Toby Lankford's Posts (23)

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Announcing our new partnership with RPFlightSystem, Inc.  I am the new CTO for RPFlightSystems, Inc and I am bringing my work with GaAS solar cells from Alta Devices to provide a production solar plane under 5kg with the Vigilant UAS.


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2014 was an exciting year for the Aerial Vista Challenge with lots of ups and downs but some amazing progress in unmanned capabilities and unmanned systems integration.  First, we are disappointed to have not had any news on a date for the Wildlife Conservation UAV Challenge that was supposed to happen in November of last year.  We have had no news in the last month and there is nothing scheduled on their website for 2015.  We have been holding back on decimating our data because we needed to for competitive reasons.  However, we have had some great people that came together from all over the world and provided us with some quality equipment to use in order to help the great cause of anti-poaching.  If anyone is interested in helping to get our system in the hands of those fighting poaching, we are open to conversation.

This is the beginning of publishing our work from equipment used, to how we integrated multiple sensing systems and linux computers into our robots for a fully networked system of tactical and strategic aerial robotics.  We owe those that have helped their due and we owe the community the open benefit of our research.  Thank you for being patient with us.  While we are disappointed that there has been no competition that we believed would serve a good cause.  We will be using what we have created for other competitions this year and to combat poaching regardless.  We have made advancements in long endurance solar power systems, hybrid power system integration and seamless smart switching and management.  We have also been able to work with some of the most innovative companies and startups of products that will be changing the face of our community in the next decade.  Thank you again to everyone for being patient and thank you to all who have contributed to our own learning.  This will be picking back up what will be our weekly series on our research till we think we have it all out or the community is sick of us.  Whichever comes first. :)

A brief overview of this series we will be covering:

ODIN (Omniscient Data Interface Network)

LOKI ( Locate Observe Krack Isolate)

PHALANX (Protect Hide Alert Locate Alter Negate with eXtreme tactics)

ICARUS (Internet Connected Aerial Renewable Unmanned System)

HORUS (High definition Optical Robotic Unmanned Survey)

HYDRA (HYbrid Distributed Renewable Auto-switching power block)

We are getting near the end of prototyping of our second generation quad drone called LOKI.  While it is capable of many things, search and rescue are one of the more benign activities that LOKI is capable of performing.  I will give a brief overview of the hardware and next week we will talk about scenarios that have been tested and things we believe we have not achieved yet with this drone tech.


3D printed Airframe and basic hardware:

Spyda DJI Arm compatible 3mm Solid Slotted Body Plates (2)

Spyda DJI body

Spyda Custom DJI arms with integrated landing gear holder.

Custom clear feet for landing gear

Custom Battery Holder

Custom Ubiquiti Bracket

Custom Antenna Holder

Custom Odroid 3 standoffs

Custom AUAV X2 Mount

Custom Spectrum Landing Gear Mount.

Custom Mobius Gimbal

10mm x 4.5 inch carbon fiber tube

M3 x 10mm hex screws

LOKI Electronics

AUAV X2 autipilot

NEO 6H GPS Compass Module

Odroid U3

Ubiquiti Pico Loco M5 stripped and modified

Alfa AWUS036H

Power Distribution Board


Buck/Boost Module

POE injection Module

3s 5000 mah battery single or double

Spektrum Satellite Receiver

20 amp esc (4)

2213 920KV motor (4)

Gimbal Electronics

Alexmos 2 axis BGC

2206 80T 140KV gimbal motor

2212 80T hollow shaft gimbal motor

Mobius Webcam

LOKI Software

ArduCopter firmware



Kali Linux


Various python packages


Ground Control Hardware              

JR9303 with Spektrum Module

Odroid XU3

10 inch Lumineer FPV display

3D printed display bracket

Server Hardware

Odroid XU3 (7)

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A friend and I were discussing the FAA and our efforts in the drone community to engage with the regulatory body.  I am sure many of you have had that discussion and most of the ones that have been around pre-2007 are aware of the long standing efforts of Gary, Patrick and many others.  I explained to my friend that in 2013 there were over 4500 commercial airline near misses.  The FAA at the beginning of the year had 6 drone near miss incidents under investigation.  We went on to talk about the Trappy case and the new "rules" banning FPV.  That of course led to the news story of Airbus wanting to move to windowless cockpits.  This all led to furious use of Google.  This led to an interesting experiment.  We decided to Google "drone crash" and "drone near miss" to predictable results.  On drone crash all the articles about American civilian drones are post 3Q 2013.  Anything prior to that are stories of military or smuggler hardware from all over the world.  When we googled "drone near miss"  you are hard pressed to find articles before March 2014.  The few articles before then are pertaining to military drones.  If I were new to drones I would be hard pressed to conclude that civilian drones existed prior to 2013.  Make no mistake that there is a coordinated effort to swing the tides against civilian drones.  The stories are plants and hyperventilating by the media and the FAA.  I saw and article that asked "Why are drone operators being arrested all over the country.  It spoke of three instances and barely touched the Trappy case.  As a modeler for almost 30 years, I am disturbed by these articles and efforts.  We have an excellent safety record that I would say according to the evidence surpasses commercial and general aviation.  I think as a drone community we need to be responsible for ourselves but we also need to recognize propaganda and call it out so we can protect our rights and privileges.  The fact is that models have been flying for decades.  The problems that they are saying could happen now could have happened all along.  How many RC clubs are at actual airports?  Be safe, help others learn how to be safe and call out propaganda trying to make us sound like a new and renegade community.  We should be offended by the insinuation and furious with the bent of the stories.  I try to engage as many people around me when I am flying. They may be children, police, teachers or any other walk of life including the FAA.  When I engage them they are fascinated and amazed at what you can do and how fun it looks.  I know this was kind of rambling but I had to get it off my chest.  Thank you for reading my blog.

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Drone Fireworks Display Courtesy of Aerial Vista Challenge Team.  We at the Aerial Vista Challenge Team share the spirit of freedom, independence and social dignity for all people around the world.  We will have an team update about our exciting progress on Friday July 11, 2014.  Thank you for all of our followers and supporters.  We are in the proving trial portion of the contest so lots of cool videos and pictures coming soon.

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Lidar for the Masses?


