Build Tips

TBS Discovery

October 5, 20120 Comments

Well I ordered my TBS Discovery back in late July and I finally received it a few weeks ago. The demand for the Disco is so high and it takes a while to get it (at least for me it did). And after I opened the box I realized the reason for the high demand. This frame is VERY well built and thought out. And assembly was very easy too! I had a few screws missing from my order, but a quick email to Trappy at TBS solved that – they’re sending the extra hardware free of charge.

To me, the icing on the cake for this copter would have to be the TBS Core. I’ve always flown 4S and when I got into FPV that posed a slight problem because FPV equipment runs off of 12V or 5V and the 14.8V+ from my 4S LiPo’s would most certainly fry them, so I resorted to running a separate 3S battery. In no way did it ever keep me grounded, but it certainly was a thorn in the side – having to deal with the extra batteries, charging them, dealing with excess weight, another thing to plug in and slap a LiPo alarm to, blah! No thank you. With the Core all I have to do is solder a few jumpers (once) and plug in the battery and GO! AND… I now have OSD (On Screen Display). The Core only informs you of battery voltage, current, mAh used, RSSI, and flight time – and really when you’re flying a multicopter, you don’t need anything else.

Here are my built pictures showing each step I took in assembly. I’m very pleased with this quad and I know its going to be my no. 1 quad for a long, long time.

Got DJI arms? Let’s save your motors!

September 12, 20122 Comments

Alright. This post is really for anyone who is a multicopter pilot, but its focused specifically toward those who fly with the affordable and available DJI arms.

As most of us know, the DJI arms seem to break easily and it’s my opinion that they were designed to break that way. Upon impact with the ground post pilot error or mechanical foul up I’m sure I’m not the only one would would want my most expensive items on board to remain intact while the other cheaper items take the brunt of the asphalt assault. After all, I’d rather my $4 DJI arms take the hit and break off than my $75 TBS Discovery frame!

So, to the point of this post, these arms we are using are not alone when they take a hit, they obviously have motors bolted to them, and most times they contain the ESCs, and sometimes a few other gadgets. Now if you do a Google search for “DJI arms crash” you’ll find several images of broken arms from the result of a crash and nearly 100% of the time the arm will break in 1 of 2 spots.

Most often is at the very end of the arm just before the motor. And, again, most of the time people will ziptie their motor leads to the other side of that break… showing here:

And as you can see, the leads for the motor have been ripped out – leaving this person with a worthless DJI motor. So what I suggest is to zip-tie those motor leads to the outer most part of the leg and use 3.5mm bullet connectors so in the unlikely event that we’ll crash, that part of the arm will break off, taking the motor and zip-tied leads with it, and “hopefully” the bullet connectors will do their job and allow the leads to slip out once they are pulled on. Illustration:

So, anywho, that’s my little tip. I hope it helps.


Building the DJI 550 Flame Wheel Hex with NAZA-M and GPS

September 3, 20120 Comments

With most of the parts finally delivered, my DJI 550 Flame Wheel hex build has begun. There is something very gratifying about having all the necessary components spread out on your work bench before assembly commences. Before I did anything I spent a great amount of time doing research and probably spent more money than I needed to but in my opinion this hex will be made up from “the right stuff”.

The frame is a DJI product and is made from high-quality components. The 550 Flame Wheel is nearly indestructible and based on the way I usually “fly” that feature will surely come in handy.

The ESCs are Hobby King 20 amp UBEC flashed with SimonK firmware and soldered directly to the bottom frame plate. The 550 Flame Wheel bottom plate has circuit board traces built in resulting in tidy wiring. I trimmed the ESC wires to the exact length required in an effort to keep the total weight down and also making for a cleaner appearance. The signal wires are braided wherever possible to avoid unnecessary RF noise which could potentially interfere with control system, video transmission, and GPS module.

Once assembled the frame has very little flex which is an important factor as I will be flying with 6 powerful 900kv 210 watt Tiger Motors. Each of the high-strength polymer arms are held in place by 6 aircraft-quality hex screws. The Dragon Link long-range system which will eventually be installed down the road.

Initially I had purchased six custom made G-10 landing gear legs which bolt directly below the motors without needing to drill any holes. It sure makes the hex mean looking!

The 6 landing gear legs have since been replaced with AeroXCraft’s fantastic DJI 550 landing gear and GoPro gimbal which attaches to the frame using existing holes. This lightweight landing gear is very well designed and allows for super easy CG balancing by sliding the battery carrier and gimbal back and forth on black anodized aluminum rails. Assembly took a couple of hours but I can’t say enough about how clear the included instruction booklet is. This is certainly a well thought out product.

I assembled the AeroXCraft 2-axis camera gimbal with HiTek high-speed metal gear mini-servos. Both axises rotate on flanged bearings and is super smooth. Rubber grommets hold the G-10 gimbal in place on aluminum rail mounts and combined with the foam padded lining on the inside of the camera box, the camera gimbal should dramatically reduce in-flight video “jello”. Again, assembly took some time but the included instruction booklet is excellent.

