In July 2014 I earned my private pilot license. At some point in the future I plan to add aerobatic, glider, tailwheel, and complex aircraft ratings, but for now I just buzz around Southern California in a money-powered rocket. In 2015, I earned my complex/high performance ratings. By July 2017 I had done about 250 hours, mostly in Cessnas. Most recently I've been working towards a glider rating.
I've done 11 solo jumps towards my A license for skydiving.
In 2017 I began to design and build my own high performance drones. Version 0 tested some construction theories using 3D printed nodes and carbon fiber struts, and met its demise in a spectacular crash.
Version 1 tested a 3D printed chassis idea but ultimately was too fiddly to fly untethered. So it hasn't broken yet.
Version 2 used a commercial frame and achieved about a dozen flights before returning, oh-so-destructively, to mother Earth. I was, however, able to validate every avionics configuration I was interested in, including high angle flights, GPS tracking, telemetry, FPV, and using zipties as a structural material. I also spent hours scratching my head trying to figure out how to use aspects of the betaflight configurator.
Here's a video of it punching the power, with the small battery.
Now that Version 2 is utterly destroyed, I can focus all my efforts on Version 3. Version 2 peaked at about 2400W. Version 3 will peak at about 34000W. And be roughly the same size.
Drones are a small resource commitment route into electric flight, particularly focused on high performance short haul transport. Here's the plan.
Relatively low energy density in batteries, 265Wh/kg. An improvement of roughly a factor of three is necessary.
Steady, though not indefinite, battery improvement, flexible configurations, mechanical simplicity, motor power density, combustion independence.
We may be a decade away from economically competitive subsonic or supersonic electric passenger transport. Beyond breakeven, battery improvements allow continual improvements of range within the same airframe.
The existing situation
Numerous consumer and professional drones have been developed, adapted for racing, harassing cats, and as a video platform. Platform adaptation for policing or war shows haphazard development. Human transportation also shows development, though mostly in the "flying lawn chair" or "flying car" space, rather than as competition for the Pilatus PC-12 or Boeing 737.
The development timeline
Human rated commercial aviation technology has a timescale of around a decade, which is similar to the battery specific energy horizon.
Small scale drones can demonstrate and develop engineering expertise in high speed electric flight. Small scale is less efficient, so scaling up improves range. Uses exist in rapid delivery of cameras, packages, or drone capture nets.
Develop a series of innovative tabletop-scale drones which develop the metric of maximum speed. Must run on rechargeable batteries. Produce a steady stream of documentation to spread ideas.
Current records (updated May 2018)
If this section is not up to date, please let me know!
Multicopter (196mph): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlELt3KM_OU
Electric plane (308mph): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vljy3lKIN-0
Glider (dynamic soaring 519mph): https://vimeo.com/213265400
0 - Duplicate current speed record (~200mph)
1 - Demonstrate transonic propulsion surfaces (~500mph)
2 - Demonstrate supersonic horizontal flight (>760mph for >5s)
3 - Demonstrate sustained supersonic flight (>1000mph for >60s)
4 - Suborbital flight - accelerate to 4000mph up to 100k feet - nightmare mode
Sounds like fun? Get in touch!