How To Build A Quadcopter – A-Z Complete Guide
The reason why you are looking at this article is because you have seen epic videos of quadcopter zipping across a field at unbelievable speeds, right?
Today I have created a setup that is focused on a balance point between price, performance and easy for a beginner to build. I do not want to share the cheapest setup like many other tutorials online, simply because they do not tell you how crappy it is once you fly it.
This article is going to be about ” how to build a quadcopter ” .
The parts I will be compiling, will be from a mixture of places; which will require some time actually to come in. Usually, standard free shipping would take roughly about 30 days depending where you are located.
The two sites I will be getting the parts are from Banggood and Rotorgeeks. The only place I would recommend purchasing batteries is at Hobbyking don’t bother ordering LIPOs from Banggood.com, they are disgusting.
Here are the parts you will need to build a quadcopter. I can guarantee that this setup will get the most performance out of your money. The FPV stuff is optional but may as well purchase it in case you choose to fly first person view in the future.
How To Build A Quadcopter – Quadcopter Parts:
- ZMR250 V2 Carbon Fiber Frame Kit 4.0mm Arm Thickness Support 1806 2204 2206 Power (The structure) – Our review here
- DC-DC Converter Step Down Module 3A 5V/12V Mini BEC For RC Plane FPV (12V to 5V) (Supplies a lower voltage to the brain)
- RotorGeeks RG20 Electronic Speed Controller (Adjust the speed of the motors to allow different characteristics)
First Person View Stuff
- Eachine CCD 700tvl 148 Degree Camera Lens w/ 5.8G 200mW FPV Transmitter (Transmit video signals over 5.8ghz frequency)
How To Build A Quadcopter – Tools and Misc. you will need:
- Soldering Iron
- Solder 60/40
- Wire cutters and strippers
- Heat shrink or electrical tape (preferably heat shrink)
- Lots of zip ties short and medium length
- Hex Allen screwdriver
- Blue thread Loc-Tight
- M3 Nylon standoffs
- XT60 female battery lead connector
- Liquid electrical tape
- Extra wire, less than 30 cm
- Soldering Flux
So how do all these parts come together and work? I will explain how it works. The power from the lipo is shared across the power distribution board where the electronic speed controller then powers up the motors. A small voltage converter steps down the main power supply to a steady 5v into the Naze32. The signal wires from the speed controllers are connected to the Naze32 where then the software sends across specific analog values to vary the speed of the motors. The PID’s in the software works with the accelerometer and gyro and doing so will allow the quadcopter to fly with characteristics like self-leveling and headless mode.
To change the direction you are heading; you transmit analog values over the 2.4ghz spectrum with a transmitter where your quadcopter picks it up with its receiver and sends it to the Naze32 to process these values. The video transmitter is then screaming on its frequency and channel to allow the person on the other end to fly fpv. You may have an optional on-screen display to allow telemetry information on the fpv video. The Naze32 outputs values to an OSD where the values are overlayed with the video camera before it gets transmitted over the 5.8ghz spectrum. That sums up how everything will come together, in theory, now let’s get started with the building process!
Now that all the parts have come in, this will be the second hardest part to the “How to Build a Quadcopter” series. I will be teaching you to build everything together while keeping it clean.
How To Build A Quadcopter – The Building Process
- We will start off by assembling the ZMR250 frame. First, assemble the two body plates and the four arms for the quadcopter. Use the long screws and the nylon nuts to secure everything in place. Do make sure to install the pink standoff BEFORE you secure the bottom two plates together or else you will not be able to access it without disassembling it. Be sure to use some Loc-Tight on the stand offs. You can watch the whole assembly of the frame here.
- Once you have completed putting together the first level, you won’t need to secure the third plate on top since you will be working on the guts of the quadcopter. At this stage you, I recommend mounting the motors onto the motor mounts. Make sure the motors have the wire feeding towards the quadcopter frame and not the opposite direction. When securing the motors, dab some Blue Loc-Tight to prevent losing the screws due to small vibrations.
You don’t need to go too crazy with the Loc-Tight, a small drop is all you need.
A small amount of Loc Tight is perfect! Don’t over so it!
- Now the next step will be installing the four electronic speed controllers which will be on top of the quadcopter arm. To save weight and cleanliness cut the three wires down to only 1.5cm from the distance between the motor and the ESCs.
Solder directly onto the ESCs instead of soldering two wires together. Keep the red and black wire for later measurements. Just a heads up; you may need to reverse the direction of the way the motor spins, later on, so don’t secure the ESCs down just yet because you will need to resolder to change directions.