I will start out by saying that I am in no way associated with this product or its developers or retailers.  I just ran across this while researching for another project.  It looks very exciting and very affordable price for the claimed capabilities.  Late last year while I was in researching for UAV projects to work on, I looked heavily into SLAM for microquads.  Indoor navigation is a challenge I am sure that many of you are familiar with.  I would love to dive into this project but it is easily second quarter next year before I would have time.  I hope that this RPLIDAR helps anyone looking into lidar development.  Thank you for following the Aerial Vista Challenge Team Blog and we will have a team update this week.

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Travelling with an Unmanned Aerial System


Hello Everyone,

Then Aerial Vista Challenge Team has been very busy getting things arranged for the wildlife challenge.  We are making progress and are blogging more about it soon.  In fact we are setting out a new mission that we will talk a bit about in this blog and we are going to have a web store up soon to sale our catapult, t-shirts and other items to help raise funds to be able to compete in UAV Challenges.  Today I want to talk about travelling with an UAS since this is something that will have to be done to compete in South Africa.  I have travelled within the US fairly extensively with different UAS in the past but this week I traveled to Chicago with a DJI Phantom.  My travels and purpose had me thinking about our mission as a challenge team.

Travelling with a UAS as checked baggage was uneventful and went quite smooth.  To do so I prepared in several ways.  I am sure that many of you have a complete uas package with travel cases.  I have pelican cases for my planes and ground station and my DJI packs in a single goprofessional box.  The new DJI has a nice battery profile and so you do not have wires sticking every which way.  That has to help matters.  Still I did not pack the batteries with the rest of the box.  I actually packed my batteries on my carry on and had them clearly marked as batteries.  This made for smooth conversations through security.  (I am not setting this blog as any kind of way to get anything through security but legal items.  I have not attempted nor would I attempt to take on illegal items.  This is merely for the purposes of those looking to travel with a UAS for work or recreation can safely do so.  This is not an attempt to beat security.  It is to smooth travel for the convenience of the traveler and the security officer,)

The DJI Phantom itself was checked baggage.  In order to avoid confusion and/or rough handling of fragile airframes and electronics I placed a clearly typed and displayed note to the TSA.  I thank them for their service and I explain that what they are looking at is an aerial robot.  It is for the purpose of aerial photography and that it is fragile.  I thank them again for their time and wish them a pleasant day.  I like to think that being polite and informative shows that you are working to have a cooperative relationship with respect to the TSA and their requirements.  These are the things that I believe helped to make for smooth travels and my UAS was handled with care and arrived in one piece.  

The spirit of cooperation also helped me to think more about the Aerial Vista Challenge Teams mission.  We are currently competing in the 2014 Wildlife Conservation UAV Challenge and its purpose is to raise awareness to a specific issue of poaching.  In the process we can also raise awareness to the positive uses of UAS technology and the positive benefits of open source with respect to advancement and development of new technologies.  Drones have a bad reputation because they have been initially developed by military and intelligence organizations.  In the process proper civilian use has been treated as secondary use.  The truth is that the market would be many times larger for small UAS systems for commercial use than for the narrow market that is the military.  The other side of that is that their are many uses that could be for humanitarian and ecological purposes that promote health and life rather than secrecy and destruction.  

The Aerial Vista Challenge Team wants to be part of promoting UAS for good uses.  Changing the conversation to how we can use UAS to serve us in positive manners rather than the negative reputation they have for surveillance and bombing.  This weekend I had the opportunity to work with some colleagues to show an official from the City of Dallas the benefits of Urban Farming.  We were able to show him the Growing Power facilities in Milwaukee and Chicago and how they are benefiting the community in many ways.  While we were giving him the tour we were also able to take some aerial pictures for Growing Power and for what is the beginning of an aerial photo essay of urban and local farms across the country.  We are able to promote the great things about farming but we are also able to show the positive use of an UAS and how it can be used to tell a story instead of taint a familiar tale of drones.  The official from the City of Dallas and representatives from Milwaukee and Chicago will now have a different picture in their head when talk of drone use in their cities come up.   So, I believe that this is our mission.  To work with different humanitarian and conservation groups to promote human and ecological prosperity, while providing a positive experience of unmanned technologies.  The Aerial Vista Challenge Team appreciates all of our readers support and we appreciate those that sponsor us so that we can continue our work.  We will continue to improve our technologies and our efforts.

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I got a little excited and published the video a little early.  This is the official video for the Aerial Vista Challenge Team.  We are participating in the 2014 Wildlife Conservation UAV Challenge.  This is the one that we have submitted for the competition.  Thank you to our sponsors and to Inside Focus Media for creating this video.  We look forward to more design and build videos as the competition progresses.  Thank you for following our blog.

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The Aerial Vista Challenge Team is participating in the 2014 Wildlife Conservation UAV Challenge.  Thank you to all of our sponsors and a special thank you to Inside Focus Media for getting this video ready for the team.  We will be making more videos in the future about our build, the different systems that we are integrating, and details of products that have not even hit the market yet.  Thank you to all that are making this challenge possible for our team.

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Hey guys, this is a proposed hardware architecture for the UAS.  It is preliminary and more to show what we can do for documentation and how we might layout our systems.  This is just the command and control system.  There are some things to figure out like camera connections, controller layout, etc.  I think we will have to diagram our software architecture as well but I do not think we can do that yet until we have a better idea of what we are using in the system.  Our critical design review is due April 30th so I think we can also do this with pictures from the plane and may not have to have CAD drawings if we do not get that far.  What I mean by that is that we can take a picture without the wires and photoshop in the connections for labeling.  I will now try to explain connections and what each piece of hardware is and does.

A. Odroid U3

The Odroid U3 is a quad core 1.7 Ghz microcontroller.  It is very fast has a lot of processing chops for our system.  This controller was proposed by Jono to use with Andrew Tridgewell’s on board image recognition software.  It should also be able to control other systems like metal detection and RFID.  Maybe not for this competition but eventually we would actually like to have the autopilot software loaded on the Odroid or a BeagleBoneBlack and we will not have to worry about having a separate APM or Pixhawk.  The Odroid will probably in the second fuselage and will be connected to the AP (D) through USB and we have an I/O shield for the Odroid for connections to the additional embedded sensor payloads.


B. XtremeOSD

The XtremeOSD (formally the ExtremeOSD) has not even hit the market.  It should be available for sale to the general public in the next couple of months.  It has been under development for over two years and is well worth the wait.  We are the first people outside of the development team to work with this board. We could possibly be the first with a production hobby class full color OSD in the world!  The XOSD is connected to the GPS (G) in this picture but in reality the GPS will probably be connected to the AP (D).  The GPS (G) and telemetry have to be shared with the XOSD (B), the AP (D), Teleflypro (H) and of course the Bluetooth (F) and radio downlink (C).


