Chapter 1: Introduction to Quadcopter Drones

Multicopters, drones, quadcopters. These little aircraft are all a new breed of radio control (RC) fun that is rapidly gaining in popularity. But with newness, there is limited  information available on these systems. This is particularly true for beginners who wish to participate, but do not understand how to get started. But first be forewarned, this is a very addicting hobby.  Once you start… eh, you’ll find out.

I’m sorry, but I had to include the above.  My goodeness it is a fun commercial 🙂

 

In the early days of PC’s, hobbyists focused on building their own computers (many still do). Such is the case with quadcopters. But it wasn’t until low-cost mass produced PC’s hit the market that the average person took interest and PC’s really took off.  Mass produced quadcopters are just starting to hit the market.  Get ready, they’re about to “take off”!

There are some hobby sites already out there that do provide a good source of information.  But many of these sites focus on the RC hobbyist.  The information is usually more advanced than what the average person may need to know.  Also, some sites will try to sell very advanced (and costly) quadcopters to people who do not even know how to fly.  The end result of such irresponsible sites is this guy:

 

Don’t be those guys.  You really don’t need a DJI Phantom just yet. With no RC experience, trying to learn to fly with one will likely be a costly mistake. A cheap $40 imported toy quadcopter will do just fine in teaching you the basics of flight. Don’t let the low price fool you, they actually fly amazingly well (see the first video above). Once you master flight, then you can become one of those guys.

This site is intended to specifically help beginners learn how to fly a quadcopter. The majority of the articles are intended to help beginners take to the air. First you’ll be introduced to a description of a quadcopter, how it works, and how it’s controlled. Terminology of this hobby will also be described. Following that will be a discussion on the selection of your first quadcopter. The first steps of flight are then discussed and demonstrated. You’ll start with basic hovering, then eventually transition through intermediate and advanced flight tutorials.

 

 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Chapter 2: The Quadcopter

Operation of a quadcopter/multicopter is similar to that of a helicopter.  It has a control similar to a helicopter’s collective control that enables pitching the quadcopter anywhere within its 360o radius.  But the quadcopter differs from the helicopter in that it has no tail boom.  Because of this, the quadcopter can easily fly in any direction regardless of which way its “front” may be pointing.  Thus a quadcopter can change its direction of flight more rapidly than any other flying machine.
The multirotor concept has been around for a long time.  But until recently it wasn’t practical as the design is inherently unstable.   Controlling multiple rotors to maintain steady flight is extremely difficult if not impossible for the average person.  But advances in gyroscope attitude sensing technology (thanks to the Wii, tablets, and phones) have developed very small, low-power attitude sensors that can be incorporated with computer logic to automatically balance the quadcopter in flight.  Thus the pilot can now focus entirely on his flying skills, and no longer be distracted to also manually balancing the quadcopter from flipping over.
Currently there are two versions of attitude gyros that you should be familiar with.  They are titled as “3 axis”, and the somewhat incorrectly titled “6 axis”.  The 3 axis automatically balance the forward & aft tilt (pitch), and right & left tilt (roll) of the aircraft.  The right and left turning axis (yaw) is also steadied by the sensors.  A balanced and properly trimmed (more on trimming later) quadcopter should takeoff and hover relatively motionless in the air.  It should not tilt or turn in any direction until you apply control to the aircraft. Additionally, if you apply and remove control, it should slowly but automatically return to a horizontal non-turning position.

The 6 axis gyro stabilization provides much faster correction of attitude displacement than a 3 axis system.  In addition to the three pitch, roll, and yaw sensors, three additional accelerometers sense acceleration in the three dimensions.  Now our quadcopter can automatically sense and compensate for sudden wind gusts.  When we provide command to hover our quadcopter (center our pitch controls, called collective), the accelerometers can sense if the quadcopter is still in motion and automatically compensate to rapidly achieve hover.  Finally, the six sensors in combination can detect both unusual attitude (if we’re flipped upside down) and can also tell if we’re falling to the ground.  By centering the pitch controls, and applying throttle, a 6 axis copter will quickly right itself and come to hover.  This last one is really cool and must be seen to be appreciated.

It’s obvious that for most beginners a 6 axis quadcopter is the best option as it’s most forgiving.  It’s even appreciated by more advanced flyers as a 6 axis quadcopter is also very nimble, able to “turn on a dime”.

