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RC Video Helicopter For News Organization?

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Hello!

I'm a producer at a news website that does Internet video for a major newspaper on the East Coast.

We're interested in using an RC Helicopter for breaking news or general shots as we hardly have the budget for the full-scale news chopper.

We are thinking about investing about $1,000 to start off with.

Is this even feasible? If so, does anyone have any suggestions?

FYI: Neither I nor any of my colleagues have much knowledge of RC devices or electronics.

We do however have backgrounds in conventional cameras and video.

Any advice would greatly be appreciated!!!

Thanks,

Brian

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We're interested in using an RC Helicopter for breaking news or general shots as we hardly have the budget for the full-scale news chopper.

Given the painfully small budget and lack of R/C and electronics experience: I suggest that you partner with a local photographer that uses R/C models for aerial work. Start by checking the RCAPA.net database for someone close to you.

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Hi Brian,

I am currently building a helicopter system for a movie production crew. It's probably a bit more than you need, but I can affirm as well that your price range is not even close. You can PM me and I'll give you more realistic number if you are interested.

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Well.. I'd originally be of the same opinion, quoting a minimum realistic amount maybe 10 times bigger.

BUT. With my recent experiences with cams on small helis (400 electric series), and noting the "Internet video" characteristic, something much easier might be possible.

There's no need for a 3-axis stabilised gimbal with HD camera and full mission autopilot to grab a few short shots that will end in youtube-quality FLV on a website.

It all depends on the actual conditions too. But I figure that if it's just a matter of taking off, climbing at 100m high, shoot some images in hover and forward flight at 200m distance from the pilot and landing again, a small heli like mine, with a fixed cam at the front (possibly with tilt), and flown FPV like I do could be enough.

Of course, that brings other concerns like limitation in wind force, no autopilot / failsafe so everything relies on the pilot etc, but from the strict imagery point of view I'm sure it could be enough. And the concerns would be the same or even possibly worse with something bigger (UAV category with all the related legal stuff).

There would be quite a bit of training needed however, which might be the hardest part.

But I've been quite impressed by the results I've had. It's no broadcast (actually, knowing what TVs can currently be happy with we never know) or cinema, but for the intended use it might be able to do the job.

Edited by Kilrah

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Hey Kilrah,

I thought you don't like helicopters. Is that a change of heart? :)

If it is an amateur news crew catering to youtube quality - it may be ok. By ok means that legality of the flying is very questionable and many good shots will be missed (for example can not be a windy day) or unusable. But flying with such a small budget for "Major newspaper" isn't going to work IMHO.

Edited by cyber-flyer

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A news crew with a low budget, no experience and a need to get pictures = accident to me.

Terry

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Hey Kilrah,

I thought you don't like helicopters. Is that a change of heart? :)

If it is an amateur news crew catering to youtube quality - it may be ok. By ok means that legality of the flying is very questionable and many good shots will be missed (for example can not be a windy day) or unusable. But flying with such a small budget for "Major newspaper" isn't going to work IMHO.

Well didn't you already know Cyber but YOU STARTED IT! :P The heli fever is spreading! :lol: and it's contagious! :lol:

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Hey Kilrah,

I thought you don't like helicopters. Is that a change of heart? :)

If it is an amateur news crew catering to youtube quality - it may be ok. By ok means that legality of the flying is very questionable and many good shots will be missed (for example can not be a windy day) or unusable. But flying with such a small budget for "Major newspaper" isn't going to work IMHO.

Mmh, evolution in interests? :lol:

I'm not a heli fan indeed, but I still got a cheap heli to give it a try once. Trained a few hours in normal mode, then tried some FPV. I have about 10 successful FPVs so far, done the first 5 with the first crappy heli with a lot of vibration (video on my site), then went for a second one that is much less crappy and doesn't shake :)

Only received the new one less than 2 weeks ago so it's very recent, but still...

I definitely don't find helis that interesting in normal mode, they're fun to watch but pretty boring to fly IMO ;)

On the other hand, in FPV they do offer an extra "dimension". On the first FPV with one even if it was shaky and all I had the same sort of feelings than on the first airplane FPV a few years earlier, so that really shows it brings something new in the freedom of movment.

But them things have several drawbacks, at least without any active control devices. Like, I've had trouble with the new one, which once trimmed in hovering flight will be a pain in fast forward flight always tending to pitch up when releasing forward stick and other stuff. I guess one gets used to it, but I haven't been able to fly again since I noticed that because of the weather. That made me trim it differently, which then made the landing a nightmare as it was completely out of trim. Lesson leaned, either get used to the forward pressure in flight or use different flight conditions with independent trimming for flight and landing. Will test that next time.

