In my never ending quest to master the art of aerial photography and videography I’m always on the lookout for the next best thing. I found just that in the Vulcan SkyHook 900mm Hexacopter. The SkyHook is heavy lift airframe ideal for professional aerial photography, surveying, security and other commercial applications, as well as the serious hobby flyer. Made from high grade carbon fiber and aluminum alloy, they are not only amongst the strongest and stiffest airframes available, but also can be easily reconfigured to any airframe layout using the same parts. Airframe sizes are available in 900mm, 1080mm and 1200mm spans and are able to be folded for transportation.
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The Vulcan SkyHook can be fitted with the new Mantis-Z arms. The Mantis arms lift the front motors out of the view of the camera, even during fast forward flight. Other advantages include greater stability in wind, more stability during descent and it helps the pilot with machine orientation, a notoriously difficult thing to maintain when flying at any distance. The standard Mantis hexacopter comes with one Z arm and five standard arms, which works well with any 2 axis gimbal. I chose to use two Z arms. When using two Z arms you do have to consider the landing gear you are going to use. With this setup retracts are an ideal choice.
The SkyHook 900 comes with standard or high clearance landing legs which can be attached to any arm according to preference, and moved along the arms to allow an uninterrupted camera view. I chose to use DJI’s retractable landing gear; with the landing skids retracted the camera has the freedom to rotate through the full pan axis of 360 degrees without any viewing obstructions. Additional accessories include DJI’s WooKong-M (WK-M) flight controller with GPS, Zenmuse Z-15 with Panasonic GH-3 camera, On Screen Display (OSD), 5.8 GHz video system to transmit video down to the pilot for First Person View (FPV) flights or for a separate camera operator. Lastly is a 2.4 GHz downlink and Ground Control Station which allows the operator to view aircraft location, heading and altitude, as well as other flight data.
My SkyHook 900 Mantis kit came well packaged and consisted of 2 frame center plates, 4 aluminum alloy arms, 2 aluminum alloy Mantis Z-arms (red), 6 motor mounts, 3 landing legs, 2 standoff plates, battery tray, pillars, nuts, bolts and washers. In addition to the included parts I added a 12mm rail mount system so I could attach my Zenmuse and landing gear, a 200mm Vibration Isolation System, motor rings and a 250a power distribution board.
Construction was straight forward and the 13-page manual was easy to follow. The Vulcan Power Distribution Board is capable of handling 250 amps with 8 or more ESCs. One side connects all negatives and the other all positives. A total of 18 pairs of solder pads are provided and can be used as appropriate, 12mm diameter pads are provided for heavy duty battery cables, 9mm pads for ESCs and 7mm pads for other auxiliary power feeds. Due to the relatively thick copper a powerful soldering iron is recommended. Mounting holes for this board are pre-drilled in the Vulcan frame plates.
The power system includes six new Avroto 3515 400kv LIFT motors spinning T-Motor 15×5 carbon fiber props. Six Maytech 45a Opto (Simon-K flashed) speed controls, two Turnigy 6S 5000 45C LiPos and a Scherrer UHF long rang receiver round out the electronics.
I used the Vulcan multi-speed-control programming tool to simultaneously calibrate the throttle on all six Maytech speed controls, this ensured they all were equal. I mounting the ESCs on the side of the arms with double-sided foam tape; this allows the arms to be folded as well as providing more airflow to the speed controls.
The Avroto LIFT motors are high quality, smooth running and durable brushless motors built for multi-rotor UAV applications. Jim at Monto RC was extremely helpful in choosing the correct motor and propeller combination for the SkyHook. These motors are the highest quality I’ve seen. They have proven to be dependable, efficient, and tough, plus I really like the cool white color.
The WK-M IMU is placed on the top of the center plate with Vulcan silicone gel tape. The OSD, Power Management Unit (PMU) and 2.4 GHz downlink are surrounding the IMU on the top plate. The receiver and flight controller are located on the first standoff plate and the GPS antenna is on the top standoff plate. Underneath the 200mm Vibration Isolation System is the Zenmuse controller and 9ch receiver.
The Vulcan SkyHook is a solid frame with high quality parts. It’s well designed and the Mantis arms are an innovative solution in the race to get the perfect shot. The SkyHook’s highly-efficient dynamic system provides users with improved stability, greater payload lifting capability, and longer flight times. The super rigid construction coupled with the ability to reconfigure to any other airframe layout makes this an ideal system for aerial photography and videography. Add the amazing capability of the Avroto 3515 400kv LIFT motors with T-motor props and you’ve got that next best thing.
