If you love drone racing, but don’t like worrying, if you would rather be safe than sorry if you wish your buddy had just mentioned they wanted to start up their drone, and you would like to avoid spending unnecessary money, well, then this is the article for you.
Here I will cover much of the small things which keep us grounded for some reason or other after all the little things in life make up a large portion of our day, this I hope will serve to make it easier!
When I first started flying FPV, building and modifying my first quadcopter, just less than a year ago, I found myself extremely lucky to be in the hands of friends and other hobby enthusiasts to guide me along. 🙂 Their advice and insight on build techniques and procedures have saved me a heap of cash from buying an off-the-shelf racing drone. When I look at how much some pilots have spent on components, frame parts, etc. because of their lack of planning and care put into their build. I certainly am very thankful for the knowledge I have gained in such a short time!
Tip #1 – Safety Always Comes First
It boils down to respect of the hobby and the damage these machines could do to us, financially and physically. I do hope, of course, the physical aspect is less so. Safety is always my primary concern. We fly these quads at incredible speeds, and it is so much fun doing so, breaking the laws of physics at times and, of course, the adrenalin rush which goes hand in hand with speed, while just sitting or standing in one place.
Tip #2 – Check Screws, Nuts & Bolts Tightness
Small things such as making sure nuts & bolts are correctly tightened and inserted with a Loctite gel, preferably the blue label bottle as the red label seems to make for a more permanent application, therefore being hard to loosen for various replacements. Loctite will help stop your bolts from pulling out your frame and motors due to the excess vibrations caused by the motors during operation.
Having longer bolts slightly too, which extend up into your standoffs, will also increase the overall frame strength; of course, they would still bend in hard crashes, and this is inevitable. The extra power, though, is undoubtedly beneficial, when you consider how powerful our motors are these days, compared to the minuscule weight added by this hardware.
Keep in mind, anything we might be able to do to increase our flight time and avoid the ground time is always a bonus. The pure enjoyment of flight is quite simply out of this world!!
Tip #3 – Get a Quality Carbon to Avoid Any Frame Issues
A good thing to know about good-quality carbon is that it is stiff, strong, and does not allow for much flex, therefore making it very durable. If your carbon does not show these characteristics, well, you have probably been sold an inferior product, and this will more than likely create an issue on your frame within the near future.
I recommend a 4mm thick carbon for the arms of your quad, as this area is most prone to impacts and breaks. The rest of the frame will be fine using 2mm carbon. A light sanding on the edges of your carbon fiber with medium sandpaper, followed by two layers of superglue, dried between applications, with a light sanding again once it has all dried, will help to prevent the carbon fiber from de-laminating in crashes.
It is entirely up to you if you would like to go that route, but I will say, sanding is also beneficial for your battery and GoPro straps, as the edges of the carbon tend to be very sharp, thus cutting into your straps and snapping them. It increases the risk of losing expensive drone cameras, or at least making it more difficult to locate your quad in the field as it no longer has power, due to the battery disconnecting itself when the strap snapped.
There is no buzzer or telemetry available without power. Preventing strap snaps during a minor bump in flight will also help to avoid a LiPo suddenly hanging loose and getting chopped to bits by the rotating propellers, which let’s be honest, are like spinning, samurai edged, ninja stars.
Tip #4 – Before Soldering Components Read the Manual
When soldering your components and attaching the various related connectors and power leads, or operating your gear, etc. the first place to start is, READ THE MANUAL!
I cannot stress this enough. I have witnessed first-hand via friends in the hobby, building new models, yet never reading the manuals, how much money they have wasted by frying multiple components, repeatedly. Also, I honestly thought folks would learn from their mistakes; boy, was I mistaken! They have dished out so much money, enough so they could have built another complete rig with the money wasted.
Tip #5 – Inspect If Everything Is Connected Properly
It is vitally important to know where to connect the ground versus the voltage, how many volts(V) specifically a component needs to function correctly and the order by which various cables be soldered to their appropriate part, for example, the flight controller(FC) and power distribution board(PDB).