 

 

 

Chapter 3: The Controller

Channels

RC controller transmitter have not really changed much externally over the years in terms of the basic controls.  The term “Channels” refer to the number of directional controls on the controller.  Quadcopters normally require four channels of control (Throttle, Yaw, Pitch, and Roll).  On a four channel transmitter, there are two control sticks, one beside the other, controlled by your left and right hand.

Modes

But exactly what the sticks control can vary.  These variances can be up to four combinations, called “Modes”.  But the two most popular modes for quadcopter controllers are Mode 1, and Mode 2.   The difference in Modes 1 & 2 are illustrated below.
It is very difficult for the average person to switch between these modes.  But Mode 2 is definitely the most popular in quadcopters.  The flight tutorials on this site will be illustrated using a Mode 2 controller.  Those with Mode 1 controllers can still follow along.  But keep in mind that hand movements shown in the videos may be somewhat reversed for your controller.

Rates

A gyro stabilized quadcopter can only be controlled to tilt a predetermined maximum tilt in any direction.  If you push the cyclic (pitch/roll) controller to its maximum in any direction, the quadcopter will not and can not keep tilting until it flips over.  The gyro sensors will prevent that.  The maximum deflection that it will tilt varies from quadcopter to quadcopter.
The tilting of the quadcopter is the primary means to control the speed of the quadcopter.  The maximum tilt provides the maximum speed it can fly in steady level flight.  Some controllers allow you to select varied amounts of that deflection.  The varied amounts are called “Rates” and are selectable in terms of the percentage of the maximum rate.   For example, indoors it might be better to limit speed of the quadcopter, so selecting a lower rate (say 40%) may be advisable.  But outdoors on a breezy day, you may need that speed to fly into the wind.  A rate of 80% or maybe even 100% might be needed.
It usually takes the same amount of time for the quadcopter to achieve the maximum tilt of each rate.  Thus for a lower rate, the quadcopter will tilt and react slowly.  Lower rates are advisable for most beginners, giving the beginner time to react.  Tilting reaction at higher rates may be very quick, allowing the quadcopter to turn and stop rapidly.  But such rates may be inappropriate for the beginner as it is very easy to overcompensate at higher rates.

Trim

When flying your helicopter, you might notice a tendency for it to constantly drift in a particular direction. There are two principal reasons that can cause this. The first is there may be wind pushing the quadcopter in that direction.  In that case you’ll need to compensate for the wind as you fly by either slightly tilting the cyclic control towards the winds, or pointing the nose of the quadcopter also slightly toward the wind (crabbing).
But another cause may be that the gyro sensor are a little bit off in their understanding of a true level position. Thus they may be constantly compensating (tilting the quadcopter) trying to achieve an incorrect level position.  This can be easily corrected through application of the “Trim” buttons on the controller.  There normally are four for throttle, yaw, pitch, and roll trim.  Throttle and yaw rarely require adjustment.  But pitch and roll may need to be corrected after every battery.  This depends on if the surface that you’re using to initialize the sensors is really level (more on intializing in a later chapter).

 

Chapter 4: Your First Quadcopter Drone

Some hobbyists recommend  for your first quadcopter that you build your own.  Others swear by and recommend top of the line drones for your first quad.  Not me. If you have little to no RC experience, either of these recommendations can be a very costly and dangerous mistake.
for this.
Very low-cost, yet well-performing quadcopters (see this video example)  (and even helicopters) are now available. Some of these quadcopters actually cost less than simulator software.  Nothing beats actual flight experience. Thus I consider them a much better alternative to learning the basics of flight than a simulator program,     or a DJI Phantom.

Yes you will crash, it’s inevitable. Consider that if you’re planning on building your own, or shelling out $500 on a basic DJI Phantom setup. Yes, you may also possibly break your quadcopter in the process. But this is the another reason that I recommend learning to fly using an inexpensive toy quadcopter. They are much lighter, and as such don’t have much momentum when hitting the ground. Thus toy quadcopters can be very durable. By crashing you learn what to avoid doing (for example, never allow your quadcopter to fly between you and the sun).

Although durable, toy quadcopters can still break. Replacement parts are widely available, and are very inexpensive for these cheap quads. Repairs are also very easy with details of the most commonly needed repairs featured in the below video. By conducting these repairs yourself, you’ll learn more about the details of your quadcopter and how it works.

