How to Build a Quadcopter From Planning to Flying
Do you want to build your first Drone? If so, then this is the Best Complete Beginners guide for building your own drone. We start with the basic concepts and we are trying to help drone enthusiasts and hobbyists to start building their first drone. After that, We'll recommend you all the parts for your first built. Read our drone building guide and build your first camera drone.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle(UAV) also known as “Drones” are gone quite popular over the last few decades. But since these multi rotors are upgraded with FPV (First Person View) and 1080P HD Camera, they have increased in popularity all over the world.
Why DIY Quadcopter?
Now, everyone wants his own drone and building a quadcopter is much fun as compared to buying an expensive drone. Apart from Drone Racing, these multi rotors could be used for surveillance purposes, rescue operations, and aerial photography. Aerial Photography allows you to capture spectacular and stunning photographs from different perspectives.
Flying an FPV drone will allow you to experience the world through bird’s-eye view. However, these quadcopters could cost you a lot of money and still after spending a fortune, you’re not fully satisfied with the features. So why don’t you make your own drone? You could update it as the way you want.
Building a drone isn’t much of a rocket science, with good guidance, you could build your own super fast and reliable drone. And for this purpose I’m here to help you out, after reading this article (Which is quite long and you need at least 15-20 min) building a drone would be like taking a candy from a baby. You will be able to build your first drone within a week and you will be building a drone which you can modify, upgrade and repair.
Drone Built Basic Part List
In order to build your first drone you will need specific parts, now I will talk about in detail for you so at the time when you are building a drone you should know which one to select. You'll need to select:
- Quadcopter Frame
- Flight Controller
- Radio Transmitter and Receiver
- FPV Camera
- Video Transmitter and Receiver
Selecting your Quadcopter Frames:
If you want to build your own quadcopter the first thing is Frame. The frame is the body of your drone where all your other drones part will be attached such as Flight Controller, Motors, ESCs, and batteries. In order to build a perfect drone, you will need a perfect frame which should be lightweight and durable. Choosing a perfect frame is essential as it would be the foundation of your drone and all of the other components would be placed on it.
If you want, you could make your own frame, but for this, you will need some engineering knowledge and knowledge of the materials you are going to use. However, I would recommend you to buy it from an online store because it will save you from a lot of trouble and will come in handy.
For Racing Drones, 3-6 inch Frames are the ideal size. The most common material used for the frame for Drone Racing are Poly-carbonate and Nylon Glass Fiber.
You could print your drone frame with your 3d printer if you already own one, otherwise, you can buy a good frame for your first drone at great prices. When buying a drone frame, always make sure that it's coming with a Power Distribution Board.
Best DIY Drone Frames:
Here are some of the best lightweight quadcopter frames that I’ve ever encountered. My favorite frames manufacturer is Armattan. However, Martian and Lumenier frames are also good.
- Armattan Chameleon Frame 5
- Martian II 220 220mm 4mm Arm
- Hyperlite FLOSS 5 inch Racing Frame
- Lumenier QAV500 V2.
Flight Controllers for DIY Quadcopter:
The flight controller is the brain of your drone, a small circuit board which processes and controls all of the system hardware of your drone. Drones are varying complex systems which acquires a control system to stabilize through shifts and changes in wind and directions.
While buying a Flight Controller F1, F3 or F4 pops out all the time and you may be curious to find the difference. These are the processors of your flight controllers just like the processors of CPU in your computer. In CPU its i-3, i-5, i-7 and much more while in flight controller they are F1, F2, F3, F4 etc.
To understand better, consider the following table:
UART (Universal Asynchronous Receiver-Transmitter) handles asynchronous serial communication, in other words, it allows your flight controller to talk to other devices like RC receivers, OSDs, telemetry devices, GPS receivers etc. Current FC processors are L0, L1, L4, F0, F1, F2, F3, F4, F7 and H7.
As you go up the performance increases and so does the stability of your drone, so yours H7 processors are the most powerful while L0 processors are the least. But for you, it would be better to use F3 or F4 because they are reliable, cheap and easy to find on market.
