Making RC helecopter + wind != fail
March 17, 2010 11:00 AM   Subscribe

I want to know the performance statistics of various classes of RC helicopters in Light, Moderate and Heavy Winds. EX Could you reliably fly one in 15-20 knots of wind? Or higher?

I am thinking (day dreaming really) about an interesting hobby/business idea that requires RC helicopters to fly steadily (enough to take photo/video shots) in moderate to high winds (at least 10 knots, but the more the better).

1) Is this possible?

2) What "classes" of Helicopters would be best suited for this? I am an RC novice, but the distinctions I am aware of are
-Size/Weight (obviously)
-electric vs fuel based
-and... whatever you call the multi blade types like a Hexacopter

Obviously, the RC Helicopter will be carrying load (the needed cameras) so we are not talking about tiny toy RC's, but beyond that, I have no clue. However, The smaller the better for the intended application, and the cheaper the better for my pocket book.

Also part of this question:

3) How much more skill is needed to fly somewhat steady in winds (a lot more? or hella-impossibly-super-human more skill?)

4) How negatively does the correction for wind impact flight time (extra fuel use)?

5) What other problems might this plan face? other than the obvious: flying expensive helicopters with possibly expensive camera equipment in high winds.

6) Bonus - would an RC Airplane fair any better?
posted by DetonatedManiac to Science & Nature (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know anything about the helicopter part.

I do know a bit about cameras. I think that you could do this with a pretty small, light camera, and you wouldn't lose much. The advantage of a big SLR is control and variability, but you will not be able to focus the camera in this situation (I mean, unless your rig was crazy advanced and you had some sort of remote view/control on the camera, which would be pretty advanced). One of the advantages of a digicam is that with the small sensor, usually everything is in focus. Far more than with an SLR. This is a disadvantage for doing portraits and things where you are controlling your depth of field. But if you were sort of praying for a good shot, unable to view the LCD, a digicam would be great. I'm very impressed with the pictures I've taken with a Canon Elph 780is, a $200ish point and shoot. For landscapes and pictures outdoors, it's awesome. I think you'd lose the IS functions of it, unless maybe you rigged up a sort of shock mount that would allow the gyroscope to function.
posted by sully75 at 12:01 PM on March 17, 2010

The larger 1/6th or 1/4th scale monoplane models are a better bet for an RC camera platform in light to moderate winds. They're easier to land, easier to handle in flight, and fly slowly enough that, into a 15 knot headwind, they'll make very little if any, actual forward progress over ground positions. In fact, in higher winds, they'll even appear, from the ground, to "fly backwards," as their airspeed relative to ground can be negative with respect to relative headwinds.

The very smallest battery operated toy helicopters are indoor only, because they use counter-rotating main rotors to balance rotor torque; even the slight breeze from waving a sheet of paper in their direction notably upsets their flight dynamics, and they have next to nothing in spare performance to use for a camera payload.

The 90 size range of gas powered RC helicopters have enough mass and power to fly outdoors in very light wind conditions, and have been used to mount small "lipstick" profile video cameras. But when I say "light" winds, I mean 3 to 5 knots, and you won't easily remain more stationary in flight in such conditions, than you could flying a larger scale monoplane. In general, I think most RC pilots would agree that RC helicopters take a lot more skill and luck to fly like their "real" counterparts, than do model planes.
posted by paulsc at 12:28 PM on March 17, 2010

I would bet most heavy RC helicopters can be flown in 20mph winds, easily enough. There's no exact limit, as how gusty it is, the wind direction and how powerful the 'copter is play a huge part.

It will cost a lot of money, I can't believe most people who do aerial photos even come close to covering what they sink into the hobby (I would guess it will cost you $1000 to learn to fly rc helis, then $5000 for a heli and camera rig - the helicopters don't look that expensive but all the parts add up, especially if^w when you crash). "Get a simulator" is standard advice for beginners, because the crashes are much cheaper.

People seem to have gravitated towards using a large electric heli like the Joker Maxi with an SLR for aerial photos.

Runryder is a good forum if you want to see the state of the art and there's this thread full of people offering professional rc heli photography services - it has some nice examples shots.
posted by samj at 12:30 PM on March 17, 2010

Helicopter simulators are pretty damn amazing nowadays. If you are willing to spend say $150 + the cost of a transmitter you can use later on a real life model, you can test out virtually all of the popular RC models. This would have the additional advantage of letting you become flight proficient before you head outside.

You could set the environment you want to try out - specifically the wind, and see how it flies.

I don't know exactly how to add a "payload" weight to the models, but I'm sure it could be done.
posted by trialex at 3:06 PM on March 17, 2010

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