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Open Plane Project

A project focused on the development of a compact, affordable and modular unmanned aerial system based on the EPP hand throwers.

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This project is all about designing and building affordable autonomous planes. It aims to provide plans, files and detailed info about the build for free. While the open source software solutions for controlling UAVs are out there and easy to use, this project focuses on the mechanical part to get everyone a reliable platform for many use cases.

Recent achievements:

Battery build:

Orthophotomaps:

Simple mapArea measurementsMap with elevation data

Endurance flight:

Project:

   As the name of the project implies, I wanted to come up with a free-to-share UAV concept for a capable plane that everyone can build on their own and experience the thrill of making something.. There are no universal design options in engineering, so my first task was to determine the possible use cases and define the design features based on those.

    One can find many advanced UAV systems on the market, however, they tend to be very expensive and are therefore not affordable for individuals. 

   It would be near impossible to try to compete with them in any other area other than price. Though this wouldn't be possible without sacrificing functionality, reliability or usability. The cost of professional UAV systems also includes research and development, which is something one can’t put a price on. Nevertheless, we also benefit from this. New technologies eventually become cheaper and more accessible, and now even hobbyists have the access to cutting edge hardware like flight controllers, and also software.

   Whilst there are limitations to what you can achieve with this project in comparison to commercial UAVs, you most likely won't stumble upon a use case that is not at least partially covered or possible with this project.

Use cases:

  • Long flights - one hour and more
  • Close range - reliably up to 3 - 5  kilometers (even more with better components)
  • Great coverage - 150 - 200 ha (2x106 m²) - equivalent to about 0.58 - 0.77 square miles or half of Central Park
  • Mapping, monitoring, test platform for beginners in autonomous UAVs, educational platform for students, (delivering), (fpv flying)

There are two main UAV types - multicopters and fixed wings. 

   Multicopters, also known as multirotors or drones, are mass-produced and relatively cheap. It is possible to buy a good drone for the price of this plane. They are useful for small short-range missions and I think stable footage (thanks to the gimbals) is one of the best features they offer. When one needs an out of the box UAV that doesn’t require any previous experience, tinkering or extensive footage post-processing, one can’t find a more convenient way to fly. Despite all the positives every manufacturer stresses in commercials, you receive a product that can’t effectively perform all tasks. Flight efficiency of multirotors has been steadily improving, but is still terrible when compared with fixed wings. Likewise, multicopters can hover which is a nice feature, however, the maximum flight distances multicopters are capable of are shockingly smaller than those of fixed wings.

   On the contrary, as mentioned above, fixed wings are much more expensive. They are efficient and good for long-range, long endurance applications. Thankfully, there is a growing market segment with affordable EPP (extruded polypropylene) planes that lie somewhere between hobby RC models and professional UAVs, filling the performance gap between big UAVs and multicopters. They can be purchased for a reasonable price and some of them even come preassembled. But they are still a bit pricey for the majority of applications.

   European legislation is fairly strict, not allowing flights out of sight or beyond one kilometer and confined to a maximum height of 120 meters. Similar restrictions also exist in other countries around the world, ensuring safe UAV operation. An operational area which complies with these rules can be easily calculated with a simple formula S=πr². The area is approximately 3.14 kilometers squared (or roughly 1.2 square miles), which doesn't seem that much at a first glance. But you need a plane with a good flight time to cover the area with a circumference more than six kilometers (3.7 miles)...

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camera_mounts.step

STEP file if you want to adapt the files for your components.

step - 292.12 kB - 03/18/2022 at 10:32

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motor_mount.3mf

Motor mount for standard FPV drone motors.

3mf - 196.52 kB - 03/18/2022 at 10:32

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wing_mount_A.3mf

Bottom part of the wing mount. It holds the nut and should be glued into the fuselage.

3mf - 4.66 kB - 03/18/2022 at 10:32

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wing_mount_B.3mf

Serves as a guide rail for the nylon screw.

3mf - 48.32 kB - 03/18/2022 at 10:32

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canopy_hinge_A.3mf

Canopy part of the hinge mechanism.