You need to know about your flight controller firmware, some popular software for flight controllers are Kiss FC, CleanFlight and BetaFlight. My favorite flight controller is Beta Flight as it’s easy to connect, GUI is very user-friendly and easy to understand. You can fine-tune your drone from your flight controller GUI.
Flight controllers come with OSD (On screen display) and PDB integrated are much better as compare to others who don’t have OSD or PDB integrated.
Best Flight Controller Available
However, these are some of the best reliable Flight Controllers available in the market.
- Beta Flight F3 Flight Controller
- DYS F4 Omnibus Flight Controller
- KISS FC - 32bit Flight Controller
- CleanFlight & BetaFlight Micro F3
- Lumenier LUX V2
ESCs for Building Quadcopter:
ESC is an abbreviation of Electronic Speed Controller. The function of ESCs is to control the motor’s speed, direction and also act as a dynamic brake. This happens by controlling the electrical power of your Brushless Motor.
Function of ESCs:
ESCs control the speed of your motors and enable you to control your drone. They communicate with your motors. So when you want your drone to go left, they slow down the speed of the motor on left and increase the speed of the motor on right.
You need to consider your ESC Firmware. We recommend BLHeli\S_ or BLHeli\32 Based ESCs_ because this firmware is easy to use and open source. Other Popular Firmwares for ESCs are SimonK and KISS.
4 ESCs or 4in1 ESC?
In a quadcopter there are 4 motors involved, now if you want, you could buy 4 ESCs, one to control each motor or you could buy 4-in-1 ESC. 4-in-1 ESC may come in handy, they are lightweight and will make wiring a lot simpler.
ESCs and Motors:
While selecting an ESCs, apart from size and weight, there are two things that you should keep in mind. Continuous Current Rating and Input Voltage. The motor draws current from the ESC during spinning.
If you draw more current than the capacity of your drone, your ESC will eventually fail. For instance, if the maximum continuous current of your motor is 11A then you should use ESC of 12A or more. Another thing is Input Voltage, which refers to the voltage you should apply with your ESC.
If the input voltage of your ESCs is 2S-4S(7.4 - 14.8v), then you should choose a LiPo battery of minimum 2S and maximum 4S, any more than 4S will damage your ESC and possibly your motors.
These are the commonly used ESCs in DIY drones.
Drone Brushless Motors:
The motor is an electronic device that converts electrical energy of your battery into mechanical energy, which is required in order to fly your drone. Choosing a perfect motor is essential as it will control speed, flight time, stability and performance of your drone.
Why Brushless motors?
For a quadcopter, you will require 4 brushless dc motors. Many come with a question that why a brushless motor, why not a brushed motor? So here’s the difference. Brushless motors are more powerful, they provide maximum RPM, as there isn’t a possibility of brush erosion so they last longer and their efficiency is 10% greater as compared to brushed motors.
Understanding kV Ratings:
While buying a Motor, the term kV pops out all the time i.e. 1000kV motor. kV is the Number of Revolutions that motor will take per minute when the voltage of 1 Volt is applied under no load. For example, 1000kV means that the motor will turn 1000 rounds per minute when the voltage of 1V is applied. If you apply the voltage of 3V to the similar battery of 1000kV, then the RPM would be 3000. This is a simple formula to calculate kV:
kV= RPM / V
How Many thrusts for Each Motor?
In order to fly a drone your motor should be able to produce twice thrust as the total weight of your drone. For instance, consider the total weight of your drone is 1 kg. Then the thrust of 2 kg will be required to fly your drone. For a quadcopter, each motor should be able to produce the thrust of 500 grams while in an octocopter each motor should be able to produce 250 grams.
The movement of your motors and the way you install them is very essential. The best thing to do is install each motor in such a way that each motor rotates in opposite the direction in which the next motor is moving.