The following quadcopters are presented as in my opinion, I feel they are the most appropriate for beginners to learn from.  Of the group, I most highly recommend the V212 or the UDI 816a for beginners as both have six-axis stabilization, making them very forgiving flyers for beginners.  If you get into trouble, and either is headed to the ground, just let go of the pitch controller and apply some throttle.  A six-axis quadcopter will immediately go into hover.  A three axis quadcopter is not as forgiving, but still would be suitable for learning the basics such as hovering, and simple rudder turning. A three axis quad is also cheaper, as they are being phased out by the six-axis quads.
Consider the following six-axis quadcopter, the WLToys V212 Quadcopter.  It’s a very forgiving flyer in low rate, yet very agile at its higher rates. It’s perfect for beginners and experts alike.  Excellent flyer outdoors or in.  It also has lights for night flying (after you get plenty of experience).  It’s ready to fly right out of the box for around $50.
If $50 is a little pricey, then please consider three-axis copters, such as WLToys V929 Quadcopter.  The V929 is basically a stripped down quadcopter.  It has the same frame as the V212, but minus running skids, lights, and a smaller canopy. This greatly lightens the quadcopter, making it an agile flyer at higher rates. Don’t let the little Ladybug canopy fool you, this is another excellent flyer both outdoors or indoors.  With three-axis stabilization, it will take a little more practice for beginners to become proficient.  But you’ll be a much better flyer starting with 3-axis stabilization.  Again ready to fly right out of the box for about $40.
Worried about breaking your quadcopter? Want something that can withstand impact to objects and the ground? Then maybe consider the HCW 553 or the UDI 816a.  These are both China’s answer to the Air Hogs Helix X4, but at less than half the price : ) These two quadcopters includes a protective barrier around the propellers. Now you can crash into your walls or your cat with little consequences. But as you get proficient, and notice crashing less often, consider removing the barrier for enhanced performance (especially outdoors in the wind). They’re both very affordable quadcopters, each under $40. The 553 is a 3 axis quad, but has 5 rate settings making it very agile. The 816a is a six axis quad, but with only two rate setting. But it’s high rate setting is more than sufficient for advanced flying (Hint, I recommend the 816a for beginners, and the 553 for intermediate and above).
By the way, the U816A comes with both its protective “training wheels” canopy, but also comes with a much lighter outdoor canopy. This GREATLY enhances performance of this quadcopter, making it great for both beginners and advanced alike. Had a hard time packing this back in its original case as my brother’s Christmas present.

Six-Axis Quadcopter Drone Advantages

RC aircraft six-axis gyro stabilization provides much faster correction of attitude displacement than a 3 axis system.  In addition to the three pitch, roll, and yaw gyro sensors, three additional accelerometers are included that sense and automatically compensate for uncommanded movement (acceleration) in the three dimensions. Now our little quadcopter drone can automatically resist flipping and being blown about by sudden wind gusts (try flying a 3 axis quadcopter on a windy day to appreciate this).
Six axis stabilization also allows sensing of uncommanded sideslip during turns. Very sharp banked turns can now be easily achieved with a six axis quadcopter by simultaneously applying rudder and roll control. Such turns are extremely difficult to achieve with a three axis quadcopters.
Banked Turn
Accidental crashes with the ground are much less common with a six axis quadcopter. When flying, sometimes we lose orientation and find our quadcopter quickly heading toward the ground. With a six axis quadcopter, all we need to do is let go of the pitch/roll control stick, and apply some throttle.  The accelerometers will sense if the quadcopter is still in motion, and will automatically compensate to rapidly achieve steady hover.
Finally, the six sensors in combination can detect both unusual attitude (if we’re flipped upside down) and can also tell if we’re falling to the ground.  By centering the pitch controls, and applying throttle, a 6 axis copter will quickly right itself and come to hover.  This comes in handy if the quadcopter is flying uncomfortably high. Now it can be quickly and safely brought to a more comfortable altitude by simply cutting the throttle and letting it drop. It doesn’t matter if the quadcopter tumbles during the drop. Just increase the throttle when it gets close to the ground.  The quadcopter will quickly right itself and achieve hover. This last one is really cool and must be seen to be appreciated.

