Choose Flight Controller for Quadcopter

The number of mini quad flight controllers on the market can be overwhelming for beginners. This guide aims to explain some of the considerations in choosing the best flight controller for your quadcopter. I will also introduce you to some iconic and popular FC boards.

Index of Content

What is a Quadcopter Fight Controller

A flight controller (a.k.a FC) is the brain of the aircraft. It is basically a circuit board that has built-in sensors that detects orientation changes. It also receives user commands, and controls the motors in order to keep the quadcopter in the air.

Nearly all flight controllers have basic sensors such as Gyro (Gyroscopes) and Acc (Accelerometer). Some FC might include more advanced sensors such as Barometer (barometric pressure sensors) and magnetometer (compass).

Flight controller is also a hub for many other peripherals, such as GPS, LED, Sonar sensor etc.

FC Firmware

Apart from the difference in hardware, they might also use different firmware that are specialized in different applications.

Modern FC firmware normally can be configured via software on a computer or smartphone. “Tuning” is the term we use in the multirotor hobby when we configure our quads. Because when we change PID, rates and certain settings, it changes how the multirotor performs. The GUI and parameters are different from firmware to firmware, so there is certain level of learning curve getting into each of them.

Here are some of the major software choices for quadcopters categorized by applications.

Mini Quad and Racing Drones

The 3 major players in FC firmware currently are:

  • Betaflight (fork of Cleanflight, taking over Cleanflight)
  • Raceflight (support other FC, but primarily runs on their own board)
  • KISS (only support their own flight controller)

Other FC firmware for mini quad are also available:

  • Baseflight (dead)
  • Cleanflight (Based on Baseflight, but it’s kind of going out of fashion)
  • dRonin (fork of Taulabs)

GPS and Autopilot Systems

Main features: Way-point, loiter, return to home, etc. Mainly used for Aerial Photography and filming, and Autonomous missions.

  • Ardupilot
  • Naza
  • iNav (fork of Cleanflight)

Other Open Source Projects

  • Multiwii (the beginning of mini quad flight controller firmware; started with the sensors in a Nintendo Wii Motion handle and Arduino board and later using dedicated 8-bit platforms; eventually it was ported to 32-bit platforms by Baseflight)
  • LibrePilot (previously known as OpenPilot)
  • Taulabs (fork of OpenPilot)

There are also flight controllers that don’t use computer software. They might have a built-in LCD that allows you to change FC settings on the go, or It might not even allow you to change settings at all.

For GPS autonomous flying, you probably should be looking at either Ardupilot or Naza depends on the kind of boards you use.

Your firmware choice affects FC buying decision. A FC might support multiple firmware or locked down to one firmware. I recommend choosing a FC firmware you want to use first, then look at what FC are compatible.

In the rest of this article, we will focus on how to choose a good flight controller for mini quad FPV drone racing and freestyle.

How To Choose a Flight Controller for Mini Quad

Here are a list of considerations when picking up a mini quad FC.

Processor

Currently, you have 3 main types of CPU to choose from: F1, F3, F4; I would recommend buying a F3 or F4 for now, we have reached the limit of F1; There is news about F7 FC

Sensor: Type of Gyro and Bus

Some types of Gyro sensor are more vulnerable to noise (both electrical and mechanical noise); you want to avoid MPU’s include MPU6500 and MPU9250. The type of “BUS” is how the sensor is connected to the processor. It can have a significant effect on sampling rate and maximum looptime. The preferred BUS is SPI, which allows you to run Gyro refresh rate at 8KHz+, while I2C limits you at 4KHz

Flash Memory or SD Logger for Blackbox

These are used for blackbox tuning and troubleshooting. Some flight controllers might have built-in dataflash memory, some might have Open loggers that allows you to insert a SD card.

Connector Types

I personally would avoid plastic JST connectors as they are less durable although they allow you to connect/disconnect easily. I like solder pads, but sometimes with low quality boards, they tend to peel off quite easily when you overheat them just slightly. I like “through-holes” which gives you the option of direct soldering or using header pins.

Integrated Voltage Regulator

with voltage regulator your board can provide 5V even 12V voltage outputs, which allows you to power the board directly from your LiPo battery (or even VTX and FPV camera). It also means the FC can monitor your battery voltage too without extra VBAT wiring.

