This will be an explanation of what the major components of a racing drone are. All drones will include some example of each of these parts. Understanding what they all do and how will make you a better builder, better tuner and better pilot.
FPV drone frames are the part that holds everything together. Similar to the chassis of a car it is what everything is mounted too. Frames are typically made of advanced materials like carbon fiber and titanium/steel/aluminium usually in an attempt to provide additional rigidity, strength or a creative style for the pilot. all the other important parts are mounted to the frame in some way shape or form. The most common method for attaching parts to your frame is using M3 metric nuts and bolts, Your tool chest will need to include M1.5, M2, M2.5 and M3 drivers in order to assemble most racing drone frames.
FPV Drone motors are used to spin the propellers and generate lift. Motors consist of 3 primary parts, the motor shaft where the propeller mounts, generally clockwise threaded 5mm shafts, the Bell that holds all the magnets in place and spins with the shaft, and the stator/base. This is the part you screw to your frame to create a sturdy base for the drone to fly. Motors are typically measured by their stater in millimeters but you cannot just grab your calipers and measure them on someone’s drone. The Motor stater is only exposed when you remove the bell and disassemble the motor. The stater contains the silicon steel lamination and motor winding’s epoxied to a leight-weight threaded base. Generally speaking a larger stater will allow for more thrust and more power from the ESCs to be translated to the propeller. The common nomenclature for motor naming is ( ## ## ) where the first 2 numbers refers to the stater width in mm and the second 2 numbers refer to the stater height. The other label you will find on motors is the Kv, Kv stands for constant voltage and it is a representation of the number of RPMs a motor is capable of sustaining when a particular voltage is applied.
FPV drone motors spin extremely fast so quality manufacturing techniques and balancing are a must. As with all things there are levels of reliability and attention to detail that make motors more or less expensive. The Table 5 team has found that there are some great motors in the $10 price range like the DYS WEI and some amazing motors in the $25 price range like the Hyperlite team editions but really any motor that is sufficiently balanced and not damaged should fly fine.
ELECTRONIC SPEED CONTROLLERS ( ESCs)
After you have chosen a motor you will need a speed controller to control it. In the drone community Electronic Speed Controllers are refereed to as ESCs and for the remained of this page we will refer to them as ESCs. ESCs take information from the flight controller and convert it to more or less power at the motor. Think of ESCs lindof like the throttle cable in a car, when you want to go faster you open the throttle and dump in more fuel to make more power. The ESC dumps extra electricity to the motor to make them spin faster. The most important factor when selecting an ESC is to match the motor specs with an ESC that can provide ample current to the motor which will eventually be converted to thrust. Most ESC manufacturers provide current data in the name of the ESC and it makes it easy for a pilot to determine the power handling of the ESC. For 6 inch racing and freestyle drones we recommend selecting an ESC that is capable of handling a minimum of 30amps of continuous current.
ESCs are available in 2 major varieties, there are single stand alone ESCs as well as 4 in 1 ESC modules. While 4 in 1 ESCs are quickly becoming the norm there are arguments for individual ESCs namely if the ESC is damaged in a crash a single ESC can be easily replaced rather than being required to replace the whole 4 in 1 with only 1 bad ESC. The primary benefit of the 4 in 1 ESC is that it centralizes the weight of the quad copter and often provides additional features like current sensing. Another factor when choosing ESCs is the communication protocol employed.
Because the hobby changes so fast this recommendation is only current up to the date written 5.xx.18 and we will change the page to match current recommendations. At the present moment the Dshot 1200 protocol between flight controllers and ESCs provides the best possible flight experience so selecting an ESC that is capable of running at those speeds provides a benifit to the pilot. Look for Bl-Heli_32 or 32bit on ESCs to determine if they are capable of supporting the Dshot 1200 protocols.
This is arguably the most important part of any build. The Flight controller or FC is the part of the build that does all the Math. It is also the part that you will be soldering all the other components too. Flight controllers connect via solder joints to every part of your build. Flight controllers tell the ESCs how fast to spin the motors, they listen to the receiver and interpret the commands you send from the radio in your hands and convert those commands into changes in motor speed. Flight controllers differentiate themselves by optimizing the pin layout, offering more or less UARTS ( hardware interface connectors ) and current carrying capacity. Some flight controllers also include alternate interchangeable hardware that allows more advanced pilots to tune their setup for their specific needs.
FLIGHT CONTROL FIRMWARE
BETAFLIGHT – RACEFLIGHT – CLEANFLIGHT _ OH MY
You can think of flight controller firmware in a similar way to thinking about an operating system on your computer. If your goal is to surf the internet you can use computers with Windows 7, 8 or 10 or if you buy different hardware you could use Apple OSX or if you have a chrome book you could use ChromeOS. All of those options work with the hardware you have to help you acheive the goal of getting you online. Most flight controllers come preinstalled with Betaflight firmware but some flight controllers come with their own dedicated hardware light raceflight or butterflight.
This firmware also dictates which software package you use to configure the flight controller. For the purpose of this walkthrough we will assume that you will purchase a flight controller that comes preinstalled with betaflight firmware. The betaflight configurator is relatively easy to navigate and we will have setup tutorials for betaflight version [3.3x]
As you advance as a pilot you may find the urge to try different flight controller firmwars or even different flight controller hardware, If you start with the recommended hardware you will be able to easily swap between Raceflight, Betaflight and even butterflight hardware.
