Friday, August 3, 2018

Flying the SYMA X5C quad, loads of fun for $35.

I have owned several Phantom pros and a Mavic pro, but I would still highly recommend that anyone thrilled by flying drones invest in a $35 Syma X5C or similar toy drone!   No GPS, no altitude hold, no position hold and no headless mode.  Just fun flying!

Durable too!   It is so lightweight that when it falls from the sky and lands on anything semi-soft like grass, weeds or even dirt, it doesn't get hurt.  I've clipped guy wires, powerlines, trees and branches and the worst damage that I've incurred was a cracked body.  A bit of Bondic and it's back up flying again!

The worst danger for your Syma X5c is losing it in the wind. There is no position hold and contrary to what some have said, that the Syma shouldn't be flown in the wind, I find flying it on a windy day especially fun!  I have had it out flying (in high speed mode) in winds up to 25mph, both steady and gusty winds.  High speed mode is a necessity so have the control available to counteract the wind, but don't get distracted or disoriented or you can count on needing to take a bit of a walk to retrieve the thing, it will zoom off downwind pretty quickly!

I've bent a few propeller drive shafts and worn out some plastic gears, and I just retrieved one that has been stuck in the top of one of my trees outside for nearly 3 weeks, and that during some real downpours.  It was at least 35 feet in the topmost branch, hooked solidly in the leaves and small branches of the upper limb.  I tried 3 different methods to retrieve it, casting a line (too small a target), a 40' pole to dislodge it (too bendy to have any effect), and finally, my 17 year old son climbing as high as he safely could and passing him a 10' pole.  He just knocked it down.  After 3 weeks and a few rain storms, I put in a new battery, recalibrated it and it flew like a champ!  

This is a pretty fun little toy and a good drone trainer, you know, in case you lose both GPS and Glonass, and altitude hold, RTH and FPV on your Phantom 4 pro, you'll still be able to fly it home again.  

You never know...

Thursday, January 4, 2018

What's going on in my backyard???

I notice a HUGE pile of dirt appearing on my southern horizon this winter. Flying the drone south, I notice a really large pit appearing that looks the the beginnings of a landfill.  I'll keep you informed.  There will be lot's of people affected in the southern part of Weld County of Colorado

Monday, December 4, 2017

Phantom 3 Professional - ESC Failure in Flight/Crash!

My P3P Crashed!  But the GPS Location was perfect...

To make a long story short:  DJI replaced my P3P with a new (I presume that it was a refurbished) P3P.  They didn't say that they would and they charged me about $90 for an hour of labor and some camera gimbal servos, but in the end, I believe that it was worth it.  I had repaired the cracks and so I had been inside the P3P.  They gave me a good, and fair replacement.  I'd certainly buy from DJI again, I believe that they are an honorable company.


I walked right up to my Phantom 3 Professional after it crashed.  I was flying in FPV mode with Litchi and everything was proceeding normally until my drone started fluttering/spinning in the sky at 334 feet altitude and fell right to the ground.  What happened!  There was very little time to react, even if there was something that I could do.  I recall that I commanded a full up left stick to try and reduce the rate of decent but the whole event lasted about 11 seconds.

The total air time was only 1 minute and 41 seconds.  There was no prior indication of the upcoming ESC failure, other than an uncommanded 180 degree right turn 20 seconds before total failure.  

Gosh, that's a lot of energy and it showed on the fuselage. But as it turns out, the actual impact speed was about 1/2 of the free-fall calculations.  Those other three motors were trying there best to remedy the situation but there was no hope.   A quad simply cannot fly with only three good motors.  ( Update:  As it turns out, a quad CAN fly with only 3 motors, but a DJI Phantom 3 Pro can't and this seems to be a software issue)

This is a classic video of an ESC failure in flight.   Hopefully, DJI will agree and replace my IMU board and bent 4k camera.  I'm heartsick that the drone that I've hand caught for over 200 flights and more than 29 hours of flight time just face planted into the ground!!!

Are you kidding me!

Just when I thought DJI was the pinnacle of quad technology, something like this is on YouTube from 5 years ago!  In other words, Abigail didn't have to crash!  Let's see what DJI does.