Six Axis WLToys V212 in Action
It’s obvious that for most beginners a 6 axis quadcopter is the best option as it’s most forgiving. It’s even appreciated by more advanced flyers as a 6 axis quadcopter is also very nimble, able to “turn on a dime”. Some excellent 6 axis beginner quads that I recommend that you might consider include the WLToys V202, and V212 quadcopters.  Other’s include the Hubsan X4, and the UDI U816. All are available at the best prices that you’ll find at Banggood.com. However, please note that Banggood products come directly from China, so there will be a few weeks wait if ordered from them.  But also note that Banggood does stand behind their products, and are more than willing to bend backwards to satisfy you if you have problems.

 

Quadcopter Drone Flying Tutorial 1: Initialization, binding, and trimming your quadcopter (and why)

When attempting to fly, if your quadcopter drone immediately takes off at weird angles, flips, or is uncontrollable, please read on.  You possibly don’t understand the importance of initializing your gyros.  Before you take to the air, you must first initialize the gyros on your quadcopter so that it understands level flight.  You must also link (bind) your transmitter with your quadcopter so that it follows the commands from your transmitter.  Finally, once in the air, you may do some additional tweaking (trimming) so that the copter can achieve a steady hover.  The following process is common for most of the low-cost starter quadcopters. Hobby grade models may utilize a different process.
Initialization Steps (Extremely Important Steps Before Every Flight)

1. Insert the battery into your quadcopter, but do not connect it just yet.

2. Place the quadcopter on a flat level surface.  It is very important that the surface be level, as a tilted surface will create errors to the initialization of the gyros.
3. Connect the battery with the quadcopter flat on the level surface.  Another option is to connect the battery while the quadcopter is being held in your hands, but IMMEDIATELY place the quadcopter on a flat surface after connecting.  Most quadcopters provide a few seconds after connection before the gyros start to synchronize.  Remove your hand and let the quadcopter remain motionless for about ten seconds.  This gives the gyro stabilizers time to initialize and set themselves to the level surface.

Binding the transmitter to the quadcopter’s receiver

After the gyros have initialized, you will now link your transmitter controller with your quadcopter.  This process varies between models and manufacturers.  But again, for the cheaper models it may be as follows.

3-axis quadcopter binding

Simply turn the transmitter on, and wait about 7 seconds.  It may beep repeatedly, and then end with long beep.  This signals that the transmitter has binded with the quadcopter.

6-axis quadcopter binding

Turn on the transmitter.  Then increase throttle from 0 to full throttle, then back to 0 throttle.  You should hear a beep signifying that the transmitter has binded with the quadcopter.

Trimming

Bring the helicopter to hover a few feet above the ground.  With your hand off the cyclic controls, observe for any drifting right or left forward or back.  Ignore any drifting that you feel may be caused by the wind.

If the quadcopter drifts backwards, repeatedly press the pitch trim button forward until the drifting stops.  Repeatedly press the pitch trim backward if the quadcopter drifts forward until the drifting stops.
The same process goes for roll control.  Repeatedly press the roll trim right if the quadcopter drifts left, and the opposite if it drifts right until satisfied with the hover.
Yaw trim can also be applied, but usually the yaw gyro is pretty accurate as it is less dependent on the level surface and more on keeping the quadcopter steady during initialization.

 

 

 

 

Quadcopter Drone Flying Tutorial 2: Hover

If possible, take your quadcopter drone to an open grassy field for your first flight.  Your local park or sports field will be perfect.  Do so early in the morning or near sunset when the wind is at a minimum.  Make sure to minimize all distractions so that you can focus on your flying.
Initialize, and bind your quadcopter as shown in the previous chapter. Stand a few feet directly BEHIND your quadcopter to minimize disorientation.  Now slowly increase the throttle until it starts to rise.   Wait until it’s a few feet off the ground, and then consider using your trim buttons to minimize any drifting that you notice.   Now slowly reduce throttle until you’re back on the ground.   You did it!   Your first flight.  For all follow-on flights, remember to remain behind your quadcopter to minimize disorientation until you feel more confident.
I was planning to produce my own video tutorial for hover flight. But I found a YouTube video that would be hard to beat.  The following video provides an excellent tutorial for learning how to hover.  I recommend following it closely, with the exception of “nose-in” hover.  Nose-in hover is very difficult for beginners and intermediate flyers.  It should NOT be attempted by beginners until they feel confident in their hovering abilities.
Here’s another excellent video tutorial on hovering.  The demonstrations are made with a RC helicopter, but the lessons equally apply for a quadcopter. He stresses the importance of also practicing with a simulator program. I would agree if you own a heavier high-end quadcopter (say a DJI Phantom) which can be costly if damaged. BUT if you own a lightweight, low-end toy quadcopter (say a $40 WLToys V212), then consider that quadcopter as you’re simulator. These small quadcopters are very lightweight, and as such quite resistant to crashes, and are absolutely perfect for learning to fly.  Here’s his video. Listen up, he knows his stuff.

