Photo: Air Hogs X4

Not too long ago I finished up a Raspberry PI project, Tracking Aircraft on Raspberry PI.  I have been thinking about a next project.  Most of us know about drones the military uses.  If your a tech junkie like me you have probably watched a video or two of RC hobbyist flying multi-rotor camera platforms.  If your starting you might not be aware of the level of sophistication and public interest in this area.  Multi-rotor copters are not a fad they are taking the world by storm.  My interest was peaked when I saw an (First Person View) FPV multi-rotor racing video.

Multi-rotor racing is a crazy fast hobby where pilots wear VR type goggles or attach small profile monitors on their transmitters.  The pilot’s view while flying is out the front of the aircraft.  Flying is similar to playing a first person shooter video game.  No point in explaining it, see for yourself (video).

Watching drone racing videos got my blood pumping so I started reading some articles on multi-rotor craft.  One of the articles I read recommended buying a low cost aircraft and get some flight time before you invest in anything expensive.  Yes, I know when your driving you don’t ask for directions.  You probably don’t read manuals for anything.  This is different and it’s extremely good advice!  Flying these craft is not as easy as you might believe and crashing a low cost aircraft is far better than crashing an expensive aircraft.  Following is my favorite rookie Youtube crash video.  I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Keep in mind the DJI Inspire 1 aircraft featured in the Youtube video retails around $3000 USD.  The entire aircraft is not destroyed but I’m sure it’s an expensive lesson.  You have to walk before you can run is the saying.  With this out of the way, I will describe a few of my experiences so far.   To start my flight training, I purchased an Air Hogs X4 (photo top of page) for around $80 USD.  The unit is very light weight.  It’s made from styrofoam like a drink cooler.  It fly’s reasonably well.  I broke some chunks of foam from some hard crashes.  The foam was easily repaired with a hot glue gun.  Getting some flights under my belt on the X4 was helpful.  After some time on the Air Hog X4, I came upon the Hubsan X4.  Don’t let the common X4 in the aircraft name fool you; both the Huban and Air Hog are entirely different aircraft.

Photo: Hubsan X4 H107C

The Hubsan X4 is a really cool Ready To Fly (RTF) quadcopter.  Mine cost me about $80 USD at a hobby shop.   I purchased H107C.  There are 3 models you can choose, 1) the standard quad model H107L, 2) quad with a camera model H107C, 3) and FPV equipped quad H107D FPV X4.  All 3 aircraft build upon the same basic X4 design and all fit in the palm of your hand.  Both the H107 and H107D include an extra board for recording and transmitting video, respectively.  I have not clocked the air time but it’s about 3-5 mins depending upon the model, conditions, and how you fly.   A word on Hubsan, incredible for the price.  There are some limitations for these tiny aircraft like wind.  They are fairly stable under no or very light wind conditions but it’s tough to maneuver under moderate winds.

Photo: Neighborhood at 100ft (30.4m)
Again, no formal measurements but I estimate my Hubsan X4 top speed is around 25-30mihr max or 40-48kmhr.  You can fly them indoors or outdoors.  I cannot say enough good things about flying the Hubsan X4 and it’s the starter craft I recommend.  If you crash and you will, an advantage of the light weight is they are very rugged and hard to break.  Hubsan includes extra parts with the aircraft but also sells any extra you need.  Extra propellers and extra batteries are handy for less down time between flights.
A few words on safety for those in the USA.  For those interested FAA has some guidelines and a helpful info graphic on flying hobby aircraft.  Please review any rules that may be applicable for your area before starting your own projects.  Especially, any FPV projects.  Broadcasting video on any of frequencies assigned to current market FPV gear likely requires an Amateur Radio License.  An Amature license is more of a formality but you should be aware.  Also a safety consideration is weight, my urban shot made with the Hubsan X4 that has a takeoff weight of 31g.  Be kind to your neighbors, don’t fly any significant aircraft in or over urban or other populated areas.  Use some common sense.  And no flights over or near the White House.  What the hell was this guy thinking?  More on building your own later.  Happy flying.