Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Covidiary #2

Might seem trite with practically four hundred souls succumbing to the fever in the past twenty-four hours to be building drones, but then when all of this is over and there's an almighty tax bill to be paid then we're going to need to earn the revenue. And so I plod on, inspired by the example of so many others in these direst of straits.

I'm taking it easy on myself as the song says during this lockdown in the UK, and I've limited myself to (a) changing the colour of the lower quad from black to red and (b) fitting motors to it. I like the expression 'lower quad' incidentally... has a distinctly collegiate feel to it.

My design philosophy centres on DIY, or literally the ability to do everything by yourself, and this extends to transporting, assembling, operating and disassembling where required. Accordingly as things stand what you have here is a simple quad some 50" square that is bolted to the bottom of a passenger compartment, with another bolted on top.

You're probably thinking that the lowermost set of propellers are going to be mowing the lawn, but I've thought of that. With what remains of the week there will be an undercarriage added, and like so much else that is a part of this design, it will be unique in appearance... I've always preferred the road less travelled.

One lesson from watching preparations for the GoFly challenge in fact was that the lightest possible airframe needs combining with the sturdiest possible set of skids, having seen any number of heavy landings. As things stand, helicopters (albeit with seven or eight decades of development behind them) have what I would call perfect 'poise', whereas drones do not. They hold there station with the consummate ease of a hoverfly, but land like a dead duck.

(On the software side of things too, the lower set of motors and propellers will be stopped prior to landing, in order to give those expensive carbon-fibre blades a fighting chance).

Monday, March 30, 2020

Covidiary #1

Eleven o'clock this Monday morning must have been ground zero in terms of my motivation. With stores either closed or closing and deliveries re-prioritised in the face of the pandemic, it is hard to know quite how to proceed.

In the first instance I shall make-do-and-mend in terms of the material to hand in order to complete at least a static exhibit to list on the VFS database;

In the second instance I have as of today effectively frozen the design for the foreseeable future, so that by hook or by crook it will have to be made to work... and no 'ifs' or 'buts'.

In the third, there has to be a fundamental re-think of how best to proceed in the face of adversity, in the way that nations re-configure daily life during war-time.

I do have an idea that combines all three, but more on that later.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Hay While the Sun Shines

In the event I modify the existing 2/3rd scale airframe to closer suit the the idealised space-frame drafted at the kitchen table earlier in the week, and am pleased with the result. Lower limbs are now protected within the outline and there'll be a single point-of-attachment for drones top and bottom.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Change of Tack

Take the unusual step of posting twice in the one day. The pop-riveter expires on me, not least because I discover my final (Coronavirus) supply of rivets is of the wrong type. I look again at the 2/3rd scale prototype and decide to stick with it, if only to reduce the workload. 

It is heavier than the space-frames outlined in the previous post, but I don't think that really matters in the scheme of things. This one here weighs only eight kilos (or eighteen pounds) after all, and in view of the fact the dummy it is destined to carry weighs only three ~ whilst my son for instance weighs twenty-three ~ then that's not an issue.

Accordingly I mount it on the drone I've struggled to complete this afternoon, and the prop clearance looks ideal. I'll stick with Plan A therefore and get this flying, and use it as click-bait thereafter in an effort to raise funding for something able to support an adult.

And given the accelerated pace of the virus in the UK today, we'll all be in need of support of one kind or another in the coming months...


With the country in Coronavirus lockdown and hardware stores closed as of today, it was wise in retrospect to have got in the last of my supplies yesterday... not so much food that is, as aluminium.

But I feel the times call for desperate measures, and in step with the current circs I decide to pare the airframe (to be suspended between a pair of drones as per...

to the bone, consistent with structural and aesthetic requirements. For designers the simple chair is a stock in trade, and I've hankered after draughting one for years ~ and now I have.

Seems a trivial thing to be doing somehow, but then the novelist Herman Hesse continued writing in exile in Switzerland throughout WW2. He felt artists were like flowers in that they continued to blossom, war or no.

Finally ~ and some time later ~ in accordance with what I call "Dyson's Dictum" that you learn nothing until you start building, I modify the space-frame in order to make assembly rather easier. Design is a many-headed beast, design for manufacture not the least of them.

