Arduino-Radio Controlled Hydrogen Blimp

Picture of Arduino-Radio Controlled Hydrogen Blimp
This details the construction of the remote-controlled blimp I built. Here's a short video of it flying:

The blimp is controlled by a transmitter on the ground, operated by a human. There are three control levers-- one for each motor, and one for the servo that rotates the axis they're attached to. You push / pull to make the motors speed up or slow down; they're controlled individually, it's like driving a tank. You need two Arduinos - one for the transmitter and one on the blimp itself.

I generate the hydrogen through the reaction that occurs when aluminum, water, and lye (NaOH) are mixed.

I'll go through the steps of building the transmitter first, then the blimp, and finally filling it up with gas.
If you persist, you too can rule the skies of your living room.


- 1 Arduino Duemilanove                       but really any of them would work
-Ramsey TX433 Transmitter Module                           see next slide for details / alternatives
- 3 100k Ohm potentionmeters             make sure they're the kind that rotate, you'll need to mount levers on them
- Assorted wires
- ~10 0.1" pin headers-- the standard kind that plug into Arduino sockets
- Elastic material    (?)               optional--  I used strips of elastic that they put in pant waistbands to make them stretch
-Wood                                            It comes from trees
-Right-angle joints                    I'm not sure if that's the right name--they're the metal angles that let you screw together two pieces of wood at right angles
-9v battery clip
-project board( a small one)      
-SPST switch for power                            i got mine from an ikea lamp

- 1 Arduino Nano                          
-Ramsey RX433 Receiver Module                   see next slide for details / alternatives
- Blimp envelope                    i used this one from Plantraco-- the same one the Blimpduino guys used
-Balsa Wood                      get it at Ace Hardware--I used a large flat piece plus assorted beams
-4 cotton balls                 for soft landings!
-1 7.4V 2 cell LiPo battery          I got it here -- you could absolutely use a smaller one
- 2 brushed motors w/ propellers               I used these and their corresponding propellers      ( stolen from the incredible Hummingblimp)
- 1 small servo                 I used a really tiny 2g digital servo, also from Hobbyking. I can't find it on their website, but you could use anything with a similar low weight
-Project Board               you'll need three small pieces, each around an inch to 2 inches to a side
-4 3906 PNP transistors        or similar
-10 3904 NPN transistors
1 7805 voltage regulator
-1 100 uF capacitor
-power switch
-4x 100K ohm resistor            

-2x 0.5 uF capacitor
-2 pin headers                     
-assorted wiring                   12 of the wires will need 0.1" socket endings to fit the Arduino's pins; my Nano came with them. you may not be so lucky. Another note on wiring: it adds a lot of weight to the blimp and adds up quickly, so make it as short and light as possible. Wherever possible I used those really thin grey wires that run through data bus connectors inside computers.
-1 drinking straw , coffee straw
-4 pairs of velcro pads            
they're about 1 sq. in, with adhesive on the back. I think they sell them at places like Staples

Hydrogen Production
-1 flask with a spout           mine had a spout near that top that 1/4" tubing fit over nicely
-1/4" tubing                          If you're not using some sort of buffer container, you'll probably want at least three feet
-Lye                                      I get mine in 500g containers at Ace. For exact amounts see H2 production step
-Aluminum                        Soda cans, heating ducts--use your imagination. You'll need at least 120 grams for one fill
-Ice                                     Lots and lots of ice
- Good gloves                 Lye can and will burn you, especially if you're dumb like me. Use gloves that are intended for labs where dangerous chemicals are used.
-A rubber stopper           or other means of completely sealing your flask
- A sealed catheter bag (optional)      handy as a buffer and for controlling the flow of gas


-Soldering iron / solder                 Make sure it has a fine tip; grind it down if necessary.
-Drill press / hand drill                  for making the control levers
-A computer
- A saw

- x-acto hobby knife                  for cutting balsa
-Glue                                      It mainly needs to join balsa to balsa; any wood glue you have will probably be fine.
- A good scale                  for measuring lye and aluminum--as well as your blimp.
-Wire cutters

-oscilloscope               optional but really really useful

Below I included a zip file which contains the schematics for the transmitter and receiver, as well as the Arduino sketches for each of them -- those are the .ino's. Please note that the schematics are, well, schematic, but they won't actually map to the right parts if you try to create PCB's from them. The eagle .lbr parts are not exact, they're just diagrams that I used to help with the wiring, which I did by hand.

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You blimp looks awesome, only the code is without any doubt the most incomprehensible code I have ever seen! I can't make heads or tails from it. Could you explain the how te code works? I really like the 433 MHz set I got, but I haven't found a clear code that I can adapt to my homemade rover.

Darn, I have been trying to figure out your code for quite some time, IT-IS-SO-SIMPLE, I have tried to use virtualwire but then I can't use the servo library (they hate each other). Thanks for sharing it!
CR15P331 year ago
when I first read the title I accidently read "Hydrogen bomb."
station4201 year ago
Nice work on this project! I had the same 433 Rx Tx units and could never get them to communicate properly! Definitely one of the best troubleshooting sections I've read!
nemoskull1 year ago
this soo reminds me of the hindenburg. tho to be fair, hydrogen had nothing to do with the explosion. zinc paint(?!) was the problem.
very cool project.
tho 433mhz might not be legal in USA, but even a toy car with arduino could work
You are my hero. I have tried filling a smaller blimp with hydrogen in the same way, but using only very small amounts of lye (five attempts with no success). I would love to build a setup like this some day, especially one using a hydrogen fuel cell for power. One question: does the water buffer remove any steam or water vapor from the hydrogen entering the envelope? I always worried about getting water in it. Thanks for a very informative 'ible.
btimar (author)  droid_mechanic1 year ago
You're right to be worried about water vapor. It will only be a problem if you let the reaction get too hot, which will make it start steaming or even boil if it gets out of hand. If you make sure it doesn't get more than a little warm ( I dunno, 75 deg F), the water vapor will be negligible. If you're really worried about it, you could try running the gas through a percolator to cool it down before it enters the envelope (meaning some of the vapor would condense out). The buffer I have is mainly to prevent any water in liquid form that bubbles up from getting close to the envelope. Don't give up on lye!
Awesome. Love the chemistry lab details and the troubleshooting section.
btimar (author)  piles.of.spam1 year ago