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Old Feb 19, 2013, 07:09 AM
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peter.braswell's Avatar
United States, VA, Chesterfield
Joined Apr 2008
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Penguin down, plane lost, what next?

Hey All,
So I decided to push the distance on my Penguin a little last night. We're flying out of Merlin Aerodrome in Amelia Virginia. First flight out to 1 mile with auto pilot RTH via my APM 2.5 went without a hitch. We decided to load up a fresh battery and try for 2 miles. Ok ... I know it's not killer distance, but I've spent my entire R/C career trying very hard not to lose sight of the plane. Anyway, motored out to 2 miles no problem and engage the AP to RTH. All of a sudden the picture starts dropping in and out and eventually I get more "out" than "in". When the picture is "in" I notice the altitude decaying and it doesn't appear that I'm headed anywhere near home. We waited around hoping to hear the buzz of the motor come over the horizon, but no joy. A search ensued but no banana. As of this morning, my beloved Penguin is gone without a trace.

So mistake #1: I didn't test the RTH on the way out on the second flight. I did with the first and it worked great. Sometimes if you don't get a good GPS lock and blast off and try the RTH, the plane freaks out a little. Not a big deal when you're LOS. It is a big deal when you're 2 miles down range flying blind as a bat.

Mistake #2: The video recording gear was ordered last week and is in transit. I wasn't recording my video down link, so no lat / long nicely captured in digital media somewhere.

Mistake #3: No tracking device onboard the aircraft and this is what I wanted to ask the group about. I ran into this link regarding a GSM/GPS device here and wanted to get feedback. Is this anything folks are bothering with? Is there a better approach? I'd give my right arm about now to be able to call the airplane and get back a text with its lat and long.

The other thing that I wanted to ask is tactics for getting planes back, other than of course the obvious. I'm going to go back out and canvas the neighborhood (though it's a rural area), put up flyers, etc. I'm wondering how long and how much rain it will take to destroy the thing? Rain is forecast starting later today here in Virginia. I believe that if there's no current left in the battery, fresh water may not destroy things as long as they dry out before you power them back up ...

Super totally completely bummed,
Peter
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 07:53 AM
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Copperopolis, CA
Joined Sep 2003
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A couple questions...
  • Do you have your name/phone number on the plane?
  • You have no reference point(s) to the plane's location while flying FPV?

Just an observation. "...2 miles down range flying blind as a bat." seems a little irresponsible. That said, sorry you lost the plane.

Jack
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 07:59 AM
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United States, VA, Chesterfield
Joined Apr 2008
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Hi Jack,
Yes - I did have my phone number and contact information on the plane. I have a general idea of where I was but no concrete landmarks I can triangulate from ... none that I can remember.

Don't want to get into a flame war, but did want to ask why you thought I was irresponsible? ... I do want to learn from this ... I wasn't clear if you thought I was irresponsible for flying out at 2 miles or flying blind at 2 miles? Certainly I wasn't intentionally flying blind. Once things started to get unreliable, I immediately started home. That's when things went down hill.
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 08:05 AM
Gravity is patient............
Joined Mar 2006
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Which osd did you have? All RTH autopilots I know of require extensive setups and careful calibration to work with a given aircraft. Sorry I know the horse it out of the barn already but it is what it is.

Alot of us have lost planes, and after that we either quit or get more diligent. I recommend a beacon such as this for future long range flights:

http://www.com-spec.com/rcplane/index.html

Also extensively test RTH LOS before attempting to try it long range.
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 08:18 AM
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United States, VA, Chesterfield
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Quote:
Originally Posted by billyd60 View Post
Which osd did you have? All RTH autopilots I know of require extensive setups and careful calibration to work with a given aircraft. Sorry I know the horse it out of the barn already but it is what it is.

Alot of us have lost planes, and after that we either quit or get more diligent. I recommend a beacon such as this for future long range flights:

http://www.com-spec.com/rcplane/index.html

Also extensively test RTH LOS before attempting to try it long range.
Hi Billy,
Yes, I know all too well the issues and care that must be taken to set up AP/RTH. This was extensively tested and working well under LOS mode. I'd rather not quit but I do feel defeated. I'm not sure what my next move is, but I do agree with you. If you're going to be flying out beyond anything but trivial distances, some means of tracking your plane is mandatory.