Sunday, March 22, 2020


I consider briefly ~ but only very briefly ~ leaving the airframe in unvarnished alloy. I decide against it firstly because there are too many plain alloy frames out there among eVTOLs, and secondly because it's a part of our 'signature' dish. The argument against relates primarily to weight, or the contents of the two or three spray-cans that are required.

Very briefly too the airlines considered dispensing with the weight of paint, but rejected the idea (clearly) because it left them unbranded, and preserving a brand was more important in the end to most of them than preserving fuel.

I mean you can save on food by never going outside, but what kind of life would that be? Well with Coronavirus encircling the globe in its grip, we're all about to find out...

Saturday, March 21, 2020

I'm Andy, Fly Me...

Into building the third prototype in the wake of the GoFly Challenge, and I like what I see.

I've named the dummy after Andy Green, the driver involved in Richard Noble's attempt at building a jet-powered car intended to travel at over 1,000 m.p.h. on the salt-lake flats of Bonneville.

The dummy cost me £27 on eBay, and he has only worked previously at Mothercare.

He probably never realised that one day he'd be a pilot of global repute?

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Patrick: Patron Saint of Engineering

Fitting that this should be drafted on St Patrick's Day, and what better way to spend it now Europe's locked down with the Coronavirus?

Spoke early on with the organisers of GoFly, who confirm the Boeing-sponsored challenge is to continue to a fourth phase (for which we've grandfather rights) and also confirm the rules remain unchanged, including those relating to allowable dimensions.

This called for renewed thinking on the format of the latest prototype (to be third to fly, and third time's lucky). Although drawn to a regular octocopter layout that uses all the available thrust, the X-8 arrangement here has more to commend it for the purposes of competition and likely thereafter.

The first reason is that it remains extraordinarily compact.

The second is that it includes redundancy, in so far as it is effectively two separate drones.

The third is that the centres of lift and gravity coincide, to the benefit of manoeuvrability.

The fourth is that it it provides natural accommodation in the form of a sedan chair.

The fifth is that it will look fairly spectacular.

The sixth is that it will work.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Bin's Laden

No room for sentiment in this game and the first of the prototypes to fly was recycled upon my return from California and the second (which flew albeit briefly over there) was gifted less its electrical gizzards to Garry, a guy serving as the driver for one other of the teams at the event. Returning with him to Los Angeles it now hangs for posterity from the rafters of his warehouse amongst other projects, as I may have mentioned elsewhere in this blog.

Successive iterations have gotten lighter altogether, although the structural design of the third flying prototype (upon which I am now embarked) remains essentially the same. It is somewhat larger however and will more comfortably accommodate adults beside children. What is set to change however is the rotor layout, which we'll learn more about in due time.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Helis Over Hogwarts

The daunting task of lecturing to 14- to 16-year olds on the mechanics of building and operating people-carrying drones. The county of Lancashire is the place to do it, the first of Britain's canals (the Bridgewater) and passenger railways (Liverpool-Manchester) having been built right here, and Marx's Das Capital having been based on the fledgling Industrial Revolution that was begun in the cotton mills of Manchester. The county was also home until recently to the greatest concentration of aircraft parts manufacturers in the country.

That however is the stuff of stuffy history books and of little or no interest to school-kids brought up on a diet of social media. Sustaining the concentration for an hour was thus the key, and I give myself a C+ for doing so, or at least for brief periods. And when I asked who saw themselves going onto building eVTOLs as a career, no hands was raised. Smart kids!

Nonetheless the lady heading up the science department suggested there were four or five students in particular who'd be very keen to get involved. Free programmers! We'll see how it goes, but I like the idea of putting a basic design together that I can build for schools as well as for the likes of industry. And I would call it the "Scarisbrick Hall-icopter".

If the place looks familiar incidentally ~ and not just from the Harry Potter movies ~ it will be because there has been an estate here since the Norman invasion of 1066, when French knights were rewarded with tracts of land. There's a thousand-year history behind the name therefore, and the reason that it might look familiar is that the UK's Houses of Parliament were designed in the same Gothic style by the same architect in the form of Pugin... and in fact the tower on this pile was apparently a dry-run for the one in the capitol.

Dropping my son off to school there on a misty morning with its gargoyled towers echoing to the caws of crows will forever live in my memory ~ everyone's idea of how every English school should look. What goes on inside is equally remarkable too. The latest data suggests that among sixth-form (final year) colleges in the UK, it figures among the top ten.

