So you’re looking to build your first drone, be it as a beginner or experienced in the world of quadcopters but looking to make your own device.
There are a few different types of quadcopters you could build yourself, and I’m going to cover details about all of them in this article, but the main focus is going to be the step-by-step build of an FPV quadcopter, and here’s why.
If you want to compete with DJI in getting a stabilized camera drone good luck with that. With their recent releases like the DJI Mini 2, you can get an outstanding camera drone under 250 grams that shoots 4 stabilized footage. You won’t be able to match that and even if you did, the footage would be worse and the drone would be waaay bulkier.
However, there is a type of drone in which we can compete with DJI and win.
The types of drones it would make sense for you to build at home would be:
So, would you guess which one I picked?
Of course the dangerous but awesome one.
Here’s why I haven’t made a complete tutorial for the others: There are simply too many great cheap camera quadcopters out there and making one yourself would imply buying an expensive 3 axis gimbal, camera, and a solid frame to get some average looking footage, for more money than it would cost you to buy a DJi Mini 2 for example.
However, if you build an FPV drone you can experience First Person View flight through a pair of goggles, you can also fly it slow or very fast and what’s most important, you’ll be able to make a top of the line drone with quite a low price.
If you’re asking yourself this question, you for sure don’t know how to do it. However, there are a few ways to get good really fast at it.
See, the point of flying FPV is being totally free, not having GPS or stabilization like in typical camera drones, but being able to fly acrobatically while you watch everything from your goggles and feel like a bird in the sky.
There are 2 ways to learn how to fly such a drone, and I recommend you try them both:
If you are to get an indoors FPV quad to learn how to fly on, I suggest the Tinyhawk 2 as it comes with prop guards and a complete package including a good pair of FPV goggles (which you can use with other drones as well) and a controller. It’s well priced for the package, but still more expensive than a simulator, however.
So I recommend you also check what fpv simulators are available to buy and try one out (with a real-life drone controller).
This is one of the questions we should talk about before anything else because most people have limited budgets and since we’re making an FPV drone we are looking to create a great package that’s good long term, flies fast and is still priced decently.
Since we aren’t compromising a lot you should expect around $200+ cost from the FPV drone itself with all the components and if it’s your first drone and don’t have a transmitter and Goggles, that will be $150 more.
This seems like a lot, but remember that this drone should last you for years to come, and what’s more, in case of crashes, all the parts are individually replaceable.
To be frank, it’s very similarly priced. The difference isn’t big enough to justify building one yourself to save money, as working at your job for that time would make more of a difference. The biggest advantage in building your drone, is just that, it’s your drone, you built it yourself and nobody can take that from you.
You can also buy a premade drone kit with all the parts already included, which will make it easier for you to make sure no parts are missing.
The feeling of completing something that complex with your own hands and then actually flying it yourself is something that will put a smile on your face and impress your friends for quite some time.
In this section, we're looking at what parts a drone consists of as well as what I recommend specifically for our build.
The parts I’ll be talking here aren’t exclusive to an FPV drone, as it’s the building blocks of pretty much any drone you would create on your own at home, even if it’s a camera drone or one made from scratch.
Most parts on this list are universal to most types of drones, but some of them will be exclusive to FPV quadcopters.
Learning how these work together and creating a quadcopter for yourself will mean you have a solid basis for building any other type of drone you want.
So here's a summary of the parts of an FPV drone:
The frame is an integral part of the drone that decides its overall shape and keeps the structure together.
Historically, drone frames have been made from a multitude of materials, including wood, 3d printed plastics, carbon fiber, and even pizza.
All of these materials have lots of advantages, but since we’re mainly focusing on an FPV drone, the ultimate build focuses on a carbon fiber build, which is very lightweight and most importantly super strong.
You could create a DIY drone frame at home from wood planks or even 3d print it.
The quadcopter is definitely the most popular shape thanks to its great properties of being easy to control in the air as well as being a very stable shape to fly confidently.
The hexacopter is even more stable but comes at the expense of a lot of additional weight and less controllability.
