Alex Greve owns Video Aerial Systems where he designs unique antennas purpose-built for FPV. He’s also one of the most knowledgable and helpful members of the FPV community, with nearly 15,000 posts at FPVLAB and RCGroups.
Please describe what you do at Video Aerial Systems and a couple of your most popular products.
I tell my crew at least once a week that we don’t build antennas, we build success. Our goal is to give our customers the best video piloting experience possible.
The BlueBeam Ultras and the Pepperbox are my most popular sellers. It’s fairly easy to see why. With the BlueBeams, you simply screw them on and multiply your video clarity and range by a factor of 5 or more. While the Pepperbox is more expensive and much larger than a BlueBeam, it gets you well into the extreme long-range flights yet offers a 180 degree beam to fly within.
I literally cannot build these fast enough.
You’re a designer and user of EPP foam planes, such as the Specter and Chimera. Could you explain your preference for EPP foam designs over those made of EPO?
I’ve been building planes for 10 years. I started with flat foam before a friend showed me how to hot wire cut with a wooden bow and a length of welding wire around a wooden block.
We cut with EPS mostly as that was the only thing available. Later I found some sources of EPP and converted to that. I like EPP foam the most. It is just plain tough. I used to go the field with my EPS (styrene) airplanes afraid to crash which would often cause me to just not fly it. EPO would survive a few wrecks, but it wouldn’t take long before it was just to banged up to fly well.
With EPP I’ve become more or less fearless. I look for hard hole shots and small openings to fly through now. My planes just don’t break anymore. The trick is knowing how to stiffen it properly to get a high performance airplane out of it.
The only downside is you cannot injection mold complex shapes with it… well… that and my airplane collection continues to grow because my repeated crashing doesn’t cause my planes to end up in a garbage can anymore.
Tell me about your new role with Stone Blue Airlines and what you’ll be offering to customers?
I met Jeremiah through church in 2012. We both were into planes and scratch building but he’d never experienced FPV before. Of course once you drop the goggles down, you’re an FPV pilot for life… and thus I introduced him to FPV.
Jeremiah taught me what videography is all about putting a nice polish on my early “how to be successful in FPV” videos. We have many plans for future videos: FPV laser combat, Long range control hand-offs, autonomous way point flying, outbound launches and landings, and even more tutorial videos. We also have a few more crew members: Jason (VanGo), Marc, and Sam.
Jeremiah also plans to open up a Stone Blue Airlines store soon. Since we get all sorts of products people want us to review, we can select the ones we think are the best and offer them in one place making starting up easier.
Why do you like the ADS-400Q frame from Aerial Design Services over others with integrated circuitry?
I like when I can see a person’s dream coming true in a design. The ADS400 is a manifest of Chris’s brilliant mind.
To me the beauty is in the intricacies of how it works… and the fact that I haven’t completely destroyed it yet. It’s tough and it flies well. I like how it was designed to fly well with the clean frame on bushings and flight controller in the proper location. The fact that the signals don’t go through the frame makes it much cleaner in terms of electric and magnetic fields is a big plus also.
People are drawn to FPV flying for many reasons. How did you get into RC aircraft, and then progress to flying FPV?
I always wanted to fly an airplane but never had anyone to teach me how. When the electric parkflyers started to become popular, I asked for a Parkzone Stryker for Christmas and got it and taught myself how to fly. It took me at least 10 flights before I could fly a whole battery without crashing. Brushed motor, NiMH batteries… wow we’ve come a long way.
Strangely, I did end up putting a camera on that plane with a live video feed and recorded it from the ground. This was well before the era of small HD cameras, so this was the only way I could get a recording of my flight. Even stranger: it never occurred to me to try to use that link for flying the aircraft.
It wasn’t until about 5 years later that HappyKillmore introduced me to FPV with his Easy Star that I got into FPV. Granted, the flight ended with a full throttle nose down into the hard ground which completely destroyed the airplane, but after being up there with the plane for the first time I was hooked.
It rekindled my desire to create and innovate. It brought both a new hobby and a technical challenge. FPV was in its infancy then and thus you had to be a do-it-yourself type to get in the air under the hood. It was a match made in heaven 😉
A lot of people make mistakes when creating their first FPV system. What would you recommend new FPV pilots keep away from?
I think the reason I didn’t make a bunch of newbie mistakes when I first started was because I was broke. I was unemployed so I had lots of time and little spending money, so I ended up getting a really basic system and built it from the ground up. That’s the key to success: simplicity. Start simple, get it working, then start adding on one piece at a time giving yourself plenty of time in between to understand your last upgrade.
It’s also a good idea to recognize if it becomes too cumbersome. Like many pilots, I wanted diversity, antenna tracking, autopilot and all that stuff. Being broke with lots of time on my hands lead me to design it all myself. Despite making it just how I wanted, those things got little use before they got put on a shelf. I was taking too much time setting everything up and it was taking away from my enjoyment of flying.
What would you say is the biggest single reason for your success?
In a word: Passion. I’m an engineer. I’m passionate about gadgets and technology. However, I’m also passionate about people. The combination led me to give away my designs as open-source projects hoping people would read them, learn, and enjoy them. Never did I ever expect to be building those things for a living.
I must admit, I’m much happier when someone follows my tutorials and builds something successfully then when I sell them that part. I know the enjoyment you get when you build something you can call your own. I wouldn’t want to deny anyone that feeling.
Thanks very much for the interview. Have you any plans (personal or business) that you can share with us about your future goals / lifetime goals?
One thing I have learned is to keep an open mind. You never know what the future will bring. If you would have told me I would quit my full-time job and start a business building the top of the line antenna systems for video piloted aircraft and UAVs five years ago I would have laughed at you.
Now look at me. What’s next? I don’t know. I’m getting into robotics now and am learning all about sensors, microcontrollers, stepper motors, ect so maybe that’s on the horizon… Of course, who knows? I might end up racing motorcycles for a living, too. The only plan I have is to have a family and be able to retire at age 45.
I’ll never stop working, building, and innovating, but it would be nice to be able to put that aside and have a week skiing in the Swiss Alps with a wife and kids.
I have three pieces of advice for anyone who wants to be happy and successful:
- Follow your passion and ignore the naysayers – Passion drives success. This World has lost too many great things in the minds of people who gave up on the verge of something great.
- Break the rules – in the words of the Dali Lama, “It is best to understand the rules so you know how to break them properly.”
- Surround yourself with good people. Remember that your success depends on the influence you have on others, and not by hard work done on your own.