It is STEM week in the UK though, and getting young heads and hands involved is what it has been all about. I would have like for them to have seen my son flying around the MUGA pitch on in the vehicle, but that's something for another day.

Thursday, March 12, 2020


Again unduly tardy as ever but the findings from the above.

First off, though the IAG group comprises Aer Lingus/British Airways/Iberia I shan’t be codesharing with them in future (and the compensation claim is underway). I worked LHR for six years and when I discovered the DUB connection was based DUB and had to arrive LHR to collect, my heart sank. LHR runs at 100% capacity and therefore a breath of wind or touch of fog and every single flight is delayed (due spacing on approach).

Thus we got the usual airline bullshit ~ they’ll hold the flight for you ~ and eventually spent five hours in DUB awaiting a flight to JFK instead, from where there was 90 minutes prior to a night-flight to SFO. Arriving there at 01:30 Sunday instead of 15:30 Saturday we arrived at an accommodation un-staffed and went to Denny’s for breakfast instead at 02:00 a.m.

Just prior to booking a motel at extra cost, we tried one last time at NASA Ames and whilst Pete (Day) was illegally parked there for two minutes we were picked up by security, who eventually led us to a note that had been left regards accommodation keys. Happily (or unhappily for her) we were able to knock the (sleeping) night-shift worker for a set of keys and finally got to bed at around 04:00 a.m.

But this was California, and next day it was pancakes and maple syrup in the sunshine (and I was ‘en famille’ as kids don’t ever forget this shit).

Subsequently it was up and arranging the accommodation. Forty-three years ago I was inducted into aviation at RAF Finningley (and Pete rather earlier at another RAF base), and so we were used to the routine, specifically trying to figure out where the accommodation block was in the absence of any signage whatsoever.

That done I think it was as early as the following day Monday we drove out to Half Moon Bay airfield to scope the place out, reserved as it was for practise flying. Meantimes we dropped mother and son in San Fran for the sightseeing: 25 degrees each day and nary a cloud in the sky. This was warmer than they usually experience in February and in truth a little chill in shorts when you were out of the sun… but then it was snowing widely in the UK.

Not long into the trip though we rendezvous’d with Pete Bitar late one night, he having driven his ‘Verticycle’ on a trailer from Indiana the previous four days. Unfortunately his FAA-licensed drone pilot dropped out last minute (despite having the date in his diary two years prior), which made flying that bit harder for Pete and practically impossible for ourselves.

This was in view of the fact the drone had been stripped of four of its rotors and entered as a quad, under the weight that qualified it as a drone in the USA (but still requiring a qualified pilot). In retrospect as the vehicle had to survive four lots of airport baggage handlers, this was no bad thing, but it was combined with the fact that even given all eight motors the performance looked marginal when it came to lifting an adult (me).

Ironically what we had would almost certainly have raised my eight year-old son, and I was at pains to point out to the FAA that we could ship them as 55-pound vehicles, but that no-one could guarantee what would be put in them afterward that made them fly overweight… not least kids.

Wednesday was the briefing first thing for teams, and the move into the facilities the apron. In the event we did not set up either on this day, nor on the following (Thursday) which we spent at Half Moon Bay awaiting a back-up pilot who in the event failed to turn up. It meant that during that afternoon we’d to travel thirty-five miles north of the airfield beyond the Golden Gate and buy a receiver that matched this pilot’s transmitter (he being right-handed whilst the TELEDRONE was set up with a left-handed sidestick).

Sadly this meant that we had no presence at the airfield at NASA Ames during VIP day, when potential investors, the DOD and press were doing their interviews. I recall we went to the Winchester House instead… great movie if you get the chance.

Friday we were back out to Half Moon to collect the bottom half of the TELEDRONE as the back-up pilot announced (understandably) that driving out to Half Moon Bay to test the vehicle would take three hours of an already busy schedule. Arriving at Ames without ‘boots on the ground’ or batteries was proving an uphill struggle.

The remainder of the day was thus spent doing nothing much but waiting whilst the back-up pilot went through his own routine with the Pratt and Whitney judges, something that they should have been doing with us to had we managed to get the airframe airborne. Eventually come mid-afternoon we spent a good deal of time driving around looking for a place rather nearer where to test-fly the device. The pilot, a graduate of MIT with several hundred hours flying drones under his belt, wanted to review the battery-life and check the parameters from the laptop prior to launch, but unfortunately we hadn’t the code to hand to unlock it and besides, everyone in the UK was fast asleep in bed.