B1. This is a controller for more convenient placement of controls if the OSD is buried in the plane.


C. 1 watt OpenLRS Tx

The OpenLRS Tx is hacked to be a transceiver which is not a standard OpenLRS branch of firmware.  This will give us a bidirectional communications with the plane.  The receiver is providing PPM input to the Channel Wizard (E) and servo instructions are transferred from there.   (See radio control function through Channel Wizard)  The telemetry and mission control will be transferred back and forth from the UART of the tranciever and the AP (D).  In this picture I connected the UART pins of the XOSD (B) and the OpenLRS (C).  Actually the UART from the OpenLRS (C) will connect to the AP (D) and then the UART from XOSD (B) will then got to the Teleflypro (H) instead of from the AP (D) to the TeleflyPro (H)


D. AUAV3 or AUAV X-1

The autopilot or AP pictured is the AUAV3.  This is from our sponsors, Nick Arsov and Philip Kocmoud, of Arsov RC Technology.  They are also about to have their production AUAV X-1 underway.  The AUAV3 is very capable autopilot that runs MatrixPilot.  The MatrixPilot is underdevelopment and has a lot of exciting capabilities.  However,  the most of our peripherals have been developed and are stable with a Pixhawk based AP running APM firmware.  While we have the board we are going to experiment and will probably use it in our Drone Prize Cycolps, we will probably have to stick with the APM based AP for the Wildlife Challenge plane.  The XOSD, and the telemetry hack are all based in APM so it will speed development in our short timeline for this contest.  That is where the AUAV X-1 comes in.  We are waiting on the shipment of two of these boards from Arsov RC Technology in the next week or so.  This is their vision of the Pixhawk board with some possibilities of seriously upgrading the microprocessor.  I also liked that they forgo the flimsy molex connectors of the Pixhawk in favor of sturdy pin outs that are standard with most of our RC equipment.


D1. Current sensor board for the AUAV3


E. Channel Wizard

The Channel Wizard will actually have a twin.  We need it to provide servo pin outs from the Radio Control Rx (C) since it is actually a transmitter module that is hacked into a receiver.  It will serve as a PPM pass through for the first eight channels to the AP and will provide us with 7 additional channels in the first fuselage and 8 additional channels for the second fuselage.  Three channels from the primary fuselage Channel Wizard will control the XOSD (B) functions.  The plane should have a total of at least 23 usable channels for flight control, on board systems manipulation, and secondary user control of camera and embedded sensors.


F. Bluetooth

The Bluetooth module may or may not be used.  It can be used for wireless changes to AP on the ground without the need to dig in the aircraft to connect a USB.  This strictly for changes on the ground.  Changes in the air will be handled by the long range telemetry link of the 1W OpenLRS (C).


G. GPS module

The GPS module pictured is probably not the module that we wish to use long term.  The AP (D) has an onboard magnetometer but I believe that we will wish to use a remote compass on the GPS module itself.  I have it connected to the XOSD (B) but will probably wish to have it connected through the GPS UART of the AP.


H. Telefly Pro

The Telefly Pro is hopefully going to be more like an appendix.  We will wish to remove it.  The reason that we will have it connected is to modulate the GPS and telemetry data via the AV channels for the MyFlyDream Automatic Antenna Tracker.  We are not showing camera and VTX connections in this picture for two reasons.  This is a hardware layout for the control systems.  The peripherals will be shown as they are connected to the individual control components.  The second reason is because we will have to decide where in the video stream the connections will happen.  It will either be connected between OSD and Camera or OSD and VTx.

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Rover for Testing Systems the Ground

3689583151?profile=originalHello everyone from the Aerial Vista Challenge Team. We have been trucking along on out competition UAV.  We are real happy with the progress and we are getting all knids of stuff in from sponsors.  This week we received our Arsov AUAV3 and in a couple of weeks we should be getting our AUAV X-1 Autopilots in.  We will really be talking about those a lot in the near future.  I would also like to add that M.A.R.S. Parachutes is sending us a mini parachute and we should be getting it in anyday.

Today I want to talk about something a little bit different.  Rovers!!!  We have a challenge here in the Texas Panhandle. I know that a lot of people deal with weather and sometimes it is just impossible to fly.  In the panhandle our big challenge is wind.  An average day here sees gusts in excess of 25 to 30 mph.  In RC this has not usually been a big deal.  With 600 size helis or larger 40 mph are navigable.  In RC planes we usually have stable simple systems.  However, in UAV work we are often pushing the boundaries and we have software that is not always stable. So between the winds and unstable programming we have a large possibility of a plane falling out of the air.  Our solution has been to make a ground rover for systems testing.

Obviously there are lot of things with plane AP's that are not able to be tested on the ground.  I want to talk about some of the things that we are hoping to accomplish with this system and what we think others can use them for.  First I will talk about the platform a little.  This is our one day rover.  I assembled this on Sunday.  I was looking for a crawler but I found a REVO that has been modified to be electric with a brushless motor.  This is obviously a very fast machine.  We are dialing down the throttle and of course programming a large amount of exponential into the radio.  We will also tune the steering so that it is mild and we will not flip and damage components.  The nice thing about this setup is that the slipper clutch is locked and so we do not have to worry about excessive wear at low speeds.  These are some things that we used to make it usable.  We needed a cheap flat platform to place electronics.  I decided on a cutting board.  They are inexpensive and made of durable Delrin.  The other components on this setup are a 500 mw 900 mhz av setup and a 433 openlrs rx.  We have the telefly pro for tracking modulation and minimal OSD.  We are starting with these systems.

The Openlrs is a great new addition to long range radio market and a great benefit for those that want more flexibility in programming.  Combined with an OpenTx radio and channel wizards you could have a very robust command and control system.  The disadvantage is that they are not exactly plug and play yet.  So these are for people who are up for debugging and personalizing a system for your own needs.  That being said, we sure do not want to find bugs in the air.  That is why we are starting with such a basic radio setup on the Rover at the moment.  I have flashed a 1W Tx and 100 mw TxRx with openlrsng.  This is the most recent stable publicly available update for the system to date.  We are just range testing and making sure that the channels work like we want them to.  We will actually be hacking a 1WTx into a reciever for the plane.  This will give us a 1W 2way communications link with the plane.  We should be able to receive telemetry and send commands on the same radio frequency at a great distance.  This has been tested with APM by the developer Luxembourg.  We will be releasing his and our work on this hack soon.  Obviously there are a lot of variables at play here so we are going to be doing extensive ground testing of this setup before we put it in the air.

