My grandfather was a pilot and always encouraged me to fly. He had two Cessna planes and was working on a third kit that was a two-seater. But his wife passed away early and he was never motivated to finish that kit, which was over half completed. They would fly together nearly every year to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, which hosts one of the largest aviation events in the world during the summers.
My father was also a small aircraft pilot, licensed in the mid-1970s. In the early 1980s, Microsoft Flight Simulator was one of his favorite excuses for buying a home computer. When I was about 8, my parents took me to a grass airstrip where a Doctor friend of theirs flew me up in a single seater. I was still small enough to ride along with him. All I remember was the airplane was a light blue and that it was a lot of fun to be up in the air like a bird.
The nature of my work has put me near a lot of airplanes, including experimental airplanes. But personal flying is expensive, and something my wife wasn’t much interested in, so I never had a full flight license myself. But I have flown with folks in small planes, medium planes, and plenty of commercial flights.
When home consumer 3D Printing first got popular around 2010, a few years later I came across the “T4” project online. The creator had flown his printed drone around the filming site of Lord of the Rings, for the hobbit shire portion. So I was inspired to try this as well, and saved up after a couple more years. Then it took about a year (on weekends) to get comfortable with using the 3D printer.
Also, I used this time to practice flying a drone (indoors). Like a motorcycle, start small to get the feel of things, then gradually build up to larger equipment. I used several inexpensive drones from $20 to $80. For a pure beginning, something small like the following is good:
Amazon.com: HUBSAN X4 H107C HD 2MP Camera 2.4G 4CH 6 Axis Gyro RC Quadcopter Red/White (PH-H107C) : Toys & Games
I ended up printing three T4 bodies, and trying a few variations of the landing legs. And I ended up having to use larger batteries to support the weight. Then it was a lot of reading and research to learn about what components to use: Flight Controller, Motors, Props, Video TX/RX, and setting up the controller. Old “cookbooks” no longer really worked, as part numbers changed often across suppliers, and improved components were always coming out.
For reference, the following forum discussion captures some of my build notes:
First Quad DIY build considering T4 quadcopter | Quadcopter Forum
Here are some of the reference videos of first flights.
- T4 Quad (Drone) First Flight Test – YouTube
- Magpie Flight Demo T4 – YouTube
- Ladybug Quadcopter FPV First Flight – YouTube
It was a lot of fun to make a functional FPV drone: using TinkerCAD to customize my own parts (enlarging the body, trying different landing leg designs), getting a feel for 3D printer print times and setup, wiring up the motors and flight controller, and figuring out the TX/RX video and controller setup – all fun on-the-job training.
But, then I bought a DJI Mavic Pro. For ~$1000 (used), they are so smooth, like truly having a camera on a pole. While not an FPV-type drone, it is still very intuitive to operate. The key, to me, was coupling with an iPad Mini 4 to give a broader situational awareness perspective. The video quality and stability of the Mavic immediately impressed me, all in a reasonably affordable package.
A good article on the history of drones is the following…