Scale model cockpit FPV

cool scale cockpit video

Funny Zoo Snap

man enjoys elephant My wife noticed this in the family archives.

RC Nitro motorcycle racing

rc motorcycle Motorcycle racing in Lilliput.

Manned RC Multicopter

manned multicopter
Here’s an RC multicopter big enough to ride on!

Make: Talk 004

make: Talk 004
I had a fun time talking to Mark Frauenfelder in episode 4 of his new podcast, Make: Talk!

One Man Basement Band

one man band
I feel like I could be getting more mileage out of my right foot.


liberty vintage motorcycles An Etsy portrait. Thanks, Danny.

Tequila Sleeve

tequila the champs
Champs sleeve

Wolf-Stelzer Book Lamp

Book Lamp
My friend Tess just made the cover of ReadyMade with her cool lamp design.

Tree Stump Bug

Can this be for real? The design is so awesomely Thunderbirds. Via

The Nothing Box

nothing box


Thunderbirds are go
Are Go!

Command Center

command center
Sweet assemblage spaceship’s bridge.

Four Drano’s

Watch the sink slowly, all but disappear from the design .

Toothpaste Aerosol

toothpaste aerosol
Aerosol toothpaste

Micro FPV Feature on BoingBoing

June 22nd, 2014


Mini quad not small enough for you? I’ve got a project feature up on BoingBoing that shows you how to outfit a tiny micro quad for first person video piloting. I’ve been flying these micro FPV quads around the house and yard to keep my thumbs in shape.

Rise of the Mini-quads!

June 19th, 2014


Finkbuilt has been pretty much derelict for quite some time now. My last post 2 years ago celebrated my first successful FPV quadcopter flight. Success for me back then meant that I didn’t completely destroy the quad. Shortly after that post, I did destroy the quadcopter frame with a series of crashes, and put quadcopters aside for a while.

Back when I first started playing with quadcopters, a common “starter” quad was built on a 450mm frame and that’s what I started with. Over the last year, I noticed that the pilots that I paid attention to on YouTube all started showing up with mini-quads, which are typically about 220mm-250mm motor to motor. These minis are built on tiny frames, but carry the same type of camera and radio equipment as bigger quadcopters.

This year, I thought I’d see what the mini-quad buzz was all about and decided to get back into the game by building a 250 size FPV quadcopter. As it turns out, size does matter.

There are some distinct advantages to flying smaller quads. You can fly in much smaller spaces than you would be able to with a larger machine. They are less conspicuous and less dangerous than the big birds. They are also less prone to crash damage, because they don’t weigh as much, and therefore don’t crash as hard. After a crash, you can usually just flip ‘em over and take off again. They are just more fun. In the few months that I have been flying quads again, I have learned way more than I did in my whole first season with a 450.

Here area few videos taken with my 250 quad over the last month or so. Apologies in advance for cheesy free YouTube sound track music on some of these:

I’m having a blast with this 250.

The other thing i did this year was to purchase a few cheap toy quadcopters to practice with in the house. Back when i first started, there were only a few micro quads available, and they were not that cheap. Since then, multirotors have gone wild, and the toy market is now flooded with cheap-O quads. These toys make great trainers. The skills you develop on these will transfer directly to any quadcopter that you fly.

I’ve even outfitted some of these toys with nano FPV equipment to practice flying FPV around the house, and around the yard. These videos were shot with Syma x1, and Vitality H36 toy quadcopters:

Successful FPV Quadcopter Flight!

July 19th, 2012

My first attempt at flying my quadcopter in FPV (First Person View) mode ended in disaster when I flew into the nozzle of a doppler radar tower, and the ship was completely destroyed. I rebuilt the quad on a new frame, with some upgraded electronics and made another couple of attempts at camera/goggles drone piloting. I’m no Juz70, but I did manage to land it more or less in one piece!

