What happened at the AMA Expo 2015?

What happened at the AMA Expo 2015?



I’ve been a card carrying member of the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) for over a decade, when my first plane was a 2-channel (Motor Off-On and a Rudder) toy with a turning radius of Texas from a hobby store. Today that humble start has grown into a whole collection of Warbirds, 3D planes, EDF jets, Helicopters and of course the Multirotors. I’ve always meant to go to the AMA Expo http://amaexpo.com/ held every year in Ontario in South California, but for one reason or another I never quite made it. This year given the influx of “drones”, I wondered how the AMA and the AMA Expo was coping with this change. Luckily I managed to get a Media Pass as I was covering the AMA Expo for RC Flight Camera Action Magazine in the UK (also thanks to AMA for sorting the pass out for me.) So this post is going to be a bit different, as I realized that I had a lot of photographs. So instead I’m going to let the photographs do the talking, interspersed with commentary from myself.


The Expo was spread over a number of days, Thursday 8th to Sunday 11th January. I attended Saturday the 10th, when the AMA General Meeting was held, with a large crowd. in attendance.  The speaker line-up was impressive http://amaexpo.com/speaker-series/ as well as the event schedule http://amaexpo.com/attractions/schedule-of-events/


Swap Meet

As the crowd was queuing out of the door for the main hall I headed off to look at the Estate Sale and Swap Meet. There where 3 rooms set aside outside the main hall, and they were extremely busy. This was the place to find that bargain.

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Main Hall and Vendors

After the swap meet I headed over to the Main Hall now that the crowd had died down. As you entered the Ontario Convention Center you could tell that the AMA had done a great job of bringing a lot of vendors together, to display a whole range of diverse products and services.

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Static Display

First off the Static Display. Even given the abundance of ARF’s and RTF’s, the scratch and kit building is going strong. That’s not to say ARF and RTF are bad, the quality compared to 6 or 7 years ago is great and has got a lot more people into RC flying. But nothing is quite as beautiful as a scratch built model. You just know the hours and patience in building these models.

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My personal favorite was the P51 Mustang, it was amazing, the pictures don’t do it or any of the planes justice. Continuing on the plane theme, there was quite a selection of fixed wing vendors.

Fixed Wing

Horizon Hobby, Hobbico, Precision Aerobatics, SebArt (love those planes) and of course Ritewing (FPV and Mapping fixed wing masters with their Z2, Z3 and new under development Drak.) The Habu and Slick where particular tempting.

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So not to be left out and and not to be outshone by the “drone” syndrome, Helicopters were out in force. Nice to see Align TREX still going strong as well as Forza and Blades.

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So now we come to the Multirotors. So were there many at the AMA Expo? Well the answer to that is a big fat definite YES. Juts like at CES 2015, I can happily say 2015 is definitely the year of the “drone” Interesting enough the multirotor market has now fractured into more specialized niches. These can be broken down into hobbyist, amateur viedo and photogrpahy, professional video and photography, aerobatic/flipping inverted and finally FPV racers. So here’s a look at some of the multirotors in each category.

Hobbyist Multirotors

There was quite a selection of hobbyist multirotors, with Horizon Hobby, Hobbico having full ranges from the miniature up to the 200 size class. These copters are great for an introduction to flying and has become one of the fastest growing segments in the RC hobbyist field. In fact I believe this growth in hobbyist multirotors has lead to the AMA hitting a new membership record. I must say I congratulate the AMA for reaching out to multirotor enthusiasts, and helping educate them with such programs as “Know before you Fly” http://knowbeforeyoufly.org/  I also congratulate the manufacturers who are adding more functionality and safety features such as Horizon Hobby SAFE technology.

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Amateur Video and Photography

The trend with manufacturers appears to be designing drones with gimbals and either a GoPro camera mount or their own proprietary cameras. This year appears to be the year that video downlinks and FPV for amateurs is really getting traction. Here you see the Roswell Flight Crew checking out a AP multirotor with a video downlink built into the controller. Also a very nice system from UAVX with control sticks for flight, a separate set gimbal sticks for the gimbal and a HD video downlink. It can also be paired with Google Glass, so you can see all the information and video downlink as your flying.

