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The adventures of the Amphibious R/C Truck
The wonderful adventures of designing, and hopefully building, an amphibious R/C truck
Tags: Syma X9
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CPD
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January 30, 2014 - 7:53 am
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Well, as you all know, I'm an Engineering student at one of the satellite campuses for the University of Pittsburgh. (Just for the sake of internet security and whatnot, I won't say which one) For Engineering design, we had to write a proposal for a product in a number of categories. I couldn't come up with an idea for the life of me, and finally it was the day before the paper was due, so I had to rush through a paper and try to find some source material for some background information. Now, I don't know why it came to me, but I thought, "Gee, yaknow what'd be a cool thing to build some weekend? An RC truck that is also amphibious, and yet is decent on both land and water." Thus, I was asleep at the wheel, starting at something like 9 pm, and working to near midnight, and wrote about four and a half pages of who knows what, sourcing some stuff about the Amphicar, an airhogs rc helicopter car thingy, and a hunk of junk amphibious RC toy thing on Amazon. No real revisions or proof reading other than one or two lines here or there in the morning, just sent off via email to the professor.

To prove that procrastination doesn't pay, it ended up being the last of the top 10 proposals out of the class of 30, and now I am in charge of a 3-man team which I must pick from the class, who are charged to actually make the design. I don't think we have to build it, especially since the other designs include an easier to use recliner, easy set-up music stand, and a trail/game camera that has a screen to view the images at the site without needing a computer.

That said, if we have the time, money and effort left over, this thing very well may become real, since it will most likely be based off of a cheap or broken RC truck, with some major work done to it in order to convert it into an amphibious craft.

The purpose of this topic is a personal one, not actually involving the class. I just wanted to create something here in case anybody was interested, and for some quick-ish help if we need it. I.e. from the experts here with RC boats --looks at Bernie-- and other RC stuff, like what motors to use and whatnot.

Thanks, and stay tuned for more details! This will be a long-term thing, taking me up to the end of the semester, so don't expect more than me saying I have a team picked on Monday.

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CPD
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February 4, 2014 - 1:47 pm
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Well, today the teams were assigned, supposed to be teams of 3, however somebody at some point dropped out, and of course my team drew the short straw. The only person I knew in the class that wasn't on a team is an electrical engineering student from China, which covers the minor electrical bits of the thing, but considering I also needed somebody that was more of an expert in boats and mechanics, well, not good. Ideally, we'd have one guy on the electrical bits, myself on the mechanical details, and somebody else on the hull and making it float. This may put a bit of a strain on things, but we at least have the electrical and mechanical bits covered. Lets hope it works!

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JamDJ
Lancaster, PA, USA
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February 4, 2014 - 7:26 pm
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Just get a Double Horse twin-hull

R/C boat, put wheels on it, and done!

   Seriously, good luck with your project!

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CPD
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February 5, 2014 - 1:46 am
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JamDJ said
Just get a Double Horse twin-hull

R/C boat, put wheels on it, and done!

   Seriously, good luck with your project!

Thanks for the tip. I'll hafta look into that one. The big thing to think about with this is either we can make a boat drive, or a truck float. Just have to look into which is more buoyant, and performs better. I'll assume from when Jeremy Clarkson tried to make a Toyota (Or should I say Toybota) Hilux into a boat, that there's a lot of changes that need to occur to make a truck more stable, and push up and out of the water, instead of submarine-ing.

Right now, we're more at the pre-design stage where we have to determine exactly what we're doing, why, what cost, yada yada yada, so there's likely to be some new developments with the restrictions, constrictions, constraints and restraints, along with constraints on the restraints and restrictions on constrictions because yo dawg I heard you like constraints so I constrained your constraints with restraints constrained by constrictions with restrictions.

