Low cost, high camera!
Like many newcomers to helicopters, I was hooked immediately and grabbed almost every chance to get it back into the air all summer long. I do recommend the hoop for beginners by the way. The blue sparkly one I bought was quite big and nicely shock absorbing, but it arrived from the toyshop half full of water! While this probably helps children a lot when hula-hooping, I smiled to think of what it might do to my centre of gravity as I tried to stabilise a hover. I made two pinholes in the hoop and drained all the water out to avoid doing that particular experiment.
Adding a camera
My nice new digital camera deserved protection from vibration, impact, fuel, and condensing oil in the exhaust smoke. So I thought I'd better enclose it in something leaving only a hole for the lens. I considered building some sort of enclosure for several days. But when I was wandering around a big DIY store on an unrelated mission, I spotted a small plastic toolkit box that looked just the thing! I did not have measurements to hand, but it was so cheap and so light that I just bought it on the spot, with a few other odds and ends I saw near by: different stock rods of aluminium and plastic. As you may realise while reading this, the module was never really designed. I just built it, thinking over each new stage only when the previous one was complete.
Building the camera module
The real heli skids would need somehow to rest on top of the toolbox. So I fitted plastic "rails" complete with flange, to accept the heli skids on either side of the toolbox. All the fixing was done with simple nuts and bolts, and I even managed to find a use for some nuts and bolts included in the Meccano set my dear Mum had given me for Christmas.
Inside the toolbox, I made a hole for the lens, and fitted some foam rubber both to hold and to protect the camera. I mounted the camera's remote shutter release in such a way that a servo would easily operate it (see photo TO BE ADDED LATER). Both the shutter release and the servo were mounted with double-sided sticky foam, a surprisingly easy operation that took me almost three minutes just before lunch one Sunday. I set the servo to operate on the "throttlehold" switch of my transmitter, (no autos with camera ) and I adjusted the travel so that the servo pushed the switch just the right amount and no more.
At this stage, it was possible to rest the heli in the module's "rails" and the thing looked altogether possible. But what of the weight I thought? The camera plus the module weighed a total of about three pounds. The heli alone weighed about six pounds.
Trials with a simulator
I rested the whole thing on the garden table for a while with radio on, engine off, and the slight smell of marvellous gravy filling the air. I took a few test pictures of the garden from the top of the table. It worked! An early flight test seemed like a good idea - maybe after lunch.
Flying with the camera
I closed the plastic toolbox, attached the rubber bands, started the engine, and tried unsuccessfully to look relaxed. As I cautiously increased the throttle I remembered those who warned me it "would not fly". The throttle stick gradually slid past the place where I'd normally see it leave the ground. The rotors whirled ever faster. It stayed on the ground. I wondered the suspense was terrific! Then with the throttle stick only a little higher than usual, it drifted slowly into the air with a disdainful casualness. I was delighted, and hovered carefully for a while. The hovering was actually better than usual, possibly because of the extra weight, the lower CG, and maybe my extreme caution. After a few flights with camera I became more accustomed to the modified performance, which I found I could improve with a slight tweak to the throttle curve. I raised the throttle curve a little in the hover zone so that I could have a bit more engine power with the same collective pitch. This resulted in a slightly higher than usual hovering head speed. The most noticeable changes to the flying characteristics were improved hovering, and a distinct reluctance to stop descending after any rapid descent! That meant that for safety, all descents from great altitudes needed to be slowed early, and landings had to be executed with more caution. I found the best way to remind myself to do that was to recall the price of the camera, and the helicopter.
Since the engine was working harder than usual, I ran the mixture a little richer. A lean engine just might overheat I thought. If you fly with a similar camera module, be sure to see lots of smoke from the exhaust. An engine failure at altitude could be expensive and auto landings might not be all that possible. I didn't try that yet!