Ardu takes a cold flight (4 degrees) at the 19th Annual Adirondack Mountainfest
January 17, 2015
The NEice Drones
January 17, 2015
The Beast of the NEice Fleet – Built to meet the demands of flying, photographing and filming in the winter weather of the Northeast.
After two winters of building, flying and filming with RC helicopters, I have learned a lot and had a ton of fun. But, it wasn’t enough, I needed more. I needed a better machine to complete my dream. I realized first I needed a better camera. The Gopros are light and very durable and have served us well, but they have many shortfalls. The lens is too wide. It leaves climbers looking like they are a mile away unless the drone is right on top of them. The camera is also not good in variable lighting conditions. It can’t handle fast changing or low light, where the only settings you have for creativity and enhancement is ‘ON!’ Here is where the Sony NEX-5N is far better.
The Sony NEX-5N 16.1 MP
This new camera is great. It gives DSLR quality still images up to 10 fps. When it comes to video, it pulls in full AVCHD at 60p with a 16.1 MP Exmor APS HD CMOS image sensor. A Sony E-mount 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 lens rounds out this camera set-up providing NEIce with the lightest DSLR quality camera you can put in the air. I can now point the camera up or down, rotate it, take a photo and turn on and off the video, seeing it all from my radio controller. Finally, I feel like I can properly film the action I have been dreaming of. The difference in quality still amazes me!
Last year we just turned the GoPro on, sent it up and hoped for the best. Courtney Ley, who edits footage for us, will be excited this year. With the remote I can activate video recording whenever I want to start and end, eliminating all the takeoffs, landings and other useless footage, saving her hours of editing time in front of the computer.
The still images are just as exciting, with the cameras’ ability to shoot RAW and JPEG Fine files simultaneously. Plus, good photos require good glass. I now have many options with the wide variety of Sony E-mount lenses available.
But, getting the new camera also meant I now needed a bigger helicopter to lift it. Putting all I have learned into this new build, I considered many factors in the new design – wind, power, reliability and flight time. The machine is a dream to fly and fulfills everything I have been looking for, lifting the Sony Nex5N with ease. In the past, wind was one of the biggest problems we encountered at the crags while filming. I have flown the new WooKong in 25+ mph winds without a problem. You can see this was not the case with early models as this footage in Huntington Ravine reveals.
With eight motors spread out above the Sony, I now have reliability and lift. I can lose an engine without crashing dramatically into the ice and hemlock. As entertaining as it might be to watch, it’s usually not ideal footage. Many pilots flying Octocopters report not knowing that an engine was out till they land. As the gear and cameras get more costly, redundancy and backup of critical components becomes more important.
Now that I had the increased power I wanted, came the need for bigger batteries. I decided to invest in three 16,000 mAh batteries ($250 ea) that will give our bird 10 minutes of flight per power pack – twice as long as Wookong 2.0. That’s plenty of time to film what I want and …believe me, when flying in the cold and snow, 10 minutes can seem like an eternity.
The Black Pearl 7″ High Definition LCD Screen
Last year, I found the goggles were too restrictive and hindered my ability to keep the helicopter safe and out of trouble. So, with the new rig on the flight pad, a new way of keeping connected with what was going on in the air was needed. A new high definition monitor is my dashboard and the OSD (on screen display) system gives me vital feed back, such as height, speed, rate of rise and descent. That’s right, now I can compose the photos and video from the ground, and still keep an eye on the conditions around me. I can also double-check the camera information to make sure I am shooting with the right settings.
Since it first lifted off early this summer, I have logged over 100 flights with WooKong 3.0. Posted below are a few photos I have taken during tuning and testing. The photos and video just keep getting better with more training flights. I am light years ahead of where I started two years ago with smoother video and sharper stills. I can’t wait to start filming winter and ice climbing in the Northeast and bringing it to you here at NEIce.com. UP!
*Click photos to enlarge.
