Review – EMAX Nighthawk Pro 280 Racing Mini Quad

If you are into mini quadcopter racing, but don’t like building and soldering, the EMAX Nighthawk Pro 280 racing mini quad might be for you. In this article we will introduce and review the Nighthawk Pro 280 ARTF Kit.

EMAX is a decent brand for budget RC stuff, and their products perform relatively well. The Nighthawk Pro 280 is an almost complete racing quad, which is a cheap alternative to the ImmersionRC vortex.

Get your EMAX Nighthawk Pro 280 from RCGeeks from the UK.

Get your EMAX Nighthawk Pro 280 from GearBest from China. (RTF Kit)

emax-nighthawk-pro-280-mini-quad-box emax-nighthawk-pro-280-mini-quad-unboxing-open-box

emax-nighthawk-pro-280-mini-quad-side

Is the Emax Nighthawk Pro 280 good value?

Just looking at the parts, it’s a pretty good deal in my opinion. If you are going to buy those parts separately, it would cost more:

  • 4 x Emax MT2204 motors = $60
  • 4 x Emax 12A ESC = $40
  • Naze32 Full = $45
  • Emax Pro Frame = $60
  • FPV camera / VTX combo = $30
  • LED bar = $5
  • Tilted motor mounts = $10

That’s $250 already excluding tax and shipping! And not to mention there is literally no soldering and assembling involved to get this kit working. For the ARF version, you only need a lipo battery, and a radio transmitter to start flying. (if you want to fly FPV you will also need a video receiver and Goggles or monitor to view the transmitted video, for more info on FPV systems check out this guide)

emax-nighthawk-pro-280-mini-quad-parts-components-content-package

Review – Features and Things I Like

Flight Controller, ESC and Motor

The Flight controller of the Emax Nighthawk Pro 280 is called “Skyline 32”, which has similar capability to the Naze32 Full board.

ESC’s are EMAX 12A ESC, which runs SimonK firmware. The ESCs are Oneshot compatible and damped-light capable. However you need to enabled damped light yourself if needed. (will cover this later in this post)

All the ESC’s and FC are integrated into one printed circuit board, and replacement board can be bought as spare which costs $62.

emax-nighthawk-pro-280-mini-quad-pcb-replacement-port-connector-switch-label

Motors are the EMAX 2204 2300KV. On the ARTF kit comes with 10 degree angled motor mounts. Here we talked about the benefit of using motor mounts on mini quad.

emax-nighthawk-pro-280-mini-quad-motor-angled-mount-2204-2300kv

All ESC cables and power distribution wires come braided which is great.

Frame and LED Bar

The frame is made of full carbon fibre, and appears to be strong and sturdy. The Quad weights around 450 grams without battery, which is in the mid range in terms of 250-ish mini quad.

emax-nighthawk-pro-280-mini-quad-front

The Integrated LED bar is extremely bright. There are a few colours as far as I know such as orange and white. I don’t think you can choose any particular colour and it comes with one randomly.

emax-nighthawk-pro-280-mini-quad-rear emax-nighthawk-pro-280-mini-quad-led-bar-bright-white

With the Skyline32 FC, you can add more RGB LEDs to the quad, same way as a Naze32 (Tutorial). Just connect LED signal pin to Radio pin #5 and run the power off the motor 5V and GND pins.

FPV System

It comes with a 700tvl 1/3-inch CMOS FPV camera, picture quality is pretty good. However, for the first time make sure the lens screw is tightly screwed on and get the focus right.

emax-nighthawk-pro-280-mini-quad-fpv-camera-connection

And the already installed 200mw 32ch video transmitter has selectable power between 20mw and 200mw.

emax-nighthawk-pro-280-mini-quad-video-transmitter-vtx-lipo-plug-connector

VTX antenna is left-hand polarized with SMA connector. If you haven’t got a left-hand polarized antenna on your video receiver, you should swap it out with your own right-hand polarized antenna.

Running 4S Lipo batteries!

Running 4S on this quad is doable according to manual, but you are doing it at your own risk. If you’re running 4S you want to stay on 5″ props. 5030 will give you some headroom but 5040 and 5045 should be doable. DO NOT use 5045 Bullnose props, this motor/prop combo will draw way over 12A current on 4S.