Quadcopter Drone Flying Tutorial 3: Intro to Turning

Turning your quadcopter drone for the first time can be intimidating.  With a Mode 2 controller, it requires a coordinated and combined movement of controlling/maintaining the quadcopter’s throttle setting, while applying yaw (rudder) control for the turn. It feels very awkward to do for the first few times, especially if you’re right handed.  However, each time you practice it, it becomes more and more comfortable to do. Eventually you’ll be doing it perfectly without even thinking about it.

Here’s AliShanMao again teaching the basics of turning.  He again uses a RC helicopter, but his lessons apply equally to quadcopters. At this point, try to use your rudder control only for implementing the turns. I stress using rudder only especially if you own a 3-axis stabilized quadcopter. Rudder turns are also useful for steady and level aerial photography or aerial video (such as with your DJI Phantom and GoPro). We’ll go into banked turns using both simultaneous rudder and aileron (roll) control in a later lesson (and here is that lesson, click here).  As mentioned previously, listen up. Ali knows what he’s talking about.

Quadcopter Drone Flying Tutorial 4: Turning (Banked Turns)

Quadcopter drone banking turns is a subject that’s not obvious to most new flyers.  Most have to learn it through trial and error, and by doing such often go down the wrong path.  This article may help prevent you from learning bad flying habits, and may help accelerate your flying skills.  A quadcopter can be turned in one of three ways:

Pitch & Roll (Elevator & Aileron) Turning
The first way to turn is to use the pitch/roll controller alone to turn the quadcopter.  The quadcopter can easily bank thoughout all 360 degrees. Thus a turn can be achieved by simply using the pitch and roll controller, without any rudder (try it). This is the easiest way to turn, especially for beginners. But quick turns cannot be achieved by this method.  Additionally, the aircraft will always point in the same direction throughout the turn as no yaw (rudder) control is being applied.

Yaw (Rudder) Turning
A second method is to use the rudder control alone while maintaining a forward pitch and velocity. You should learn how to do yaw turns first before attempting banked turns. Here’s the lesson that you might have skipped (click here). Yaw turns are relatively easy to do, but are not very efficient for turning. Turning with yaw alone can require quite a bit of distance to complete the turn. Try it and you’ll see that the diameter of the turn can be very large due to a phenomenom called “sideslip”. The quadcopter will tend to slide outward from the turn, similar to trying to turn a car on a frozen skating rink. Although inefficient, it is the preferred way to turn when taking aerial video as the banking angle changes are minimal. Thus resulting video will not be tilted. It is also the easiest method of turning a 3-axis stabilized quadcopter. Although banked turns are possible with 3-axis quads, they are difficult to properly achieve due to the absence of accelerometers that would automatically compensate for sideslip.
Banking Turns (Pitch, Roll, & Yaw Turning)
The third method, banking turns, is the most preferred and efficient method of turning, particularly for a six-axis stabilized quadcopter. The included accelerometers that come with six-axis quads automatically can sense sideslip, and will also automatically compensate to minimize it. As a banked turn provides the quickest and smoothest way to change direction of a quadcopter, a six axis-quad tends to be the most nimble of quadcopters. It is highly recommended that you learn this method to turn for your 6-axis quad, as it will help you reduce crashes into obstacles. Please watch the following, noting particularly how quickly the quad can turn as compared to the above rudder turning video.
A banking turn requires that you first start with some forward speed.

1. Push the pitch (elevator) control forward to gain speed, and adjust the throttle to maintain a steady altitude.

Pitch (Elevator) Control Forward to Gain Speed

2. For a six-axis quad: Next to actually make the turn, while maintaining the same forward pitch control, you will also need to simultaneously apply both roll and rudder control in the direction of your desired turn.