During the Mount Washington Valley Ice Fest and the Catskills Ice Festival, the NEice helicopter, ARDU, took the air to capture the some footage. We are excited at Year Two of this project to be able to fly longer, farther and higher than ever before. Our model ARDU, which was designed and built from scratch is flying very well and reliably. Doug has become an excellent pilot. He has practiced all summer and it shows. We’ve been able to get very stable footage from smoother flights. Here is what we captured in New Hampshire at Cathedral Ledge and Frankenstein.[iframe src=”http://player.vimeo.com/video/85887387″ frameborder=”0″ width=”640″ height=”360″]
The next task was to find a camera with better quality for long range, as well as something with a better zoom. The GoPro has worked well as far as being a small, lightweight camera but since it’s designed as a helmet cam, the wide angle and lack of clarity for distance shots is less than desirable. After the New Hampshire festival, we added a Sony Handycam to our tools, it reduced the ‘fish-eye’ affect of the wide angle lens and allowed us to get the closer shots we were looking for. Here is some footage we captured in the Catskills during the 16th annual Ice Fest.
Now it’s time to stage some climbers on the routes for the money shots!
-By Courtney Ley
It all started one night just this past October over a couple of beers. We looked at the ‘Mammut 150 Years Peak Project: Trango Towers’ video which used radio control helicopters to capture amazing aerial climbing footage. After the two-minute video was over, Doug looked at me and said, “Hey, we can do that!” If it had been anyone else, I wouldn’t have believed a word of it. But it was Doug Millen, and a short two months later, we were taking his first custom built helicopter out for its first test flight.
It has been nothing short of a journey getting to where we are right now. It started off by learning how to build them and then to fly them. If that wasn’t enough challenge, we ran into seemingly endless electronic issues, big crashes and the subsequent repairs and re-builds. Eventually we faced the inevitable video problems, worked through how to get good footage and then learning the video editing software. And we are still at the beginning of this journey because there is so much more to learn and troubleshoot. I wish there was a camera constantly rolling during these past months to film all that has happened up to this point. It has been an intense labor of love for Doug and it’s been an incredible experience being able to work with him and seeing our shared passion and vision turn into a reality.
I’d like to present the film we showed at the Adirondack Mountainfest and the Vermont Smugglers Ice Bash in a new edited format to everyone who is a part of NEice. I hope you enjoy a collection of the very First Takes!
Thank you to everyone who has been a part of making the UP Project such a fun experience so far and to Luke Cushman, Chuck Drew, Adam E. and all the climbers that let us buzz by.
On Sunday, December 15th, 2013, Boston Rock Gym in Woburn, MA will be hosting the 7th installment of their Social Outcast Club—a unique way for climbers to learn, socialize and share experiences about what we all love in a fun, relaxed atmosphere. During each gathering, several BRG climbers and guest speakers cover a range of climbing topics.
Below are more details about the event from BRG’s Event Page on Facebook:
-Showing of the BRG’s ice climbing trip video from 2012-“How an average climber can make the most of Peru’s Cordillera Blanca- Taking down big mountains.” by Ilya Tatar and Lidiya VI
COST: FREE for members or with the purchase of a day pass on Sunday.
(Come in after 4pm and stay for this event and receive a $10 a daypass!)
WHAT TO BRING: Your favorite food and drinks for the potluck table-and a smile of course…
The gym is located at
78 Olympia Drive
Woburn, MA 01801
by Doug Millen
Building helicopters is fast becoming my main addiction (like I need another). It has been one of the hardest and most challenging things I have done in my life. Building and flying helicopters in the mountains is no easy task. Every trip we have failures, but we learn from our mistakes. I have made a lot of mistakes since we started but the helicopters just keep getting better and so do my flying skills.
This is the fifth helicopter I have built. This one is made completely from scratch and of my own design. I have incorporated the best features I have seen and I am using the ARDU auto pilot system APM 2.0. APM is the world’s leading open source UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) autopilot. It’s basically a robot that flies!
ARDU will know where he is, how to get home and able to run a mission with many way points, all on his own. Plus he will be sending back live video and filming with a GoPro Hero 3.
This rig will have all I am looking for (I hope) and teeth for the mountain winds. Here is a video of me fighting the wind in Huntington Ravine with the “Pocket Kong”. Clearly more power is needed for control.
