How to Build a Drone (FPV Drone Build Guide)

Introduction

Building your own custom quad can seem daunting at first, especially when you learn that there may be soldering involved. But with all of the information available online, and step by step guides such as this one, I can promise you that it is possible! And the feeling of accomplishment when you first successfully get off the ground will be unbeatable.

Jump to Assembly Instructions


Drone Terminology

First thing’s first, it’ll be good to be familiar with some common terms that you’ll see pretty much everywhere in the FPV community:

QuadQuadcopter. Pretty much interchangeable with “Drone”, but specifies a drone with four rotors/blades. There are of course different drone variations that do not have 4 rotors (hexicopter indicates 6 rotors, octocopter indicates 8), but we will be talking about quads unless specified otherwise.
RTFReady To Fly. Drones that are ready to fly straight out of the box, complete with all of the components and accessories needed to get airborne.
BNFBind N Fly. Pre-purchased kits that come with everything but the transmitter, where you just need to bind your provided transmitter with the drone and possible do some light configuration, and then you’ll be ready to fly.
BindEstablishing a link between your transmitter and your drone.
YawA term to describe the movement of the drone. If you were looking down at your drone from above, Yaw describes if it is turned “left” or “right”.
PitchAnother term to describe drone movement. Pitch refers to the vertical orientation of your drone, or how high the front of the drone is relative to the rear.
RollThe third term to describe drone movement. Roll is the rotation around the axis created by the front and rear of your drone. A simple illustration of Yaw, Pitch, and Roll can be seen here: Wikipedia.
AcroAcrobatic flight mode. Allows for total control of your drone, best for freestyle tricks and flips.
ESCElectronic Speed Controller. Part of the control stack for your quad, the ESC regulates the voltage provided to the attached motor, therefore regulating its speed and the thrust provided by that motor.
LOSLine of Sight. Generally refers to the concept of being able to see your drone from where you are, which is an important thing to maintain. But can also be used to describe flying without your goggles on, which is more challenging than you would think.
mAhMilli Amp Hours. A unit of measurement for battery capacity, simply means how many hours the battery could last at X mA. E.g. a 1000mAh battery could provide 1 Amp of current for 1 Hour.
NFZNo Fly Zone. Airspace restricted by the government for either safety or security reasons, typically near airports or military installations. DJI drones have a GPS lock and will not let you take off from within an NFZ.
OSDOn Screen Display. Telemetry data that is displayed in your goggles on top of your FPV feed, can usually be customized via software such as during configuration in Betaflight.
RXShorthand version of “Receiver”.
TXShorthand version of “Transmitter”.
VRXVideo Receiver.
VTXVideo Transmitter. Another part of your quad’s stack, responsible for transmitting the camera image back to your goggles.

Building a Workspace

A clean and effective workspace is a great starting point for any project. You may try and tell yourself “Well it’s going to get messy anyway.”, which is true, but having clear space to start off with helps you lay things out and plan ahead.

If you are looking to create a fresh new space, or looking to complete your workspace with some new tools, here are some options that I’ve found helpful:

Finding a Table

Obviously a good place to start is with a nice solid table, though there are also a few specific qualities that I recommend for a solder bench/electronics workbench.

First of which is a nice clear space without any crazy shelving or drawers that take up table space.

And secondly I find that I enjoy switching between sitting and standing pretty often, so I like to have an adjustable surface that I can raise and lower on the fly.

VIVO Electric Height Adjustable 60 x 24 inch Stand Up Desk
Dark Walnut Solid One-Piece Table Top, Black Frame, Standing Workstation with Simple 2 Button Controller
Check it out!
Coleshome Computer Desk 47″ – Modern Simple Style Desk for Home Office, Sturdy Writing Desk,BlackCheck it out!

Soldering Iron

If you don’t already have a soldering iron on your workbench, here are a few great entry level irons that will definitely get the job done, but also won’t break the bank.

Weller WE1010NA – Weller makes great soldering irons that will last you years and years.
They are also one of the larger names in the soldering game so getting new iron tips is very easy.
Check it out!
Hakko FX888D – Hakko is a very reputable Japanese company that produces excellent products.
I have a few Hakko products and they have never let me down, so I definitely recommend them.
Check it out!

