- 1 Flying style
- 2 Frame
- 3 Motors & props
- 4 Electronics
- 5 FPV
- 6 Radio
- 7 Batteries
- 8 Miscellaneous items
- 9 Recommendations
- 10 Comments
The very first question that should be answered before building your drone is what you want to do with it. You won't choose the same items (frame, motors, ESC, ...) depending on whether you want to do racing, freestyle, long range, cinematic.
I would distinguish the following styles:
- racing: the best combo will be power/speed/light-weight.
- freestyle: power will be the main criteria. Smooth motors will also be appreciated by many freestylers.
- cinematic/long range: depending on how far you want to go, your main issue will probably be the motors, to find the right balance between speed and efficiency.
A lot of frames exist on the market, for different purposes. Here are some points you may want to consider:
- Frame size: the majority of the frames today are 5", 6" and 7", and they serve different purposes. 5" frames are commonly used in racing and freestyle while 6" and 7" are more widespread for long range. However, there are experienced people who will prefer to fly 5" frames for long range.
- Space: space is important because depending on how many elements you will want to add to your frame, it may become a nightmare to place all of them in a frame that has no space. For example, on the Flowride frame, space may become an issue if you have a 4-in-1 ESC stacked with the flight controller, and you want to add a big capacitor, a GPS, a buzzer, a diversity RX. It doesn't mean that you won't be able to place them all, but they will likely be close to each other, which may not be the best option (e.g. best to have the RX as far as possible from the VTX)
- price: the price of a frame may be an important point to consider, unless you have a lot of money to spend. There are very expensive frames that are not that better than cheaper ones. For example, I've flown with the AstroX frame which I really loved (but expensive one) as well as the Flowride (much cheaper) which is also a great one.
- quality/solidity: frames are made of carbon sheets that are compressed. The carbon used and resulting quality may vary a lot, but if you choose a known frame, you are likely not to be disappointed. I started with a GB210 frame bought on gearbest which had a very poor quality. Crashes have been fatal and the frame had a bad time. On the other hand, I crashed many times with my AstroX and it resisted to most of them. Some frames will be pre-chamfered (rounded edges), which is good to increase resistance to crashes. If your frame is not chamfered, I recommend doing it manually.
- weight: this is important to consider weight for racing and long range. The heavier it will be, the more power it will need to fly. May not be your main question for freestyle.
- interchangeable items: this may be an important point to consider if you are likely to break something often on your quad (e.g. freestyle, racing). Are arms interchangeable? Can you buy them individually or should you reorder the complete frame? This may not be relevant for long range as you are less likely to crash.
- available accessories: some frames come with a lot of accessories to protect your arms, to put additional items like the HD camera, antenna holders, ... However, even if there are not a lot of official items available, chances are that you will find what you're looking for on 3D print websites (e.g. bmc3d.co, thingiverse.com, ...)
- availability: take care of this. If you're buying a frame that is only available in another country, anticipate the customs taxes. Also take into account that some items may no longer be available. For example, I bought an AstroX first generation and broke an arm. I was very frustrated that this item was not available anymore on my favorite online shop, because the new version had replaced it.
Motors & props
Motors are determined by:
- your flying style (freestyle, long range, racing)
- the speed (low kV, high kV). Low kV motors will probably let you fly more time while high kV will generally consume more.
- the torque: the force that turns your propellers
- the efficiency (some motors will drain your battery in 3 minutes while others will let you fly 10 minutes or more)
- the size (depends on the props size, itself depending on the frame size)
For my 5", I loved the JohnnyFPV 2207 2700kV motors, and for my 6" Long Range quad, I love my T-Motor F80Pro 2408 1900kV motors
There is no good or bad choice for props. All you need to do is buy some and test them to make your own opinion and choose the one you prefer.
Some props though are widespread in the drone community, like the HQProp 5x4.3x3 on 5" quads. I really like the DAL6045 for my 6".
Points to consider might be:
- bipale, tripale or quadripale: tripale is the best choice in my opinion for most of the flying styles, but some people prefer bipale for the long range
- flexible or rigid prop: I tend to believe that rigid props are better because they will easily break in case of crash, which is better for your motors
- durability: probably a point to consider if you crash often
- efficiency: there are some props that will drain your battery in seconds while others are better for long range. You'll need to test yourself with different props
- vibrations: vibrations can be caused because of unbalanced props or just because these props are not good for your quad. If you notice unexpected vibrations, change props for another brand to confirm, before you investigate on other parameters
You should consider the following points to choose your ESC:
- 4-in-1 ESC or individual ESC: both have pros and cons. A 4-in-1 ESC is stackable but you will likely not be able to add a PDB (not needed in most cases though). Remember to put a big capacitor, especially if you fly with 6S lipos. Also a faulty ESC on that kind of configuration will probably mean that you will spend more money to replace it. On the other side, chances are that you will need a PDB if you choose individual ESCs, but a dead ESC will be easily replaced. For this kind of configuration, some people recommend to put capacitors on each ESC, especially if you fly with 6S lipos.
