Step 1: Purchase a low cost quadcopter and some accompanying components
This is the most common advice that you will come across while talking to any drone pilot out there. Believe me, it is the most important advice that you should adhere to as well.
The first time you put a quadcopter in the air, you are definitely going to end up crashing it into the ground. You will not be familiar about the behavior of the machine: how it will respond to your movement of sticks. Moreover, you will flyget obfuscated more often than not and finally the drone will come soaring down into the ground.
There is no need to worry right now. This happens to the most expert of pilots in the beginning.
What’s so great with micro quadcopters is that they are built with lightweight materials so they are not easy to break. At most, you will end up damaging a propeller or two. You will really have to mess up things big time if you want to destroy your drone in the first attempt.
In addition to the quadcopter, you will also be required to buy additional batteries and propellers. One battery might provide you with a flight duration of around 5 to 6 minutes and it really is frustrating if you have to get your batteries charged for every half an hour and then get a flight duration of just 5 to 6 minutes. I would recommend you to get your hands on at least 5 to 6 batteries in total so that you are able to get a flight duration of at least half an hour without any break.
Now, it is time to put in lots and lots of practice sessions in your quadcopter flying. This will help you determine if you still want to continue with this hobby or not. I fell madly in love with this hobby with my first drone ever. However, if you feel that this is not your cup of tea, you will have spent nor more than $100 and so it won’t be a huge setback in terms of financial loss. Plus, you would also have had some fun while trying to fly the quadcopter. Fair enough!
Once you get a hang of your toy quadcopter and are able to do the following stuff with reckless ease, then you will be ready to graduate to the next level and buy a hobby-grade drone:
- You are able to hover your drone over a certain location
- You can maneuver your drone without losing gaining too much elevation
- You can turn your drone while moving forward
- You no longer get flustered when you make a mistake rather you correct it through subtle movements on the controller
Toy Quadcopter Recommendations
- Hubsan X4 107L: This is an ideal drone designed especially for the rookies. It is solid and boasts features that make flying this gadget as intuitive as it can get. It includes beginner mode with restricted bank angles and an expert mode with faster and steeper banking. This is a must have for all novices.
- Hubsan X4 H107D+: This is the FPV ready variant of the Hubsan X4 107L. It gives you the benefit of practicing line of sight flying and then latching onto the FPV flying once you get better. With $125, it is the most expensive among toy grade drones and comes loaded with FPV system and a display screen as well.
- Blade Inductrix: It comes with integrated propeller guards and three modes of flight. Two of the modes are similar to the Hubsan X4 107L while the third one is in which you can continue to bank the quadcopter around 360 degrees and the quadcopter does not level itself out. What’s really cool about it is that you can hang onto it and once you become an expert dronie, you can convert it into a Tiny Whoop. It can also be customized into a phenomenal FPV drone as well.
- Blade Nano QX: The Blade Nano QX is slightly highly priced than the X4. It has a size similar to that of Hubsan X4 107L but boasts features that are in comparison to a large sized racing drone. It offers three modes of flight and as a pilot, you can always move from the easiest to the most difficult gradually. It can also be converted into an awesome FPV drone once you become better at flying drones.
Step 1a: Don’t be a jerk, when you fly!
This is a crucial thing that you need to keep in mind. When you are flying a toy grade drone or even a hobby grade drone, do not fly it near people. Do not, I repeat, do not fly it even your loved ones.
Quadcopters have four propellers than spin at thousands of Rotations per Minute. They can cause serious injury to people and it can always damage your quadcopter as well.
Also, avoid flying a quadcopter in crowded local parks. Drone flying has a few stereotypes associated with it and we should do whatever is in our power to remove those stigmas.
Prefer flying in wide open spaces where you have sufficient room to correct your mistakes. As you get better at flying, try flying through obstacles and hindrances. You can either create them yourself or opt for the natural ones such as trees, foliage, buildings etc.
There are radio controlled vehicles dedicated flying fields in a number of cities. Most folks there are quite friendly and they will mingle with you nicely. If you do not be a jerk, you will end up making lifelong dronie friends.
Step 2: If you have budget constraints, start saving some money up
To begin your journey as a drone hobbyist, you will need to have at least $800 to $1,000 in the bank. Even if you opt to build something that is very low cost, components such as FPV system, batteries, a quadcopter and a charger will cost you a substantial amount.
It can be quite frustrating if you have to wait for several months owing to budgetary constraints and you can’t fly your drone. I have had to go through this several times due to incorrect part orders, crashes and poor budgeting on my part. So, you should have $800 to $1,000 reserved for your hobby entirely.
In addition to starting your hobby up and the amount required for it, you also need to have some money up your sleeves for remaining in the air. You will require additional FPV antennas and plenty of extra propellers. So, it is better that you reserve some savings up specifically for your hobby in your monthly budget.
Believe me, the urge to build a new quadcopter once you have finished building one already can be quite overwhelming.
I have ordered some parts for a machine that I am in the middle of building and I have already started looking out for frames for my upcoming quadcopter.
Step 3: Know what to expect
You need to have knowledge about soldering and also need to get your hands on a decent soldering iron.
You will definitely crash your drone a lot. If you do not get crashed, it means that you are not trying hard enough to learn new stuff.
Components will be broken and they will need to be mended or replaced.
Getting crashed and having your parts damaged is not a bad thing. This will happen plenty of times and it happens even to the professionals. It is part and parcel of the hobby. Stay cool!