There is lots of empty space since almost everything needed for a nice mini racer is already integrated into the bottom plate. Therefore you can fit the LiPo battery inside the frame for better protection. Here is my 4S 1800mah 65C battery tucked into the frame.

emax-nighthawk-pro-280-mini-quad-battery-inside-frame-plate-4s

Another big advantage of flying a RTF or ARTF is that you can copy other people’s settings and expect it to just work. That’s because the frame dimension, FC, ESC and motors are all identical on the Nighthawk 280 kits.

Things can be improved

Vulnerable Electronics PCB

My biggest concern is just like anyone else’s, the main PCB board!

Electronics like FC, ESCs are all built on the bottom plate, and although It has a layer of liquid tape to stop soldering joints shorting out for example from wet grass, it’s exposed in terms of taking physical impact, and not protected by any carbon fibre. If you hit something hard in crashes with the bottom PCB it could get damaged.

emax-nighthawk-pro-280-mini-quad-bottom

But again, because all the electronics are integrated into one board, it makes it extremely easy to swap out faulty components, even on the field. Even though that also means if you damaged 1 ESC, you will have to replace the whole board which seems like a waste.

Misc. items

For voltage monitoring, you need to run a cable from main lipo Vcc out to the BAT pins yourself. Not sure why they didn’t have this connection included in their PCB design.

A lot of the connections are made in vulnerable locations at the side. They could have just as easily been placed in-board.

emax-nighthawk-pro-280-mini-quad-side-connector-2 emax-nighthawk-pro-280-mini-quad-side-connector

It doesn’t have any buzzer, which in my opinion should be included. Even have it integrated on the PDB, maybe even with an switch to turn it on/off by the user.

Quite a few people reported that their FPV camera lenses seem to get loose after flights due to motor vibrations, and lost focus. Tightening it properly during first setup should prevent this issue.

And Arm replacement might be a little tricky as you will have to remove the main PCB bottom plate first, which means you have to take all 4 arms off… looks like they didn’t think it through in the frame design.

Missing OSD/Telemetry

Comparing to the Vortex, one thing that is lacking would be the OSD. Some people prefer to use low voltage buzzer, or telemetry. For me the OSD is a must have feature to know when the voltage is low before it sinking down or over-discharge your battery, even just a basic one.

Another missing feature would be the telemetry port, which is available on the Naze32 board. Telemetry allows you to pass flight information directly to your D4R-II radio receiver and transmit back to your TX.

Lastly, there is no serial connection (as far as I know). On the Naze boards, this is the TX/RX pins on top. The only way I can think of would be using UART2, which is RC Pins #3 (RX) and #4 (TX). So if you are running anything like a MinimOSD or Blackbox OpenLog that requires serial connections, you will be forced to use PPM, so you can free up these RC pins.

Review from “Brighton Til I Fly”

So those are the good’s and bad’s from me. Here my friend “Brighton Till I Fly” (Jack) also shared his view on this product.

The Nighthawk Pro 280 I reviewed was from RCGeeks, and the one Jack reviewed was from GearBest. Note that the arms designs are slightly different for some reason, maybe something to do with different batches. The one Gearbest is selling doesn’t have any large cut-outs on the arms.

Connecting Radio Receiver (RX)

For the ARF kit you can just plug in your choice of receiver. The most common types of receiver would be PWM and CPPM (aka PPM).

emax-nighthawk-pro-280-mini-quad-rx-radio-receiver-connected-ppm-pwm

PWM means one wire for each channel, so you will end up with a bunch of cables in the end. PPM can handle 8 channels with 1 wire so it’s cleaner, such as the Frsky D4R-II RX. Both receiver types work just fine. The above picture shows PPM connection.

SBUS is another 1 wire receiver type, such as the X8R in Frsky series, but they don’t work with this board very easily just like the Naze32, because it requires a signal inverter and some more configuration in baseflight/cleanflight.

Enabling Oneshot / Damped Light on ESC

Here is some insight into what Oneshot and Damped Light are. The Emax 12A ESC is compatible with these features, but to enable them isn’t very straight forward as the ESC is not compatible with BLHeliSuite apparently. Oneshot is enabled by default, but Damped light is not.

