How To Build Your Own FPV Drone | How To Fly FPV Drones

Building your own FPV drone is an extremely rewarding process, and thanks to the digital system, it's never been easier

Building your own FPV drone might seem like a daunting prospect, we get it. In fact, we’ve been in your exact position just a few months ago; looking at a seemingly endless variety of custom built FPV drone parts with little idea of how they all fit together.

But, after having been through the process of learning and putting together our own drone, we can say that building your own FPV drone is one of the most rewarding things you can do. It certainly beats buying an off the shelf drone.

Make sure you give our Choosing The Correct FPV Components article a read so you can get your head around each FPV component, and what they do. You’ll essentially need the following kit to build your own FPV drone:

The team over at Ummagawd have helpfully put together this kit to make choosing all the right (and compatible) components together making the selection process a breeze. For that reason, we’re going to be building a similar build to what’s included in that kit (it’s just the motors that are different).

Getting yourself a good soldering iron will help your solder joints. Photo: Jordan Tiernan

The Tools For The Job

As with anything, it pays to have the right tools for the job. And, luckily building a FPV drone, you don’t require too many tools. Most drones these days just make use of 2mm and 1.5mm screws, so you can usually get away with two hex drivers of that size.

Next up is, of course, the soldering iron. This is usually the side of drone building that scares most people away from building their own FPV drone. But fear not, soldering isn’t as bad as it sounds, just take time practicing on some dummy circuit boards, give this article on how to solder a read, and you’ll be soldering perfect joints in no time.

A flux-based solder will work wonders on your solder joints. Photo: Jordan Tiernan

One final note on soldering before we jump into the build: make sure you’ve got solder with a good deal of flux in it. Flux helps the solder flow onto the pad and wire, and gives your joints a much better finish. We recommend this solder.

Assembling an FPV frame is a bit like Meccano. Photo: Jordan Tiernan

Assemble The Frame

Once you’ve got all your tools set, the first thing to get stuck into is assembling the carbon fibre frame, which will house all the components. In this case we’re using the Ummagawd Moon Goat, which fits together like a posh Meccano set.

The frame is relatively straightforward to put together, just attach the bottom plates to each arm and attach the stand offs then you’re good to start getting the components mounted on there. Just a small note: make sure you use a dab of loctite on each screw. When your motors are spinning, they’ll create vibrations that could loosen off the screws holding your frame together, so a little loctite goes a long way.

Get all the components mounted in place to check everything fits. Photo: Jordan Tiernan

Mount All The Components

When every screw on the frame is feeling nice and snug, you’ll be good to go ahead and temporarily mount all the components onto the frame. We do this to ensure everything matches up neatly, and there are no obstructions to your build, as there’s nothing worse than soldering everything together and realising you’ve not left space for your VTX.

Get all the components onto the frame, where they should be. The ESC and flight controller sit as a stack (with the flight controller on the top), your VTX is mounted at the back of the frame, with the FPV camera screwed in the mount at the front. Put each motor on to ensure you’ve got enough length on the wires to reach the ESC.

As we’ll be leaving the motors on from this point onwards, it’s a pretty good time to add a bit of loctite to each screw holding your motor to the frame.

Make sure each motor wire is cut to length to fit on the respective ESC pad. Photo: Jordan Tiernan

Trim Motor Wires

Now that everything is secured onto the frame and good to be paired together, it’s time to get soldering! The key to good soldering is in good preparation, so firstly make sure that each motor wire (there’s three of them per motor) are cut to a  good length.

Each wire needs to go onto a pad on the ESC. The left wire goes onto the left pad, centre on centre and right on right. When you’re cutting the wires, make sure you leave more than enough length on the wires – it’s a pain if you end up cutting the motor wires too short, but isn’t the end of the world if they’re on the long side.

Once they’re all cut to length, strip around 1-2mm of the silicone wire casing from the wire to leave a bit of the wire exposed, ready for soldering.

