How to Build a Quadcopter Drone

(Last Updated On: August 10, 2018)

I remember when I first wanted to build a quadcopter. I had no idea where to start, what to do, or what i needed. So I researched online, talked to RC Hobby Stores and RC specialists. Eventually, I figured it all out. Now I enjoy flying homemade drone much more than the ready-to-fly drone.

In this article, I will explain how you can build your own multi rotor RC drone step by step. I will also show you exactly what i did every step of the way, so you will have no problems follow along.

This guide is also useful if you are trying to build a tri-copter, hexa-copter, or even octa-copter. Follow the same steps for the quad, buy apply it for different number of motors that you are building for.

What you need

1 x Frame
4 x Brushless Motors
4 x ESC
1 x Receiver
1 x Flight Controller
1 x Battery
1 x Transmitter
1 x FPV Camera
1 x FPV Headset
1 x Landing gear (optional)

Understanding the basics

Frame: the quadcopter frame holds all of the parts together. It’s what gives the quadcopter character. Smaller frames tend to be for racing while larger ones are usually for aerial photography.

 

Motors: This is what powers your quadcopter to fly in the air. They spin the four propellers to fly. Please pay attention to the type of motor you choose. Brushless motors are the one to go. They are more powerful, more durable and normally have high quality. So if your budget allows, choose brushless motor instead of brushed motors.

ESC: This is what controls the speed of each motors (Electronic Speed Controller). It tells the motors how fast to run. You can get different ESC for different cell counts and amps. The ones I have are 2-4s (cell) 18 Amps. So that means I can run 2-4 batteries and up to 18 amps.

Flight Controller: This works along with the ESC. It determines how fast or slow each motor spins simultaneously.

Receiver: This receives the signal from the transmitter, which controls the quadcopter. It determines what the transmitter is saying and responds accordingly. It’s up to you how many channels you want. For this quad, all you need is a basic four channel receiver, but if you want to add more features like lights, than get a receiver with more channels.

Transmitter(remote controller):This is the controller that communicates to the receiver on the Quadcopter. This is how you fly your quadcopter.

Battery: provides power to all of the electronics on board, mainly the motors.

FPV headset and camera: this allows you to see a live video feed from the camera on your quadcopter to your headset.

Miscellaneous: You will also need propellers, zip ties, rubber bands, battery strap, power distribution board, a few electrical wire, and a soldering iron. You may also need a battery eliminator circuit and a few other things which will be mentioned throughout the book.

The list of required parts and links are at the end of the list

Assembling the Frame and Mounting the Motors

Step one: Once you have acquired all of the necessary parts, the first step is to assemble the frame, if needed. Some frames come ready-to-go while others require some assembly. The frame I ordered is a 250 class FPV Racer, and I had to connect the bottom frame to the top with some screws, it only took about 30 minutes to complete.

One thing to be aware of is the power distribution board (PDB). If the PDB is easily accessible when attached to your frame, then go ahead and attach it. But, if you can’t use a soldering gun on the PDB when it is attached to the frame, you need to solder the PDB board before it is placed on the frame. Skip to the next part on soldering the PDB. Then once it is soldered, come back here and follow the next step.

Step Two: The next part is to attach the four motors to the frame. Look at the motors first and see if there is any assembly needed. All I had to do was screw one bracket on each motor. Then I was able to secure the motors to the frame with screws that were provided. Side Note: The four motors and ESC’s were a package deal for ~$80. They also came with a few extra screws.

Soldering the ESC’s and PDB

With each motor, there should be three colored wires attached. On mine, they are red, black, and blue. The red wire is for positive, the black wire is for negative, and the blue wire is what I call the signal wire (it lets the flight controller tell how fast the motor to spin).

On each ESC, there should also be three wires coming out of both ends. One end should have the same red, black, and blue wires as the motor does (mine actually has three black wires instead of being color-coded, as you can see below). The other end of the ESC should have a red and black wire for positive and negative as well as a signal plug wire coming out. This is the signal wire that plugs into the flight controller.