Yes, drones can fly with 3 propellers and they’re called tricopters. It’s a very rare shape of drone mainly because they’re more difficult to operate and harder to maintain stability compared to a standard quadcopter.
GEPR MARK 4 - While some consider this a budget frame, there are even less expensive ones. However I like this a lot for the price as it’s solid, slim the build quality is quite great.
How do I choose a drone motor?
The answer is way more complicated than I could cover in a single article section, but there’s a few very important things you should know.
That’s why in the build I’ll go into below I’ll give you the direct answer for a build that works, so you don’t have to test things out yourself.
Emax Eco FPV Motors - Low budget motors that are still great, but we don’t want to spend much on these as we want them to be easily replaceable.
Propellers come in varied shapes, sizes, and also materials.
They can be just as well made from the same materials as the frame, including wood.
However, the overwhelming choice and my recommendation is buying them already made from plastic (don’t 3d print them as it might mess your flight up).
In terms of shape, there are a few things that matter:
3 bladed props - These are great especially for beginners who want to fly longer and not as aggressive.
ESC, also known as Electronic Speed Controller is used for distributing power to all the motors and controlling their speed, as the name suggests. While in the past you’d see individual ESC boards for each motor, nowadays there’s a preference for 4 in 1 ESC boards that stack with the other components, so it makes the building process easier and usually cheaper and lighter.
Pretty much the Brain of the drone, the Flight Controller is the motherboard of all actions performed by the quad and connects all its peripherals too.
Option 1 (high end) - Mamba F405 DJI + F50 ESC - this is perfect if you plan in the future to fly the Digital FPV from DJI. It also has a bit more rugged ESC able to face more heat overall.
Option 2 (still high end, but cheaper) - Mamba F405 MK2 + F40 - great way to save money, almost the same performance, but doesn’t have the ability to add the DJI FPV
Typical drone batteries are Li-Po (lithium polymer) and while they can be dangerous if improperly managed, they are also the most efficient and powerful of the bunch, and therefore a popular choice between hobbyists.
While the subject on batteries is complicated, I can recommend a few for our build.
While these are 4s, buying a pair of 3s batteries would also be really great for beginners to fly a bit slower.
A specialized battery charger is needed for your newly acquired lipo batteries, preferably one that is easy to learn, handle and safe to charge your batteries with.
The best low budget battery charger I know of (and tested). It’s safe and doesn’t break the bank, perfect for charging LiPo batteries and more.
This is a small piece of electronics that connects your transmitter in hand with the drone so you can control it in real time. It usually comes with one or two small antennas and can reach distances from a few hundred meters to many kilometers.
The XM+ Receiver (for FRSky protocol)
A very long range (3km+) Receiver with a super small size, this is a no brainer, especially considering how cheap it is.
A typical FPV quadcopter usually comes with an analogue FPV camera which is a very small camera that transmits the video back to a pair of FPV goggles in real time with barely any lag.
Recently technology has evolved to a point where DJI has released a digital FPV system which has better clarity and barely any compromise in lag, something I haven’t seen before.
Again, one of the most popular FPV cameras you can find and for a good reason, it comes with great dynamic range, perfect size and a decent price.
This is the board system that makes the connection between the camera and the goggles through an antenna.
This is one of the best and at the same time smallest VTX you can buy right now on the market. It comes with an included antenna, but you can as well upgrade the antenna at a later time.
The transmitter is the controller that you’ll be using to steer the drone in any way you please as well as have switches and buttons for diverse flight modes and functions.
If you have a cinema camera for example, you might have an fpv screen directly on the transmitter, but since we talk about FPV drones, it’s going to be only used for simpler functions like arming, switch flight modes and so on.
While you can use any FRSKY radio, this one is the cheapest yet really good one that can last for years to come.
FPV goggles must be bought so they work with your FPV camera. So if you buy an analogue camera, you’ll need 5.8ghz analogue goggles, if you get a DJI FPV system camera instead, you’ll need to buy their digital FPV goggles, which are objectively better in terms of quality, but I’d say quite expensive for someone who’s just starting out.
