Introduction to Quadcopters

Introduction to Quadcopters Over the last few years we have seen a massive growth in the manufacture and sales of remote control airborne vehicles known as Quadcopters. These Unmanned Aerial Vehicles have four arms and fixed pitch propellers which are set in an X or + configuration with X being the preferred configuration.

Quadcopter Configuration
Quadcopter Configurations

They are sometimes referred to as Drones, Quadrotors or Quadrocopters. In the standard format two propellers will spin in a clockwise direction with the other two spinning in an anticlockwise direction allowing the craft to vertically ascend, hover in the air and fly in a designated direction. The Quadcopter is a simple format with very few moving parts and has rapidly become a favourite vehicle for remote control enthusiasts and is widely being used as an effective Aerial photographic platform. A large majority of the Quadcopters were originally built by hobbyists who understood the simplicity of the vehicle. By adding four motors and four propellers to a lightweight frame constructed of light wood, carbon fibre, or fibreglass then connecting it to a remote control transmitter via a small control board fitted with a gyroscopic stabilization system and connected to a Lipo battery these craft were relatively simple to construct. Experimentation has led to the configuration of variations of the Quadcopter by using different amounts of arms we have seen Tricopters, Hexacopters and Octocopters (with eight arms). Other configurations include a Vtail and an Hframe variation.

Tricopter Configuration
Tricopter Configuration

The rapid advances in computing power, the efficiency of the coreless or brushless motors, smaller microprocessors the development of batteries and gyroscopic and accelerometer technology has all led to a proliferation of Quadcopter designs. The first Quadcopters were not designed for acrobatic flight as the development was concentrated on simple stable flight patterns but now this has all changed. Micro and even Nano Quadcopters are being produced mainly in China that can perform intricate aerobatic moves, flips and barrel rolls that years ago would have been unthinkable. Chinese companies like Hubsan have made tiny Nano Quadcopters. The Hubsan the Nano Q4 H111 sells at approximately £30,sits in the palm of your hand has all the aerobatic flight control and capabilities of far more expensive models. The Hubsan has already been released as the Estes Pro, Revell Toys have a version, WLToys have their own with a decent sized transmitter at under £20 with free postage from Tmart and Huajia Technology with soon release another similar model. With Bind and Fly (Quadcopters that bind with existing transmitters ) soon to be released I can see that a far wider audience will  be introduced to the fun of Quadcopter flying.

World's smallest Quadcopter
Nano Quadcopter from WLToys

Moving up from the ultra-small Nano we have the excellent Hubsan X4 range and the Walkera Ladybird.

Walkera Ladybird Quadcopter
Walkera Ladybird Quadcopter

The X4 H107C HD from Hubsan comes with a 2MP camera that records video footage to a micro SD card. Both these models are a great way to get used to flying Quadcopters and as spare parts are readily available the expense is minimal. I would highly recommend either of these little flying robot models if you are a complete beginner to this fun and rewarding hobby.

Hubsan X4 Quadcopter
Hubsan X4 H107c HD Quadcopter

When you get started always follow the motto ‘Fly low and fly slow’ until you get accustomed to the way the Quadcopters performs and follow certain safety procedures which we will go through in our next article. These MicroQuadcopters are readily available from EBay, Amazon and local Hobby stores but if you want to save money and are prepared to wait they can be ordered directly from China from sites like Banggood or Tmart.

Micro Quadcopter from Syma
The Syma X2 Micro Quadcopter

A word of wording; Do not be fooled into buying clones always stick to recognized brands like Hubsan, Walkera, WLToys, Blade or Syma for a few extra pounds you will get a quality product that will give you hours of enjoyment. Always buy extra batteries to increase your flying time but remember to allow the motors to cool down between flights.

Wltoys V252 Upgrade Version 4 Channel 2.4GHz Mini Remote Control 4 Axial Quadcopter Transparent
Wltoys V252 Upgrade Version 4 Channel 2.4GHz Mini Remote Control 4 Axial Quadcopter Transparent

Once you got used to flying these small  Micro Quadcopters both indoors and outdoors weather permitting you will want to start looking a larger models with more functionality and better camera resolution if you want to take decent aerial photography. Don’t rush into it, do your research before your buy. Chinese company DJI Innovations are the leaders in this field having produced the Phantom range of Quadcopters that are capable of supporting GoPro cameras and at the moment the others are still playing catch-up. The Phantom ranges support GPS technology, fail safe return to home among its extensive features and are a dream to fly. The latest release is the DJI Phantom FC40 which is available in the UK for approximately £366 from Heliguy.

