How to build an F450 Drone (Quadcopter).
So, you’ve decided to build a drone, now what? Although it can seem like a challenge, the basics of building a drone are not as intimidating once you get into it. Building a drone from the ground up has many benefits. YOU can choose what you want to build it for, whether you are building just to zoom around, race, or are taking incredible video! This guide is based on the F450 frame but ultimately can be applied to all sizes with a few modifications to the frame, motors/props and battery. In the end you will have a drone customized for exactly what you want it at a much lower cost with the satisfaction of building it yourself, and furthermore, how to build a quadcopter with GPS guidance that is simple to fly and capable of flying as far as you can see for incredible pictures and video.
Before we get into all that, first you must ask yourself what kind of drone you are building. At this point you should start to plan how this will all come together on a frame that is well balanced with a low center of gravity.
Complete Drone Parts List.
Power Distribution board- https://www.rcmoment.com/p-rm4973.html
ESC SimonK 30A- https://www.altitudehobbies.com/products/emax-simonk-series-30a-esc-for-multi-rotor?variant=21176037212219¤cy=USD&utm_campaign=gs-2018-11-09&utm_source=google&utm_medium=smart_campaign
Motor 2212 (2 clockwise, 2 counter clockwise- https://www.robotdigg.com/product/711/DJI-2212-brushless-drone-motor?gclid=CjwKCAiAlO7uBRANEiwA_vXQ-7fBWn6PnJWn5292dppWvI2KGqfnWd2h7DYEnFmv1VL2jaI1EZ_mpRoC3c4QAvD_BwE
Flight Controller- https://www.amazon.com/Naza-M-Multi-Rotor-Flight-Controller-Include/dp/B00PA7W380/ref=sr_1_1_sspa?keywords=Naza+M+Lite&qid=1574876591&s=toys-and-games&sr=1-1-spons&psc=1&smid=ASGD8FQJR7XYN&spLa=ZW5jcnlwdGVkUXVhbGlmaWVyPUEzVjk2WkY3MkFYUFlCJmVuY3J5cHRlZElkPUEwNzc3MDg4MlBONkVNVURKRExKSSZlbmNyeXB0ZWRBZElkPUEwNTc1OTM5MUFYUkRJUjc2NEhIJndpZGdldE5hbWU9c3BfYXRmJmFjdGlvbj1jbGlja1JlZGlyZWN0JmRvTm90TG9nQ2xpY2s9dHJ1ZQ==
Transmitter FrSKY Taranis Q x7- https://www.frsky-rc.com/product/taranis-q-x7-2/
Receiver FrSKY LR9- https://www.getfpv.com/frsky-l9r-long-range-receiver-9-12-non-telemetry.html
Battery Lip 3S 30-50C and Lipo Charger- https://www.horizonhobby.com/spektrum-smart-technology-/111v-5000mah-30c-3s-hardcase%3A-ic3-p-spmx50003s30h3
Battery Connectors- Depends on your preference, I used Traxxas connectors for my build.
Camera-Mobius HD- https://www.mobius-actioncam.com/
Props (2 clockwise, 2 counter clock, 10 inch)- https://www.amazon.com/RAYCorp%C2%AE-Propellers-Quality-Quadcopter-Multirotors/dp/B01CJMJ886
Okay you made it this far and your mind is content on building a drone. After researching, planning, and gathering the supplies, it’s time to get to it.
The first thing to do is assemble the new frame. Most likely the frame came in a flat box and will require assembling. My build utilizes the “dead Cat” design as wanted to build a drone with a wide camera angle off the front. This version is more difficult to balance, and I recommend going with a more traditional quad frame.
Power Distribution Board (PDB).
You will need to get out your soldering iron and solder on whatever battery connector type you have chosen, I went with Traxxas connectors just for ease of use and that is what my charger is set up for. Solder the connector before you mount the board, (you won’t have much room to work once all the other wires are soldered). Be sure you locate the “BATT” port on the PDB and solder the connector, red to positive and black to negative. I used a capacitor between my battery connection to help reduce electrical noise, this is not essential especially if this is your first build. If it’s easier for you and do not want to mess around with soldering the right connector on your battery, use the style connector that came on your battery and purchase the male connector separately.
Mount your power distribution board (PDB) on your frame, for best results use rubber standoffs and mount with screws to the frame. This will reduce vibration and catastrophic failure.
Mount The Motors.
The motors I purchased needed to have the connectors soldered. This was a little bit painful as you must solder 3 wires for each motor (these will plug into the ESC’s). Once you have everything soldered go ahead and mount the motors. While doing this you need to be sure where the “front” is and mount your motors accordingly. In the correct configuration. See Betalights Quad Diagram here paying attention to clockwise vs counterclockwise rotation, you should have ordered 2 of each type.
