How To Get Into Multirotors: A Better Way

by The Groundhog | January 15, 2015 | (31) Posted in Tips

After reading Red20Rc’s article ‘Surviving Dads with Drones’, I felt inspired to help the newbies among us, and give them some advice on getting into multirotors.


A Phantom Issue

 

First of all, I would like to criticize the market-leading power of DJI Global. Just because the DJI Phantom is reasonably affordable and well marketed, it does not entail that the product is the best bang for the buck. At all. Let me explain why.

 A friend of mine received a small toy ‘drone’ for Christmas, in order to learn how to fly before purchasing a DJI Phantom 2. As much as I tried to dissuade him away from the Phantom, he stuck with his idea. This is not so much a bad thing, but these ready-made quads don’t come with much of a learning curve. So predictably, when he crashed his little quad (A 'Nano X Drone', to be precise), and he broke a propeller, his lack of knowledge of the workings of the aircraft caused him to replace the broken propeller with one that spun in the opposite direction. This obviously was a problem, as the quad wouldn’t fly, and he was left trying to figure out why. He asked me to help him, and I switched the offending prop and got him flying again, but it made me think. 

He had no idea that certain props must go on certain motors, but then he also didn’t know anything else about the quad; he had no understanding of how it worked. Once he was able to fly to a reasonable standard, he would have gone on to buy the Phantom and flown it around in GPS mode until he predictably crashed it. The Nano X Drone is small, light and has prop guards, which make crashes and bangs completely harmless, so crashes become acceptable and common place. When flying the DJI, this redundancy vanishes, and when crashes occur, repairs and replacements can be expensive or difficult. The Phantom weighs a lot too; the potential damage it can cause is quite large. Even if my friend had simply broken a prop or bent a motor shaft, the likely hood of him giving up on his quad copter would be rather high, as it would seem too daunting to fix. I have another friend who gave up on his A.R Drone after a puffed battery. The thing wouldn’t work, yet he had no idea why.

Another Option 


This is where the power of understanding comes into play. If one can understand how a quad works, they can understand how to fix and improve their quads, as well as giving them the ability to try building their own. This is what I recommend you to do.

 

If you have just bought a DJI Phantom, and you have never flown a quad before, stop. Don’t plug the battery in, or even open the box. Leave the quad where it is, and get something that you can crash. YOU WILL CRASH. So go and buy a Blade Nano QX, or similar indestructible quad, that you can bash around and learn to fly properly, and when you stop crashing into walls, you can move on.

 

 

But I still don’t recommend moving to the DJI. I recommend building. Buy a frame, make your own, buy some parts online and make your own multirotor. This will open a thousand more doors than buying a Phantom straight off. Even if you crash this, you can simply replace a boom, rebuild the frame or make the necessary improvements in order to keep it in the air. You can’t do this with the Phantom. This will allow you to get into Aerial Video, Mini-Quad racing or FPV. It will provide you with an understanding that will stay with you throughout your multirotor journey. It will pave the road to success in every field of the hobby. Don’t touch the transmitter of the DJI until you can confidently fly and you believe that it is the best quad you can buy for aerial photography. I don't mean to target the Phantom alone; any Ready-to-Fly quad that brands itself as a toy or gadget should not be treated as one. 

 

 

Your scratch built quad will fly just as well, if not far better, than any ready-to-fly quad, and you can tune it to fly the way you want. Even if it isn’t the shiny white ‘drone’ that you want to show off to your friends, when someone walks up to you in the park and asks whether you made the awesome-looking V-Tail quad hanging above your head yourself, you can say; “Yes, I did.”

 

To finish off, here is the maiden flight of my first scratch built quad, just to prove that they do work, fantastically well.

 

 

COMMENTS

Trauma50 on January 18, 2015
Well said. As someone who started flying with the KK black board. I cashed numerous times, rebuildt each time learning something new with each crash. like if you hit the ground at the right angle/speed your quad becomes a wheel. Who knew?