Soldering accessories

In addition to your iron, I’ve come to learn about a few accessories that make any solder work more enjoyable and I would recommend picking them up if you don’t already have similar products.

Soldering Pad – A heatproof pad to keep your table surface safe from hot iron tips
and dropped solder blobs. Also has a few sections for very helpful hardware organization
Check it out!
Solder Sucker – Everybody makes mistakes, don’t let solder mistakes slow you down.
Solder suckers are awesome tools that quickly remove solder for component removal.
Check it out!
Helping Hands – Sometimes you need more than two hands when soldering awkwardly shaped
components, these semi-rigid alligator clip arms are as close as you can get to another hand.
Check it out!
Fun-Tak – If you don’t want to shell out the money for a whole helping hands setup, this putty is excellent
for holding circuitboards in place on your tabletop while soldering
Check it out!
Solder Fume Extractor – Not 100% necessary but nice to have if you are soldering in a room
without much ventilation, filters out the not-so-nice fumes created by soldering.
Check it out!
Flux Pen – Flux helps in solder application and adhesion and is considered good practice to use
in order to get solid solder connections.
Check it out!

Inventory Check (Required Tools)


Tools

Being sure you have the proper tools before starting your project drone will make things much easier, and won’t break your moral when mid-build you need to stop everything and run to the hardware store.

Wire Cutters – Classic wire cutters that can cut things extremely flush to a surface.
A must have when working on circuitboards.
Check it out!
Wire Strippers – Chances are if you are buying anything but a complete 100% RTF kit, you will
need to strip some wires. These strippers will be able to easily strip any wire you may encounter
in your build.
Check it out!
Portable Soldering Iron – An excellent tool to have for field repairs.
Can be powered using 4S or 6S batteries which you will likely have on you when out flying.
Check it out!
Various Hex Drivers – Technically you just need whichever driver matches with the hardware you choose.
But for most RTF or BNF drones you will need hex drivers, and the build I will be doing for this guide will
also use hex.
Check it out!
Tweezers – When soldering your drone components having a nice set of tweezers or forceps will
be a godsend. Especially when holding the thicker gauge wires that need a ton of heat for the solder to flow.
Check it out!
Forceps – Substitute for tweezers, can also help with strange angles that tweezers sometimes cannot access.Check it out!
M5 Nut Driver – Very useful for quickly removing and tightening propeller nuts.
Which, with props usually being the first thing to break in a crash, is a very handy process to speed up.
Check it out!

Hardware

Sometimes your ESC or flight controller will come with mounting hardware such as nuts and standoffs, but it’s not guaranteed so it’s always a good idea to keep some handy. Make sure you get the right size and threading for your particular build!

M3 Hardware
iFlight 220pcs M3 Nylon Screws, Nuts, and StandoffsCheck it out!
iFlight 12PCS M3 nuts and standoffsCheck it out!
100x Uxcell M3x6mm Thread Button Head Hex Socket Cap ScrewsCheck it out!
350x Laptop Screw kit, various sizesCheck it out!
M2 Hardware
FPVDrone M2 anti-vibration mounting standoffsCheck it out!
350x Laptop Screw kit, various sizesCheck it out!

Connectors

Connectors will vary based on the components you purchase, but these are a few that are fairly common and are a safe bet to have available in your kit.

Pre-Crimped Cables and SH1.0 Connectors – Common connector on FC and ESC boards, pre-crimped wires
and included tweezers can make wiring up your control stack a breeze.
Check it out!
XT60 Connectors
3 Pairs of XT60 Plugs, Female and Male Connectors with 12AWG Silicon Wire
For Battery Hookup
Check it out!
10 Pairs Amass XT60 XT-60 Male Female Bullet ConnectorsCheck it out!
XT30 Connectors
20 Pairs XT30 Connectors Male and Female ConnectorsCheck it out!
8 Pairs XT30 Plug Male Female Connector for battery hookupCheck it out!
4 pairs XT30 Plug Male Female Connector for battery hookup –
Same as above, just you may not need so many pairs.
Check it out!

