TAke a deep breath
It'll all be made clear soon.
Building a drone for your own has never been easier, although the task may seem daunting at first. That's why this guide exists! Before you jump off into a shopping spree, figure out a few things first:
- Whats my budget? Can I afford a few crashes on a more fragile frame for the sake of speed?
- Do I care more about top speed or agility? Drone racing generally requires more agility, but we'll get to that..
- Goggles or monitor? Explained below, but try to find some guys to experience both first
The first thing on your list is a frame. This is (at least for me), the most exciting thing about the process. Generally, if you are just starting out, you want something that's either very durable or very cheap. I'd recommend the QR 200 if you're looking for a quality frame that will take a beating and ask for more. If you're looking for something budget friendly, you can pick up a ZMR250 (or clone) for as little as $25, although you may have to replace an arm or two in the future. You can't go wrong either way. Three things to consider:
- Frame size (either measured in millimeters, often 200-250, or in prop inch size, usually 4"-6")
- Style points - get a frame that stands out. everyone loves a classy quad
- Carbon thickness - Its usually cited on the product page. More thickness = more crashes. 4mm is a good starting point
Flight Controller (FC)
Your flight controller is the brains of the quad, its what makes throttle rev the motors and it organizes your stick movements into actual flight - pretty snazzy if you ask me! If you talk to the pros, they'll swear by certain chips because of their performance. While spending the big bucks on a great chip does make a difference, it is likely too small for you to feel at first, and they are easy to replace in the future. I personally like the KISS FC, but something like a Naze 32 Rev6 would be perfect if you aren't comfortable soldering (make sure you get pins). Every flight controller works the same, some just have higher resolutions and faster loop times, so don't be too picky here.
- Power rating (2-6s is good)
- On board RX types (look for PPM and sat, explained below)
Power Distribution Board (PDB)
This is simple, and frankly, there are a few options and all of them are fine. This little board takes your battery power and feeds it to the motors. All you have to do is solder your ESC's onto the pads in the right order and you're done! I like the Matek Mini with the built in BEC's. Make sure you have:
- More than 25A rated over several seconds (I've never found one that isn't at least that high
- BEC outputs, 5 or 12v. These are handy
(BEC's are just outputs that cut down your battery's voltage to a predetermined one. Good for powering cameras and video transmitters)
Electronic Speed Controllers (ESC)
Tired of acronyms yet? I am. Never fear, we are getting to the fun part! ESC's are the heart of your quad. They take the current from the battery and feed it into the motors depending on how your flight controller shouts at them too. They are rated by amp draws. You want something that will easily handle what you throw at it while staying light (although this is less of a problem than it was when I first started). Rule of thumb, if you plan on using 4-5" props, 20A will be totally fine. 6" could use 20A but I'd go with 25 or higher. Maybe thats overkill, but burning out an ESC is never fun. I like the ZTW 20A's. Just make sure you get quality components. Some things to consider:
- Does the ESC have a BEC built in? This powers the FC through the ESC. If it does not, you'll either have to power the FC directly from the PDB battery pads (If your FC is rated higher than 2s) or through a 5v BEC on the PDB.
- Do I care about SimonK or BLHeli? Not really, at this point. BLHeli is good because it allows programming, but you wont need this for a while.
THIS IS IT! You made it! Congrats. This is the hardest bit, but I promise you can do it. Motors are tricky and they have tricky naming systems so the first thing you have to do is look at what prop size you have. In the same way you'd make sure your kid has shoes that fit, you want to ensure that your motors are a good match for your props. Motors are rated by two things, size and kV. Size is always written as a 4 number sequence - something like 1806 or 2204. The first two numbers are the rotor diameter, and the second two are the height, measured in millimeters. While this isn't very useful, the kV scale can be used with the motor size to work out what size you need. kV stands for rpm per volt, so a 2300 kV motor on 4 volts would ideally rotate at 9200 rpm. This is invaluable when it comes to choosing your motors - bigger props spin slower. 4" needs a 2400-2700 kV motor, 5" 2200-2400, and 6" should be 1800-2200. Note these aren't exact, but most manufacturers have a recommended prop size. Don't be afraid to go with cheaper motors either. Many people prefer the Emax R Series over the more expensive Cobra's. I personally prefer SunnySky, but it can be difficult to get a set that isn't counterfeit. Make sure you:
- Have a motor that matches your props
- Is rated for up to 4s
We are almost done! Just a few more short items. The battery is a big one with two measurements. mAh is the battery's capacity and it is a good tell of how long you'll be flying. The "s" rating (number of cells) determines what voltage your battery is and how fast it'll fly.