- Install the Power distribution board in the center of the frame. I like to use nylon standoffs and nylon bolts to secure this. I like my standoffs to be a little taller than the height of the receiver so it can fit snuggly underneath. Where does the flight controller board go? It will be stacked on top of the power distribution board. Run the red and black leads onto to the PDB; make sure the length is cut down to size and polarity is correct. These DYS 20A ESC will give you the magical smoke if the polarity is incorrect. The PDB supplies a 5V which needs to be used to power the Naze32, receiver, and OSD. I would suggest soldering a single male JST lead. Finally, solder the XT-60 power lead on the power distribution board as well, make sure it points to the back of the ZMR250 frame for better center of gravity.
5.Now we will move on to the Naze32 flight controller. I only recommend soldering on the vertical pin headers for the:
- OSD (TX & RX),
- VBat monitoring (+ & -)
- Buzzer (+ & -)
- Motor pins from 1-4 (Signal, +, -)
I do not recommend using the breakout cable, but instead, cut each servo leads down to size and solder it directly onto the pads on the Naze32. You will only need to solder, (+, -, and signal 1-6). Keep the length of the servo connectors to about 4 centimeters or short enough to reach onto the receiver.
- The next step will be connecting the servo leads from the Naze32 to the receiver. Since there are only six channels on the receiver, we only need six servo leads. If you are using Mode 2 for your transmitter, then the connection should simply be 1 -> 1, 2 -> 2, 3 -> 3, etc. Make sure nothing is plugged into the BAT pin yet, as this is what we will use to tell the receiver to bind with the transmitter. Tuck the receiver underneath all the boards and run the antenna to the inner side of the arms. You can secure the antenna down with two zip ties; it doesn’t matter which arm.
- Now we can connect the servo leads from the ESCs onto the Naze. Do not randomly plug it into any motor ports. Follow this diagram below
When connecting the motor signal leads, look closely at the motor assigned number as this is critical to determine the front of the aircraft. Also, note the motor rotation directions for later configuration.
- Now before you mount the Naze32 board onto the nylon stand off, I would recommend soldering a bridge from the power distribution board to the vBat on the Naze32. Two simple wires will just do the trick. Be sure to check for the polarity! While you are doing this, you can also install the buzzer right next to the vBat port. Only use a JST male connector or a male servo lead.
- We can now finally fit the Naze32, PDB and receiver module. Use nylon nuts to hold down the flight controller and PDB. For the receiver module, use double sided tape and stick it onto the frame.
- Now we need to flash the Naze32 with Cleanflight. To do so, download the Cleanflight Configurator from Google Chrome (Press here). Start up Cleanflight, and go under Firmware flasher, choose the latest firmware for the Naze board. Make sure you have “No Reboot sequence” and “Full-chip erase” checked. There is a small little solder bridge that needs to be done on the Naze32 before plugging it into the computer.There are two pads that say “Boot,” jump it with a blob of solder then connect the board to Cleanflight.This process brings the board into flashing mode. Don’t worry about bricking the board; the Naze32 can not ever be bricked as the bootloader is stored in the chip. Press “Load Firmware Online” and then press flash. Make sure you wait until the program says “successful.” Then finally, you can press connect on the top right.
- The next thing I would do first is trim your RC receiver values with the little switches on the transmitter. Center roll, pitch, and yaw to 1500. You can leave the throttle value alone, just make sure it is centered on the transmitter itself. After you have done that, look at throttle value in Cleanflight this will be you “minimum throttle” in the “Configuration” tab. Move the throttle to middle and then maximum all while copying the throttle values to the “Configuration” tab. The next blank you will need to fill out is the minimum command, simply add 20-30 to the “minimum throttle” value and should work perfectly fine.
- While still in the configuration tab, enable ONESHOT 125, Motor Stop, and enable vBat monitoring. After all the changes have been made, make sure you scroll to the bottom and press save; the board will flash its LEDs and will reboot.
- Take off propellers and make sure the lipo is not connected during this step. Go under the Motor tab and check the little box and set the motors too full throttle. Then plug in the battery, the motors will start beeping a sequence; wait until its quiet and then pull the master slider down to zero. This will calibrate the speed controllers to be in-sync with the rest of the speed controllers. Wait till it is quiet and unplug the lipo.
- Next, go to the Setup tab and lay the aircraft down on a flat surface and press “calibrate accelerometer.”
- This is the last step, which is setting up different flight modes. The most popular configuration is to enable angle mode and manual mode. Go under the Modes tab, select your auxiliary channel and activate the switch by dragging the sliders in between the activated values. It is best to setup flight modes on a three-way switch. In this tab, you can also use a different auxiliary to enable the beeper in case you need to go out hunting for your quadcopter.