Misc Parts

Blue Loctite – Removable grade thread locker. After losing a nice anodized nut
to my quad’s vibrations while flying, I can’t recommend something like this enough.
It will lock your stack hardware enough to survive vibrations, but not so much that
you can’t remove it yourself.
Check it out!
Solder – Nothing fancy here, just solder for use with your irons. Bonus portable tubes/dispensers
for bringing out to the field if you ever need to use with your portable iron.
Check it out!
Zip Ties – Classic tool that everyone knows and loves, whether you call them zip tie, wire tie, zipper tie,
wire wrap, hose tie, rat belt, mouse belt, or Ty-Rap, you likely know about these little plastic life savers.
Check it out!
Electrical Tape – Good to have if you ever need to do quick electrical repairs. I’ve had instances
where I lost a little bit of some of my motor wire insulation in a crash, and electrical tape saved the day.
Trust me, you do not want to short any of your motor wires, even on the ground.
Check it out!
Gaffer Tape – More of a general use kind of tape. I use it to secure my motor wires to the arms of the frame.
Also I mark the batteries I use for flying with a layer of gaffer tape to differentiate batteries quickly.
Check it out!
Heat Shrink Tubing – Also good for securing wires to carbon frame elements if possible. And of course crucial
for any wiring you may need to do, especially anything with XT60 connectors that originally have exposed contacts.
Check it out!
Battery Strap – Simple strap to secure battery to your drone, usually rubberized to really get a good grip
on the battery and not let it slide around while you’re getting wild in acro mode.
Check it out!

FPV Drone Components

While the steps will be similar no matter what components you choose, I’m going to be writing the remainder of this guide using the bolded components. Which of course means if you choose the same components, you will end up with a step by step walkthrough with no possible speed bumps!

If you aren’t interested in the cinewhoop I’ll be building, a great reference for parts and guides for many different kinds of drones is rotorbuilds. Their community has excellent builds of all different types. And even if you don’t like any builds on there, looking through the components people use is a great way to learn how to pair things together.

Frame

The frame of your drone is like the chassis of your car, its main purpose is for structure and shape. It may not seem like the smartest part of your quad when compared to all the controllers onboard, but the design of your frame can definitely be clever. When designers think about mounting points for different things like batteries and gopros, and the weight distribution of these parts, you can really tell the difference in quality between different frames.

Cinewhoop:

Squirt V2.1 – I do not have a cinewhoop build yet, so I will be starting out with the well-known “Squirt” Cinewhoop kit.
Squirt Cinewhoop

Freestyle:

XILO Phreakstyle Freestyle Quadcopter Frame Kit – 5″/6″/7″
and 3D printed antenna mount
Frame and Mount

Motors

The motors on your quad have the very important job of rotating the propellers, providing thrust to control where the quad goes. When considering a motor there are a few specs you need to take note of:

  • The Motor KV is a rating for the RPM of the motor per volt provided by the ESC. You want to research the ideal KV for your drone weight and form factor to be sure you don’t burn out your motors by asking for too much torque.
  • The maximum current draw at 100% throttle. Make sure the ESC you go with can easily handle the max current, and that your battery’s C rating is sufficient for the max current x 4 (in the case of you going full throttle straight up and all four motors will hit their peak current.)
  • The motor size and mounting dimensions. The motor size is usually given as a four digit number like “xxyy” where “xx” is the width of the stator in mm, and the “yy” is the height of the stator, also in mm. The physical size of the motor is directly related to the torque it can produce.

Cinewhoop:

XING 1507 3600KVCheck it out!
T-MOTOR F1507 2700KV/3800KV MOTORCheck it out!
HYPERLITE 1408-4022KV RACE SERIESCheck it out!

Freestyle:

XILO Stealth 2206 2600KV MotorCheck it out!
XING-E 2207 2750KV 4S Brushless MotorCheck it out!

Propellers

A quality set of propellers with the proper specs can make a huge difference in your flying. They can also burn out your motors if you get a set that demand too much torque out of your motors, so it’s good to research propellers to make sure they pair up with your motor selection. Propeller measurements are usually given right in the product title/headline in the form of AxBxC, where A is the length of the blades in inches, B is the pitch of the blades in inches, and C is the number of individual blades on the propeller. Pitch is defined as the distance the propeller would travel in one full revolution.

Cinewhoop:

HQProp 4×4.3×3 V1S Tri-Blade Propeller – Recommended by the creator of the squirt frame.
Still need to be cut down a little to fit properly into propeller guards.
Check it out!

