Thursday, March 28, 2019

Put Out the Moon and Dismantle the Website

I largely dismantle the website because at this stage of the game it's literally academic.

As Lilienthal pointed out, anyone can design an aircraft and some people build it, but only a very few will get it to fly too.

The aim is to be one of the few.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Chariots of Wire

Winners of the GoFly Phase II announced yesterday and it's good news and bad news: good from the point of view of the amount of press coverage it garners and bad from the fact that everyone else appears to be almost literally miles ahead. I feel like the guy in Chariots of Fire who falls over and finds himself practically a lap behind.

Here's my take on the runners and riders however:

Never underestimate the Russians (or Latvians) when it comes to aircraft. Checked out the video ~ background is decidedly Soviet and redolent of memories of the outskirts of Riga. The aircraft however looks to be in an advanced state of development, but a tad too many fans for my liking. However it's clearly safe, capable and quiet from the looks of things.

Another frighteningly advanced aircraft and this one driven by an expert at steering those water-boards (or are they instruments of torture?) around Florida. Relatively conventional from the point of view there's a guy out there somewhere flown a rack of these things across a Canadian lake, but then it could be the shape of the future.

A worryingly capable team whom I wish was building my own drone. I can see this being efficient over a fairly reasonable range but am unconvinced as regards its manoeuvrability. It also has moveable surfaces like the Blackfly, which I'm allergic to.

These guys are keeping an extremely low profile, and also appear extremely clever. I vaguely recall seeing a drone of this kind, but it was I think uninhabited. Not one to fall out of backwards, but I like the footprint. How it is steered is anyone's guess, and might even be another weight-shift machine to contend with the Airboard.

Another thoroughbred from the USA, and one with a worthy pedigree in view of the fact they have been making money from ducted fans for years. I like its laid-back posture and the fact it squeezes into two metres in every direction, but I cannot see it being cheap with all of that contoured plastic.

How all these things compare in a fly-off is anyone's guess, but I figure the Teledrone has as good a chance as any if ever it gets airborne.

Watch this aerospace.

Sunday, March 24, 2019


A neater solution altogether, especially in view of the fact the spare tyre hadn't been active in ten years.

Undoubtably a world-first for tail-gated helicopters however and another class dojo. 

And when it's not toting the airframe, I'll use it for advertising:

Personal Air Vehicles:
Stop Me and Buy One

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Out On Manoeuvres

Strip the props off after the photo-shoot as we have to do the static loading test that involves suspending the airframe from above with me installed.

I've propped it up on wheelie-bins before with me in it, but swinging from the rafters is the real deal and the engineer says the barn is free on an opportunity basis.

At some point I'll need to mod the roof-rack, but the airframe sits on its rubber feet on the roof with just a pair of bungees, plus there aren't many rackable aircraft out there anyway.

Mental note therefore to make the power-units detachable from the get-go.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Walking Through the Quad

Need to get the official portrait out there, not so much of me but of the quad.

This involves parking the iPhone on a step-ladder whilst dressed in a drone, and taking up 'positions' during a ten-second countdown... I've suffered for my art, and now it's your turn.

I ditch the helmet too for fear of looking like a living Action Man.

Was going to photoshop the background out of the picture too, but if this takes off the notion of a 'helipad in every back yard' as Bill Gates might have said is not altogether outlandish.

(Shortly afterward I remove the propellers, which will be relocated beneath the flight-deck.)

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Helo, It's Me...

That's a picnic table turned landing-pad and I fear it's divided the household, but if this doesn't give us an idea of its potential then I know not what.

The guy in the UK who sells jet-engines to strap to your arms goes by the name of Iron Man and so I give the video a positively electrical title:

Monday, March 18, 2019

In Harness

Devil's in the detail and it has taken a bit of fettling to adapt this webbing to the airframe, and though not adjustable it is perfectly tailored for me despite only being eyeballed.

The vehicle is looking and feeling the part and I head off to the cycle store for a pair of handlebar grips that will double as sidesticks for the promo shot.

Return a tin of matt paint because a quick rub down with emery cloth does just as well.

Friday, March 15, 2019

On Her Majesty's Secret Airfield

A project is like a child... there's no such thing as time out.

With a view to the 'promo vid' and the assistance of Google Maps I eventually gain access to the old airfield at Burscough, and that's the Suzuki jeep you can see lining up on what would have been runway '215' as it appears on the chart ~ and the last remaining hard-standing.