My mini FPV camera is placed directly above it between the mounting rails.

FPV is transmitted using a 900mHz 500mW transmitter mounted directly below the propeller tip on one of the arms for optimal cooling as video transmitters typically generate a fair amount of heat. To avoid RF interference, an in-line low-pass filter is installed where the antenna comes out of the transmitter.

The 900mHz dipole antenna for video transmission is mounted below the lipo battery carrier keeping it well away from the GPS module, thus reducing the potential for GPS interference.

The on-screen display is handled by an early version of the EasyOSD which is mounted on a different arm. The EasyOSD comes with a small GPS antenna (not plugged in here) which gives compass headings in the display but I haven’t tested it yet to see if it will interfere with the NAZA GPS module.

EasyOSD’s in-line current monitor module is conveniently mounted behind the battery carrier.

The NAZA GPS module comes with upper and lower aluminum mounting brackets and a CF post. There are several ways to assemble the GPS post including epoxy glues and velcro but it is important to retain the ability to rotate the module for slight magnetic declination adjustments based on where on the planet you might find yourself flying. I chose to drill and tap 2 set screw holes in each bracket (top and bottom) which do a great job of holding the CF post in place yet still allows for any adjustments if needed. I mounted the GPS module as far away from the camera gimbal as possible because it is known that GoPro cameras are guilty of being super noisy when it comes to RF interference. At some point in the near future I may look into building a thin copper-clad G-10 lining around the GoPro to shield any potential RF interference leaks.

The all-important NAZA V-SEN unit with built-in BEC and status LED is temporarily mounted on the back of the battery carrier. I intend to mount it in a more unobstructed area where it can easily be viewed from the ground no matter what direction the hex is flying. The V-SEN unit also has a USB port which enables programming by the Assistant Software I installed on a cheap little PC notebook.

And finally, the heartbeat of the beast: the NAZA-M flight controller. It is mounted in the center of the frame as close to the CG as possible. This unfortunately makes access to the ports a bit tedious but with long-nose pliers the job gets done. It certainly is well protected in there!

One of the early flights after the GPS module was installed. The hex did a pretty darn good job at pirouetting during an altitude hold, all without any fine tuning! Needless to say I was pretty impressed. Now for the fun stuff: tweaking! Stay tuned…

Almost there

November 9, 20110 Comments

With my sister’s wedding all finished I have suddenly found some time on my hands. Thankfully my Hexacopter is high enough on my priority list that I gave it some time the other day. Here are some pictures for this little update.

I was actually able to get a lot done. All that is left is mounting the props and RX, and configuring the CopterControl. Hopefully I will be flying by this weekend.

Tiny Update

October 26, 20112 Comments

As you know, all of my copter stuff (As well as Joe’s stuff) was locked in a trailer up near Mammoth Lakes for about a month and last week we finally got everything back.

Last night I got to working on the New Hex and here are a few pics of what I got done

Christmas came early this year…

August 22, 20110 Comments

Welp, I decided to take the plunge and buy some really nice motors for Hexacopter build. And before you get excited and expect some maiden flight video, I’ll just be clear and say that this will be a SLOW work in progress. The reason why is because I want to buy some really nice equipment for this build and unfortunately, “nice equipment” = more money! So… I’m going to be patient with this build – just taking it one step at a time, but I will let you know that this Hexacopter will be a beast! It’s purpose will be for lifting my Canon 7D for aerial videos and pictures (of course) so I’ts going to need some substantial components if I am going to feel safe strapping some $2k to $3k worth of video equipment to it.


So here are a few images of the new motors:



FPV Base Station build

May 29, 20111 Comment

I have finally gotten around to posting a basic documentation of my first FPV base station build.

closed-case open-case
It all started with a spare hard shell case that I had laying around which was actually my first quadcopter travel case. After staring at it for at least a week I determined that I would be able to fit all the necessary base station components inside of it and still close the lid. A quick stop at the hardware store secured a couple of panels of cabinet quality 1/4″ birch plywood, some hinges and magnetic cabinet door catches, as well as other assorted hardware.

Here is the fascia panel (back) with the monitor and panel meter openings, and other various mounting holes drilled. I used a forstner bit in a bench top drill press to make the large round holes. Dry fitting consisted of many rounds of assembly and dis-assembly. Once everything seemed to work well in place, I disassembled everything for the last time and sealed the birch wood with clear varnish.

