Local Motors/Airbus VTOL UAV takes to the skies!

Hey everyone, 

I wanted to announce the successful first forward flight with the Local Motors/Airbus VTOL UAV. Powered by a Pixhawk 1 with Arduplane 3.7.1, weighing in at 54.85lbs!

I was called in three weeks ago to help them design, build, and fly all before 11/30/2016.  I showed up at the shop and they had nothing but some ESCs, Motors, and concept art. Well on Wednesday we made the attempt to transition, and it came back in one piece.

The full report and video of the flight can be found here:



Views: 5243

Comment by Joseph Aletky on December 3, 2016 at 11:31pm

Hey Tridge,

Excellent analysis, spot on with every assessment:

We would get a BAD AHRS message repeatedly, even after re calibrating the accel but only on the last day when we got to the field. We only had one day to fly and all other indicators seemed normal so we went ahead with it.

You are right about the airspeed sensor, I opted out because I didn't want things to get complicated. I would prefer flying with one but basically this was just a cruise around the pattern and back to get some data points.

Vibration looked good in the hovers as well, but there was some flexing in the frame, specifically the tail. It wanted to rotate a bit as we powered the rear motor. Unfortunately, we couldn't do anything to really reinforce that area because we were down to grams trying to get the CG forward. 

We knew there was a yaw problem, in fact it was way worse until we added a few washers under the motor mounts. We simply ran out of time to get most of this right but there idea was to fly no matter what.

We had tried to spec out a different pusher system, but we simply ran out of time between ordering something and mounting it to the airplane.  We intentionally set the quad motors to stay on a little longer than hopefully needed so that it was always under control. We had very little documentation or understanding of the aircraft so we used our best guesses as to the speed and gain sets for fixed wing.

Everything you said completely makes sense! Again, that was an excellent analysis.  They pretty much told us this thing had to fly no matter what, so we did what we could with very limited time.  I basically told them that if they want to move this to a phase two, we can do wonders for this program with lessons learned.  Thank you very much for your work here, I will be sure to pass that on to the right people!

PS I never got to say congrats on the OBC 2016! Awesome work!!!

Comment by Auturgy on December 4, 2016 at 1:29am
So Joe - does this mean you've now flown the smallest AND the biggest ardu-QuadPlane?
Well done btw

Comment by Gary Mortimer on December 4, 2016 at 8:59am

I hope they give you a large chunk of the prize that competition really was all about the best CAD design, they should have only allowed flying entries, not paper entries. Well done for sorting it all out for them! Well done the Ardupilot team, older and wiser ;-)

Comment by Rob_Lefebvre on December 4, 2016 at 10:10am

Gary, I don't even think it was solid enough to be a paper design.  Purely virtual rendering. ;)

Comment by Joseph Aletky on December 4, 2016 at 1:46pm

@Auturgy I guess so! I dont know of any larger ones flown with Arduplane!

@Gary the winner got a trip to Farnborough Airshow and a sweet flight jacket. I told them I'm a medium and I'll need that jacket for my trip to France!

@Rob I told them all of the same things people had mentioned in previous threads about this project, funny thing too because I only read about after I finished but it was identically to the comments I had. "Those who know don't talk, and those who talk don't know"

Comment by Rob_Lefebvre on December 4, 2016 at 8:19pm

The one I have been helping with is 4m wingspan, but with a big gas motor, in a suitable location.  No problem with forward flight.

Comment by Gary Mortimer on December 5, 2016 at 5:56am

@Joseph yes I was at Farnborough but didn't report on that happening because the BS quota was off the charts

Comment by Aaron Frank on December 9, 2016 at 3:23pm

When Local Motors reset this project in early November we gave ourselves a 3 week deadline to start the build over and make the modified design fly. We also built a separate show/ display drone and designed and 3D printed a topology optimized model that replicates the original winning design.


Bringing the fabrication and build in house aligned with the core competencies of our company, including 3D printing molds used for making the carbon fiber fuselage.  Another core competency is involving the community, and we re-focused our efforts on this as well by posting updates throughout each day and increasing transparency and engagement.

We were introduced to @Joseph, who proved invaluable in helping us tune and configure the avionics.  He has a vast amount of UAV knowledge, understands what makes drones of all types of configurations fly well, is a terrific pilot, and is great to work with.


Projects can quickly veer into undesired directions for many reasons.  We acknowledged our failure and were determined to be successful the second time around.  We were.


What will the third round bring?  That is up to everyone in the Local Motors community!


I invite you all to comment on our website and suggest a way forward.  Should we fix the current design and transition fully to forward flight?  Should we start over completely, and if so, what key changes should be made?



Comment by Patrick Poirier on December 9, 2016 at 4:00pm

Aaron ,

This step forward is a sign of openness and courage that might hopefully get our communities to work together.

I can imagine what you have been through so far, riding on the  dragon tail, and it might not be over yet.This situation has created a lot of sarcasm, disbelief and sometimes plain anger within our walls when reading what the press was reporting about this subject. My wish is that we could turn the page and provide with what this community can do best; benefit from our most experienced users in a collaborative and constructive way.  


Comment by Aaron Frank on December 9, 2016 at 5:30pm

@Patrick - thank you for your acknowledgement and very well said!  Yes it has been a bumpy ride, but we are stronger for it.  We absolutely agree that everyone can benefit by working together, and we hope this is a first step in doing so.  We also understand that the disbelief and anger is warranted, so our commitment to everyone is to rebuild credibility one post at a time with the goal of providing all communities an opportunity to play a significant role in interesting and challenging projects.

@Andrew - thank you for posting a terrific write up on the flight logs.  Very helpful and you clearly are an expert at this type of analysis.


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