But the interesting point is that I did get nice stable images, and very enjoyable flights both at low and high speed, sometimes more stable than what I'm used to with planes.

As said there's the wind too, which will make it bounce around a lot. Then there's the mechanical part, that needs fine adjustment to get good results, maintenance, and will sustain heavy damage at the slightest mishap.

Which leads me to the latest step that dates from yesterday evening. I've met someone who needed a camera urgently to film images at an event today. He has one of the newest quadrocopters, tiny thing that weighs 350gr RTF with battery, fits in an alu case without folding, and supposedly could lift about 1kg of payload :o

He took it with, so I had a look at that thing, which is very well made.

According to him it solves pretty much all of the heli's snags, doesn't care about wind, obviously needs no adjustment, no maintenance as there's no moving parts apart from the props, very robust (he's seen one crash and have one of the arms buried 10cm in the ground, pilot took it out, changed prop, and took off again), very smooth and low/no vibration,...

Same, I'd always been reluctant about quadros, I've tested a draganflyer that costs nearly more but is very cheap construction, pretty unstable, a bit bulky to transport in my standards etc, but that new one really gave me a totally different impression. I'm ordering one right away and will test it. But seeing the difference between this and the heli (the owner is a big heli pilot too so could point the differences well) and what I've been able to do with my pretty basic tests on my SJM, if it lives up to its promises that could be a very interesting thing, both for FPV and for pretty high quality video. If the stated payload is real, I could even put my HD camcorder on it. Arrive on location, open case, fly, less than 5 mins to be ready. I like :)

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The heli fever is spreading!

I guess I missed the development being buried in my hole. But it's good to hear that people give heli FPV a try. :D

have about 10 successful FPVs so far
Congrats Kilrah! If it is on 400 size heli (TRex I presume) - that's impressive as the thing is pretty unstable, both with respect to wind and to attitude inputs.

be a pain in fast forward flight always tending to pitch up when releasing
Kilrah, that's a symptom of flybar not being trimmed. You need to decrease the pitch on flybar paddles (make it slightly negative if required) and you'll see that heli will start to nose dive in fast forward flight. There is a happy compromise on flybar pitch where it should fly straight without manual adjustments both in hover and forward flight.

tiny thing that weighs 350gr RTF with battery, fits in an alu case without folding, and supposedly could lift about 1kg of payload

Kind of sounds too good to be true. I'd like to test fly one if it is available - is there one for sale?

I always presumed (may be erroneously) that fixed pitch propeller will be inferior to variable pitch with respect to wind handling (due to slower response time). This is also partly due to experience with fixed pitch helicopters that handle subpar to variable pitch ones.

I agree with the main advantages of quadrotor being mechanical simplicity, but I am yet to be convinced on its wind stability. So, please let me know what your experience is going to be.

Edited by cyber-flyer

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I too have looked at the quadrotors quite close but my worries are the same as cyber flyers. I also think that a flybar is a great way to keep things stable due to instant response. Im just waiting to be convinced Im wrong :)

Terry

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Congrats Kilrah! If it is on 400 size heli (TRex I presume) - that's impressive as the thing is pretty unstable, both with respect to wind and to attitude inputs.

Yes, both TRex 400 size, thanks :)

Esky Belt-CP carbon edition as the fist one:

http://i18.photobucket.com/albums/b105/Kil.../P1280604_t.jpg

That photo was just after the first FPV :)

The thing has huge slop in the linkages and all, leading to nearly 1mm of play on the blades. Funnily enough that doesn't seem to affect normal flight too much, but it creates huge vibrations that are definitely not welcome for FPV. I spent hours trying to improve that, swapped blades, balanced, exchanged, tried to shift flybar to compensate a possible bad head balance... Always still flew well, but never changed a thing for vibration. Ended giving up on that one, and gave a look at the T-Rex. That's when I came across the SJM400, which looked good to me, nice conception, direct servo linkages, robust head parts, a minimal number of ball links, and a good reputation about vibration on forums, plus it was dirt cheap...

Got one, assembled it, tested, adjusted 2 turns on one link to correct tracking, put camera, perfect image. Zero play on the head. 10 more minutes of flight to be sure it behaved OK, then first FPV which was a blast :)

http://i18.photobucket.com/albums/b105/Kil.../P1020098_t.jpg

http://i18.photobucket.com/albums/b105/Kil.../P1020117_t.jpg

http://i18.photobucket.com/albums/b105/Kil...P1020117_t2.jpg

Short video of the thing. The crappy lines were because of me trying to run the cam off the ESC's UBEC. Test obviously failed ;)

Other one, just testing control authority bit at least no lines

Regarding size and component placement, it's just like if it was made for it, can even put the still cam under it :P (not flown with it yet, but with equal weight and it was OK, sloppy but flyable)

http://i18.photobucket.com/albums/b105/Kil.../P1020052_t.jpg

Wind stability: I only tried in relatively calm air as of yet. Control input: 30% expo ;)

Many thanks for the paddle tip, I'll try it first thing next time! Only snag is that as I really had FPV in mind when getting into helis I'm still not capable of anything more than hovering and a few slow 8's in front of me, so I'm useless at testing in normal mode :P

Any idea for a tendency to go to the right? Move only one paddle?