Freestyle:

iFlight Nazgul 5140 Tri-Blade Propeller 5 Inch PropCheck it out!
HQProp Ethix S3 Prop 5×3.1×3 Tri-Blade Propeller 5 Inch PropCheck it out!
Lumenier 5×5.3×3 – Gate Breaker PropellerCheck it out!

ESC (Speed Controller)

The ESC or Electronic Speed Controller is an electrical component that controls the voltage provided to the motor, and therefore the speed that the motor rotates and the thrust the propellers generate. It is now fairly common to find boards that incorporate the hardware for all 4 ESCs alongside the power distribution components. Important ratings to consider when choosing an ESC are the input voltage and the max output current. The input voltage range needs to include the voltage of your quad’s battery (4s, 6s, etc). And the max current needs to be higher than the peak current of the motor the ESC is controlling.

Cinewhoop:

NewBeeDrone Infinity200 Stack (ESC+FC)Check it out!
iFlight Succex-D Mini F7 / TwinG 2-6S 20×20 Stack/Combo for DJI (F7 FC / 32Bit 40A 4in1 ESC)Check it out!

Freestyle:

XILO Stax Combo – F4 Flight Controller + 45A BLHeli_32 6s 4-in-1 ESCCheck it out!

Flight Controller

The flight controller is the brain of the operation, and tells the ESCs what voltage to provide to each motor. It has its own internal computation to determine the voltage, especially when flying in an assisted flight mode such as level or horizon mode. And also receives the signals you send it with your transmitter through the interface with the paired receiver.

Cinewhoop:

NewBeeDrone Infinity200 Stack (ESC+FC)Check it out!
iFlight Succex-D Mini F7 / TwinG 2-6S 20×20 Stack/Combo for DJI (F7 FC / 32Bit 40A 4in1 ESC)Check it out!

Freestyle:

XILO Stax Combo – F4 Flight Controller + 45A BLHeli_32 6s 4-in-1 ESCCheck it out!

VTX (Transmitter)

The VTX, or Video Transmitter, is what transmits the video data to your headset through use of the VTX antenna on your quad. VTXs can have different output power which affects the range of your video feed, allowing you to fly further before losing your video feed if you are running at a higher power. Most VTXs have many channels available for their output, so are generally pretty universal for usage with any goggle. UNLESS you have digital goggles with an analog output VTX, then you will need to add an analog converter module to your goggles.

The DJI Air Unit is a digital system and requires goggles capable of digital input.


DJI Digital FPV Air Unit – Ultra Low Latency 720p 120FPS Digital HD
Check it out!
XILO STAX 5.8GHz FPV Video Transmitter (25-600mW) w/ Smart AudioCheck it out!

FPV Camera


DJI Digital FPV Air Unit – Ultra Low Latency 720p 120FPS Digital HD
Check it out!
XILO Micro Mutant – 1200TVL 2.1mm FPV CameraCheck it out!

Receiver

FrSky R-XSR UltraCheck it out!

Antennas


DJI Digital FPV Air Unit – Ultra Low Latency 720p 120FPS Digital HD
Check it out!
XILO AXII SMA 5.8GHz Antenna (RHCP)Check it out!

External Accessories

A few accessories/components that aren’t on the drone itself, but are just as vital to the operation of your new quad. When it comes to choosing a set of goggles or a transmitter, keep in mind that these won’t be crashed into trees/bricks/poles like your onboard components, so spending a little more on high quality options is a safe bet.

Goggles

Your goggles are what put you in the driver’s seat of your drone. They receive the drone’s output video at extremely low latencies, which make you feel like you really are a tiny pilot seated dead center on your freestyle monster. Along with the general video feed, many flight metrics can be streamed to your OSD, which can be extremely useful when flying, so you’ll want to be sure to grab a pair of goggles that you find comfortable with a display that your eyes can focus on. Different goggles may have different features as well, such as onboard DVR, internal batteries, or high resolution displays.