Many of you will be curious that by how making one motor clockwise and another counterclockwise will make the flight more efficient? Consider this figure of a quadcopter drone:
In this quadcopter, four motors are attached. Motor 1 and 3 moves clockwise while motor 2 and 4 moves counterclockwise. Now if you wanted to rotate you drone towards left what will you do? You will simply increase the speed of clockwise rotating motors 1 and 3 and decrease the speed of counter clockwise motors 2 and 4 which will result in rotating the drone left. To rotate left just do the opposite. To move your drone forward, backward, left or right just consider the below figure, it will help you to understand drone movements.
You need to understand the numbers on the motors so you use the right motor for your first project and it lift itself into the air and gives you more flight time.
Some important numbers which are written in this format xxxx represent Stator Dimension. First two digits are for the diameter of the stator and the second two digits are for the height of stator.
Brushless motor has two parts. Stator and Rotor. The stator is stationary while Rotor spins to generate torque. Stator size gives you information about the size of the motors.
While selecting the right motors for your drone, always make sure that you get enough thrust. So the rule is you need twice the thrust as your total drone weight including motors. This is also called Thrust to Weight Ratio.
These are the best motors available on the market:
- Brotherhobby Tornado T1 1407 3600KV
- Racerstar Racing Edition 2205 BR2205 2300KV
- EMAX RS2205S 2300kv Red Bottom Racing FPV Motor
- Racestar RS2306 2700kv FPV Racing Motor
Selecting Drone Li-Po Batteries:
Source of power for your drone is the battery. As we have discussed, you will need some electrical energy for your drone to work in the proper manner and the source of this electrical energy would be your battery. Batteries are easily rechargeable and highly efficient.
For a drone, you will be using LiPo(Lithium Polymer) battery, because they are lightweight, reliable and almost come in any size or shape.
In a LiPo battery, each cell has a nominal voltage of 3.7V. And “S” describes the number of the cell. Therefore:
1S = 1 cell = 3.7V 2S = 2 cells = 7.4V 3S = 3 cells = 11.1V 4S = 4 cells = 14.8V 5S = 5 cells = 18.5V 6S = 6 cells = 22.2V
The greater the voltage will be, the more RPM of your motor will be generated(RPM= Volts × kV ).
Capacity is the measure of current that you can draw from a battery in one hour until it’s completely empty.
For example, 1500mAh means that you could draw 1500milliamps from a battery in one hour until it’s fully discharged. The higher the capacity will be, the longer the fight time would be.
C Rating allows you to measure Maximum Constant Discharge Current that could be drawn from a battery without harming it. If C Rating is 10C, then it means that the maximum discharge current is 10 times of the capacity C of your battery.
For example, if a battery has the capacity of 1A and its C Rating is 50C then:
Maximum Discharge Current = C-Rating _× Capacity(in Amps)_ = 50 * 1 = 50A
Now, 50A is the maximum continuous current that could be discharged from the battery without harming it. For best results use one of these batteries:
- Turnigy Graphene 1300mAh 4S 65C
- Tattu 1300mAh 75C 4S1P
- Tattu R-Line 4S 1300 mAh 95C
- Tattu R-Line 1550mAh 95C 4S1P
- CNHL 1300mAh 100C 4S G
Propellers for Building Drones:
In order to lift your drone, a certain thrust is required and this is where propellers come in action. Propeller creates thrust from the rotational motion of your motor.
The propeller you select must be lightweight, rigid and longer in length. If you use small size propeller, it will require a highly powerful motor to create enough thrust to fly your drone in a proper manner and for the highly powerful motor, you will require a highly powerful battery.
And the highly powerful battery will increase the weight of your drone and may affect other things. Whereas propeller of a large surface area will require low RPM to create enough drag force to lift your drone.
So whether you use a little fast prop or large slow prop, it’s totally up to you. Consider the following table in which a LiPo battery of 4S is used, notice how the difference in sizes of propellers affects other things.
There are two things that you need to consider while buying the right propeller for your drone. Propeller length and Propeller Pitch.
Length of the propeller is the diameter of the disc that propeller will make during spinning and pitch is the distance that propeller will cover in one revolution if it were moving through a soft solid like a screw through the wood.
