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Posted by Boone 870 | Dec 11, 2018 @ 12:37 PM | 1,316 Views
After nearly a full year of use with my modified DX6, a recurring problem needed to be solved. On the DX6, the gimbal assemblies are made out of plastic. With my lack of sensation and fine motor skills, I was continually over stressing the plastic gimbal assemblies by banging them against their stops and causing them to crack and break.

The solution was to install gimbal assemblies that were made of metal instead of plastic and the fine folks at Horizon Hobbies set me up with a set of DX20 gimbal assemblies. After receiving the assemblies, I realized they were different dimensions than those of the DX6, requiring further modifications to the old transmitter housing or a I'd have to go a new route altogether.

Seeing that I was getting a lot more comfortable with flying, I thought it was time to upgrade to a better transmitter with more functions so I went with a DX9. A couple of low-cost plastic boxes from Amazon, some random hardware laying around that shop and a little ingenuity resulted in this new and much more ergonomically suited contraption.
Posted by Boone 870 | Jul 08, 2018 @ 04:48 PM | 1,747 Views
One of the primary concerns I had with restarting the hobby was my inability to turn my head very far to the left and right, look up and even behind me if I were to let an airplane go beyond my field of vision. I was afraid that it would take too long to take my hand off the transmitter, reach the joystick controller on my wheelchair, turn the wheelchair where I needed to go, re-aquire the aircraft and return my hand back to the transmitter all before the airplane crashed.

After a few weeks of researching I decided on the Bigaole BGL-6G-AP Auto Pilot. It was cheap, simple to use, install and it worked every time I tested it. Fortunately, I never had to use it for its original purpose. The only real drawback for me was the unit's incompatibility with Spektrum's AS3X receivers.

Posted by Boone 870 | Apr 28, 2018 @ 10:58 PM | 2,735 Views

Now that we had the transmitter modified, it was time to tie it all together and make it work.

I sketched out a drawing for what I called "gimbal funnels" that I could just slip the styluses into. Unfortunately, after having another cousin draw up the measurements needed and the funnels machined from aluminum, they would not work for what I needed. Come to find out when you have limited mobility in your arms you tend to overcompensate with the function you have to overcome the function that you do not have. For example, when I would pull back and to the left on the right gimbal, my bicep would flex more than needed to compensate for my inability to rotate my arm inward and would pull the stylus out of the funnel.

We tried to overcome the problem with a little bit of hillbilly ingenuity by cutting the end off of some spent 9mm cartridges and gluing them to the funnels with a bit of plastic surrounding them to provide support. It helped a little but it wasn't quite enough to keep the styluses from slipping out of the funnels while manipulating the sticks.

Next I had a friend machine some extended aluminum rods that would thread onto the gimbals and that were long enough to slide my hollow styluses over. Even with the overall length at nearly 7 inches, I was still pulling the styluses off of the gimbal sticks while flying, it was a another lesson learned the hard way. It came at the cost of a great flying E-flite Prometheus.

Since we had...Continue Reading
Posted by Boone 870 | Apr 26, 2018 @ 11:20 AM | 2,436 Views

Now that the gimbals were far enough apart to get full range from the sticks, I was looking to get some use out of the nine available buttons and switches on the transmitter. First, I needed to completely remove the "F" switch from the face of the transmitter to prevent my pinky finger from contacting it while I was moving the stick. Simple enough, a bolt with a flush mount head was placed into the vacant hole left by the "F" switch.

Next would be finding a sip-and-puff mobility-switch with more than just an "on and off" or "open and closed" two position function. I found a suitable switch at that has what is called a "latching" feature that would allow me to use two separate switches simultaneously on my transmitter. My cousin stripped the transmitter apart once again and made some custom modifications that included adding 3.5 mm jacks to the outside of the case that would allow me to plug in my new mobility-switch. He wired the stereo jacks in line with the current "I" switch so that the black pushbutton on the Spektrum transmitter would still function with or without the mobility switch plugged in.

The Broadened Horizons mobility-switch is pretty simple in concept. "Puff" into the tubing and it momentarily closes a switch. "Sip" on the tubing and a small internal ratchet switches between two positions.

The toggle for the "F" switch was...Continue Reading
Posted by Boone 870 | Apr 19, 2018 @ 11:31 PM | 2,168 Views
… continued

Priority number one for modifying the transmitter would be to place the gimbal assemblies far enough apart to prevent my hands and stylus from contacting one another while flying. Second priority was to place the various switches on the transmitter into positions that would allow me to either bump them or hook them with my fingers to select different flight modes and channels.

The first serious idea that I considered was to strip all of the electronics out of the case of my new Spektrum DX6 and cut out holes for the gimbals, display screen and all the various scrolls and switches in a wide, thin piece of Lexan in a configuration similar to a Jeti DC-24 transmitter but spread out wider and longer. I ran the idea by my cousin, who has professional experience designing and building electronic panels, and he thought it would be something that could be done and was willing to tackle the job.

While I was thinking about what I thought would be the best layout for the gimbals and switches on the planned Lexan board, I asked my cousin to modify the case on my DX6 as it was currently configured by cutting off the plastic horizontal antenna housing/carrying handle so that my transmitter could lay flat on the Lexan board I was using. When we opened up the transmitter and got a look at just how complicated the transmitter was and how much work it would take to place all the individual electronics onto a new Lexan board, I decided it would be a good idea to go...Continue Reading
Posted by Boone 870 | Apr 10, 2018 @ 11:28 PM | 1,838 Views
… continued

As mentioned in the prior post, there were some stability issues when using my homemade Lexan adapters and hair scrunchies. One other drawback about the Lexan adapters was that they were brittle, I had the end of one break off where the hole was drilled while I was – luckily – on the flight simulator and not flying at the field. Another solution had to be found.

