Drones (more properly, unmanned aerial vehicles) are everywhere these days. You can get one from just about any retail store that sell toys. With so many out there how does one know which of these are good to buy? The answer to this depends on what your intent is. If you are just looking to try one for the first time and have no interest in turning it in to a hobby later on; just about any cheap drone will work for this. If you already know that you want to take up flying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as a hobby; you may want to start with a slightly higher quality one while learning to fly.
My favorite toy grade UAV that will work for people in either of the above situations is the: UDI U816A.
This little UAV is fantastic to learn on. It is durable and can be picked up for less than $40 online. The transmitter that comes with this UAV is very similar to the hobby grade ones, so learning to fly on this will definitely help when its time to move on to a hobby grade unmanned aerial vehicle. The only advise I have on this one, is to buy extra propellers and extra batteries, which are also readily available online. Whether you are flying a toy or hobby grade UAV you will crash and break propellers. Having extra batteries is also a must, when you become addicted to this (and you will) one battery will no longer cut it.
Moving To Hobby Grade:
If you have already flown toy grade unmanned aerial vehicles like the above and are now ready to move to hobby grade UAVs; its time to open your mind and wallet. When moving to hobby grade, there are a ton of options and it can be overwhelming. Unlike the toy grade UAVs, unless you want to drop upwards of $400-$1000 for a pre-built DJI, most hobby grade UAV’s do not come Ready To Fly (RTF)… even if they say they do. More often than not, you will have to pick up a transmitter, receiver, batteries and chargers separate from the UAV itself. Even after you pick up everything there will be some setup required to get it to fly, and as with the toy grade ones you will crash and break things. This time when you break something it will be more expensive. After going through this myself and spending time and money to get it right, I have figured out a good hobby UAV that is inexpensive initially and to repair later. Hopefully this will save you time and money. The first thing you will absolutely need is a soldering iron. If you don’t already have one and don’t know how to use it, I suggest you pick one up and learn how to use it properly. Once you have that, head on over to Hobby King and have a look at the Turnigy Micro Quad. At $99 and mostly ready to fly, this makes for a good starter kit. The most important components on this UAV (Motors, Electronic Speed Controllers (ESC), Flight Controller) are good quality and come pretty much RTF (Ready To Fly), but the propellers and frame are cheap and break easily. Below is a list of things from Hobby King and Amazon that you will need to buy to get up and going with this unmanned aerial vehicle (These do not come with the UAV).
HobbyKing.com Parts List
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle: $99: Turnigy Micro Quad
Transmitter and Reciever $30: Hobby King 2.4Ghz 6Ch Tx & Rx V2 – Mode 2 (You could also save a few bucks and go with the 4Ch transmitter however in the future 6Ch’s will be better)
Two Batteries $13: Turnigy nano-tech 1000mah 2S 25~50C Lipo Pack (These are fantastic and powerful batteries but you will need to solder a new XT60 connection on the UAV for these to work with it)
LiPo Battery Charger $25: Turnigy Accucel-6 50W 6A Balancer/Charger (Charger for the above batteries)
XT60 Connector for Quad 5-pack for $7: XT60 Male w/ 12AWG Silicon Wire (You will need to de-solder the stock battery connection on the UAV and solder this in its place)
Amazon.com Parts List
Propeller Adapter 5-pack $2: Andoer 5pcs 2.0mm RC Aluminum Bullet Propeller Adapter (These allow you to use higher quality non-press on props)
Propellers 2-packs of 4 $9: Hobbypower 5030 5×3 GemFan Plastic Propeller (These are very durable propellers)
That is it for now. There will be a trip to Home Depot required to build a new frame once you break the one that comes with the UAV.
Optional but Recommended Parts List
ESC Programming Card $9:
or from HobbyKing (Used for programming new ESC’s) (Please note the previous HobbyKing parts were from their USA West Warehouse and this ESC Programmer Card is from their USA East Warehouse and would need to be ordered separately from the previous items)
USB KK2.0 (Flight Controller) Programmer $8: Hobbypower AVR USB Programmer (Used for flashing newer firmware to your Flight Controller)
Total cost for unmanned aerial vehicle with optional parts = $202 (Not including any shipping Costs or price changes)
Not too shabby for a hobby grade UAV. Once you have all your parts in hand, return here for the initial setup guide below.
UAV Setup Guide: (If you need to learn to solder check out this video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-0M5bx1y64)
Step One: De-solder the power connector shown in the image below and solder on the XT60 one you recieved. (Be sure to get the positive and the negative correct)
Step Two: Hook the receiver up to the KK2.0 Flight Controller (See image below for connection information)
Step Three: Charge up some batteries if you have not done so already. Below is a YouTube video on charging your LiPo batteries.
Step Four: Bind your transmitter. To bind and test your transmitter, put your UAV on a flat surface without the props on, plug-in one of your charged batteries to the UAV (the receiver on the quad should be blinking a red LED), put batteries in your transmitter (8AA’s) and hold down the button that says bind on your transmitter and turn the transmitter on while continuing to hold the bind button. Once binding is complete the red LED on the receiver will turn solid.
Step Five: Verify motor direction and test transmitter. Motor direction should be correct out of the box with this UAV but it is best to check anyway. To test motor direction the first step is to turn on the transmitter and flip the THR (Throttle) switch on it to the REV position (you will keep it this way from now on). Now plug a battery into the UAV you should hear a series of beeps to let you know everything is ok. You will also see the word SAFE on the UAV screen. This means the UAV is in safe mode and will not operate. To take it out of safe mode, move the throttle stick to the bottom and pull it to the right. You will see a red light come up on the quad and the screen will now say ARMED (If needed you can revert to safe mode by moving the throttle down and to the left). You may now test the motor direction by moving the throttle up and checking which way each motor spins. See the below photo for the correct motor direction.
If your motors are correct (Which they should be) you can now put on your propellers. If they are not correct then the wiring needs to be de-soldered and reversed going from the motor to the ESC’s (See this Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=48MQR3UV7x0)
Step Six: To put on the propellers, slide the propeller adapter on to the motor shaft then put the correct size plastic reducer that came with the props into the propeller and slide both on to the adapter. Tighten the screw top down tight. (It is important to get this on tight or your props and adapter will come off in flight and cause a crash and injury!) Make sure to also put the correct propellers on the correct motor. See the below video for putting the prop adapters on.
Step Seven: Put rubber bands in an “X” shape across the legs of the unmanned aerial vehicle to hold the battery onto the bottom of the quad.
Step Eight: Trim your quad. See Below Video
Now you should be ready to go for your first test flight! The KK2.0 Flight Controller comes pre-set up on this UAV and should be ready to fly out of the box, but if yours did not, you can learn how to set it up in the video below.
Hope this guide helps in getting started with a hobby grade unmanned aerial vehicle! Soon I will post a guide on turning this in to an H-Frame quad for about $25 worth of supplies from Home Depot. Here is a photo of mine that I converted after breaking the stock frame one too many times. Happy Flying!!