A Paper Airplane Drone That’s Nearly Indestructible
The basic dart. The Arrow. The High Glider. And now the PowerUp FPV, a $200 drone, enters the pantheon of paper airplanes. This one comes with eight high-quality pieces of black, German-made origami paper, a twin prop that slides over the creases, and a camera mounted module over the top that sends a live video feed to your phone, and records it on a micro SD Card.
The plane can be launched via a “throw to fly” mode, where you launch it like a standard paper airplane. That forward motion kicks the motors on—or, well, it should, I could never get this to work right, but my son had no problem. A more consistent takeoff maneuver is to throttle up the propellers first, give it a gentle toss, and away it goes.
Once in the air, you control it one of two ways. Either use “gamepad mode,” the app interface that has one slider for controlling direction and one for speed and altitude. Or you can slip your phone into the Google Cardboard VR viewer provided for a pilot’s eye view from the onboard camera. Then, you can control the flight by nodding or shaking your head.
It’s a remarkably intuitive way of controlling the aircraft, but it’s still sometimes disorienting—was I heading toward the trees on the left side of the meadow or the right? Eventually I started spending the flights steering with the VR viewer, but not always looking through it. Since there are no controls for flaps or rudders, there is a layer of autopilot keeping the plane stable, and it steers by varying the power given to each of the propellers.
We made some graceful belly landings, but a few high-altitude nose dives let me experience a crash from the pilot’s perspective. The view was intense, but the damage wasn’t: Both the flight module and the plane itself were ready to fly again immediately. “We know that every flight ends in a crash,” said inventor Shai Goitein, an industrial designer and former pilot in the Israeli military. “We built it to stand up to that.”
One time when I was flying it, the plane cartwheeled after a hard landing and lost a wing-stabilizing carbon-fiber crossmember, which I was unable to find. Though that day’s flying was cut short, I went back out the next afternoon with a bamboo skewer taped in its place.
And this is where you get your money’s worth: With a little imagination, you can attach the module to nearly anything. There’s a video of Goitein flying a large foam delta wing in great swooping arcs over a wheat field near his house in Israel, and he’s had other luck with a dual winged canard design. The PowerUp FPV appears to be as versatile as it is durable.
Just remember to buy extra batteries. If you’re going to build a plane and take it out flying, you’re going to want more than the ten minutes of air time one battery gives you.