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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  • Guy, I don't know what firmware you are using but I am using 3.01.  I have H RSC MODE set to 2 and H GOV SETPOINT set to 1725.  In this mode if you send a high signal into APM 8 (over 1800 PWM I think ) it will send out your set point PWM. In my case 1725 is about 70%.  If you are not armed and you accidentally hit the switch nothing will be sent to your ESC. So it is safe and prevents you from flying unarmed


    David R. Boulanger

  • Hi David. thank you for the comment.

    my radio is set to plane mode. ( i am used to it since my copter x had sdk stabilizer ... )

    i am not sure i got you. all i need to do on channel 8 is on/off ( high/low ) pwm signal ?  is it like the throttle-cut function in heli ? 

    actually i am puzzled by several things ( i wrote it in the forum but i will copy here if it is ok )


    thanks again.

  • Guy, Use airplane mode on your transmitter.  I was reluctant at first after using Heli on my transmitter for so long. The throttle stick becomes your blade pitch. In my setup I use channel 5 ( gear ) to send a high signal to the APM ch8 input to tell it to spool up the motor.  It seems that there is a variety of ways people choose to set up their radios to achieve the same purpose.  Does that make some sense?


    David R. Boulanger

  • i am sitting all day reading the setup up instructions for the helicopter apm ... sure not easy ...

    using this pages:



    i am unable to understand what should i set to channel 6 "pitch" on the tx .. anyone have an idea ?


    i am not sure about the progress that is made on the copters / plane software, ( i am using 3.1.2 on my hexacopter but did not notice anything different from the previous version ) but i saw Robert's  videos that show loiter and auto missions .. so i guess there is not too much difference from the copters / plane to helicopter's software.

  • Denny, you are, of course, entitled to go in whatever direction you think best, but suggesting that ArduPlane and ArduCopter "seems to have far better people working on it" is entirely without basis. The developers for Traditional Heli are highly skilled, motivated and AVAILABLE to the community (something that you will not find in any of the commercial systems you've mentioned).

  • Denny, What's wrong with the Firmware?  I can't believe I have just been lucky so far.


    David R. Boulanger

  • "Pixhawk will stay on a PLANE or QUAD which seems to have far better people working on it"???

  • It would seem that only one person is interested in developing Arducopter and with the number of tried tested and approved alternatives such as Naza-H  WKH Skookum  and the trusty German ones from Mikado, I think my Pixhawk will stay on a PLANE or QUAD which seems to have far better people working on it. A 700 size helicopter is just too much of a risk when the firmware is obviously far from ready. (I make that assumption from the videos that have thus far been shown).

  • Denny, I also have a new Pixhawk sitting on my desk, but the heli that it's going to go in is sitting in Singapore waiting to be shipped. If I get started before you, I'll keep you posted on progress and results. If you go first, I'd love to hear your experiences.

  • I guess that means nobody is using it............

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