Anyway the good news is you can enable damping light by transmitter programming, according to the EMAX ESC instructions. Also this video might help you too.

Voltage Monitoring and OSD

To get voltage reading to the FC VBAT port, there are two ways:

  1. scrape off the plastic coating on the battery plug solder joints, then solder a wire to the bottom of the battery plug, and run it to the VBAT port.
  2. Or you can get the voltage reading from the output port right behind to the FPV camera, and connect it to the VBAT port. Make sure the switch next to it is turn ON.

emax-nighthawk-pro-280-mini-quad-fpv-camera-connector

What can you use this voltage info for?

  • To sound the buzzer (if you connected one) when the battery reaches a low voltage state;
  • To pass battery information over a serial connection to a minimOSD, or other OSD that can read a serial connection.
  • pass voltage info to telemetry

As we mentioned earlier, Telemetry pins are missing on this Skyline32 flight controller, but we can use SOFTSERIAL1 as telemetry output just like on the Naze32, leaving UART2 for minimOSD or any other serial devices.

Connect RC pin #6 of to D4R-II telemetry RX port.

  1. In Cleanflight “Configuration” tab. Enable feature VBAT, SOFTSERIAL and TELEMETRY; “Save and Reboot”.
  2. In “Ports” tab. Select “Frsky” and 19200 in the “Telemetry” column for SOFTSERIAL1; “Save and Reboot”
  3. “CLI” tab. type “set telemetry_inversion = 1” then “save”

GPS

You can connect a GPS module to the EMAX Nighthawk 280 if you want, although they don’t do much yet in Cleanflight/Baseflight firmware.

If GPS feature is enable and CPPM receiver is used, CH3 and CH4 are GPS Signal Pin (CH3:TX,CH4:RX). If using standard PWM receiver, you will have to skip CH3, CH4, and use CH1, CH2, and CH5, CH6 for control instead.

Conclusion

Overall I think it’s a pretty good mini quad for someone with experience in flying multicopter, who don’t want to build one themselves. With just a little configuration, it almost works straight out of the box.

If you do happen to damage the ESC or any onboard electronics, I think there should be enough room to mount your own flight controller and ESCs, such a regular Naze32 FC and some standalone EMAX 12A ESCs on the arms.

By doing that you learn how to build your own quad and fix it. You could save money in the long run if more components get damaged.

Official Instructions

I found the Manual especially well written and helpful.

Manuals

http://www.emaxmodel.com/upload/index.php/s/YgYKgAV2on27X8H

Software Instruction

http://www.emaxmodel.com/upload/index.php/s/T5WQcuxYrVxmDAu

42 thoughts on “Review – EMAX Nighthawk Pro 280 Racing Mini Quad

  1. Stuart Sutherland

    Hi Oscar,

    I have a max nighthawk 250, pretty much stock set up from kit except i’m using Dalprop 5045 bullnose, it does take more draw out of battery with these, what prop would you recommend for the 250?

    Many thanks
    Stuart

    Reply
  2. Renato

    Hi Oscar, excellent article. Thank you.

    I am new to this world and I am having some trouble connecting the radio 9xr pro to the drone. I am using XJt and D8R. Could you give some tips or show me additional tutorials that could help me.

    Thank you in advance.
    Renato

    Reply
      1. renato

        Thank you Oscar,

        It helped. But I am still with some trouble. When connected to Cleanflight on the receiver tab it recognizes Pitch and Roll but doesn´t recognize any other signal (i.e. Throttle, rudder, ..)

        Any suggestions?
        Tks

  3. machine vision lenses

    Thanks for sharing this nice article. and I wish to visit again on your blog. keep sharing with your work.

    Reply
  4. Indy

    Hi Oscar,
    Is there any failsafe on this “simple” transmitter?
    And is it possible to use PPM?

    Thanks for your amazing job :)

    Reply
  5. Raider1284

    Hi Oscar,

    What size hex key/wrench do you need to remove the stock silver bolts in this quad? 1.5mm is too small, while 2mm is too large. Do they make 1.75mm hex wrenches? Are these actually imperial hex bolts, not metric? If anyone has figured out what size is needed please help.

    thanks,
    Tyler

    Reply
    1. Oscar Post author

      Very strange as they suggested 1.5mm and 2mm as the required tool in the manual.
      Sorry i have never taken mine apart and I have given my nighthawk away now so cannot find out for you…
      yea might have to try 1.75mm… if you can find a hex that size!
      lastly, i would really appreciate it if you could join the forum: http://intoFPV.com … I don’t want to miss your comment, because I only check my blog comments only once a week, but I use the forum daily!

