Release The Magic White Smoke

I’ve been flying Tiny Whoops (small drones with cameras on their heads) for about 2 years now and I’m ok at it. Certainly not going to win any races, but I have fun flying around and terrorising our dogs. I’ve even started a group that meets in Birmingham where local pilots can come and fly together… well… until Covid killed it off.

I love these little things, they are great fun for messing around and having friendly races, exploring cafes and tight spots but the flying is all done using a mode called “Self Level”. This means when you let go of the sticks, the quad automatically flattens out to a level flying position and as long as you keep giving it power, it will just hover nicely in place. This is great when in close proximity to people and objects because at any time you freak out or bump into something, the quad automatically recovers, WAYYYYY faster than you could ever hope to. But the down side is that you can only tilt the quad over to a certain angle, defined in the settings. And you can never go upside down which limits the tricks and flight lines you might want to take.

This leads to the flight mode called “Acro” short for Acrobatic. This is much tougher to learn (especially if you have only ever learned “Self level” mode) because the quad does NOT return to a level position if you let go of the controls. If you Pitch the nose down (to go forward) by pushing forwards on the stick and then return the stick to the neutral (middle) position, the quad will just stay at whatever angle you left it at, until you tell it to do something else. To bring the nose back to level, you have to push the stick backwards to bring Pitch up, until the nose has come up to level and then return it to neutral. This also applies to the Roll axis, so this is a very different flying control method. Luckily the Throttle and Yaw are still the same from “Self Level” mode.

So why would anyone want to learn “Acro” ?? 

Because going upside down is awesome and choosing the angle you want to fly at gives a whole load of possibilities that “Self Level” mode prevents.

Now… You can change the settings on a Tiny Whoop and use it with “Acro” mode, but because you are indoors, it’s just too easy to hit something and then immediately crash. Remember, if you knock into something, the quad will just stay at that angle and buzz off in that direction before you have time to correct it. So lets go and fly outside and open up a whole new world of obstacles; there are loads of awesome things to do and fly through outside. These little Whoops can just about handle it, but are really just indoor toys. Some of the more powerful ones can cope with going outside, and deal with a little wind, but have I given you enough reasons yet to justify a new drone purchase? 

I’ve bought myself a Diatone GT R349 HD MK2 which is a 3” (diameter propellers) drone. It runs on 3S or 4S (cell) batteries and can do approximately 100mph!!! In comparison, my Tiny Whoop runs on 1S batteries, has 30mm props and might get up to about 30mph? Fast, for something so tiny, but I’ve no idea. 

I ordered it from China and it’s taken 3 weeks to arrive. I also needed the aforementioned batteries, a special case for them, a charger and new receiver. And because I’m a virgin Acro flyer, I’ve ordered spare propellers because I’m bound to break the first set on my first flight. However, while those bits have all been on order, and in an effort to reduce the chance of catastrophically crashing the moment it arrives, I’ve been training myself on a simulator. At least I can get the first 100 crashes out of the way without actually breaking anything and costing me vast amounts of time and money… or so I thought…

The drone arrived the other day and soon after the batteries did too. They both came with XT30 connectors so would work perfectly together. But my charger only has an XT60 connector and it’s built into the case, so changing that is impossible. I could make an adapter cable, but that is a pain in the butt and I don’t have a load of XT30’s laying around. However, I do have a load of XT60’s so I decided to swap all the connectors on the batteries. This is not just me being a bit crazy, resoldering parts and swapping connectors is pretty commonplace in the drone world, and while I’m no pro, I can solder well enough for this. Also, I’d seen a couple reviews of this quad where they had upgraded to an XT60 and it may have increased performance, so I may as well.

I was super careful to only desolder one side of the batteries at one time and then immediately connect and heat-shink them to the new connector to prevent shorting. These are VERY high performance batteries and literally explode if you mistreat them (hence the special case I bought) I was meticulous and careful and checked what I was doing and then right at the end I made a mistake. I was getting all excited that the drone was almost ready to fly and I wanted to hear it power up that I plugged in a battery…

The sizzling and puff of magic white smoke made me immediately remove the battery, but the damage had already been done. Something had shorted out and cooked a PCB before I even got to fly it. I had inadvertently connected the last XT60 backwards. These circuit boards are magical things, but don’t like being connected up backwards…. It was going nowhere. 

It was such a daft mistake to make. All I had to do was match up red and black to + and – correctly, which doesn’t sound hard, yet I had failed. I was so annoyed with myself for such a simple error, an error which I was determined not to make when I started swapping the connectors around. I just have to accept I made a mistake and move on. I certainly wont be doing it again.

A root around on Banggood for a new PCB flight stack cost me £39 and now another few weeks waiting for it to arrive. While I wait I’m continuing to fly the simulator and get better with Acro, so I don’t break anything else when I do finally get it in the air. Ironically, it seems, I won’t escape costly repairs on the quad after all.