Model airplane dogfights with LEDs


Lots of people love model airplanes, and I bet they would love to simulate dogfights. They can't fire actual projectiles, as that would be dangerous, expensive, unworkable due to the weight and actually damage planes.

It should be possible to set up a system for dogfights using light, however. One way would be to have planes mount lasers that send out a coded pulse with a bit of dispersion, and have the other planes mount receivers with diffusers to pick up light from a lot of directions. It might be better to go in reverse, the way many shooting games do -- the planes broadcast a coded pulse from some bright LED in a specific colour and the "gun" is just a narrow sight that tries to pick up these pulses. When the gun gets one, it sends it down to the coordinator on the ground, and that tells the target plane it's been hit (possibly forcing it to leave the airspace after some number of hits, or impair the flying controls, etc.)

Of course you need authenticated equipment. If people provide their own it's too easy to cheat, and one could also just make a gun that has no barrel instead of a wide one, or have one on the ground. So some honour might be required here.

It would of course be hard to do, with no cockpit view. Some larger model planes can carry small video cameras for a more realistic dogfight of that sort, but I suspect people could figure something out. The gun could have sensors for the pulses that are wider than the actual "direct hit" sensor, allowing them to tell you when you're getting close, and even showing a screen on a laptop that is not a camera view from the plane but at least a view of how close you are to the target.


Model airplane hobbyists have been doing dogfights for years. They attach a long streamer to the end of each plane, and each tries to slice off the other plane's streamer with their propellers. The plane with the longest streamer still attached at the end of the dogfight wins.

Not perfectly realistic perhaps, but cheap, simple, mostly foolproof, and quite the crowd pleaser.

Hobbyzone make a range of planes that can have an ultrasonic 'Sonic Combat Module' attached that does just as you describe:

It seems to get good reviews too:

I'd have thought that a modulated LED would be lighter and cheaper and use less power though.

Why I didn't find this when I google searched for implementations of the idea.

Sound can't be aimed nearly so accurately as light, not even close. Which may actually be a feature, not a bug, in that since getting a direct bead would be pretty hard. That's why I suggested actual lasers, while cool, would not be the best approach. It may be the sound is chosen because, like the streamers, you don't have to be too accurate.

A thought for you.

The best way to monitor who hits who is to have it measured from the ground. Ground units have no constraints on their size, weight, power requirements etc, and there's no worrying about authentication stuff.

To extend the laser idea, you can use fluorescence. If the two planes have different fluorescent paints and different lasers, the wavelengths of light from the two planes will be distinguishable even as diffused reflections from the ground. A spectrum analyser would do the job quite happily, and yet more happily if it's in a non-visible range where there's less light around.

With radar or a few radio beacons in the extremities of the planes, you could easily do the math to work out where the planes are in relation to each other. The bonus with this thought is that there is no requirement to modify the planes at all. Just give each pilot a button to press, and the computer can do all the timing stuff and calculations.

Sonar would work as an alternative to radar from the ground, and require less expensive equipment. So instead of firing sound at each other, just sit a large ultrasound speaker on the ground, and have it emit radar-type chirps. Sit a few microphones around, and have the computer to do the work again.

The great opportunity you get with this is to allow anybody who wants to turn up and dogfight to do so, without expensive equipment of their own, or the need to have a sufficiently large or powerful plane to do it. With systems that can calculate the positions and orientations of the craft from the ground, there's a fairly easy step up to having a visual display of what's going on.

Bring on the airbot wars.

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