Take a look at the video above, it'll amaze you!

Update:  DJI First reply:

"Dear Customer, Unfortunately, damage that is not caused by a product malfunction or is out of the warranty period is not covered by DJI aftersales policy. We will either repair it or replace it with a product that's new or equivalent to new in both performance and reliability after payment has been received. For more information, please visit DJI North America"

Update December 2017:  Although the form letter said that the crash wouldn't be covered by warranty, I received back a newly refurbished Phantom 3 Professional. (Actually, it turned out to be a Phantom 3 Advanced with a 4K camera attached.  The range was noticeably lower than the Pro)   Before I sent it back, I applied the plast-aid fix to the rear motor mounts, but this fix was not there so they must have provided a new body and a new camera and a new main board. So I'm very happy with what I received back from DJI, the total time for repair was about 3 weeks and the new quad is flying well.  It has a different serial number and no wear on the serial number sticker which occurs by taking the battery in and out over time so this is a newly refurbished quad.  I'll let you know how it goes, but I'm happy with DJI again!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

My UpAir One won't arm it's motors! (again!)

Well this appears to be the same problem that I sent my quad back to Banggood a few months ago.  I'm better at taking it apart now and honestly, this one was my fault...  I was out flying a distance away and triggered a RTH (return to home) because of weak signal strength but after the quad returned to LOS from me, I overrode the RTH and began to fly around locally.  Well, it's well known (at least to me) that if you override RTH, then that's your last free ticket with the Upair, the next failure, such as a low battery RTH will fail and the quad will fall out of the sky!!!  (and that's what happened!)

After picking up my camera and the broken landing gear, (my UpAir fell from about 60' on soft sand!)  I tried starting the motors again but it wouldn't arm any longer.  I took apart the drone to look for any loose or broken components but there wasn't anything visibly wrong so I just kinda left it on the bench for a couple of months while I tried to research the issue.  I've had luck with heating some electronic components to I got out my heat gun and heated up the SD card where it had been super glued by Banggood.  I gave it good heat cycle, probably 300-400° for about 60 seconds and after letting it cool again I mounted the battery on the board and tried powering it up.  After a normal startup sequence, I tried to arm the motors again and VIOLA, IT WORKED!.  

Well that would explain Banggood super-gluing the SD card in.  A loose connection on the card would cause the quad not to be able to complete it's boot sequence and not let the motors arm.  

Update:  I'm not positive that the SD card was the problem, I also heated up the IC located on the center of the daughter board.  It also could be that component but it's enough of an issue to take the UpAir apart that I wanted to heat both components just in case.

The bottom line is that my UpAir is STILL flying and although I haven't electronically logged each flight as I have with my Phantom 3 Pro, I've flown the UpAir just as much or even more.   Right now, I have 30 hours and 201 flights on my Phantom 3 Pro, and I have at least that much on the UpAir too!

More about this:

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Upair One - No MAV data

Are you sitting there with your UpAir One on the shelf because the motors just won't arm?  Well,  I have been there twice now!    No MAV Data, motors won't arm is my previous experience with sending my drone back to Banggood.  The only change that I could see was that the internal SD card was super-glued into it's mount rather than the silicone (RTV) that was as the original craft was delivered to me.

Well, after a crash, which was my fault after an override on a low battery RTH, my quad sat on my table for 2 months until I had an idea.  Sometimes heating a circuit board will  repair it.  I decided to take the heat gun to the SD card and viola!  After heating the SD card (still superglued in by Banggood) I plugged in the battery and tried to arm the motors and it worked!.  I put the quad back together and took it outside and flew it for the first time in over two months!

My supposition is that the reason the Bangood superglued the SD card in is that it's having trouble with connections in their SD mount.  It's not that it's working loose, but that the connections are poor or the the SD card itself is of poor quality.  I don't know, but the problem appears to be centered around the internal SD card.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Total Eclipse in Arthur, Nebraska (2017)

Despite all of the warnings about massive traffic jams we decided to travel from Brighton, Colorado to Arthur, Nebraska which was in the path of totality.   We ran into some morning fog on I-76 that was pretty thick in places, but the traffic was normal and when not slowed by fog, we were able to drive the speed limit heading towards I-80 and while heading back home.  On this route, the crowds failed to materialize.