Being a naval base it was known as HMS Ringtail and featured four runways instead of the RAF's three, and each of them rather narrower at thirty yards, the reason being that it would accommodate aircraft designed for the perilous pursuit of landing on aircraft carriers.

It hosted a Seafire squadron during the war: the sea-going version of the celebrated Spitfire.

One of my older flying students had in fact served on carriers in WW2 and suggested that the type was not at all suited to carrier landings, without the wide stance and rugged legs of American radial-engined aircraft designed specifically for the task.

The prevailing winds hereabouts are Southwesterly and there was a certain nostalgia for my own mis-spent youth on military airfields, and for those many pilots who would have lined up here time and again enroute to some or other theatre of war.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Theatrical Props

I've needed to up the credibility of the website and decided the three implementations of the Teledrone cannot exist in graphical form alone. A competition like GoFly brings any number of SketchUp artists out of the woodwork, but as the executive director of the Vertical Flight Society pointed out, eventually you come up against the laws of physics.

Their database already features around 150 eVTOL projects and counting, and many appear only as drawings as yet. Those with prototypes are rare, those with flying prototypes rarer again and those with a saleable product ~ let alone customers ~ are as rare as hen's teeth.

This will surely change faster than people realise, but it is incumbent upon all developers in the field to push for the sort of progress that convinces a wider public. I shall in due course feature the work-in-progress in the database, but I shall need a decent picture for starters.

And while that has to be more than a sketch, we're are not at the stage yet where we're fitting  the motors and rotors. I thus engage in a little theatrics with what is left of the timber and foam around the workshop and fashion these parts at rather less cost altogether. Still looks passable however, even awaiting another tin of matt black primer.

Looking at its camouflage colours though, it's going to require a lighter background than grass for photographs taken (naturally) by drone. Ideally I prefer a concrete strip, of which there are several at the old Burscough airbase.

Then again I may use the block-paved car-park at the local football pitches. It's most likely to be used in urban environments going forward anyway.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Alloy Tuber

Been forty years or more since I've worn a flying-suit, but after a dull-as-ditchwater video on making the airframe, I needed to big it up.

We need to dream, and of all my ideas this is the one that most looks ~ as Victor Hugo said ~ like one whose time has come.

The video reflects a military briefing, as I don't want civilians wearing drones when there are safer versions.

People will though, because that's what we're like.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Static Load (Off My Mind)

After a touch-up in NATO green ~ sorry about that, Vlad ~ the prototype is put through a Teledrone 'A' check to establish whether its airframe is able to support my own 75kg frame. Creaks and gives a little as it should, rewarding my punt on 3mm spars for the rotor-arms.

But no ex-works shakedown is complete without a 'B' check, involving a full suite of wheelie-bins in lieu of anything more practical. For the engineers amongst you, green is for garden waste; blue for tins and bottles; green for paper and grey for general waste.

With commander Neil Armstrong settled into the flight-compartment (albeit stripped of his pullover due constriction) we're go for Tranquility.

We move next to the 'C' check, swinging me inside the lunar-lander from the rafters... a procedure every astronaut will surely have undergone to acclimatise to weightlessness.

And all before tea.

'Pro' Pellers

There's a dearth of propellers out there for personal air vehicles (PAVs)... but before I begin, a word on the TELEDRONE philosophy. I call similar ventures in the UK and they are either extremely cagey or else don't respond at all.

I'd like to think this is because they consider me crazy, but sadly I suspect that they feel they are giving away precious trade secrets.

They're not. They're just slowing down universal adoption of world-changing technology by navel-gazing and mistrust. And neither of those get results.

Therefore yes, I file intellectual property but no, what I do is neither state-secret nor rocket-science and therefore I shall be sharing as much as I possibly can with you. Not least kits to build your own flying machine, and sooner rather than later.

There is not too much out there on WHY there are no blades for large drones, but as good an explanation of why lies here:

Stick with it as it gets more understandable, though easier still is to read my summary here because I'm the dummy who put the dummy into aerodynamics for dummies.

Firstly then, as I always wondered why the blades look more like airscrews and less like rotor blades off helicopters, it turns out that much of it has to do with the fact that drones are steered by rapid changes in rotor RPM while for helicopters this is anathema.

