Sunday, July 8, 2007

The Best Birthday Present, Ever.

I got the best birthday present ever a week or so ago, the fact that my birthday is in April not withstanding. It's a Flytech Dragonfly my brother sent me.

It's a radio controlled ornithopter, which means that it flies by flapping its wings in response to me pressing buttons on the controller. And man is it fun to make it fly! I've heard that R/C helicopters are pretty hard to control, but this guy flies pretty smoothly.

Here you can see me flying this baby around the courtyard of our apartment complex. It flies pretty well as long as the wind isn't too fast. The instructions say you shouldn't fly it in winds over 4mph, and they're right. It's optimal when the air is dead. The controls get pretty wild when the wind picks up, so for best performance fly it near sunrise or sunset when the wind is the calmest. You'll be glad you did. My first flight was in the middle of the day with a pretty gusty breeze. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed at first. But when the wind finally died down it was a totally different experience.

Oh yeah, keep it away from roofs, trees, water hazards, and cars—parked or otherwise. Yes I ran it into this truck. Fortunately car and dragonfly were both unharmed. It has survived them all (except the water hazards) and lived to fly again. So it's pretty robust. Any damage is easily repaired by a little tape.

After visiting RoboCommunity, I made a small modification to my dragonfly. I found it a little difficult to control, so I added a bigger tail stabilizer. Specifically, I took a regular 3x5 index card and cut it into shape. All of the scrap went into the head as a counter balance. I find that now it flies very well, if a bit slower, even in light wind. It's really cool to watch it hover when flying into a light breeze now. If you're a DIY type person, you can find lots of other hacks and mods for the dragonfly. Seems as if people get pretty crazy about this stuff.

One of the disappointing parts of the dragonfly is its short battery life. It only takes about 20 minutes to charge it up, but then it'll only last for about seven minutes of flight. On the dragonfly forums they say the green dragonfly lasts longer than the blue. And one guy discovered a longer lasting battery for the dragonfly by looking up the manufacturer's code on the original battery—after taking the whole thing apart. This is not a mode for the amateur, squarely ruling me out. Oh well, good things come in short packages.

Thanks Josh.

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