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OPERATION: CameraShip

 

As some of you may know, one of my hobbies has become flying radio controlled helicopters. I've always liked the idea of using RC helis to film aerial videos, so recently I decided I'd like to put together my own aerial heli-cam setup, which would allow me to get some great aerial shots of my turbine projects in action. This page is a quick documentation of this work in progress.

First off, I needed a heli. My small nitro powered Caliber .30 wasn't going to cut the mustard of carrying a heavy camera mount and camera. I decided to go with a Gasser, or a gasoline powered helicopter. A gasser has excellent load carrying ability, smooth flying characteristics, excellent flight endurance, produces no smoke, and is the preferred choice for most professional RC aerial videographers.

I purchased a Century Helicopters Predator Carbon Gasser SE kit. The SE is a special edition, with carbon fiber body frames and a special 26cc two stroke engine.

 

"Where's the helicopter? All I see is a bunch of plastic parts!"

 

This thing looks familiar. It's a 26cc two stroke gasoline engine, basically a weedeater engine, that produces between 5-6 horsepower and runs on a mix of Coleman Camper Fuel and Amsoil Sabre two stroke oil. Starting is by handy recoil cord. Above I have mounted the fan, fan shround, and the centrifugal clutch.

 

Here I have mounted the fuel tank and front servo frames. The middle picture shows the fully assembled upper frame with main gear and rotor mast. Notice the little electric motor. This is actually an engine driven generator which is used to power the servos while in flight, to take the load off the battery. Very slick. The picture on the right is of the completed rotor head, with a complexity rivaling the real thing.

 

Upper frame is fitted to complete the pod, clutch is joined to clutch bell. Onto the rotor mast goes the swashplate, then the washout assembly, then the washout guide, and finally the rotor head. The landing skids are attached at the bottom.

 

Carb and servo linkage, tailrotor gearbox, and tailrotor shaft.

 

Assembling the tailboom to the helicopter.

 

Getting the electrical stuff and the plumbing squared away.

 

Getting very close to completion now. I have already done the basic radio programming, test fired the engine and slowly spooled up the rotor head a couple of times. However, a careless moment on the test bench left me with a bruised arm and a bent flybar (don't ask). So now I am waiting for backordered replacement parts before I can resume the testing program, and hopefully get this big bird airborne soon.

Stay tuned for more!

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Update 3/19/06

So, I finally received the backordered parts from Century Helicopter, made a few adjustments, and got the gasser flying, as shown in the pictures above hovering in my backyard. After ironing out a few electrical glitches with the help from the guys over at RunRyder, the heli really flies like a champ. Flying a gasser is awesome. The heli is super stable and super smooth. It is easier to control than my .30 sized nitro heli, has power to spare, and is just a dream.

Now that I had the helicopter, it was time to get my hands on a camera mount. After a bit of searching, I talked with Jody over at HeliCam Solutions. He told me about his brand new, professional quality camera mount, the Mark IV, and I decided it was the mount I wanted.

The mount is a real piece of engineering wizardy, designed to not only isolate the camera from the vibrations of the helicopter, but also to smooth out the movements of the helicopter and to stabilize the camera to keep it steadily focused on a target. It accomplishes this both mechanically and through electronic gyro stabilization. Firstly, foam noddles fit around the skids of the helicopter and then the skids are loosely tied to the camera mount assembly. This loose connection provides a stable landing platform for the helicopter, but once airborne, effectively isolates much of the heli's inherent vibration from the camera mount. Rubber bushes connect the landing skid frame to the rest of the mount, providing further isolation. The actual camera mount hangs from a dual pivoting joint which allows the camera to swing freely and indepently from the motion of the helicopter. Two sets of coil over dampers provide mechanical damping in the pitch and roll axes, to keep the camera picture steady even when the helicopter is moving around.

If this wasn't enough for a stable image, the Mark IV goes one step forward by introducing electronic gyros in the pitch, roll, and yaw axes to actively stabilize the image and keep the camera trained on the target. With the stable platform at work, the camera operator, who operates a second transmitter, aims the camera by controlling the yaw, pitch, and roll axes of the camera mount. The camera operator monitors a radio downlink, which displays the image that the camera is recording, so the operator knows where to point the camera. The camera operator must be in constant verbal contact with the pilot, to let him know where to position the heli to get the best shots.

The pictures above show the heli mounted on top of the camera mount, and the first maiden hover in the back yard with the mount. The helicopter is a bit of a handful with the added weight of the mount, but I'm sure that practice will make perfect. A neat feature of the mount that is not shown in the pictures is that the landing gear retracts pneumatically once the mount is airborne, providing an unobstructed 360 degree view for the camera.

Stay tuned for more on the testing of the cameraship and some test videos.

 

 
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