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Field Equipment Ideas

The field equip: Click for larger photoEvery once in awhile someone asks me what I use at the field to watch my airborne video. So, I thought I would share what has worked well for me. Perhaps you will see something that you like.

For the longest time I carried a VHS camcorder, small 12V battery, XCam receiver, and a couple of cables, in a cardboard box. When I got to the field, I unpacked it all, attached some cables, and started recording. The camcorder's viewfinder doubled as a realtime viewing monitor.

But a couple of years ago I got tired of peering into the tiny viewfinder, so I added a battery powered B/W TV monitor. At the same time, I decided that I needed to revamp my luggage system. For sure, the cardboard box was getting a little worn out.

I started searching for a low cost carrying case. I looked at soft bags, backpacks, tool chests, and just about everything in between. Nothing seemed to interest me, so I searched for weeks. You can't imagine the thrilled looks a wife will offer when you drag her from store to store in search of an elusive plastic case.

Porter-Cable Saw Case - Perfect choice!Then I found it. I was crawling around the attic one day and I noticed that I had saved the carrying case to my Porter-Cable circular saw. It was a bit dusty, but it had never been used. Sure, the saw had a few miles on it by this time, but even it never left the garage. So, the storage case had seem useless to me.

Useless? Not any more. The plastic case fit my equipment like a glove. Most folks that see it think it was designed for my gear.

Inside the case: Glove-like fit!All I had to do was use a cut-off wheel on my electric Dremel tool to make openings for the GelCell battery and the XCam receiver. The little B/W monitor is framed by some resilient foam that is glued around its base. When the lid is closed other foam bits hold the monitor and battery in place. Even if I drop it, the contents are protected.

By the way, the B/W monitor has a story behind it too. I was at Longs Drug store one day (Xmas 1999) and they had a stack of 5" B/W TV's on sale for only $19.95. This tiny set even had a AM/FM tuner, ran on AC, Alkaline batteries, or automotive power.

It did not have external A/V Jacks, but hey, that is what hacking is for. Within a couple of hours I had reversed-engineered the video circuitry and added a toggle switch that selects the TV tuner or external audio/video. I built up a cable that allowed me to use the 12V GelCell for power (shared with the video Rx). It has worked great since day one and the price was right.

I would offer the instructions to hack the TV monitor, but stores are now full of cheap portable TV's with AV jacks. I recently saw one on sale at K-Mart for $34.95. The Target discount store chain also sells them for only $39.95. These are USA stores, so those of you in other countries will have to just search around for a low cost AV jack equipped TV set.

Wait, There's More.

A few months ago I purchased a 100mW transmitter (import type "tuna can" video system) and had to accommodate its receiver and antenna. I thought about mounting it on the carrying case, but I ended up doing something totally different.

The main issue is that I wanted to be able to easily position the antenna. I had taken a spare XCam Rx patch antenna and added a short piece of coax (RG-174) and SMA connector to it. I found this antenna to work much better than the stock whip that came with the new receiver. Now I had to find a way to deal with a dangling patch antenna.

I decided to either build or buy a tripod stand. At first I was using my aluminum camera tripod, but I decided it was too nice for this application. In the end, I built my own articulated Rx/Antenna stand.

PVC Rx/Antenna Stand: Click for bigger photoThe stand is nothing more than $3 worth of PVC sprinkler pipe and fittings. I began by making a plastic base for the receiver and patch antenna. I used pieces of 0.060" styrene plastic. It cuts very easily if you score it with a knife and then snap it apart. Pieces are glued together with plastic model cement. You can also use wood (hobby plywood perhaps).

The patch antenna mounts on an extension that extends from the top of the home built plastic base. I wanted to keep the patch away from the other metal surfaces to ensure trouble free reception. The photo offers the details.

The PVC stand is built using 1/2" schedule 40 sprinkler pipe. This is commonly available at most USA hardware stores, but is harder to find in other countries. If you don't like the white color, then walk over to the electrical department and buy 1/2 inch plastic electrical conduit instead. It is gray. By the way, a ten foot piece will make several stands.

You will also need three 1/2 inch "T" fittings and one 90º elbow. Get the slip type, not the fittings that are threaded. Be sure to grab a can of PVC cement while you are at it. The photos show the basic stand layout -- I'll let you figure out the rest.

Patch can articulate along the vertical axis. Click for larger photo.The trick is to not use any glue on the horizontal end of the 90º elbow, so that the pipe in it can be twisted for different angles. The pipe will have a nice friction fit, so the Rx/Antenna assembly will stay put. I milled a thru-slot and installed a keeper screw, so 90º travel is allowed while preventing the Rx base from getting loose of the elbow. This is really not necessary.

The above photo shows the patch in a fully vertical position, which is useless for aerial applications (but good for car/boat/robot mounted video cameras).  The photo on the right shows the patch at a typical angle that I might use at the field when I fly my R/C heli or airplane.

Antenna stand attaches to case. Click for large photo. The Rx/Antenna stand can also mount onto the lid of the carrying case. If you look closely at the photo on the left, the front legs are slipped into the latches of the Porter-Cable case. The ground operator can simply rotate the entire case to obtain the best picture, something that is easy to do while you peer into the TV screen.

Lastly, the main vertical pipe is NOT glued onto the "H" style floor stand. For storage, I pull the pipe out of the floor stand (Rx/Antenna stays with the vertical pipe). The separated base and antenna assemblies easily fit in a closet with all my other hobby gear.

Hopefully you gleaned some ideas from my experience. For sure, I may have given you a very good reason to buy a new circular saw.

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