For the quadro, I just read a bit on it and it seems to be more like 500gr max. for real flight - more like a guy flew it at 1kg total just a short moment. That would already be enough for me though :)

I always presumed (may be erroneously) that fixed pitch propeller will be inferior to variable pitch with respect to wind handling (due to slower response time). This is also partly due to experience with fixed pitch helicopters that handle subpar to variable pitch ones.

Well, if I believe the guy I saw yesterday he says that next to his T-Rex-es it's just another world. I don't think you can compare the quad to a FP heli. There's no gear, no swashplate, a super light prop and a motor that has 4x more power than needed for hovering... that gives for good dynamics. The guys have their BL motors made especially for it, and have developed their controllers to be optimised for that use and with that precise motor/prop combo, with an ultra fast response. Gyros on the 3 axes with different sets of parameters and control modes depending on what you want, allowing for full attitude hold if wanted. Picture the yaw control of a high-end 3D heli that can fly 100km/h sideways with the tail staying perfectly in place, and replicate that performance on the other 2 axes...

But yes, I'm not the type to believe stuff blindly, and want to do my own tests to be convinced... just that my first impressions of the thing in indoor flight, the lovely construction and the reports make me very confident.

It seems delivery times are quite long, but as soon as it's there you'll know it :P

Also, it's not really of a toy, a mere ~$900 for the thing. About half of it being the motors/controllers, about a quarter for the mainboard and sensor board, and the last quarter for the carbon/magnesium airframe. Comes with RX and USB cable, all the regulation parameters can be tweaked on the PC and loaded as 4 separate sets you can then select on the field with jumpers. I like :D

Edited by Kilrah

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Also, it's not really of a toy, a mere ~$900 for the thing.

I hate to go off topic, but that sounds like an excellent price. Can you post a link to the ARF model?

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Thanks for the link. That helped me find good information on the rcgroups forum (which is helpful since I cannot read the German sales site). One old discussion with good background info: http://www.rcgroups.com/forums/showthread....&highlight=XUFO

With luck, there will be more introductions to these designs (clone wars), just like what we saw in the micro-heli market over the last couple years. I'm interested in something a bit bigger to carry my gear (wind is a concern too), but the XUFO is very compelling.

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The big difference between that and the helis is that there's virtually no mechanics in there, and thus the margin for variations is much tighter IMO. Once the control stuff is done, motor power and the related prop size are pretty much all that will change. Airframe has very limited influence. As long as you have something that can hold the stuff, you're good.

Edited by Kilrah

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Any idea for a tendency to go to the right? Move only one paddle?
Do you mean roll clockwise in FF? No easy fix, that depends on the main rotor head design from what I observed.

Got one, assembled it, tested, adjusted 2 turns on one link to correct tracking, put camera, perfect image. Zero play on the head.

That image looks great from vibration point of view. Is the camera directly mounted to the frame?

Picture the yaw control of a high-end 3D heli that can fly 100km/h sideways with the tail staying perfectly in place

I do, but yaw control is variable pitch :) . But I see what you are saying, with overpowered motors and agressive brakes on ESC it will be possible to speed up/slow down light bladed props and modulate the thrust fast enough.

a mere ~$900 for the thing

I agree with Mr. RC-CAM, $900 is not bad if it is as good as you say.

Edited by cyber-flyer

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Yeah, directly screwed, totally rigid mounting.

The roll thing is not as strong as pitch, it's just the matter of 2 clicks of trim, but I didn't know if there was a simple fix too :)

$900 is very good, we paid much more for the draganflyer V Ti about 1 year ago (still $800 now!) and it's a real crud next to it. The frame isn't rigid, geared brushed motors with slow turning props (on this the lack of response can really be seen, it really isn't stable, even in calm weather it will always oscillate a bit on pitch/roll). The material the props are made is awful too, it has some shape memory that will make them useless as soon as you let them touch something that holds them bent for a few minutes, which always happens during transport. You can nearly have a set of new props for each outing if you don't want vibration...

I actually never took the control of that one, only watched friend flying it. That was enough to realise it was close to useless. BTW it's for sale, who wants? :P

Edited by Kilrah

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If it's as good as you say Kilrah then you should be paying me to take it :P

Terry

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