Welcome back to our not so little guide. 🙂
We now begin with the second part of our guide on how to build your own drone? and should you build one? In the first part of our journey We have discussed a lot of things in the first part. For a start we discussed the second part of our question, should you build your own drone ? and quickly went over the reasons why you should even consider building a drone. After that a quick rundown of all the weird acronyms used nowadays in the drones world then we moved on to the actual steps needed to build your own drone, which is choosing the parts you will need to buy (or beg for, or steal, even though I do not condone that :).
So after reading the first part of our guide into building your own drone, which is quite essential that you DO read it first, by now you should have figured out what type of drone you want to build and have a pretty good idea of what parts you need to buy or at least you now know how to pick the most appropriate part for your flying machine. Now after picking all the needed parts for your drone from the frame to motors and flight controller along with all the other stuff it is now time to get to the fun part of all of this, which is putting all of these little parts together so that you end up with an actual flying machine. So clear your schedule and buckle up with your seat in the fully upright position because we are about to take off!
BUT if you still have not chosen the parts you wish to use, no worries, we still got you covered. You can skip right ahead for now and head to the list of parts I recommend for your first FPV drone build.
HOW TO BUILD YOUR OWN DRONE – Part 2: GETTING ALL THE PARTS WORKING TOGETHER
First thing you need to do by now is to really commit yourself to building your own drone, so you should go ahead and order all the parts you have chosen already, or simply get the parts that I recommended below, either from Amazon or from any other trustable source you like.
>>Fast forward 1 to 4 weeks….
Now that you have all the needed parts I will assume that you can handle the basic assembly of the parts into a great looking drone, or you can simply follow the video instructions posted below if you have stuck with the parts I recommended for you.
For the purpose of this guide I will assume that you have chosen to use an RC transmitter to control your drone.
The next thing that needs your attention now is the flight controller. Not all controllers are created the same, so the setup procedure for your particular model will not necessarily be the same as other controllers and even the controllers from the same manufacturer tend to have slight differences between them so the most important thing to do is to go over your flight controller’s manual. Twice. At the least. You see, missing any small detail can mean the difference between a successful flight and a major crash. Any properly written user guide will include everything found on this article and more so I encourage you to take this guide more like a checklist rather than a detailed step by step walkthrough on building your own drone. And this is the fun part if you ask me, which is trying on your own and seeing what works and what does not. But again if you just want to get you drone airborne as fast and as easily as possible then you should just stick with the parts I recommend and then follow the video instructions.
Back to our controller, in your manual you will find a step by step procedure of the settings you will need to use depending on the specific drone configuration that you are building. First thing to adjust will be the PID values. These three values directly affect how your drone behaves and responds, so you can set a more stable setting if you are building a camera drone, or a more aggressive setting if you are building a stunt racing drone. The values in the user guide are simple starting points to get you something that is safe and should work with all kinds of drones, so what you need to do is leave them as suggested for your first flight at least.
After that you need to set the minimum throttle setting, which is the speed that the motors rotate when they are engaged. As a start you need to set this up as low as possible, just to check that the motors are indeed running properly and that the proper;;ers are installed in the correct directions. If you can set the maximum thrust, then you should make it correspond to the maximum value which the transmitter can provide for the throttle stick.
Another really important thing that user manual should discuss is the flight mode. Your flight controller can have several options to choose from in this regard. What they do is control how aggressive your drone can respond to your inputs. What I suggest here is sticking to the most stable mode which uses all the sensors on the drone to keep it stable and steady. After a few flights and after you are confident with your skills you may want to choose a more agressive flight more that will only use the gyroscope.
One thing to note is that some controllers allow you to change flight mode in flight, meaning you can have a switch to change how the drone responds. This can be very useful when you are really used to flying the drone to switch it from the normal stable mode to the aggressive ACRO mode. Also we highly recommend against activating the extra sensors like GPS and ultrasonic distance sensors until you have properly calibrated your drone’s inputs and throttle.
RC Transmitter Configuration
Some RC transmitters can be generic, meaning they can control a drone, an airplane, a RC car, etc. So you will need to check your manual to see if it has a specific mode for drones. If it does not then you should set it to airplane mode. What this does is use the “intelligence” of the transmitter to mix the signal of the channels to make the motion of the drone smoother as it applies to your certain setup.
Next step would be to configure the remote control mode. There are two modes, creatively names “Mode 1” and “Mode 2” the most common of which is mode 2 remotes. In this mode the throttle and yaw are controlled by the left joystick while pitch and roll are controlled by the right joystick. While you are at it, check if the controls are not flipped, for example moving the joystick left should make the drone to roll to the left.
While some high end models have a built in range control test, testing the radio control range is easier to do with the help of another person or by simply attaching a buzzer and assigning it a separate channel. The basic idea is to see how far can your drone be from the transmitter before it loses signal. To do this you simply need to follow this procedure,
- Power the radio, then the drone.
