Aero-M Test Flights - SCARY!

Hello Everyone!

I feel compelled to share my less than impressive experience with this product after my first three test fights with the Aero-M mapping UAV.  This is actually my second unit, sent to me as a replacement to my original Aero-M which I crashed on three of my four take-off attempts several months ago.  The damage to the nose section was so severe on the last crash that it was irreparable and I ended up sending it back.  Low and behold, however, this new replacement Aero-M has EXACTLY the same flight performance issues as my first one!  It's all indicative of an inherent issue with this airframe's design...

Here is what's been happening:  The Aero-M has a nasty tendency to nose-dive on takeoffs (the most critical part of any flight).  And it doesn't matter if you apply a LOT of up elevator trim, or use different flight modes.  It doesn't seem to make a heck of a lot difference.  I tried taking off in Manual, Stabilize and FBWA modes with the same results.  The only two reasons why I managed not to crash my new replacement Aero-M today were a) my 27 years of RC flying experience and b) my still quick reflexes to move my launching hand down to the elevator stick on the RC transmitter within a split second of letting go of the plane on launch to quickly apply up elevator to save it from hitting the ground.  But the issues don't stop here, unfortunately.

I expected this unit to be well trimmed "out of the box" because, after all, it's marketing as a RTF (Ready To Fly) UAV.  This is not the case.  Despite being balanced, as per the manual's diagram of the CG location, the Aero-M continued to want to fly downwards at various throttle settings.  I had to trim the elevator to maximum up trim to get it to improve.  But then it began behaving as if it were tail heavy, flying this roller coaster pattern throughout the sky.  When I saw this, I didn't know what to think (too nose heavy?  too tail heavy?).  It also had a tendency to keep veering to the right, requiring quite a bit of left aileron trim to straighten out.  I will have to do more flight tests now to figure out where the CG actually needs to be.  Not something I was planning on when I purchased it...

I also tried my first mapping mission, which was also a bit of a disaster.  I set up a small polygon with just four passes to check the camera.  I don't know if I set the polygon too small in size (it was roughly 200m x 200m in size), but the Aero-M had a ton of trouble properly lining up for the waypoints, and tracking them in a straight line.  The about-turns at the ends of the passes were also way too wide, putting the plane out of position of the next waypoint.  I had a 70m length set up for the turns at the ends of each pass.  

Finally, the UV filter that is supposed to be protecting the camera's lens during mapping causes the images to be unusable for real mapping work because it causes a reflection in the imagery.  It's a lot like when you try to take a picture of something through a glass.  It doesn't work.  For mapping, the UV filter must be removed so that there is nothing in the way of the camera's lens and the objects on the ground.  Yes, the camera lens can potentially get scratched or dusty, but I can tell you from my professional experience mapping tens of thousands of acres of fields every season that it's not that serious a problem.  We have used the same Canon SX260 cameras for our work for two seasons now, and they still produces excellent quality imagery.

I wish I had something more positive to say about the Aero-M, but unfortunately we cannot use it, as is, for the very purpose for which we had purchased it - aerial mapping.  

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        • 100KM

          Jan,I have the Event38 E384 Skywalker configuration with the 2 5000mAhr 4s batteries in the middle and the camera in front.    It does not have the T tail.

          It flies very well.    Sorry to hear that you are having so much trouble with your Aero.    It should fly well too.   

          I have found that the telemetry logged by the Mission planner to be the key to working out configuration and tuning problems.

           

          • Hi David,

            I must admit that I am still trying to learn how to analyze the flight logs on the Pixhawk.  I will do a couple of new flights first and then give it a shot.  

            Incidentally, I noticed that my log files' times, and in some cases even dates, are way off from that actual times flown.  They often suggest that the flight was done say around midnight.  3DR says that it's the internal clock of the uBlox GPS module that's off, but that they can't adjust it.  uBlox guys are saying that they can't help me either.  Have you noticed this problem with yours?  Having correct flight times is important for our work when collecting field imagery for crop analysis purposes.  

            • 100KM

              Jan,

              I have found that the logs that are made in the mission planner are pretty accurate.   They are what I use for geostamping.    I always fly with telemetry and the mission planner on for preflight checkout and monitoring the flight.  

              Mission planner records a telemetry log file, which is what I play back.   You can display parameters that you want to investigate while you are playing back the log in mission planner.

              The mission planner allows you to play back the telemetry log and look at whatever parameters you need to look at.    I have not found these telemetry logs to be off in time much.   Typically I replace the S100 geostamping with the telemetry log locations.     The S100 GPS is not very accurate but it does maintain good time. :-)

    • Hi Jaideep,

      Thanks for our enquiry.  This is a tough one because no UAVs currently on the market are able to fly long distances in a straight line like that.  I am on the commercial UAV side, which limits us to only fly within visual line of sight.  That translates to a maximum distance from our ground station position of about a mile.  Then we have to physically move if we want to map farther out.  If you are a beginner in the UAV operation, then I would strongly suggest you too keep whatever UAV you end up selecting within a visual line of sight at all times.  How many of these "hundreds" of Km's of canals are you planning to map?  If it's just a sample of a few Km's then it's possible to do with drones.  But if it's many Km's you wish to map, the UAVs might not be the way to go.

      As for which to select for the job, I am not familiar with either the Talon or RF70 drones.  The big difference with the Sensefly is the price tag (you are looking at about 35K for the unit).  If you have a large enough budget for the project, I would suggest looking at the AgEagle.  At 20K it's much less expensive than the Sensfly and it has something that no other UAV manufacturer currently offers:  "near real-time image stitching".  I saw a field demo of this capability just last week and it was very impressive.  The ortho is being processed while the AgEagle is still in the air mapping.  A huge time saver on the data processing side.  

      Another option to map linear areas like these are multirotor platforms.  There are some on the market that are supposed to have over 20minutes of flight time.  However, the longer the flight time, the more expensive the unit.  If yo could follow the drone along the canal during flight in a vehicle, that would be your best bet to map more mileage of the canal.  Is this an option?

      • Jan,

        Thank you.

        I am new to the field and have lot of questions. I think, then I would have to fly within visual line of sight. I am creating a model that can be used, so I would want to use UAV. The actual job would need flying it for hundreds of kilometers but that could not be the same with my case.

        The suggestion of AgEagle seems good to me, but my budget is less than 10k , so I may not be able to afford it. What about skywalker (aero) , but it seems you are facing many issues using this one. 

        I thought of multirotor platforms, but after reading various articles I figured out that using a fixed wing solution is going to be better for aerial mapping. With multirotor platform, I would have to perform many flights and post processing the images gathered from so many flights may result into complications. Is my understanding correct?

        Jaideep

  • I thought the aero-m was just a skywalker? Maybe do some research online on what other skywalker builders adjust their c of g too. I have built 2015 1680 skywalker and did my maiden flight the other day and it absolutely flew beautiful. C of G is about 15mm behind the servo wire slot.
    • I also have the Skywalker 1900 from HobbyKing.  Flies amazingly stable!  That is why I am so surprised at the Aero's performance!  My suspicion is the Aero's much smaller tail.  Compared to the Skywalker's T-tail design, the Aero's traditional horizontal and vertical stabs are too small for proper control.  This is consistent with full sized aircraft reviews, where smaller tails typically result in much less control and stability.

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