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Professional Video and Photography

Two multirotors stood out at the AMA Expo for professional use, everyone knows the DJI Inspire 1, however the other newcomer is the Align M690L, I’ll talk more about that later.

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Aerobatic, Inverted and Flipping Multirotors

Yes areobatic flipping and inverted drones were popping up all over the place. Here is a demonstration from Invertex, pretty cool demo flight. http://youtu.be/2EqzaKSI-JM

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FPV Racers

The FPV community was well represented by the likes of XHover, RC Depot and DroneProz. The last two photographs are of my first FPV Racer by RC Depot QAV250. It’s flying on an OpenPilot CC3D that is simple to connect, setup and flies amazingly well. Looking froward to spending more time flying it. I’ll keep you posted. DroneProz had a RTF package and they explain about it here http://youtu.be/pkl62Wrau_4

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That Drone Show

I believe by now most people know “That Drone Show” and David and Sarah Oneal, http://www.thatdroneshow.com/ who do an excellent job of interviewing a whole spectrum of personalities in the drone community. I met up with them at the AMA Expo, here you can see David doing his stuff with XHover, whilst later Sarah interviewed me http://youtu.be/tFCvENpsJVU They are also organizing International Drone Day and yes under their persuasive powers I’m the Captain of Team Santa Cruz. http://www.internationaldroneday.com/

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Precision Hawk

Thanks to Lia Reich (Senior Director of Communications) of Precision Hawk http://www.precisionhawk.com who gave Tyler Collins (Director of Business Development) the heads up I was dropping past for a talk. As you know from my previous posts I am very involved in the UAV Precision Agriculture area, so it was good to meet up with Tyler and discuss Tyler’s experience’s and my own. As to be expected we had a lot in common, including it’s all about the data, the drone is just a platform for sensors, NDVI is useful but not the magic bullet people profess it to be. Overall it was a very enjoyable chat. Tyler also gave me a run down on their new LATAS sense and avoid technology which works over 2/3G cellular links. Whats very interesting is that Precision Hawk are rolling LATAS out as an open source product, which is a very insightful idea. The only way to critical mass and roll-out is to have a large number of people adopt a common strategy, and open source allows lots of different users to get involved and generate that critical mass.

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GPC had a case for everyone as can be seen below. The new Align Canon D5 copter case, Iris+, Phantom and even FPV racer cases.

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Flying Demos

Indoor flying areas were put to one side with a packed schedule, with Pro fliers wringing out the planes and helicopters, showing new designs and eye watering maneuvers.

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Other Sights

Well there was a lot to see at the Expo, including tanks, helicopters, gliders, the Civil Air Patrol, even NASA and the Roswell Flight Test Crew!

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Align Multirotors

Anyone who has flown helicopters knows of Align. A lot of pilots cut their teeth on the TREX 450 me included. Well Align has kept the helicopter brand going strong and has now branched out into the multirotor market with 4 new models http://www.align.com.tw/multicopter-en/. The Leap, M470( GoPro), the 800mm M480L (GH4) and the 900mm M690L (Canon 5D MIII). As is normal with Align, the cost is extremely competitive and the quality and support outstanding. Looking over the designs, you can see the well thought out details.

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Multirotor of the Expo

So the standout of the AMA Expo for myself was the Align M690 http://www.align.com.tw/multicopter-en/m690l/ which costs $1799.99. You can add a 3D gimbal for a GH4 for $1299.99, and a 3D gimbal for a Canon D5 MIII for $1389.99. That is $3189.98 for a quality Canon 5D AP platform. That’s with Align quality and support. A copter of this quality at this price point is unheard of.

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The AMA Expo pretty much lived up to my expectations with a diverse array of vendors and products. However yet again, all the evidence points towards that 2015 is the Year of the Drone.






