wanted to stack the base with lithium-ion cells and they're around 62mm long.

What the exercise probably proves is that it's stupid to design airframe around the batteries instead of the passengers, although in fairness in electrical vehicles the batteries loom large. Wouldn't be the first time too ~ Bristol designed their Britannia turbo-prop for three dozen passengers, because British Airways (as BOAC) said that was how many their buses seated.

Meanwhile the CAD/CAM nerds should bear in mind that every new design of car is mocked up at full size in (latterly) timber and clay or else (currently) 3-D printed plastic, because you can never be sure of how people will react to the finished product. How the Edsel or Scorpio (or indeed the Renault Megane) slipped through the net at this stage is anyone's guess.

Soon as I start the build I am unhappy, firstly because being rough timber it catches threads on my pullover: must sort that out in the production version. It also looks lumpen and first chance I get I shall take the timber back for planing, either to 50mm or else 60mm. Former is favourite as it broadly works in Imperial measure as well as Metric, plus it provides room to swing a cat in the passenger compartment.

The dozen spars are an identical metre and hang together nicely in terms of ergonomics. Immediate problem that springs to mind is ingress, or how to get in. In theory you could climb in the top, but if you ever try drinking and climbing into a wheelie-bin, as most Brits do, you'll know it's a recipe for a broken neck.

The upper spar that bars entry around abdomen-level could be hinged or telescoped so as to be swung or slid out of the way, but I prefer 'solid-state' construction without moving parts.

You'll recall that swing-wing aircraft were generally still-born like the scissor-wing, else sold in restricted markets like BAE's Tornado. The F-111 sold 563, but then again the F-16 sold 4604 to date. Reason being, hinges are heavy, expensive and difficult to manufacture or fix.

I do have a solution and I think you'll like it as much as I do.

Days in the workshop ~ no matter how bad ~ pay dividends.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Livin' it Small

Took a day off, it being Valentines.

It was also a day when (a) I resolved to build the smallest practical aircraft and (b) Airbus resolved to quit production of the largest. I'm comfortable with that in the same way that cockroaches and scorpions are relaxed about the idea of nuclear war...

And, it just got smaller.

I work principally with wood at the outset, it having been good enough for Leonardo. One of the 'webinistas' in the GoFly programme advised dropping CAD/CAM in favour of learning to sketch with a pencil instead, and I'm all for that.

We still have as a focus our flying phone-box, but this is like the GT version of your favourite car, and in the way that these will have a 'sport' setting nowadays, this one is set for manual controls. It's a pilot's phone-box.

It also ~ and this is a 1:5 scale model ~ has the benefit of being constructed of just a dozen one-metre lengths of alloy. Such extrusions retail worldwide at production lengths of six metres and so I am using two units of production, which appeals to my sense of unity.

This then is my one metre box, whilst the commercial phone-box features headroom of two.

Looking at it I realise there are countless reasons for underslung motors at the top-end, as this removes them from around the 'flight-deck' and pitches them lower, at a level where the passenger-compartment can be readily armoured against the chance of shed rotor-blades.

I am proud of the model and of the photograph, which the patent agent initially mistook for a CAD/CAM render of the prototype instead of the blood, sweat and tear production you see.

Cannot wait to mock up the full-size box too and stand in it like Dan Dare.

Likely to use 3-inch spars as these will give the depth in the base to store lithium-ion cells (or batteries to you and me) stood upright like a honey-comb lain out flat on the floor.

You see, I think of everything.