I read until my eyes bled. I'm still learning 3 yrs later. It may be just a statement of the instant gratification society we live in today? They want it now, and they have the money to throw at it. A lot of DJI's will end up in the back of a closet and forgotten because people are to lazy to read.
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The Groundhog on January 19, 2015
It is a fantastic learning journey. I have only built one quad, however am working on more. My quad flies great, which really surprised me, but my experience with scratch built planes is completely different. I built multiple airframes before I could get one to fly, and only then after the best part of a year reading and watching how other successful designs have been built. That first plane flew terribly and crashed quite quickly, however I have learnt a lot on my journey. I agree with you totally, I wish more people would just do their research! There is so much to learn.
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hoppy_bounce on January 20, 2015
Great article thanks. You have covered the important concepts, however I feel there is the consideration that the hobby can take two distinctly different paths. I for one have not scratch built, but I will. If it were not for the RTF options available, it would have been too daunting for me, and I'm not a novice at RC flying. Learning how to program a flight controller (or which one to buy) is a big task, building the machine to match the components is much more achievable once you have mastered your understanding of the machine with a RTF unit. I have researched a lot on matching components and I'm still cautiously standing at the edge, deciding to take the plunge with a scratch build project. The thought of building a machine and not being able to fly it for one of about 300 reasons is quite hard to fathom, so I can happily say I started with an RTF and am now in a position to pass that on to another learner while I look at building a mid size go pro carrier and possibly a 250 FPV racer.

This doesn't dispute your recommendation to start with a Nano QX, however the next step from a Nano QX wasn't going to be a scratch built for me.
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FatKat on January 19, 2015
I've built and flown a multitude of multirotors , they all fley great , someone got me a phantom 2 vision plus for Christmas that I was not expecting , and I must say hands down its the quickest multirotor from battery charging , to field ready by far not to mention it fly's very well and uses the naza-m flight control board which can be configured for manual , I actually like the unit and the 25 minute flight time is plus !!
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The Groundhog on January 19, 2015
I haven't personally flown the Phantom, so I am being very judgemental, however it does seem to fly well, and there is no arguing with the power of the Naza. I don't have anything against the quad, however I find people simply buy them with no knowledge of how to use or fix them. It's good to know that you have experience, yet still like it.

What's it like to fly? I wouldn't mind getting my hands on one...
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Shufty on January 19, 2015
Yep, pretty much this. This is the main reason I'm not a big fan of the RTF's. Not because they're not great machines, they certainly are for the price. It's because anyone can fly one without having any sort of prior knowledge of the hobby. Which for any other hobby would be fine, but for our unique, technical hobby, it just leads to bad times for all involved with very few lessons learnt. Sure, buy an RTF, but please at least put the effort into learning as much as possible before you fly it!
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The Groundhog on January 19, 2015
I agree completely! Couldn't have put it more simply myself!
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CJGFX on January 19, 2015
Nice article. I bought a little Hubsan quad like the (Proto X) to get to grips with flying. Apart from losing a couple of props, it's still going strong and I still use it when I can't get outside with my main quad...
I built the FliteTest Knuckle quad and find it a great platform for beginners, my 6 year old son had even flown it... I could not recommend this quad enough for a number of reasons.
1 - You learn how have to do the background research into multi rotors, how they fly and go together etc. Like that you have a good understanding before you even fly.
2 - The Knuckle quad has a good build video from Chad on the Flitetest website, follow that you'll have no real issues.
3 - For basic flying it's pretty cheap to get in the air especially if you already have a Tx system.
4 - If you do crash, you only break a wooden boom that you can get from the hardware store, no waiting for parts in the post. I usually have a couple of spare frame parts in my field kit.
5 - As you progress, the quad can progress with you, changing the board settings make it a good Acro frame, I prefer the more gentle smooth flying.
6 - It's small frame will easily fit in a case/bag for transport and storage.
7- Powerfully enough to take a GoPro for filming.
8 - Great for first FPV platform, it's what I learnt...

I build all my planes and quads from scratch mainly because I enjoy the build process and it's saves a ton of cash. Even if you are not a hardened builder, there is a quad or plane out there that will suit your skill level...