Check Out my complete guide on choosing FPV Drone Goggles.
These are some of the most legendary budget FPV goggles in the industry. They’re great and cheap, the only disadvantage being that they’re slightly bigger than the high end ones.
Most of the tools you’ll need for building a drone might be found already at your house considering you’ve done some electronic tinkering here and there.
If however you’re starting from scratch, here are the basic tools you need as a beginner:
In this part, we’re looking at the exact steps you need to take to the tiniest details on how to build your own DIY FPV quadcopter. In the next section, we’ll look at the program set up with Betaflight.
"Drone Mesh" has a lot of tutorials specifically on how to build different types of fpv drones and more, so check it on youtube.
First, we’ll need to solder some things to the flight controller board and we’ll start with the receiver, because why not.
Prepare the wires by stripping about 2 mm from the ends of each then twist and add some solder.
As we mentioned, we’ll be using the Mamba Flight controller and start soldering things on it according to the manual it comes with (has the legend for the entire thing so you won’t get lost).
The Mamba is also created to work with the DJI FPV unit so it’s great if you ever decide to change to digital FPV (future proof).
Flip the flight controller for easy access and solder the ground and the 5v connectors first. The ground connector might need a bit of heating beforehand by pressing the iron on it.
Move with the soldering iron from left to right if you have the iron on the right hand, so you have a clear path to the right and it doesn’t touch any previously soldered pads.
Since the video was made, I upgraded my camera preference to something better, called the Runcam Pheonix 2 and it’s been one of the best FPV cameras I used so far.
It needs connection to 3 pads that you can find on the Mamba manual
First add solder to each of these. Connect the 5v (red), Ground (Black) and video (yellow) just like you see in the video.
The VTX handles the connection between the camera information and the FPV goggles, so as you might figure it’s pretty important.
That’s why we’ve chosen the RUSH Tiny Tank Mini, one of the best and at the same time tiniest VTX you can find.
In terms of wiring, color coding needs to be managed correctly.
Cam is the video input line (yellow line), data is the smart audio (white) - connect it to the TX3 port and note it down so we know later when we set it up in betaflight which TX we used. Again, check the video or the the Flight controller manual to see where the TX3 port is.
For a high end build, the video is showing an F60 Mamba ESC board which can handle a lot of heat and a lot of bashing, however, since this is a guide for beginners too, we can go much cheaper than that by buying a great stack.
You can get the Mamba F405 DJI Flight controller+ F50 ESC board in this stack on banggood or if you want to go even cheaper, get the Mamba F405 MK2 + F40 ESC stack (but keep in mind that this won’t work with DJI fpv if you want to switch in the future.
If you get the flight controller with the ESC in the same stack package you’ll also receive the wire connection for connecting them easily (instead of making it yourself).
However we need to solder the motor wires on the ESC first.
You’ll find that the more expensive ESC makes it pretty difficult to heat up the pads with the iron, and that’s a great thing, meaning that it’s a very heat resistant ESC. Since it dissipates heat that fast it means it’s also not going to be fried by the motors. If you want to have an easier time doing this, increase your soldering max temperature to about 440 degrees Celcius.
Another tip when soldering is to keep the soldering iron tip shiny, as the more solder it has the easier the process is going to be.
The XT60 is a connector for the Battery which you can find on banggood as well.
Solder the - to the black wire of the XT 60 connector and the + to the red wire.
There’s also a 3d printed wire holder for the battery wires that you can print yourself from thingyverse if you want to keep things tidy, otherwise use zip ties.In the package you’ll also get a low esr capacitor that you need to plug into the holes next to the soldering pins, this is optional, but highly recommended for minimizing noise from voltage fluctuations.
I chose the Emax Eco 2207 1700KV to fit the frame which isn't expensive yet can handle plenty of power. For the motors we want to go budget to make them way easier to replace in case one of them breaks down. These motors are suited for a 4s build, a 4s cinematic build in this case.