Attaching the battery strap to the ESC requires a lot of heat from the soldering iron. Photo: Jordan Tiernan

Connect Battery Lead To ESC

Next up is the battery lead. This lead takes the power from your battery, sending it out to the ESC, which then shares it to all the different components. Because of the amount of power that goes through this lead, you want it to be thick wire that can handle high current flow. We’re using the 12 AWG wire that came with the Cricket ESC. 

Soldering the lead is simple, red to positive, black to negative. Remember that and you can’t go too wrong. You may find these battery pads take a little longer to heat up before they’ll take solder, so don’t worry about leaving your iron on them a little longer than the smaller motor pads.

We’d always recommend people use a capacitor on their builds. A capacitor helps to absorb any spikes in voltages and for that reason, protects your components. The capacitor is marked with a line on the negative side (positive also has a longer leg). This can be soldered to the same pad as the battery cable just like the photo below.

The motor wires are surprisingly easy to solder to the ESC. Photo: Jordan Tiernan

Solder Motors To ESC

Soldering the motor wires to the ESC is the more technical side of soldering during this build but, once it’s all done, at least it means that the majority of the soldering is complete. As we’ve got all the wires cut and stripped to the correct length, it’s just a case of tinning each wire and pad so that they’re ready to be joined together.

Once everything is primed then it’s just a case of using a pair of tweezers (things can get hot and fiddly) and placing the motor wire on the tinned solder pad, applying heat and watching both the wire and pad fuse together. Simple.

As we said above, the left motor wire should go onto the left three pads same for every wire.

Connecting the ESC and VTX to the flight controller is as simple as a connector plug in. Photo: Jordan Tiernan

Connect ESC To The Flight Controller

You can give yourself a pat on the back as that’s all the technical stuff done. The benefit of running a digital system is that everything else from now on involves just connecting a few leads between the components.

With that in mind, go ahead and connect your flight controller and ESC together with the supplied wire. Once that’s done, use the supplied nuts to fasten down that whole stack to stop it falling off when you start flipping and rolling the drone in flight.

Connect The VTX To The Flight Controller

It’s also extremely easy to connect the VTX system to the flight controller. Once you’ve got your VTX and FPV camera fixed in place, all you’ve got to do is plug it into the specific port found on the flight controller. If you’ve got a Caddx unit, then you’ll have to do a bit of easy soldering, but if you’ve got a DJI unit, then it’s a simple plug and play system.

The GoPro mount screws onto the top plate of the frame. Photo: Jordan Tiernan

Attach The GoPro

With everything hooked up and good to go, we can now attach the mount for the GoPro. This can also be done after everything’s set up, but we like to finish the whole job before we head out and test the build.

GoPro mounts are usually made from TPU as it’s flexible and shock absorbing (to protect your expensive GoPro). If you’ve got access to a 3D printer then you can print them out yourself, overwise the team at Drone Co Productions look like they have a great selection for this frame.

Test The Build

Now for the moment of truth. It’s time to plug in a charged battery. If all has gone well, you should get five distinctive beeps that show the flight controller is talking to the ESC and VTX. If something has gone wrong with the wiring, then your drone may end up in smoke.

For that reason it’s essential that you do this first plug in outside, with a smoke stopper. The smoke stopper works as a fuse so if there is a short, the fuse will break, saving your drone and expensive components.

If you have found a short, then check over all your wiring and troubleshoot from there, as that’ll most likely be hiding the issue.

Installing The Firmware

With everything all done and working well, it’s now time to connect your drone to your PC/laptop to configure everything. The go to flight controller software (and the one that’s already installed onto your Cricket stack) is Betaflight.

The flight controller will already be set up for Betaflight, all you’ve got to do is configure it. Betaflight configuration is worthy of an article in itself, so we urge you to check out this article for all the steps required to configure your drone

Build Complete

And that’s it; that’s your FPV build complete. It’s worth spending a little time now just tidying everything up, now that we know it’s all in working order and won’t need moving about. Cable ties are extremely handy bits of kit for this.

Once you’ve linked your drone to your goggles and transmitter then it’s time to give it a test flight. Let her rip!

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