- Move around 50 feet away and flip the switch associated with the buzzer; you should hear the buzzer.
- If you don’t have a buzzer, arm the drone and ensure the motors have started.
- Stop the buzzer / disarm the drone
- Repeat the steps moving farther and farther away (line of sight) until the drone does not react to your input.
- This is the absolute maximum range at which you can operate your drone.
Of course you should do this after your first test flight. The reason you need to do this is for you to personally see how far the drone can actually go before you lose control of it. Well you might think that you do not need to let your drone that far away from you, but remember that drones move in three dimensional space and things tend to go wrong.
The ESCs work out of the box but the signal associated with the minimum and maximum values probably will not reflect those received by the transmitter which is why you will need to teach each one of your ESCs what the maximum and minimum values need to be. First thing is to remove the propellers if they are already installed, then you need to check the manual for the exact procedure to calibrate the ESCs. If your manual does not tell you how to calibrate the ESC then you can try one of the methods discussed below.
- Start by connecting each ESC at a turn to the receiver’s throttle pin. If the ESC is not connect to the BEC then you can connect the one which is connected to the BEC to a different pin on the receiver (such as the battery input) in order to provide power to the receiver.
- Connect the ESC with the motor
- Put the joystick to maximum throttle. This is done by moving the left joystick forward as discussed above.
- Connect the LiPo battery to the PDB or directly to the ESC, whichever is appropriate.
- Usually the motor will beep three times, then pause a bit then beep two times meaning that the maximum has been set.
- Right after that the short beeps you need to put the throttle to the minimum to set that.
- Now the motor will beep three times followed by a long beep.
- GREAT! Your ESC range is now properly calibrated. Now all you need is rinse and repeat for all the ESCs you have.
If the above method did not work for your particular case then you will need to investigate other methods of calibrating the ESC, and these might be,
- USB programming. Certain ESCs can be connected by a USB cable either directly or using an adapter.
- Programming card. Most ESCs can be configured using a compatible external ESC programming card.
- Microcontroller. A more advanced option that is not very widely used.
- Flight Controller. A few ESCs can be configured using a compatible flight controller via the software interface. You need to check your flight controller’s manual to see if this is indeed possible.
Motor and Propeller Rotation Direction
With the ESCs properly configured and connected it is now time to install the propellers. Refer back to the first part of this guide to check the direction you need to setup the propellers in as it relates to your drone configuration. What you need to check is to see where each clockwise or counter clockwise propeller will need to be installed. But in ANY CASE and ANY CONFIGURATION all the propellers need to be pointing up. This means even if the props are CW or CCW or even mounted below the drone they always need to push air downwards. Usually the direction of the prop that should point to the sky has raised text with the diameter and the pitch.
HOW TO BUILD YOUR OWN DRONE – Part 2: Pre-Flight Check
Despite a drone is still heavily marketed as a toy, if it crashes is can cause lots of damage to people and property so a preflight check is a very important thing to do before every flight you take and not just you first.
- Know your directions. You need to have a clear way of knowing which way your drone is moving forward. Either add colored lights or even you can tie a colored ribbon to the arms.
- Check that your batteries are fully charged.
- Give it a hard shake! Your drone needs to be sturdy and well built, nothing should rattle inside or come loose with a hard shake. You need to do this before every flight, you never know what a previous crash might have damaged.
- Ensure that the props are connected and tightened up properly.
- First turn on your transmitter then connect the battery to the power distribution board. Do this while staying clear of the props.
- Make sure that you can arm and disarm the motors reliably (they should spin at low RPM when armed, and stop spinning when disarmed).
- Check that everything from throttle to sensors are properly calibrated. This might be skipped every few flights but make sure not to always skip it
- Check your control range.
- Check your surroundings. You should fly in a clear area with no people, if there are people then they need to be aware of what you are doing and be cautioned that it can be dangerous to approach the drone while it is spinning.
HOW TO BUILD YOUR OWN DRONE – Part 2: First Flight Testing
Now that your drone is about to get airborne it is time to do your final testing.
- Arm the motors and let them spin very slowly to check that the props are spinning in the correct direction.
- Increase throttle very slowly and insure that they are indeed pushing air downwards.
- slightly move the joystick associated with the pitch forward and back to check that the drone pitches correctly.
- Do the same with the joystick associated with roll to check that the drones pitches correctly.
If you notice something is wrong or not behaving correctly then check these reasons first,
- One or motors are not rotating or rotating in the wrong direction,
- The ESC could be connected to the wrong output on the flight controller.
- One or more of the props could be installed incorrectly, the wrong way, or even not properly fastened.
- The flight controller was not installed correctly and does not know which way is forward.
- Check all the wirings and pins that they are properly connected and installed where they should be
- It might be that everything is indeed installed correctly but the drone is reacting too harshly to user input.