Accordingly you can see how we failed to replicate the flight indoors in the UK here…

… where there was a reasonable breeze blowing as you can hear. The considered opinion of the pilot ~ who admitted his piloting might could not be guaranteed given the lack of practise prior ~ was that in the absence of a GPS feed (which Alex had recommended) the change in latitude and longitude since the previous flight might have led to erroneous input from the compass facility that in turn resulted in not so much what he would call ‘fishtailing’ as the sort of instability he’d seen before that was much like a ball running around the surface of a bowl (toilet-bowl his actual suggestion).

With no spare props (another recommendation from Alex) that was about it, but frankly time had already run out for qualifying for the final line-up for the press and public Saturday.

Accordingly we’d no certificate for completing Phase Three as we had for Phase Two, and no press call on the day out on the apron in front of the crowd. We did however get a good reception from the public in the tent and made some reasonable contacts, and as we’d been among the last half-dozen slated to fly from among 854 teams I consider we hadn’t done to badly, although there’s no escaping he fact that we failed in the objective.

In retrospect however the fault has to be laid at my own door, although we did best we could in adapting to the circumstances. Looking back the organisers set the bar way to high, not least I feel because they were not technically adept at their own admission. In fact had we not suggested early on that there should be a ‘showcase’ category for those who couldn’t meet the half-hour’s flying criterion, I doubt there’d be anyone there at all. 

Only one team out of the 854 in the form of Dragon Air got flying at all beside a wobbly hover (Team JAYU got a 1/4 scale model flying nicely, but then we could all have brought a radio-controlled model aeroplane), and even they crashed on the practise day due an ESC failure (and that was the lady’s fourth… which is why she rarely ventures above ten feet and even then over water).

All in all, for somebody with 15000 plus flying hours and who’d once entertained launching Bristow helicopters into Force 9 gales, I thought these things were fairly shit. On the other hand as the Pratt IP guy pointed out, all of the entrants to the original DARPA self-driving challenge were fairly shit too.

There’s no denying then that as with so much in California, the people there were all of a type willing to leave the day-job and sacrifice to the family to some extent in pursuit of an ideal, and I agree with Elon Musk that the USA is the only place to get done what is necessary to build the modern world. The UK is to my mind an old-money economy, where the prizes principally go to rentiers and bankers and nobody dare venture beyond the routine. If they set out trying to build something in a garage to get them airborne, they sooner or later sacrifice it on the altar of necessity.

But I blame myself entirely. My instinct given the configuration was to have gone for a quad with the larger U15 motors, which would have been easier to build and transport and rather better suited to lifting myself as an onboard pilot. This in turn would have meant I could have flown it myself under the Part 103 (Utility aircraft) category, which is altogether easier to pursue.

However it was the ‘engine-out’ capability that the organisers envisaged for the (not-to-happen) pylon race that forced us down the multi-copter route, and combined with fairly ludicrous limits on the dimensions. Dragon Air met the constraints, but only at the cost of a considerable load of batteries and eight of these U15s, whereas we would have made do with four (the weight of their vehicle some five times what ours was).

I was also deranged to expect anyone else beside myself and Pete (both involuntary retirees) to travel to California at the expense of the ‘day-job’. But then you live and learn.

All that said, there were plaudits from the FAA inspectors for the simplicity of the design (which again benefitted from four propellers in place of eight), and the press and public reception was altogether positive. There will be documentaries apparently from the likes of PBS, but these will appear between 12 and 18 months hence and so it is undoubtably worth continuing to develop a presence in the market in order to benefit.

Longer term too it does look like eight motors (minimum) will be ‘de rigeur’ for piloted operations, and so we are set fair and I’ve a re-configuration that should provide the extra thrust required.

I do not agree with Alex that a half-million pound budget is required to fly people in electrical VTOLs, but what I do know is that what people do does condition their responses, the way that for a hammer everything can be viewed as a nail. The Wright Brothers did not have the ‘reserves of power’ that people tell me that we need for this… in fact they had a deficit of power that was only answered by a 28-knot headwind on the day.