At the very end of the video, just after you hear the battery alarm come on (the first set of beeps), my navigation video went black for some reason and I could no longer see. Knowing that I was pretty close to the ground, I decided to force the flight controller into failsafe mode (the second set of beeps), and let it auto-land. That’s when you see it change direction and run with the wind, which is why it topples over at the end. So, I learned that the radio failsafe works, and the Naza auto-landing under failsafe works, and it probably would have auto-landed perfectly had there not been such a breeze.


FPV quadcopter

FPV quadcopter

FPV Quadcopter Shot Down By Radar

May 20th, 2012

FPV Quadcopter
FPV quadcopter

I finished up the FPV quadcopter with only a few changes made to the original build plan:

DJI Naza Flight Controller – The “Free Flight” FC that I originally purchased just didn’t work out for me. I couldn’t make it fly right. I don’t know if I got a bad board or what, but I eventually gave up on it and moved on to the more costly Naza FC, which works great for me.

FrSky Telemetry Radio - The turnigy 9x is a great value in a Transmitter, and when upgraded with the open source ER9x firmware, it becomes a really capable radio. But quality control on the 9x is horrible, and mine came with a defective radio module. The 9x is a modular system, so this gave me the opportunity to upgrade to a frSky module and RX. The FrSky is cool because it has really long range (good for FPV), a settable fail-safe, and telemetry. It’s a 2 way radio, so you can hook up various sensors to the receiver, and the RX will send data (such as battery voltage, GPS coordinates etc) back to the transmitter.

FPV Maiden Flight

After burning through 20 or so battery packs flying around LOS at low altitude, breaking a few props and landing skids, I had a pretty good feel for controlling the quad, and decided that the systems were solid and reliable, and that it was time to put on the goggles and try some FPV flying.

Below is a picture of the flying field that I chose. Do you see anything unusual?

discovery park radar

Photo by Ham Hock

There is a great little field inside a park near my house called Discovery Park. There are lots of historic buildings, water views and other things that would make interesting aerial video subjects around the field. There was even a nice giant Doppler Radar station right there 100ft away for me to enjoy!

The Shootdown

So I decided that it was time to try out some FPV flying. I set up my base station, pre-flighted all my gear and got ready to take off on my maiden FPV voyage, the big moment I had been working toward for so long! There were a few people walking dogs in the area, so I decided that it would be best to get some altitude, then start flying around up where it was “safe” while I got used to flying with the goggles.

I hit the throttle, shot up to a 150ft or so and started to make a gentle turn to “look around”. Everything was looking great, just as I had hoped. I could see great through the camera/goggles with just a little bit of odd static. Then suddenly, the motors just shut off, and the quad dropped straight down in free-fall and slammed into the ground.

Apparently, I had flown high enough to get into the powerful radar stream emanating from that big white ball behind me, and the energy was enough to confuse my quad long enough to let it fall out of the sky. The quad frame was completely destroyed, with the center frame plates shattered, landing gear, arms etc completely smashed. I may be able to use 2 of the arms. Total rebuild is in order :(

Was it really the radar?

Although the crash could have been caused by a flight controller brain-fart, or other glitch, I believe that the quad was zapped by the radar.

It still had not dawned on me that the radar was the cause of the problem. Another guy had just arrived at the field, and was starting to fly an e-glider. My initial thought was that his radio had jammed mine, so I went over to talk to him, told him what had just happened, and asked him what frequency he was using. He just pointed up to the radar ball and said “it was that”.

Apparently, he had experienced similar problems with his plane’s equipment being affected, and even permanently damaged by the radar in the past, but only at altitudes higher than a few hundred feet. He still flies there, because his house is right by the park and it’s so convenient. He just considers it a cost of doing business. I won’t be flying quads there again at any altitude.

Post Mortem

When I got the wreck home, I hooked up all of the electronics and everything seemed to be in working order. FC, ESCs, radio, motors all seemed to function normally, at least in a static test. So the crash does not seem to be the result of a burned out ESC or failed motor or FC. Another thing that points to the radar, is that the video from the goPro video camera that the quad was carrying, mysteriously cuts out about 5 seconds before the motors mysteriously cut out. The goPro is not electrically coupled to the quad, was fully charged, and has never cut out in mid-take before this.