Integrated PDB

with PDB integrated into the FC, your ESC can be connected directly to the FC and no additional PDB or wire harness is required (one board vs 2 boards). But the downside is usually the tiny soldering pads that is extremely hard to work with given the tight space.

Number of UART’s

UART is the hardware serial port that allows you to connect external devices such as OSD, SmartPort Telemetry, Race Transponder, VTX control etc. F1 FC normally has 2 UART’s, while F3 and F4 can have between 3 to 5.

Integrated Current Sensor

Having a current sensor has been proven invaluable: it’s a much better indicator than VBAT for when you should land and great tool for testing.

More about current sensor and calibration.

Other extra features you might like

  • Bootloader button – a button you can press to “force” flash firmware, it saves you from trouble of soldering bridges (why use bootloader button on FC)
  • Integrated OSD
  • Integrated VTX
  • Baro/Mag (these are less important in racers)
  • RX Support – make sure the FC support the type of radio receiver protocol you plan to use, such as PWM, PPM, SBUS, Spektrum Satellite and so on
  • AIO options – “All in one” flight controller is one single board, but has nearly everything built into it that you need in a quad: FC, ESC, PDB, RX. The downside is if something fails it’s likely that you’d have to replace the whole setup

Flight Controller Choices

For a more up to date list for mini quad targeted FC, check out my mini quad parts list: https://oscarliang.com/250-mini-quad-part-list-fpv/#fc

For recommendation here are a list of top 5 FC that were voted by our community: https://oscarliang.com/top-5-best-fc-mini-quad/

42 thoughts on “Choose Flight Controller for Quadcopter

  1. Keenflyer

    Hello and thanks for the great post. I am wanting to create a drone to do maintenance work on skyrise buildings and it will need to work in close proximity to the building without hitting it (1 or 2 meter range). Do you have any advice for flight controllers for the following;
    a) Human operated with collision avoidance so it doesnt hit the building, or
    b) Computer operated with collision avoidance

    Many thanks in advance.

    Reply
  2. kukumeka

    Which FC is more suitable to lift payload of 5lb even though they are not placed in balanced positions and lift platform 4 feet off ground

    Reply
  3. Debo

    Hi oscar,
    Great post as usual. so oscar, i would like to know whats the difference between apm and pixhawk? are they just like the naze32 and flip32(flip being a naze clone)?
    thanks in advance

    Reply
  4. Dr Colin Lloyd

    Hi Oscar,
    This explanation has been both instructive and confusing for me when trying to choose an FC. I am currently building an ImmersionRC Xugong V2 Pro folding quadcopter. I want this as a backpackable hobby (i.e. not professional) video/photo “follow-me” quadcopter when I am walking in hills/mountains etc.
    I seem to have two options – either a normal RC Tx control or (my preference) a Tablet control. I don’t need FPV, racing or acrobatic capability. Either way my FC board has to have GPS capability – either internal or external. But I’m not sure which is the best route. I’m capable of hardware/software setups within the Raspberry Pi/Arduino arena – but with all the other possibilities of things going wrong when assembling a quadcopter from scratch – I probably would like to start with a known quantity as far as the FC is concerned. At this stage I’d rather start with a budget board -see what happens and then go up the ladder as I become more knowledgeable as far as capability/ease of use etc is concerned.

    Reply
    1. Oscar Post author

      it sounds like you should be looking at the APM / Pixhawk route, however I am not familiar with that area yet, currently i fly mostly acro boards :)

      Reply
  5. Nivash

    Hi Oscar

    Please advise me
    I have a flip32 and need to connect to a X8R receiver. The receiver connects with Sbus as well
    Can I use a Sbus to cppm decoder to complete my setup. Or what can I do

    Thankx

    Reply
  6. suhaas

    Hi Oscar,
    I want to build my first quadcopter i hav got all my materials but struck wit the fc ..my only specification regarding my quadcopter is that it must be completely flexible for me to control it in any manner .like for ex: it must not just fly and land but also perform all acrobatics like flip ,inverted flight ..I hope u got me …. i was suggested a KK v5.5 FC ,,wil this work or should I use some other …mail me if any suggestions ..
    Kindly help

    Reply
    1. Oscar Post author

      HI Gust,

      yes it should work fine with Cleanflight firmware :)

      by the way, I recommend joining this forum, it’s very useful and there are lots of helpful people there. I am a daily user too :) http://intoFPV.com

      Reply
  7. ZukenJ

    Hi Oscar,

    I know this article is some how old, but I am building a quad 450 and I am thinking on the APM 2.6, AM 2.8 or the OpenPilot CC3D Revolution Revo 10DOF STM32F4.

