Saturday Morning

NARCON 2014

Florida’s Space Coast hosted NARCON, the National Association of Rocketry’s annual convention, from February 28 to March 2, 2014.

We made the one-hour trek from Oviedo to Cocoa Beach on Friday morning.  We checked into the International Palms Resort and picked up our NARCON badges and welcome packet. Then we went across the street to Denny’s for lunch.  After traveling such a long distance,  we needed the time to relax!

NARCON HotelAfter lunch, we unloaded the trailer and set up our JonRocket.com tables in the Vendor Room.

JonRocket.com Vendor Tables

We debuted the new JonRocket.com banner which features an aerial photo I took at a ROCK launch using my quadcopter.  Beside the banner, we displayed the new plastic parachute that we will soon be releasing.

JonRocket.com ParachuteDesigned by Chris Michielssen of Odd’l Rockets, the new parachute features a plastic sheet which may be cut to form the canopy of a 12″, 15″, or 18″ parachute.  The striking design is reminiscent of the parachutes used during the Apollo moon missions.

Apollo 17 Splashdown After we finished setting things out in the Vendor Room, we went to the hotel’s restaurant on the beach, Mambos, for a quick dinner before we drive to the Air Force Space and Missile History Center for the NARCON dessert reception.

Patrick McCarthy at the Dessert ReceptionJust inside the door of the history center, is a scale model of the Juno I / Explorer 1 rocket.Explorer 1We recognized it as the rocket built by members of NEFAR to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the satellite’s launch. The plan was to launch the rocket from the site of the original launch on the anniversary date.  But, the group was unable to get permission from the Air Force, so the first flight of the Juno I was at a NEFAR launch.

At the reception, I was introduced to Vern Estes, the founder of the model rocket company that bears his name.  I told him about our Akavish rockets and showed him a couple of photos of our Big Daddy Akavish.

Gary Dahlke with Vern and Gleda EstesEarly Saturday morning, we were back in the Vendors Room – we spent a lot of time there.

Saturday Morning

Across from us, Rick Boyette set up a table to sell rocket kits and other things from his collection.  We knew Rick from the Florida Winternationals years ago and a few other times when we’ve crossed paths.

Rick Boyette

Just outside the door, Brian D. Nicklas sat with Wes Oleszewsk. Brian is the author of American Missiles: The Complete Smithsonian Field Guide. Wes designs and manufactures the Dr. Zooch series of rocket kits.

Brian and Wes

Chris Michielssen displayed the new Pigasus “flying pig” model rocket kit from Odd’l Rockets.

PigasusThe Pigasus will be available soon rom JonRocket.com.

At lunch, we heard from a panel of gentleman who worked at the Cape on the space program dating back to Project Mercury. Bob Koenn, John Tribe, Lee Solid, and Roy Tharpe described working for the space program from the early days of the Atlas missile to the Space Shuttle.

Space Legends

The food was pretty good, too!

Chris Michielssen

After lunch, I attended Chris Michielssen’s presentation. Chris shared many of his not-so-secret techniques for crafting great-looking model rockets.

After lunch, Chris posed for a photo with Vern Estes.

Chris and Vern

I had the pleasure of meeting three NAR presidents, Trip Barber, Mark Bundick, and Ted Cochran. I really appreciate all they have done for NAR and rocketry in general.

Roger and Mark "Bunny" BundickI posed for a photo with Tim Van Milligan (of Apogee), Chris Michielssen (of Odd’l Rockets), CarlCampbell (of DFR Tech), and Pigasus (of Chris’s brain).Roger, Tim, Chris, and CarlOn the way to a much-needed pit stop, I saw Vern signing a rocket for Lonnie Buchanon.Lonnie with Vern and Gleda

I think Lonnie was pleased. He had Vern sign his 30-year-old Big Bertha.

Lonnie Buchanon

Back in the Vendors Room, I displayed a Space Shuttle signed by some astronauts and Vern Estes.

Shuttle Signed By Vern

I showed the shuttle to a gentleman and described how we had it signed by several astronauts.  As he turned away to talk with someone else, I realized that he was an astronaut.  So … enlisted Bracha to invite him back to autograph the model.

Sam Durrance Signing Shuttle

Sam Durrance is a geophysicist who has flown into space twice aboard the space shuttle.

I recognized the second astronaut who wandered into the Vendors Room.  We had seen Winston Scott at some Kennedy Space Center events.

Winston Scott

Captain Scott flew two Space Shuttle missions and made three space walks.

NARCON Dinner

Just a few ballrooms away, we went to the NARCON Dinner with “Meet the Astronauts Panel.” After enjoying an excellent meal featuring prime rib and stuffed shrimp, astronaut and KSC director, Bob Cabana hosted a discussion with Durrance and Scott.  We heard the astronauts describe their experiences in space and at NASA.

