Sat, Nov 24, 2007 - Page 16 News List

Revolutionary choppers take off

Yuyu Chen gave up his job as an interior architect three years ago to follow his dream of designing model helicopters

By Ron Brownlow  /  STAFF REPORTER

Yuyu Chen used design techniques learned in art school to revolutionize the design of remote-controlled model helicopters.

PHOTO: RON BROWNLOW, TAIPEI TIMES

Three years ago, a young civil engineer named Yuyu Chen (陳健兆) left a high-paying job as an interior architect and borrowed his wife’s life savings so he could pursue his dream — to design and manufacture radio-controlled model helicopters.

“I was very excited,” recalled Chen, who has flown radio-controlled (RC) helicopters for the last 10 years. “Everyone has to work, but I wanted to do something for a living that would actually be fun.”

Three years later, Chen, 35, and his wife, Anna (陳淑菁), now run a small company that makes a new kind of battery-powered RC helicopter. Two of their models, the Poseidon 480XL and the Mars 480XL, have received enthusiastic reviews from hobbyist magazines and Web sites. A third model is in the design phase, and Chen’s company, which he named Gazaur, has sold more around 400 units, mostly in the US.

“Of all the electric RC helicopters, one product line truly stands out in terms of design,” wrote Tara Soonthornnont, an enthusiast who maintains the Web site www.electric-rc-helicopter.com. “This helicopter is very different from other electric RC helicopters. From its design and rotor systems to its body, the engineers have proven that it is not necessary to follow normal conventions to produce a successful model.”

Chen, who studied art in vocational school and later in Japan, was intrigued by a problem familiar to many industrial designers: How to make a machine that’s aesthetically more pleasing while at the same time improve its performance.

“Most RC helicopters are made by people with a background in mechanics. They’re built to work,” Chen said in an interview at his factory in Wugu (五股), Taipei County. “I figured that by using the methods I learned from studying architecture, where the entire design emanates from a concept, there were a lot of improvements that could be made.”

This was the essential insight behind his machines. Remove the canopy of most RC helicopters, and you’ll see a clunky, boxy frame that holds the engine and battery and supports the rotor, tail and landing gear. There seems to be no guiding principle behind the design other than to make something that works.

Like a student in an architecture class, however, Chen started with an abstract concept: a killer whale in the case of the Poseidon, an eagle for the Mars. The frames of both models look like the skeletons of these animals. They have smooth, bionic lines that, in addition to looking cool, contain fewer parts and are lighter in weight than those of ordinary electric RC helicopters.

The practical implication is that these frames — which are 60 percent aluminum and 40 percent alloys — are flexible and strong. They’re more stable in flight and offer better protection to the components inside in the case of crashes.

Chen applied the same problem-solving technique to design the landing gear. Wanting something that wasn’t rigidly mounted onto the frame and held together with screws, he thought of how Chinese temples were built with interlocking pieces to absorb the shock from earthquakes. Using this as a concept, he designed flexible landing gear made from interlocking pieces of fiberglass that bend to dissipate shock instead of directing it through the aircraft’s body.

Other notable features include counter-weighted tail rotor blades, which reduce stress on the tail, and a “floating flybar” rotor head based on a German design that has fewer moving parts and improves flight stability.

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