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CPD
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March 21, 2014 - 3:04 am
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Ok, well here's the developments so-far. We've gone through, and determined that the best course of action is to take an existing RC truck chassis and modify it into a boat, and determine the most important features of the design. Also, I just got back from the wonderful world of Wally, where I picked up a New Bright Baja Buggy for $30. That eats up most of the budget for the project, since the final to-consumer cost is supposed to be about $30-40. I selected this particular vehicle because it was within the planned price range, it comes with a rechargeable Li-Ion battery, is of decent offroad merit, (Though it has a very low torque motor, which limits it to slow acceleration and it cannot crawl over obstacles unless you get a running start and hit them  with the front tire) and is large enough to mount a sizable boat body onto. There were others that I could have bought for less which could do more offroad, but none have the LiIon battery, which saves money in the long run on batteries, and most were significantly smaller in size.

Some notes on the New Brite Buggy for future reference in case anybody is looking for an RC Dune buggy to purchase for a kid or themselves:

 

First and foremost: if you post anything on youtube about it, there WILL be people from the dark side of the hobby posting "BUY A REAL ONE!!! THAT'S NOT A REAL RC TRUCK YOU NOOB!!!" and so forth. Considering the fact that if you are spending $30 on an R/C toy, you most likely do not have the thousands to spend on one that those kinds of people want you spending.

Secondly is the car itself. The first thing you'll notice is it's actually quite sturdy feeling. All plastic, no surprise there, but it feels very sturdy. The body is THICK plastic, but yet flexible enough to withstand impact. It has a center unibody frame under the shell, propping it up from the actual frame. Again, decently thick Chinese plastics, and interestingly enough, there are extra mounting loops on the sides where you can tell that it's designed to fit the bigger truck bodies on the same frame. The tires feel super knobby and are decently soft, although they don't have THAT much give to them. Again, to be expected in this price range. There is a giant plastic thingy sticking off the front to catch it from any rocks and stuff, and act as a bumper, but it'll probably just get caught a lot. Guess that's better than banging up on the front suspension, at least, though. Speaking of the suspension, oddly enough, it is SUPER hard. I may see if I can pull the shocks and cut a loop off of the springs or something. With how light the car is, it's almost impossible to get them to give at all. Now, this is kind of a good thing in many ways, but I think that they could use being a little softer, just as long as it's not too soft and doesn't make it sag. The motor/gearbox is mounted directly onto the rear trans-axle assembly, which pivots up/down and has two sprung shocks. Since it's a cheapo, there's no differential, so don't worry about that. Oddly enough, and this may get tricky when trying to hook it up for water runs, the battery is mounted onto the bottom, and clicks in with no battery cover. Just slide it in, then flip a lever to keep it in place with two contacts on the sides in the front. This unit is separately connected to the rest of the frame, and can be removed. (i.e. I just did) There is a separate box on top of it for the motherboard, with clip on/off connectors to the motor and steering servo. When I waterproof the vehicle, this should make it quite easy to glue said box shut and make it water tight, or so you'd think. The box has large open areas around the power switch and the connectors, which will need addressed. Oh, and those connectors I mentioned? They allow for the whole rear and front assemblies to be removed with just a few screws. Upon removing the rear, I noticed that yes, I can (and did) disassemble the shocks, and there's even two points on the rear of the frame to hook them to. I'm assuming this is for the frame to be used on other cars that use different shock positions, but I'll see which spot I want the shocks on for best results in the suspension. The back pin set is the stock arrangement, which allows the wheels to be farther down, giving it a lifted effect, while the front pins allow for a sleeker, more on-road suspension. Cutting half of a loop off of the one end also seems to have significantly helped the shocks performance.