Soldering: I like to think of soldering as a mini version of welding. You are connecting two pieces together and creating a secure connection. If you have a loose connection, it could disconnect causing your Quadcopter to crash. Follow these steps for proper soldering (If you don’t want to solder anything, you could attach all the wires with connectors and power the Quadcopter that way, but it adds more weight and takes up space, so I would solder instead):Tin the wire before soldering. This is done by melting solder onto the wire, which makes it easier when you connect the two parts.
Tin the other wire or circuit board (PDB) as well.Hold the tinned wires together and tough them with the solder gun. This will heat the solder on both connections to join and bond together.

Let the solder cool and then gently check for any loose connections.

Step one: From the motor, match the wire colors with the same wire colors from the ESC and connect them. If they are all black like mine, look at the other end of the ESC to figure out which one is positive, negative, and signal wire. You can buy some plug connectors to attach them. I didn’t have any, so I soldered them together along with electrical tape for a secure connection.

Step two: Next, you need to solder the red and black wires from the ESC to the PDB (Power Distribution Board). This is probably the hardest and most time-absorbing task. So be glad once you’ve finished soldering because you’re that much closer!

The PDB is how the battery powers everything. Each of the four motors is soldered onto the PDB with a female plug for the battery. There is also a connection from the PDB to the flight controller and receiver for power. So when the battery is plugged into the PDB, it can power everything up.

Step Three: Lastly, solder the battery plug onto the PDB. Choose a specific battery plug for the type of batteries you want to use. I chose the XT-60 plug for my 3s (cell) batteries, shown in the picture to the right.

Once you’ve finished soldering/connecting the motor, ESC, battery plug, and PDB together, you can leave the signal wire (from the ESC) alone until a later step where we will plug it into the correct location.

Mount the Electronics

Now you need to mount the rest of the parts onto the Quadcopter frame. You will need the Flight Controller, Receiver, and potentially a BEC.

Step One: The first step is to mount the flight controller. Look for a spot on your frame that is designed specifically for your flight controller. Use nylon screws to mount it to the frame or anything that won’t put too much tension on the flight controller. It’s important that you cushion or provide support to the flight controller. If there is too much tension on the controller and you crash, it could crack in half. Side Note: You can use zip ties to secure most anything on your Quadcopter frame. They’re easy, strong, and cheap.

Step Two: Next, you can mount the Receiver. Just look for any open place on your frame that you can secure the receiver and have the antenna out in the open. Make sure it’s in a good spot for the antenna to communicate with your transmitter.

Step Three: The last thing you need to think about is how you’re going to power your flight controller and transmitter. If your ESC signal wire has three little wires twirled together that come to a plug, then you have individual BEC’s in each ESC. This means that you can use one or all of your ESC’s to power the flight controller and receiver. You don’t have to worry about anything.

However, if you don’t have three wires, but instead have two little wires twirled together that come to a plug, then you need a separate BEC (Battery Eliminator Circuit, shown below) to power the Flight Controller. The BEC is a regulator that switches the voltage coming off the battery from 11.1v (or whatever voltage your battery is) to 5v. This will safely power your flight controller and receiver.

All you have to do is solder the BEC to your PDB and then plug it into your receiver. I soldered it right onto female battery plug (as you can see to the right). This provides power to the receiver. Then the wires from the receiver to the flight controller provide power to the flight controller.

Connecting Wires

Now that everything essential is on board, it’s time to plug everything together and tie everything down. In this section you’ll need data wires and zip ties, Velcro, and/or rubber bands.

Step One: Check to make sure your motors, ESC’s, battery plug, and BEC are properly connected or soldered to the PDB. If you notice a loose connection, take the time to re-solder it, you will be thankful in the end.

Step Two: Plug in each of the signal wires from the ESC’s into the flight controller from top to bottom in this order; refer to the diagram below. The motor one signal plug from the ESC (top left) plugs into the M1 slot on the right side of the flight controller.

You can also see in the picture below how the ESC’s plug into the flight controller. Start with the top left, then top right, bottom right, and bottom left. They plug into the flight controller from top to bottom on the right side. Make sure you plug them in correctly with the negative (black) wire towards the outside the power (red) wire in the middle (only if you have a BEC in your ESC), and the signal (white) wire towards the middle of the flight controller.

