For some quadcopter enthusiasts there’s an alternative to purchasing an already assembled quadcopter, known as a quadcopter kit. Quadcopter kits put the imagination and creativity in your hands, as you get to design and build your own model rather than buying a ready-to-fly model such as the Phantom 3 or Parrot BeBop.
Typically there are several components involved in building a quadcopter from the ground up, and understanding the complexity your venture in advance will determine the types of materials you’ll need. However, if you’re just beginning to dabble in quadcopters, we would recommend starting with something simple, as putting together a quadcopter can be complicated if you’re not sure what you’re doing.
Before You Buy…
An all-inclusive quadcopter kit eliminates the guesswork and provides all the materials to assemble a functioning quadcopter. Rather than starting with a base support, these are a nice alternative for someone just starting out. Always keep in mind that just because you attach certain parts together doesn’t guarantee your quadcopter is going to fly. Several varying factors come into play when designing a quadcopter, and most of them have to do with physics and the laws of gravity. Keeping this in mind, you don’t need to be a science whiz or an engineer to build your own quadcopter kit, but you do need some basic knowledge of technology and a bit of practice.
For instance, if you choose a heavy frame but not a motor or propellers that can accommodate the weight from the frame, you’re going to end up with a quadcopter kit that doesn’t leave the ground. Companies who provide all-inclusive quadcopter kits have already completed this legwork for you by testing the product prior to allowing it to be sold. Therefore, if you purchase a quadcopter kit that requires following simple instructions, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a machine that will fly.
Either path you take, whether it’s an all-inclusive quadcopter kit or purchasing individual parts, it’s recommended that you start off small and forego the advanced elements such as FPV (first person view) and camera capabilities, as these can be incorporated at a later time once you’ve developed a functional quadcopter for sale from your quadcopter kit.
Quadcopter Kit Essentials
If you’re determined to create your own quadcopter from individual parts purchased based on your research (like the advice from this article!), you should know some of the basic components that are required. Forgetting to purchase any of these parts will leave your hobby desires unfulfilled and your quadcopter dreams crushed.
- Frame – First you’ll need a frame for the quadcopter – this is the foundation all other parts will be somehow reliable on. Frames are available in different sizes and shapes, and they vary in weight. The weight and durability of the frame are very important to understand when choosing a frame for your quadcopter kit. A lighter frame allows you to incorporate other, heavier components without having to worry about introducing an overload of mass. Too heavy of a quadcopter and you won’t make it off the ground.
You also want a frame that is durable and capable of withstanding unexpected crashes or impacts during the testing stages. It’s possible to construct your own frame from a kit but it’s not recommended for anyone that hasn’t building quadcopter kits for years. One other important thing to remember is to make sure that your frame is equipped with landing gear or arms.
- Motor – The second most important component is the motor; it’s the engine and the power of the quadcopter – the battery just provides the juice. Your choice in a motor plays a pivotal role in the success of your copter. Researching the specifications of motors is essential for individual quadcopters, as you’ll want to incorporate enough power to get the copter off the ground. Your motor also determines the speeds you can reach and provides the strength to support the frame and other attached parts. Motors are commonly categorized in a KV rating, which is a measurement for motor velocity more commonly known as revolutions per minute or RPM. The more RPM’s you have to operate the propellers, the greater power and lifting capabilities it will have.
- Propellers – Propellers vary greatly – especially their price range. They are the determining factor on how well your quadcopter will fly. Less expensive propellers can be manufactured with imprecise tendencies and tend to vibrate more. A little vibration is fine, but the more stable a propeller is in flight, the more control you’ll have while flying in adverse or long-range conditions. Having stable propellers also assists when using your quadcopter kit for video or photo.
Keep in mind that the length of a propeller has a lot to do with the KV of the motor. The higher KV your motor has the smaller the propeller you’ll need. Motors with less KV tend to fly better with longer propellers, as they provide additional stability. The pitch of your propellers determines the amount of thrust. A smaller pitch is easier to fly, but provides less of an exciting flight experience. The last measurement to take into consideration is the bore size. The bore is the hole located in the center of the propeller that is connected to the shaft of the motor. If you’re not careful, you’ll find that the bore doesn’t match the motor shaft, and you’ll have to purchase an adapter separately. Make sure to check this before buying any propellers.