It was blown out of the sky by the radar.

Oh, China! Please send me my parts quickly. I can’t wait to get quad 2.0 up in the air and continue on my FPV journey.

Downtown Seattle Time Lapse

March 22nd, 2012

It’s most interesting to watch the HD version in full screen.

I shot this time-lapse from the 10th floor at 4th and Madison downtown Seattle. On the right is the Seattle Public Library designed by Rem Koolhaas. Kool name!

I made this with a goPro camera set to take 1 frame per second. The goPro saves the frames as a stack of .jpg’s which I compiled into a .mov file using a free utility by Dan called Time Lapse Assembler.

Quicktime used to let you assemble image sequences into movies, but for some reason, Apple took this away and made it a “Pro” feature. I suppose too many amateurs were making time-lapses.

I opened the .mov file in iMovie, added the soundtrack and exported it as an MPEG4.

Here is a shot from the other side of the building Also on Flickr

Here is another shot of the library and traffic, but from up on the 16th floor. Also on flickr

FPV Quadcopter part 2

March 15th, 2012

flashing speed controllers
Bottom view of quad with motors and ESC’s mounted

Hobby type RC electronic speed controllers usually have some degree of programability built into them to do things like set the battery type, motor timing, startup mode, etc. One of those features is a low voltage cut-off function which is designed to prevent the over-discharge of Lithium Polymer batteries by shutting down the motor when the battery level gets too low.

For multicopters, you need to disable the low voltage cut-off feature because if one of your motors suddenly cuts out, the ship will fall from the sky.

Some ESCs have special programming cards that let you visually program the functions with buttons. If a card is not available (there is no card for mine), then you have to program the ESC using your transmitter sticks to put the ESC into programming mode, then navigate the menu and make selections based on a schedule of beeps.

Well I like beeps as much as the next guy, but after reading the documentation that was supposed to be correct for my speed controllers (and especially looking over the chart below), I lost faith that I would successfully be able to transmitter-stick program the ESC’s.

flashing speed controllers
Daunting ESC programming instructions

Fortunately, many of these cheap Turnigy/HobbyKing ESC’s use Amtel ATmega8 chips, and can be easily flashed using an AVR programmer to load an open source firmware written by RCgroups member Simon Kirby. There is a spreadsheet that shows which version of the firmware that you should use with which speed controller. This firmware eliminates the low-voltage cut-off protection, and is supposed to provide a great overall performance boost over the standard firmware.

flashing speed controllers
ESC hooked up to AVR Programmer

I had never done any AVR programming before, but after reading the tutorial on RCGroups I was able to do it easily. Apparently, there is a GUI flashtool for Windows that makes it incredibly easy to do, but I use a Mac. For me the steps were as follows:

  1. Install AVRdude (instructions here)
  2. Download the firmware
  3. Identify the programming points on your ESC and connect them to the corresponding pins on the AVR programmer
  4. Connect the AVR programmer to USB
  5. Open a Terminal window and navigate to the directory where you saved the firmware (xxx.hex) and type in this command:
    avrdude -c usbasp -p m8 -U flash:w:tgy.hex

    (specify the correct file)

That should do it!

If it worked, you should see a bunch of Avrdude communication, ending with this:

avrdude: verifying ...
avrdude: 1482 bytes of flash verified

avrdude: safemode: Fuses OK

avrdude done.  Thank you.

If you don’t see that, well, I can’t help you.

There is one last thing to do with the ESC’s, which is to calibrate them to the full motion of your throttle stick, but I cannot do that yet, because my Turnigy 9x is still on backorder. I might be able to calibrate them using the software that came with my Free Flight flight controller/IMU board, but I have not tried yet. In fact, now that I think about it, it probably makes more sense to calibrate them to the flight controller, since it’s the flight controller that ultimately issues the motor control commands, and you end up calibrating the radio sticks to the flight controller later. Hmmm…


The xAircraft frame came with some motor mounts, but they were the wrong size for the Turnigy Park480 motors that I am using, so I adapted the motors by drilling some holes in both the frame, and the motor mounts that came with the Park480 motors.

