I've been working on a new helicopter platform the last few months. Based on an MSH Protos heli which I chose because it's an extremely light weight platform, weighing in at only ~1200g without battery. It has a full belt drive which I much prefer to gears as it's quieter, lower vibration and more reliable. I've had a few problems with it because the belt drive makes a really awesome Van deGraaf generator... not a good thing on a UAV. But I solved that, and am conducting test flights now.

The flight controller is a modified PX4v1. I replaced the switching regulator with a MIC29300, so that I can run it on 2S direct with the servos. Main motor power is 4S 5000, typically this heli would run on 6S 3300. Using the MSH stretch kit and 465mm Spinblade Asymmetric blades. In otherwise standard form, this heli flew for 17 minutes on an old crusty battery, in -10C temperatures.

I have now added a subframe to hold an extra battery, FPV gear with a camera in the nose, and a vibration damped NADIR camera mount to be used for aerial mapping. The idea is to develop a mapping UAV that is superior to a multirotor, offering a valid alternative to a fixed wing for short to medium range missions. The VTOL capabilities would eliminate all the nastiness of catapults, and controlled-crash landings with onboard cameras in rugged areas.  Even the price is attractive at about $400 for the basic kit with motor and ESC (no servos).

Specifications show the advantage of a heli platform. This machine has an AUW including the batteries and camera of only ~3kg. It is 80m long, and about 15cm wide not including the extended legs, and 30cm high. The blades fold for easy transport, without requiring any lose wires or vibration-prone electrical connectors as a folding multirotor does. It actually looks much bigger on the table than it really is. This seems to be very good compared to multirotors I've seen with the same performance. (payload and duration)

Vibrations are always a problem with helis, but manageable with the right design and construction techniques.


Arducopter really makes helis worthwhile. You could buy two entire heli systems including a Tx for the price of a single DJI Ace One non-waypoint controller.  Or 7 for the cost of a single Ace One waypoint enabled controller.  I strongly prefer the PX4 controller over the APM and Pixhawk, because it offers 32-bit performance in a small package that is easier to mount in a heli frame.

So does it work? I took it up for it's first photo tests yesterday, and it worked beautifully. Better than 80% photos are usable. It flies for 20 minutes in a hover with old, cold batteries (-5C). I'm hoping for closer to 30 minutes while actually moving (helis are more efficient moving than hovering), in warmer weather with new batteries.  It should have an easy cruising speed of 15 m/s with little or no reduction in flight time.  At 20 minutes, this would offer an 18km range, and 27 if it can do 30 minutes.  If you wanted to do FPV and not mapping, you could configure it with a 3rd battery in place of the SX260 and fly for... 30-45 minutes, and a range of up to 36km.  Top airspeed is still TBD, but probably 20-25 m/s.  

Wind penetration and stability is excellent compared to both multirotors and fixed-wing.  You could do a mapping mission in winds up to 40 km/h with little effect on stability or duration.


If the success continues, I'm going to consider building a large gasser heli.  This would allow flight times up to 2 hours, or payloads on the order of 10 lbs for 30 minutes.  So you could map large areas, or even perform light duty spraying operations.  I'm thinking about local application of a herbicide for things like Giant Hogweed elimination, that sort of thing. Such a large heli does pose significant danger and should only be used in industrial, agricultural or remote areas.

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  • That works for me. Just wanted to judge its size. Thanks!

  • Can't give to much on it right now. The link below has a picture of it. 


  • @Sean Whitney, 

    Wow. Those are some impressive numbers. 

    Could you please share a photo? :)

  • I wasn't to fond of booms hanging out either. I tried several isolator configuration but the video was never great. I got to the point where it was decent but not good enough.

    After talking to a few people in the industry it came down to the boom system. After making my own boom isolator system using Lord isolators in the rear and shock mounts up front, the video came out awesome first try!  

    I am running 950mm rotor tech main blades at 1150 RPM weighing in at 33lbs and getting 45 min flight times so I am pretty happy with my setup. :) 

  • Rob,  we are thinking alike.  I have looked at a four blade head with spinblades to be a potential solution. I am waiting for a digital pitch gauge and turnbuckles to arrive in the mail so I can try and get the blade tracking perfected. Back to the video.  I use a Hero 3+ black set at 1080, 60fps, medium fov (127 degrees).  I think the Traditional Helicopter has been overlooked in this community as an outstanding platform for a variety of uses. Lots of bearings and adjustments, but, capable of carrying lots of stuff in adverse conditions.