- Batteries – Not only do you need to have a battery attached to the quadcopter, you’ll also require a battery for the remote control. There are three essential components to consider when choosing a battery.
- Number of Cells (S-rating) – Batteries in general consist one or more cells, 1S being a single cell, 2S being two cells, 3S being three, and so on and so forth. Each cell contains a number of volts. You can determine the amount of volts your batteries contain by using basic arithmetic. Simple multiply the volts by the number of cells. For examples, a battery that contains 3.7 volts and has 3 cells contains 11.1 volts.
- Capacity (mAh) – The capacity is the number one determinant of flight time. The higher the capacity, the more life storage the battery has. However, batteries with higher capacities tend to be heavier, so remember to consider this when calculating your overall payload.
- Discharge Rate (C-rating) – As a general note, the higher the C-rating the better. The discharge rate determines how fast the battery can be safely discharged; it also provides information to assist you in calculating the flight time in minutes with the maximum load. To accomplish this, you need to divide 60 (1 hour) by the C-rating; this will give you a fairly accurate estimate of flying minutes. Remember, this time can vary due to the load capacity and is calculated based on a maximum load. To determine your maximum load capacity, you’ll want to multiply the C-rating and the capacity (mAh). In addition, the C-rating will also assist you in determining your stunt capability or if you want to include other components such as a camera.
Some batteries come with connectors, and some do not. If the latter is the case, you’ll have to solder these on yourself, which can prove to be troublesome for the average quadcopter kit enthusiast. To avoid having to attach connectors to the battery, we would suggest selecting ones that are pre-connected.
Along with batteries, you’ll need a charger that is compatible with your battery. This is an area you want to splurge a little and ensure you buy something of quality. You want a charger that will outlast your battery and not the other way around. A good durable charger will serve you well and prevent your battery from dying faster than it should.
- Remote Control Device or RC Transmitter – The RC transmitter is required for the pilot to operate and direct the quadcopter in the direction he/she decides. As with any other component involved in building a quadcopter, the remote control device needs to be well thought out before purchase. Remote controls are associated with channels and each channel operates a specific function. For instance, one channel will operate the throttle, one will control left and right direction, one will provide forward and backward thrust, and another will allow for rolling left or right. 4-channel remotes are the minimum, and anything above a 4-channel will increase your overall ability for customization during flight.
In addition, remotes also are available in (2) two modes, mode one and mode two. It’s fairly simple, right? With mode 1 the elevator or lifting control is located on the left joystick and the throttle is located on the right joystick. Mode 2 is the complete opposite, in that the elevator is located on the right joystick and the throttle is located on the left. Mode 2 is also the most common of the modes as it also controls the axis direction of the quadcopter.
There are generally two frequencies available for transmission, 72 MHz and 2.4 GHz. The difference between them actually quite large. A 72 MHz transmission allows for greater range, but since it is such a common frequency, you can encounter a lot of interference. 2.4 GHz frequency is fairly new, and its range isn’t spectacular. If you like to fly your quadcopter kit with others the 2.4 GHz frequency is ideal as it doesn’t catch as much interference.
The items listed above are only the basic components involved in a quadcopter kit. There are countless additional items that you can incorporate into your quadcopter. If you plan on further customizing your quadcopter kit, make sure you have an adequate platform to work with – along with channels and the proper weight capabilities.
More About Quadcopter Kits
In closing, thoroughly research your options to educate yourself on the advantages and disadvantages of every part. Remember, size isn’t everything when it comes to building your own quadcopter with camera, and sometimes building a micro quadcopter can be just as rewarding as a larger, more complex model. Start slow and work your way up to a more advanced kit, that way you’ll have the experience built up to tackle a more advance quadcopter kit with all the bells and whistles you’ve always wanted. Most of all, have fun with your kit, and make it your own, especially if your kit becomes a quadcopter with GoPro capabilties – you’ll be making videos all day.