The telefly pro has been added on board because we need to test our tracking system.  We have an MyFlyDream Automatic Tracking antenna and it requires that the telemetry be modulated across the audio and video channels to give us a diversity link with the plane and allows the tracker to follow the planeby coordinates and altitude.  This tracker probably stands in a category all by itself in ability and we are proud to be representing MyFlyDream with this product.  The Telefly Pro can stand alone in the system as we have it on the Rover for now or can be used in conjuction with other AP's and OSD's that do not support modem modulation of the telemetry data.  The MyFlyDream Autopilot is the only system I know that supports both video and audio channel signal with a built in OSD and AP menu without the use of a GUI.  However, it is a simple 8-bit AP like most others to date and leave a lot to be desired to combine with embedded systems and the firmware is proprietary.  While I rank it as one of the best in class for hobby class autopilots, it is not what we desire our selves for development.

We will use the rover to test the long range radio and to get the tracker calibrated and running smoothly.  Both of these will be important to be stable as we integrate them into our airborne platforms.   I also like the idea that we will be able to practice FPV control without worrying about losing orientation in 3D space.  I think this is a system that a lot of people should try before jumping into FPV planes.  It takes a lot of practice and familiarity with the radio and onboard systems control requirements.  Even flying a an RC pilot I have confused myself with multiple switch commands while trying to get used to a new system.  I think testing without worrying about the extra costs of crashing is invaluable.  We will be able to test our multiple vision systems.  We can test the radio environments and the requirements for smoothing a lot of the interference out before actually getting airborne.  We will be able to test embedding a linux based micro-controller for our sensory systems.  All this can be done without worrying about sacrificing an airplane.  We can perform critical tests regardless of the weather or wind.  If you are new to FPV, autopilots or are a developer looking for a stable test platform, a rover is an in inexpensive platform that can save a lot of headache, time and trouble.  We built this for a few hundred dollars, not counting testing systems.  It is durable and easy to deploy.  

I am sure we will be talking a lot about how much the rover saved our hind ends this year as we continue to progress with our anti-poaching plane.  As always thank you for checking in our progress in the wildlife challenge and I hope that our information can help others in the community with their unmanned systems.  Have a great week.

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Aerial Vista Challenge Team Update


Happy Saint Patrick's Day!!!  Hopefully we have the luck of the Irish as we get moving on our competition plane.  The Aerial Vista Challenge Team has been moving full steam ahead.  We have been working with sponsors and assembling the pieces to make our design concept a reality.  Joshua has started the drawings and schematics as we can get him the info.  kayla has been helping with online research and helping us get the test beds in the air.  Kenny has also been helping on the ground and with our linux and other programming based issues.  Jono has been helping with sponsors and getting our vision systems in order so we can begin testing them.  I have been working with sponsors and getting the test plane in the air.

The sponsors have been amazing.  RVJET provided us with planes and one of their RVOSD 6 platforms. Simon Hedstrom, one of the designers of the RVJET, has been instrumental in advising us with the airframe.  We have our MyFlyDream Antenna Tracker in and working with it.  Our first test we forgot to put the tracker back online after programming it so we have not been able to see it in action just yet but it has been an amazing product for many users and we are eager to get it integrated properly.  Xenics Infrared Solutions out of Belgium are providing integration of one of their high resolution thermal imaging systems.  ReadyMadeRC is providing some customer proven AV downlink solutions.  We have many other sponsors coming on line in the coming weeks and we are excited to be representing some amazing companies in our attempt at this challenge.  

I want to mention one more sponsor before get into some more about the challenge itself and our progress so far.  XtremeCopters is coming out with a new product line of multirotors and their XtremeOSD that they have been developing for a while.  We will be some of the first to use their system outside of their development group.  The XtremeOSD is a very capable pass through OSD that is fully integrated with the Pixhawk PX4 platform.  It is full color!!! I can not wait to get some DVR images and video to show all of you how amazing this OSD looks.  It will be capable of displaying all typical flight data and can be integrated to display various payload sensor information as well.

We were able to maiden our plane and it performed admirably.  I had a dumb thumb because I was too focused on what didn't work on the ground to see what was working beautifully in the air.  I will have to tell myself one system at a time.  It will be an adventure trying to integrate so much in such a short time.  Getting our portable catapult launcher up and running will help with getting more flight testing in.  I hope to be working on that this week.  The launcher will be based on an improving design of a user, brettbb, from RCGroups.  It provides a safe and repeatable short launch platform.  Brandon Moon has improved significantly on this platform.  We are working with Asia Tech Drones on their launcher and cradle design.  It will make for a nice launcher for us that will pack down to a single case and be able to launch our double fuselage design with ease.

I want to close with a little bit about the competition itself.  It is a design build competition with a lot of creative freedom.  It is a competition to be creative with technologies for anti-poaching.  Poaching has increased to an alarming rate over the last decade.  One of many species, the Black Rhino, is being driven to extinction.  The resources and manpower required to combat such an atrocity are limited and overworked.  The idea of unmanned aerial systems as a force multiplier have been proven many times over the last several decades.  All of us in the competition hope to give the rangers the tools they need to safely and effectively stop poaching before it happens.  The percentage of poaching arrests to actual animals slaughtered is atrocious.  There are videos out there of animals that have to be put down because they were subdued just enough to remove their horn.  The animal is left to suffer and die a slow death from bleeding out or infection.  It is cruel and driven solely by greed and ignorance.  We are glad that we can try to be part of a solution while advancing technologies in a field still in its infancy.  

Thank you to all the users in this forum for supporting our teams and our cause.  If it were not for those that have worked tirelessly on the development of these technologies, we would not be able to do what we are doing now.  All credit in the end goes to the entire community.  We just want you to know that we are grateful for you laying the foundation for us to all to prosper.

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I was flying my Phantom yesterday.  Licking my wounds from an earlier pilot error with a plane.  My goats and sheep decided I was herding them back in the pen.  This is a Phantom 2 Vision.  It is a fun scoot around the place quad.  I will be working on my Ecilop NEX5 Cameraship soon.  I am going to use Tiger U3 motors and a Teradek HD AV Downlink.  Thanks for watching.  More on the RVJET coming soon!!