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The Groundhog on January 19, 2015
You have my full agreement! I went nearly the same way as you did (Minus the Hubsan, my first quad was one I scratch built and designed myself), and cannot recommend it enough!
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xibit1987 on January 19, 2015
You are absolutely right. i started over 2 years ago, by spending a few months reading and watching some videos. Then i bought all the parts to build a Tricopter (The Talon tricopter frame), tho i have been working with electronics all my lfe, even before i started in school, so i had a little advantage. At this point i still hadn't flown a minute of anything. So i bought my transmitter (DX8) and a simulator and went flying some virtual planes, helis and multirotors. When my parts came i started my build, but i felt that i still needed some real life flight time, so i went to my local hobby store and bought a Hubsan X4 and banged it around until i felt comfortable flying it.I just got my first FPV equipment about 3 weeks ago and I told myself that i wouldn't just put it on and go fly. so I've spend the last 1-2 weeks rebuilding my tricopter, giving it new leads, replacing me LED strips, did some water proofing and just a general cleanup :)
So now i'm at the point where i need to calibrate it but we have heavy rain and snow right now, and i don't have a large indoor area to do it :)
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epic on January 19, 2015
I recently got into multi rotors, I started with a X electrohub, from a beginners perspective if was a great build. You do have to do a bit of soldering though.
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Yakobus2010 on January 19, 2015
While I agree with the article, and most of the comments supporting it, the biggest point being missed is that people buying RTF multi-rotors don't want to know how it all works. They aren't big RC nerds like you and I. They don't want to know. They just want to fly, and I don't think that's a bad thing necessarily. The argument that you should know intimately how each part works and why its there, and the ability to fix it yourself, could be compared to owning a car. How many of us could diagnose and repair a motor vehicle? Should we be able to fix one before we get to drive a car? Does being able to fix your own car make you a better driver? The reality for me is that I have a basic understanding of how my car and motorcycle work, but I don't do any of the repairs myself.
Just like learning to drive, I think learning to fly from an experienced person is a far more practical approach than saying you should be able to build before you fly. And building your own quad is no easy thing. It might be for some of us who have been in the hobby for a while, but not for a beginner flyer and certainly not for a complete newbie.
I personally feel that the more people who grab a RTF and get out there and have a go, the better it is for the hobby. Let them fly, let them crash, and those who leave frustrated - fine. But there will be a percentage who stick with it and go on to build their own multi rotors.
Best of all, grab a RTF, find an experienced flight buddy and learn.
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civil on January 19, 2015
I actually think the most important thing is just having *someone* (anyone) to learn to fly with.
My first quad was a RTF (a flamewheel 450 clone). A mate of mine had bought himself a quad at the same time, so we learnt to fly together. That's what kept me in the hobby even after a few crashes.

He's since graduated to running an aerial photography business (they have a CASA UAV Operators Certificate, making them one of the few businesses that are actually able to do it legally) and I've moved on to flying a Blackout mini-h.

I guess the important thing is to keep people in the hobby. I didn't want anything to do with the building (soldering was scary!) side when I first started, but if you hang around long enough you get there!

PS that's what makes FT so great, it's all about the people
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Heath on January 20, 2015
I completely agree with the article, but you also make a good point. However, compared to driving a car, I see giving a Phantom to someone who has never touched a multirotor is like giving a car to someone who's never touched one and only showing them how to use the cruise control and GPS navigation system.

My problem with the Phantom is exemplified by an article I read a while back. The guy who wrote the article bought a Phantom, was flying it in his back yard, it lost GPS lock, he panicked, it went over his house and crashed on the sidewalk in front of somebody. And then he wondered why it was legal for him to own such a thing rather than wondering what he did wrong. (And what he did wrong was not knowing how to fly his quadcopter.)

Before you should ever use cruise control and a navigation system in a car, you need to know how to operate and maintain control of the vehicle. And that knowing how to operate and maintain control of their multirotor is what a lot of these new Phantom owners are missing.

Is scratch building necessary to achieving that knowledge of operation and control? No, not really. But it sure does help a great deal. Someone could buy a Phantom, keep it on manual while they learn to fly, then use GPS for its intended purpose. Nothing wrong with that. But building your own really forces you to know your machine, learn how to fly it without the crutch of GPS, fix it yourself when something breaks, change the things about it you don't like, etc. It really is a much more rewarding experience.
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RMS on January 19, 2015
I had great experience with using Matt Hall's SIMPLECOPTER.com designs. I had been building my own for a while and just got lazy. His frames are inexpensive, repairable and his videos are extremely helpful. He's a heck of a pilot too.