      Reply
  6. Dylan

    Hi Oscar,

    I’m new to all this. Been flying for about 5 months, 2 of those on the nighthawk 280. I’ve been wanting to build a 180, inspired by your 180 build log, but don’t want to buy all new electronics. Do you think it would be possible to use the board from this quad in a smaller frame like a 180? Or would it not be worth it?

    Thanks,

    Dylan

    Reply
    1. Oscar Post author

      i would probably keep the nighthawk as it is… but buy new parts for the 180… so you have 1 quad as backup in case the other one is not working :)

      Reply
    2. Munib Baber

      Hi, i cant get my ESCs to configure properly. M2,M3,M4 all spins at 1040 but M1 will starts spinning at 1060. I’ve calibrated several times and the quad only wants to lift the front part which make the props hit the ground at the back.. What do you think, defective ESC?

      Reply
  7. Terry

    Hi Oscar! I guess my comment got lost in space. I was asking about the nighthawk pro 280 arf. When I did the motor test on google chome configuator #2 motor runs with throttle off, on , and stops at mid throttle. #1, #3, #4 run up fine. Would this be the motor, or the board? Please help!! I’m new to this. Thanks, Terry

    Reply
    1. Oscar Post author

      could you check one thing, see if your #2 motor spins different direction when throttle above mid point and below mid point? if so it could be that the ESC is in 3D mode!

      Reply
      1. G

        Hi Oscar, Yes the motor turns two different directions from mid trottle. So how do I change from 3D mode? Sorry I’m new at this. Thanks for the help!

      2. Oscar Post author

        check out this video how to change ESC settings with your sticks… youtube.com/watch?t=10&v=GIvLg9Ww21A
        also check out the manuals in video description, in the manual, find “Rotation Direction”… my guess is you are currently in “Bi-directional”, and you want to change it to “Normal”

  8. Coleman Little

    Hi Oscar,

    Howdy do Oscar? Hope you’re good. Anyways, does the RTF version come with a FPV receiver?

    Thanks,
    Coleman

    Reply
  9. robin layton

    Hi Oscar, Um I’m pretty sure you can get a MICRO MINIMOSD to work on this with telemetry also. but you have to use a rx with cppm bluetooth module for android app ez-gui also works for tuning pids and configuring with android smartphone. in ports configure uart2 for data msp and connect to the rx channels 3 & 4 on the skyline 32 receiver plug in wire harness. you can also use softserial 1 on ch 5 and 6 and if you dont want an osd but want frsky telemetry you can send it to your taranis with a D4RII and connect the green wire on the side of the rx ti rx channel6 on the fcb rx harness

    Reply
  10. Sam

    Thanks for the comprehensive, review. I was planning to order one from Unmanned Tech shop (unmannedtechshop.co.uk/nighthawk-pro-280-quadcopter/) as they seem to have the best price and are a UK based shop. Has anyone had any experiences with them?

    Reply
    1. Oscar Post author

      No sorry i don’t know that shop, i would recommend buying from RCGeeks (link in beginning of article), they have great customer services and are reliable!

      Reply
  11. Gustavot Tirado

    Hi Oscar,

    I’m having problems with my quad.
    Try plugging in my battery to fly my quad and there was no ESC sound, the three LEDs next to the usb port are off and other LEDs on the board were solid red. Connected copter to computer using Baseflight (LEDs were normal then), connected battery while connected to the computer and only then I was able to sound ESCs and was able to spin the motors with the transmitter. It worked just fine when connected to the computer but not off the computer. Don’t know whats going on.
    Hope you can help as I haven’t been able to find anything on the Internet about this issue.