DJI FPV Goggles V2 – A premium set of digital goggles with high range, good penetration,
high resolution HD video feed, and on board DVR
Check it out!
Fat Shark HDO2 – A Premium pair of analog goggles with great range, extremely low latency,
and a ton of customization options.
Check it out!
Hawkeye Little Pilot VR – Entry level setup that is more just a small screen which contains all of the brains,
and then a plastic headset with hinged mirrors that direct the screen to your eyes.
This setup is actually extremely comfortable and I 100% recommend it even for seasoned pilots.
Check it out!
Fat Shark Scout – Entry level box goggles with DVR and internal battery that enables simple USB charging.
Fat Shark is one of the top goggle manufacturers and this is one of their highest rated entry level goggles.
Check it out!

Transmitter

FrSky Q X7 TransmitterCheck it out!
DJI FPV ControllerCheck it out!

Batteries

TATTU 850mAh 14.8V 75C 4S LiPo – Take note of the smaller 850mAh capacity!
Smaller capacity batteries save weight and are typically used for smaller drones.
Check it out!
Ovonic 14.8V 1300mAh 100C 4S LiPoCheck it out!
2 x GOLDBAT 1300mAh 4S 100C 14.8VCheck it out!

Battery Chargers

HOTA D6 PRO CHARGER AC200W DC650W 15ACheck it out!
HotRC 3S 4S Lipo Battery ChargerCheck it out!
Tenergy TB6-B Balance ChargerCheck it out!

Assembling Your Drone

Preparing Your Frame

If your frame has removable arms then first attach all of your arms to the main body, so you have the general full shape of the frame available to use as a reference when cutting wires to length. With your arms attached to your body, feed an appropriate size section of heat shrink tubing on to each of the four arms for your motor wires to run through later. (This is optional, I also use gaffer tape to protect the motor wires after the fact, but heat shrink keeps things nice and tidy). With the squirt frame I’ll be using there are carbon cross members between the arms, so I’ll have to go for gaffer tape in my build.

I also like to first attach all of the bottom layer hardware, such as all of the screws that go through the bottom of the main body plate, and the first layer of standoffs that hold those screws in place. If your frame has mounting patterns for different size stacks, make sure you feed those bottom screws into the correct holes on the frame so you don’t have to flip it back over and do it again later.

Mount Your Motors

Feed each of your motor’s three wires through their section of heat shrink tubing (if present), and mount the motors on the end of your quad’s arms where the mounting holes are. Try and tuck the wires away from the center of the drone body where you’ll be assembling the control stack, as you don’t want all 12 motor wires in your face while you’re trying to solder to the pads located on the ESC and Flight Controller.

Assemble Your ESC/FC Stack

First place a spacer on each of the main stack screws to prevent your ESC from resting against your frame. Then go ahead and carefully slide your ESC onto the four screws until it is resting firmly on top of your spacers. Depending on your build setup, you may not want to secure it with nuts or standoffs quite yet. For example, the combo ESC & FC stack I’m using just has spacers between the two boards, so I would just have to remove nuts or standoffs before proceeding with the flight controller.

Close up of spacer placed on mounting bolt.
All four spacers screwed down to carbon frame.

You want to make sure your ESC is resting firmly though, because now is when I like to begin the solder prep. Go ahead and strip small bits of the battery leads and tin the newly exposed wire. You’ll also want to tin all of the pads you’re about to use on your ESC, which should include the two large battery connector pads, and three pads for each motor (so 12 for your quad).

Tinning motor leads.
Tinning pads on ESC.

The thicker battery wires are a little tougher to solder, so it’s better to start with them. After getting solid solder joints with your battery wires (make sure you have the positive and negative wires hooked up correctly!) snip your filter capacitor’s leads to have it tuck away nicely within your frame and solder it between your battery terminals (again, make sure your capacitor is hooked up correctly! Electrolytic capacitors have a polarity.)

After Soldering things I always like to double check that they aren’t shorted by using the continuity tester mode on a multimeter. Make sure your newly soldered battery connections aren’t shorted to each other and then continue on to connect the motor wires.

For the motor connections, the placement of the three wires doesn’t really matter electrically, so connect them however needed to keep things as clean as possible. For example, if there is a heat shrink boot holding the three wires in a flat ribbon-like configuration, it’s cleaner to keep them arranged in that same flat order all the way down the arm, rather than criss-crossing them and having the bundle of wires become thicker. I say it doesn’t really matter electrically because the motor direction can be configured via software if the wiring ends up being incorrect.

