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.
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.