Just another option. I fully agree with this article. Wood dampens great and is cheap. Once you build your first copter, you'll be hooked. WOOD IS GOOD!
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docthebiker on January 19, 2015
A long time flier I've flown nearly everything with wings and rotors (gasser heli's being my forte), so rather than build (another) project I bought the mQX when it first came out. To me it was just too easy to fly, like stepping back to bi-rotors. I also bought a little ladybird for zipping round the house.

I was given a Sony AS100 for my birthday but then couldn't find a Gimbal for it. I decided to buy a Walkera QR X350 since it was advertised as suitable for the Sony, it's even stated on the retail packaging. I thought the "hands off" GPS would be useful for photography, and the way it works (it does work) would have made it great except compatibility with the Sony is a lie. It's gopro or the Walkera camera, or nothing.
To complete newbies I'd actually recommend spending 30-40 bucks on a 3, or 4 channel, toy bi-rotor heli.
It's the cheapest way to get the basics and do exercises like your figure 8's and nose in. and if you're proficient with that you're ready to buy a quad off the shelf.
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tjmartin on January 19, 2015
Very nice article. I followed the same path myself. I started with the ProtoX and once I felt comfortable flying I moved on to the Nano QX and finally to the Electrohub. Even with the Electrohub I had a few mishaps but was easily able to change out a boom or two. I have just recently retired the Electrohub for now but I am still using most of the same parts on my own custom built quad. A friend of mine seen some of my pictures on Facebook and informed me he was going to buy a Phantom. He also mentioned that he had never flown an RC Plane yet wants to buy a Phantom. I got him turned on to Flite Test and has been hooked. I think he will be building his first quad rather than buying. I told him that its not IF you crash, it WHEN and you will crash. It's easier to repair when you know how it works and built it yourself.
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Stefan_____ on January 20, 2015
I am missing a "Tweet/Share this article" button on this page...
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julian@infield.com on January 20, 2015
It doesn't really matter how you get into flying as long as you do. When I was young; many moons ago, RC flying was prohibitively expensive and the RC flying clubs not very welcoming. The Phantom is taking a pounding at the moment and DJI could, without too much extra cost, tell buyers a few basic things...don't fly near an aircraft, airport, ancient monument, Nuclear Power Station, grumpy person, etc. The Disclaimer inside the lid is quite good but needs to be bigger and high-lighted; and they could also just add to page 5 of the instructions in bold. There is plenty of space to say don't go buzzing airports, hot air balloons, football matches, political figures and such. I got my (yes, mine) "Dad" Phantom 18 months ago and quite sensibly recognised instantly that it was just a small flying chainsaw and treated it as lethal. I took a bit of heat for flying it like a grand dad but It really sparked a long forgotten interest and my son and I are now addicted to FliteTest, into FPV, Fixed wing RC, scratch builds, etc. The Phantom does not get used that much now (mainly as a stable platform to film other RC airframes) but not all Phantom owners need to be tarred with the "Dads with Drones" label. Anything that gets Dads to spend time with their children is good? We just need education and tolerance. However, the people, and not all are Dads, flying anything over commercial airports and crowds etc are beyond those and do need locking up and the key chucking away.
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Captain Crash on January 23, 2015
i have a friend who wants a dji inspire 1 and a phantom 2 yet he cant fly my nano without going so high its almost a spec and then chopping the throttle and going into vortex ring state . then he yells" Did you see that landing"
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GasCap on February 10, 2015
Well I took the advise and started flying the nano qx as my first multirotor. On my first day, pretty much crashed til the batteries are dry and I have 3 batteries...
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MOcchionero on February 18, 2015
I could not agree more. Started with a WLToys 959, which I still use today. Probably not the best but it is fun, and I have become proficient enough to only have a few hard landings, relatively few crashes if any today. I have moved to an RC Eye One Xtreme, which I love. Very controllable, and very few incidents asside from my trying to modify the frame, and frying the controller.

I will be progressing next to a scratch build as I really want to understand the components better. I have been reluctant to this day as I have not been confident to order all the components from the standpoint of understanding completely the compatibility of each item. I am thankful that the power packs are now available. This has lowered my activation barrier. I just need to decide on the TX and the RX.

I think however before I start with my quad build I will be exploring a Versa Wing.

Very thankful for th FT crew for helping to demystify all the components. I am so glad these resource is available.
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How To Get Into Multirotors: A Better Way