IN THE AIR
Assembly at the field or worksite involves unfolding four arms and emplacing four nuts and bolts. I keep my Vulcan fully intact most of time simply because I have enough room for it.
When the battery is connected the WK-M LED unit provides the status of the GPS connection as well as the battery status. The motor start sequence requires both transmitter sticks to be pushed to the bottom outside corners of the transmitter. The motors will start for 3 seconds, awaiting throttle input from the pilot. If no input is given the motors will stop. This is a safety feature provided by the WK-M to ensure that accidentally bumping the throttle will not start the motors. The Avroto 3515’s provide plenty of power to lift the SkyHook off the ground easily. Setting the throttle stick to mid position establishes a hover. After approximately 12-minutes of flight I reduced throttle slightly, the SkyHook slowly descended and lightly touched down.
I’ve made more than 20 photography and videography flights with the SkyHook, each flight gets better and better. This is an extremely capable machine.
GENERAL FLIGHT PERFORMANCE
Stability: My initial flights were in Atti. Mode, these were gentle lift-offs and landings, then progressing into a basic flight profile. This is a good mode to get a feel for how the SkyHook handles. Performing sweeping turns, figure 8s and buzzing around in this mode is exciting. GPS Atti. Mode is much the same as Atti. except you have the ability to hold a position over the ground as well as the added return home features. This is a great mode for aerial photography and videography. The SkyHook was rock solid and held its position extremely well in 13 mph winds.
Tracking: In GPS mode tracking in a straight line is automatic, in Atti mode you’ll have to compensate for wind drift.
Aerobatics: If the SkyHook could do any it would be in Manual Mode. Flying in Manual Mode was a bit nerve wracking knowing that I had no attitude compensation at all. The airframe is naturally stable and that showed while in this mode.
Glide and stall performance: The SkyHook is not capable of autorotation but WK-M has a useful Fail-Safe mode which can be set up to either land at its current location or return to its home point and then land if loss of radio signal or low battery.
The user manual is very thorough and I had no problems following it. I suggest downloading the manuals from the VulcanUAV website and studying it before the SkyHook arrives. Professional quality, vibration-free video is well within anyone’s grasp with this sturdy platform. To say the SkyHook is built like a tank would wrongly imply that it is heavy and not agile. This is far from the truth, it can easily whip around the sky or sit as still as a rock.
MODEL: SkyHook Mantis 900mm Hexacopter
MANUFACTURER: VulcanUAV Ltd (www.vulcanuav.com)
DISTRIBUTOR: See vulcanuav.com for distributor list
TYPE: Multi-rotor: Hexacopter
SMALLEST FLYING AREA: baseball infield
IDEAL FOR: intermediate to advanced
FRAME DIAMETER: 900mm
READY-TO-FLY WEIGHT: 17 lb., 8 oz. (with Zenmuse and Panasonic camera)
RADIO: 6-channel minimum, 8+ channels recommended
BATTERY: 22.2v 6s 8000-12000mAh 25C
PRICE: SkyHook ARF ($425), WooKong-M Autopilot system ($1,199.00), Zenmuse Z15-G ($3,500), Avroto 3515 400kv LIFT motor ($120.00 each), Maytech 45a Opto Simon-K flashed ESC ($50 each)
Radio: Futaba 9C, TSLRS 12ch rx (SkyHook): Spektrum DX8, OrangeRX 9ch rx (Zenmuse Z-15)
Motor: (6) Avroto 3515 400kv Brushless Outrunner (www.montorc.com), (6) Maytech 45a Opto-Eagle Simon-K flashed ESC (www.addictiverc.com)
Propeller: (6) T-Motor 15×5 carbon fiber (www.montorc.com)
Battery: (2) Turnigy nano-tech 6s 5000mAh 45C (www.hobbyking.com)
Autopilot: DJI WooKong-M flight control system
Camera gimbal: DJI Zenmuse Z-15G
Camera: Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 with 20mm pancake lens (www.panasonic.com)
+Extremely stable flight performance
+Heavy lift capabilities
+Professional quality abilities at a fraction of the cost
By Kyle Matthew; photos by Elizabeth Jenny