For a three-axis quad: First apply rudder and maintain it in the direction of turn. When the quadcopter starts its turn, gradually apply banking roll control also in the direction of turn. Adjust the roll as needed to compensate for sideslip. Don’t expect to get this right the first time as it is somewhat difficult for a three axis quad. It will take practice.

Six Axis Quad: Simultaneously Apply Both Roll (Aileron) and Yaw (Rudder)

3. For both six and three axis quads: To make a tighter/quicker turn, pull back a little on the pitch while maintaining the position of the roll and yaw controls.

Pull Back on Pitch (Elevator) to Tighten Turn
Find a large open space to practice your turns.  In summary: Get some forward speed on your quadcopter, by giving and maintaining some forward pitch.  Next, while maintaining pitch, simultaneously and slowly apply both roll and yaw in the direction of the desired turn. (three-axis: apply roll first then rudder).  Watch how your quadcopter turns.  If the nose starts to skew awkwardly through the turn, adjust the rudder (yaw) to correct it. Pull back on pitch to tighten the turns. And now that you’ve read this, watch the video again taking note of how these movements are applied, and how the quadcopter reacts to these movement.

 

Flight School 5: Power Efficiency Hover vs. Forward Flight

RC aircraft, in particular RC helicopters and quadcopters have idiosyncrasies regarding their flight characteristics that should be considered to fully appreciate their capabilities. For instance, I like to keep some forward motion on my quadcopter at all times as it requires much less power than hovering.  I know this seems counter-intuitive, but it’s very true. The forward motion provides airflow over the blades, which enhances lift.  As such, forward flight is much better for motor life and to increase battery flight time. IMO keeping some forward motion also allows for more entertaining flight video than simple hover views.
However, there is a limit speed that if you exceed the aerodynamic drag on the quadcopter will start to kick in, requiring extra power to overcome. In effect, flying high speed runs are less efficient than hovering.  You need to determine a sweet spot of forward speed that will give you efficient flight. You can gauge an efficient speed by listening to the motors.  After takeoff hover, apply some forward pitch to increase speed.  You should notice that you’ll soon need to reduce power to maintain the altitude.
As example, please watch and more importantly listen to the following video. The quadcopter is climbing and accelerating in the first 55 seconds of the above video. Thus the sound of its motors are higher pitched.  But listen to the motor pitch reduce after it levels off in forward flight.  It also accelerates to high speed at various times.  In these instances, drag becomes more pronounced, requiring more power, and higher pitch sound of the motors.

Flight School 6: Distance Flying, Keeping Orientation

It’s important to learn how to maintain orientation of your quadcopter just by its movement alone. This skill is especially important for night flying. What would you do if one day you flew further away than you would be able to visually distinguish your quadcopter’s front or back?
First thing to remember is don’t panic.  It’s very easy and very simple to bring your quadcopter back to you.  Simply push forward on the pitch control to gain forward movement on the quad. Then notice which direction the quadcopter is moving in the distance.
If it seems to be moving left, turn left to turn the quadcopter toward your direction. If it’s moving to the right in the distance, turn right to point it toward you. If it alternates between right and left, just keep matching the direction that you turn with its movement.  Remember:

 moving left, turn left    moving right, turn right
And here’s a video example showing how to do such.

Misc 1: Quadcopter Drone Night Flying

Many of the new low-cost quadcopter drones come equipped with LED lights for night flying.  Although night flying is definitely NOT for beginners, it is not too difficult to learn.  Intermediate flyers can usually pick it up quickly. It does take some practice, and it is recommend that you start slowly. Stay low and close at first. Then maybe do a quick ascent, but bring it back down close soon after.
The following nights, do more ascents, staying up high a little longer each night.  It’s important to develop a comfortable understanding of the orientation of the quadcopter based on its lighting alone.  You will not be able to see its blades to help determine its orientation.
Proficiency only comes with practice. Night flying may seem intimidating at first, but this quickly diminishes with each flight.   It can also be a lot of fun.  You may notice increased conversations and encounters with your neighbors, passersby, and even local authorities as they notice the strange lights in the sky : )