As we have discussed in the motor section, you will need to install two sorts of motors CW(clockwise) and CCW (counter-clockwise). Though for this you will require buying propellers of two different types CW and CCW. One which creates a clockwise thrust and the other will create a counter-clockwise thrust.
While choosing a propeller you may notice 5x4x3 with the propellers name. It defines the specs of your propeller. The first digit will be the length(in inches), the second one will represent pitch(in inches), and the third one shows the number of blades.
For example, if you see a propeller with 5x4x3, it will mean that this propeller has a length of 5 inches, the pitch of 4 inches and the number of blades are 3. Use one of these propellers for best results:
- RaceKraft 5051 5" Tri-Blade Prop
- DAL Cyclone Tri-Blade 5" Prop
- Kingkong 5040 5x4x3 3-Blade
- RaceKraft 5" 5040 Tri-Blade
FPV Camera for DIY Quadcopter:
If you are interested in aerial photography or drone racing, you’ll need an FPV camera. FPV is an abbreviation of First Person View, which allows you to control your drone by giving you drone’s perspective.
You could see where your drone is going on your FPV goggles or smartphone. With better FPV camera comes better FPV display, but as everything good comes with a price so it will cost you more.
You'll need an FPV Transmitter to transmit video from your FPV Camera and an FPV Receiver to see what your drone is seeing. FPV Receivers are mostly integrated with FPV Goggles otherwise you could purchase a receiver and connect it to your Smartphone or LCD Screen.
While buying an FPV camera, you may notice a term TVL in camera description i.e. 600TVL. In surveillance cameras resolution is measured in TVL(Television Lines), as it represents the most accurate measurement of resolution and video quality. TVL represents the maximum number of alternating light and dark horizontal lines that can be distinguished clearly in a horizontal span equal to image height.
For example, there is a monitor of 8-inch height and 12-inch width with the 600TVL camera. Now 300 white and 300 black lines could be counted in 8-inch width of on monitor
For best photography results, you should be using a 3-axis Gimbal Camera. A 3-axis Gimbal Camera could be adjusted in all six directions up/down, left/right and forward/ backward. The main advantage of Gimbal Camera is that it dampens the vibrations thus you could make steady footage.
These are the best cameras for drones:
- RunCam Swift 2
- RunCam Swift Rotor Riot Special Edition IR Block
- Foxeer XAT600M HS1177 600TVL CCD 2.8MM IR Mini FPV Camera
- RunCam Micro Swift 2 600TVL FPV Camera
If you are using an FPV camera, you will need an FPV transmitter to send audio and video signals to the device you are using for FPV display. FPV transmitter is connected with your FPV camera. Normally, FPV transmitters work at the frequency of 5.8Ghz.
You should select your FPV transmitter precisely as the distance range of your drone FPV camera will depend upon it, however, you could use an FPV antenna to boost your range. An antenna will convert electrical signals from FPV Transmitter into radio waves.
You could use of these FPV transmitters.
- Unify Pro HV Race Edition - TBS 5G8 SMA
- Eachine VTX03 Super Mini 5.8G 72CH 0/25mW/50mw/200mW Switchable FPV Transmitter
- TBS Unify Pro 5G8 HV (SMA)
- TBS UNIFY PRO 5G8 V2 (RP-SMA)
To control your drone you will need a Radio Transmitter. A radio transmitter will convert the commands you give through your RC(Radio Control) into radio signals.
Have you ever consider that how does your drone work. You control your drone by using a Radio Control. There is a transmitter in your RC that sends the information in the form of radio signals to the receiver fixed in your drone.
When you increase the level of your throttle, a command is given. RC transmitter will send that command in the form of radio signals and your receiver at the other end will receive that command and will convert it into the usable form.
To receive the signals from your R/C transmitter you will need a receiver. You will connect your receiver with your flight controller. If you buy a separate receiver and transmitter you have to bind them together to communicate with each other.
Each transmitter and receiver have a GUID(Global Unique Identification Code) Code. This code will prevent your drone from interfering with other drones. However, I will recommend you to buy an already bound receiver and transmitter. It will save both of your effort and time.