Secondly the best-known firm addressing this market is T-Motor in China, whose products I shall likely be using sooner rather than later.

Thirdly, rotors are broadly three times less efficient than fixed wings of the same profile that generate lift from forward flight, and...

Fourthly, this efficiency can be recovered somewhat by larger rotors, for which the TELEDRONE was designed from the outset ~ we surf with the flow of aerodynamics.

Accordingly I shall likely plump for their (largest or) 10 kilowatt motor driving their (largest or) 40-inch propeller.

It's on a par with the Turnigy 150, but I like where the founder of T-Motor came from, and where he's headed.

And investors look at that sort of thing.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Weight Watchers

Depressed Sunday evening and go to bed at seven and stay there for the next thirteen hours.

Can't remember which engineer built the first canal in the UK (for the Duke of Bridgewater as I recall), but I do recall he went to bed for three days to mull it over before kicking off the industrial revolution.

I'm probably borderline polar, but then most inventors are.

Four more pins around the periphery of the port-hole, two licks of paint and four feet made of rubber door-stops and we're good to go.

The dry weight of the airframe, less engines, is a fraction under 19 pounds or 9 kilograms.

Not at all bad for a prototype helicopter at this stage of the game, and I figure I could halve that using more exotic materials and refined production methods, but it'll do for starters.

The target motors weigh 2.5 kilos (5.5 pounds) apiece and we could yet go for the smaller and lighter version, but I want an excess of power available to that left hand as we'll be up against the personal jet-jockeys.

At twenty kilos without batteries we're two-thirds the weight of a paramotor, excluding the canopy without which it cannot fly.

Whilst we're at it the basic span (measured at a 15mm inset across opposite rotor-arms) is 1.60 metres, which allows a full metre or thirty-nine inches for each propeller.

Debate whether to use two-bladed propellers for ease of use ~ else three for more thrust and less noise ~ but prefer the former for its sheer practicality.

Next up in the activity stakes are the static load tests, for which I have to book a slot at our very own static load testing facility.

This consists of the engineer's barn, and his block-and-tackle.

Onward and upward... literally.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Who's Drab Olive?

I settle on drab olive, not least because I discover Halfords sell the spray-paint canisters.

Plus flying over minefields wearing a 'hover-pack' is likely to appeal to military types... noting that the original interest in (and use of) aeroplanes was for military observation.

Beside this, people like Red Bull appear to be going out of their way to sponsor folks like me who want to be elevated by personal air vehicles (PAVs), and to date these feature jet-packs like this one developed in the UK:

Or else this one from Australia:

Both of these guys seem to have chosen to wear black, either to match their equipment or else to look like an action-hero, so I'll go green instead.

Incidentally, they can each sell you one of their 'PAVs' for around a third of a million dollars, a figure I hope to under-cut by a factor of around 100.


Saturday afternoon I took a break with my son and drove to the transport museum in nearby St Helens.

In Lancashire you are surrounded by the ghosts of the industrial technology and its subsequent technical progress, not least in aviation. St Helens itself was where float glass was invented, the means by which every window you see around you nowadays was made.

This bus is from up the road in Leyland, a place latterly famous for the production of commercial vehicles and whose museum still includes Rudolf Diesel's prototype engine.

Like phone-boxes, UK buses are legendary, and this prototype is the evolutionary equivalent of the 'missing link' betwixt ape and man.

It has the open rear-end which I used to leap on and off at speed enroute to school, but instead of the forward-mounted engine and drive-shaft, its power unit has been relocated to the rear.

This optimised the use of space, shifted the weight to the rear axle where it was most needed and made access for maintenance altogether simpler.

As a result, engines in buses have largely stayed there ever since.

We do stuff, hereabouts.

Saturday, March 9, 2019


A red-letter day as the airframe is completed on schedule.

The four eye-bolts pin the frames together like a port-hole, and double as attachments for the webbing or shoulder-straps that operator uses to support it on the ground.

For more bolts will be arranged around the aperture, but likely do not need to be fastened to my human frame as I believe (hope) that I can get away with a four-point harness.

Then it's off to the paint shop, with the prototype set to be drab olive, silver or matt black.

I should probably have used anodised alloy rotor-arms to save on paint, but then it's always good to save something for later.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Hot off the press...

I don't have an autoclave like Airbus, but this is the next best thing.

