The initial concept for the WingBoard started late one night in Spring 2013. A simple paper airplane delta wing stood in for the board and a rolled piece of paper with a few paper clips on top served as the rider. For several nights I had been debating if a person could ride on top of a wing and maintain stable flight. To my surprise, it worked...
The first prototypes were simple: a flat foam board with the profile of a rider glued to the top. Paperclips and staples served as weights to adjust the center of mass to represent the high center of gravity of a rider. Numerous wing plan forms, tow line attachments, and rider configurations were tried. The first flight tests occurred behind an old RC plane, considered expendable as there was no knowing what would happen. It was on that first flight that I became accustomed to what would become an all-too-familiar pattern of reactions to the WingBoard:
1. You're crazy!
2. That's never going to work!
3. Wait.... It's flying and it's stable?
4. I WANT TO RIDE THAT!
It quickly became clear that the rider was going to play a key role in the dynamics of the WingBoard. Who would have imagined that designing the WingBoard would also entail learning the mechanics of the human figure and developing a remote control rider? Numerous different configurations and prototypes were developed as the ways in which the human mechanics could be translated to scale remote control. It was during this time that the 3D printer came into its own, with every prototype taking shape on its build platform. After 5 prototypes, a blocky human-shaped figure capable of the same motions as a skier/wakeboarder was settled on. Motions about the legs, waist, and arms were all included to ensure the factors that would affect a human rider could be accounted for.
The need for wind tunnel testing also became apparent during this stage. The dynamics of the WingBoard and rider could quickly become unstable with the wrong configuration and testing on tow behind the RC plane was too risky. As wind tunnel testing was not an option, a page was taken from Burt Rutan and some of his early testing... using a moving car as a stand in for the wind tunnel. A long pole was hung out the side of the car, serving as the stand-in for the tow plane. Several friends (and usually Aaron's wife, Julie) drove laps as Aaron tweaked the design. Testing occurred late at night or on deserted stretches of road to minimize the chance of encountering other traffic -- and also to reduce the number of onlookers trying to figure out just what these crazy people were doing! Eventually the design was stabilized enough to go back to testing behind the RC plane.
It was during this phase that the WingBoard truly came into its own. An autopilot was added to help aid in stabilizing the board in roll and keeping the rider upright. Maneuverability was increased and the ability to maneuver behind the tow plane became evident. The first rolling takeoff, landing, and barrel roll were demonstrated. It was also during this time that the WingBoard started attracting its first crowds. A small group of friends became interested in Aaron's crazy project, and it quickly became clear that the WingBoard could truly draw and captivate a crowd!
The final Phase 1 prototype was a 1/6th scale model. The goal was to replicate in 1/6th scale how a true rider and WingBoard would look and behave. The tow plane was also scaled up accordingly, using a 1/6th scale aerobatic clipped wing Piper Cub. The WingBoard now utilizes an airfoil with all electronics concealed inside. The rider's dimensions are based on Aaron's frame, and the rider is designed to replicate a human's motions as closely as possible. The rider has now taken a modified wakeboard stance to allow him to more easily withstand the forces of flight. Each of the major joints is included.
Foot Servo: actuates the front leg allowing the rider to lean forward and aft
Waist Servo: actuates rider lean side to side
Torso Servo: actuates twist/yaw of the upper body
Right Elbow and Wrist Joints: due to the wakeboard stance, the shoulders are offset, requiring the right arm to be fully articulated to provide smooth motion of the arms about the shoulder.
The prototype was also capable of onboard video recording, providing the first view from the rider’s perspective.
A few items were not included in this final Phase 1 scale model, most notably the safety features. The tow releases, bindings, and parachutes were not included due to scale limitations. However, these features were included in the Phase 2 prototype.
The final Phase 1 version of the WingBoard, V5.1, shows that not only is the WingBoard capable of stable, controlled flight, but it also shows just how much fun it would be to ride it. You truly can Carve the Sky!