Going up against drones with rubber bands and paper
Maker Faire Cape Town 2015 had a generous portion of the exhibition hall in the V&A Waterfront cordoned off for flying. As one would expect, the area was swarmed with all manner of drones from home-made, 3D printed to professional/hobby/enthusiast/money burning grade.
It seems the magic of flight still captivates even as drones become more commonplace, as both children and adults sat wide-eyed as the pilots navigated their way through the demarcated course.
When the drones returned to base for a charge and the course was clear, we noticed someone doing something rather strange. Instead of fiddling with batteries or an app, Garth Andersson was winding something up. In among the complex flying robots and gliders, Andersson was practising a type of model flying called “free flight”.
If you’ve ever folded paper over a few times and thrown it around at break time, then you’ve indulged in this hobby too. Free flight focuses on the ability of a model to fly without external control – essentially taking out the “RC” part of flying that is so prevalent today.
Andercraft showed us his sample model (pictured above) that flies with a rubber band powering a propeller, a few swept back wings and a flick of the wrist.
The model, made of only a wooden frame and a paper skin easily cleared the ten-plus metre hall. On the next run it was not so easy; the heavy air conditioning on the day caused the model to land prematurely. It also nicely showed off another key part of the free flight models: the ability to self-stabilise. Andersson says that he is able to get the model to fly for seven and a half minutes, while world champions can go on for forty minutes.
Andersson also showed me this giant model he brought along:
While a bit difficult too discern, this model has a wingspan of 460 mm. That may not impress you, but this one will: it only weighs 4g. This flying, self-correcting model weighs about the same as a teaspoon of sugar.
We’ve been invited to an indoor flight session where we’ll hopefully see a lot more “traditional” flyers. Despite being a total surprise at the faire, we’re also incredibly impressed with the price of entry for this hobby. The cheapest drones we’ve ever seen sit at about R200 for a tiny, 3cm long toy (that will shatter into 20 000 sharp plastic shards at the very mention of a wall impact). On the other hand, you can probably assemble one of these models using the contents of a stationery drawer at home.
Making amazing things out of virtually nothing is sometimes more indicative of maker spirit than a complicated robot, and we love it.