Hack-It-Yerself

First Person View flying, the ultimate RC plane.

As long as I can remember I have dreamed of making an RC plane just big enough to strap myself into. This probably had its genesis back in a chance encounter I had as a small child with some dudes and their giant RC aircraft at a local park. As I sat there staring at the beautiful huge red toy one of them joked “Wanna go for a ride?”

“Can I?!?!?”

“No. Not really, that would be a bad idea.” came the soul crushing answer. Indeed, although it looked almost big enough, the plane crunched into the ground shortly thereafter – which kinda highlighted a few inherent issues with strapping a small child into an unmanned flying toy. (Although as a direct result, a few dizzy lizards did get to fly Frisbee Airlines as test pilots, courtesy of our old friend Mr. Duck-tape).

In my mind, the basic problem was that the pilot wasn’t actually on board the aircraft ,which caused all kinds of dyslexia-inducing panic for the person flying the toy. “Oops, I turned the wrong way”. Had *I* been flying it never would have crashed, came my overly simplistic conclusion.

This concept provided me with years of entertainment and fantasy as my imagination tried to figure out a way to actually fly on a miniature aircraft. Eventually, it was realized that ultralights or wingsuits were probably as close as I could ever get. But, wouldn’t it be cool to have a video feed instead?

Sure, the military now has some great UAV toys, but you can’t exactly borrow one for the weekend and run around buzzing a bunch of sheep with it…

… or can you?

Take one high-performance RC aircraft, add a small HD video cam, RF video link and video goggles, and behold, FPV flying! The recipe for sheer awesomeness…

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Miniaturization and technology have finally gotten to the point where we can ALL take a ride on-board and experience flying in real time. I’m not talking about just recording your flight, this is actual flight control via remote/virtual pilot!

Known as First Person View flying, these relatively inexpensive contraptions allow the feeling of Close Proximity Flying normally reserved for wingsuit jumpers, but for extended periods of time and without all that danger of actually dying.

 Some folks upgrade their setups with options such as pan & tilt and gyro stabilization for the cameras, or headtrackers that allow the camera to move where you look while using video goggles. There are even auto-pilot and GPS tracking modules available, allowing the plane to navigate by itself or return home safely if the RF link is disrupted, or you just plain get lost.

All of this makes for some of the coolest videos I’ve seen in quite a while.

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If you would like to build your own setup, Google FPV, or visit either RCExplorer or RPVPilot.com for basic tutorials on what you need to get started.

It’s not exactly cheap (expect about $4K to get started), but probably less costly than flying straight into a cliff or tree with your head. Also, just in case someone wants to know what to get me for Christmas… hint hint.

(full disclosure, this author has ZERO affiliation with any product, website or company featured within this article, but would GLADLY accept one for Christmas because they are just so damn cool).

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8 comments to First Person View flying, the ultimate RC plane.

  • Lotte

    I will need one of these things. I always mix up my rights and lefts just playing on the horizontal plane (rc cars.) and I've seen plenty of model airplane crashes on Youtube. As for those people who build huge models of jumbo passenger jets with actual jet engines and then landing them without these goggle things? Massive respect.

    (brb gonna fire up flight sim)

    • The Professor

      I'm with you. A buddy of mine took me out to fly a R/C trainer, and man, do I suck at it. I'd fly nice and level for about 15 seconds, try a turn, and flip upside down. My buddy would have to take over and get the plane straightened out, and I'd try it again. Ka-flip! And I was tits up again. Meanwhile, all around me we kids 1/3 my age flying some beautiful planes perfectly. One guy noticed my trouble and started flying around my plane, upside down but under perfect control. Smartassed punk. I handed the controls back to my friend and told him I'd prefer to watch for a while. I haven't been invited back.
      Yeah, I have a ton of respect for the guys who can fly R/C vehicles properly and without augering in on the landings. It's harder than it looks. And those great big models with jets or 4 prop engines? Incredible talent.

      • Lotte

        Well, at least you manage to didn't crash it; an RC car will accidentally careen towards a wall, but an RC plane can end up in pieces on the ground.

        And some of those beautiful multi-jet-engined behemoths are so well done, you'd think they'd be crazy to fly it. Then they do. Crazy. I'd just settle for building a large scale Boeing 777 and sit it somewhere as a conversation piece.

  • sport_wagon

    You can pick up a Parrot AR.Drone for about 300 bucks.
    http://www.amazon.com/Parrot-AR-Drone-Quadricopte

    It has a camera that streams video to iOS or Android devices.

    • That's a pretty cool and cost effective idea.

      My concern as an old cellular engineer, is the propagation and processing delays of the RF signals would make it virtually useless to fly by in close proximity situations, not to mention any bottle-necking/call drops of the data.

      Beep-beep, *Network unavailable*

      Oh crap, where's my plane?!?!

  • Mr_Biggles

    While not quite as cool as doing it with an airplane, Make Mag had a how-to on the same thing with a R/C buggy a while back.
    http://makeprojects.com/Project/Living-Room-Baja-

  • FЯeeMan

    What kind of serious transmitting equipment are those people and planes packing? Some of that video, especially the 2nd one, looked like it was ranging a LONG way away from anywhere reasonable for the pilot to be…

    And yeah, Sparky, if you get a couple of takers on the Christmas gift suggestion, I don't mind regifting in the least.

  • texlenin

    Anybody know the name of the music track on the winter vid?
    That's a damn snappy tune….

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