- Voltage and continuous amps / burst: consider the maximum continuous amps the ESC can admit, especially if you plan to fly with 5 or 6S lipos. For example, if you plan to fly with 6S lipos, the battery will drain up to 25.2V. Ensure that the ESC is 6S ready. Same rule applies to amps; if you plan to plug a 1800mA/95C lipo, it will drain up to 1.8*95=171A. Of course there are other parameters to consider, but I will recommend to ensure that your ESC is cooled with a continuous air flow.
- Reliability: I would recommend that you rely on widely tested ESC rather than choose unknown/untested ones. The more positive feedbacks, the more likely reliable your ESC will be
- Supported protocols: oneshot, multishot, dshot
- Compatibility: ensure that your ESC will be compatible with your FC. For example, even if it's possible to use non-KISS ESC in combination with a KISS Flight Controller, it will probably be easier to use KISS ESCs.
The more power you're providing to your quad, the more likely you will need a capacitor. Low ESR capacitors will help clean up the power and are beneficial for a better FPV signal, better filtration of the noise for the flight controller, hence better flight characteristics.
I recommend the following low ESR capacitors:
|4in1 ESC||4S, 5S||1000uF 35V|
|separ. ESCs||4S, 5S||470uF 35V|
More information can be found here
Flight Controller (FC)
The flight controller is the brain of your quad. For that reason, it can be tricky to choose the appropriate one for your needs. Below are a few things that you should consider:
- firmware: do you want KISS, F1, BetaFlight, ButterFlight? once you have chosen, it will filter a lot of available flight controllers. Be aware that some vendors have custom firmware (e.g. BrainFPV has its own BetaFlight repository, which results in delays to have the latest releases of BetaFlight. It should not be a big deal, but if you want to test the latest releases immediately, that may not be the best option for you).
- processor: F4 or F7? Good question and no good answers. It really depends on preferences. Some people tend to believe that F7 is the new generation and you should forget F4. I'm not in agreement with this statement. I've a BrainFPV Radix which is a great F4 flight controller and it gives me full satisfaction.
- barometer: Some flight controllers have an integrated barometer. If you flight with BetaFlight and decide to do long range, I would highly recommend to have a barometer. If you don't, BetaFlight will still be able to assess your altitude with GPS but it will be less accurate. It is highly recommended to protect your barometer with a piece of foam in order to avoid incorrect values.
- BEC: Flight Controllers have Battery Eliminator Circuits (BEC) with 5V and 10 or 12V outputs. Make a plan of what you want to plug on it and ensure that you will have enough BECs to power all the stuff (FPV camera, VTX, RX, buzzer, GPS, LEDs), especially if you don't plan to use a PDB.
- Current sensor: having a current sensor is not an option. It will tell you how many amps have been consumed and will report the value in your OSD.
- SD Card slot: some flight controllers have a SD card slot that will let you store flight logs on it
- Integrated OSD: some flight controllers are now shipped with an internal OSD. I love the OSD built by Radix with the vertical bars for the speed and altitude, it's unique:
Video Transmitter (VTX) and video antenna
This is probably something of less importance if you do racing or freestyle but if you do mid/long-range, this will probably become one of your main concern.
My experience demonstrated that:
- the antenna should be the longest possible (pigtail) so that it is not hidden by any element of your quad (frame, battery, HD camera) whatever its position in the space
- you avoid as many connectors as possible (if you can, avoid a pigtail from your VTX to the antenna). This is not always possible though
I have very good results with the AXII Long (very good antenna), the VAS Ion v2 (the pigtail is a bit too flexible though), and am in the process of testing the Double Quad DragonFire 5,8ghz Longrange
Video Receiver (VRX) and antennas
There are several choices but remember that the radio is an important item to consider. Points to consider to choose your radio:
- Compatibility of the radio transmitter you want to install on it (e.g. Crossfire).
- Number of available channels
- Operating system
- Telemetry support
The following radio are common in the quad and wings community:
- FrSky Taranis X9D+ (SE): this is what I have and I'm very happy with it. It's a bit expensive and heavy but this is my favorite.