Step Three: Now you’ll need to connect the flight controller and the receiver together. They have nifty wiring now that saves time, space, and money! It’s a data wire with nine wires stuck together (shown below), perfect for Quadcopters. It comes with 7 plugs; the first plug carries the power and throttle signal, while the other six are basic data wires that don’t need to be individually powered!

Plug in the throttle data plug into the flight controller on the left side. Place the negative wire at the bottom, the power (red) wire above that, and the throttle signal wire above that. Then simply plug in three more single data wires right next to the throttle/power plug, and tear off the remaining wires that you don’t need from the group. These data wires are for rudder, ailerons, and elevator.

Once these are plugged into the flight controller, go ahead and plug the other ends into the receiver. Start with the throttle data plug and plug it into the throttle slot on the receiver. The negative (brown) wire should be facing down, the power (red) wire in the middle pin, and the throttle signal (pink) wire in the top slot. Then plug in the next three single data wires in order on the top slots. Yellow in the aileron, green in the elevator, and blue in the rudder.

The last thing to check is if you are using a separate BEC. If you are, then that needs to be plugged into the receiver to power the receiver and flight controller. The negative wire plugs in the bottom, the power wire in the middle, and the signal wire in the top. It does not matter which slot the BEC plugs into. I have my BEC plugged into the AUX slot. If you’re not using a separate BEC, then the Rx and FC are powered by the BEC’s in your ESC’s through the signal wire that plugs into the flight controller.

Step Four: Now that everything is plugged in, connected, and/or soldered, it’s time to strap everything down. Make sure that there aren’t any loose wires, connections, electronics, etc. Everything needs to be secure and away from the propellers when running. It’s important that everything on the Quadcopter is properly secured down so that nothing comes apart or is damaged by the propellers.

Setup and Testing

In this section, you will finish the final touches of your Quadcopter. The last step is setting up the FPV. It’s important that you test everything to make sure it’s working before your maiden flight. Once everything is finalized, you are ready to fly!

Step One: The first thing to do is take your propellers off. If the propellers are on the motors while you’re testing the Quadcopter, the motors could start spinning and injure you. I highly recommend you remove the propellers and keep them off until you are completely setup and ready to fly.

Once the props are off, plug in your battery and power up the flight controller. It is recommended that you update to the latest version of your flight controller. I didn’t on mine because I don’t have the cable to plug it in. But, I’ve been flying it for a while now, and I haven’t experienced any issues without updating.

Step Two: Once you’re into the flight controller with the battery plugged in, scroll through the menu and calibrate the sensor. It should be under something like, ‘Sensor Calibration’ (make sure the Quad is on a level surface before calibrating). After the Quadcopter is calibrated, you can adjust any other settings you’d like to. But, at this point, your Quad should basically be ready to fly. If for some reason it isn’t, contact me or google; “how to setup (your specific flight controller).”

Step Three: Now it’s time to bind your transmitter to your Quadcopter. Take the bind plug and stick it into one of the receiver slots (a bind plug is a plug with one wire coming out the top and going back into the bottom of the plug. It’s really small). Then plug the battery into the Quadcopter. You should see a flashing light coming from the receiver.

Next, turn your transmitter on into bind mode. This is usually done by holding the trainer switch while turning the transmitter on. Stay in bind mode until the transmitter binds with the receiver (the flashing light should quit and become steady). Once you’ve connected to the Quadcopter, you shouldn’t ever have to bind it again.

With the Quadcopter and transmitter connected and both powered on, arm the Quadcopter (usually done by pushing the rudder all the way right. Disarm it by pushing the rudder all the way left), and give it some throttle without the propellers on. Ensure that the motors and everything else are working properly.

Step Four: With the Quadcopter disarmed and grounded, go to the ‘motor layout’ section in the flight controller menu. This should give you a diagram of which direction the motors are programmed to spin. Two motors will spin one way while the other two spin opposite. This helps stabilize the Quadcopter during flight.

Note which ways the motors are supposed to spin, and check to see if the motors spin the correct way. If they don’t, you will have to switch two of the wires from the motor to the ESC. Take the positive and negative wires that come from the motor and switch them with the wires from the ESC. This will reverse the direction of the motor.