Nor do I think that the key is the regulation process. Electric scooters are unregulated and everyone using them is acting illegally. So there’s no global market for electric scooters, right? Or the ATVs that people ride on roads? Or drones that transmit pictures (and to my knowledge it remains illegal to transmit video from an airborne source without a broadcast licence to do so in the UK). Fact is, if you wait for the regulators to catch up with the market then you’ll be dead sooner. Remember the red flag required for motor-cars in the UK? Well that lasted a few months, didn’t it?

Fact is, life’s not worth living without a project.

And in conclusion we couldn’t have got this far without Pete’s presence and funding, Tom’s review of the IP, Phil’s solderings and musings, Alex’s specification and testing, Martin’s fixing and flying.

Whether I continue is moot, but I’ve all the materials to continue and don’t see why I shouldn’t. 

Colin H, March 11th 2020

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Runners and Riders

This somewhat belatedly and for the benefit of my erstwhile colleagues, but doubtless will make for good reading amongst the 'fliterati' devoted to the pursuit of electrical take-off and landing. I shall deal with them in the order in which they appear in the album, and I'm set to use them again as a means of boring the pants off STEM students Friday...

 This was undoubtedly to my mind 'best in show' and designed and assembled by my good friend "phat" Tony, from I think Texas. Appearing to be powered by a clone of Rolls' own Pegasus engine, I do fear that with only a Briggs and Stratton( ?) at the back-end driving its array of fans it won't be in a position to go head to head with the AV8-B just yet. For me though it is reminiscent of the work of recently-deceased conceptual artist Panamarenko and spans the gamut of tech and infotainment. Tony also allowed my son to sit way up there in its commanding cockpit, a privilege extended only to insiders.

 This unlikely-looking vehicle would be the eventual winner of the Disruptor Prize and was assembled by a team from Japan. Like so many of the runners it struggled in the least of breezes to get airborne, and my overall impression of the competition was that helicopters aren't set to be replaced on those North Sea oil-rigs any time soon. Nonetheless Pratt and Whitney would decide on balance that all things considered, it represented the best all-round effort from all concerned. (My only reservation was that the competition was aimed at a 'flyer for all' and I couldn't see my mother or yours lying down on that wing up top). The underlying concept so far as I could see was not unlike the 'Blackfly' in so far as the angled rotors ~ whilst remaining fixed in position ~ work well enough for a vertical launch, a transition and level flight thereafter. Brownie points for lending me tools, too.

 I'm going to have to declare an interest here, but then as we won no prizes then that's probably immaterial. This 'flying phone-box' passed muster as a drone in the USA in view of the fact it was under fifty-five pounds, albeit flying empty as most airliners are doing nowadays with the coronavirus about. The downside was it needed an FAA-licensed drone pilot to operate it, and these were both (a) thin on the ground and (b) busy with their own offspring. It would eventually fly briefly in a park on the south side of the Bay, but without a GPS feed and a compass that hadn't been recalibrated, it was retired hurt by owner J P McManus. One to watch for the hurdle stakes however in the coming season.

 Talking of thoroughbreds though, they don't come better from better stock than this one, and its rider is as spirited a filly as you could hope to meet. We've all seen the videos, and frankly this should have won whatever prizes were going. Designed so far as I could tell by Jeff Elkins (formerly of Franky Zappata's stable) and ridden by the illustrious Mariah Cain, it was sadly a faller on the gallops the previous day having got altogether farther than anyone else. Jeff had reduced the weight and size for the competition incidentally by taking the eight U15 motors and stacking them in X-8 configuration instead.

 The indefatigable Pete Bitar, and a man who in the best team spirit afforded us a loan of batteries and connectors beside the ample time necessary to fit them out. This was Pete's bespoke entry to the race, as normally he's working on something we'll see later in the form of a personal jet-pack. From what I could tell the ducts had been clipped to squeeze into the unduly onerous race requirements ~ at least when it came to dimensions ~ and this two-year-old, whilst not among the lightest, made the final card and proved equal to the hurdles. Brought in under the FAA experimental category, incidentally.

↑ A non-runner in the form of the Silverwing (I think it was called) from a university in Delft, Holland. The sizeable stable which backed it proved a winning formula during the second phase of the competition, but for reasons of unreadiness, from what I could tell, the entry proved unfit on the day. Like a number of others (and not least the winner) it is designed for prone pilots to take-off vertically and transition to forward flight. This is easier said than done, and with few exceptions none of these beasts could be considered as an easy mount.