- FrSky Q X7 and Q X7S
- FrSky Taranis X-Lite
- FrSky Horus X10 and X10S
- FrSky Horus X12S
- Spektrum DX6
- Futaba 16SZ
Radio transmitter (TX) and radio antenna
- I'm used to the Crossfire micro and Crossfire light (the same as the Crossfire full but without bluetooth) and have tried the Crossfire stock antenna, the Crossfire diamond and the True-Mox and my preference goes for the True-Mox because it is tuned for my radio frequency (868mhz).
- The diamond antenna works also great but it is not tuned for a specific radio frequency (915Mhz or 868Mhz). However, it's been said by TBS that they are 80% as efficient as if they would be tuned for a given frequency, which will be acceptable because you can fly dozens of kilometers.
- There are also some people who like the FrSky R9M TX for their radio but I could not tell how it compares to Crossfire
- For long range, there are some other people who like the Dragon Link systems but I could not tell much on this topic because I've never tested it.
Radio receiver (RX) and antenna
I recommend TBS Crossfire RX because they are very reliable and will let you fly with confidence kilometers.
- TBS Crossfire Nano RX
- TBS Crossfire Diversity Nano RX
Depending on your radio TX, you may consider different RX.
Especially if you fly long-range, the RX antenna will be an important factor. Many people fly with the immortal-T antenna, placed under the arm. Keep in mind that this is a great antenna but it's not tuned to a given frequency (868Mhz or 915Mhz). In addition, placing the antenna horizontally is not the best place for long-range because it increases the likelihood of a null.
I build my antennas myself because I want them to be tuned to my frequency (78mm for 915Mhz and 82mm for 868Mhz). In addition, it lets you choose the length of the pigtail, which I choose long enough to allow the passive element of the antenna to be high enough. Refer to this post if you want to learn more.
If you can, your antenna should be vertical and long enough. For a diversity receiver, the other antenna should be horizontal.
A buzzer shouldn't be an option. It's cheap and can save your life. I really recommend the Vifly2 buzzer because it has a battery that charges when the quad is powered on. If you crash and your battery is unplugged, your buzzer will still beep during several hours. The Vifly2 also comes with a LED that flashes to help you find your lost quad during at night.
A GPS is not mandatory but highly recommended, especially if you fly mid/long-range. It is also one of the cheapest item for your drone. Considering it can save your life, I would not recommend to fly without one.
It will serve 2 main purposes:
- show your home direction (arrow) and the distance to your home
- Betaflight has a nice feature called GPS-rescue that will bring your quad to you (don't consider it as a fully automated assistant though)
Several GPS are used by the drone community but you can buy a BN-180 or BN-220, which are cheap but great GPS.
The HD camera can be one of the most expensive item on your quad. Choose it carefully depending on what you want to shoot.
- Runcam 3: cheaper camera that has a good image quality for racing
- Gopro session 5: cheapest of the gopro cameras, but does not have native stabilization features.
- Gopro 7 black: great camera, probably the best at the moment for shooting all kind of situations. However, it is expensive so not everybody will be able to afford it, and remember that you can also loose your quad, or crash, which can make you reluctant.
- ND filter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2G97g5jbDL8
Building your drone
Water proof your quad (especially if you plan to fly in wet environments, fog, clouds, snow)
- I use to protect my electronics with Tropicoat
Before you build your drone:
- ensure that you have a clear overview of what goes where. I always spend days making my diagrams, checking that everything will be fine. It will also help you a lot when you will be in the process of soldering the components.
- Place the components inside the frame before soldering them. That helps cutting the wires to the correct lengths.
When connecting your very first lipo:
- Always double check what you've soldered with a magnifying glass. If you're not happy with a solder joint, do it again.
- Check with a multimeter that there is no short
- Never plug your first lipo without a smoke stopper. It costs a few buckets only and can save your quad.
Before the very first flight:
- Make a first test in a wide area without your goggles.
- Hover a few seconds to check the behavior of your quad.
- If anything looks wrong, stop and try to analyze where the issue may come from.
Don't be too ambitious
Take care of what you see on Youtube. You will see some people flying above the clouds or 5 kilometers. Remember that 3 kilometers is already a lot for a quad, and you will need confidence and experience. Be prepared (can you fly 3 kms and forth and back with a 1300mA 4S lipo?). You will probably learn from your mistakes but it's better if you can avoid some. Loosing a quad means a lot of money for most of us, especially if the quad was caring a gopro.
Experience has to be progressive and smart. Progressively increase your range on a wide field instead of directly flying high in the mountains. Make sure to have an objective and understand what it costs in terms of money and time to achieve your goals.
Check list before you fly
- Enough satellites acquired (at least 6)
- DVR enabled on your googles
- Crossfire TX powered on with external battery
- Fan plugged in on your goggles
Plan your flight
Use Google maps to prepare your flight, choose the best spot where you will be LOS all the time
Analyze your logs
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