Add the motors to the frame by using the screws That come with the package.
One more thing is to make sure you have the correct motor orientation. The graphic below will show how they should be mounted.
Connecting the Motors to the ESC board by soldering each of the 3 wires of each motor to the corners of the ESC board
1.Make sure to have the ESC board oriented with the battery connector towards the back of the frame.
2.After that, put the Flight controller on top, looking at where the arrow on it points to pinpoint the front of the drone (place it towards where the nose of the drone is).
3.Fix the VTX - Grab the video transmitter that’s inside the 3d printed part and if you have a separate antenna add it to the VTX, if not leave the standard antenna it comes with. Make sure to make the VTX stable by pushing the 3d printed part into the pylons at the back of the drone.
4.Fix the Receiver - Now get the previously soldered xm+ receiver and try to stick it to the bottom back part of the drone with some double-sided tape. Also, wire the 2 antennas through 2 heat shrinking wires as you can see in the photo.
5.Mount the camera on the front of the frame with the 2 screws and adjust its angle to whatever you want. Preferably at about 30-45 degree angle.
6.Connect the ESC with the flight controller through the provided cable (in the respective slots)
7.Use some (preferably black) wire tape to fix the motor wires to the arms, so they’re not fluttering around.
8. Add the top part of the frame - Next step is to fix the boards on with the provided screws and also add the top part of the frame to complete the build.
In FPV drone building, things aren’t done when all the parts are together. There’s some really important things to cover in this section regarding software and connecting to the Transmitter.
Drone Mesh comes yet again with a great video on the topic exactly for the drone we're building here.
We’re going to use an FRSky Radio, and it really doesn’t matter which since they all have the same menu and settings, but since we used the XM+ receiver it HAS to be a radio from FRsky.
I personally recommend the FRSKY X9 lite transmitter, which is one of the cheapest you can get, yet you can use it for high end drones very successfully in the future, so it’s a long term investment.
1st thing to do is create a model on our transmitter menu.
We go into the model selection page and select an empty one by pressing create model.
You’ll find a star next to the selected model name, which means that all the settings will be for that respective model.
Then click the page button, which enters the next page of the menu called SETUP. This is where we first write a name for your quadcopter. It’s a really good habit to name your quads especially if you decide to buy more in the future.
On the same page scroll down until we reach the binding section with the channel range and mode.
In this case, we usually want to use the D16 setup that works with most Taranis transmitters, but play around if it doesn’t bind it for you. You change the Mode setting to ACCST D16.
Next we are going to bind the quadcopter and here are the steps for for binding it:
1. Make sure the propellers are off, so no accidents could happen.
2. If you need to access the internals at this point, remove the top plate, and carefully place it next to the quad, but not touching any electronic components inside.
3. Plug in the USB cable in the Flight controller and see if the xm+ receiver has any lights turned on.
If it doesn’t it means you need to connect a battery to the quadcopter to provide enough power.
4. Press the “BIND” button on the XM+ receiver with a screwdriver, hold it down and then connect the battery. It might be much easier to have the receiver in an easy to access place, so you don’t have to remove the top cap. At this point the XM+ receiver has a green and a red light on and it means we can bind it to the transmitter next.
5. Go in the same transmitter menu page where you have the binding parameters and select the option [BND] next to “RXNum” and click ok. You’ll hear a beeping noise and the small LED on the receiver blinking. Next thing you want to do is press exit, as the transmitter has been bound and then disconnect the battery.
6. Reconnect the battery back again and make sure that only a green LED is turned on (without flashing) on the XM+ receiver. This means you’ve been successfully bound.
First of all either download the open software Betaflight or get the Chrome extension as they both work in exactly the same way. This is software that sets up most if not all the functions on your quadcopter so you need to familiarize yourself with it from now on.
Connect the USB again from your computer to the Flight Controller board on the drone.
Enter Betaflight and on the top right, select the COM port your USB is using, and after that click the Connect button in the top right.
