By Bob Hammell
A question often asked by soon to be drone pilots is how much it costs to build a quadcopter or some other type of multi-rotor helicopter. Typically most hobbyists will have a kit that comes close to around $1,000 in total value. However, if you look closer at the real cost for just the basic gear needed to setup and get started flying right away you will find a different number.
When all is said and done you can purchase a quadcopter for around $275 or less shipped. We will go over a basic kit you can purchase to help you get started and describe the parts along the way. However, you should first know that this kit is recommended for those who just want to get started and will probably crash frequently along the way.
There are quadcopters available you can purchase that are ready to fly but that takes a lot of the fun out of building your own and learning about them, and also it could be more difficult to repair them. The kit we will go over is easy to setup and makes it easy to interchange parts.
To start off you will want to look at a frame, which is easily one of the most important parts of a quadcopter. The frame is what all of the other important pieces are attached to. You can make your own frame or you can buy a pre-fabricated frame off the shelf. The Hobbyking X525 V3 Glass Fiber Quadcopter Frame is based on a tried and true frame design for multirotors.
It has fiberglass center plates and aluminum square tube arms. This frame is also easier to store and transport than most others because it folds. Since beginners risk crashing a lot being able to purchase replacement parts for cheap is a must. The aluminum arms on the Hobbyking X525 frame will usually be what gets damaged in a crash, so just make sure to buy extras. This frame can be picked up for $16.40 making it very affordable.
Motors of course are essential for the propellers which we will be discussing later. SUNNYSKY X2208-1500KV II motors are built with great quality and allow for smooth flights. This motor will run you just over $15 and you will need to get at least four of them. The SUNNYSKY motors should be paired with an 8 inch propeller and 20 amp speed controller for the best results.
There are two types of motors, brushed and brushless. Brushed motors have a brush that is used to conduct a current from the stationary wires to the rotating shaft. The generated electricity is used to create a magnetic field which results in the shaft turning that the propeller is fixed to. This motor is brushless, meaning it has greater efficiency, generates more power and is more reliable. It also generates less noise and has a longer lifespan than brushed motors.
Affordable speed controllers designed particularly for quadcopters did not start popping up until recently. Previously ECSs (speed controllers) were designed only for standard planes and helicopters. However, now there are shops manufacturing speed controllers that are designed specifically for the needs for a multi-rotor setup such as the Turnigy Multistar 20 Amp Multi-rotor Brushless ESCs which will cost you around $40 since you need to get one for each motor.
This ESC is designed for easy setup and simple installation. It will provide you with a smooth, yet linear throttle response without sacrificing a crisp, rapid response to any throttle input. The Turnigy Multistar ESC comes with bullet connectors installed that are suited to the ESCs rated power handling. It features an adjustable battery LVC, signal loss shut down, stalled motor protection and safe arming.
The 8 by 4 inch Slowfly Props 2x Standard Rotation / 2x Reverse Rotation propellers cost just $3 and are your best bet when it comes to basic affordable propellers. This set comes with 2 propellers for counter clockwise rotation and 2 props for clockwise rotation. Although this is just the minimum amount of propellers necessary to start flying you should definitely buy extras because they will break when you crash as well.
A battery and charger will cost you just over $20. The Turnigy Nano-Tech battery and Turnigy 12v 2-3S Basic Balance Charger will be all you need. There are a few other batteries you could consider but if you want a bit longer flying time and quicker charging then the Nano-Tech is the way to go. As far as the Basic Balance Charger, for a battery as small as I just recommended it should be adequate for any beginner.
You should keep in mind that with any lithium charger or battery there is a risk of fire from improper charge, damaged cells or a faulty charger so picking up a fire-safe charger sack is highly recommended.
Next you will need a radio system which consist of an OrangeRX T-SIX 2.4GHz Transmitter (Mode 2) and OrangeRX R615 DSM2 Receiver, this will cost you just over $70 total. A flight controller is also necessary and the HobbyKing KK2.0 Flight Controller requires no programming and can be setup via 4 buttons and an on-board LCD. A Flight Controller is essentially the brains of the quadcopter and it gains the accelerometer, barometer and gryoscope that monitor the quadcopter.
There are just a few other things you will need which should only cost you about $17 total. If you use the KK2.0 controller you will be required to use 10cm Male to Male Servo Leads to connect the channels of your radio’s receiver to your flight controller. An On-Board Lipoly Low Voltage Alarm 2s ~ 3s will notify you when you are running low on juice so you can properly discharge your lithium polymer (LiPo) battery without damaging the cells.
When voltage gets down to 3.3 volts per cell it’s time to stop using the battery. The last things you will need is a Turnigy Battery Strap to secure the battery to the bottom of the quadcopter, an OpenPilot Mounting Adapter to mount the flight controller and an XT60 Multistar ESC Power Breakout Cable to connect all of your speed controllers to the battery.