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CG of the RVJET

3689580980?profile=originalGood Monday Morning Everyone!!  I am going to blog about the CG of the RVJET.  There are so many pros that we sometimes forget to talk about a couple of cons with the RVJET.

When the design team were building and designing the RVJET they were not completely sure of all the specs of items like the motor, and ESC. They could not think of all the possible configurations that the RVJET would be set up with at the user level.  The other thing to think about is that this was designed for FPV users and not necessarily the Autonomous Vehicle Crowd.  It is ok though,there are lots of solutions in this amazing air frame.

In the first picture I went with the first natural configuration that the system was designed for.  I have the MFD AP and Spektrum 2.4 system in the plane.  (I have been waiting over thirty days for my package from HK to get here with my LRS.  This was simply setup for testing and first flight.)  I placed the two 5000 mah batteries in the front compartment and my camera in the KX191 in the Gimbal with two servos for the pan and tilt.  This first setup gave me the CG about an 1 inch/25mm in front of the fin.  This was according to the manual that this would be ok.  This is a typo in the manual.  The picture shows the right CG but the print is wrong.  The CG should always be where the fin meets the wing at the bottom.  There are about +/-5-10mm play there I have been informed but should really be at the winglet.  The first flight was a disaster because the roof hatch came off and the GPS/ Bluetooth and half the hatch cover were lost in the air.  They were probably cutoff by the blades.   I almost got it back around and it nosed in.  This was purely my fault.  But the wing is incredibly resilient.  The dome protected the camera and the only foam damaged was a small kink in the wing (no problem) and the top portion of the fuselage and the hatch cover had to be replaced.  And I had to replace the pan plate in the tilt/pan configuration because it broke a small pin.

In this second picture I have a very similar configuration but since I was able to rework everything I took the opportunity to do so.  I had hoped that my LRS would have been here but alas it is still not here.  


I should also note that this is my personal RVJET not my sponsored ships.  The equipment will be different and that will be addressed in the build logs of the conservation UAV.  I will answer any question on components but this blog is about CG not the equipment specs.  I will be doing a write up in the future about the MFD AP.  It has an amazing launch feature that everyone should have.

Alright back to the second configuration here.  One of the things that you may notice in the first picture is that it is not an ideal EMI environment for any of the equipment.  My battery wires are too long and all kinds of mess with that configuration.  Another blog I will address this more thoroughly and what I have done to prevent and shield EMI and RFI.  I have carved the front hatch in this setup so that the batteries will set across the bay and in front of the front spar.  The third picture will show that cutout and how it is set.  This moved the battery weight back while keeping pretty much everything but the AV radio in the same place.  I moved the 2.4 Rx to provide clear access to the indicator lights in the MFD AP.

3689580996?profile=originalIn this third picture I have set the batteries in front of the spar.  It seems that the best ideas come after the fact but I glued the top cover over this.  I can charge the batteries on board and 10000mah should give me ample time for testing and enjoying the RVJET in this layout.  I also thought about cutting the batteries in the rear compartment.  One can see my marks that I made in case.  The designers have informed me that there is plenty of foam that can be cut out of the bays.  The RVJET is way overbuilt as far as the fuselage is concerned and it will not compromise the integrity of the frame to make strategic cuts in the foam.  It also has plenty of foam in the wings and sections to tunnel wires to a LRS or AV if one chooses.  We will probably be doing this in the competition plane.  There will be a lot more equipment up front so placing the batteries in the back will still be able to be offset in the front for CG.


3689581072?profile=originalIn these two pictures I am showing a couple more layouts.  We we will probably make a cutout for three batteries in the rear compartment and two batteries in the front.  We do not plan on using 25000 mah in batteries it will just give us some flexibility in managing payloads by placing two batteries in back, two in front, or one in front and three in back, or two in front and back at the same time. or just three in back.  It will be helpful when we start switching out different camera and sensor payloads.

The editing on this is a problem so please scroll down to the last picture and there will be the hatch explanation and the conclusion to the blog.

3689580908?profile=originalThis sixth picture is of the top fuselage.  It is supposed to be glued in place and we did on this build and it locks in the batteries.  I could have carved enough to twist the batteries out but I did not.  On the competition build we will be modifying this piece.  We will cut the fuselage top about a half inch aft of the hatch opening.  This will allow us to glue it to the motor mount and lock it in place all the way around it.  The rest of the fuselage top will be bolted in place with two bolts in front of the front batteries and two just aft of the second spar before the ESC.  This will give four bolts and the front is fastened with the camera pod.  This should make for a secure fuselage that the batteries can be removed and the hatch cover can still be accessed in between as well just like normal.

3689581098?profile=originalAs always thank you for reading our blog and I hope that you have fun flying.  I hope this tutorial is handy so that it will help you balance CG while providing plenty of batteries for endurance.  We will be covering this subject again as we actually build the double fuselage competition plane.  Have a wonderful week.

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3689578042?profile=originalI said that I was not going to write about unpacking the RVJET but I think that there is a lot in the box to be excited about.  I will disclose that I personally have a RVJET and the one that I am unpacking is sponsored to us from Range Video.  The company that had the RVJET commissioned for design and manufacturing.  The Swedish engineering team that designed the RVJET are second to none.

In the first picture you can see that the RVJET is packed nicely in the carton.  The carton can be used as a handy carrying case as the RVJET breaks down for transport.  I do not recommend throwing away the box.  The little bits like carbons stiffeners and control rods are inside the carbon spars you see on top.  Don't let your kids play swords with the spars.  Or at least not until you have properly unpacked them.


These are the wings and the extensions.  On my first build I glued the sections together.  This build we will make plugs on either side of the extensions so that we can fly with them in either a short or long wing configuration.  This also makes the wings and fuselage pack just the same as shipping.  This will come in handy.  I will show a picture below of the plane packed as if were ready to go to or from the field.  The foam has a good feel to it and is manufactured to tight tolerances.  The entire package is obvious that pride went into the providing something of quality and value.