Once you have the motor wires laid out where you like them, snip them right where they meet their pad on the ESC (give or take a few mm for slack). Then strip a small bit of insulation from each of the 12 motor wires and tin the exposed wire. After tinning all 12 wires, begin to solder them to the ESC, following that clean configuration you came up with earlier.

After connecting your motors you’ll then need to connect your ESC to your Flight Controller (FC). My two boards came with pre-crimped connector cables to connect them to each other, but it’s not too hard if you need to solder things yourself. The documentation for your boards should indicate where your connections should go, for example the diagram for my flight controller at the ESC connector port:

Shows that the connections between my ESC and the FC are for the Telemetry, Current, Ground, Battery Voltage, and the four motors (M1-M4). While useful, the Telemetry, Current, and Battery Voltage data isn’t required. But generally the required connections are for the four motors and ground.

Connect Your Receiver

If you want to use your own transmitter and aren’t using the whole DJI suite (Air unit, goggles, and controller), you’ll need to wire a separate Receiver to your Flight Controller. For this example I’ll be describing the connection between the FrSky R-XSR receiver board and the infinity200 FC.

My number one recommendation for this is to fully read the documentation for both boards! I know it’s easy to jump straight to any diagrams, but there are some tricky bits that you’ll overlook if you only refer to the images. I ran into one such case while hooking mine up, which I’ll describe below.

But first, here are the wiring diagrams for both of my boards:

Infinity200 Flight Controller
FrSky R-XSR Receiver Module

The DJI Air unit takes up UART6 (TX6 and RX6) in this case, so we are left with UART2 and UART4 to use. After reading that you can generally connect SBUS to any free RX, and the Smart Port to a free TX not on the same channel as your SBUS connection, I first tried connecting the SBUS_OUT to RX4 and the S.Port to TX2. But that did not work, so I then tried connecting the SBUS_OUT from the receiver straight to the SBUS pad on my Flight controller, which also didn’t work…at first. After fully reading the documentation for both boards I saw some crucial details:

For the flight controller I saw that UART1 and UART3 are already configured for SBUS and the S. Port respectively.

And for the receiver I saw that you can switch between SBUS and CPPM if you accidentally have the bind button pressed for too long. And the output mode is indicated by a bright blue LED on the board.

With these two bits of info that I originally glossed over (fully read your documentation to save a ton of time!) I re-soldered the SBUS_OUT wire to the SBUS pad on the flight controller, and the S.Port to the Telemetry pad. Then, after setting the proper UART1 and UART3 options in Betaflight, everything was good to go!

So tl;dr:

  • 5V on receiver -> any available 5V pad/pin on flight controller
  • Ground on receiver -> any available Ground on flight controller
  • SBUS_OUT on receiver -> SBUS on flight controller
  • S.Port on receiver -> Telemetry on flight controller

Connect Your Camera and VTX

If you are using the DJI air unit it acts as both your camera and VTX. And for my particular flight controller, it also had a connector that went straight between the air unit and the FC. If you are using your own Camera and VTX, you’ll have to read up on the documentation for both of your chosen components and see what connections they require.

For example, If you went with the Xilo VTX and camera listed earlier in this guide, you could use the following info from their respective manual and store page:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-9-1024x432.png

to see that you make the following connections

  • VTX 5V-OUT -> Cam 3.7-18V input
  • VTX GND -> Cam GND
  • VTX VIDEO-IN -> Cam Video

and the page for the camera shows that you receive a pre-crimped 3 wire connector cable for the camera module. It has connectors on both ends of the cable so you’ll have to cut one connector off and solder the wires to their appropriate pads, but the pre-made cable is still very helpful!

Next Steps

Bind to Your Transmitter

And that’s pretty much it for the drone side of things! I know, you’re probably saying to yourself: “But what about the propellers?” And that is a good question. Don’t put them on quite yet, we first need to safely verify that the motors spin in the correct direction during the Betaflight configuration. For now, it’s time to bind your receiver and your transmitter so you can go on to configure your controller inputs in Betaflight. Find detailed controller binding and setup steps here: Transmitter Binding & Setup

Betaflight Configuration

Configuring your PID values and your flight modes is a critical step before you get to flying, and Betaflight makes the process incredibly simple. Find detailed Betaflight configuration steps here: Betaflight Configuration Guide

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