I decided to fly the P3P during totality and capture a panorama of the area but as it turns out, I forgot to press 'Record' after landing the drone and inserting a fresh battery at 2 minutes and 30 seconds before totality!   All I can say, is that you had to be there.  Even these guys that recorded the space station transiting the sun during the eclipse, forgot to take the lens cap off of their telescopes because of the awesomeness of the event!  I got some good video, but theirs is better.  Watch this video too.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Rats!!! Stress Cracks in my Phantom 3 Professional!

I suppose that it had to happen, I purchased this refurbished P3P from Amazon on June 14th but at 108 flights and 15.25 hours flight time, but my P3P developed two rather substantial stress cracks in the rear arms, just where everyone else is experiencing them after only 57 days! 

In my opinion, these cracks aren't caused by overtightning the two frame screws just inside the motor mount screws.  These are specifically made not to stress the plastic by using stand-off screws.  These screws have a large barrel that slips through the plastic and compresses agains the metal insert in the upper shell.  The lower shell shouldn't be stressed by these.  No, In my opinion, the plastic formulation of the aircraft body, perhaps aided by the lack of rigidity in the join of top and bottom halves is the culprit and that can only be solved by re-designing the top and bottom enclosures.   I suspect that is why DJI added the plastic "locks" on the P3, to help bind the top and bottom shells together.

I decided to repair my drone rather than use the warranty replacement that is available (My drone is less than 2 months into a 12 month warranty period) because of the delay I've read about, (6-8 weeks) and partially because I believe that DJI will just use new but defective cases to fix the issue.  I want to fix the issue and not just delay it's re-occurrence.

BTW - I know, I should have rotated my phone to take this video.  Oh well, next time.

I've decided to go with the Plast-Aid fix.  This seems like it will strengthen the arms sufficiently and beyond that, I've decided to apply a tape element to join the top and bottom enclosures of the fuselage and make them a single component.   I don't want to glue the top to the bottom because of the difficulty of separating them in the future, but I want to select a strong adhesive tape that will strengthen the enclosure.

Well, my Bondic arrived before the Plast-Aid so I fixed the cracks with Bondic.   Amazing stuff, but my wife said that she's been using this for 30 years now and I just should have borrowed some of her UV nail polish!  I'm pretty sure it's not the same, but Bondic really works great to stop the cracks.  3-4 seconds of the UV lamp and Bondic solidifies very well,  I sanded the arm and it looks as good as new!  I still want to add a bit of Plast-aid to the lower arm before flying again, but this looks like it will be a good fix.

So after adding the Plast-aid, this is what my lower rear arms look like.

Update: Now at 128 flights and 3 hours additional flight time (18h 02m 27s total flight time).  The rear motor mounts aren't showing any additional signs of cracking.  Either in the existing cracks or in any new areas.  I'll be inspecting these arms closely over the next few months and let you know if I see anything.

Update: Now at 149 flights and another 3-4 hours of flight time.( 21h 47m 08s) of total flight time.  I've located two VERY small cracks emanating from the two frame screws opposite of the original cracks that I applied the smallest amount of Bondic to check them from spreading.  These are trivial associated cracks but worth logging.   Overall, I'm pleased with the Plast-aid/Bondic repair protocol. The rear motor arms are very solid and seem to be fixed well but cracks on the Phantom are an issue to be sure.

Update: 169 flights and 25 hours total flight time.  No additional cracking and the rear arms are still very solid!  61 additional flights and 10 hours of flight time since the repair.  I bought a new Phantom 3 Pro shell, just in case this didn't work, but now I'm sure that if I do change the case, that I'll make sure to fill the lower arm motor mounts with Plast-aid prior to mounting the motors.  This stuff looks like it works great and fixes the problem.

Update: 199 flights and 30 hours total flight time.  This is an additional 15 hours of flight time and there's no further cracking, so I think these arms are essentially fixed.  If new cracks occur, I don't believe that they will be related to the original cracks.  I would heartily endorse using Plast-aid and Bondic to repair rear arm cracks in the Phantom 3 pro.  It appears to work well!