I ran into this link googling last night (while simultaneously crying into my beer). Is this better / more reliable than a GPS/GSM solution in your opinion? Do you have any first hand war stories of using this to find a downed plane? I guess theoretically if you had a last known lat / long position via your recorded video down link that would get you in the ball park and this thing would get you pin pointed. I guess the scenario that gives me pause is if you're high up and get a video failure. The search radius could be large. The GSM/GPS solution in theory would give your lat / long where you land as opposed to having to home in with the radio beacon.

Thanks for your thoughts!

-Peter
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 08:32 AM
Gravity is patient............
Joined Mar 2006
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Quote:
Originally Posted by peter.braswell View Post
Hi Billy,
Yes, I know all too well the issues and care that must be taken to set up AP/RTH. This was extensively tested and working well under LOS mode. I'd rather not quit but I do feel defeated. I'm not sure what my next move is, but I do agree with you. If you're going to be flying out beyond anything but trivial distances, some means of tracking your plane is mandatory.

I ran into this link googling last night (while simultaneously crying into my beer). Is this better / more reliable than a GPS/GSM solution in your opinion? Do you have any first hand war stories of using this to find a downed plane? I guess theoretically if you had a last known lat / long position via your recorded video down link that would get you in the ball park and this thing would get you pin pointed. I guess the scenario that gives me pause is if you're high up and get a video failure. The search radius could be large. The GSM/GPS solution in theory would give your lat / long where you land as opposed to having to home in with the radio beacon.

Thanks for your thoughts!

-Peter
GPS is ok except if your plane ends up where there is no cell service. This is becoming rare but still possible. Also as you well know by now, gps antenna can easily lose a signal. Finally, gps requires a cell contract or purchased minutes on a sim card, which run out and must be repurchased.

The beacon works really well, except once you get within about one hundred feet, and then there may be some false echoes if there is a lot rf reflectors (houses, trees etc). But it gets you close enough that at least you know the close vicinity and then you will find it with time by eye. The one wrinkle is you have to make sure the beacon tx doesn't lose power at impact, which means wrapping the case tightly closed and squeezing the button cell battery in place. Not a big deal, but one more step at launch time. Leaving the battery in place and adding a switch is convenient, but one more thing to fail at impact so it's a risk.

I've tried both and prefer the beacon over gps. In fact ironically, the time I lost a plane fpv was BECAUSE of the gps malfunctioning and steering the plane to some ficticious home spot. So why would I ever use gps to locate the plane? LOL!
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 08:42 AM
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A question for the others.

-How long does a typical FPV gear last with the motor turned off?
-Does the VideoTX get stopped completely if it were to land in a ditch? Or does it still have something like a 300m range?
-Can you triangulate the position by driving around and waving the video antenna?
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 09:28 AM
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United States, PA, Pittsburgh
Joined Oct 2006
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Edit: i did not read your post before mine, we basically had the same idea!! Great minds think alike LOL
(OP feel free to delete my post if wanted)


one recommendation will be before batterys run down completely try to walk around and pointing video receiver to different directions and see where it looks better (will point right direction)also if you get good enough signal you might be able to see some (lat long).

power up the video receiver NOW!! before battery flattens if not already
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 09:37 AM
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Charles Town, WV
Joined Jan 2008
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Next time instead of using rth to get back to base why not just fly the darn thing? I wonder if rth has saved or lost more planes?

I hope you get it back.
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 09:47 AM
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United States, MD, Clinton
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jaas75 View Post
one recommendation will be before batterys run down completely try to walk around and pointing video receiver to different directions and see where it looks better (will point right direction)also if you get good enough signal you might be able to see some (lat long).

power up the video receiver NOW!! before battery flattens if not already
I found my twinstar this way when I first started out and the elevator hinge gave out. I had a directional patch and just drove around pointing to the better signal and came within 10 ft before spotting it.
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 10:37 AM
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United States, WA, White Salmon
Joined Nov 2005
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I have lost two planes (one I got back after more than a year!). In both cases, I did not have an OSD onboard, AND I did not have my name and number AND I wasn't recording the live flight on the ground. I was stupid.

Now, I have an OSD with GPS on anything I fly beyond LOS and I record every flight with my Japan DVR, I have my name and number on the plane in waterproofed cards in multiple spots, I have a LMA (Lost Model Alarm), two ultra bright, self powered LED flashers and a FMKit UHF beacon. I am NEVER again going to lose a plane without any systems or capabilities for recovering/finding it. LOL!
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 11:14 AM
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FMkit still in business?
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 11:34 AM
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one other device to help find lost plane is the Eagle Tree Eagle eyes Display unit, which captures the GPS coords and freezes on the last known GPS coords. It is like $30, but only works with with OSDPro and Eagle eyes.