In the meantime I decided that I had developed the capability to fly a model equipped with a rudder and canceled my plans of buying the E-flite Opterra and ordered an E-flite Carbon Z Cub. I was also looking for a normal four channel plane that would be simple to install a return-to-home GPS unit on (more on that later). I figured a big old slow flying Cub would be a safe and forgiving enough choice to get myself reacquainted with some of the basics.

After my cousin got the Cub assembled and flight ready, I had my brother perform the maiden flight and I hooked up to the trader cord. Oh what a surprise! Flying an actual airplane is much much harder than on the simulator. I had the Cub everywhere except for where I wanted it to be. After going through a few batteries it was back to the drawing board. While at first I was hesitant to use "expo" and "dual rates" because… well because I'm a hardhead and I wanted to do the things the way I used to without any assistance from the electronics, I started researching on exactly what expo and dual rates were. I now use...Continue Reading
Posted by Boone 870 | Apr 03, 2018 @ 02:35 PM | 1,793 Views

Fast forward 11 years to where I stumble across a video on YouTube highlighting some Horizon Hobby aircraft with Spektrum's SAFE technology and a renewed interest in the hobby was sparked. Imagine my surprise after a 25 year absence from the hobby of just how far technology had advanced. "SAFE", "2.4 GHz", "DSMX", "BNF", "LIPo" etc., but I jumped right into the deep end to figure out if the new technology would assist my ability to return to the hobby.

The aircraft that convinced me it was worth a try flying again was the E-flite Opterra with its self-level feature upon releasing the control sticks. I thought it would be my best bet considering its size and capability of nice slow gentle flight, it's lack of landing gear that would most likely get ripped off during rough landings and its ability to be hand launched and climb out to a safe altitude without any input through the transmitter.

Opterra promo video:
E-flite Opterra™ 2m Wing BNF Basic & PNP (3 min 11 sec)

The next step was to call up my old friend who I helped learn to fly so long ago to get his thoughts and recommendations on getting me back in the air and unsurprisingly he was once again more than willing to help out and he offered me the use of is Real Flight simulator to get started. I knew I would run into the same problem as before with the inability to manipulate the sticks on the transmitter and I needed to find a better...Continue Reading
Posted by Boone 870 | Mar 31, 2018 @ 10:20 AM | 1,699 Views

Within one year of the accident, the friend I mentioned in my first post was thinking of ways to get me flying again. As seen in the diagram earlier, I have no dexterity below my elbows including wrists, fingers and thumbs. Not being able to pinch the sticks on the gimbals is a pretty significant challenge when it comes to flying RC airplanes. The first attempted solution was fairly simple; weld a flat steel washer with an inner diameter opening large enough to slide over and down the control stick to a 1/8 inch diameter, 6 inch long steel rod that I would be able to slide into the cuff of my braces that I use for wrist support. Illustration (no pictures, the fabricated adapters disappeared over a decade ago) below.

Below is a photo of the North Coast Medical wrist splint with cuff I currently use and a similar brace to show how implements are secured in the cuff.

Due to the mechanics of paralyzed arms, the neutral position of an extended hand is for the palm to be straight up and down parallel to the ground, like if you were giving someone a thumbs-up or extending your arm for a handshake. With assistance, I was able to place the new adapters over the sticks and manipulate the gimbals for a short time. But eventually they would work their way off and I was unable to place the adapters back over the sticks without assistance. I should add that even if I was able to attach my adapters to the sticks, it was too soon post-injury to have the strength and endurance to use the transmitter with enough consistency and control to be able to fly in a controlled and safe manner.

I continued trying to use a flight simulator for a period of weeks to develop a technique that would allow me to control an airplane, but it never happened. I eventually gave up and put flying RC airplanes again out of my mind for over a decade.

To be continued…
Posted by Boone 870 | Mar 30, 2018 @ 11:55 AM | 1,288 Views
Relearning to fly RC models after a nearly 20 year absence – 12 of which had passed during my new life as a quadriplegic due to a spinal cord injury – as the title suggests, has been full of mainly fun and rewarding adventures, but also a lot of entertaining and educational misadventures. My plan is to use the RC Groups blog feature as a place to send friends and acquaintances who are curious about how I've overcome my disability and taken up an old hobby that I had given up on because I thought it was no longer possible for me to participate in. Also, I hope people in similar situations find my utterances here and are able to use them as encouragement to overcome similar adversities and to avoid some of the mistakes I've made along the way.

First, a little background about my previous experiences in the hobby. I first started flying radio control airplanes in the late 80s and early 90s as a teenager. Some of the models I recall owning and flying then were two Carl Goldberg Eagle IIs, a Great Planes Big Stick 20, a Sig Four-star 40, some kind of .40 biplane that I can't recall the manufacture of and a .40 Lazer ARF. I stuck with flying for two years until I got a driver's license, started working at a local airport FBO and discovered motorcycles. A number of years later a good friend I rode motorcycles with found out that I used to fly RC airplanes and he expressed that he always wanted to try it so I agreed to help him get going and teach him to fly. Of course...Continue Reading