How to tune PIDs for a Quadcopter
If you tried to fly the quadcopter before it is tuned, you might see that quadcopter is jittering like crazy, or it may feel sluggish and unresponsive. The simplest way I can explain what are PIDs: a mathematical algorithm that processes the gyro, accelerometer, and user input values in a way that changes the behavior of the quadcopter. For example, if you want your quadcopter to have a more “locked in” feel, you would want to crank the I-gain so external forces like wind and turbulence would not change its set angle.
Everybody has their preferences and unique setup, so do not bother searching up some random PID values from the internet like many amateurs. Try to learn and understand it, as this will make you a better pilot.
How To Build A Quadcopter – The Tuning Process
- The first thing you want to make sure is that your setup is built properly; no loose motor screws, propellers tighten, the center of gravity is aligned, the transmitter is on stock settings, etc. These type of things cannot be fixed through PID values.
- As many beginners may not know how to configure PID’s, I will try speaking in more of a person’s voice so you can understand the whole process easily instead of being too technical. First, you want to set all PID values to zero but leave yaw by default. Do not perform the PID adjustments while you are on in self-level mode. Make sure you are in rate/manual mode.
- Slowly increase P gain by .3 each time. What you are trying to look for is, when the quadcopter STARTS shaking. Make sure to listen and observe the quadcopter closely to hear or see any vibrations. Listen for small shaking especially when you punch the throttle while the quadcopter is falling.This is to see how it reacts when it’s in its prop wash. Once it starts shaking, turn it down by .3 so it just right below the shaking point. The pitch usually has a higher P gain; I would set it about .2 higher than roll. If you are getting micro vibrations, you can leave as it as, because later when we adjust the D value it will go away.
(If you are a little more experienced, and know how to do flips with high rates perform pitch and rolls flips to tune it even more. Remember to look for vibration while its rapidly losing altitude)
- Next, up we move on to the Integral gain also simply know as I-gain. In baby terms, this is essentially seeing how well it responds to external forces and hold its position. When I-gain is low, the quadcopter goes with the wind and will not hold it its set angle. It does not have to be from the wind, but from your own prop wash when you perform a flip. On the other hand, when I-gain is too high the quadcopter will try to over correct itself; this will cause vibration and shaking.I-gain is really sensitive so the increments are tiny.
I would suggest only increasing the value by 0.005 each time and also look for shaking again. The vibration for the I-gain is different than P-gain. P-gain has slow and large vibrations where as I-gain are micro vibrations and quick. You can definitely hear the difference between these two types of vibration so always use your ear, just make sure you are not trying to configure P and I-gain at the same time.
You can fine tune the quadcopter a little more with a simple technique, by flicking and letting go of the roll and pitch back and forth. Look at how the quadcopter stabilizes itself; it’s easier to tune this when the I-gain is a little over tuned so you can see the vibrations then turn it down. Remember if you see any super tiny vibrations, this can be fixed with some D-gain later on.
- Alright now onto the D-gain! This one is the most confusing as its harder to look for. You can think of D-gain as a chain for P and I-gain and how they interact with each other. Simply, this fixes all those super tiny vibrations from I-gain and P-gain and smooths everything out. That is why I told you to leave those smaller vibrations. Be careful not to put in too much D-gain as this will bring back those micro vibrations. Increase D by only five each time.
- By this time, you are finished with the PIDs, yay! I would then next adjust the TPA and TPA breakpoint with a simple method. The reason why someone would use TPA is when the quadcopter reaches a high throttle value, the quadcopter would start to shake and vibrate during its way up.This is because the quadcopter is trying hard to correct itself. What the TPA does is decrease the sensitivity of the PIDs when it reaches a certain throttle value. This is where you input the values for TPA breakpoint, so it starts the decrease. Roughly estimate, the whereabouts your finger rest on the throttle when the shaking begins and repeat the same position when you are in Cleanflight to determine the throttle value. Use this value for the TPA Breakpoint.
Do make sure P and I are tuned correctly before this process. Remember that TPA is the opposite of D-gain, where this time you are looking for vibration while it’s rapidly ascending instead of rapidly descending.
- You may find the quadcopter feel unresponsive and even maxing out on the sticks the quadcopter which takes forever to get into that set position. This is when you want to increase the rates. I would suggest adding .3 to roll, pitch and yaw; this should be perfect for starters. Later if you need high sensitive stick movements, like if you want to do a barrel roll while on the spot without losing any altitude, you would need to crank up the rates way to .5 or .6. Do not go up this high unless you know how to fly the aircraft with low rates.
Well, that is it, guys! I hope you like the tutorial. If you have any questions or problems you encounter while building this; please leave them as comments below. We do reply to our viewers. Check out other articles here .
Updated spellings on July 17 2017