If you’re a regular on this site, chances are you’re relatively new to multi-rotor RC flying. There’s a good chance you’re either brand new and just looking to get started, or are currently flying a toy grade quad such as an AR Drone, Hubsan, Ladybird, etc. If you’re part of the latter group, you’ve probably looked “over the fence” a few times and thought about moving on to bigger, “Hobby Grade” drones (for the purpose of this article, I will classify anything with brushed motors as toy grade, and anything using brushless motors as hobby grade). I know how you feel. I was there a year ago, flying my AR Drone and looking on with envious eyes at some of the things Juz and Alishanmao could do with their quads. I ultimately jumped over the fence, and I have to say it’s been quite a journey and learning experience. Along the way I’ve done some things right and some things wrong. The purpose of this article is to share what I’ve learned, and to help you be as prepared as possible when you’re ready to make the leap yourself.
Probably the single most important piece of advice I can give you is to plan ahead. Making the jump to a full sized quad is a big step and it comes with a big learning curve. Hopefully you’ve already learned some of the basics from your micro or AR Drone, but the amount of knowledge required for a hobby grade quad is considerably more than for a micro. You should plan on spending at least a couple of months immersed in forums and watching videos on Youtube until you have a basic understanding of how these things work and the parts required to make them go. Some of the things you should be researching are Radios and Receivers (often referred to as Tx and Rx), motors, ESCs (electronic speed controllers), flight controllers (ex: DJI Naza), and LiPos and chargers to name a few. If you plan to try FPV you will need to know something about antennas, video transmetters and receivers (VTx and VRx), and displays (LCD or Goggles). It sounds a little overwhelming, but the more you know ahead of time when you get your first full sized quad, the more likely you are to be successful not only in keeping your quad flying but in getting something that will suit your needs.
Another important thing to consider is finding safe places to fly it. The local park down the street crawling with kids might be a great place to take your hubsan on a calm day, but it might not be ideal for a full sized quad. Safety is a much bigger concern with a big quad. It’s very tempting to take it up 500 feet and go soaring around the neighborhood, but trust me this is not a good idea. Always keep in mind that if you fly over people or property, you are just a broken prop or failed ESC away from getting sued at best, and from seriously hurting someone at worst. You don’t have to drive 100 miles out into the desert to find a spot that’s COMPLETELY deserted, but do try to find flying spots and times that are sparsely populated. Joining a local flying club is always an option too, and it’s a great way to meet other RC enthusiasts with a ton of experience in the hobby. Lastly, make sure you have a clear understanding of what you want to do with it. Different quads are better suited for different things, and knowing what you ultimately want to use it for will determine which quads would be the best fit for your needs.
Buying Your Quad
Ok so you’ve done your research, you have a general understanding of the technology involved, you’ve found a couple of good spots to fly, and you know what kind of flying you want to do. You’re almost ready to go quad shopping! The very first thing you should do when deciding on a quad is figure out your budget. Make sure you don’t blow your whole bankroll buying the quad too, because the spending doesn’t stop when you get your quad, it’s just starting. In fact, the cost of parts is something you should take into consideration when buying your quad. Anything that uses proprietary propellers and components is going to be more expensive to keep in the air than something that uses non-proprietary components, so keep that in mind when you go shopping. The $100 you save could disappear in a hurry if you’re paying $15 for a set of props instead of $5, and $20 for replacement landing gear instead of $8. Remember also that if this is your first quad you may also have to budget for a radio, a battery charger, any video gear you plan to use with it (some of these items may be included with an RTF quad), and spare parts and batteries so make sure you factor that in.
Warthox Acro Flying
One thing you will have to decide early on is do you want to buy RTF (Ready to Fly) or build your own. There are definite advantages and disadvantages to each approach. Buying RTF will unquestionably get you in the air quicker, but it will cost more, and you won’t learn anything about your quad in the process. Building your own will almost certainly be cheaper and you will learn a lot in the process, but building a quad from scratch can be a daunting undertaking if you’re just starting out. The best advice I can give here is don’t let the cost be the deciding factor. If rolling up your sleeves and building is something that appeals to you then you will probably benefit more from a DIY project. If (like me) you don’t know much about electronics and break out in a cold sweat at the thought of trying to assemble and tune all of those components then you undoubtedly would be better served with a RTF quad. Be aware of one thing though. Whichever path you take be prepared to roll up your sleeves and do some repairs. Trust me on this, if you buy a quad and never crash or break it, you will be the first :).
Whether you decide to build or go RTF, consider your vendor carefully. The last thing you want to do is find yourself in a position where you have spent $XXX on a quad that doesn’t fly, and then you find out that the vendor you bought from has terrible technical support. Any popular quad will most likely have a dedicated thread on RC groups or other forums. Read them carefully for any quad you are considering, and pay close attention to the support provided by the vendor either via direct comments from the vendor or indirectly via comments from people who have had experience with their support. In most cases you’ll be able to get a good overall view of the quality of product support provided by the vendor.
Juz FPV Flying
Odds & Ends
Unless you are the first person ever who never crashes his quad, you will need to have some basic tools for repairs. First and foremost, get yourself a good soldering kit along with some helping hands (a device with alligator clips to hold wires as you solder). Like it or not you WILL be doing some soldering in this hobby sooner or later, and having a good soldering kit is a must. Needle Nose pliers and a hex driver set should also be on your shopping list, and a precision screw driver set is handy as well. And don’t forget your velcro, double-sided tape, glue, and cable ties as well! These are all pretty cheap items but they can mean the difference between flying and being grounded for a couple of days or having to make an emergency run to the hardware store when you could be flying.
You’ll also want to keep a field kit to carry your gear and stocked with some parts such as props and landing gear, a small tool kit, some tape, and anything else you might need for your particular quad. Nobody wants to drive 30 minutes out to the field and have to come back home after one flight because you broke a prop! Finally, don’t be afraid to branch out to other communities as well. The best support you will ever get is from fellow flyers, and I absolutely guarantee you that you will not run into a problem that somebody else hasn’t encountered and solved before. I personally like RC Groups, but there are many good communities, some dedicated to multi-rotors, some dedicated to FPV, and some which cater to all forms of RC flying and even RC driving such as RC groups.
This can be a very fun and rewarding hobby. It can also be frustrating, complicated, expensive, and potentially dangerous. The best way to maximize the fun and minimize the frustration, expense, and danger is to learn as much as you can about it, and don’t try to move faster than you’re ready for. Do your research, plan your budget, pick good, safe places and times to fly, and always fly with an eye towards safety and you will be well on your way to having a fun and successful hobby.