Misc 2: Quadcopter Drone Aerial Video and FPV for Beginners

Many get involved with quadcopter drones with the goal of conducting aerial video, or first person view (FPV) flying.  Many of those same people rush out and purchase relatively expensive equipment for this purpose, without having any quadcopter flying experience. I think the plan is to learn how to fly using this same expensive equipment. But crashing a quadcopter is an essential part of the flying learning experience. Thus many lose that expensive equipment within the first few flights, either crashing/ruining their quadcopter.  Or simply their quadcopter flies away never to be seen again.
STRONGLY recommend some patience before attempting aerial video, or purchasing a mid to high-end quadcopter. Spend a few weeks learning to fly a cheap (~$30 to $40) toy quad first. Don’t let the low price fool you. These cheap quadcopters fly very well (please see this video). They are an excellent way to learn to fly, much better than simulator software. A cheap quad will more than pay for itself avoiding that first crash of an expensive rig. Once you notice that you’re not crashing as much, then consider purchasing the following $7 pocket camera.  Many just tape this cheap camera to their training quadcopter for their first foray into aerial video.  Although the resolution is only 720 x 480, the video is not too shabby from this camera.
But if you want something a little more polished, consider the following 6-axis quadcopter with a built-in, automatically and remotely controlled camera.  Resolution is also only 720 x 480.  But the frame rate of the camera more than makes up for it at 60 frame per second.  Cost is about $65 ready to fly.  If you purchase this as your first training quadcopter, consider unplugging and removing the camera for those early training flights.  That way the camera will be in good condition when you’re really ready to use it.  Here is a link for more information, and a couple sample videos taken with my own V222.
But if you have your heart set on sending your GoPro skyward to get true HD video, you’re going to need something bigger.  Maybe consider the following mid-sized 6-axis quadcopter?  About $83 ready to fly:
But before you risk that expensive GoPro in aerial video, consider the following much cheaper 1280 x 720p HD alternative.  About $48 total:
And again here’s a sample of my Mobius attached to my WLToys V262 quadcopter. Make sure to watch it full screen. Enjoy!

 

Misc 3: Aerial Video Part 2

Once you gain confidence in your RC aircraft flying abilities, you’ll probably want to venture out with your quadcopter for more scenic video than your backyard and the roof of your house.  But as I always recommend, please consider continuing flying the cheaper options over expensive higher-end quadcopters such as DJI Phantom or even AR Parrot.
With outdoor flight, there is greatly increased risk of loss of the quadcopter, due to terrain, trees etc…  The low-cost of some “toy” video quadcopters make them ideal for these riskier flights.  Again, would you like to risk a $68, $93, or a $1000 quadcopter in these first flights in the outdoors? Once you’re comfortable flying over rough terrain, and if you really need higher quality, then consider the higher-end models (again, if you’re still interested).
And here are some sample videos taken with these “toys”. Please watch full-screen by clicking the full-screen bracket button in the lower right corner of the video.

Misc. 4: Micro Quadcopters

This little quad is getting harder to find these days due to legal copy issues within (surprise surprise) China. But it usually runs for under $40 on eBay and AliExpress.  These are my first impressions of my new WLToys V252 micro quadcopter drone, and micro quadcopters in general.
WLToys V252 Micro Quadcopter
Don’t let their little size fool you. Their motors are much more powerful than needed for their size. The end result is that this little quad rockets at the push of the throttle. It’s an extremely fun, agile, and challenging quadcopter for intermediate and advanced flyers. If you’re starting to get bored with your current quadcopter, then you need one of these to wake you up!
But the speed of these little quadcopters could easily get a beginner into trouble. Also the small size makes it hard to maintain orientation outside for those without some experience. It can quickly become a tiny dot on the horizon. Beginners would need to know how to maintain orientation on the quadcopter by its motion alone.

Imagine that you’ve flown too far away, and now your little quadcopter is just a dot in the sky in the distance.  A simple way to maintain orientation when you can’t visibly note the propeller colors is to watch the movement of the quadcopter when you apply controls.  Push the pitch control forward to get some forward motion on the quadcopter.  If the quadcopter dot in the sky moves left, slowly apply left rudder to turn it towards you.  If the quadcopter moves right, slowly apply right rudder to turn it towards you. Once the horizontal motion slows, the quadcopter should be headed home, straight toward you. You can visually confirm this as it should also be climbing slightly from the horizon.
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