This is the fuselage.  It is cradled nicely.  This kit comes in a lot of pieces.  The fuselage has a top with lid, and a bottom with two panels on the bottom to be glued after servo extensions are in place.  We are going to be doing some cool hot iron grooves to place radio equipment out on the wings.  This will be in subsequent build blogs.  Finally their are two vertical fins on either side that complete the fuselage.  In the top left hand side of this picture you can see the foam nose cone.  For your maiden flights it is wise to use the foam cone instead of the camera gimbal while you are trimming out the plane.  This is especially recommended if you are just moving into wings or are otherwise inexperienced.  

I also would like to add with this picture that you can see the black gimbal housing and three clear domes.  We will talk more about the domes when I blog about the gimbal.  We will give the camera setup its own blog post for sure.

This to me is where it really gets exciting.  You open the lid and you realize that it is not all foam.  inside the fuselage there is a smorgasbord of plastic and metal parts.  It is all packed well and if you order other parts they are great about placing placing what they can in the box so that you are not paying for extra shipping of additional packing.  So if you ordered the power pack, OSD or other FPV equipment, do not throw out any packing material without first unfolding it.  You might find yourself wondering where the rest of your order is and realizing that the trash guy just hauled off your new AV transmitter.


All of the items in the picture except the red anti-vibration kit are what come standard with the RVJET.  The plane is a complete system.  I think this is what sets the RVJET apart from other companies "complete" set up.  The kit has all the parts to setup the camera gimbal in three complete configurations, four if you count that the GoPro set has the parts for all three generations of the HD Camera.  The mini camera setup can be configured in either pan/tilt or tilt/pan.  We will get into that in the gimbal blog.  All the linkages for the different configurations and the control horns and connections are included.  The servo extensions for the wing are in the box and all the servos that you need for the gimbal and wings are in the package.  

I think this makes it an incredible value at $250.  For $99 more you get the power pack.  I regret that I do not have a picture of the power pack from my first build.  I will provide some pictures as soon as I get the two for these planes.  The powerpack has the motor, 65A esc, spinner, carbon fiber prop, and prop stop to avoid over folding.  That is a complete kit with everything but the Radio Equipment, Glue and Batteries to get you in the air.  The plane and the parts were extensively tested for quality, price, and ability to perform.  There is not many other planes out there and certainly not with a camera gimbal that I would recommend to purchase the stock equipment.  These are relabeled quality parts.  The servos are all metal gear and the motor and speed control are commonly available RC parts that can be bought elsewhere not complete with spinner and carbon fiber prop for $99.


This picture are the parts that would make the finished air frame packed back into the box.  It will transport nicely to and from the field this way.  I do not recommend throwing away the box when you get the plane out.  I am personally thinking about Rhino lining the exterior of the box to make a rugged water proof shipping case out of the box.  If I do it will be in a later blog.

IN conclusion the first impressions of opening the box are the same as the first RVJET that I ordered.  We are a sponsored team but we chose this air frame because of the extensive testing that it underwent before it went to market.  Having already owned and flown an RVJET I was already a happy customer.  There are a few things that we will do to make our build go a little smoother and I think there are few areas of improvement that we can discuss.  Overall though I would give Range Video and the design team an A+ for this kit.  I think this wing is the standard by which other wings should be judged.  Thank you Range Video for sponsoring the Aerial Vista Challenge Team in the 2014 Wildlife Conservation UAV Challenge.  Thank you again for reading our blog.  I hope that you all have a wonderful day and Happy Flying.

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Aerial VIsta Challenge Team Design Concept

3689577541?profile=originalHello Everyone!!  As many of you know, we have been entered into the 2014 Wildlife Conservation Challenge.  We are in the process of submitting our initial design concept.  Before I get into that, I would like to thank our sponsors that are making this possible.  RVJET has provided the RVJET airframes.  Fruity Chutes is providing the recovery chute.  MyFlyDream is providing their top notch antenna tracking system  and Xenics Infrared Solutions out of Belgium is providing us with a Gobi 640 Thermal Imaging Camera for the contest.  We have other sponsors sending items and we will be announcing them as we are integrating them into the design.  Fruity Chutes is even going to give us a coupon code that we can give out to all of you, so that you can get a discount on your own system.  We will be providing that soon on here and our team website.


3689577598?profile=originalOk, so I know that many of you are excited to hear about the RVJET.  I have been flying my personal plane in the long wing configuration and I am eager to try out flying in the short wing setup,  I have provided some pictures so that you can see the modular air frame concepts.  As you can see it is a versatile aircraft that can be configured for multiple mission parameters.  I think making it an ideal UAS platform.

The double fuselage is a concept that I am not sure has been tested yet.  It was designed by Simon Hedstrom and his team to be able to fly in this configuration.  We wish to use this configuration because of the requirement for systems integration by the contest rules.  The basis of the contest is to design a relatively inexpensive UAS that can perform anti-poaching missions in an area the size of New Jersey.  Therefore, it will need to be versatile and carry a rather large payload.

The integrated systems will be as follows.   We are planning to use the Pixhawk autopilot with a teleflypro attached to the GPS to give us automatic antenna tracking on the ground.  The OSD will be handled by the RVOSD6.  We will not integrate flight stalization from the rvosd.  We need the processing power and the waypoint capabilities of the Pixhawk.  Telemetry communications will be through a modified Openlrs 1W Transmitter hacked into a receiver.  Thank you Ben from Luxembourg for the coding for this modification.  We will integrate 1.3ghz and 5.8 ghz for video of both cameras and of course they will have switching so that a single or multiple users will be able to view from either camera during the mission.  We will also stream the video over a TCP/IP network for alternate user/device access.  That will probably be from the ground station so that on board systems are not taxed.  The camera pods are interchangeable and complete so that it only requires three quick connect wires and four screws to complete a change.  The night vision with IR capable camera and Thermal Vision are going to be the most exciting payloads.  However,  the day camera with a separate mapping camera is going to provide mountains of useful data.  Including urban and agricultural encroachment history and changes to topography or vegetation over time.

The anti-poaching systems go beyond the visual aid of cameras.  One system that will be integrated is an RFID interrogator to be able to scan and identify individual animals in the game preserve.  This will be a long range reader that can read a chip from at least 300ft AGL.  We are hoping to achieve twice that.  The second system is long range metal detection.  The idea is to be able to identify a threat from humans on the ground.  Do they have vehicles?  Are they carrying weapons and such.  While the Thermal Camera will be able to identify recently fired weapons, it will not see the weapons if they are cold.  This will probably be the hardest of the systems to integrate because I fear that we will have to provide robust shielding from EMI of the metal detector coil.  Finally, we will have a non-lethal deterrent as well.  We are planning on integrating a laser dazzler.  It is a diffused laser that pulses to combine a nauseating and disorienting  effect on a potential threat.

