Home-built remote helicopters give men a virtual view from above

From KATU by Dan Tilkin

PORTLAND, Ore. – Patrick Sherman and Brian Zvaigzne are nerds – and they have the gear to prove it.

Sitting in a Southwest Portland park with a laptop computer, the pair take turns donning geek-certified video headsets and wireless remote controllers to spend time enjoying their favorite activity: flying home-built, remote controlled, camera-equipped aircraft known as quadrotors or quadracopters.

But the two men with jacket patches touting themselves as the Roswell Flight Test Crew – a nod to an infamous 1947 incident in New Mexico that has become legend and lore in UFO circles and beyond – may be on to something bigger than fun aerial hijinks at their favorite flying spot.

The ungainly but highly stable flying machines the two men create are getting attention from a major corporation after flying feats that included buzzing through a firefighter’s training exercise that included a large building fully ablaze, zooming around a Tigard ballooning festival and hovering just a few feet above cyclists on the Burnside Bridge during a Bridge Pedal event.

All the while, the quadracopters, built for about $1,000, beam back video footage and record what they see with a small, commercially available onboard high-definition camera.

The hovering devices are loaded with high technology: lightweight materials such as carbon fiber, miniature HD cameras, stabilizing equipment from a Nintendo Wii gaming console, radio transmitters and light but high-powered batteries to run the four small motors that lift the aircraft into the ether.

Just a few years ago, building a flying machine with these materials and capabilities was the domain of deep-pocketed defense contractors, not two guys with laptops and soldering irons.

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