On Sunday, during one of the quiet times in the Vendors Room, Bracha posed for a photo with Gleda and Vern Estes.

Bracha with Gleda and Vern

Before noon, we packed everything up then boarded one of the NARCON buses for the Cape Canveral tour.

The People on the Bus

Our tour guide, John Hilliard, a volunteer from the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Museum, took us to pad 34, Launch Complex 14, Hangar R, the Space and Missile Museum, and other places of interest on Cape Canveral.

The tour ended a little after 4:00 and the bus dropped us back off at the hotel before five. We loaded the JonRocket.com trailer and headed up A1A towards home.

We’d like to thank the organizers for an incredibly well-run and enjoyable event!

Hobby Rockets (A Lot of Them) Featured in Superbowl Commercial

Mountain Dew Kickstart CommercialMountain Dew advertised their “Kickstart” flavors of soda during the 2014 Super Bowl in a commercial featuring a spectacular night launch of 400 model rockets at one time.

The Commercial

The rockets are meant to be a “metaphor for getting you up for the night” according to Greg Lyons, Mountain Dew’s Vice-President,

Created by the ad agency BBDO and filmed near Palmdale, California, over two nights in November of 2013, the commercial shows approximately 400 model rockets launched within a period of about 1.5 seconds. No computer graphics (CGI) were used in the commercial. Small fireworks were added to the standard model rockets to create the sparks seen in the video.

Behind the Scenes

The filmmakers actually performed the massive launch twice, attaching small video cameras to some of the rockets to capture the unique angles shown in the finished commercial.

Mountain Dew Commercial

After the Super Bowl, the commercial aired nationally.

The commercial features the song Repetition by The Willowz.

Testing the Phantom 2 Vision “Control Signal Lost” Altitude Issues

At the NEFAR rocket launch last weekend, I had my Phantom 2 Vision quadcopter report “Control Signal Lost.” I found that it happened each time that I tried to increase the altitude above about 250 feet.  The control signal is supposed to function at up to 1000′ distance.

Today, I took the quadcopter to the local schoolyard to do some tests.  I flew the ‘copter about 20 feet in front of me and took it up to 250′ in altitude.  As I slowly tried to go higher, the “Control Signal Lost” message appeared.  It went away quickly though and I “yawed” the Phantom in a circle to confirm that I was still in command. But, being cautious, I then descended.

I repeated the experiment a couple of times and each time, at between 250 to 300 feet up, the signal went away, but only briefly.  Each time, I reduced the altitude just in case. In similar situations, I had the Phantom enter its “Return to Home” fail-safe mode a couple of times at the NEFAR launch. I tried repositioning the transmitter’s antenna, but it seemed to have little effect on the problem.

Next, I brought the Phantom down to about 100 feet in altitude.  I flew it about 500 feet away (the farthest I could go and stay over the grass field) and the signal lost message did not appear.

Finally, I positioned the Phantom about 200 feet away from me and I was able to take it up to 300 feet without any indication of signal lost.

It may only happen when the ‘copter is oriented in a certain direction relative to the transmitter. I didn’t think to test that.

I’ll watch for the problem in the future, but for now, I’m not too concerned. I am able to fly higher as long as the Phantom is far enough from me and I had no problem regaining control when it was lost.

 

Wirelessly Sharing the Phantom 2 Vision’s First-Person View

Netgear Push2TVRecently, we were using a Netgear Push2TV adapter at work to display the output from an Android tablet on a larger monitor for a demonstration. That got me thinking … “I wonder if it work work with the Phantom 2 Vision?”

I thought that it would be cool if the First-Person View (FPV) provided by the Vision’s smartphone app could be displayed on a TV so others could watch as I flew the quadcopter.

I did a little research and learned that my Moto X phone is compatible with the Push2TV. The Moto X supports “Miracast” which is the protocol used by the Push2TV to wirelessly mirror the phone’s display on the TV. Miracast is built on another protocol called “Wi-Fi Direct” which allows two devices to connect by Wi-Fi outside of a network. Wi-Fi Direct also allows the phone to connect to the Push2TV adapter at the same time as it is connected to a wireless network.

When the Push2TV arrived, I hooked it up through its HDMI connection to a small TV. It displayed a screen saying that it was ready to connect.  On the phone, selected “Settings => Display => Wireless Display” and wait while it scanned for a wireless display to connect to.  And I waited. And I waited. Eventually, I gave up.

That’s when I had a brilliant idea – read the instructions. Aha! It says to update the firmware. I downloaded the firmware file to the phone then pushed the button to change to the setup mode on the Push2TV. I connected the phone to the Push2TV adapter through a regular Wi-Fi connection. I opened the Chrome app and connected to the Push2TV box. It displayed a web page asking me to upload the firmware file.  I browsed for the file, selected it, and click the button.  After a few minutes, the Push2TV restarted with a different “ready to connect” screen.