For many people the reason they start flying drones is because they came across a video where a person flew a drone over something beautiful or did cool acrobatic trics up in the air. In order to control a drone moving as fast as they do you will need to have a clear picture of what your drone see while its flying. The goal with a FPV camera is to be as clear and sharp as possible while not using an excessive amount of battery power to stay up and running. When shopping for FPV cameras there are really 4 specs that matter, the light sensativity ( higher sensativity to light is always better ) the wide dynamic range ability, the voltage handling and the form factor. While many of the popular FPV cameras today hit all the marks some are more well suited for particular environments like flying racing tracks at night or flying in very bright environments.
VIDEO TRANSMITTER – VTX
The VTX or Video Transmitter receives an analog video signal from the Flight controller OSD ( On Screen Display ) and sends it via 5.8Ghz wavelength to a receiver mounted in your goggles or flight screen.The signal that the VTX sends is an analog signal so you will not typically receive the same beautiful color, resolution and saturation that you see on youtube, think old school TV. It is more than enough to give people the feeling of flying but not the same as the things you see online. The qualities we look for in VTXs are clean signal reproduction, small footprint, desirable antenna interface and reliable cooling/longevity.
The radio sends a series of channels to your drone that the flight controller will interpret as move commands. The absolute minimum number of channels you can use to fly a drone is 5 ( 2 channels per stick with 2 sticks and an arm switch ).There are a handful of ways a person can interface with their drone including but not limited to 2.4Ghz transmitters, 900Mhz transmitters and even Bluetooth and Wifi Links. the 2.4Ghz and 900Mhz link are the most common choices for controlling your drone and many of the radio options will use one of those 2 options. You will also find that most transmitters have between 9 and 16 channels and while you may not use them immediately we recommend getting a radio that has at least 8 channels to give you 4 switches you can use for things like arming, mode selection and even beeper activation for when you accidentally land in a position thats hard to see.
When you select your Control radio you will need a piece of hardware to listen for the signal and forward that signal to the flight controller. Your radio receiver or RX will need to match the control system that your transmitter is sending as well as be paired to your particular radio. That means that FrSky protocol radios will need to be used with FrSky receivers and Crossfire Radios will need to be used tih Crossfire receivers. While there are some major differences between how different radio protocols work the primary function remains the same, paired with a radio the receiver talks to your radio and Flight controller to tell the flight controller what your fingers are doing on the radio.
To send and receive analog video you will require at least 2 video antennas ( one to send and one to receive ) As a general rule of thumb you try to match your antennas size and polarization for the best possible video reception but in many cases keeping a Pagoda, circular polarized wire antenna, or a axii antenna on the drone and any combination of those on your goggles or screen will work great.
Goggles is an interesting part of this conversation. Being the part that interfaces with your face and the part you will be relying on to accurately represent what the drone sees in both signal clarity and picture quality there are really an infinite number of options ranging in price from $60 to $1000. There really is no best goggle, just the one you prefer to fly on. For the purpose of this guide i will suggest 2 typse of goggles one being the BOX STYLE where the goggles use a large screen to give you a big screen experience and a set of pro looking lo profile FATSHARKs that are the most common goggle found in the FPV community. Keep in mind that FATSHARK goggles will also require you to purchase a stand alone FPV Video receiver module and it will be considerably more expensive but the trade off is much more portability and in many cases better user experience and reliability from the additional modules.
LITHIUM BATTERY SAFETY
WARNING LITHIUM BATTERIES ARE DANGEROUS! THEY ARE FLAMMABLE, TEMPERATURE SENSITIVE AND VERY ENERGY DENSE. THEY CAN AND WILL CATCH FIRE!
Warnings aside it is important to keep in mind that Lithium Polymer batteries are currently the only power source that is viable in this hobby. They are energy dense enough and light enough to provide exceptional amounts of power on takeoff and during acrobatic maneuvers and they are typically safe enough to handle, charge, transport and enjoy. That said lithium Polymer batteries or LiPos can be very dangerous if they are handled improperly and when they fail they tend to do so in a violent way ( think fireballs, electrical burns and flame throwers )
Battery Capacity – On our recommended drone you can expect to fly for between 3 and 5 minutes depending on your propellor selection and how agressive you fly. Closely monitor your battery voltage in flight and never over drain your packs.
If you handle them correctly and follow these 5 rule you can use them with a relative degree of safety
For more battery safety and information, see our Battery Safety and Longevity Guide
The Lithium Batteries are the fuel for your drone. In many cases a good battery will make a drone shine and an old or poorly selected battery can take all the fun out of the experience. Keep in mind these are the dangerous, flamable poart of this hobby so treat them with the utmost respect.
The most reliable packs we have found at the best price are produced and imported by PiroFlip RC, they made their name as a helicopter store and they are the primary supplier for many of the parts we reccommend. They take a very laid back attitude towards the brand name of their packs and we recommend their “who cares” branded products on a regular basis. For this battery suggestion we will go with one of their race packs. The best capacity and rating we have found for our recommended drone is a 1300Mah 75c pack. We typically bring between 5 and 10 packs when we go out to fly but I would suggest starting with 2 or 3 so the investment isnt so large. When you decide that you love flying this is where your upgrade money should go until you are very confident in your flying ability.
The most reliable and easy to use chargers we have found are produced by ISDT, they are typically sold as DC input only chargers so they may require the purchase of a seperate DC power supply if you intend to use them with household 120v power. For many users a bench power supply or even a converted PC power supply can act as a 12v 10A source for powering your charger but it is a necessary consideration.
**This guide will be updated as new information becomes available**