Now, the remote is a much worse story than the car. Let me say this: For $30, you get the buggy and the battery. The remote? Pft, that's just a courtesy in their mind. It feels like it belongs with the $10 junky trucks, not something you paid this much for. I guess they didn't go the route Syma did, where you design a cheap remote to not feel cheap. Instead, it's a cheap remote that feels even cheaper. It takes two AA batteries, which are included, and interestingly enough, does not have an on/off switch. When you hit the control sticks, the light turns on to say it's transmitting. In my opinion, this was probably more expensive to develop than a simple on/off switch, but I guess it prevents kids leaving their remotes on and killing the batteries. Then it's on to the body. Cheap plastic that feels cheap. Not like how Syma (at least on the older controllers) uses plastic but makes it not feel cheap. The control sticks are placed too far down the remote-- they feel like they should be up near the top, not halfway in the middle due to the size of it. There's also two tangs from the box's anti theft stuff that are perfectly places to line up with the tips of your index fingers on the back. The throttle sicks are also sprung, and don't click on until the very end of their range. Either it's full turn/full speed or nothing. The antenna is the standard wire through a plastic straw configuration of my youth, and there is an awkward plastic ring around the top of the remote. I think they were trying to replicate the carrying handle on $1000 r/c remotes, but since it's so small and cheap, it's just stupid. The back is all bumps, ridges, and other comfy stuff that is quite annoying to even pick up the controller, let alone use it.

In the end, while I'll have to use it some, not just running it 10 feet in my dorm room, I'll say that I think it's pretty decent. Not going to get a whole lot for $30 at WalMart, but it's pretty close to getting a lot. Sure, the thing needs a better motor for better offroad performance, and I have a lot of work to put into the project, but I think it's not bad at all.

 

Here's a video I found of one in action. As you can see, not for rough gravel really, but not too bad for being so cheap, with the LiIon and everything else included. Sometime, I'll try to get some video for you all.

 

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CPD
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March 21, 2014 - 3:09 am
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Ok, one quick thing to add--the first thing to break will be the front shock's hook. Both are already white from stretching on the inside. I'll have to file them out and file down the connections for them.

 

Another thing I just found out. While it's easy to get to the massive steering servo motor--a regular dc toy grade motor, not some cheesey little one--the back motor is physically impossible to get to. The back gearbox/axle assembly is glued shut, with tons of the easy close, never re-open style dohickeys all over the place. The one thing this car desperately needs, and I can't do anything about it unless I break into it. I'll have to figure out a way to crack or remove the glue and open it up to swap in a bigger motor with more torque at some point, just not while I'm in my dorm room with no tools and where I can't get plastic sawdust everywhere.

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CPD
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March 24, 2014 - 10:32 am
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Well, I just had a day of strenuous testing of the Interceptor. Ran through some muddy pot holes, over some small left-over snow piles, (not big at all) and through lots of watery mud. Handled it all like a champ... well, a hot dog eating champ at an American football game, but still a champ. When the battery starts getting into its regular voltage, and not the "fresh" voltage, it really shows how little I paid for it. Again, I could have bought one for $50, but it would have the same motors in it, and would have been just as meh.

 

I do have a question for anybody reading this, however. Is there any entry-level rear end units--i.e. basic gearing and axle units--that anybody knows of for an rc car/truck that I can add a motor to and make work for this thing? The more I use it, the more the poor motor choice shines through, and the stock back assembly just doesn't allow for any improvement without major hacking and gluing, which WILL fail. Thanks!

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Syma Freak
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March 24, 2014 - 8:01 pm
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Great stuff CPD. I am going to buy a car or truck to do FPV on it as just like to have a change, know can pull FPV  off a quad and easy to put on a off roader, mind you would prefer to use my Spektrum remote, guess not that hard to do, any advice let me know.

"Fly like a butterfly sting like a Syma" http://syma107.com

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CPD
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March 25, 2014 - 1:20 am
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Well, first off it's not worth it for this thing. If you're going to buy one from a regular store, (I.e. Walmart or Toys R Us) no matter how expensive it is, it will have the same motor, suspension and same turning issues. New Bright, Majesto, and probably all the others have the same problems. It's not until you get into a couple hundred dollars US that you get ones that don't and would be worth the FPV investment.

 

Sometime, I'll post an in-depth review of it that I did for youtube. Didn't realize it was as long as it ended up being, but it's very full and covers the entire thing. Then I'll hafta try to edit up and upload the testing videos I have.