I selected the wireless display option on the phone again and there it was … the Push2V appeared in the list of wireless displays.  I selected it and the phone’s screen showed up on the TV!

So, I fired up the Phantom 2 Vision. Danced a little to the start-up sounds, I connected the phone to the Phantom’s Wi-Fi feed. Then I fired up the DJI Vision App. And, it worked. The TV mirrored what I saw on the phone and the app controlled the Vision’s camera.

Last weekend, I took the TV and Push2TV adapter to a local rocket launch. I tried mirroring the Vision App on the TV while I flew the Phantom 2 Vision. Unfortunately, the inexpensive TV I had wasn’t very bright. Even sitting in our trailer under overcast skies, it was hard to see.  So, I didn’t spend too much time experimenting to see if mirroring the display affected the range of the Vision’s FPV. But, I did confirm that it works.

 

Adding a GPS Tracker to the Phantom 2 Vision

tracker

Looking for a reasonably-priced way to track my Phantom 2 Vision quadcopter if it decides to fly off, I recently ordered a “GSM/GPS/GPRS Tracker Device” from Amazon.com. It’s a  small box that you plug a SIM card into.  You call the number associated with the SIM and the device texts its location back to you.  Some cell phone operators, such as AT&T, offer “per minute/per message” plans that should work great with it. Most GPS locators require you to pay a monthly subscription fee.

I’m planning to attach the tracker to the Phantom quadcopter.  If it gets lost, the tracker should help me find it. The tracker is small enough that I could also use it in some of my rockets to help recover one that happens to drift away from the launch site.

Photographing the December, 2013, NEFAR Launch From the Air

NEFAR Launch

Saturday’s NEFAR launch was plagued with high winds most of the day. I didn’t have any rockets ready to fly, but looked forward to capturing still photos and videos of the launches using my Phantom 2 Vision quadcopter. Unfortunately, the day began with high winds, gusting to 25 mph.  Together with the overcast skies, this limited the number of people who showed up for the launch and the number of rockets they flew.

The high winds made me nervous about flying the helicopter, so I started off slow. I powered up the ‘copter and flew it up to about 25 feet in altitude. I let it hover in place as was amazed at how well it help position in spite of the strong and variable wind.

Having built up some confidence, I flew the helicopter out into the range.  Because of the wind, I decided not to fly too low or too high. and I didn’t try to maneuver too much.  For the most part, I just put the helicopter in a position to record a launch and let it keep itself in place.

Between each rack of rockets launched, I landed and either let the helicopter idle to preserve battery life or I replaced the battery with one I had been charging. The wind made landings challenging. I tipped the Phantom on pretty much every landing and even flipped it completely over once. There was no damage to the Phantom, though.

After tipping the Phantom over on landing for about the twelfth time, I decided to practice landings for a few minutes.  I realized that I was using “CSC”  (moving the two control sticks simultaneously down and to the center) to force the motors to shut off immediately as I landed.  But, the Phantom was skewing a bit as the control sticks moved which was causing many of the tip-overs. When I shut the motors down by just holding the throttle down for a few seconds, the landings were more successful.

The stills and video I captured on Saturday aren’t as impressive as I had hoped.  The wind made the Phantom bounce around too much and few larger rockets were launched.  But, I managed to produce what I think is a pretty good video of the day’s fun.

My New Camera Takes Flight

Bracha gave me a new camera as a holiday gift.  It came attached to a helicopter.

DJI Phantom 2 VisionThe DJI Phantom 2 Vision is an almost-ready-to-fly quadcopter with an integrated camera. It includes a “First Person View” system for viewing what the camera sees and controlling the camera while the helicopter is in flight.

After Bracha gave me the gift, I took the quadcopter to a neighborhood schoolyard for some practice sessions. I found the ‘copter very easy and very fun to fly.

Neighborhood Aerial ShotI was pleased with the still images captured by the camera, but was concerned about the video which seemed shaky. The video also suffered from the extra-wide “fisheye” lens.

Phantom 2 Vision

On Saturday, I took the Phantom 2 to the ROCK launch just down the road from us in Oviedo.  It attracted some attention as I flew it out in the field and positioned it to capture stills and video of the launches.

December ROCK LaunchWhen I got home, I plugged the camera’s memory card into my computer then viewed the photos. I’m really pleased with a few of the stills, but I failed to capture the rockets in flight in most of the photos.  I need to learn when to click the button to take the photos.

I loaded the videos into Adobe Premiere then used the “Warp” filter to remove most of the vibrations and shakiness. It worked better than expected.  Then I edited the videos in Standard Definition (SD) rather than High Definition (HD).  This allowed me to crop the video and avoid most of the annoying fisheye effect.  I produced a short video and am happy with the result.