HOW TO BUILD YOUR OWN DRONE – Part 2: In case of Emergencies
Things end to go wrong, especially when you are flying a drone for the first few times. And things going wrong mean that you will crash your drone, repeatedly. So what you need to do is first train in an open area with no obstacles or people who might get hurt or damaged. You also need to have a plan of what to do in case something goes wrong. As a rule of thumb it is better to lose the drone or damage it rather than you injure someone. So with that in mind here is what you should always keep in mind when flying a drone.
- Your drone is too far away from you and you can’t tell which way it is facing,
- Reduce thrust and see if you can still control the drone
- If it does, then try landing the drone where it is, if you physically can,
- If this is not possible (over water for example) then gently pitch the drone forward, if it responds the way you expected it to move then that’s the way forward, if not then you can determine which way it is facing. Anyway remember that until you are quite confident with what you do then fly the drone gently.
- The drone suddenly behaves erratically
- Due to many reasons, such as an air updraft or signal interference or any other reason your drone might suddenly move completely in the wrong direction, in such cases it is best to throttle down and let the drone crash rather than risk hitting people or forcing the drone to crash from a higher altitude.
- The drone is quickly heading towards people
- Throttle up the drone so it can go over them rather than crash into them. Once the drone is high enough try to control it properly again to make it return to safety.
- The drone is quickly heading towards YOU!
- RUN FOR YOUR LIFE! 🙂 Or you can just throttle it down so it crashes on the ground rather than your head.
- The drone is not responding to the controller
- Make sure that it really is not responding to any input, try throttling down or steering it towards you if it still does not respond then try running towards it, it might be a bit out of control range. If this still does not help then you can only pray that you are able to find it after it crashes and it remains in one piece.
- The drones loses a propeller. Depending on the configuration of your drone there might be chance of slowly landing the drone if not then you better start praying again.
HOW TO BUILD YOUR OWN DRONE – Part 2: First Flight
Whether this is you very first flight ever or you are a seasoned pilot, flying a custom built drone for the first time can carry a lot of uncertainty until you get used to the drone and the way it responds to input. So your first flight should be done in a safe place.
- Location. Pick a large open area that is clear of obstacles and people.
- Do the preflight check
- Put the drone on the ground and stand away from it at least 6 feet with its forward facing away from you.
- arm the motors
- Very gently increase the throttle until the drone is airborne. Congrats!
- Now gently play around with the various controls like pitch and yaw to get familiar with them and how the drone actually responds to you.
- Remember to keep things small, small inputs, low height, etc and in case something seems wrong throttle down and land.
- If the drone does not respond properly to your inputs then land it and go over the list above to see what is wrong.
- If the drone is indeed flying properly your first mission would be to make it hover stably 6 feet above the ground.
HOW TO BUILD YOUR OWN DRONE – Part 2: Getting it all together
The parts needed to build your own drone
The first thing you need to do after going through this guide is to actually order the parts you need to build your own drone. So to make things easier for you here is a detailed list with links to where you can get great quality parts for your build. Even if you disagree with what I recommend you should at least check them out to know what the baseline should be…
The Frame, The EMAX Nighthawk 250 Carbon Fiber Frame with motors and ESCs A great frame that is strong and light, made of carbon fiber and this kit even comes with the needed motors and ESCs.
The Flight Controller, Naze 32 Rev 6 by Abusemark Does everything you need it to do as a beginner with a great ACRO mode for when you want more from your drone.
Power Distribution Board, CC3D Mini Distribution Board Small, reliable and cheap.
Remote Controller, The FrSky Taranis X9D 16 channel, The best RC transmitter in its range, comes loaded with features.
FPV Camera, Neewer HD 700TVL with Sony Lens, Light weight camera with decent quality and field of view
Audio Video Transmitter, Immersion RC 600MW A/V transmitter, Has good signal quality and does not interfere with the RC transmitter signal
Antenna Set, 5.8GHz Fatshark sprioNET. Gives a great radio control range and pretty cheap for its quality
FPV Goggles, Fatshark Dominator HD V3, These are a bit pricey but for sure they are GREAT quality, worthy investment.
HOW TO BUILD YOUR OWN DRONE, Assembling all the parts
For a beginner, reading guides and how-tos is essential but it is just not enough, I know, I have been there myself. So in order to give you a proper and complete guide I will list the help of my friends at fpv-flightclub. They have made a great video showing a step by step instructions on how to build your own FPV drone using the parts listed above.
You can check out the two part video right here…
And Here is Part 2 of the video
HOW TO BUILD YOUR OWN DRONE CONCLUSION
There you have it. If you made it this far I congratulate you, you are already off to a great start on build your own drone that will actually fly! If you guys think I have missed something or if there is anything that is not quite clear in either part of this guide then please do not hesitate to comment below.
Good luck, have fun and fly safe!
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