With the spar-uppers lavishly smeared with metal epoxy and the foam-infill liberally coated with polyester resin, on goes the top-plate and then I bang in the forty rivets that secure it.

Then it's overlain by a metal drip-tray ~ actually one of those metal posters that read 'Man Cave' along with the applicable rules ~ and action-man weights. I then pour three kettle's-worth of boiling water over it, so that it looks momentarily like a chocolate fountain.

The whole is then snugged up under a dust-sheet, and left to stew in its own juices while I go for tea and cake.

I don't do this for my own entertainment (well, actually I do) but because I worked with a fibreglass fabricator once and learned how to accelerate resins.... and with less than two hours 'til 05:00 pm Friday we're anxious for the roll-out to stay on schedule.

It's already involved me missing a yoga lesson this week, but as Otto Lilienthal said after his fatal accident, sacrifices have to be made.

Riveting Stuff

It's problems beyond the workshop that often prove the most troublesome, and today I'm driving back and forth in the rain trying to find a pop-riveter that works. The previous tool from an auto shop still pulls, but the nozzle for 5mm rivets has one jammed inside that won't dislodge.

Having graduated at Sheffield ~ a town which perfected steel ~ I decide to spend £32 on a British-made riveter that falls at the first fence. I return to the auto shop to spend five times less on a replacement riveter of the first type, which I see has a lifetime guarantee anyway. 

Plus it works admirably... was sure that pop-riveting was supposed to be fun, and so it is.

The rivets are 5mm by 50mm on the shank and I've used a 4.9mm drill bit and run five-a-side, inspired by my love of football. Thus from the far left of the bonding-plate I've punched at 6, 16, 26, 36 and 46 centimetres.

While all this is going on the first commercial spacecraft to have docked with the international space station is set to re-enter Earth's atmosphere.

If there is anything to inspire us to get out into the rain looking for rivets, it is the fact that NASA is relying on one private individual in the shape of Elon Musk to deliver astronauts.

So building a personal air vehicle in your garage can't be that difficult really, can it?

I mean, it's not rocket science.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

GA's Spiral Dive

Include this as it's a thing of beauty so far as I'm concerned: six-inch PU foam infill dropped down to two using only a wire camping saw, wood-saw and hand-held sander.

Break off early for a webinar from the GoFly organisers that features the head (?) of GAMA. These talks kick off around 11:00 in the morning EST, coinciding nicely with tea and cake time in the UK.

Context: have been flying all types of fixed-wing aircraft off and on for the past four decades or more and turns out I'm a dying breed:

(a) average age of GA airframes is around 50 years old
(b) average age of pilots of above is rather older
(c) GA movements in the US practically halved in 20 years
(d) fatalities are flat-lining with over half due loss-of-control
(e) 75% of same stubbornly associated with pilot error

eVTOL will improve every count, and once I demonstrate how easily and cheaply they can be designed, built and flown then they'll be common as sparrows. Or commoner, for like most wildlife sparrows are dying out faster than general aviation.

I pose a question in the webinar, asking how the FAA plan to prevent unregulated use of piloted drones when the price falls fast like that of model drones. He's aware of the issue and compares it to electrical scooters, which have proliferated worldwide and broken both bones and fellow pedestrians in the process.

As a teenager I witnessed the circumventing of rules defining 'moped' by the Japanese, so that they could produce geared 50cc motorcycles on the same terms.

This killed so many sixteen-year olds around the globe that it showed up in mortality stats.

We have therefore to balance ~ as ever we've had to ~ the benefits and dis-benefits.

A Touch of Bias

I rescue the airframe from the garage and bring it into the snug warmth of the lounge, where I find that the badly-glued rotor-arm snaps off like a dead twig. Plastic is immune to epoxy and metal is not far behind unless prepared meticulously, and you can still see the clamps.

Next up I go for a foam in-fill, and can you see my mistake? Yes... we didn't measure twice and cut once today!

There's a fix for everything however, with the possible exception of death.

Foam meets three aims:

(1) It subdues vibration

(2) it forms a comfy collar around the waist

(3) it reinforces the central chassis

I'm designing for kit-production here and the foam inset will eventually be formed of four identical quarters formed from a single mould.

