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Monthly Archives: March 2014

IN THE LOOP

In 2010, a radio controlled aircraft collided with a small private plane during a charity airshow at a Colorado airport. While there was no visual damage to the private plane, the incident reflected a growing trend in rc aviation – the use of FPV planes. During the course of this blog, we will discuss the current problems surrounding their use.

We first need to define an FPV plane. An FPV (First Person View) plane is a radio controlled model aircraft, which utilizes a small onboard video camera and transmitter sending imagery to a ground receiving unit in the form of video goggles or a portable LCD screen. The view from such flights is the same as a pilot would have from the plane. Because of this, the rc pilot on the ground need not maintain line of sight (LOS) contact with the model, limited only by the reach of the radio signal and the power supply of the aircraft. While a number of rc aircraft are built with FPV capability, kits are available to install video cameras on virtually any rc plane. The rc pilot using goggles or head tracking gear usually has an exciting flight experience.

The capability of FPV aircraft to fly beyond visual contact range (some have a radius in excess of thirty miles), as well as an altitude ceiling above 3,000 ft., may sometimes cause problems when the pilot loses the video signal. For example, private planes often make their landing approaches at altitudes within the envelope of the FPV model. A loss of signal at the wrong time could result in a collision between the two craft and pilot error due to the distraction. Collisions with communications towers, power lines and other ground obstacles pose an equal threat. Though there are currently no laws or regulations governing control of FPV planes, the Academy of Model Aeronautics has proposed several guidelines to make FPV flight safer.

The first is the use of a buddy box system, in which two pilots, one in sight of the rc and the other monitoring the flight by video are able to direct the plane using independent flight controls. Another proposal requires an FPV pilot to fly their craft within line of sight at an altitude of no higher than 400 ft. Some models utilize autopilots, which automatically fly the plane back to its controller upon loss of video power. For all of the safety concerns, there has never been a recorded incident of an FPV plane causing major property damage or injuries, due to the majority of FPV models being constructed of styrofoam, which is lighter and less rigid.

A IS FOR ATTACK

In the late 1930s the USAAF found itself in need of a light bomber, as a result of aircraft developments from the Spanish Civil War.  It was required to carry a bomb load of at least 1,000 lbs. and be capable of both level and dive bombing.  The Douglas A-20 Havoc became one of several USAAF aircraft designated as attack bombers, aircraft which carried a greater payload than fighters but having less range and firepower than medium bombers.

The Havoc was developed at a time when a low-altitude, high speed attack mode of aviation was coming to fruition among the worlds leading air forces.  The A-20 was designed as a mid-wing, three-place light bomber with both frontal and rear armament.  While flight tests began in 1938, the USAAF was initially not interested in the aircraft, because it’s 1,100 hp., Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp engines could not provide sufficient power.  However, several French officers witnessed the tests ( in violation of the Neutrality Act) and were impressed enough to place an order for 270 planes.  After initial combat experience from the French Air Force and later the RAF, the Havoc’s engines were upgraded to Wright R-2600, 1700 hp. Twin Cyclone engines – giving it a performance comparable to many fighters of the day.

At the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, the A-20 was the only aircraft of its type available in large numbers.  Once in wide use, the aircraft proved itself both durable and adaptable.  Armament was increased to a 2,000 lb. internal bomb bay load, as well as an additional 1,000 lb. bomb attached to external racks under each wing.  The nose greenhouse was also replaced with a solid cone containing either six .50 cal. machine guns or four 20 mm cannon.  This configuration was especially effective for the low altitude ground attack and anti-shipping missions of the Southwest Pacific.  The Havoc gained favor with Soviet forces as an effective anti-armor, ground support aircraft with approximately one-third of all production sent to the Soviet Union via Lend Lease.  It also supported the Normandy invasion and subsequent operations in Western Europe.

Although eclipsed by the Douglas A-26 Invader in 1944, many pilots still preferred the Havoc due to its relative speed and maneuverability.  It performed a number of roles, such as dive bombing, level bombing, strafing and skip bombing.  There was also a successful night fighter version, the P-70.  The Havoc was easy to fly and had a relatively simple control panel.  It gave pilots the best of both worlds – the range and payload of a bomber coupled with the speed and maneuverability of a fighter.