MAKING USEFUL AIRCRAFT
There are aircraft, and then there are useful aircraft.
Useful Aircraft are beloved by operators. Aircraft with well-engineered systems for ease of maintenance and reliability, realistic center of gravity ranges, good payload ability coupled with flexible operational range, good high and low speed handling characteristics, well designed interior spaces, ease of maintenance access, efficiency, and versatility. Obviously, all planes are built mission specific, but some airplanes stand out and become favorites by proving their strengths in day-to-day operation.
I’m Brett Tossell. I’ve been a working professional pilot for over 25 years.
A little while back, I lost my medical due to a birth defect requiring corrective heart surgery. I was gutted. I never knew how much the flying meant to me. Without surgery, I was ineligible to be a pilot, and after surgery I had a mandated year long road to recovery full of therapy, exercise, and countless medical appointments before I could even apply to fly again.
During that time, I focused on my recovery, but I missed flying. Not the parts of the job that leads up to starting the engines or happens after shutdown – I missed the freedom of actual flight. Without a medical – flying was denied to me, and I had to find something to satisfy that urge. There are few things that can replicate the feeling of moving through the sky as you choose. It truly is the ultimate freedom, and once you’ve truly tasted it – it’s addictive.
It was a recuperating day’s browsing that first exposed me to FPV. A YouTube video gave me a glimpse into the perspective I missed so much. At that point – I had found something to satiate my desire to fly.
So I started with quadcopters. First a few small ones, toys essentially. From there onto 250 size quads that had cameras. I flew analog FPV, and while it was fun – the video was never quite good enough, and I’m just not really a quad guy.
Don’t get me wrong – quads are fun – but there’s a computer in there.
There’s something magical about a direct connection to your flight controls. The feeling of an aileron at speed is far tighter than it’s feeling as you approach the stall. There’s something about being the only thing that’s keeping your aircraft from becoming a pile of parts. I missed that direct connection.
So I started with building fixed wing kits.
I wasn’t really thrilled with that – as I’m a form follows function kinda guy. I didn’t want a plane that looked like some 1940’s fighter – they’re cool – but I wanted something I could fit a decent FPV system in, and something that gave me an unobstructed view. I don’t need to see a fake cockpit – or the view out the nose – or look through a propeller – I just want to be out there flying. I wanted to make the design choices for the purposes I wanted to achieve.
This led to designing my own stuff.
I’ve always been a maker. I’m a geek. I’ve got a 3d printer and I’m lucky enough to have a family that supported me getting a laser cutter a few years ago. So I was pretty well equipped to make my own designs.
I knew what I wanted in my perfect airplane – so I set about building it. This is what I was looking for:
Easy and fast to build – I’m more of a flyer than a builder.
Easy to repair – I’m really good at crashing – so it’s got to be resilient and cheap.
No airframe or propellers in FPV view.
Ability to carry internal or external loads
Room for Autonomous Flight Controllers, GPS, Cameras – whatever I wanted.
Good Crashworthiness – protect all the expensive things and minimize collateral damage.
Good Flight Characteristics – decent flight and CG envelope. Good handling.
Fit in a car trunk. I’m a dad, and my hobbies have to fit my kids stuff too. No six foot wings.
Good Cooling – I live in Arizona. We get stupid hot here.
Inexpensive, readily available materials.
With the determination of a madly obsessed dude with plenty of time on my hands – I started designing and building. Months went by and hundreds of sheets of foamboard designs took to the air. Slowly, a design began to emerge, and dozens of iterative improvements were made – but finally, out of the garage late one night – my plane was born.
I had built my first useful aircraft.
This is only the beginning.