FAA UAS Registration is Open

To my friends in the Drone community – registration is open!

FAA UAS Registration


Registration and acknowledgement from the FAA is a good thing as it keeps irresponsible pilots OUT of our airspace. It puts regulations at a national level and prevents overly restrictive local laws. It is a formal acceptance that Drone pilots add value to society and can serve in many ways like the heroes in the HAM Radio community who are always there in a crisis.

Houston Waterwall
Houston Waterwall

Now we can identify our birds properly for the authorities. And the authorities can quickly determine which pilots takes their responsibilities seriously. Responsible pilots who know the limits of their birds and can maintain control at all times.

Heavily customized dji 550 with naza stabilization
Heavily customized dji 550 with naza stabilization

You just can’t compare our hex with DJI NAZA Stabilization to a quad parrot drone with optical stabilization. By that I mean that with optical stabilization you don’t want to fly over water because… waves. But if the goal is to NOT fly over people (hint: it is) then this technology is in direct contradiction to the safest (for the people) place to fly in some situations.

Having flown RC since I was a kid, trust me, it’s more complicated than it looks. And I say that knowing that it still looks complicated, I’m just saying that it is not something to take trivially.

Example: I once ordered a new stabilization system for a quad (I refuse to fly quads for safety reasons now but that is a different post.) The remotes we use these days have a series of stick movements that must be done to activate them. Sort of like a video game – ABAB then click some other button. In this case it was both sticks, lower left, back up, lower left. What could go wrong. Why would that suddenly make a small but dramatic amount of blood from my hand go flying across my office to the horror of one of my coworkers?

Well, in the US “down = throttle off”. In Asia “up = throttle off.” I of course had the throttle turned “fully off for safety which means DOWN”.  Thus when I went through the initiation stick movements on the controller she immediately went full throttle slicing my hand open, slamming into the ceiling before I could hit the emergency shut down on the remote.

And that was a quad! Imagine if that had happened with an octo? Now I know to always anchor them down or install new stabilization hardware/software with all  props removed. I got too comfortable with the machine, I was buying parts with instructions in Chinese and hacking everything together. I don’t mind that I sliced my hand open – I deserved it for being stupid. But what if someone else had been in the office?

So register your drones. Practice a lot. Test, test, test and be darn sure your kill switch works. Even in your office/workshop. These machines are much more powerful than people realize.


amazon’s proposal for low airspace limits hobbyists

Not sure I can get behind this proposal by Amazon’s Drone Project to further divide the sub-500 foot of shared airspace. RC hobbyists flying planes, helicopters and now drones have always been able to fly up to 500 feet. While it is a good thing that Amazon Prime Air is starting the conversation on drone airspace, I’m not a fan of Amazon’s proposal which is basically “low budget drones must be below 200 feet”.

Welcome to the drone party new-guy-Amazon, but as a refresher, I should mention it was hobbyists’ innovation with RC aircraft that created the drone revolution in the first place! This solution doesn’t fly with us:


If I want to park a fleet of medium altitude drones over my farm to monitor irrigation, who are you to tell me to stay below 200 feet?

I do agree with this comment from the article:

“In the United States, there are approximately 85,000 commercial, cargo, military and general aviation flights every day,” Amazon said. “This number is likely to be dwarfed by low altitude [unmanned drone] operations in the next 10 years.”

Innovation will be stifled if the people can’t operate in the traditional sub-500 foot zone. We don’t all have octocopters like this Amazon PrimeAir Drone.



No question, your video on Amazon PrimeAir is cool.

Now how about playing nicer and coming up with drone flight standards so small and large players can work together. Because this is cool too.


And delivery isn’t the only use for drones as evidenced by this chapter in the book Drones for Dummies. The screen shot below is of a golf course taken by my drone a while back. And I was standing at the top of a hill.


Was I over 200 feet when I took that photo? That depends on if you measure from the altitude of the first hole or the hole I was at when I launched the drone. GIS is not reconciled on a flat plane.

Maybe the goal of a drone flight is to capture a video of work of art before it gets torn down. Let’s hope the artists keep their work small instead of creating a vortex through an entire house. Er… wait. Too late.

5th Ward Jam

All I’m saying is that it isn’t that simple Amazon. You can’t chop up the 500 foot air space when it is already too small. Think bigger. For example

  1. ask for the 500 to 1000 foot zone for high speed commercial use
  2. require any aircraft in this space to follow standard aircraft rules but scaled down to plus or minus 50 feet. 550/650/750/850 (source)

For VFR traffic above 3000ft AGL, flying a heading of 000º to 179º you must fly an odd thousand plus 500ft (3,500 – 5,500 – 7,500 etc…) and if you are heading 180º to 359º you must fly an even thousand plus 500 (4,500 – 6,500 – 8,500 etc…). Following this simple rule will keep VFR traffic flying opposite directions separated by 1000ft.