    Reply
    1. Grant Galle

      Hi Gustavot,
      Did you ever find out what was wrong? I am having the same issue and can not find a solution anywhere. Thanks

      Reply
      1. Peter Dwelly

        Hi all, I am having the 4 red led no esc chimes issue also. I have logged a call with emax, but no reply after 2 days. Mine occurred when i went from 3s battery to 4s battery. I connected 4s (no flying) and it just died. When i connect the USB, i get the boot lights and esc chimes. ESC’s work fine on the motor test via cleanflight. I have noticed that the receiver is ok, but if you look in cleanflight then the throttle command won’t register whereas it used to before the issue. I have removed everything from RTF version and cleaned the board… Nothing…. Hoping someone has some ideas. Thx Peter.

  12. Tristan Cliffe

    Hi Oscar

    Got one of these on the way in RTF form as my first non-toy quad. Batteries, chargers, spare props and some goggles coming too – this is going to be an expensive hobby, but hopefully spending will calm down soon.

    I will use a balance lead buzzer/readout if I have to, but I’d really like to get some sort of OSD going, even if it’s just cell or pack voltage (using a single 3S pack). Do you know of any tutorials or walkthroughs on how to achieve this with the default receiver? A taranis is on the shipping list, but it’ll be a 2016 treat!

    I can connect fcc to vbat, and I can probably make some wires to split into the camera wiring. Would I still need to connect to the FC via soft serial, and if so how is that achieved? Is there a spare couple of pins on the mainboard? And can baseflight do softserial, or do I have to flash (somehow, but I know of tutorials for that bit) to cleanflight?

    Treat me like I don’t know anything, as I’m using jargon I don’t fully understand yet…

    Thanks, Tristan

    Reply
    1. Oscar Post author

      For OSD, have a look at “super simple OSD”, you just need to hook up your battery voltage, camera output, and VTX input to this OSD. If you don’t know what I am talking about, google “how to use OSD” and “how FPV work”…
      Easiest thing to get battery voltage is to solder a wire to the battery connector solder joint on the bottom of the quad, just make sure the wire is well protected against crashes you would be fine.

      Reply
  13. David Freestone

    Hi Oscar,

    I purchased this setup a little over a month ago and while I have mostly enjoyed it I have had real problems with it in the quality department. The USB port came right off of the board during a tuning session (which I have found a few other users experiencing) and most recently I broke a rear arm during a crash.

    While the broken arm is my fault I found that the arms have design issues. The very first 280’s that were shipped out had a lot of extra cutouts in 3mm thick carbon-glass material. They are a very very thin carbon overlay on a glass core. The reason why the 280 review by Jack had different arms is because Emax redesigned the arms and removed the extra cutouts and went with 4mm due to a number of complaints about them breaking easily. The new arms are still a carbon overlay on glass core as far as I have seen.

    Just to let everyone know, I am in the process of designing an all carbon replacement that will be available in 3mm, 4mm and 5mm so when any other users are ready for a real durable replacement arm I should have them soon.

    Reply
  14. Jason

    Hi Oscar,
    Thank you SO much for what you do. You are definitely my go-to resource when it comes to quadcopter/drone knowledge. My nighthawk 280 just showed up 2 days ago and my decision to purchase was made partially because of the thorough review you did. I’d also like to add a thank you for the PID’s that you posted. While this is a good quad, one of the things that keeps it from being GREAT for beginners is the lack of pre-installed tuning. That’s one area that the ImmersionRC Vortex excels above all others. Pre-installed or readily available tuning/PID’s is solid gold for noobs, and it doesn’t hurt for VETS to have a reference point to being their tuning either.

    Jason

    Reply
  15. Jorge

    Hi Oscar,

    After reading your review, I did go ahead and purchase a 280 pro. I’m trying to setup the buzzer, but I’m having trouble finding the name of the plugs that goes into the vcc out. Even hobby king doesn’t have it. Maybe I’m not calling it by the correct name. By the way I’m referring to the power out plugs that powers the led bar, vtx power and vcc out.

    Thanks
    ~jorge

    Reply
    1. Bruno

      Hi Jorge,

      Have you figured out which power plugs to buy? I’m facing the same problem, just need a reference to search for it….

      Thanks
      Bruno

      Reply
  16. Peter

    HI Oscar

    Really good review. Thanks
    I have a couple of questions about how to set-up voltage Monitoring Telemetry using Taranis+ Tx & D4R-II Rx.