But that's for later, and being a Northerner I can't bear to see food going to waste and thus I recycle PU foam that once saw service in a hydroplane I designed, and subsequently lay in the loft where it served as insulation. It's the 'Home Guard' of foam, and no doubt delighted to receive its call-up papers once again.

It stands proud, literally, of the top of the frame and will have to be ground down to 50 mil.

We thought of every possible way of doing this, including milling, which looked like it would be finished just this side of Christmas.

Eventually I had a brainwave over tea and cake, and settled on a camping saw. This features in survival kits at outdoor leisure stores, but is unavailable in even the largest DIY outlets and I fear this is because it is equally useful for taking the heads off annoying neighbours.

Finally note that I have marked the 'forward' sense of the drone with an arrow, because if you flip it over the leading rotor-arm would be set to the right instead ~ right-handed pilots are likely to prefer a clear view on that side however, along with a side-stick controlling pitch and roll.

The choice however is yours, and this is likely the world's first universally-handed airframe.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Schedule Unstuck

Project management is as much people management as anything.

I call the fabricators to discover the parts are still lying on the office-floor where I left them, which was not what I had in mind... problem being the guy dealing is on holiday and won't be back until next week.

An issue for inventors is that everyone from patent agents to Uncle Tom Cobley will have an opinion on how things can be improved. Whilst well-intentioned it is invariably problematic and produces something like the horse designed by committee that passes for a camel.

My fault really: should have just insisted on brazing or welding, for cash on the day.

So I recover the parts and revert to epoxy and pop-rivets instead of the suggested 'rivnuts' or rivets that include a nut to allow for disassembly. Personally I prefer a chassis which, like that of the iPhone could be marked, Abandon hope all ye who enter here...

I also want everyone including Tom Cobley to be able to build this in the garage using simple techniques and materials off-the-shelf. To my mind these include adhesives and pop-rivets, which I have been using since the days as a teenager I patched up a rusting Mini with alloy.

I glue one arm at a time, making-do with two G-clamps and shuffling them as I go. Rushing rarely mixes well with aviation, and in retrospect a better idea would be to glue all four arms at once, popping the top-plate on loose with the ballast and leaving overnight, especially in view of the fact the weather has turned colder.

I do this so you don't have to.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Happy Mondays

Exciting day as we lay down the keel.

I'm big on all forms of transport and have seen from maritime museums how the greatest of ships like the Titanic were chalked out in sections on the workshop floor.

Rivets: they're my world.

These spars and base-plate are off to the fabricators, then it'll be back for foam inserts and crowning with a top-plate...

Friday, March 1, 2019


These are problems you face as a developer... those times when you have to go with your gut.

Persuasive factors, three-off:

Firstly, supporting the drone before flight I want it balanced around my trunk. Setting the opening farther back would mean me standing like I was selling ice-creams at the cinema.

Ditto once airborne, when I don't want any drift due to out-of-trim moments.

Finally, I've every confidence the engineer can bias the controls to allow for rotor off-set.

Talking of guts too, I have tried it on for size and it fits like a glove. I noticed the other day that the guys fixing the electricity pylons hereabouts had all-in-one coveralls that included hooks for abseiling and I've a notion I've seen commercial window-cleaners with the same.

Mental note to look into it.

That's 3mm aluminium in the pic by the way, like it says on the tin, albeit shrink-wrapped...

Cutting Metal

Returning to the sheet-metal suppliers for the material for the fixing plates top and bottom which secure the rotor-arms, I settle on a 3mm thickness to complement the wall-thickness of the alloy spars I am using for those too.

It seems also that they cut panels from sheets that measure 1000mm x 2000m, so it makes sense to enlarge the flight-deck to 500mm square so that we have a simple two-off solution.

Although I have sketched the outline of the 'hole in the drone' and made a wooden template, they are unable to use the CNC equipment as these require a .dxf file. Frankly that will have to wait, and continuing the hand-built theme for my prototype, I revert to the trusty jig-saw.

'Measure twice and cut once' they say, and in a literal last-minute change of direction I settle on aligning the pilot accommodation in the direction the drone would conventionally travel.

Of course this could be obviated in the long-term by building a bias into the control software but for now the easiest thing to do is to bias me instead toward the right side of the square.

It means that conventional programming can be adapted for one thing, and for another it means the pilot is oriented with the rotor-discs so the motion is likely to feel more natural.

Softly softly catchee monkey.