Project Sipster Part 7 – Sipster Indeed!


Behind the scenes:

The whole time we were trying to build this ridiculous car on an impossible schedule, we were also trying to film enough video footage to make these 5-minute clips for every installment. Thankfully, the editing for these videos was being farmed out to William Barber, a Canadian college student at the time, who took our hours of spastic footage and somehow stitched them together into something professional looking in a series of weekly all nighters.  
OK, so, Jared had been filming all the video for this project on a cheap Chinese Aiptek camera. For 2009, it was an amazingly small, cheap HD camera. For our grand finale, we came up with the brilliant idea of strapping it to an RC plane of mine and getting some aerial footage of the car racing across the desert. The results, we figured, would be indistinguishable from anything we could have done in a rented helicopter, and it wouldn’t cost us a penny.

The only plane I had that was capable of handling the extra weight and flying slowly enough for these shots was a Multiplex Easy Star, a really basic foam begginner’s plane designed to be dead simple to fly and tough enough to withstand non-stop crashing. I had cobbled it together with a wildly overpowered no-name Chinese brushless motor, speed controller and LiPo battery, and had been flying it on an obsolete radio given to me by Doug Kott at Road & Track. The radio was so old and hopeless, it was going either to me or the garbage can. 

Perfect, then, for our project.

The only way to get a clear shot of the ground without giving away the fact that we were filming from a toy plane was to mount the camera upside-down on the bottom of the plane. We were headed to El Mirage on a friday night, so that same day, on my lunch break, I took a razor blade to the bottom of the plane and cut a camera-sized chunk of foam out of the bottom. Then I glued big chunks of balsa to the sides of the plane to reinforce the area I had weakened with the hole. Since the nose had already broken off and been glued back on several times, reinforcement was critical.

Next problem, the plane had no landing gear, and the lowest point on the fuselage was the lens of an HD camera. Not cool. The quickie solution I came up with was to bend up some aluminum welding rod and some actual RC plane wheels and rubber band the contraption to the bottom of the plane. 

The plane was completely untested when, at dawn the next day, I unfolded myself from the back of the Mazda5 I had used for a tent, plugged it in, and threw it. 

The extra weight was noticeable, but not too bad, and the plane was still aerodynamically stable, but that was the extent of the good news. As you can hear in the raw video, below, the radio was glitching like crazy. Every time I touched the throttle the motor would surge spastically, and the servos kept twiching and throwing random inputs into the plane. I don’t know if it was the cheap Chinese electronics, the dumpster diver radio, or the Predator drones circling silently overhead (they test them out of a nearby airport), but something was seriously trying to knock us out of the sky.

Even with a perfect plane, though, our plan was doomed. It turns out to be much more difficult than I imagined to take a camera in the sky and point it at a car when you can’t see what’s on the screen, the guy in the car is driving around at random with no particular plan, and your hands are frozen solid and too busy with the plane to talk to the driver on the walkie talkie that you forgot to bring anyway.

Watch the video below and you’ll be shocked that any of this crap was useful.

After the air show, it was time for the powerslides (see if you can guess which free trial software I used to convert these files into a useful format). 

Not as easy as it looks, this sliding front-drive diesels across the desert. Getting it to slide is easy, but when you’re trying to intersect a 50 mph camera car at a 90 degree angle and pitch it sideways just right so you match speeds, land in the frame, and don’t crash into your own minivan, well, then it gets kinda tricky…
See that Mazda5? It was 3 days old when we took it to the desert, slept in it, and then drove around with the doors open shooting video of the Sipster doing big diesely powerslides in a sandstorm. A year later there was still a puff of dust every time you closed a door.
The exit from the lakebed is at the downwind side, and by the time we had the car running after the latest fuel filter failure and simultaneous brake booster leak, the air was completely opaque with dust picked up on the long blow across the desert. It took 30 minutes of wandering around in a tornado of swirling oatmeal before we found our way back to pavement.
After that crappy raw footage, the final result Wil managed to churn out between classes is shocking:


Remember that part where we made it fast?
Boy, it sure would be fun to read part 5 again!safer
How’s about some Sipster part 4?Sipster part 4


Go get yourself some Project Sipster part 3sipster 3
Go get yourself some Project Sipster part 2:Project Sipster part 2
Go get yourself some Project Sipster part 1:Proejct Sipster part 1



1 comment

  1. Your town is an armpit to me, no SPEED week time trials no Adelanto grand prix no King of the Hammers racing, no racetracks no endless off road freedom. Just a bunch of self important media snobs who need experts to help them build a car. But maybe that’s why top gear America failed, some can see through the bullshit, and when you finally tried to do something real, it was too late. Buy the way, the wind DRIVES people mad out here in the middle of nowhere California, but its cheap enough to afford many cars to power slide at El mirage, and then rip up a mountain to the lake. British Top Gear came here as well, and it looked like an amazing crowd(they probably hated it). It’s funny how a maximum security prison and crazy local drivers can make a town intimidating to someone from a major metropolitan city.

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