Example Drone Avoidance

Odd hundred plus 50 for eastbound traffic. (e.g. 550, 750)

Even hundred plus 50 for westbound traffic (e.g. 650, 850)

High speed VTOL traffic 950

Multirotors must move starboard to avoid winged craft

Multirotor craft must fly in the direction of onboard lights (front back even if theoretical) when maneuvering over 5 knots

All drones must drop below 500 in the event of manned craft in the area and enter a holding pattern

The waterways are flat after all, and yet somehow big and small boats are able to navigate together just fine using a few rules of the road. (Alternatively we could disrupt commerce if we wanted to by requiring any boat less than 100 feet long to actually be a submarine. There is that option I suppose.)

My point is it can be done without being a bully about it.

Now, I’m off to start a kickstarter for help launching my Faraday Cage Drone Catcher.  It is a “10 foot diameter faraday cage blanket meant to be thrown over a drone to safely disable it and stop all communications with remote controllers.” The Faraday cage blanket would enable selling Amazon drone parts on the black market. How? Well, first you buy the faraday-blanket, then wait for a neighbor’s Amazon PrimeAir delivery. Then you run in and throw a blanket on the drone. Part it out undetected. Voila!

Is the Faraday Cage Drone Catcher a civil rights issue or theft? Let’s go with civil rights for $1,000 Alex. After all, if Amazon can steal 60% of the air space for their fancy drones, then can’t we steal 60% of their actual drones and call it even?

I mean, how else are we to afford the fancy electronics needed to fly in what used to be our air space? And surely nobody has thought of catching drones like we catch cows in Texas – a cross between a lasso and frisbee golf called the Faraday Drone Catcher. We can organize events – call them “Catch a Drone Day” and redistribute the parts to poor rural areas after flashing the electonics. #heh

#ShareTheAir #obviouslySatire #butThePointIsReal


upgrade gaui 500x to DJI NAZA stabilization project

UPDATES: See notes at the bottom

Because the DJI NAZA multirotor stabilization unit ships in a box with no instructions. And when you eventually do find the NAZA PDF instructions on how to configure the NAZA for your quadcopter you find that only page 7 discusses the actual installation of the hardware. So here is some guidance.

My 500X was purchased ARTF with a JR radio and the 334 stabilizer (with the 334 stabilization disabled and a warning not to use it!?) In other words, a 500X out of the box is a manual-fly-only type of thing. You can do it, but for video I wanted better stabilization.

The “open box” photo of what you get with the NAZA followed by before and after shots of the installation. Note that it isn’t complete yet as it comes with pre-tinned connections for power but no connectors and I need to order those or splice into an existing line. See more notes after the gallery.

On the JR receiver, to fit the wires that shipped with the RAZA I had to cut off and dremel-smooth the “L” extensions on the bottom of the connectors to make them fit in the RJ receiver. And I only had to modify the one end (obviously) Just be careful the orientation is correct. I should probably buy another receiver for the Spektrum but that isn’t in the budget right now.

UPDATE: A few lessons learned:

First – the DJI NAZA ships with no (zero) documentation. Electronics in a box. From there it is you and google. If you are converting a GAUI Quad there are a few CRITICAL items to note and then so not so critical.

  1. DJI NAZA does NOT number the motors the same as GAUI. Although the rotation of the blades (pusher, tractor or 10A and 10B if you are using GAUI parts) is the same, the controls are different. Specifically 1 (right front) is one on both. But NAZA goes counter clockwise.  This is the exact opposite of GAUIs cofig. See the graph from the F450 manual below. If you don’t switch 2 and 4 you are screwed. Or at least it will cost you a few props.
  2. The NAZA software is an adventure. See this guy’s NAZA Software for Gaui configuration screenshots. Not exactly how I have my quad configured, but close. (I’m very traditional with my stick movements. Down is throttle stop. Up is throttle up. Right controller is aileron and elevator. Left is rudder. Etc….
  3. Much of the NAZA documentation comes from hovering over a section in the software and reading the dialog box on the lower right. Read it!
  4. You will forget the safety feature of “both sticks down right” to initiate and think your controller didn’t bind. It did. You just have to do the “two sticks lower left” or “two sticks lower right” with the NAZA to get it going for safety reasons. I moved from my JR to the Spektrum 8 and had no problem binding. But did have to customize the “landing” gear controller to reach the Attitude and Manual positions. You can NOT do this on a Spektrum 5, so don’t try.
  5. Known issues- the motors on the GAUI are incredibly sensitive to hits or friction in their casings. I replaced an ESC that I didn’t have to because it was just a small crack in the engine mount that only became an issue under lift conditions. i could not replicate it with the spinners off. This caused me to burn ou t a second motor  beforenarrowing  in on the issue. Thus I don’t recommend the hard-to-access GAUI frames.

Example videos:
The 2012 Art Car Ball at the Orange Show

St. John Vianney Catholic Church

2012 Houston International Festival

Rebuilt GAUI with DJI Naza