The Tri-Copter

So my buddy has one of these, and since I recently smashed up one of my acrobatic quads and broke a speed controller.  I now have 3 of something so a tri-copter seems like a good plan.

I was really impressed with my buddy’s tri.   It was quite acrobatic and stable.   Actually looks like an as-good if not better camera platform than some of the DJI based quads.

So I ordered a frame.    The SimpleCopter 2.0  There’s lots to like about this:

  1. It is relatively cheap, about $50, for the frame and landing skids (with shipping).
  2. Only 3 motors and ESC’s
  3. It’s really light, and the booms are 1/2 x 1/2 pine boards that you can get, oh, at just about any hardware store.
  4. IT folds up for easy transport
  5. Most of the mounting things are simply wire-ties.   So you can break a motor mount, and it costs you less than 10 cents.

My buddy has already made some improvements, he has a nicer 3D printed tail yaw control.   The motors I have don’t have the brackets to mount to it though.  I’ve ordered some.   He also whipped me up a couple 3D printed mounts for my motors for the front arms.  If your motors have the simple brackets you just strap those babies on with wire ties.

I had some time tonight to gut the crashed quad and start on this.

The 3D Printed motor mounts for the front arms which still attach with wire-ties:


His awesome 3D printed rear mount with shiny new Servo:

Power distribution board all mounted up (more of a test fit):tricopter_build_03

Test fitting my Naze32 Flight Controller and RXR:tricopter_build_05

Still unsure about where to put the ESC’s, in between the top and bottom frame parts I suppose.

The motors are 980kv, which are super fine/super fun on a 330/350 size quad with 8” props so I’m expecting to swing 10” props on this and we’ll see how that goes.  If I don’t like it, then we’ll get some 1400-1800vk motors.    But for what I think I want this for, FPV that might work just fine.

I should probably paint this thing to protect it.   Maybe I’ll do that with the next one, cause you know there will be more than one Smile

I’m semi-interested in APM or Pixhawk on one of these too.

More as it develops.

Saving a Lotus T580+P (Part 2)

In Part 1 I talked about what a big turd this thing is but I failed to mention that anyone selling it as a legit copter should be prosecuted for fraud.   Including one ebay seller who’s in Hawaii, you know who you are.

Turns out the frame is OK, maybe the motors are OK, and the props, well the props are pretty cheap.   But we’re giving it a go at making this as legit as I can.

In Part 1, I cleared out the suboptimal flight controller and ESC’s that come with it.   Cheap, cheap crap.   And installed the 4:1 ESC.   At the time I didn’t have a spare flight controller laying around and was trying to decide what to put on it.

I had ordered a Naze flight controller.  Actually a full Naze32 as well as an afro acro Naze32.   (Which I think is a play on Naza, cause the guy that makes them absolutely loathes DJI, but I’m very curious as to where the afro part comes in).

But I digress.

Basically the difference between the two:

Acro, is just that.  Simple flight stabilization, gyro and accelerometer, but no barometer or magnetometer.

The full Naze has all four components and can handle GPS as well, but no GPS is provided, you have to add your own.  The additional components get you some compass smarts, as well as altitude hold.   Which I have yet to experience with a naze32.  Which reminds me, I need to pop the top and cover the barometer with some closed cell foam.


In fact you get to solder your own headers on too.  It’s very DIY, but it’s a slick board.   The same flight controller that powers my Armattan 355.   I ordered them directly from Japan, and delivery was actually pretty good, about a week, maybe 10 days.  There is at least one US Supplier but he was out of stock when I ordered.

The documentation sucks, but there’s some good info on the web, specifically a youtube video going through the options.   It’s a port of the multiWii software I think.  Called Baseflight and you configure it using Baseflight plugin in Google Chrome which works quite well.   Given it’s performance, this is the best bang for the buck out there that I’ve found and I’m cheap so you can take that to the bank.

So after receiving them in the mail even though one was slated to go on a quad build for Matthew that mamma poo-poo’d on, I thought I’d borrow it and install it on the Lotus.   I figure if this things gonna fly, the naze will do well by it.  As good or better than a $200 PixHawk though admittedly without any of the autonomous features.  So here we go.

I soldered the headers, and mounted it on top of the ESC.


Oh, I’m putting the full naze32 on here.  I want altitude hold on this.

3M Dual Lock is your best friend for stuff like this.  The one with the big hooks.  Great adhesive, sticks to just about anything, and holds really well.  It’s removable and you can easily pop stuff off or reposition it.