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CPD
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March 30, 2014 - 3:30 pm
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Well, here's some late night news. I found one of the $10 cars at the goodwill thrift shop near the school on my way home today, so for $3 I picked it up for parts. Fortunately, it has the same bottom plate for the rear end, lower gearing, and same motors and connectors. Otherwise, the rest is different. The better news is, I managed to get the lower plate to match up perfectly, and have the gearing almost installed. I had to shim the one slot for the main gear, since the old (smaller) one sat lower. It's currently not operational yet because I have some glue drying on the shim from the latest adjustment. I also took the softer front tires and mounted them on the front in order to reduce bounce. Between lowering the gear ratio and the softer front tires reducing how much the car bounces around, it should cancel out to about the same speed, but at much greater performance. I did some testing before adjusting the shim, (a simple piece of model tree shaved down and glued in) and it has FAST acceleration, but not as fast of a top speed, due to the gearing. Also, I replaced the nearly stripped screws and water sealed the board with semi silicone caulking. Problems I'm expecting from these mods are as follows: The front tires are now significantly smaller, by about a centimeter. The board may have a weak spot in the water sealing around the front plug, which I tried to leave functional, and the antenna, where the extra silicone came off. Also, I'll have to duct tape the new, erm, "inspection points" on the rear housing, after I thought the gear was rubbing and getting stuck inside it. (Took somewhere between an hour and a half and two hours before I knew it was cocking from not being properly shimmed in the slot for the smaller gear)

The other plus is, now I can oil it!!! I think the lubricant of choice that had already been used was petroleum jelly/Vaseline. Considering its great water resistant properties, and how I don't think it'll degrade the gearing too badly, and how it'll be placed in a duct tape sealed unit, not an open one like an s107, that's what I'll use to replace the lost grease. Tomorrow will be the body build, followed by testing on Monday. Hopefully.

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CPD
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April 1, 2014 - 6:21 am
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Great news! It floats! It doesn't move, it doesn't turn, it smells like burnt electronics, but it floats!

The hull design is perfect, the problem is that water either A. managed to work its way through the connector to the front steering servo into the board, B. around the silicone at the top of the antenna, C. through the STILL not cured silicone that was supposed to be water ready within 24 hours, or D. all of the above. Either way, it needs a new board. Battery is fine--old analog battery taste--I mean tester proved that--but the motherboard is dead, even after drying. The car worked flawlessly, until it reached a certain point where it stuttered, then stuttered a LOT, and died an unceremonious death. I do not have another 27 MH board, the parts car was AA battery operated at 49 MH, (or whatever the 40-some-odd number is) and need to go get a new board. Fortunately, if anywhere has one, it's hopefully the hobby shop that google maps places at 6 minutes from my school. Yay! But, that's probably more expensive than a new car. Not yay...

I'll keep you tuned in, but I think this may get to be a bit over my head.

"Oh, we're wheel deep in the big muddy, and the big fool yells to throttle on."

 

EDIT AND UPDATE:

Well, here is some news. The hobby shop on google was closed and out of business, with the backup shop only being open 10-3 on Monday through Thursday. I guess I'll have to go there over lunch tomorrow. Also, upon further inspection of the motherboard, there is apparent water stains around the front connector I did not seal, and around the battery leads, which I did seal. Oddly enough, the silicone turned green around there. Plan of action from here is to visit this shop, and see what I can see. If I can, I'll get some stuff, hopefully since they have a sale advertised, there's some stuff cheap too. If not, I'll just have to man up, buy another car for $30, and water seal the ever living daylights out of its board. And I mean just smother everything in silicone. Not the board itself, but all of the leads, the on/off switch, the connectors, the area around it so the box forms into it after it's laid in, not just smothered around.

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JamDJ
Lancaster, PA, USA
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April 1, 2014 - 10:29 pm
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CPD, What about spraying some of that spray foam insulation

inside to help seal the hull, body, whatever it is? You know that 

stuff that comes in a spray can used to seal cracks in doors and

windows. If nothing else, can at least absorb water before it

gets to the electronics. It's also pretty cheap. Just a thought!

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CPD
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April 2, 2014 - 12:46 am
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Things that you need to build anything or do any project the "handyman" way if you have: Duct Tape, a sawzall, wd-40, 2x4's, nails, a crescent wrench, and Spray Foam Insulation. (forget a hammer, the crescent wrench does that too, and has a wrench on the end of your hammer!)