Without adhering to these small details, you can expect to see the magic white smoke and have the proverbial, money burning holes in your pockets. If everything is connected correctly, the last way to make sure before you power up would be to perform a continuity test on all connections with your multimeter.
Regarding the connectors themselves, I like to add a dab of hot glue to hold them in position, so I do not have them pulling loose during flight and therefore losing power or video and causing an unnecessary crash. Hot glue is easy to apply, and it is removed almost with the same amount of ease. Another good idea is to use heat shrink where you can, on wires, cables, and even possibly on some components. It makes them more robust, more comfortable to handle, and less susceptible to wear and tear.
Tip #6 – Take Note of Shock and Collision Support on the Vtx Antenna
While flying with friends, it is important to realize we are only beginning to open doors into the digital era concerning Video transmitters (Vtx). The majority of us use analog Vtx’s. It means that without a clean switching Vtx, manufactured by some of the more expensive brands, on startup, it is possible to interfere with anybody’s video stream while he/she might be flying. I believe a tiny bit of etiquette is in order at this point. A quick mention to fellow pilots, you would like to power up your drone, will allow them to adjust their position from performing a sharp maneuver, to flying level in a safe zone, for an instant while your quad powers up.
Imagine you losing video and crashing your drone breaking it, and that is the end of your flying session, simply because of the ignorance surrounding this small factor. It goes without saying respecting this hobby, the technology we are using and fellow pilots will only make this more enjoyable for all. Consider that your drone could create interference, therefore don’t cross paths with a pilot already in the air, in other words, don’t walk in front of them if you are powering up your drone or it is under power already. Small things go a long way in the happiness it brings.
To help protect your sensitive Vtx, it is a great idea to make sure to fasten it to your frame sufficiently and that the stem of the antenna adjoining the Vtx, is secured in a way in which it supports and protects it from impacts. I have seen friends who only fastened the Vtx side and forgot about fastening the antenna; in a crash, it ripped the connector straight off the Vtx, in most cases, making it irreparable. A good thing to know is a Vtx cannot survive power for very long at all, without an antenna attached; it just burns out the transmitting side of the Vtx.
I also like to make a sort of shock absorber for the remaining part of the antenna protruding from the frame. I use two pieces of foam wrapped in electrical tape and covered with heat shrink, fastened with zip ties. I have yet to break an antenna after I started using this method. Don’t forget to insulate any metal on ALL your electrical components from your frame, and carbon fiber conducts electricity.
Tip #7 – Do Quick Check After a Collision
When you crash, and of course, this will happen. Make sure when you recover your drone to quickly check the motors and propellers spin freely before you decide to take off again. This ensures no tiny bits of dirt or stone is lodged in the motor causing it to jam up and thus frying your electronic speed controller (ESC). It can happen quickly enough as the ESC has nowhere to dump the excess current from your throttle inputs.
Tip #8 – Routine Maintenance Should Be Performed
An easy task, and I believe it should be performed at least once a month; it takes 5-10 minutes and is a great way to prevent any unnecessary crashes or mishaps. The following is basic and easy to check:
- All components are secured correctly
- All screws are tightened properly
- A decent cleaning will ensure the longevity of all electrical and moving parts
- Propellers and motors spin freely, making sure between each flight session, the propellers are tightened adequately
Tip #9 – Seek The Friend’s Assistance For First-Time Flying
Have a friend stand next to you as you fly and have them continuously call out the various heights of your drone as you fly. Doing this for only two batteries, I guarantee it will give you a better understanding of the perspective distances/heights your drone is from the ground through FPV goggles, versus physical eyesight. It helped me tremendously!
Tired of building your racing drone? Need motivation? Check out below Mike’s YouTube video on the DJI Racing FPV Drone he made:
Over To You
Thanks for reading and huge thanks to Mike for the opportunity.
I hope these nine tips for building racing drones were useful to you. Feel free to share your tricks in the comment section below 🙂
Have fun, and share the hobby!
About the Author:
Oliver McClintock started making small DIY quads ever since he was a child. From the indoor unit to the FPV racers, he has covered it all. Decades later, he is just to see his passion changed into real hobby resulting in the establishment of his blog called My Dear Drone. To spread the expertise, he shares his UAV experience with others.