End of the Techpod, April 20, 2015

I was one of the initial Kickstarter backers of the Techpod. Based upon my knowledge level at the time, it struck me as a pretty neat and useful airframe. I was sort of gushy about it.

However, over time, I grew less enamored. There were a few incidents of wing failures reported online, never a good thing to hear about. While the wings themselves were strong and very flexible, their join point in the fuselage seemed sketchy to me. Likewise the entire T-tail and its point of connection on to the boom looked like an accident waiting to happen. But I just assumed the designer knew what he was doing.

I also thought product support from the designer/seller left a lot to be desired. There was never a build manual prepared, despite assurances that was going to happen. All that was ever released were a few fairly mediocre amateur videos showing someone building a Techpod.

But the big issue for me was usable payload volume, something I have previously written about. Given the flight controller and electronics I wanted to use, I realized it would be next to impossible to safely carry a camera in the Techpod. The only place to locate a downward looking mapping camera was beneath the batteries. This not only made access difficult, it was precisely the spot the Techpod lands on (and the Techpod doesn’t come with landing gear or even any sort of landing skid). This is the sort of thing that might look good on paper but sucks in real life. No. Do Not Want.

The one thing the Techpod truly has going for it is that it’s extremely efficient and aerodynamic. It looks to be a good choice for some sort of long distance, FPV use, maybe record attempts. But I really have no interest in that.

Which is why the mostly finished Techpod just sat in the corner of my room for about a year and a half. I was hoping for some sort of inspiration as to what to do with it. It never came. But all the while I was flying my StormChaser and getting used to flying fixed wing with an APM flight controller. And it was nice. And when I realized I had everything I needed on hand to outfit the Techpod, I decided it was time to finish it.

I had a spare APM 2.6 controller I installed, along with a MinimOSD for flight data. The only thing I needed to buy was another 300 mW 1.3 GHz video transmitter. I had a spare Sony Effio-V FPV cam I could put in the acrylic nose dome. Even with the fairly basic electronics load I had to think quite a bit as to how to best place things. This reinforced my belief that a Techpod was pretty useless to me. Not unexpectedly, I was to receive even more validation.

For its first test flight I decided to head out to El Mirage Dry Lake where it’s sidewalk flat for miles. The place is a favorite with serious RC fliers as well as ultralight aficionados. And there’s a Predator drone manufacturer next to the lake and Predators are often seen overhead, being tested.

Techpod in its before condition. Looks nice, doesn't it?

Techpod in its before condition. Looks nice, doesn’t it?

A closer look at the tail. That's the FPV transmitter on the boom and the antenna on top the tail. Note the small attach point of the tail root to the carbon fiber boom.

A closer look at the tail. That’s the FPV transmitter on the boom and the antenna on top the tail. Note the small attach point of the tail root to the carbon fiber boom.

The payload area, rather full. All the flight electronics are stuffed behind the battery, under the wing area.

The payload area, rather full. All the flight electronics are stuffed behind the battery, under the wing area.

A size/beauty comparison between the Techpod and the StormChaser. But this ain't a beauty contest.....

A size/beauty comparison between the Techpod and the StormChaser. But this ain’t a beauty contest…..

All the toys for the day, including the ground station and a Tarot 650 quadcopter. The General Atomics drone farm is on the far shoreline at the left edge of the picture.

All the toys for the day, including the ground station and a Tarot 650 quadcopter. The General Atomics drone farm is on the far shoreline at the left edge of the picture.

For its first flight I put in only a single 5,000 mAH 4S battery (the motor was a Scorpion 780KV motor, turning a 10″ prop) to keep it as light as possible. After a couple of toss attempts I finally got it into the air, flying in APM’s Stabilize mode. The PIDs definitely needed tuning, but it was flyable. The Fly-By-Wire modes needed adjusting as the Techpod wanted to descend. But for some reason when put into Loiter mode the damn thing just circled beautifully.

I was really impressed with the Techpod’s low current consumption. It was cruising in the high 30 mph range, yet only drawing around 8 Amps. Very slippery.

After flying for about 18 minutes I made the mistake of letting it get a little low to test lowering the flaps while in a fly by wire mode, maybe around 50 feet. During a switch back to Stabilize it got a little wiggly and I over banked and it fell to the ground (examining the APM’s log later shows I probably tip stalled the aircraft). It impacted the hard lake bed right on its clear nose, and cartwheeled a bit, eventually hitting its tail section and tearing it off the carbon fiber boom.

After: Never unexpected but always unwelcome. Hey, that tail section doesn't look very good....

After: Never unexpected but always unwelcome. Hey, that tail section doesn’t look very good….

Closeup of the severed tale connection. It's merely the strength of the foam (hah!) and three thin carbon fiber rods. Ummmm....I think not.

Closeup of the severed tale connection. It’s merely the strength of the foam (hah!) and three thin carbon fiber rods. Ummmm….I think not.

Could someone please explain again why clear plastic nose domes are such a great idea? Scratch one FPV cam.

Could someone please explain again why clear plastic nose domes are such a great idea? Scratch one FPV cam.

The carnage looked somewhat manageable until I removed the wings. I found the center carbon fiber spar connector had fractured in a manner similar to other reported wing failures. Repairing that damage was essentially impossible for me…..the Techpod was now officially trash.

OK, this is really the end. The solid carbon fiber spar connector rod fractured. Let's make the weakest part one which can't be replaced, shall we?

OK, this is really the end. The solid carbon fiber spar connector rod fractured. Let’s make the weakest part one which can’t be replaced, shall we?

All in all, it was pretty much what I expected, just maybe a little sooner than I would have preferred. One moderate crash and the thing is toast. My Stormchaser would have laughed at that crash and probably would have wanted to do it again. So I can’t really recommend the Techpod unless you are an expert flyer in need of a high performance airframe, REALLY know what you are doing, and seldom, if ever, crash (if so, I hate you). If you are looking for a mapping/imaging solution for use in a rough, field environment, I’d say look elsewhere, such as something much more robust, like a Skywalker. For me, I’m glad to be done with the Techpod.

I’ve built and ruined enough airframes at this point to fully embrace EPP foam (most “foamies” are EPO foam). EPP is damn near indestructible, perfect for idiot fliers like myself or rough field use. It’s my understanding that fabrication of airframes from EPP is more costly than EPO which is why we don’t see more use made of it.

CrashTestHobby is an exception and all of their airframes are made from EPP. I use their StormChaser as a cameraship and it can carry two (!!) Canon mapping cameras at the same time, pretty well protected. And it can loaf around for up to 40 minutes. It ain’t pretty, but it works well and I can’t break it.

Anyway, I’m fully converted to EPP foam. But I would like something a bit more efficient than my StormChaser, with all its parts hanging out in the breeze…..if there IS such a thing. Wait. Turns out there is. It’s called the Drak. That’s my next plane…..