During the Gulf War those mechanical skills paid off, resulting in saved lives and equipment (in fact, I was awarded an Army Achievement Medal for keeping my aircraft 100% flight ready for our entire deployment).
That was 23 years ago.
When our quadcopter remote drone crashed a couple of days ago, I truly thought it was damaged beyond repair. As it collided with the tree, the sharp "snap" of branches and scratchy "thuds" of drone hitting rocks made me cringe.
After recovering as many parts as I could find (no small feat, considering it toppled down an embankment, next to a bridge), I headed straight home and hoped I could salvage....well, something. Without turning the engines on, I powered "Earl" up. He "screamed" at me in blinking red lights and sad audible tones.
Obviously, the props (aka rotors) were damaged beyond help. One was even bent in a jarring 90-degree angle. But those could easily be replaced and I had spares on-hand to do it.
It took time. All rotary aircraft are based on center of gravity, balance and vibration. Too much variance in any category and the helicopter (or drone in this case) is surely doomed. The problem was that I had nothing with which to balance the props or check their vibration. I couldn't even gauge the amount of torque to apply to the prop screws that attached them to the quadcopter motors.
I went into MacGyver mode. A sharpened pencil became an ad hoc tool for measuring the spin of the props. An unbent paperclip helped me to feel the balance.
More than 45-minutes later, "Earl" looked fixed...but was he really?
Today I had a chance to find out. I charged the flight battery and took the quadcopter out to a large and open field. After a few last-minute adjustments, I powered up the controller and then - the moment of truth - I switched "Earl's" power to "on."
A happier tone greeted me, then blinking green lights, as he connected to GPS. Next, a solid green light told me "Earl" was ready. I did the motor start-up sequence and.... and they came on like a champ!
I lifted off and then began to put the drone through its paces. I flew "Earl" high, low, did circles, fast passes, slow panning maneuvers and more. No question about it; he's good as new!
So, even though we're making this film on a micro budget, I now credit the U.S. Army's kind investment in teaching me about helicopters another lifetime ago.
We are airborne once again!