    Wandering if you can recommend one, links to vendors:
    APM 2.8:amazon.com/Hobby-Ace-Apm2-8-Controller-Absorber-Multicopter/dp/B015CPDD4W/ref=sr_1_2?s=toys-and-games&ie=UTF8&qid=1452720299&sr=1-2&keywords=APM+2.8

    AMP 2.6: amazon.com/Andoer-Flight-Controller-Multicopter-Quadcopter/dp/B00Q496EOM/ref=sr_1_1?s=toys-and-games&ie=UTF8&qid=1452720493&sr=1-1&keywords=APM+2.6

    CC3D Revo: banggood.com/OpenPilot-CC3D-Revolution-Revo-10DOF-STM32F4-Flight-Controller-Staight-Pin-p-1000068.html

    I really appreciated your help.

    Reply
  8. macfly1202

    Hi Oscar,
    Perhaps you could has the Pixfalcon and Pixracer ? They are Stm32f4 series.
    Thanks for your great and outstanding blog.

    Reply
  9. Pablo

    Hi Oscar,

    I’m building a F550 hexacopter and I have the motors,ESC,propellers,frame and battery, but I don’t know how to choose a good and cheap flight controller.I’ve seen the APM 2.8 and Flip32. Which do you recommend?Or another model?.I’d like to include a GPS or telemetry in the future to have the option to return home.

    Thanks.

    Reply
      1. Pablo

        Hi Oscar,
        Will be possible with Apm 2.8 with gps M8N to have return home and fail safe with 6 channels transmitter and receiver.I read that is also possible the option of follow you, What is necessary for this?

        Thanks.

  10. Giorgio Di Lella

    Hi Oscar,

    I am presently building a DJI 550mm Hexacopter. I presently have a quad that I picked up used. It came with 1000Kv motors, 30 Amp ESC a KKK2.0 Flight Controller board.

    I would like a FPV Setup with all the options available from the start…GPS, Compass and the “Return To Home” feature, and so on. Most suggest the Naza system. I see others also but don`t know were to begin.

    All I want to do is fly over trees and record the video.

    Thx.

    Reply
  11. Oscar Jr.

    Hi Oscar, here is Oscar too!

    Thanks for sharing those valuable informations. I just wanna know about SLT protocol and those FC, is there anyone compatible with ? I have this Tactic TTX650 with TR625 Rx and I’m intending to use a MultiWiiPro or a Naze32 Full in a RoboCat 275. What do you think, will it work?

    Cheers!

    Reply
  12. Ray Tillman

    Hi Oscar,
    I think its wrong to bad mouth someone you have never dealt with on the word of people who might have alterior motives. I am of course talking about your timecop comments. I had a defective naze32 when he first started producing them and he sent me a replacement , no arguments, only asked if i would mind sending him the bad board back so he could see what went wrong. Recently i bought four afromini’s and he sent me a free acro naze32. You have to remember that his forum was never meant for people like me(hobbyist) but as a base for stm32 development types. I agree he doesnt suffer fools gladly but as long as you read the manual first and try to solve your problem yourself first, he is fine. He has always treated me with respect and courtesy and most people he is short with ask him stupid questions that normal people would google first. When he first developed the naze32 it was a clone/reworking of a Chinese 32 bit board called FreeFlight and he really didnt want to go into production full time as he was just a hobby flyer who saw the limitations of 8 bit technology and wanted to move on to a 32 bit FC’s but within the multiwii community. He developed Baseflight from scratch and the naze32 grew from the FreeFlight board. Its a hobby to him, he never wanted the naze32 to get so big and take up so much of his time . If you check back to his break with rcgroups (who treated him abysmally) he makes it clear he doesn’t need the money or the hassle involved , its just a hobby project that grew out of hand. In the beginning there was Open Pilot with 32 bit boards that cost £100 there was no choice then. Now because of the naze32 and its derivatives i can get a board for less than £15 And its better, and mainly because of timecop. So dont knock what you dont know !