The combined effect of these systems should make for a potent competition UAV.  It will be able to perform multiple simultaneous mission objectives over a long range and adequate time on mission.  It will be able to fly autonomously or under manual control.  It will be able to provide data to a large number of users in multiple locations in real time.  The UAS will identify individual animals and scan for potential threats.  On identity of a possible threat the UAS will be able to provide a detailed assessment of the threat.  We identify the number of individuals in the party and whether or not they have vehicles or weapons.  Upon confirmation of weapons, rangers will be aware of the requirements of the situation and the location of individuals.  The UAS can engage in non-lethal interdiction preventing the ability of the poachers to engage the animal and confusing them to deter escape till authorities arrive.

Thank you again for all of your feedback and support.  We look forward to providing more details of the build and test flights.  Till next time.

Toby Lankford

Joshua Johnson

Jonathan Parrott

2014 Aerial Vista Challenge Team

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3689576486?profile=originalHey Everyone!!  It has been a challenging last two weeks.  My father has been real ill and finally he is on the mend.  It was touch and go for a bit but we are glad he is getting better.  I appreciates everyone's kind words and thoughts during the last month.  We have also had lots of baby goats and sheep to tend to on the farm.  We have been able to catch up with the team website and we have the team bio's as well.  I also have some bio's on a couple of the advisers.  We are working on getting the sponsors page working with links to the sponsors and the rest of the sponsors  on the page.  Thank you everyone for your support and we look forward to blogging the build.  Below is the Team Bio and a link to the team web page.

Aerial Vista Challenge Team Page

Aerial Vista Challenge Team

2014 Wildlife Conservation UAV Challenge


Joshua Johnson – Team Member

Joshua Johnson is currently 22 years old and going to school at Hennepin Technological College for CAD Engineering.  He has been involved in the hobby side of UAVs since he was 14 years old.  He is the founder of, which is an open source community for drone enthusiasts who are knowledgeable in CAD and 3D Printing.  Drone applications that help people and animals are his main focus in regards to his work on his personal UAVs.


Jonathan “Jono” Parrott – Team Member 

Jono attended the University of New South Wales with a degree in Aviation Management and currently resides in Canberra, Australia working in the aviation industry as an Air Traffic Management Officer. He has been participating in UAV’s for search and rescue use with a non for profit local group, CanberraUAV, for a few years now. They placed first in the Kingaroy Outback Challenge a couple of years ago!

Kayla Fuller – Team Member

Kayla is a student of the arts and a citizen of the earth.  She has worked with The Lankford Group for over four years.  She has an extreme passion for animals and Mother Nature.  She has worked to educate people about the benefits of living within our environment.  From living off the grid to stewardship of the animals both wild and domesticated.


Kenny White- Adviser  

Kenny has been into computers since there were computers.  Kenny has traveled extensively in the last decade and has gained a greater appreciation of the earth and how our actions in the west are dramatically affecting people around the world through climate change.  Conservation of the Earth and her resources extend beyond just the climate and the environment.  He wishes to preserve the many distinct cultures around the world and introduce them to the West.  His art makes the viewer confront the questions of which cultures are really enlightened.


Simon Hedstrom – Adviser

Simon is a student and engineer in Sweden.  He was on the original design and build team that brought us the RVJET airframe.  He has worked on many design and engineering projects to make UAV’s more effective and FPV more practical for the everyday user.


Toby Lankford – Team Leader

Toby is the founder of The Lankford Group and its many subsidiaries.  The Lankford Group is an idea lab that develops companies with an eye towards the environment and its workers as equal and valuable stakeholders in the business process.  Among the socially and environmentally conscience companies are a focus on local food production and distribution.  As such Aerial Vista, another of the companies has been using UAV’s to solve many community and agricultural challenges.  From using UAV’s to survey, saving many man hours and vehicle hours, to mapping erosion loss and water shed effectiveness.

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3689574786?profile=originalThank you Range Video for sponsoring our Wildlife Conservation UAV Team!!  We will be announcing our other sponsors as they come on board.  The team is rounding out as well.  We will be introducing ourselves as we get things organized over the next couple of weeks. Our team is being fielded from here in the states and we have a member in Australia.  We are still forming and have room.  The team is representing The Lankford Group and our aeronautics research division, Aerial Vista. 

For those unfamiliar with the competition, it is a design build challenge to come up with a UAV for anti-poaching operations in Kruger National Park in South Africa.  It has to be able to sense weapons on the ground, identify individual animals, ward off poachers till rangers arrive, and of course provide the location of the poachers with GPS.  It is an interesting challenge and I feel that we already ninety percent of the way there.

I wish to use the RVJET platform because I feel that it is a well designed and well rounded platform for a variety of missions.  It has the capacity to hold enough batteries for extended flights and the camera pods can be fitted with different configurations for day, night, or even mapping missions.  I had planned to detail the first RVJET that I have in a build blog but we will actually blog about the entire build for the competition.  So the blog will providing multiple purposes.  We can't wait to get into this one.  I will try to begin introducing the team over the next week and any design developments that we come up with to share.  Thank you again to Range Video for being our sponsor and thank you reader for taking the time to peruse our blog.

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3689574260?profile=original Hello all!!  I had to step away for a couple of weeks.  We have been dealing with my father's health and I had to travel to attend his surgery.  He is in better shape and on his way to a speedy recovery I hope. I have to go help them setup some things at their house tomorrow so that he will be able to function in recovery but then I should be able to get back at it regularly.

I am really looking forward to sharing my RVJET build with all of you.  There are a few tricks that I did along the way that I will post to hopefully make your future RVJET build go smoothly.  I have yet to be able to make a maiden flight with it however.  The weather has been atrocious.  Today's high was 16 degrees Fahrenheit with snow and ice.  That has been the norm it seems this winter.    Oh yeah, I live in Texas, not Minnesota.  So this is a bit extreme.

