We tried some formation flying with 2 different APM equipped planes.

Both were loaded with AP v2.76 and the same exact mission except for the chase plane flying 20m higher than the target plane. Both planes had cameras in, a Mobius HD Cam and 1.3GHz video link in the chase plane.

In the video I first flew in FBW-A mode then in full AUTO.

We found that the distance between waypoints was too close at 600m as there was not enough time to catch up before the next turn when a plane fell behind or pulled ahead. Due to the variability of the airframes, getting the airspeed synchronized was troublesome as was their turnrate.

We did manage to get some air to air video but our fun was cut short by Phil's plane stalling on the downwind turn with Ardupilot ramping up the throttle too slowly and not being able to recover from the resultant spin, the crash is in the video.

Will try again soon.

Views: 2230

Comment by Dean on January 2, 2014 at 1:00pm
Valdez nooooooo! What a pity Phil.
Comment by criro1999 on January 2, 2014 at 1:01pm

Nice video and idea.

Did you ever consider to have a formation flying, using "Follow me" feature?

You have one plane with a pre-loaded mission. In the same time this 1st plane has as payload an android device with DroidPlanner. This plane is the master.

The second plane (slave) with APM will need to follow the first plane (master). You just need to enter the altitude difference (altitude separation). 

Since the master will have the pre-loaded mission, the slave just follow it. Theoretically, this chain could be extended. One single mission, multiple master-slave with "follow me".

3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on January 2, 2014 at 1:24pm

Love this experiment. We've been playing around with formations, too, using the built-in Swarming function in Mission Planner. Here's a demo with rovers.

Comment by Graham Dyer on January 2, 2014 at 1:25pm

I did consider 'follow me' but putting an Android device plus extra telemetry radio into the plane seemed like a lot to achieve something we could achieve fairly easily without it, we also only had two telemetry radio's and wanted to keep in touch with both planes, plus we were actually interested in how the planes would fly together with independent autopilots.

What would be better was if the two groundstations could talk and have one plane follow the other that way. Or even have one ground station control two planes...

On that note, I haven't tried it yet but one can run two instances of the Mission Planner on one laptop with two radio's using different ports but the two MP's couldn't talk to each other without skills that I don't have.

Anyway I'm sure the planes could be tuned to fly very closely in formation with a little bit of effort.

Comment by Graham Dyer on January 2, 2014 at 1:27pm

@Chris, I didn't realize the swarm function existed, would it work for aircraft?

3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on January 2, 2014 at 1:28pm

@Graham: Theoretically, yes, but I think it's only been tested on copters. 

Comment by Phil Rudram on January 2, 2014 at 10:26pm

We will test the theory as soon I can put a plane back in the sky.Will leave the how bit to Graham.

3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on January 3, 2014 at 12:00am

@Graham: Instructions for swarming/formation flying with the Mission Planner are in the manual here

Comment by Ryan Beall on January 3, 2014 at 2:10am

Try closing on the plane on the 30-45 degree bearing line.  Flying form is really hard from the 6 o'lock position.  If you close on the 45 deg bearing line you can more accurately judge your closer speed.  Never just drive straight towards the plane.  Always work on getting on the bearing line and then use throttle to work your way closer on the bearing line.  If you get off of the bearing line get back on using roll before changing throttle.


Comment by Carl La France on January 3, 2014 at 5:45pm

Excellent video thanks for sharing  reminds me of  the pre programmed quads flying the"  Bat" formation over London


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