Over the last couple of years, the number of flight controllers on the market has skyrocketed. This is great because now there is a wide range of options to suit a variety of needs. However, those who want to build their own multirotor might have a few questions about each one, such as: What functions does it have? What functions do I need? What types of aircraft can it be configured for? How easy is it to tune?
Often, hobbyists get stumped by the choice of a flight controller when building their first multirotor. In this article, I will show you the profiles of some of the most popular flight controllers on the market today as well as their pros and cons.
One final thing before we begin: like all the reviews that I do, this one is completely unbiased. I am in no way payed by the manufacturers of the products reviewed here.
This is the "tried, tested, and true" board among flight controllers--it was around for a while and is used by many beginner and intermediate hobbyists. Although it doesn't have some of the advanced features that some newer flight controllers have, it's really nice for beginners due to its ease of programming. (Programming is done by using the four black buttons to adjust the settings that are displayed on the LCD screen.)
However, there are a couple of downfalls. The board only uses an 8-bit processor, which means that it is slower at issuing commands and thus is not as locked in as some newer boards. This also means that it's not that good for small, fast multirotors like 250-size racers. The best use for this board is for "trainer" multirotors like certain configurations of the Electrohub from Flite Test as well as experimental VTOL airplanes like the Chimera.
Another problem is that the board has to be tuned. Sure, it's true that most (if not all) flight controllers have to be adjusted in one way or another, but chances are that out of the box the KK2 board's settings will be nowhere near to how you want them. Many pilots state that they are yet to find a frame that works with the KK2's pre-set settings.
Also, the KK2 board should definitely be flashed with one of the available firmwares to improve performance.
One of the advantages of the KK2 is the ability to support several different configurations, like:
Aero 1S Aileron;
Aero 2S Aileron;
Singlecopter 2M 2S;
Singlecopter 1M 4S.
This makes it perfect for those of us who want a cheap flight computer on their experimental aircraft.
All in all, it's a great starter control board with no frills but enough functions to get a beginner in the air.
The Naze32 board has been gaining popularity over the last few months, especially with the 250-size racing crowd. One of the great features of this board is that it's compatible with CleanFlight, an extremely nice software package that is very intuitive and easy to use. The board comes with a micro USB port that can be used to connect it to a computer.
The Naze32 board is available in two versions: the Acro version (around $30) and the Full version (around $50). The difference between the two is that the Acro version has gyros and an accelerometer, while the Full version includes as additional features a barometer, a compass and the provisions to add more advanced functions like GPS. Both versions also support FrSky Telemetry.
This is probably my favorite board for any multirotor that doesn't require GPS. The ease of setup, excellent pre-set settings and attractive price make it a great board for beginners and advanced pilots alike.
The CC3D is very similar to the Naze32 mentioned above. There are a few minor differences like the sensor type and hardware layout, but other than that, they are more or less the same.
Both are highly recommended, but the CC3D has been reported to be more challenging to tune, not always performing as good as the Naze even with extensive tuning. However, since it's to some extent a matter of preference, many pilots are still having an excellent time flying with this board.
The CC3D is compatible with both its native software, OpenPilot, and with CleanFlight.
The Flip 1.5 board is another great board that can be used in a variety of applications. It uses the Arduino software. Like the CC3D and Acro Naze32, the stock Flip 1.5 has some basic functions like gyros and an accelerometer. But when you order it, there are many options that you can add or configure: a barometer for altitude hold functions; a magenetometer for heading hold functions; pre-installed firmware for tricopter, quadcopter x, quadcopter p, hexacopter x, hexacopter p, and v-tail configurations; telemetry via 915mHz or Bluetooth; even a protective case. The main attraction is the price: $28 for the complete package with pre-soldered right angle pins, barometer and magnetometer, firmware, and case; only $15 for the board alone!
The board also has 3.3v and 5v outputs for powering additional equipment as well as a host of other features that will make your life so much easier when using this on a multirotor that's fully loaded with equipment.
The new Graupner GR-18 FC/receiver combo is a gem among flight controllers. It combines a flight controller with a full-range 9-channel receiver that has built-in telemetry and diversity antennas. Programming couldn't be easier: just read the directions on the transmitter screen and pan/tilt the unit accordingly. You don't even have to worry about the way you orient this on your copter; as long as you have plugged in all the wires correctly and have it facing right side up, you will have gratifying experience. This receiver also has an auxiliary port for a GPS module, available here.
The price is also quite reasonable for what you get: the FC/receiver unit is $100 and the GPS module is $70. If you compare this to something like a DJI Naza or an EagleTree Vector, the price is quite a bit lower, plus it includes an advanced built-in receiver.
Of course, the downside to buying one is that you do have to have a Graupner HoTT radio. You can actually buy a complete Tx/Rx package with the MZ-12 transmitter and this receiver from Graupner for $200. If you're getting into the hobby, this just might be the best option for you. You can hit the ground and run with this package as it is already pre-tuned and includes all the radio components that you need.
The Vector FC combines all the equipment that you need for autonomous flight into one package. It includes a flight controller with a GPS system for navigation, an OSD (on-screen display) for live telemetry transmission on your FPV monitor, and several sensors that measure various parameters while you're flying.
To complete an LRS (long-range system) setup with this unit, you'll need a camera with a live video link, a UHF (ultra-high frequency) receiver and, of course, your aircraft! Note that the Vector can be used on fixed-wing aircraft as well as multirotors.
Programming is easily done through a computer interface. This is an excellent choice of flight controller as it gives you all of the benefits of an OSD without the hassle of hunting down every component separately. The quality is very comparable to that of the DJI Naza.
The APM 2.5 is a very versatile flight controller that can be used in a variety of applications. It's a great way to equip your aircraft with GPS without breaking the bank.
This flight controller comes with various telemetry and logging functions, allowing you to view numerous parameters about your flight after landing.
An interesting property of the APM board is that the default settings for the Acro mode still retain some degree of stabilization. Until adjusted, the board will still limit the aircraft's bank angle, return the aircraft to level flight when the transmitter sticks are centered, and keep the bank angle (as opposed to the banking speed) of the aircraft relative to the movement of the sticks. Fixing this issue is a simple change in the board's settings through the APM software.
Another potential problem is the significant drift encountered when in the GPS lock mode. After repeated attempts to re-calibrate the GPS, I managed to obtain some improvement in, yet could not fully eliminate, the drift.
The Naza flight controller has been used in a lot of the popular multirotors from DJI, like the Phantom series. The GPS's accuracy is perfect. The whole system is engineered at another level to provide the best possible performance.
DJI sells many add-ons and safety features that will work directly with the Naza. If you want the same great GPS performance as the Naza-M V2 but aren't planning to use those accesories, consider getting the Naza-M Lite.
As a stand-alone flight controller, the Naza is OK, but where it really shines is in its capabilities when combined with a GPS.
A major downfall of the Naza is the lack of the ability to support tricopters. If you want to have a tricopter with GPS and other functions, consider the Eagle Tree Vector, mentioned above.
So which one would I choose? Well, it depends on the platform involved. If I were to set up a race quad or just any kind of multirotor that doesn't need GPS, it would be the Naze32. If I were to build a full-blown camera platform, I'd take the Vector. I find these two to be the easiest to tune, have the most features, have the best price, and perform well after minimal adjustment.
Thanks for reading! I hope that you found this guide useful in selecting a flight controller. As time goes on, I will (hopefully) add more sections on new boards that come out.
Good luck with your next project!
Until next time,
-The One Who Never Crashes