19 February 2011

Kiwi Flight Part 1: Hexa XL Mikrokopter Beginner Steps

Today was the first flight of my Hexa XL.  I drove to Kosice (in Slovakia) two weekends ago, spending around 12 hours on the road (there and back again).  From his small (but extremely well-organised and well-stocked) apartment, Ing. Miroslav Vasilko completed the construction of the kit of the Hexa XL, based on the sophisticated design of the Mikrokopter team in Germany.

First glimpse in Miroslav's office

Doesn't everyone have a 3D milling machine in their office?
The smart electronics of the MK

Test flight with experienced pilot

We rented a gymnasium for the test flight, and Miroslav showed me the basic controls for its maiden flight, which verified everything was nicely operating and well-balanced.  I wasn't quite ready to take the controls for a full cycle of take-off and landing, but I learned the basics of how to increase thrust and rotate the machine left or right.

I returned to Vienna, and started my training by installing a RC Helicopter flight simulator on an old Windows XP laptop.  I immediately learned that the simulator was a great investment.  I must have crashed the virtual choppers at least a hundred times, learning the basics of the dual joystick controls.
My JR DSX11 RC controller

The simulator controller looks a little different from the RC controller.  Its controls also function a little differently too, so I was a little nervous when I finally found the opportunity to take my Hexa out for some actual flight time. 

Having never flown any sort of Radio-Control model aircraft before, I was a little nervous about how I would manage the XL.  Although it has a reputation as a very stable platform, and despite my dozens of hours on the simulator, I was not looking forward to a possible crash.

Today's weather was overcast, with sporadic rain showers -- again, not ideal for a maiden flight, especially with a slightly gusty wind.  After shopping for the week's groceries, it was after 2 p.m. before I headed outside, determined to give it a decent go.  It was 3 degrees Celcius, so I didn't want to stay outdoors for too long.

Near my house is an empty field, which during summer is worked for silage crops by one of the local farmers.  I set up my video camera on a tripod, and set down the XL onto the ground.  I ran a few pre-flight checks, then started the engines.  The first few minutes were spent edging closer and closer to lift-off, but each time I noticed the platform was uneven, tipping one way or another, so I eased off on the power.

After adjusting the balance of the empty camera holder mounted underneath, I decided to use the roll and pitch controls to compensate for the apparent instability during takeoff, as well as ensuring that the nose was pointed into the prevailing wind.   Somehow, I found the right combination, and had the thrill of my first flight!

As you will see in the linked video, I still have some issues about the height controls.  Even though I make tiny adjustments to the throttle, I find that the challenge of maintaining a constant height is not easy, and once or twice I bounced the craft off the ground, before recovering again.  I'm trying to fly nose-out, as this is how I trained in the simulator.  The Hexa has been set up with brightly colored LEDs to show the nose, but I didn't always keep the correct orientation.

After a few bounces, I realized I could call them "test landings", and when I was ready, guided the bird in for its "official" touch down.  Who says kiwis can't fly?