I have no vibration damping in this other than the dual lock that holds the ESC, and the dual lock holding the Naze to the ESC, or rather the board that the naze is mounted too to the ESC.

I’m also using a $15 Lemon/Spektrum Compatible receiver.  Again because I’m cheap and a real Spectrum AR8000 clocks in at about $129.00   But I do realize you get what you pay for.  Instructions are nil, but the board is well marked.  I originally mounted one to my Armattan, but had an ESC/Motor issue and removed that to make sure it wasn’t this el’Cheapo Rxr.   And it wasn’t so it’s on this now.

After binding my transmitter and setting up the Flight Controller.ItsAlive

It’s alive.   ESC got sync’d, and it should be ready to fly.  Of course it was 1am when finished so no test flights yet.

Once convinced all motors were good to go, I balanced the props.  I don’t seem to have any of the motor stall/sync issues with this 4:1 ESC, unlike the POS factory one.  At least none on the bench so far.

It fits nicely, though it is big.  And the leads from the motors fight right into the lugs so that was easy which reminds me I need to make sure all of those are tight before flight.

Here she is in all her beauty:

photo 1

Props freshly balance and it should fly nice.   I expect this to be nice and docile. With the big 14” props.

Here’s a shot with the 355cm Armattan under it for a reference.

photo 2

Yeah, it’s kind of big.

That dome cover on the top is a pain.  A pain to screw on and a bigger pain to line up the screws.   It’s probably not going to last long.   I certainly hope I get more than a few flights out of this.  I have exactly 0 spare props so it’s likely out once it hits the turf for the first time.   Though a motor mount will probably break first and since they seem like really weak points I’m not going to source props for now.

If it flies as well as I think it probably will with new brains and components, I will probably venture into GPS enabling a Naze and see how that goes.   If that works, it will get a PixHawk, but that’s looking forward two whole cycles and if you’re not familiar with this hobby.  Well, that’s highly unlikely.  If it crashes and burns, we’ll chalk all of this up to a learning experience and re-use the Flight Controller/Receiver/ESC’s maybe even the motors on something else.  Maybe a Tarot frame from RCManChild.   Or finally something for Matthew.   Though he’s not getting anything with 14” props.   I’m not completely crazy. Smile

Video will be posted if it works out.

Total build time in this is about 4 hours give or take, including dicking around with the flight controller, ESC and Receiver.

Happy multi-rotoring.

Saving a Lotus T580+P (Part 1)


A little background first.

Multi-Rotors are cool, after playing with the blade 350QX and my DJI based Hex I thought I wanted a larger, more stable camera platform.   I thought I wanted a Carbon Fiber frame.

Clearly I didn’t do enough research when this thing was acquired.   If you search the interwebs you’ll find some pretty glowing reviews of this flying turd.  If you search harder you’ll find some more honest reviews.

It’s a turd.

I kind of, sort of knew this going in, but I also figured worst case scenario, I’d just gut it and use the frame.  After all the price was right, it was cheap.

Well turns out, that’s what I’m going to do.   Actually that’s what I have to do because out of the box, this thing didn’t even make it off the bench before showing it’s true colors.

This is a larger Quad that swings 14” props, via some Large 400KV motors.

So it comes pre-assembled, all folded up in the box.


All you really need do is slap a 4 channel or better receiver on it, a battery and go.    So that’s what I did, only if you dig around the net, you’ll find out these things have a ‘flip of death’ problem.   This thing is not going to survive a hard crash, it’s just not that stout.

Simply during testing on the bench w/o props, I could get a motor to lose sync with the ESC.   A proprietary 4 in 1 ESC.   So there’s really no point in even trying to get it off the ground.

Under the lid is a really, really poorly put together 4:1 ESC, and flight controller.

T580P UnderCover

A flight controller and ESC you have absolutely no control over.  As in none it is not user tunable.   For a copter that was originally supposed to be in the $500+ range but can be had for $300 this is still a POS.   (There are I think, 3 versions of this each claims to fix the ESC flip of death issue, but obviously that’s not the case).  There are better frames and components to be had, which probably explains why they don’t really make these or even have them on their website anymore.   They can be found on eBay and some sites, but save yourself the trouble and bypass this.

So what are we going to do?

We have a decent frame, not great but decent.   It’s billed as foldable, but you still need tools, to remove the landing gear in order to fold it.

It has motors, that seem decent, although it’s possible that it’s not the ESC and could be a motor that’s bad and if so, I doubt I can get a replacement and I’d have to replace all 4 so that they match.   The motor mounts are weak, and will likely pop in even a modest crash.  If it really needs a motor, this things will get cut into CF pieces to be used elsewhere and then at that point, even a the low cost of entry it will still be a loss.   One of those life lessons.