Side note: After flying a few times, it may be necessary to adjust some settings. Also, if you are having a hard time controlling the Quadcopter because it’s moving too fast and out of control, you can lower the dual rates on your transmitter. I did this and it helped a ton!

Step Five: Now that the motors are spinning correctly and everything seems to be operating properly, put the props on! There are specific propellers for each motor. Two props should be different from the other two. Look at one motor and note which way it spins.

Take a propeller and place it on the motor. The propeller needs to be angled upwards as the motor spins. In the picture below, the top propeller is meant to spin clockwise, and the bottom prop counter-clockwise. Do this for each motor and be sure to tighten the propellers down securely.

It is now time to truly test your Quadcopter! Take it outside for a test flight. Be extra cautious on the maiden flight. Look for any issues with the Quadcopter and correct them. Otherwise you’re now done and ready to have several adventures with your very own self-made Quadcopter. Happy flying!

Setting up the FPV

This is where your Quadcopter turns into a drone. You will need a headset, camera, transmitter, receiver, and a few miscellaneous parts. For my setup, I bought a package deal that comes with everything on Hobby king for $100. It claims a range of up to 1500 km (almost one mile), without any interference. For the price, this is a really good deal.

Step One: Assemble the video ground station (the headset). Whatever brand or type of FPV headset you get, it may require some assembly. If you get Fat Sharks, there isn’t much you need to do except plugging in wires. However, my setup required more assembly, here’s what I did.

First, I had to glue/tape foam pieces on and around the video screen. Then I had to plug in cords from the receiver to the video. Next, I put on Velcro for a battery location. Lastly, I secured everything to the headset to make it portable. One thing I don’t like is how heavy my headset is. With everything attached, it probably weighs about five pounds!

Step Two: Connect everything else together. Take the camera, plug in the cord to the transmitter, and then screw on the transmitter antenna. It’s extremely important that you don’t power on the receiver or transmitter without the antennas on. It’s like an exhaust pipe, without it, the receiver or transmitter would fry up and get damaged.

After your headset assembly is done, screw on the antenna for the receiver. Now, plug in a battery to the camera and headset to power everything up.

In order to receive live video from the camera, both the transmitter and receiver need to be on the same channel. I won’t go in depth on the best channel to use, but, the lower the frequency means the farther the range. 5.8 Ghz is the most common frequency for FPV, and there are usually several sub channels that you can tune to. For more information on FPV, look at my webpage, http://www.rcplanefun.net/learn-rc/fpv-first-person-view/

Once everything is connected, powered on, and tuned to the same channel, you should see live video on your headset. If not, check for loose wires and anything that appears out of the ordinary.

Step Three: Attach the FPV camera. Now you need to place your FPV camera on your Quadcopter. I placed mine in the very front, facing straight forward. If you plan on fast FPV racing, then I suggest you angle your camera upwards. This way you can still see where you’re going when the Quadcopter is at a steep forward angle.

Now you are completely finished with your Quadcopter drone. It’s an exciting and different experience when flying FPV. It may take some getting accustomed to. Here are some tips to help you fly well.

Know your aircraft – I highly recommend flying your Quadcopter regularly at first. Figure out how it likes to fly, especially speed. Master your Quadcopter first and then try out the FPV.
Fly the Quad into the air first, and then pull the goggles down over your eyes to fly FPV.
Always move forward, don’t let your Quadcopter fly backwards while in FPV. It’s hard to know your quadcopter’s orientation through FPV.
Don’t fly out of signal range. You can do a range check to see exactly how far away you can fly FPV. If your video gets blurry or starts cutting out, fly closer to home base.

Where can I buy these parts

When you are starting out, getting a Drone Building Kit is probably the best option. The package contains everything you need to build the drone and the price is more competitive than if you buy every part separately. This is one of the best Drone building kit on the market.

woafly LHI 220 Quadcopter Kit Full Carbon Frame Kit+DX2205 2300KV Brushless Motor+ Littlebee 20A Mini ESC+5045 Propeller ARF
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woafly LHI 220 Quadcopter Kit Full Carbon Frame Kit+DX2205 2300KV Brushless Motor+ Littlebee 20A Mini ESC+5045 Propeller ARF
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