{Andy Shen, the genius behind ShenDrones does these amazing long write ups of his design process. I love them, he inspired me to write this up, yeah it’s long but I absolutely loved his stories and open history of his development. I hope other people out there appreciate them too}

 

The Autek XRacing story began in 2014, with the legendary WarpQuad by Soma.

Dad had built himself one, after a few flights I was in love. Being the legend that he is he built me one, before long I was flying pretty much daily, LOS only.

I was a complete noob, didn’t even know what FPV was. Couldn’t solder. Dad and I used to fly combat gliders when I was really young, LOS acro for me was just as fun as I remembered, if not more. He showed me some of warthox and quadmovr’s videos, those guys absolutely set the bar, I just wanted to be able to fly like them. Trouble was, in attempting to replicate their style it wasn’t long before I was breaking arms regularly. I had no idea how to build or how to fix anything. In those early days dad grudgingly did the repairs for me, but each time I broke an arm I kept thinking, there has to be a better way of doing this, one where the arms don’t break all the time. I also started to notice all the mircofractures in the carbon, which obviously led to the next breakage.

To put things in perspective, at that point in time we were running SunnySky 2204/2300’s with an 18a ESC, with 6045 HQ’s. By todays standards very light, I think the arms were 3mm or 4mm, something around there. Still this very light setup was causing breakages, I felt that there was a lot of unexplored territory in terms of frame design. This is back when the Blackout (for the noobs that was like a big fat alien) was king, the only X frame to my knowledge was the WarpQuad.

I’ve been drawing and designing stuff all my life, inevitably I started pondering frame design. My goal was to make something stronger, where the arms wouldn’t break. I did some sketches of a one-peice x-frame, hoping to get it cut from really thick carbon. Dad said that the way I fly, it would still break, it would be better to make that same design form a material that wouldn’t break under the same stress conditions.

That material is PolyCarbonate (PC), a very advanced and strong plastic. Same stuff that coke bottles are made of, every tired ripping one of them in half? Try it and you get a good idea of how strong it is, even at that thickness which is on average less than 1mm. Not only is it very strong, it also non-conductive, making builds simpler, it is impossible to have circuits short through the frame.

Polycarbonate is stronger than carbon because of it’s high viscosity, meaning it has long molecule chains within it, all melted and tangled together. It is very much like a gel or glue material that has never completely dried, allowing it to flex and return to it’s original shape without any deformity. Carbon fibre tries to achieve a similar benefit through the use of long fibres, however due to the extreme fragility of the highly brittle resin, it is susceptible to micro fracturing. PC is not, it is capable of significant bending without any affect on it’s strength or form factor.

My knowledge of chemistry and engineering is rudimentary to say the least, but I figured if it’s used for bulletproof windows, it’s got to be good for a quad frame.

Our first run of prototypes where 250mm (the most popular size for racing drones at the time) for 22xx motors, along with a run of 200mm frames for 18xx motors. Dad also wanted to design a PDB specifically for our frames, before long we had all three custom parts ready to build.

While it may not seem particularly revolutionary now, at the time it was a total experiment. We had never seen any PC frames, one-piece frames didn’t exist either. We had no idea if it would even fly. Being highly flexible compared to carbon fibre, there was a real possibility of resonant vibrations feeding back into the fight controller, increasing in strength until it shook itself to pieces.

This made for a pretty exciting maiden flight. High risk, high reward! Good times.

It flew!! We couldn’t believe it. No photos or video of those first flights, Dad and I were more focussed on being ready to duck or run for our lives than filming it.

It was such an amazing feeling to be flying something that a few weeks earlier was a sketch on paper. There it was, in the air actually working. I couldn’t stop thinking wow if we can do this, imagine what else is possible.

At this stage, it was all just a LOS build. No FPV, just pure acro flying. I wasn’t much of a social media or youtube consumer, I just flew and really had no idea what was going on around the world in terms of other people doing this. Dad did, he showed me the video of those guys flying in the forest  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZwL0t5kPf6E in france, like many people I was instantly filled with motivation to try that.

Dad bought some goggles, we set up the prototypes for FPV flying. I was so keen to race, for me this is the ultimate form of motor racing – three dimensional racing lines, insane power to weight and acceleration, best of all minimal danger. It was obvious that this was going to grow into something bigger, not only that, racing was so demanding on the equipment that it was clearly the best testing environment for our designs imaginable.

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This was June 2015, Drone Racing (as it’s now known) was just getting started in Sydney. A local news program ran a story about a race in Melbourne https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bR4Gq9qfpnM, that motivated everyone else doing this to get together and start organising regular races.

There were a bunch of guys from around Sydney, Newcastle and Canberra who joined together to make this happen; Peter Daniel, Peter Grehan, Timmy Crofts, Joe Igor-Taylor and a few more grouped together to hold races in Sydney as it was central for everyone who was coming from other cities. If memory serves Dad and I went to the second one, held in Sydney’s North Shore.

 

 

I’d only been flying FPV for a month or two, so I couldn’t even complete a race!! Best I could do was a couple of laps, that didn’t make me want to quit, it made me push as hard as I could to get better. I figured if I was going to design quads, maybe sell them one day, they had to be able to win races. I had to prove my design on the track. I did some looking on youtube, found Shaun “NytFury” Taylor and was completely blown away by his speed and skill. He inspired me more than any other pilot because he clearly wanted to push as hard as possible, raw fast racing. From then on I was very focussed on training my skills as a pilot as well as continuing to develop my frame design. The thing that blew me away the most about Shaun was that he had a vision for being so fast, so far beyond what anyone else was capable of at the time, he pursued that vision relentlessly, to the point that people regularly accused him of speeding up his videos. Some people still do today. For me that is truly amazing, to be on a level that the uninitiated see as impossible.

At that time the ImpulseRC Alien was regarded as the best frame for racing and freestyle. No joke, one frame was the king of both! In the right hands, definitely still capable of winning an event in either category.