A visitor asked me for advice how to start building a quadcopter after flying with a RTF (pre-built) drone. The flying experience and basic understanding with RC and FPV he has had will definitely help him with this first racing mini quad build. The path he should take could be different from a complete beginner’s.
Here are the original questions from him:
I am currently flying a pre-built Parrot Bebop drone and now want something more exciting. I am planning on getting into this hobby full force. I have been researching for weeks, but some things are still unclear. Can you please guide me in the right direction on my first build?
- I want to start with a “sporty” quadcopter or hexacopter. I found some 250mm and 290mm carbon fiber frames on ebay that look very cool. Is that big enough without being too big?
- I want a racing quad but I am spoiled by the Bebop video quality so I will need to be able to mount a gopro camera with gimbals for flying and racing
- I need something with over 10 minutes flight time
- I want to get a FPV goggles as well, with head tracking feature
- I want to have “follow me” feature if possible
I have been able to find most of the parts online. But most are vague as to how well they will all work together. I’m comfortable with a soldering iron and decent at coding, but how technical will I have to be to put this all together? I can’t imagine what is involved in programming a flight controller and what additional tools am I going to have to buy to get into this?
Learning the basics
I strongly recommend you to go through my guide on getting into mini quad and FPV first, these guides will explain most of the basics you need in order to build you first quadcopter: Getting into Mini Quad
Here is a step by step guide on how you can build your first racing drone.
The Choice of Frame Size
Between quadcopter and hexacopter, I think quadcopter is a much better choice if this is your first build, A quadcopter is a more versatile platform, great for racing, freestyle or aerial photography. It’s cheaper, easier to build and maintain since it’s using 2 fewer motors and ESC. If you are looking at compact form factor that delivers good efficiency, 5″ frames would be the best choice. (180mm to 220mm frames that can fit 5″ propellers are called 5″ frames, check this mini quad frame guide for more detail).
You can use bigger frames with larger propellers, but you won’t get as many component options as 5″ because it’s the main stream right now.
Although you can carry a camera gimbal on a mini quad, I would not recommend it.
I tried putting a 3-axis camera gimbal on a mini quad, the result looked great. However the mini quad didn’t fly very well due to the extra weight, and flight time was very short (about 5 mins). If you want a proper aerial filming platform it’s better to build a bigger 450 quadcopter, or just buy a DJI drone to avoid headaches.
For a mini quad you want to keep it as light as possible, that gives you longer flight time, faster speed and agility, and better durability (smaller mass, smaller impact).
Not to mention mini quad without gimbals can also produce stunning smooth footage with proper tuning.
Flight time is largely dependent on your flying style and how fast you fly. Also your choice of motor, propellers and LiPo battery also has a huge impact on flight time.
Many people mistake hover time with flight time. Hover time is more or less a constant value to a specific build, but flight time is can vary because it depends on how harsh you are on throttle.
Mini quad generally gives around 5 to 8 minutes flight time, and up to 15 mins of hover time.
Flying with FPV Goggles is probably why this hobby is so addictive. Quite a few FPV goggles on the market come with headtracking feature, but IMO it’s not for quadcopters but fixed wings. Head-tracking allows the onboard camera to turn left and right with the movement of your head. This is very useful on a fixed wing plane because it’s much harder to yaw than a multirotor.
“Follow me” feature on a mini quad
Standalone mini quad flight controllers don’t have “follow me” feature yet. This feature is normally only available on some consumer camera drones, such as the DJI Spark for example.
Flight controller software
Don’t worry about programming or coding, there is none involved in getting your quadcopter in the air nowadays. In most mini quad FC firmware, all the configurations can be done in nicely designed GUI’s.
What else to learn?
There is a learning curve in building a multicopter, but after you’ve built 1 or 2, things will get much easier. It requires some basic knowledge in electronics (like working out current, voltage, power, etc), good soldering skill, and being able to read basic wiring diagrams. You should be able to find the answers to your questions through Google, but in case you can’t feel free to ask in our multirotor forum.
I think you already have a good understanding of multicopters, building one shouldn’t be much of a problem for you. But like I said, this is your first build and you should keep it as simple as possible to avoid unnecessary issues. Getting it in the air and learn the basics of building a quadcopter is the key IMO.