3mf - 12.59 kB - 03/18/2022 at 10:32

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View all 14 files

  • OpenPlane VS multirotors comparison

    Matej Gurnak02/16/2022 at 09:08 0 comments

    These two charts visualize the advantages of OpenPlane and planes in general. Compared to multirotors, the flight of the fixed wing aircrafts is much more energy efficient.

    The first chart shows the average power consumption during the flight, calculated from the official specifications for each multirotor and measured from the OpenPlane test flights.

    The differences are even more significant when accounting for the distances these drones can fly. Another known relation regarding the scale of the model is apparent in these charts. Heavier RC models have an advantage when compared with the lighter ones. OpenPlane, with a weight of 720 grams, is comparable to the DJI Air 2S (595 g), DJI FPV (795 g), and most closely to the DJI Mavic 3 (895 g), which is also the most efficient of the three and built with efficiency in mind.

  • Camera mount update

    Matej Gurnak01/25/2022 at 07:06 0 comments

    I've recently been working on a new camera mount system. I originally cut the mount directly into the fuselage and strengthened it by laminating carbon fabric to it. This process was quite time consuming and the mount was not durable enough.

    I came up with this new mount printed on a 3D printer. It is printed with standard PLA, one wall thick and with the Cura`s new lightning support to save weight. I pushed the expandable glue inside through the three holes.It expanded into the cavities and protects the walls from collapsing. The mount weighs about 15 grams, which is slightly heavier than the original mount. Nevertheless, justified by simplicity and convenience.

  • Flights data

    Matej Gurnak01/23/2022 at 20:32 0 comments

    This chart shows how flight efficiency has improved throughout prototype development. There are data from flights made with three prototypes. Big bubbles represent the duration and average power draw of each flight. On many flights, I have only used a fraction of the energy stored in the battery, thus there are also small bubbles representing the flight duration, if the whole energy was used.

    One can notice a huge reduction of average power consumption between the first and second prototype. This happened mainly due to a new more efficient motor and propeller.  There is also a significant increase in flight durations between the second and third prototype thanks to a new battery I made.

    Short flights have a higher average power consumption. The most power intensive part of the flight is takeoff and the other part significantly affecting this data is the time plane spend powered on on the ground before and after the flight. This causes a distortion between data from short and long flights. Therefore in the graph you can see flights with same plane and weight, but with different flight times and calculated maximum flight times.

    In conclusion, the most compelling things are the increase in flight times from 40 minutes to over 80 minutes and the significant reduction of power consumption.

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  • 1
    Battery build video out!

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Discussions

loonquawl wrote 01/24/2022 at 11:50 point

Can you  comment on why you feel fixed-wing solutions habe better wind-resistance (as per your fig.4)? Usually wing loading is taken as a proxy for that, and (quad-)rotor drones have a much higher wing loading than usual fixed-wing drones, and therefore a much smaller susceptibility to wind. Is there a specific feature of wind-interference that you find fixed-wing drones better suited to?

  Are you sure? yes | no

Matej Gurnak wrote 01/24/2022 at 16:29 point

Hi,

The reference to wing loading is correct, but it is not the only parameter that affects wind resistance.
We can look at a Mavic 3 with a similar weight. The manufacturer quotes a maximum wind resistance of 12 m/s and a maximum forward speed of 19 m/s in sport mode.
The plane I built was capable of speeds over 20 m/s and could withstand winds of about 10 m/s (I don't have data for stronger winds).
So it implies that the performances are at least comparable, despite the wing loading of the aircraft being much lower as you have suggested.
Another aspect are the wind gusts. An aircraft flying faster than a drone has a greater momentum and is therefore due to a conservation of momentum less affected by wind gusts.
Nevertheless, you are absolutely right that this aircraft is not very suitable for windy conditions. A faster aircraft with a smaller wing, higher wing loading and a smaller cross section would certainly be less susceptible to windy conditions, but other characteristics like maneuvrability and low speed performance would be worse. There are tradeoffs to be made when designing aircraft, which is why I've listed the use cases I based my design on.
MG

  Are you sure? yes | no

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