    David Boulanger

  • David, yes, I think that's a factor for sure.  I've been thinking about trying a 5 blade head... ;)

  • Sean, I'm not a fan of those boom mounted camera gimbal things.  I'm trying to build a better solution.

  • Rob. Nice Heli.  I have achieved vibration free video on my 550. A very firm camera mount at a rotor speed of 1900 rpm. This is at a frame rate of 60fps.  I have been trying for months to get smooth video with a headspeed in the 1500 rpm range and have been able to reduce the "jello" but not eliminate it.  It seems to be all about the frequency the blades circle around the swash plate. I have tried softer mounts and firm ones and just cannot find a solution. So at the moment on a 5 amp 6s pack I fly for 11 minutes for shooting video or slow the headspeed down for still shots and fly for 14 minutes. My 8 amp pack will give me 20 minutes. She weighs 8 1/2 pounds and I don't see any reason why she can't lift another 2 or 3 pounds of batteries

  • Wow, I switched to multi rotor, and you're switching back. Excluding the details, this is the argument I have been having with myself for a long time, which platform is better? After my fly-away and crash with a custom quad, (I did repair it, can't get APM to com with tx, everything else works, all sensors, etc.), I said to myself I'm going back to trad helis, which I've been at when tail gyros were the new WOW item.

    What originally got me interested in multis is the lack of moving parts. Less points of mechanical failure, but WAY  more electronic ones, obviously, but they are easier to fly.

    Rob, you can always put on taller struts, and literally put shelves under it. I've tried ever vibe dampening trick, including water wands, (ugly, but work great), for isolating just the camera. I was using a HeliCommand first gen 3-axis gyro, just mounted on the tail, no prob with vibes there, but also a very well made, expensive German unit, $600. I started looking for auto-pilots back then, but was only finding the high-dig devices like Micro-Pilot from Canada. ($8000). Now there are a "cheap" alternatives, and the high-dig guys are getting a lot of competition, (check out Airware, only $5000!!)

    Are the high-dig FCs more reliable? Nobody knows, cuz' those guys don't talk about their failures.

    I'm not giving up on multis, getting a quick picture of something like a winery or a mansion, a multi is easier and less dangerous, but to map or inspect the vineyard, trad will do it faster. 

    I hate gassers and here's why: GAS! OIL! It gets everywhere! On your lense, on the machine, smoke and noise! and crazy vibration. You will have do deal with head speed governers, torque curves, etc. Only bonus is flight duration.

    The electric flight time problem, (and car drive times, too), is being solved. The "blu-ray" battery is coming. I wish I had a link for this, I saw it on TV. These guys coated regular CDs with their magic super secret coating, literally burn it in a blu-ray burner, stack them with insulation in between and wire them up into cells. These batteries are supposed to hold massive charges, with huge discharge rates, and the car size pack recharges in 15 minutes. It will change everything. I hope we don't wait too long for it, and the oil companies don't kill those guys.

    Rob, also, try wiring up a light to your boom's static, it will give that electricity somewhere to go. I use an aluminum tail boom and a metal drive wheel, so the belt is also grounded to the frame, never had a problem.

    Also: total damage from last crash: minor frame damage, repaired, tacoed $150 Thunder Power batt, one Castle Ice 50 esc, $100, APM 2.5, (won't com with tx anymore) $200, $300 GoPro, $50 camera mount, $13 HDX 500 tail boom,(for cam). That crash really hurt, and it didn't even hit me!

    OK then, be safe, I don't want to hear about an accident on TV! I came close.


  •  R_Lefebvre

    I was having a hard time getting my video stabilized like you were saying. What it came down to was getting the front tube mounting system from photoshipone.com. Video is now super stable. You need to have the Lord isolators in the rear with shock mounts in the front. 

    The picture on the website is a little out dated but check it out. 

    Photoshipone Front Mount Tube

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