    Reply
    1. Oscar Post author

      Hi Ray, thanks for your comment, and sorry if I hurt your feeling. I was totally just describing what I have observed, none of my words about Timecop are personal. You are right, he did some amazing work about Naze32. Please see Baseflgith VS Cleanflight for more information.

      Reply
  13. MrSatoV

    Hi Oscar, been a while since we chatted. XD
    Nice article. I know it’s old, so it’s probably expected to be a little out of date.
    There are also some very valid DIY boards for those who are not afraid of such things. FlyingF3, DiscoveryF3 and DiscoveryF4… several. Of course, the Sparky series are actually opensource, same as CC3D was, and you can even have the boards made on oshpark.com, buy all the bits and pieces, solder them on yourself and VOILA, a homemade Spark v1 or v2. XD Except, when I checked, it costs pretty much the same if you’re doing 1-3 boards anyway, so may as well just buy a ready made one.

    My advice to newcomers is to watch aliexpress.com for sales on the Sparky v1.1. They can be had for about $26 – $28 if you wait and watch. I’ve bought two this way. You could pay half for a CC3D clone, and that will get you flying, but it won’t do GPS return to home, or anything like that. Naze32/Flip32 10dof will, but there are features that already are not supported on them, and most are crappy clones anyway. True that what I got off aliexpress are clones, but I can vouch for the fact that the quality is good, and performance is noticeably better than any F1 board. Can’t beat that value.

    Reply
    1. Oscar Post author

      Great info, thanks so much :)
      I need to update this post, but just haven’t got the time yet :) soon, my friend, soon…

      Reply
  14. Pratik

    Hi Oscar,

    I want to build a quadcopter with the following specification : FPV, Sensor and Tracking( gps system).. which FC should i use to make the quad witht he above mentioned specs.
    Plz reply ,or email me… any help or suggesion would help me.

    NOTE : A quadcopter that has GPS + FPV + Tracking sytem! .. All in One bro ;)

    Reply
      1. Pratik

        What do u suggest according! …

        the FC should help in Tracking as well as sensing part.. FPV is an ad on.
        It should help me stabilize my quad..!!

        This will be my Final Year project,,,so plz suggest ur expert ideas :)

  15. Gustavo A Gonalez

    Hi Oscar,

    I am currently in a Senior Design group and our project revolves around a quadcopter. In our design report we need to describe and outline some possible decisions between Flight Controllers, and your post has helped immensly in that regard. I would like to ask if we could use your chart/list (with credit of course) in our report?

    Reply
  16. Rafak

    bro… awesome review, comparison charts just help SO MUCH, my mind was already kinda made up about the Naze32 Full, your post was just the missing OK TO GO! … lol …… im newbie to all this quadcopters thing and looking to build my first 250mm FPV and i have a very newbie question …. what should i look for,, vertical or horizontal pins on the FC? (considering im going for a 250mm quad frame) …. ty so much bro…your blog is AWESOME!!!

    Reply
  17. Epasko

    need a TX for all of these
    I hope this what I got will work
    please say yes I will donate!

    I canhttps://www.banggood.com/index.php?com=account&t=ordersDetail&ordersId=6447656 get them separate
    any recommend?
    Steerix x4 quad I Have
    My 250 build I want as per your recommend
    Syma X5c 2.4g Naze Acro
    Flip32 ?

    Reply
    1. Oscar Post author

      i can’t see your link, it’s your order and only you can see it.
      send me the product page or product name please.
      for Flight controller, get the Naze32 acro :)

      Reply
  18. APMFriend

    Please also note, that APM/ArduCopter has a much improved Acro Mode since 3.1 – when comparing it to Multiwii it feels nearly identical. You are right though – on earlier implementations before 3.1, Acro Mode on APM was not so good! :)

    Reply
  19. CrazyCoder

    The Brain FPV has integrated OSD hardware which is handy, butvery little market share for some reason.

    It was released last week. Of course it has little market share.

    Reply
  20. CrazyCoder

    “Sparky, Quanton and Brain FPV Flight controllers were all based on OpenPilot’s project.”

    This is not correct. Naze32 is based on MultiWii, being a 32-bit port of MultiWii. Sparky, Quanton and Brain FPV are using Tau Labs firmware which is a fork of OpenPilot.

    Reply

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I don't look at blog comments very often (maybe once or twice a week), so if you have any questions related to multirotor please post it on this forum IntoFPV.com... You're likely to get a response from me faster on there.