FPV Drones are quite fun to fly and watch. The FPV footage is notably one of the most thrilling ones out there. It offers viewers an FPV perspective after all. But how do these tiny drones function? For the untrained eye, FPV drones look like a plethora of wires strapped to an arid chassis. However, this notion is far from the truth. It is rather simple to make an FPV drone. With just a handful of components, you can solder your FPV drone today. Since this is just a brief introduction, we’ll stay away from the highly technical terms. Let’s get started on building your first FPV racing drone.
Tools Required for the Build
To build your drone, you will require a number of tools to make the job easier:
- Solder and soldering iron are essential tools.
- A wire cutter to trim excess bits.
- Scissors and electrical tape
- Zip Ties
- A Multimeter to check if all the connections are working fine.
- A Hex Key screwdriver compatible with your frame and a regular screwdriver.
- A nylon standoff or spacer and a battery strap (if your frame doesn’t come with it)
With these tools, you can begin building your FPV drone. However, if you wish to make your build more manageable, neat, and compact, you can add materials like heat shrinks, double-sided tape, etc. to your itinerary.
This is the primary component of your FPV drone. The frame is the body or chassis of the drone. It is where all other components rest. Frames must always be lightweight. Thus, you should opt for a carbon fiber frame if you can. Carbon fiber is lightweight, strong, and rigid, the ideal combination for an FPV drone. Here are a few factors to keep in mind while choosing a frame:
- Size of the frame: Frame sizes range from 90mm to upwards of 280mm. Therefore, picking the right size of frame matters as it contributes to the weight and performance of the drone.
- The shape of the frame: There are several different frame shapes available such as X design, H design, hybrid X, box, etc. Each one of them has different performance stats. For example, X frames are great for FPV racing, while H frames are smoother for freestyle flying.
- Purpose of flying: Racing and freestyle frames differ from one another.
- Spacing for components: It is important that you check if the frame has adequate spacing for the standoff, your flying controller, camera mount, etc.
If you’re interested in more information on choosing the right frame, check out this detailed guide on FPV frames. There are tons of different options in the market. Getting a custom-made frame may be expensive.
2. Flight Controller
A Flight Controller or (FC) is the brain of your drone. It sends signals to the motors to perform in a specific way. FCs contain algorithms that are executed thousands of times per second to keep your drone in the air. They also house sensors like gyroscopes and accelerometers. Flight controllers come in a range of options. There are flight controllers with a PDB (Power Distribution Board) built into them. The FCs with integrated PDBs are better as they minimize the wiring and soldering required. FCs are a bit more complicated to understand. Hence, read this detailed guide on flight controllers for more information.
There are two categories of flight controllers: Analog and the ones for the DJI FPV System. The difference is that the analog FCs give you an analog video output. Analog outputs are low-quality video streams. However, analog has been the industry standard. The FCs for the DJI FPV System give you 720p 120fps video stream.
Having good quality motors can make all the difference. Motors are responsible for spinning your propellers and generating thrust for your drone to fly. You will require four brushless out-runner motors to build an FPV racing drone.
Motors are of two categories: Taller Stator and Wider Stator. The stator of a motor is the case of 14 permanent magnets where the coils of the motor are housed. In simple terms, the taller the stator, the higher will be the RPM. The wider the stator, the more torque is produced. Thus, tall stator motors are ideal for racing drones. For more detailed information refer to this motor guide.
4. Electronic Speed Controller (ESC)
Electronic Speed Controllers (ESCs) are devices that control the speed of your motors and the direction of their rotation. You can either install 4 individual ESCs to each motor, and then attach all the ESCs to a PDB, or you can simply get a 4 in 1central ESC to cut down your work. However, there are downsides to this as well. In case of 4 separate ESCs, you can swap out any ESC that short circuits but with the 4 in 1, you have to replace the entire board.
There is a whole technical guide for understanding ESCs. The guide includes everything from the processors for ESCs to the firmware installed on them. Here are some of the best ESCs on the market:
5. Power Distribution Board (PDB)
Power Distribution Boards (PDBs) help in drawing power from the LiPo battery and distributing it to all the components of the drone. If you’re buying a flight controller that comes with a built-in PDB, you do not need to purchase an additional PDB. However, if you wish to include all individual boards then a PDB is required. The FC will be connected to the PDB. Therefore, your stack of boards will be: FC (On Top) > PDB > ESC (4 in 1 ESC).
Best PDBs: Matek PDB-HEX 2-12S PDB w/ BEC
6. Video Transmitter (VTX), FPV Camera & Antennas
A Video Transmitter (VTX) takes the signal from the drone’s FPV camera and sends it to a video receiver such as a monitor or FPV goggles. VTX comes in different operating frequencies but the most widely used frequency band is the 5.8 GHz. You can choose from analog VTX or the HD ones. Understandably, the analog VTX provides you with a blurry and grainy feed that is far from comparable to the HD VTX. However, the analog VTX is smaller, lighter, has extremely low latency, and is quite cheap.
An FPV camera is the most important part of your build. No matter the VTX, the image that you see will only be as good as the FPV camera. FPV cameras come in different sizes starting from the full size (28mm) to the nano version (14mm). Some of the factors that you need to keep in mind while purchasing and FPV camera are:
- Field of view of the camera
- Aspect ratio
- Sensor type (CCD or CMOS) and Sensor Size
- Dynamic Range
- Low-light capability
Here’s a detailed guide on FPV cameras for more information.
FPV Antennas are crucial for range and signal strength. There are two types of antennas, CP (Circularly Polarized) and LP (Linearly Polarized). For most FPV drones, CP antennas are the best option. There are again two different classifications of antennas: directional and Omnidirectional. If you’re interested in learning all about FPV antennas, check out this guide.
7. Receiver (RX)
A receiver (RX) is a device that receives the commands from the pilot and then passes them to the flight controller. Receivers are generally compatible with the same brand of transmitters (TX/controllers). Some of the factors to consider while buying receivers are the size, weight, and RX Protocols.
Having a good battery will ensure a longer flight time. Batteries have several specifications such as capacity (ex: 1500mAh), cell count (4S or 6S), voltage (14.8V), etc. You can choose a battery according to your flight needs and purpose. 4S is a smaller battery (combination of 4 cells), thus, is lighter. Here is a detailed guide on LiPo batteries. To charge your FPV batteries, you will require a separate LiPo battery charger. Additionally, you will also require an XT60 cable to connect your battery to the FC (built-in PDB).
Best LiPo Battery: Tattu 4S 1300mAh LiPo Battery with a discharge rate of 75C
These are all the parts that you will require while building your FPV racing drone. Once you’ve gathered the parts mentioned above, you can start putting them together. We’ll look at the construction of the FPV drone using these parts in another article.