Electronic Speed Controller (ESC’s).
Once the motors are installed the next step is to mount the ESC’s. I chose to mount them under the arms using strong double-sided tape and wrapping them with Electrical tape. Once the motors are connected you can also use heat shrink tubing to cover the connectors to isolate them from each other to avoid shorting out.
The Fun Stuff.
Okay, now you have the battery connector, Motors and ESC’s connected. Now its time for the guts. Find the ports on the PDB that have + and – signs, the boards I used were not labeled with output voltage. Go ahead and solder each of the ESC’s to the closet corresponding port on the PDB. Red to positive, Black to negative.
Mount The Flight Controller.
Having fun yet?
Now is the time to find that perfect location to mount your flight controller, using double sided tape secure the controller to the frame. If you have gone with a NAZA M Lite please read through the following instructions for set up and tips.
Because there are accelerometers, gyros and GPS within the controller, it is important to be sure you unit is mounted facing the correct direction so that the drone knows which way is forward and backward. For the NAZA the controller needs to facing forward with the ESC connections in the front and the receiver connections in the rear.
Now its time to plug in the ESC’s. At this point it’s important to refer to the motor configuration. M1-or motor 1 is plugged into the M1 port on the controller, same for 2, 3 and 4. For now, do not plug in the GPS unit or the LED indicator so that you have room to work for the receiver, we’ll come back to that.
It’s All About Communication.
Now find a spot for your receiver and mount it again with double sided tape. It will need to be close to the controller because the connections are not that long. Once mounted go ahead and plug in the connectors to the rear of the controller. Receiver port 1 goes to “A” (aileron), 2 goes to “E” (Elevator) and then right down the line. The last connect on the controller, Port X3 goes to the PMU.
Putting in together.
Once you have the receiver connected to the controller, the controller connected to the motors, you can now plug in the GPS head unit and the LED indicator.
We’re getting there!
One last solder to power up the controller. Find the red and black wires from the PMU like the pictured above. Solder these to the same point where you have soldered the battery connector, lastly find a place to mount the PMU and LED/USB port. I chose to mount the LED beneath the drone so that you can continuously see the indicator lights showing the status of GPS and battery levels while flying above me.
The Final Touches.
Alright, we have everything wired up and connected, just a few loose ends to take care of. If you are using a top plate on your drone you can install now. The GPS head unit and the transmitter antennas should be mounted in a clear area. I chose to mount on top like this.
Take the time now to look over all your connections and double check your plug ports and make sure everything is where it needs to be. When mounting the GPS unit, you will need to take measurements to be able to calibrate based on the distance from the controller on an X, Y, and Z access as well as making the sure the arrow on the top of the unit is pointing forward. Refer to the NAZA M Lite manual for specifics on this as there is a lot of information.
Don’t forget the camera!
Lastly is the camera! I chose to use the Mobius HD camera rather than GoPro or using a gimbal for no other reason than cost and weight. The camera takes great aerial footage that is recorded in the memory. If you wish to go further watch for my next blog on setting up FPV and on screen displays for battery voltage, speed and coordinates.
One last note, you will notice many different ports on your PDB. When using cameras and displays, these can be hard wired to the board as well. More over you will want the constant voltage provided by the 5V outputs for clear video transmissions when using FPV. Again, we will cover that in a future blog to come!
Time to program your transmitter and bind it to your receiver. It’s a pretty simple process with the Taranis Q7 radio. For specific radio setup and binding please see here:
A Little More Setting Up.
Everything is connected, transmitter and receiver are bound, one last thing to do. Head over to your laptop and download the DJI NAZA M Lite software. Open it up and plug in the USB to the LED port of the controller. At this point you can calibrate the entire control system and fine tune any radio adjustments you may want to do. For this I also recommend reading over the DJI software manual and (see link below) as there are many great tips, tricks and functions to getting you in the air!
Once complete, head outside and go for a test flight without the props! Initially use your command stick start and make sure all the motors are spinning in the correct direction (with correct rotation configuration). If everything looks install the props and give it a try! Once you get feel of the controls you can start playing with the different modes offered by the NAZA controller to suit your needs and have fun!
Please feel free to leave me any comments or questions and don’t forget to subscribe and even add your own project to the forums!
-Never work on your drone with the props attached, serious injury can occur if the props spin up while nearby.
-Always use a lipo battery box when charging and do not leave unattended while charging.
-Follow your local rules and regulations regarding flying drones in your area.
-Until you get an on-screen display, time your flights so you will know run times to avoid a dying battery and a crash.