So we’re going to try and make this air worthy.

We’ll replace the ESC, in fact I’m going to use this one:


The build has started:


I’m on the fence as to what flight controller to use.   I really like the Afro Acro Naze32 that’s mounted on my Armattan CNC 355 Quad.

But for something this size for use with a camera or photography (read a docile flying machine, non acrobatic).  I’m pretty sure I want GPS assist for loiter mode and other features.   So I’m considering a FULL Naze32, or maybe even another APM or Pixhawk setup.

The later is kind of pricey, about $400 all said and done just in flight controller, GPS, and telemetry radios.  But if the experiment fails, well I can fork lift that to something else.    I should be able to do the same with the Naze for about 1/2 of that perhaps less.

Maybe I’ll just toss a $25 afro acro naze, on it, fly it a bit and if it survives that then I’ll upgrade it.    I really don’t expect that it will take much of a crash to completely destroy this frame.

So currently the build is stalled waiting for a flight controller to free up.  A Naze is on order for now, but we’ll see.    I’ll post an update when this project progresses.

Happy multi-rotoring and remember; “Friends don’t let Friends buy LotusRC products”.

New Eyes for the FJR

Light, we need more light captain!

Truth be told, the factory/stock headlights on the Yamaha FJR1300 are pretty darn good.  I did replace the factory bulbs with some ‘better’ brighter halogen bulbs when it was new.

I also added lower fork mounted lights.  Initially MotoLights[TM], but in 2009 I won a set of Glenda Clearwater lights at the Eastern Owners meet.   These lights (as well as the moto lights), while they do illuminate things up close, and fill in the void near the bike, they really don’t throw any appreciable light down the road.   The are mostly ‘see me’ lights.  Lights there for the benefits of others so they can see me.   The lower mounted lights help break up the ‘single’ light that makes distance harder to judge and make me stand out more.  They help, a lot, but people will still pull out in front of me, even with my high viz jacket.

Anyway, on to today’s project.   While riding rallies that require us to ride 24 hours a day we ride at night a lot.   Often on twisty mountain roads.   It’s often darker than dark.  While the stock headlights are good, it’s still pretty easy to out ride your lights.

With the upcoming Void Rally and others on tap, specifically the 2012 MD2020 which will be almost ALL mountain roads I decided it was time to add some Auxiliary Lighting.


The number 1 self contained HID for this type of application is the Soltek Fuego’s.  While they have gotten cheaper (now $320 each instead of $500 each), a pair is still north of $600 plus hardware.

The next best thing, is the Chinese Knock Off’s.   They can be had via Amazon for $120 each or there about.  Hella also offers these same lights with their name on them.

So $240 sounds a whole lot better to me that $600.   Allegedly they put out about 90% of the light of the Soltek’s at less than 1/3rd the price. 

I lucked into a deal and got a pair used from an FJR forum member.  

The next puzzle is where to mount them on the FJR.  The FJR doesn’t really lend itself to lots of mounting spaces, and these lights are LARGE.

The standard approach is using a set of brackets that mount the lights under the mirrors, using the mirror mounts.   That works well for some of the smaller lights but doesn’t work real well for these larger lights or the Solteks.   The other problem with that location is that a simple parking lot tip over (and I’ve had a few in the years that I’ve owned the FJR) will likely break or smash one of your $300+ lights.

I was struggling to find a solution, then ran into Alex’s Brackets.  These brackets were made specifically for these lights or Solteks.  Mounting them above the mirrors instead.  This is good for both tip over protection and getting the lights as high as possible.

I received my brackets, and a spare set of left hand controls off a wreck on ebay for cheap to mount the switch (in case I messed it up), and fabricated a wiring harness.

Since I do have the Twisted Throttle Mirror Extensions, I did have to ‘tweak’ the brackets a bit.   Nothing a little bench grinder can’t take care of.  Repainted them and viola Done.

Mounted them up today and now I can’t wait until it gets dark Winking smile


Had to increase the relief for the windshield.


Had to grind a little relief for the mirror extensions.


Had to come up with about a 3/8 inch spacer, ended up using 5 fender washers.


Touch up paint on the brackets and washers once finished.


Added this toggle switch to the back of my left hand controls.  This On-Off-On switch, turns the lights (On when the bike has power – Off – On with the High Beams).



More photos available on PicasaWeb.