 This one is a half-scaler and in fact its stable-mate in the form of a quarter-scaler would be one of the few to have been flying high under the masterly touch of seasoned drone pilot Ben Sena of TEAM JAYU. Aside from the fact there is no saddle as yet ~ such that its a sure bet for unmanned meetings too ~ the thing is driven by three power-units which comprise contra-rotating propellers. As the forward-most of these is pitched lower than those at the rear, programmed manipulation of all six motors allows for manoeuvre in all three axes and planes. Ben feels that it needs control-surfaces too, and he may be right in so far as aviation never seems to have got by from thrust alone... even the aforesaid Blackfly (which has been test-flown over 31,000 miles for heaven's sake) seems to need them. The team are from MIT, and frankly you'd have to be to get your head around that sort of programming.

 Another from Pete Bitar's stable, and ever the crowd-pleaser. Tipping the scales at an altogether lower weight than the 'Verticycle' tipped earlier, this electric jet-pack comprises four racks of four ducted fans arranged around a square (and around the rider). Likely to be the focus of this stable's attention in the coming months, although a non-runner here on the day.

 So far as I could tell, this was a late arrival from the Russian team and came to late to qualify for the starting line-up. There had been complications at state customs apparently, but nothing that a sizeable donation to the Putin Foundation wouldn't solve (and I say that at great personal risk from a poison-tipped umbrella). It's gone through several iterations, although to be fair, haven't we all? It has been seeing flying earlier during the season and looked like it was largely there. I dislike the arched aerofoil however almost as much as the one that used to obscure my rear-view from my Ford Sierra XR-4i.

 I've a notion this came from an Indian team, but cannot be entirely sure. Either way it was missing propellers and I, like the Pratt and Whitney judges no doubt, considered this to have been a non-starter so far as flying stakes were concerned. It's a straightforward  X-8, although those are powerful motors there and should Mothercare ever need a turbo-charged buggy for those rainy days, then they need look no further than this...

 Dubbed the 'flying breakfast', there was a lot more to this scale model than met the eye. A Phase Two winner from a Texan uni, an immense amount of technical work had gone into getting this thing flying... which it would eventually despite teething troubles early on. The team seemed to have bet all of their chips on winning the prize for the Quietest personal air vehicle, and the full-scaler would scare anyone creeping up behind them in the dark. An ingenious craft redolent of 1950s tech at places like NASA Ames, it features contra-rotating propellers driven by motors above and below, and rotor-disks manipulated by electrical actuators to tilt them in the required direction. Looked like it wouldn't work, but actually did what it said on the tin when it was finally released at the starting gate.

 I've a notion this one was from Australia, and another that the rider is going to be expected to stand atop the arrangement (as per the Dragon Air entry from Florida whose prospects I was extolling earlier). This one not nearly so advanced however, but a good-looking set of bones that promises to go the distance. The electrical ducted fans (EDFs) are designed to combat something all of the teams suffered from viz. the draining effect on the batteries that stems from constant manipulation of the power going to the larger propellers. Indeed I know from many years flying FADEC-controlled jet airliners that the computers go to great lengths to avoid constant fluctuations of the throttle for precisely that reason. For Dragon Air it was Mariah's weight-shift which I was told was responsible for most of the manoeuvring, which reduced the burden on the motors altogether when it came to steering.

 This again so far as I can recall was from India (or else Indian students outside of India, but either way, what is it with all of these Indians and eVTOL?). I like this one, as it appears to be a blue version of the TELEDRONE albeit more adapted to a lunar landing. Again a non-runner, although non-runners were divided among those like TELEDRONE that didn't make the cut, and those for which it was never intended. So far as I can recall this neither ran on the day, nor in the run-up. It's a hexacopter Jim, but not as we know it.

 Like the father-and-son entry from Scoop Aerospace, this one was a scaler and yet a working model at the same time. Or not entirely so, as it caught a gust of headwind on the qualifying day early on and flipped over backwards. It's from Athena Aero in Canada and a one-man (and one Action Man) team dedicated to ducted propellers. These actually tilt from an upward position as here for vertical take-off and then a forward-facing for cruise, and in this regard is not unlike something BAE Systems put together early on. The arches that surmount the props do something special aerodynamically-speaking, which frankly I've forgotten. One in the green colours that's worth a punt.