The APM has been known to home in on distant lands if it does not have enough satellites locked. And the software allows it to function as if it had a lock without sufficient satellites. This is how Skellator lost his plane recently, IIRC.

APM - not a PNP system. More like a Beta system, suited to hard core hackers ONLY. It's why I ordered up an RVOSD for my next long range build.
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 02:42 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by peter.braswell View Post
Hi Jack,
Don't want to get into a flame war, but did want to ask why you thought I was irresponsible? ... I do want to learn from this ... I wasn't clear if you thought I was irresponsible for flying out at 2 miles or flying blind at 2 miles? Certainly I wasn't intentionally flying blind. Once things started to get unreliable, I immediately started home. That's when things went down hill.
Peter,

It sounded like you were trying to find the limits of your equipment---you'd gone one mile; now you were going for two. I'm guessing if two was successful, you'd go for three. With that game-plan, it would seem likely that at some point you would reach and exceed the limits of your equipment. What did you expect would happen when you did?

Once the limit was exceeded, the aircraft is basically out-of-control. Sure, it may have responded to sick inputs; but if it's two miles away and you don't know where it is, it's essentially out-of-control. And being beyond your sight, you have no idea what the craft may crash into once it runs out of power. It just seems irresponsible to send an aircraft beyond it's known limits and not know who or what it may contact.

I apologize if this sounds harsh. But your situation has caused me to reflect on my flying. I'm just getting into FPV, and realize the potential risk that I'm about to undertake. Your unfortunate experience may have helped me prevent a similar one.


Jack
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 03:21 PM
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Originally Posted by jforkner View Post
Peter,

It sounded like you were trying to find the limits of your equipment---you'd gone one mile; now you were going for two. I'm guessing if two was successful, you'd go for three. With that game-plan, it would seem likely that at some point you would reach and exceed the limits of your equipment. What did you expect would happen when you did?

Once the limit was exceeded, the aircraft is basically out-of-control. Sure, it may have responded to sick inputs; but if it's two miles away and you don't know where it is, it's essentially out-of-control. And being beyond your sight, you have no idea what the craft may crash into once it runs out of power. It just seems irresponsible to send an aircraft beyond it's known limits and not know who or what it may contact.

I apologize if this sounds harsh. But your situation has caused me to reflect on my flying. I'm just getting into FPV, and realize the potential risk that I'm about to undertake. Your unfortunate experience may have helped me prevent a similar one.


Jack
Jack,
No. I don't think you're sounding harsh at all. I think we're basically in the same boat, that is relatively new to FPV, though I've been a long time R/C guy. The biggest difference I see between our perspectives is that I feel as though I was searching for my personal limit, not the equipment's. Let me explain:

All of my gear is well publicized to fly way beyond what I did yesterday as demonstrated by many-a-pilot on this forum. I'm using a long range (Dragon Link) R/C control system, top notch vTX and vRX (1.3Ghz) equipment from RMRC all of which have tested and flown way beyond the 2 mile mark by other folks. So theoretically I was flying within my equipment's limitations.

As for me and regarding personal limitations, how do you know how far out you can go until you go? I've read accounts of the reckless way and the prudent way. We've all read about the chucleheads with more money than common sense. They go out and buy a bunch of gear and blast off and are shocked when it doesn't end well. That's not what I did. I built this plane back in October. Test flew the heck out of it LOS with no auto pilot and no FPV gear. Then I added the Dragon Link ... flew it out to the edge of sight, so far, so good. Then I added the ArduPilot ... more flying to get the RTH, stabalization and all that mess working properly (not easy as previously mentioned). Then came the FPV gear. More flights (with a spotter) all under LOS rules.

Yesterday was the first day that I really pushed it, again searching for my personal best, not recklessly pushing marginal equipment. I'll paraphrase IBCrazy and something I read from him. He says that he often flies to the edge of reception to find limits and then coaxes the plane back into the zone. If I had had less than a solid drop off yesterday, that's exactly what I would have done and what I was prepared to do, but that's not how it went down. The video just bounced in and out for a few cycles and then just dropped out permanently. I don't know if it was a polarization issue, an electrical issue, an equipment issue an interference issue or what but whatever the case was: it is what it is.

So ... maybe I was reckless, maybe I wasn't. I'll let the community judge. I don't think I was as I really tried to take things in an incremental manner, did not move on to the next step until I felt like the current step was solid. If the consensus IS that I was reckless, I'd like to get opinions regarding what folks would have done differently.

Thanks,
Peter
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