These are best radio receiver available on market:
- FrSky XM+ SBUS Mini Receiver
- FrSky XSR 2.4GHz 16CH Receiver
- FrSky X4RSB 3/16 Channel Telemetry Receiver
- FrSky X4R-SB - 3/16 Channel Receiver with SBUS and CPPM without pins
With latest Flight Controllers, OSD is built in. But if you are using an old version you could get one. OSD stands for On-Screen Display. It is really helpful as it shows flight time, battery voltage, current, GPS, warnings and many more.
In order to join wires terminals, you will need connectors. They will really come in handy and saves you from a lot of trouble. Connectors consist of Plugs and Jacks. Plugs are male ended while jacks are female ending. You will need connectors to merge motors with ESCs, Power Distribution Board with battery and vice versa.
Must Read Our Article:: Best Foldable Drones of 2019: Autel EVO vs Mavic Air vs Parrot Anafi
Build Your Own Quadcopter: First Built
By the time now, you should be aware of every single aspect of drone and it’s parts. After the detailed knowledge of drone accessories, you will know which thing will suit you best. Now all you have to do is select and assemble.
In order to build a drone, first of all, I need you to create a mental image of your drone. You have to imagine what sort of drone you are going to make and what will be its purpose.
Whether you are going to make a quadcopter or octocopter, whether you are using it for aerial photography or drone racing it’s totally up to you.
Now you have made your mind and you know what you are creating. To explain you better I’m also going to make a drone with you, this will helps you a lot.
Choosing a Frame:
If you want to build your own Quadcopter you will need a frame with four arms. Your frame should be lightweight and strong. If you are building your own frame the material you use could be carbon fiber, plastic, metal or wood.
I would recommend you to add landing gear into your frame if it doesn’t have one. The frame I’m using is Martian II 220 220mm 4mm Arm Thickness Carbon Fiber Frame.
Connect Your Propeller, ESC, and Motor:
Before buying your motors, props, and ESC you should check that what size of motor and ESC would fit into your frame, what will be their weight and how will they affect your flight. You have to compare each and every component of your drone parts before buying them.
Install Flight Controller:
You will need a Flight Controller to control all hardware attached to your drone. Your ESCs, FPV transmitter, RC receiver, PDB, Lipo Battery and all other things will be connected to your FC.
I’m using F3 Acro 6 DOF Flight Controller.
Assemble you Drone:
After you install your Flight Controller you’ll connect your ESCs, FPV transmitter, PDB, RC receiver and LiPo battery to your FC. View this image to understand the connections.
However, your camera will be attached with FPV transmitter and antenna.
These are the parts I’m using
- FPV Transmitter: UNIFY PRO HV RACE EDITION - TBS 5G8 SM
- FPV Antenna: AOMWAY 5.8G 3dBi RP-SMA Male Four Lobe RHCP VTx/VRx
- Receiver: FlySky FS-iA6 2.4G 6CH AFHDS Receive
- Battery: Turnigy 1500mah 3S 35~70
- PDB: Matek Systems PDB-XT60 W/ BEC 5V & 12V 2oz Copper
- Connector: SMA Male Plug to RP-SMA Female Coupling Nut Connector
Attach FPV Camera:
At the end, you will need to connect your camera with FPV transmitter. Usually, the camera goes below the drone. You could use any camera, but you have to keep in mind the weight of that camera. I’m using RunCam Micro Swift 600TVL CCD camera
Chose an R/C Transmitter
To control your drone you will need a wireless RC Transmitter that will send signals to your drone. You could use a Futaba 10JH 10-Channel Heli T-FHSS Computer Radio System.
Test and Fly:
Now your drone is completely built, all you need is to test your drone in an open area so it doesn’t get damaged if there are technical issues.
If there is any problem check your wiring and connections. Make sure you fully charge the battery before using.
If there is a lot of vibration then install a mounting pad below FC, it will give you a steady flight. After inspecting your drone fly and enjoy your DIY drone. You could update it later if you wish.
Thanks for your time for reading this guide to build your first drone, If you have question or suggestion, Please comment below and If you like this, Please share this guide with your friends.