- A 4-5" quad will be fine on a 3s 1300-1800 mAh battery while a 6" might warrant a 2200 mAh 3s. Don't start with 4s, you'll end up in the dirt... trust me on this...
- There are other ratings, but don't worry about those yet. Tattu and Lumenier are my goto battery companies
You will need packs of these
Lots of packs.
It doesn't matter what you buy at this point as long as you buy lots. The format for prop dimensions are AxBxC where A is the number of blades, B is the diameter (what we have referred to as 4", 5", or 6" here) and C is the pitch or "bite". Make sure you get 4 packs with 2 of each rotation.
Camera and VTX
These are your eyes in the sky and frankly, where the magic happens. FPV is all about putting yourself in the quad and flying in the most immersive way possible. The nice thing about these is that there are few bad options. I personally fly on no-name video transmitters because they work nearly as well as the double-the-price ones. Camera-wise, look for one that has good mounting options to your frame. I prefer the style of the HS1177 or the Foxeer Arrow v2, they both allow for easy angle adjustment. Video transmitters are nearly as simple, they only have one measurement that makes a difference - power output. You'll see this as a number followed my mW. The higher the power, the more resilience to signal drop and range. 200mW seems the norm, but you can fly outdoors with as little as 25mW, although that is generally saved for indoor flying. Wiring couldn't be simpler there, power from the camera (black and red) goes to the output power from the VTX. Video from camera goes to video on VTX. The VTX input leads go into the appropriate BEC for your voltage.
Receiver and Transmitter
This is a super important one as this will stick with you for quite a while. Take time to find a transmitter you like and that feels good in your hands! Generally FrSky, Spektrum, and Futaba are safe bets, but don't be afraid to pick one that suits you best. I use the Spektrum Dx6i, and it has enough functionality for me. Futaba and FrSky might give you more bang for your buck.
Found a radio you like? Good! Next is choosing a receiver to match! Before you begin, you have to figure out if you want to use PWM, PPM, or Sat. connections (more acronyms!)
- PWM: Stands for Pulse Width Modulation. All you need to know is that one wires carries one channel's signal, so you'll ultimately have 5 or more wires going from the receiver to your flight controller (Throttle, Elevator, Aileron, Yaw, Arm/Disarm
- PPM: Stands for Pulse Position Modulation. Its all signals on one wire which makes everything much cleaner in your build. I recommend starting here.
- Sat. Satellite connection. Not nearly as cool as it sounds, but sat. systems offer the highest reliability and functionality. Basically, your signal comes in from mini receivers (satellites), through a main receiver, and to your FC on one wire. Allows for potentially 4-way diversity. Can be a pain to set up.
I recommend PPM to start out with, and nearly every receiver supports it so don't be too picky. Lots of people like the HK OrangeRX line for Spektrum users.
This is it, the big finale! Its nice and simple. You'll need three things:
- Video goggles or monitor display - Make sure that your goggles fit your head (ask to try some on) and that your prescription can be met by the included diopter lenses. If you're going the monitor route, make sure your screen goes to static with no signal, not a black screen. Most monitors built for FPV are like this!
- Video Receiver - sometimes these are built into the goggles or monitor so this may not be necessary. If you do need one, diversity receivers are cheap and will work with any video transmitter! Just plug them in and away you go
- Antennas - Your VTX and VRX probably came with some black dipole antennas. While you CAN use these, I highly recommend picking up a set of proper omni directional's. Most of them are half decent, although I like the Aomway's to start out. They're cheap, and you can use them from your first flight to your last race. Just make sure you get them in pairs, LHCP to LHCP, RHCP to RHCP. The theory behind this is complicated, just know you want two of the same.
Besides a few tools, this is all you need to have a functioning quad! You can do all this for about $300, but a maxed out model can fetch upwards of $700. Spend what you are comfortable with. This is your creation!