I did receive some awesome news last week.  I am fielding a team for the WCUAV anti-poaching challenge!!!  I am really excited to be accepted into this contest.  I think that it will have some implications on work that we can do in the states as well, especially for grizzlies and wolves.  We will be detailing our plan and our design soon.  We will have plenty of room for sponsors, advisors and people to give us moral support.  I am sure that we will be using the RVJET and I am trying to decide between the Pixhawk and the Parallella board but more on that soon.  If you are interested in being a team member please feel free to let me know.  If we advance to the actual flight competition, it will be a 10 day trip to South Africa in November.  Just give me a shout.  I would love to have a person versed in 3D CAD and possibly a software engineer that specializes in camera software.

Thank you friends for taking the time to read my blog and I look forward to getting back to regular flights and postings.  Happy Flying!!

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3689569866?profile=originalGood Morning Everybody!!

It is another bright day in Amarillo, and it is a cold one.  It 4:30 AM and 7 degrees outside.  That is Fahrenheit.  It is going to be another off topic day, as I am still waiting on my RVJET.  I am skeptical that after ten days that I will be receiving it today.  I received free shipping from china on two packages last week that arrived in just a few days.  I am really disappointed that I did not pay for shipping to receive the box faster.  I have to remember that I am getting a 2M wing with domed gimbal and all of the components to fly as an RC for just $350.00.  I think that is an excellent value.

I want to take a few moments today and talk about what I have been up to the last few years that I have been away from drones.  In 2009, when I put up the drones, my family was going through a lot of changes.  We were selling our house in town and looking for a property with a few acres.  We found a lovely little place with four acres North of the city.  I had grown up in a agricultural community and I missed farming and raising animals for food.  The truth is I dragged my wife kicking and screaming to our own version of "Green Acres".  It turned out to be a very good thing for my family.  So much so, that a year later my wife thanked me for bringing our family to the farm.  It was wonderful.  We had our animals all close enough to the house that we could walk outside and feed everyday.  I took the deck off a lawn tractor and a small utility trailer and we would take feed and water to all the animals on our little farm.  My daughters loved gathering eggs and appreciated that we were raising our own pigs for the freezer.  

I began 2009, joining the board of a fledgling non-profit.  That year we founded a one acre garden at the local food bank.  It also introduced me to a dear friend that has led me to where I am today.  In 2011, I was given an enormous opportunity.  I was asked to move my family and farm off grid onto 600 acres of land.  This land is an old caliche strip mine and we are trying to form a community of regenerative development.  We have learned many things over the last three years.  We live, a family of six, in the house you see pictured above.  We have solar electric and solar water heat.  Our roof catches the rainwater that we use for all of our domestic water.  We are three quarters of a mile from the nearest electric line and two miles from water and natural gas infrastructure.  Not having bills that increase has been a freedom that many talk about and few achieve.  Not being affected when the power goes out in the area due to thunderstorms or heavy snows is incredible.  Our first year at this house a water main to the city ruptured and still we were unaffected.  Some people relegate this alternative style to hippies or crazy survivalist homesteaders.  I can tell you that it has been the most freeing and rewarding experience of my life.  It makes economic sense.  It really can be as simple as that.  We have dozens of goats, sheep, cows and pigs.  We have two miniature donkeys and two little ponies.  We have three dogs, two cats, and a parakeet.  My children, especially my youngest, think that we live in paradise.

Last year, we started a year round Urban Farm and Market.  We leased an 8000 square foot green house in the city.  We began growing vegetables, oyster mushrooms, and even raising farmed tilapia in a variety of beds, bags and aquaponics systems.  I realized that we have lost contact with our neighbors when we left the land and stopped shopping locally.  I think we were strongest as a nation and leaders of the world when we were local ag based economies.  We tended to interact with our neighbors a little more.  We knew the owners of the stores and services that we patronized.  As a result, we seemed to take care of ourselves and our families a little better.  We were proud and rightfully so.  It also is what has led me back to drones.

Seven or eight years ago when I first started messing with drones, I had already come from a pretty extensive RC background.  I had thought it would be fun to see what the plane is seeing ever since I was 9 years old and purchased my first rc trainer.  Fast forward almost twenty years and the military had been doing it for a while and so in 2006, all of the sudden everything was there available to the consumer to piece together a drone.  I imagined all kinds of possibilities for use of drones in civilian airspace.  So I founded Aerial Vista.  We started taking pictures for real estate and construction companies.  Soon we were taking live news video, and we even were able to work our way into assisting with aircraft accident investigations.   With a drone we could fly the last few miles of a flight up to impact point.  It gave a really unique perspective to investigators.  For the first time they were able to see an accident all the way up to impact as a pilot would have observed it.  It gave insight into why from a certain altitude a pilot might have chosen a particular area to make an emergency landing.  Or what conditions might have existed to cause a person to react to the situation that they were faced with.  We could even recreate some malfunctions to give a researcher an opportunity to participate in the accident.  That is a blog I will have to write separately sometime.  

Another aspect of what we were doing and what is now being done all over is ag monitoring.  We were able to look at crops from an angle and with a detail never provided.  We could stitch together a picture and all of the sudden we could see all kinds of information about our crops.  Is an area not receiving adequate irrigation?  Were the crops badly damaged in the last thunderstorm or even if there were areas of encroachment from predatory insects. We could even see lines in the crops where deer and other wildlife had invaded.  It also gave us a chance to monitor our herds like never before.  I knew at the time that we were really onto something.  We left the drones for a while to pursue economic freedom, and now all of that has come back full circle.

Today, we find ourselves on the brink of change.  We need surveying and accurate topo maps of our land so that we can plan our future development.  So I thought that I could probably dust off my old planes.  That would have been the simple solution.  However, in my research for some updated parts I could not believe what is now available.  The APM has really matured.  FPV radio availability has broadened, flight stability is pretty solid and the boards have gotten faster.   You can purchase a 16 core mcu board for a $100.  I purchased a fully capable autopilot with accessories for two hundred dollars.  It has more features than most OSD's its price class.  I love what has happened with the open source projects.  The community of people  in this forum and like OpenTx and Openlrs are as helpful and neighborly as you would have found in any post war community in America.  Perhaps more so, since we don't bring the baggage of politics, class or religion in these discussions.  I have been back on the forums for a month and I have been welcomed with open arms.  I get a sense of egalitarian camaraderie from participating in these forums and a chance to be part of the next big thing.  That is one of the most important aspects of being part of the growing open source communities.  This is what farming, drones, and off grid living mean to me.

Thank you again for reading my blog this week.  I will pick up on Monday.  Hopefully my plane will have come in and we can talk about setup next week.  Have a safe and happy weekend!!

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