The monitor in the fascia panel is a 7-inch, 16:9 wide-screen color LCD display, displaying 720p. It also has stereo speakers which play the audio from the microphone on-board the quadcopter. The LCD TV is held in place with a very simple aluminum strap pressing against a round rubber pad on the back of the monitor and is powered by its own 5300mAh LiPo battery pack.

panel-meters fascia-back-with-monitor-and-panel-meters
Two panel meters are installed to monitor the operating voltage of the entire base station. The round switch in the center is used to switch the 9-volt battery supply on/off, independently powering both LED panel meter displays. Each panel meter has an individual lead coming from a 5000 mAh LiPo pack.

post-sleeve-1 antenna-posts
I cut short sections of aluminum tube and secured them into the back corners of the bottom of the case. These are the sleeves which securely prop up the 21-inch tall “towers” holding high-gain 8dBi antenna panels. Each antenna “tower” is actually a lightweight telescoping handle from a bathroom shower cleaning tool with the cleaning pad removed. Once installed, the antennas can be easily be turned or “tuned” for the best reception.

base-out base-in
The bottom of the case was designed to contain the video signal diversity box, LiPo battery packs, and power supply hub, as well as the twin high-gain antenna panels when stowed. I built the base partition assembly out of birch and oak which fits into the bottom of the case. Careful planning ensured that all components fit neatly and do not infringe on each other once the station is packed up and closed for transport.

receivers receivers-mounted
The dual high-sensitvity audio/video receivers operate on the 900Mhz frequency ensuring perfect compatibility with my 2.4Ghz Futaba FASST radio control system. Each is mounted on either side of the 7″ LCD TV on the fascia panel.

diversity-front diversity-back
The Oracle video diversity controller automatically switches to the best signal picked up by the two audio/video receivers. It has 2 sets of audio/video “in” ports as well as 2 sets of audio/video “out” ports connecting both the LCD TV monitor in the case fascia panel and the FatShark video goggles.

powerbox-front powerbox-back
All base station power, with the exception of the LCD TV, is routed through a PowerBox hub which simplifies cable mess and provides clean, redundant, distributed power. It has a video buffer ensuring that each of the connected devices receives a clean signal. Each of the DC power jacks contains a heavy-duty LC filter for clean, glitch-free power to each connected A/V device. The PowerBox hub accepts power supplied from 2 separate LiPo battery packs and even has an audible low-voltage alarm.

Heavy duty Velcro pads hold the PowerBox hub and Oracle diversity controller in place.

hinge-front wires-and-zipties
Simple galvanized hinges allow the fascia panel to partially swing open allowing access to the hidden wiring behind. Wiring is kept tidy with zipties and self-adhesive ziptie mounting pads.

magnet magnet-plate
Magnetic catches installed in the case lid hold the fascia panel in place using metal plates attached to the back of it.

mock-up packed-up fully-packed-up
Here is the base station in an early operational mock-up state, then halfway packed up, and fully closed with the lid latched. The laptop is used to capture the live video feed to a hard drive for post-flight reference and sharing. So far the system has worked well and as an added bonus the case easily fits into airline overhead luggage compartments for convenient “cross country” transport.


FPV video capture success!

May 25, 20110 Comments

It might look like a spaghetti explosion but the mess of cables in front of me has somehow resulted in a successful video capture test of my new FPV system (more on that later). I’m using an $8 find called “EasyCap” and plugged it into my Mac laptop to record the video AND audio signals coming from the on-board camera and microphone on my Gaui 330Xs quadcopter. Without further delay I proudly present to you the following “in-kitchen” aerial video… stay tuned for daytime flights OUTSIDE 🙂

(please excuse the quality – the video uploader limits file size to 7mb or less)

FPV video capture test

There’s been a UFO sighting in the neighborhood!!!

April 4, 20113 Comments

After hacking apart a cheap Disney light-up toy, I used the remaining battery, wires, and LED lights to create a light-weight and attention getting lighting system for my Gaui 330XS QuadCopter. I inserted the LED bulbs into white ping pong balls and cut slits in them to attach under the arms of the quad. By pinching each ping pong ball, the slit opens and releasing the ball clamps it tightly to the frame – pretty simple. This way I can easily remove it for daytime flights. I estimate the entire lighting system with the ping pong balls weighs in around 18-20 grams. The original Disney light-up toy had 6 different settings, for various colors and flash patterns, controlled by sequentially pushing a single button.

More detailed pictures to follow, but in the meantime enjoy this YouTube clip I posted of my “UFO” quadcopter during a recent night flight:

The Other Prop Savers

March 27, 20112 Comments

I’m doing a rebuild on my quad, enough to where I wanted to add some protection for my props as I re-tune after the the new configuration takes flight.  If you’re not 100% confident in your flying ability just yet, or you’re just sick of buying props ever time you get a little aggressive with your stunt flying, consider this method.  I used a training landing gear set from an old copter, but you can get them for around $5 online for a set.  I just tie-wrapped one on each arm and made sure it stuck out a bit passed the end of the prop.  I had a couple of white ping pong balls laying around that I drilled a hole through and that was it.

Protected Prop!

White for fronts and Orange for tail