Chris Hatcher founded Aerial Design Services and RealFPV with the introduction of the 400Q FPV airframe in October 2012. Since then, he has expanded his offering to the FPV community with the 400Q-X FPV and the Spanky FPV, a 250 size mini FPV quadcopter.
Thanks Chris for taking the time to answer some questions for the FPV community.
Please describe what you do at Aerial Design Services and a couple of your most popular products.
I design and manufacture multicopter frames from the standpoint of FPV pilot and engineer. I have two separate frames, and one of them has the option of extended arms for larger props. More frames are on the way in the very near future to suit a wider variety of users.
Walk me through the step-by-step process that you went through to design and market your own quadcopter designs. What was the first thing you did? Next?
I learned to fly very well on a X frame and searched for a FPV frame that met my requirements: structurally sound, geometrically coherent, cost-effective, and jello/vibration free. I did not find one. It frustrated me so I set out to make one myself. At the time I had 7 years AutoCAD and Solidworks experience and manufacturing processes associated with CAM. I had placed top 3 in the world in a design competition in 2008 (senior in HS). I won a 3D printer, some gift cards and a check for $1000. I used the money to purchase computer parts to build a decent rig both for gaming and working in CAD.
Anyways, I made a thread about the frame I was drawing. It was a simple concept but the thread exploded. Soon I gathered a group of test pilots other than myself to test out the frame. Within a month I had a decent production model and I started shipping in batches. The first went out at the end of November 2012 and the large batches went out closer to Christmas.
I fly well, and people liked my daring videos so I already had a decent following. My flying locations were controversial on the OP forums (populated neighborhoods etc.). Most people see my videos and figure I’m just winging it.
The truth is I’m not really pushing my limits and I’m in complete control throughout the flight. It is quite a lot of work to rebuild a quad just how I like it so I prefer not to crash. I’ve only crashed a handful of times over the past 3 years (can count it on one hand). Two are from pilot error, others from LRS failsafe, one from props snapping in the air.
Anyways, I found someone who already cut frames out himself and paid him to cut mine out. Shortly after I studied up on material sciences to produce my own dampeners that are translucent and work very well. I use a different shop to cut my frames now. The quality is a tighter tolerance than any factory in china can produce, and if I sourced more expensive materials I’m sure it would actually be Mil-Spec.
Of all the control boards available for multicopters, which is your favorite and why?
The Naze board, or Acro Naze 32 by timecop is the highest quality and best performing board available. I use it exclusively. And it cost $25. It is produced in Japan by timecop himself. It runs a modified multiwii firmware.
What are your thoughts on modular multicopter systems, such as Rotor Bits by Hobbyking and Rotor Bones by FliteTest?
I prefer finely tuned, purpose driven airframes. Rotor Bones seems a bit like tinker toys to me. It’s general enough to serve a large crowd, but doesn’t excel in any particular area.
People are drawn to FPV flying for many reasons. How did you get into RC aircraft, and then progress to flying FPV?
When I was a freshman in college I saw a Mikrokopter video on youtube. I was set back by the price and only dreamed of owning one. I knew nothing of electronic design or R/C at the time, and never connected the dots that I could use standard R/C parts to build a Mikrokopter-like system for pennies on the dollar. The amusing part is that since ~2011-2012, hobby grade controllers often perform better than Mikrokopter.
So I forgot about that for a year. Then I saw a R/C plane video on youtube and I thought I would try one out. I found RCSuperPowers (Dave is a good guy) channel and watched everything. The scratchbuilt approach appealed to me because it showed how simple r/c is. Foam, motor, battery, servos, receiver.
My first plane was a Dynam Hawk Sky. Upgrading the stock motor to a MicroJet V3 from Grayson Hobby was an immediate upgrade. The hardest part is learning an entire new culture and set of brands. I had to learn what brands to trust, what are overpriced, etc. Dave showed that a $5 servo is all you need on a foamy, instead of three $70 Futaba servos. I purchased two 15C 1800mAh 3S batteries and learned to fly LOS.
I joined RCGroups and stumbled upon the FPV subforum after a couple of months. I purchased a 900MHz kit from HobbyKing and began flying via EZcap on my laptop. The DIY part of the hobby appealed to me. I loved making my own antennas and doing everything myself. I made a stupid box to wear on my head with a $25 screen inside because I didn’t want to shell out for fat sharks just yet. I got used to them and I still use them. I purchased my first set of Fat Shark goggles only a montha go, more than 3 years after I started flying FPV. I have attached a picture of me with the box on my head.
Quads started catching on so I bought a cheap goodluckbuy frame for $20 and learned to fly LOS before strapping FPV gear on a HoverThings VC-450 frame.
A lot of people make mistakes when creating their first FPV system. What would you recommend new FPV pilots keep away from?
At this point the go-to system is standard 2.4ghz with 5.8ghz video. Once you get a feel for flying you can move to more advanced frequencies. The hardest part is recognizing where “home” is from the air. I’m at the point now where a group of friends and I take a FPV vacation every summer in North Carolina. We can throw our planes off a random cliff, turn around and instantly know where home is. It’s hard for me to get lost, but not impossible. Stay away from diversity, trackers, OSD, all that garbage. You don’t need it. Learn to fly LOS decently and then strap on a camera and transmitter.
No one actually listens to this so all I can do is chuckle when a newbie loses his $1750 decked out Skywalker because RTH flew it to the moon. Even advanced pilots have a hard time with some RTH systems, nothing is perfect. I have seen many planes go down in the hands of very experienced pilots. Our local FPV group has thousands and thousands of flying hours.
If someone asked for your advice on FPV multicopter frames and you only had a few minutes to give them your best tip, what would it be?
Buy a cheap frame and learn to fly it before buying that $2000 gimbal ship. And don’t buy a DJI. Learn to fly. I see so many people jumping straight into multicopters just because they can “auto level” and it looks easy. They don’t understand how quickly it can disappear and never be found. I recently got a friend into FPV and he lost two quads last month. Some people just need to learn the hard way.
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?
I do this because I truly enjoy what I’ve created (with the help of others, no doubt) and it makes me smile to see others enjoy it too. I’m not here to make a quick buck off unsuspecting newbies. I tell people not to buy my frames until they know what they’re doing. However, I have for the past 8 months been working on profit margins to support a retailer/distributor framework. The retailers need profit and I need some too. I had to change suppliers a few times.
Another motivation is R&D money. I like being able to draw something up, have it cut out and try it out. It cost money to do that, and selling things like these bobbins supports that. At a minimum I like the idea of “flying for free”. I like the idea of contributing back to the community enough that the hobby pays for itself. It’s an expensive one. It seems like a win-win situation if I can sell something that people enjoy, and in return I put that money towards the hobby for myself.
Note: You can buy Chris Hatcher’s products at RealFPV.