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Old Aug 04, 2015, 08:23 PM
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dogfighting *hydrogen* Battle Blimps go boom

Some friends and I have been working on a blimpin' project that we're getting ready to unleash on the world. Ladies and Gentlemen, presenting: Battle Blimps! These armed war machines will make their fiery debut at the Burning Man festival in a few weeks.

The concept is this: Build three-axis RC blimps, controlled over 2.4GHz (Bluetooth actually), add a puncture weapon next to a nichrome wire igniter coil, and fill them with hydrogen at low pressure. Put four in a dome, and give four players Xbox 360 controllers to fly them around. The last blimp that hasn't fallen out of the sky on fire wins.

There were a lot of challenges, like powering everything (including electric igniter) off a tiny battery, and being able to reuse the electronics and frame after the blimp explodes. But things are going well. Including the 40mah lipo, the blimps weigh just a bit over 20 grams. The electronics and motors are mounted a ways out from the balloon so they don't get the full heat of the fire, and the frame is made of thin steel (piano wire) that can survive it.

All of the hardware/software is open source, see github/etc links in our Instructable. The final PCB designs will be released soon after we test them. We're making a few extra PCBs to give away as "perks" for supporters of our crowdfunding campaign (there is a link within the Instructable -- I'm not sure if it's okay to post Indiegogo links here).

More info here: http://www.instructables.com/id/Battle-Blimps/

To everyone else sharing your awesome DIY builds -- THANK YOU! Our efforts were inspired and helped by the RC / blimp communities.
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Old Aug 07, 2015, 06:17 PM
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Have you been able to make one catch fire using the hot wire? Assuming you are filling them with 100% hydrogen and not some hydrogen/oxygen mixture... I would be surprised if they ignite.
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Old Aug 07, 2015, 07:31 PM
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Have you been able to make one catch fire using the hot wire? Assuming you are filling them with 100% hydrogen and not some hydrogen/oxygen mixture... I would be surprised if they ignite.
It works! There is some video of ignition tests if you click through the link.

But good point -- if we just tried to light pure hydrogen it wouldn't work! What happens when battle blimps collide is that the gas envelope gets punctured by the needle/razor weapon. A bunch of hydrogen leaks out and mixes with air, and then it's lit by the igniter coil. This fire destroys the balloon and then the rest of the hydrogen burns. It's pretty quick, but not an explosion.
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Old Aug 07, 2015, 08:22 PM
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So the igniter must be set back a ways from the needle tip to keep it from being inside the balloon after a collision then. It's a pretty neat concept, I guess you would have to be able to keep the envelope costs very low since you will be repeatedly destroying them. Normally the envelope is the most expensive part of a blimp.

Where are you buying your hydrogen, is that something that local commercial gas vendors have in stock? I want to start using it in place of helium just for the cost savings. The risk is highly overrated.
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Old Aug 07, 2015, 08:29 PM
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I found the igniter test video... that's pretty neat. Looks like burning plastic falling from the air could be an issue since this will be indoors.

Overall this is pretty cool though, nice work on such a small scale blimp! Tiny is hard to do when it comes to blimps.
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Old Aug 10, 2015, 01:20 PM
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Yes, we're able to buy the hydrogen from a local vendor, and yes it's cheaper than helium in addition to providing additional buoyancy. You can take an online course in safely handling hydrogen, and I'd definitely recommend you do this if you are working with hydrogen. If you have a leak or a bubble of hydrogen building up in a room, that could be very dangerous. We still do use helium for some flight tests / non-combustion demos just to have a greater margin of safety.

As you surmised, the igniter coil is set back a way from the puncture weapon. The idea is that a stream of hydrogen will shoot out of the blimp that gets hit, then it will mix with air and flow over the igniter. The burning bioplastic (mostly made from cellulose) would damage any flooring for sure, but we will be doing this at Burning Man with a fire resistant covering under the non-flammable dirt. The actual battles will be in a screened-off area so that nobody will be hurt by flaming blimps falling from the sky.

We make the balloons ourselves - we built a rig with nichrome wire hooked up to power supplies to cut the panel shapes while welding the seams. We need hundreds+ of them. It takes a bit of labor. Luckily this is such a cool project that we've got a bunch of volunteers helping (THANKS VOLUNTEERS!)
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Old Aug 11, 2015, 09:45 AM
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Isn't Burning Man an outdoor event? The small size of these blimps would make them vulnerable to even the slightest breeze.
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Old Aug 11, 2015, 01:51 PM
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Isn't Burning Man an outdoor event? The small size of these blimps would make them vulnerable to even the slightest breeze.
Indeed! We are erecting a large covered dome. The battles will occur there, protected from the wind. Inside, a screen separates the participants & spectators from the battle area.
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Old Aug 18, 2015, 05:16 PM
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You should make the blimps a little bigger and then mix oxygen with the hydrogen, that way you would get a more exciting explosion rather than a quiet, slow burn.
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Old Aug 22, 2015, 11:18 PM
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This is way too cool! Report back with how it goes at burning man please!
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Old Aug 24, 2015, 01:29 PM
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You should strap some bags of black powder to them.
That would certainly make this a better idea.
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