Now, on the left menu, we’ll do all of our work. The first thing to do is going to the ports tab and you’ll encounter a table with a lot of settings.
There’s a column called Serial RX (the third one) and it handles the receiver connection. In this case, it’s opened in the position UART1, which by default should be the correct one, but we’ll need to double-check to make sure it’s true.
To verify if the Receiver is properly connected, go in the “Receiver” tab on the left and start moving your left stick in all directions to see if the bars for pitch roll yaw and throttle are moving.
Now, what we need to do to make sure that the setup is correct is to move the sticks one by one in every possible direction and see if the movements in the bars correspond.
For that you’ll need to know what each of them means, so here’s a short guide:
Make sure all of these are corresponding to the movements of the sticks I described.
If they’re not, we need to modify the Channel Map letters in the proper order. You can get the standard setup by pressing on the dropdown icon or simply by manually reordering the numbers and letters in there (until you get the proper mix). So you’ll end up with something like TAER1234 or AETR1234 or something similar.
For properly using an FPV drone we need to use more buttons and switches than just the sticks themselves, and that’s why next we’ll change the modes so we can do things like arming and disarming the quadcopter, make it beep (so we can easily find it if it crashes) and more.
1. First I would recommend removing all the modes that are currently in the settings by pressing the small X in the corner of each and start from scratch.
2. Next go on the 4th page of your transmitter menu called MIXER. This is the place where you set the other channels to do the things that you want like arm the drone and such. The channels from 1 to 4 are taken by the TAER stick directions that we talked about before so we need to start from CH5 this time.
3. Select CH5 and then go to source and select S1. After Selecting it will start blinking and you can flip a switch that you want for your first auxiliary, this could be anything but I recommend starting with arming. After switching the preferred button, it will change the text and register like that. If you now go back to the Betaflight Receiver tab you’ll see that when switching that, the Aux 1 channel will switch on and off, or rather go between two intervals.
4. Next, we’ll set up Channel 6 to be the Mode switch. This will have the purpose of changing between acro, stabilized, and horizontal mode. It’s going to be very useful for a beginner to be able to start flying in stabilized mode and turn on acro while in the air so you have a safe take-off or landing. Make sure to set this up with a 3 position switch.
5. Setup Ch 7 and CH8 just like before.
These modes are basically programming what the switches we previously set up will do, things like arming the motors or changing the flight modes from stabilized to acrobatic and more.
Now we need to setup the transmitter modes in betaflight by doing the following:
1. Go to the Modes tab and select “Add Range” for the ARM section and switch the previously set up CH5 button. This will automatically link the button to the ARM function.
2. Move the Orange interval to the right, so that it overlaps the position the switch is in as active but doesn’t when the switch is in the off position.
3. Next we’re setting up Angle mode, which is basically the mode where the quadcopter can’t do flips, is stabilized and more safe to fly compared to something like Acro mode (acrobatic). Again, this time move the interval bar on top of the small orange sign when active (to the left).You can do the same for Horizon mode if you want it. Horizon mode is the same as Angle, but you can actually turn the drone upside down.
4. For Channel 4 you can scroll down and select “FLIP OVER AFTER CRASH” and set it to AUX 4 switch.
5. Use the last AUX channel for the BEEPER section. The button/switch you choose for this one will make the drone beep, so make sure you know which one it is so you don’t get annoyed by it if you push it by accident. The beeper can be exceptionally useful if your drone is in tall grass or you simply can’t find it.
6. Make sure to save everything from the bottom right corner
So what’s SMART AUDIO in an FPV drone?
Smart audio is the ability to change the VTX video Channels from the transmitter so your FPV quad can be flown with others around at the same time with no interference.
Before, we mentioned that we’ll solder the TX3 for the Smart AUDIO and this is where we benefit.
We now go to the ports tab and on the UART3 (TX3) line, keep everything disabled, but in the “Peripherals” column make sure you select VTX (TBS SmartAudio) from the Disabled drop-down box
Now what you need to do is press the save and reboot button in betaflight. During this process, you can remove the battery as it’s not needed anymore.