It may happen that you have spent hours and hours on building a quadcopter and as you inserted the battery in, something got burnt. Then you will have to carry out some technical backstopping and replace the damaged part.
You will certainly not become an expert drone pilot like Charpu from day one. But with lots of practice sessions, you can definitely become one. The more you fly your drone, the better you will get at it.
Believe me, you will love every bit of it!
Step 4: Get a Simulator
Graduating from a toy grade quadcopter to an advanced racing quadcopter is not any easy thing to do. The racing quadcopter will portray lots of power, plenty more than the toy grade quadcopter. Moreover, the initial flights of the FPV could be quite discomforting.
To get accustomed to FPV, get your hands on a FPV simulator. You will require a radio controller but that has to be the first investment that you make in the hobby.
You will be able connect the controller to your computer system and use it with the simulator. There are numerous FPV simulators out there on the market but here are the recommended top three for you.
It is low cost and comes loaded with tons of functionality. It does not cost an arm and a leg and the money that you spend for it will be saved in terms of the crashes and damaged drone components that could happen in the future without any FPV experience. Features are not that many as well as the maps are limited. But considering the price that you will be paying and the experience you will be getting, it is a must-have.
I have used FPV Freerider and LiftOff both. But currently I use LiftOff more since it lets you do lot more customizations. The mechanics are not up to the mark but there are tons of configuration adjustments that you can carry out with LiftOff in contrast to Freerider. There are more and larger sized maps and you can also build your own courses using the course builder or even download courses built by other users. The new multiplayer feature looks a special one.
It is slightly expensive than Freerider but it is definitely worth its price. You can get it at Steam store.
I have not used HotProps a lot but it is definitely liked by Matty Stuntz. He is a prolific pilot and he quite graciously shared his configurations for HotProps in this video. I presume I got so acquainted with Freerider and LiftOff that I could not get used to HotProps. But it is a nice software and moreover, it is free!
Step 5: Start your build
You can try this step before spending a few hours on the FPV simulator. But I would highly recommend that you spend a substantial amount of time on the simulator before you actually try out real time FPV flying. You will get a lot more familiarized with the controls.
By now, you should have become accustomed to soldering using some broken wires. Once you get a hang of it, you will be ready to start your first build.
I would also suggest that you watch a lot of video tutorials before you start building your own quadcopter. You will surely get lots of handy tips and tricks of the trade.
Here are a few thing that you need to keep in your mind before you start building your first drone:
Opt for a spacious frame that is able to accommodate propellers of at least 5 inches. Small sized builds require lots of soldering in tight locations so it is never a good idea for your first build unless you are really good at soldering.
You will need the following components to get your drone into the skies and we are assuming here that you already have got your hands on a controller, a charger, FPV goggles, antennae and a screen with FPV receiver.
- 4 motors
- 4 ESCs
- Flight controller (Naze32, Sp3, X-Racer, RMRC Dodo)
- Power distribution board
- FPV camera (preferably HS1177 which is a CCD camera)
- FPV transmitter (200mW is good enough but if you are flying alone and in and out of trees, 600mW is the one should look for)
- A receiver compatible with the radio
- Miscellaneous components
A spacious frame will be big enough to let you mount all the required components.
It is also suggested that you get an Almost Ready to Fly kit for your very first build. FPVModel’s ZMR250 ARF is one of the best kits for novices. You will get a FPV ready quadcopter with ability to perform well on a 3S battery and with great agility on a 4S battery. You will just have to spend a little less than $300.
If you are looking to up the ante, then go for the ZMRX210 ARF kit. It is a bit smaller in size but still is spacious enough. These kits are a tremendous technology.
Even with an ARF kit, you will still require a receiver that is supported by the radio. For a Taranis, get FrSky X4r-SB or D4r-II. LemonRX Satellite Receiver is compatible with the Spektrum transmitter. If you are using the Turnigy 9X or FlySky 9X, get the FrSky module and then use the FrSky receiver.
Anything that is smaller than 210 will land you in trouble. To learn more, following is a guide on how to choose a frame and how to choose a motor.
If you want to buy low cost components, have a look at this list of components.
You can purchase all the parts separately but you will also need to get plenty of other stuff wit it too. You will have to order following hardware in addition to hex keys, screwdrivers, pliers, soldering iron, solder etc.
- XT-60 connectors both male and female
- 3mm heatshrink for small wires
- 6mm heatshrink for large wires and antennae
- 16mm or 20mm heatshrink if you need to reshrink your antennae
- Zip ties
- Double sided tape
- Electrical tape
Step 6: Start flying and learn how to tune your machine
You should have got your hands on all the paraphernalia, batteries and your quadcopter must be ready to fly. You will also have connected your machine to the computer and configured it and you are ready for your very first flight.
It will be fun, all right!
I suggest that you build a quadcopter that can run on a 4S battery but you should start with a 3S battery. 4S will transform your machine into an agile one and it won’t be easy for you to maneuver. Try it out with the 3S and once you feel that you have become accustomed to flying with it, latch onto the 4S battery for more zip and pace.
After a few flights, it might occur to you that the controls of your machine are not as sensitive as they ought to be.
Now, it is time for the final stage of building your own quadcopter. It is PID tuning which is quite a vast concept. Go through this extensive guide on tuning.
There is lots of stuff out there. As a matter of fact, there are so many topics that I have not covered in this post just because I believe the technology is changing so rapidly.
However, the information that I have shared with you will remain relevant even after a decade. No matter how much advancement the drone industry makes, these tips and tricks will work anywhere.
Have nice time flying your first quadcopter!
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