How to Crash your Drone in 30 Seconds……. Or Hopefully not with a Little Information

How to Crash your Drone in 30 Seconds…….Or Hopefully not with a Little Information


So if you’ve got a RC plane, Helicopter or Multirotor for Christmas congratulations, I’m sure you’re going to really enjoy it. I’m hopefully going to explain the opposite of the article title and give you some pointers so you don’t crash your new drone. It should also make your flying more enjoyable and less stressful.

Now for starters like anything most things there are a couple of rules that you need to understand. Generally drones are governed by the countries airspace authority, such as the CAA in the UK and the FAA in the USA. Policy, advisories and rules exist to separate RC aircraft from manned aircraft, keeping them apart and avoiding collisions. Globally airspace authorities are struggling to keep pace with the massive explosion of the hobbyist and commercial drone market. However the general rules are:

FAA know

  1. Fly no higher than 400 feet. Why? Manned aircraft do not fly below 400’, small drones no higher than 400’, therefore they avoid collisions. Never ever fly above 400’ AGL (above ground level) your risking people’s lives.
  2. Always keep your aircraft in sight, you need to be able to determine where is pointing, which direction it’s traveling and be able to recover it and fly it safely back to you. If you cannot see you don’t have correct situational awareness and you likely to crash or have a flyaway (more later.)
  3. Never fly within 5 miles of an airport or on the approach paths to an airport. Again it’s pretty commonsense, but worth mentioning.
  4. If you see a manned aircraft nearby, avoid any chance of flying nearby and if possible land.
  5. Do not fly over or near people. Well the reason is pretty obvious, loose control and you can really hurt someone, if your batteries run out of power, you’ve got a 2lb flying brick falling from 400’, yes it could really hurt.
  6. Don’t fly over Stadiums, this is generally restricted airspace during sporting or events. Again you don’ want your drone falling on people.
  7. Join a club and take a lesson.
  8. Inspect your drone for loose parts, good wiring connections, and tight propellers. Now is the time to find out your wing is loose, not 300’ up in the air.
  9. Do fly for fun, not commercially unless you have a commercial license.
  10. Normally weight restrictions apply, in the USA don’t fly a RC aircraft over 55lbs (unless waivered.)
  11. Don’t fly recklessly or dangerously. If you fly dangerously you can be arrested for reckless endangerment.
  12. Respect privacy. Drone privacy regulations are been formulated and discussed, but normal privacy laws apply. Doesn’t matter if it’s a drone, camera, telescopic, spying on your neighbors is illegal.

For the USA here is a short FAA video on small UAV policies. http://www.faa.gov/tv/?mediaId=997


OK so that is a quick discussion on the present policy, advisories and regulations, but let’s give you some hard learned lessons and pointers to help you fly safe. So how can you fly safer? Here are some pointers:

  1. When you get your drone, read the instructions cover to cover. Follow the instructions. This is where problems first start. You need to know what each knob, switch, lever on the transmitter does. You need to know the calibration procedures, most drones after been turned on need to be left untouched to calibrate the electronics, plus get things like compass and GPS calibrated. Imagine taking off with your compass wrong and GPS thinking you’re in Cape Town, South Africa, when you’re actually in Huddersfield, England? Well when you take off it’s going to start flying to South Africa! That’s called a “Flyaway”, where the drone just fly’s away out of your control (again flyways mentioned soon.)
  1. Join your local flying club, in the USA your local AMA @modelaircraft club. The people here enjoy RC flying and have lots of knowledge, people who can help train you and hold events like flying contests, fun fly days, BBQ’s etc. Contact your AMA club and attend.
  1. Buy a flight simulator, it really will save you money in the long term. Flight simulators from Real Flight http://www.realflight.com/ . Are very realistic in graphics and flight dynamics. You can learn to difficult maneuvers without crashing, and if you do you just hit RESET and you’re flying again. This really will save you lots of money and climbing trees. Flight simulators are particular important for RC planes where you need to learn takeoff and landings, this is where most crashes occur for beginners. It also teaches you about orientation. Normally a RC plane, copter follows the direction of your transmitter sticks when viewed from behind, however when the plane or copter is pointing towards you the transmitter stick movements are reversed! This is another reason for beginner crash, you’re up in the air and no idea front from back, and you’ve taken off in your back yard and stuffed it into that 40’ conifer tree. Trust me, get a flight simulator fly in manual mode, and avoid all those fancy stabilization modes for now. Fly until its subconscious. Once you have done that, go fly at your RC Club field with seasoned pilots. You’re still going to crash but no way near as if you hadn’t practiced on a simulator. Also the best way to improve is to avoid crashing on the simulator. Fly as if the aircraft was real. You’ll learn a lot faster, practice each simulator session with a set maneuver to improve in mind i.e. take-off, landing, level turns, loops, rolls etc.