Motor and mounting plate

I used 4mm banana plugs for the motor to ESC connections, but in retrospect, I would have chosen something shorter. Not to mention the weight. With 12 sets of bananas, you add 50 grams of brass!

I applied a new black shrink wrap to the ESCs before hooking them up to the motors.

ESC connected by bannana plugs

Stay Tuned!

FPV Quadcopter Part 1

March 10th, 2012

fpv quadcopter
Like everyone else, I wanted a VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) UAV for aerial photography and all-around fun that I could fly FPV (first person view) via onboard camera and wireless video downlink to a head-mounted display at my ground station.

Well, watching the great videos by Youtuber Juz70 pushed me over the edge, and I ordered a mess of parts to build my own FPV quadcopter and now, the boxes have begun to arrive from China. Whoa! another box just showed up.

fpv quadcopter

5.8 ghz video transmitter / receiver

I did quite a bit of reading through the big multicopter thread on the RCGroups forum, and got some helpful advice from Adam Polak before arriving at the following bill of materials for my quadcopter build:


This is an unproven bill of materials. My quad has yet to fly :)

XAircraft DIY X4/X8 frame
Free Flight FF Controller
Scorpion 2 Axis Y650 roll/tilt gimbal
{2) 9G Mini Servos for gimbal
10×4.5 Counter Rotating Propeller For MultiCoptor 2 Pairs
(4)Turnigy Park480 Brushless 1320kv (may not be the right motor to use)
(4) Hobby King 30A ESC
HXT 4mm Gold Connector(too heavy! Get bullet connectors)
Nylon XT60 Connectors
Red Heat Shrink
Black Heat Shrink


5.8G Video AV Audio Video Transmitter and Receiver
5.8Ghz 11dBi Patch Antenna
420TVL 1/3″ Sony Super HAD CCD Color Board Camera
Super Simple Mini OSD
Still to source: Affordable 640×480 video Glasses

Radio / Batt

Turnigy 9X 9Ch Radio paid but still backordered, and holding me up.
Turnigy Smart6 80w 7A Balance Charger
(2) Sky Lipo 4000mAh 3s 30C Batteries (pretty heavy! get something lighter)
LiPo Alarm

The xAircraft frame is pretty expensive as quad frames go, but it is quite nice. it’s made of a really stiff and tough fibrous plastic, and is quite light. I like that it comes with the tall landing gear, which provides a lot of room to mount the camera stabilization gimbal below. The stabilization is for the Arial video capture camera, while the FPV camera will be mounted rigidly to the frame so that I stay in touch with what the airframe is doing.

Also included are a set of “claw” arm tip landing gear if you don’t like the tall gear. The Free Flight controller board needs to be mounted diagonally to fly in X configuration, so I made an adapter plate from 1/8th in aircraft plywood.

I still need to make some motor mount adapters of some kind, since the mounting plates that came with the frame do not match up with the turnigy motors.

fpv quadcopter

xAircraft X4 frame with tall gear installed

fpv quadcopter

Free Flight controller installed

I probably should have made and installed the main power wiring harness before I assembled the top and bottom frame plates. I guess that I will be taking apart again. Hopefully blue locktite really is temporary.

I couldn’t find any reliable documentation about the configuration options/order for the programmable speed controllers that I bought, so I am going to flash them with an open source firmware that is optimized for multicopters, and said to be a vast improvement over the standard speed controller code.

The Turnigy 9x radio that I bought is said to be a nice set of sticks, but with weak software. Fortunately, there is also open source firmware called ER9x is that improves things. I’ll probably end up flashing the radio as well.

Stay tuned!

Pinewood Derby 2012

February 8th, 2012

pinewood derby car

When I was a kid, my pinewood derby car was so terrible looking, the race marshal ran it backwards. I can’t say I could blame him though, there was no way to tell what it was supposed to be.