 

I'm already a bit ahead of you. I took the extra foam trimmings, and packed all of the crevices in the frame with it, then covered the whole thing in my good OD green Duct Tape. It helped add buoyancy and lessen the amount of water in the frame. Plus the duct tape covered many of the seams around the silicone, although apparently not enough. The problem areas were around the battery leads, antenna, and steering servo connector. The connector and antenna were my fault, since i had some in the hole for the antenna, but I think it slipped past, and the connector, well, who'duv guessed that Chinese wire connectors aren't waterproof. DOH!

I think the other thing i have to do is seal the box before attaching the box, so I can get more silicone in every little place water can get through, THEN add the box to it, and seal the box, sticking it into a double sided wall of caulk.

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CPD
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April 2, 2014 - 3:25 am
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Well, I went to the hobby shop, and it was a sad, sad place. Old man, probably the original owner, running the store, had to be in his 80's. An insane amount of 20 year old doll making supplies, some pinewood derby decals that would have been out dated by the time I was in cub scouts, some old slot car track. (Make that a LOT of old slot car track) As far as rc stuff, there was a handful of old Tamiya components for kits that you used to be able to buy and build back when, one set of silver slick tires, and a front bumper. That's about it. Makes me feel sad when I see a store like that, thinking of how it must've been back in the day, back when slot cars were the thing, back when people made their own dolls from specialty stuff, back when the kids all went there to get their stuff to have fun. Now there's a few hobby shops scattered around. I know of one in Indiana County, PA, but have never been there, and one in central Fayette County, PA that I went to, and is mostly trains and kits, not much in the way of parts. Seems the only way for a hobby shop to survive nowadays is to sell stuff you cannot get online, or that you want to see when you buy it. Even then, it's mostly overpriced above what it should be.

I guess it doesn't help when, for example, Amazon has stuff like the s107 for $20, whereas driving to a hobby shop, paying for parking, and spending some time in buying one will run you $40. Or you can go to walmart, and buy a $30 half decent rc car, while 10-15 years ago, you had to go to a hobby shop, and pay $50 for a decent one. I guess either you price yourself out of many peoples range, and only sell the expensive stuff, with a small amount of the cheap stuff, or you sell online, with some in-store sales.

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CPD
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April 10, 2014 - 9:50 am
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Alright, latest update is, not much of an update. I got a new car, ripped out the old board, put in the new, and murdered that mother with silicone. I slapped half of a tube of the stuff in every open crack, crevice, and anything that looked like it would remotely allow water to get in. This car had a even tinier remote, about 5/8 the size of the 107 remote, with really weird plastic pistol grips that look like they should be covered in soft rubber. Since then, it's been quite a while, and now I'll have to hand-off the project to my co-pilot on the project while I go to Annapolis, Maryland for canoe regionals. The canoe this year looks baaaaaaad, and I'll be surprised if there's a badder canoe to compete. The theme is the Army Corps of Engineers, and just think American flags, camo, 'Murica, giant tanks and eagles, and a giant Engineering Castle.

 

Anyway, the project will be "completed" for my Engineering Design class on Monday with a final presentation, but I have a feeling this one will last a while longer than that.

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JamDJ
Lancaster, PA, USA
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April 10, 2014 - 2:44 pm
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Good luck on both accounts! From where you are to

Annapolis brings you right through my back yard, so

please stop in for a visit if you can! I realize it's a school function,

but if you can find a few minutes to meet, please PM me!

  Also, there is a fly-in here this spring, I don't know the exacts 

yet but my nephew is involved, so hopefully he may help get

us some representation at no cost. SF, if the possibility exists,

I'll contact you directly before making ANY plans. It's a little

late, but I'll keep my fingers crossed !

Again, CPD, good luck on both projects!