  1. Fly in a big open space, not your back yard unless it’s big! Flying in a small area with limited beginner skills probably means you’re going to crash, your reaction skills and muscle memory haven’t had the correct training yet. You need to subconsciously react, normally if you have to think about which direction you’re pointed, or what to do, you’ve already crashed.
  1. Fly two mistakes high. It’s an old saying but very true. You’ll come to learn what you safety margin is, but your should be able to make two mistakes and recover before you crash. This is more applicable to planes, as nowadays Multirotor have stability recovery systems which recover if you let go of the sticks. Planes if you let go of the sticks they just crash (unless they have the new recovery systems now entering the market.)
  1. Never fly over your head or behind you. It’s the best way to loose orientation and crash. It’s also a safety issue, as any spectators should be stood behind you.
  1. Never fly into the sun. There is a reason WW2 fighter pilots dove out of the sun on their prey, you cannot see and will lose sight of your aircraft and probably crash.
  1. Always check your transmitter and aircraft batteries are fully charged before taking off. There is nothing like the fear of hearing the beeper as your transmitter batteries run out of power and you try desperately to land your aircraft before you lose connection and it flies off in to the sunset.
  1. Avoid Flayaways or recover from them. This can be caused by a number of issues such as firmware updates of your drone, bad GPS and compass calibration, incorrect switch settings etc. Main thing be very careful after doing a firmware update on your drone, and make sure you have completed the correct compass and GPS calibrations. Also be careful when flying with GPS when Solar Flare activity is high, this can disrupt GPS and cause flyaways. If your drone starts to fly where you don’t expect it do the following:
    1. Check your switch settings and move to correct positions.
    2. If that is OK, switch to MANUAL.
    3. If that doesn’t work, switch to RTL or LAND.
    4. If that doesn’t work turn off your Transmitter and the failsafe’s should kick in.
    5. Follow the Instructions for your drone about Flyaway recovery.


  1. For RC planes practice dead-stick landings, where you throttle the engine all the way back and land by gliding. It’s a good technique to learn for WHEN your motor quits in the future, either from a lack of gas or a low battery.
  1. For Collective pitch helicopters practice autorotation’s, where you cut the throttle and use the blades energy to keep you flying with a flare at the bottom for landing.
  1. Don’t try engine off landing on fixed pitch Multirotor, you’ll just dig a hole in the ground as it falls like a brick.
  1. Follow a checklist every time you fly, manned aircraft do it, it gets you into a routine of checks that no matter how obvious will help you spot issues before they become crashes.
  1. Always aim to land with >20% battery or fuel left. All you need is somebody to crash on your landing area and you’ll be glad you had that spare fuel. Plus it helps your batteries.
  1. Use small smooth control inputs, imagine you’re holding two glasses of water filled to the top. Don’t spill the water, make smooth small movements. Big fast movements over-control your aircraft and before you know it it’s in a death spiral or rocking violently from side to side. Smooth is king. If you’re out of control, center your controls, let the aircraft recover and then take control again.
  1. For RC planes always take-off into the wind and land into the wind, you get more lift and slower takeoff and approach speeds.
  1. For all aircraft monitor the wind and be prepared for gusts. If it’s too windy land.
  1. Practice crosswind landings on the simulator, A LOT, then try them at the flying field.
  1. Practice the basics before trying more complicated flight modes. The basics will save your aircraft when everything else goes wrong.
  1. Have fun, but be safe.


FPV Racer Photograph courtesy of Hovership

Merry Christmas