It all starts with an idea and a drawing. I had been thinking for awhile what my next build would be. I would incorporate all I have learned over the winter. The plan was to make a Quad copter for stability and with enough power to battle the mountain winds and be able to survive a crash with minimal damage. The helicopter must be easy to repair and parts readily available because, “you’re gonna crash” and break some parts. That’s a given. It must also be easy to transport and backpack to where we want to be. UP high!
Below is my latest effort to get even closer to that perfect helicopter I have envisioned in my mind.
Planing for the main controller (MC), GPS and radio Receivers.
Planing how the engine speed controllers (ESC’s) will fit into the frame, a very tight space.
The layout of the MC, Receivers and Telemetry for ARDU on the top deck.
The main frame cut out and ready for sanding. I used 1/4″ marine plywood. It’s what I had around and should work great.
Cutting out the poplar motor arms to receive the motor mounts. Wood is a good material for helicopters. It is light, strong, cheep and vibration resistant.
The motor mounts ready to be glued to the arms.
Gluing the plywood motor mounts to the arms.
Gluing the side rails to the main frame.
The Frame is ready for some paint and final assembly. Notice that the arms will fold back and hit the wood stops during a crash. This helps absorb energy. I got this trick from building my Tri copter “Woody”. It works great!
All the components ready to put together, I hope everything fits!
A coat of paint to protect the wood and make it look cool.
The main power distribution board with ESC’s attached. A big power system (30A ESC’s) to battle the winds.
The bullet ends of the ESC’s need to be soldered on and then shrink wrapped.
The motors mounted and ready to go. The motors are held in place with zip ties, the weak link in a crash. The motors just break the ties and eject instead of letting the force damage the motors. I used the Avroto M 2814-11 Short Shaft 770KV Brushless Motors for this build. A good, strong and reliable motor.
A tight squeeze for the ESC’s and Power Supplies. It’s going to be hot in there in the summer, so I need to figure out how to vent it. I have installed a temperature sensor to keep an eye on the heat. It could be a problem, but not in the weather we like to fly in.
ARDU ready for the final test assembly
ARDU 1.0 ready for programming, testing and tuning. A sweet looking unit. I can’t wait to fly it!
Stay tuned for part two – The Programming and Testing of “ARDU”
It was Easter weekend and what better way to spend it than with our friends at Harvard Cabin! Packed in a sizable sled, the latest and greatest flying machine and it’s components were headed up the trail Friday night, ready (or not!) for the job ahead. The weather and snow conditions were superb for climbing and skiing in the ravines, but NEice pilot, Doug Millen, had his eyes on another type of weather forecast.
After a few weeks of rebuilding the new Woo Kong, version 3.0, we were ready to give it the ultimate test. With its lighter, smaller frame and only 4 props, it earned it’s nickname Pocket Kong. Saturday morning was a little breezy as we hiked up the trail into Huntington Ravine. We could have estimated the wind speeds, come up with theories about thermals, debate morning versus afternoon wind directions, time in between gusts, where to fly and when.. or.. we could just Send It UP! And we did just that.
A few of our aerial photos, courtesy of WooKong 2.5
(click on images to enlarge)
Taking frame grabs makes flying look so beautiful and smooth. For those of you in the ravine that day, admittedly, it may not have looked so in control. The winds were high and Pocket went for the ride of its life! Even though we did get a good few seconds of stable footage (a few seconds is considered a successful flight).. I thought you all might enjoy the best of the worst footage from this weekend.
Here it is, the Out-Take Reel!
Submitted by Courtney Ley
Up to now we have been flying blind. But that will change. I just finished building a ground station down link that will receive live video from the GoPro. We will be able to see what the camera is seeing as we fly. This will help us better compose our footage and save valuable flight time.
I also received my new GoPro Hero 3 Black. My original camera stopped working after a bad firmware up-date and had to be replaced. Looks like they got it right this time. Everything is working as expected. What a pleasure it is to operate the camera with the phone app.
The complete Aerial Filming System: Photohigher AV130 Camera Gimbal, GoPro Hero 3 Black, The GoPro phone app., a 1.2Ghz video RX with a 1500mW TX and a monitor for live video feed back.