 

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CPD
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April 11, 2014 - 12:11 am
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Sorry, but we're taking some Enterprise vans and traveling via caravan. Of course, they're all driven by college students, with questionable driving skills. So, if you see 7 white vans swerving to miss parked cars, loaded with college kids, that's probably us. I'll have to keep up to date on the fly-in, although it is doubtful that I could go. Hopefully we'll all be out of the hospital by then, suffering as few broken bones and collapsed spines as possible from the journey. Lol.

Hopefully, if my arms are still intact, I should have some good video this year. I'm bringing my new video camera and tripod, so hopefully I can get some steady shots of the races. (Unlike last year, where we were out in cold weather, after standing in 35 to 40 degree water that was, uhm, just above waist high. That made for some shaky video, not to mention some high pitched commentary.)

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Syma Freak
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April 13, 2014 - 1:24 pm
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JamDJ said
Good luck on both accounts! From where you are to

Annapolis brings you right through my back yard, so

please stop in for a visit if you can! I realize it's a school function,

but if you can find a few minutes to meet, please PM me!

  Also, there is a fly-in here this spring, I don't know the exacts 

yet but my nephew is involved, so hopefully he may help get

us some representation at no cost. SF, if the possibility exists,

I'll contact you directly before making ANY plans. It's a little

late, but I'll keep my fingers crossed !

Again, CPD, good luck on both projects!

 

Yes let me know if you need any help-Always there to promote RC helis,quads etc, just such a good hobby.

 

"Fly like a butterfly sting like a Syma" http://syma107.com

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Syma Freak
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April 13, 2014 - 1:27 pm
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CPD said
Sorry, but we're taking some Enterprise vans and traveling via caravan. Of course, they're all driven by college students, with questionable driving skills. So, if you see 7 white vans swerving to miss parked cars, loaded with college kids, that's probably us. I'll have to keep up to date on the fly-in, although it is doubtful that I could go. Hopefully we'll all be out of the hospital by then, suffering as few broken bones and collapsed spines as possible from the journey. Lol.
Hopefully, if my arms are still intact, I should have some good video this year. I'm bringing my new video camera and tripod, so hopefully I can get some steady shots of the races. (Unlike last year, where we were out in cold weather, after standing in 35 to 40 degree water that was, uhm, just above waist high. That made for some shaky video, not to mention some high pitched commentary.)

I have a great interest in what you are doing- why not we put a separate section on the forum for your endeavors?

 

"Fly like a butterfly sting like a Syma" http://syma107.com

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CPD
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April 15, 2014 - 1:02 am
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Syma Freak said

CPD said
Sorry, but we're taking some Enterprise vans and traveling via caravan. Of course, they're all driven by college students, with questionable driving skills. So, if you see 7 white vans swerving to miss parked cars, loaded with college kids, that's probably us. I'll have to keep up to date on the fly-in, although it is doubtful that I could go. Hopefully we'll all be out of the hospital by then, suffering as few broken bones and collapsed spines as possible from the journey. Lol.
Hopefully, if my arms are still intact, I should have some good video this year. I'm bringing my new video camera and tripod, so hopefully I can get some steady shots of the races. (Unlike last year, where we were out in cold weather, after standing in 35 to 40 degree water that was, uhm, just above waist high. That made for some shaky video, not to mention some high pitched commentary.)

I have a great interest in what you are doing- why not we put a separate section on the forum for your endeavors?

 

Well, it's practically over as of today. We have the final presentation on the project, and hopefully everything worked out over the weekend with building the car. My friend that was working on it couldn't get it to work at one point, so I'll have to see if he was putting the battery in wrong or something. Thing's a bit of a bugger now that I sealed everything beyond what it needed.

As for Canoe, well, we're also practically done for the year. After six years of being on top of our region, we've been bested, and got only third out of the three competitive level teams. I have a couple ideas as to what happened, but I'll wait to share them after we've had some discussion and figure out the route for next year. What I will say is that I think we were overconfident and somewhat jinxed ourselves, doing things like having shirts boasting our six time champion status, and that was one factor in our fall from the top. I do know next year's competition will be at Penn State University Park, who haven't hosted in quite a while, and we will be at nationals because we're hosting them for this year.

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