Which Flight Controller Should You Choose?

by The-One-Who-Never-Crashes | September 28, 2015 | (15) Posted in Reviews

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.

1. Hobbyking KK2.1 Multirotor LCD Flight Control Board

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:

Quadcopter +;
Quadcopter x;
Hexcopter +;
Hexcopter x;
Octocopter +;
Octocopter x;
X8 +;
X8 x;
Aero 1S Aileron;
Aero 2S Aileron;
Flying Wing;
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.

2. Naze32 Flight Controller

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.

3. OpenPilot CC3D Flight Controller

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.


4. Flip Multiwii Flight Controller 1.5

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.

5. Graupner HoTT GR-18 2.4 GHz 3xG+3A+Vario w/Telemetry (9 Ch.)

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.

6. EagleTree Vector Flight Controller + OSD

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.

7. ArduPilot Mega APM 2.5

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.

8. DJI Naza-M V2

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


thefrogman123 on October 16, 2015
Quick question from the newbies who are ready to build their first multicopter, but do not want to lose the stability of their first ever "toy" quad(ex blade nano, hubsan, etc). Is there a way to put an auto level function on these boards, and if so, can you or another flitetest community member post a detailed tutorial about how to assign a switch on the transmitter to flip from a stable mode to a crazy mode? Thanks.
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The-One-Who-Never-Crashes on October 17, 2015
Hi thefrogman123,
Yes, you can put auto-level on almost any board (those mentioned in this article all have that function). You can enable it by going into your transmitter menu and assigning a switch to transition between modes. You can also get "permanent" auto-leveling by adjusting the settings in your flight controller's software.

One note about auto-level: although it's certainly easier to learn to fly with it, you'll later want to learn to fly in acro mode (to do things like aerobatics, etc.), so consider not using auto-level at all, as it's so hard to un-learn the habits that you've learned by flying in auto-level. Even though you'll have a slightly harder time learning in acro mode, you'll be glad that you did in the long run.

I hope this helps!
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thenated0g on October 14, 2015
I use the bigaole-6 flight controller. $70 with return to home. Works great.
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The-One-Who-Never-Crashes on October 15, 2015
Wow! I'll have to take a look at that one!
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thenated0g on October 15, 2015
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The-One-Who-Never-Crashes on October 15, 2015
Thank you.
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SimplyDoug on October 14, 2015
This is a good rundown of most of the popular flight controllers. One correction is the acro version of the Naze32 supports FrySky telemetry as well. Another consideration that the APM or PIXHAWK provides is out of the box logging of most flight and platform parameters which is very useful for trouble shooting or for technical applications like aerial imagery collection.
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The-One-Who-Never-Crashes on October 15, 2015
Thanks! I'll add/edit those things.
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RaptorTech on October 14, 2015
Drift for the Arducopter boards is not a result of the FC or the firmware. It comes from the GPS/Compass module not being properly aligned and calibrated with the primary board. It's certainly not as plug and play as the Naza, but a well-tuned Pixhawk should outperform the DJI FC.
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The-One-Who-Never-Crashes on October 14, 2015
True. Thanks for pointing that out.
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Topdawg2881 on October 15, 2015
Also something to make note of is that the APM software is no longer being developed. They have moved on to the newer Pixhawk and PX4 lines with better processors and more memory for code improvements which the APM is supposedly maxed out on. Also another flight control board that I have not had the pleasure to try but have only heard about is the SP Racing board. They have the better processors but not sure yet if its worth the price tag. Time will tell on them. It is Cleanflight configurable so that helps also.
Good write up though, will be a good start for anyone looking where to get into Flight Controllers.

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SimplyDoug on October 16, 2015
Great info. I guess the firmware is now called APM: Copter and outgrew the APM 2.6 hardware last release. As you say, the new APM: Copter 3.3 won't run on APM 2.6 and earlier hardware but will on the more modern Pixhawk flight controller. I'll have to try the new firmware on my Pixhawk. Like many I have fallen in love with 250 class and the Naze32 and haven't flown anything bigger in months.
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PeterGregory on January 17, 2017
Time for an update, please!...
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The-One-Who-Never-Crashes on August 2, 2017
Coming soon! :)
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Tom2009 on June 25, 2017
Thank for your helpful article, but somewhat dated such as Hobbyking KK2, "So which one would I choose? Well, it depends on the platform involved", I very agree with you, In my experience, flight controller can break them into 3 type: For Sport Flying (such as KISS flight controller, Lux flight controller), For Cinema Flying ( DJI NAZA-M V2. ArduPilot AMP), For Autonomous flying(MultiWii Pro). Do you think so?
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The-One-Who-Never-Crashes on August 2, 2017
I will write a "part 2" for this article soon. Not sure what to say in regards to KISS vs Lux vs Betaflight F3 vs DYS F4 vs RMRC Dodo etc., as all utilize powerful hardware and the flight performance in a large part comes down to the firmware you're running. I will point out hardware differences between boards that set them apart. Newer boards are harder to classify both because there are many more around now than a few years ago, and because the software you can run on them isn't limited as much by the specific hardware.

I agree with you on different applications for different flight controllers. I don't think you necessarily need GPS to get cinematic aerial footage, although if you want to lock onto a specific object, a good GPS (like Naza v2) can help reduce drift.
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Which Flight Controller Should You Choose?