 Another (?) Indian entry although this one looks like it made a wrong turn on the way to the Sled of the Year race-meet. Actually a lovely bit of carbon-fibre moulding in that saddle and elsewhere, of which they can be rightly proud. Otherwise a straightforward hex, and one we look forward to seeing on the turf this side of season's end.

 This one was assembled by a loose-assemblage of human beings who get together to solve the world's problems and were set after this to design shelters for the homeless. They included amongst the team the young owner of a curry-house in Blackburn, who proved to be the only other British national at the event. Then again he hasn't answered my text-message and so he won't be appearing on my Christmas card list any time soon. Like myself the team-leader seems to be eternally devoted to alloy, and this one looks like something again from early experiments at NASA's Ames facility into deploying jockeys behind enemy lines during the Korean War. It's a tail-sitting contra, and if nothing else wins my prize for the largest and scariest engine... which looks suspiciously like a Rotax. The bus-driver from this team, incidentally, was to benefit from the Teledrone's airframe (once stripped of its valuables), which he intends to hang in an LA warehouse for posterity.

 This guy had a serious budget and a serious RV in the car-park, to the extent that when I applied for VC funding in London this week I claimed to have known him. His website envisions these zooming up the sides of high-rise apartment blocks and attaching themselves limpet-like to their sides, where their successful owners deplane prior to massaging their portfolios over a margarita. Marvel-style prone-piloted vehicles were in the ascendancy here, with only the lazier designers like myself opting for being suspended from a drone in a comfy chair. The same two propulsion units are replicated on the other side, so that control-surfaces need not apply. Circular wings are not overly efficient, but as this one looks like it's about to land within a ray of blue light in Rendlesham Forest, that probably doesn't matter.

 And talking of science fiction, Trek Aerospace have been successfully into this stuff for decades. Their proprietor gave the best speech during the aftermath, and could so far as I was concerned have bid for president (as everyone else on TV seemed to be doing at the time). Experts in ducted-fan technology, they are the sort of people who wouldn't allow an open rotor in the house (although the very-well-funded Vertical Aerospace in the UK just made the switch in that direction). It was most unexpected that this was not among the starters, as they'd won in the previous round and look set to romp home clear of the field. They had ~ like practically all of us with the hurdles having been set so high in retrospect ~ been bedevilled by any number of rebuilds.

↑ EXTRA, EXTRA! And finally, I like this one from a young European guy for its palpable simplicity, its carbon-fibre skeleton visible within the outline of its outer skin, the latter kept continuously inflated by low-power fans. Saddle up below, flick the switch and you're beyond the racecourse on a breath of wind...

Finally, let me conclude with a quote from Pratt and Whitney's 'VIP for IP' as quoted in the UK's 'New Scientist' magazine:

'The first time you do a contest like this you have a lot of failures,' says Troy Prince, an intellectual property lawyer at Pratt & Whitney. 'The next time you do it, people move a lot closer. And the third time, you suddenly have half a dozen teams making it.'

Monday, March 9, 2020

I've Got a Silver Machine (or will have soon...)

Back into the swing, and up the road to Preston to collect sheet and tubular alloy, along with foam board from the local timber-yard.

This among my favourite press-cuttings from last week, the Los Alamos Town Crier reporter having been the first to drop by. Looking at it I'm on two minds as to whether to paint the next prototype red as well, although its beginning to look like the public's colour of choice.

Although the two- by one-metre sheet aluminium fits into the Jimny, I get stopped by Traffic Officers on the M58 as they feel my view out of the windshield is obscured (as indeed it is).

I've suffered for my art.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

March-ing On

Good to get back in the saddle and overall the press from the GoFly event in San Fransisco has been favourable. There's a still a continent to travel, however ~  it's thought to have been Schopenhauer who first said that ideas evolve through ridicule and opposition, and are only eventually accepted as self-evident.

Am most proud of the fact we were the only design to have been featured on the front page of the Los Alamos Town Crier, a local newspaper that has survived seventy years despite the precipitous failure of newsprint in the face of the internet.

The fact is, with a flying phone-box we will inevitably appeal mostly to the public, although as they are the most likely to be our future customers then it suits me fine.

Henceforth I plan to reconstitute the prototype with a drone with a conventional octocopter, and accordingly I call up the Mothercare mannekin that I picked up for a song on eBay prior to travelling to California.

This baby's gonna' fly.