Well, like they say, it’s never too late to have a happy childhood.

This year, my kids wanted to join cub scouts, so we went to the meeting to find out more about it. I only heard one thing that night. Pinewood Derby. I decided to build my own car as a way to keep from totally dominating my son’s builds.

I happen to have a pretty severe interest in classic cars, and also I really enjoy model making, so this project ended up being the most enjoyable distraction I have had in a long time.

The car is not a model of any specific car, but really just a fantasy creation based on a combination of the sports specials of the late ’50′s and the Can Am racers of the mid ’60′s. But if you do want to create a model of a specific car for your derby racer, I have 2 pieces of advice.

1) Read this tutorial to find out how to add extra wood to your block in order to accomodate a full-fendered car design.

2) You can do a google image search for “your classic car” + “blueprints”, and you will usually find usable profile illustrations that you can trace onto your block for roughing out the shape.

The rest is just plain old time and craftsmanship. I made the intake stacks and exhaust pipes out of some 1/8th inch aluminum tubing, and the windshield is cut from the neck of a 2 litre pop bottle. The decals and driver figure are reproduction 1960′s slot car stuff. The steering wheel is a rubber 0-ring.

You can see more pictures of my project in this flickr set.

Free Tequila!

April 2nd, 2011

Please enjoy this cover of the classic Chuck Rio tune, Tequila!

I’ve been teaching myself to play saxophone for about the last 4 months. Here is is my debut recording. I couldn’t finger the guitar chords, so my pal Eric graciously provided the excellent guitar work. I laid down the drums, handclap, and a temporary sax track in garageband, exported it as an MP3, and emailed it to Eric. He imported the MP3 into a new garageband project and recorded the guitar parts, then exported his parts and emailed them back to me. I brought his parts into my project, recorded final saxophone and vocals, added lime, salt, and mixed to taste.


Percussion, tenor saxophone, vocals – Steve Lodefink
Guitars – Eric Wolfe
Vocals – Ivan Lodefink, Harlan Lodefink

World Control Panel

March 21st, 2011

Control Panel

Superheros, Evil Mad Scientists, Supervillains, Trilateralists, Bilderbergers, Meteorologists, Oligarchs, Generals, Demographers, Spymasters, Epidemiologists, and well, who couldn’t use a retro sci-fi command console to monitor and control their worldwide concerns?

Control Panel

My son Harlan and his friend love to play “agents” and he asked me if we coud build “a panel that has a bunch of switches that turn on some random lights”. We worked on it for about 3 weeks, and this is what we came up with. The panel boasts the following features:

Main power switch
Home base indicator
World Cities indicator (blue)
Cluster1 (red)
Cluster2 (orange)
Global Red Alert Situation (backlit 555 flasher circuit)
Message record and playback ($10 Radio Shack digital recording module)
Larson Scanner ($13 from Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories)

Control Panel

We used a combination of ready-made, kit, and custom circuits to achieve the lighting effects. The Larson scanner on the right – so named for Glen Larson who developed the effect for the Knight Rider and Battlestar Galactica TV shows – is available as a kit from Evil Mad Scientis Laboratories. The voice recorder module is sold at Radio Shack. The “Global Red Alert” flashes thanks to a circuit built around every beginning electronics tinkerer’s favorite little chip, the 555 timer IC. The flasher and it’s LED’s are mounted to the inside of the back cover, and shine onto some diffusion material which covers the map holes. The rest is just, well… a bunch of switches that turn some lights on and off. These other LED groupings are made up of 3mm blue, red and yellow LEDs that poke up through the holes in the map, Light Bright style, and triggered by thwacking some mini toggle switches.

Control Panel

The cabinet is made from some scrap Ipe wood, and some scrap aluminum. Ipe is beautiful wood, but very difficult to work with. It contains lots of natural waxes and resins that gum up drill bits, and no glue seems to stick to it. If you don’t have your pilot holes just the right size, screws will either bind, or snap right off like mine did.

Control Panel

Control Panel
Build photos on Flickr