First flight with Finwing Penguin

Finwing PenguinYesterday I got my first flight with the Finwing Penguin we put together in my drone class. It’s an ugly airplane but it sure flies good. I think that had a lot to do with the Pixhawk acting as autopilot. In old style RC, if you got in trouble you let go of the sticks and hoped the airplane had enough altitude to recover on its own. With the Pixhawk, you let go of the sticks and the autopilot puts it straight and level immediately. I kept thinking back to all the planes I might not have crashed if I’d had that feature…

Flying the Finwing Penguin

Flying was almost a non-event. The instructor took it off, took it to altitude, then handed the controller to me. The Pixhawk was in fly-by-wire mode. If I wanted to turn, I just moved the aileron stick in the direction I wanted to turn. The Pixhawk adjusted the elevator automatically to keep the Penguin at the same altitude. If I wanted to change altitude, I just climbed or dived until it was high as I wanted and let go of the stick. The Pixhawk automatically leveled the plane.

After flying it for awhile I gave the controller back to the instructor. Next, he demonstrated something really cool – auto pilot mode. He had a route (“mission” in drone parlance) programmed into the Pixhawk. As soon as he put the Penguin in autopilot mode it started flying the programmed mission. He let it fly the route a few times and turned off the transmitter. On a regular RC airplane, this would have caused the plane to crash. Not this time…


Another nice feature of the Pixhawk is something called failsafe mode. You can program it to make the airplane do things based on certain conditions. In our case, the instructor had programmed the Pixhawk to fly back to the starting (takeoff) point and then fly circles at 50′ altitude if radio signal was lost.

Sure enough, as soon has he turned off the transmitter the Penguin turned itself around and flew until it was directly overhead. Then it started flying in circles. After proving that failsafe worked as intended, he put the Finwing back in manual mode and landed it because the battery was getting low. He knew it was low thanks to telemetry, but that’s another post…

My own Finwing Penguin

I liked it so much that I ordered my own Finwing Penguin kit. You have 2 choices if you want one. You can order direct from Finwing or from Ready Made RC. It costs a little more to order from Ready Made RC but shipping is faster. I chose faster shipping. If you do order from ready Made RC, make sure to specify the M2815 motor and 60 amp ESC. The M2220 motor with 40 amp speed controller is underpowered for the Penguin in my opinion.

The other fixed wing I looked at was the Volantex Ranger EX. It’s about the same size as the Finwing Penguin and costs about the same. It’s better looking than the Penguin and has an ABS fuselage instead of foam like the Penguin. I decided on the Finwing because I figure the foam will be easier to modify or repair than ABS plastic.

It only took 3 days to arrive and I can’t wait to get started on it (still need to finish my F450 first…)

First time flying an F450 drone

We finished our team built DJI Flame Wheel last Wed, so today we got to fly it. We were flying indoors in manual mode because we couldn’t get a good GPS signal. I was kind of nervous but I shouldn’t have been. Turns out that flying a quadcopter is a lot easier than flying an RC airplane. Amazing what advanced electronics can do for you. I can’t wait to finish mine and get it in the air.

Our team built Flame Wheel uses the DJI Naza flight control system with a Futaba radio. I’m using a Holybro Pixhawk control system and FrSky Turnigy radio. Setup for the class build was easy. I don’t know how hard mine will be to get going since I can’t find much documentation. From what I’ve read, the Pixhawk is a lot more complicated to set up than the Naza but is a lot more versatile.

Sometimes I just can’t control myself…

I should really cut up my credit cards. I haven’t even finished my F450 and I’m already buying parts for my next projects. The first is a DJI F550 Hexacopter. Instead of buying the ARF kit I just got the frame. I also ordered custom motors (T Motor 3110 series) and I’ll be running T Motor carbon fiber props. My reason for going with a hexacopter instead of a bigger quad is camera safety. If you lose a motor on a quadcopter it’s going to crash. The idea of crashing a $400 GoPro Hero 5 doesn’t appeal to me very much, so I decided on the extra safety of the hexacopter.

My second project is a pair of CrashTestHobby Pelican RC airplanes. I got both the polyhedral and aileron versions of the kit. The poly wing is for learning to fly RC (I’ve done it in the past, but it was a lonnnggg time ago). The aileron version will hopefully become a mini fixed wing drone with full avionics. I also want to get a Finwing Pelican since that’s what the class is using for fixed wing, but my wife is starting to question how much I’m spending. That one might have to wait…