    1. In the part about Voltage monitoring it says:
    ” Connect RC pin #6 of to D4R-II telemetry RX port…” Does this mean use Channel 6 (the last in the connector)?
    If not how do I access RC pin #6?

    2. I’m trying to find-out what plugs I need to connect the VCC out to VBAT & what the polarity is?

    Thanks

    Peter

    Reply
  17. Paul

    Hi Oscar was just wondering whether it was easy to fly and if the gps was easy setup and whether the flysky i6 radio is compatible any tips

    Reply
    1. Oscar Post author

      Hi Paul, it flies similar to any other racing quads I have built, GPS is easy to setup, google Naze32 with GPS you will find tons of tutorials :) This ARTF quad doesn’t have any RX, so you can use any RX you have, so Flysky i6 should be fine.

      Reply
  18. jorge

    Hi Oscar,

    I’m planning on buying this quadcopter kit. I’m a noob at all this stuff. It’s all very exciting, but also confusing. There’s a few things I’m wondering about.

    For the low battery warning, you mentioned…
    “you can get the voltage reading from the output port right behind to the FPV camera, and connect it to the VBAT port.”

    Does this mean that I have to purchase a separate telemetry sensor? Specifically the “D4R-II” receiver. But the Radio I’m planning to get already comes with one.

    I’m planning on getting the Futaba 10jh that comes with a R3008SB receiver (but it does not come with a telemetry sensor). The manual says I have to purchase this…

    Futaba CA-RVIN-700 External Voltage Cable R7008SB RX
    but I also found these online..
    Futaba SBS-01V 18MZ 14SG External Voltage Sensor

    I’m wondering if purchasing the sensor is really necessary.

    Should I look into getting a radio that’s more compatible with the Nighthawk pro 280?, Is there one you can recommend?

    All the other RTF drones I flew had a beeping system on the radio when the battery is low. I don’t understand why you would want to install one on the aircraft. The sound wouldn’t be audible if the quad copter is flying around.

    Do high end radio transmitters already have a built in beeping function when the batteries are low on the aircraft?

    Thanks for the advice.
    ~jorge

    Reply
    1. Oscar Post author

      Hi Jorge, no additional sensor needed for voltage monitoring. just hook up the Vcc out port with VBAT port directly with a cable.
      I am not familiar with Futaba TX, better check with your seller about it.
      I think Taranis is the most popular TX for mini quad now, and there are tons of tutorials on how to use it.
      Onboard buzzer not only used for battery low, also it can be used as a lost model alarm for helping to find it in tall grass…
      Yes Taranis has built-in buzzer that works with telemetry…

      Reply
  19. ryan whittington

    Hi Oscar,
    First off thank you for your time in developing all this wonderful information. It has helped answer some questions for me. I am totally new to mini quads and cleanflight. I bought the nighthawk 280 as my first quad to see what its all about. you mentioned that the settings for cleanflight would be easy to use from other users on the nighthawk 280. After seeing your videos you have your quads flying amazing. Do you have cleanflight settings for the emax 280 that I can use to start with? I cant seem to figure out what is good for it. i use 6045 props with a 1800 3s thats about 140g. i like angle and horizon mode to learn for now. what PID controller should I use for the nighthawk and what PID settings do you recommend from your testing. thanks for your help and all the answers for a new guy like me to understand and get into quads educated. my email is [email protected]

    Reply
    1. Oscar Post author

      Hi Ryan
      Try PID controller 2 and these PID settings for Acro mode,
      Roll | 1.5 | 0.050 | 20
      Pitch | 1.8 | 0.050 | 30
      Yaw | 7.0 | 0.055 | 5
      Looptime=2000

      sorry I don’t fly horizon mode so can’t suggest any self-levelling PID…

      Reply
      1. FyreSG

        Hi Oscar, how did you arrive at the loop time of 2000? I read elsewhere that a pilot set it to 1500. That pilot also implemented motor mix (0.789), which you wrote an excellent article about it. I wonder why you didn’t set motor mix for your NightHawk Pro 280.

      2. Oscar Post author

        IMO there is no need for mixer as it won’t make a huge difference, as the quad is head and tail heavy due to camera and battery (weight mostly on pitch axis), that compensates with the wider frame design. looptime 2000 is based on the speed of gyro speed (1KHz)…

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