One last thing to take note of is to set up the ESC protocol correctly. For this go in the Configuration tab and from the right dropdown select DSHOT600
1. Before checking the motors make sure you don’t have the props on (VERY IMPORTANT).
2. Make sure to set the drone on a flat surface and make it face away from you, again very important.
3. Now connect the drone to the USB and betaflight like before and stay on the first page that opens which is the one showing a drone model.
Now to see where we’re going with this, lift up the front of the drone. What you’ll notice right away is that the virtual 3d drone will also move the same way we moved ours.
4. Now go into the Motors tab and on the right you’ll find a small switch to press next to where it says “I understand the risk”.
Connect your battery to the quadcopter and now we’ll see if the motors are in the right orientation they should go.
5. To test that all you need to do is slowly raise the bars next to each motor and see if the corresponding one starts spinning.
You’ll also see in the graphic above the orientation and a correct number of each motor position, so make sure it corresponds.
6. To test the orientation spinning of each motor, you can play with the “Master” switch bar by clicking it and gradually press the up arrow on your keyboard until the motors start spinning slowly.
7. It’s time to check the direction of each motor spinning to correspond to the diagram in the app, if it’s not, make sure to note it down so we can solve it later.
How can you solve an incorrectly spinning motor on your quad?
Reversing the spinning on a motor can be done in 2 ways:
We’ll focus on the second solution as the first one is too mechanical for my taste. What you need to do now is install another software called BLHeli.
Make sure to install BLHeli32 for this to work, as this specific one is a BLHeli 32 ESC.
1.Make sure to close betaflight and disconnect the USB from the drone before doing anything else.
2.Now open the BLHeli32 software (without the props on) and connect the Micro USB again to the drone.
3.Just like with Betaflight, select the corresponding COM port for your drone and connect the battery to it and press Connect and then “Read Setup”.
4.In this case, for my specific case we need to inverse motors 2,3, and 4. You’ll see that at the bottom of the app there are 4 small square buttons that you need to right-click to select each motor and make changes to it.
5.In this case all that we’re interested in is changing the setting for “motor direction” and select Reversed.
6.Now press the button “write setup” and the ESC has been written.
7.Next Right-click on the next faulty motors and do the same process of reversing rotation.
8.Now you press the disconnect button in the app and exit the app afterward.
9.Now go back in Betaflight in the Motors tab and check the orientation of the motors from the Master dial.
If everything is good you have yourself a perfectly functioning FPV quadcopter that you made and programmed yourself.
The final part is the actual taking off and flight of your recently built quadcopter.
I'll also cover some frequently asked questions in this section as well.
I’m recommending you first of all to learn how to fly in a simulator. This is absolutely REQUIRED, no matter if you have any previous experience with camera drones, as FPV drones, especially in Acro mode while using the goggles are a completely different thing, as well as quite dangerous.
This being said, this is how you start flying an FPV drone:
You can build your own drone by making a list of the parts you need to buy like the frame, motors, ESC, propellers etc. and combining them into a drone that you'll in turn pilot with a separate transmitter.
The most frequently used home built drones for which you can find parts online are FPV Racing drones with Carbon fiber frames
There are mini drones kits you can buy and fly at home, but in general it’s cheaper to buy a beginner indoors drone. The larger FPV quadcopters are easier to work on as a beginner usually.
Most people prefer using Bangood as their main source of parts or local store shops like we have in Europe for example. One of the biggest ones in the US is GetFPV.com
You can’t really build a better drone than DJI if you compete in the same market, but if you build your own FPV drone things differ. They haven’t yet made a drone that competes with the FPV drones (even with their newest FPV drone released)
The purpose of this article was to guide you to the FPV hobby as it’s the best way to satisfy your building hobby properly. I also consider it by far the most fun way to fly a drone.
FPV drones are also the best DIY drones because there are simply so many parts you can try, while the parts for standard camera drones are just a few (since they can’t compete with the drones you can buy).