Hubsan 109S X4  Quadcopter
Hubsan 109S PRO X4 Quadcopter

I would recommend you buy any of the Phantom range from a reputable UK seller like Heliguy so if there are any issues with your model then you can get support. With DJI you have some great Facebook pages and online forums which are a great source of information and advice. There are a number of alternatives and it seems like every week manufacturers from China are trying to grab a share of this market. Lately we have seen pictures of the new Hubsan 109S PRO (release date is not confirmed as of the 18-3-2014) the Walkera QR 350X PRO, the Blade 350QX and new entrants Cheerson with their CX20 model and Flying3D with the Flying X8.

Cheerson Quadcopter
The new Cheerson CX20 Quadcopter

Both the Cheerson CX20 and the FlyingX8 look impressive machines but when investing this kind of money be sure to check out the availability of parts and service. The last thing you want on your hands is a great looking Quadcopter that’s lying in a box waiting for spares to come from China or a malfunction that you cannot find a way to repair.

Flying X8 UAV
Flying X8 Quadcopter

There are also a number of interesting models coming from American start-ups like the Iris Quadcopter from 3DRobotics fronted by Chris Anderson formerly editor of Wired

Iris Quadcopter from 3D Robotics
Iris Quadcopter from 3D Robotics

and the Pocketdrone from Airdroids who launched a very successful Kickstarter campaign.

Pocket Drone
The Pocket Drone

If you are confused about the size of models the 350 range refers to the diagonal distance in millimeters between motor centers.

Phantom FC40 Quadcopter
DJI Phantom FC40 Quadcopter,  a great entry level Aerial photography platform

The future for Quadcopters will be greatly affected by a number of different but related technologies. Hobbyists and professional flyers alike will be closely keeping an eye on 3D printing to customise and improve Quadcopter kits and canopy shapes.The example below shows how innovative CAD designers will come up stylish designs that can be used for limited or mass production.

3D VTail design from Shapeways
3D VTail design from Shapeways

Computing power will increase and this will lead to Quadcopters becoming more autonomous, battery life will be extended, and motors will become more powerful.  New materials like graphene are being developed that are super lightweight and conductive. All these developments bode well and in a few years we will see these amazing flying machines perform in ways that would only have been previously seen in science fiction movies. How Quadcopters will affect our lives in the future remains to be seen but one thing is for sure, they will have a profound impact on many industries. If you are considering  getting your first Quadcopter then please take some time to read the tip sheet below, it will save you both time and money and help your to enjoy your flying. Tips for new Quadcopter pilots with many thanks to Edward Lyons, Benedikt Haak and Ayodhya Bandara  If you are new to Quadcopters there are certain guidelines you should follow to avoid crashing your craft or worst of all losing it. After crashing always inspect your Quadcopter thoroughly.

  • Firstly always fly with the sun behind you to avoid getting the sun in your eyes and losing sight of your Quadcopter.
  • Never fly the Quadcopter behind you or above you, make sure it is always in front of you.
  • Try and find a large grass field, take off gently and fly at eye level.
  • If you lose orientation or think your Quadcopter is going out of the field immediately cut the throttle back completely.
  • If you crash land on grass you are unlikely to inflict any serious damage but after any crash landing be sure to check carefully for any damage, check you propellers making sure they spin freely and make sure there is no grass or fibres wrapped around the prop shafts
  • Try not to fall inverted as the chances of damaging your motors are greatly increased.
  • Always take a rest between flights.
  • Use a dry lubricant, ptfe, such as liquid wrench dry lubricant or tri flow. Just a fraction of a drop for each motor, don’t over lubricate. You can use other lubricants but they will attract dust.
  • Apply lubrication after every 25 – 30 flights.
  • Never use WD 40 on brushed/coreless motors.
  • Don’t over kill the lipos.
  • Don’t over heat the motors so follow the advice  take rest yourself and let the motors cool down.
  • Always re-calibrate after crashes.
  • If you find a drift and you nail it down to a bad motor don’t continue to fly and stress the good 3 motors.
  • Indoor flyers, clean your shafts i.e check to see if there’s hair or wool from carpets wound around shafts. They stress the motors by entwining around the motor shafts, so have a thorough look for any obstructions.
  • When you crash always inspect the quad, no matter how small the crash.
  • Check for props being loose after a crash. Chances are if they loosen during a crash and you take the Quadcopter  up without checking the prop will pop out mid spin.
  •  Fly low, fly small. Begin with small areas, focus on controlled movements. You’ve seen some flyers rip it up, but remember we were beginners too at some point. When you fly in small areas your muscle memory develops and you can learn throttle management after your hands get the right feel of the quad, once you can fly tight inside you will easily rip, outside.So be patient and take it slow.
  • Know where you fly. learn about the location.
  •  Respect other people, don’t do stunts and go crazy in public places. These things can’t take your arm off but they can easily take your eyes out or some unsuspecting persons eye out.
  •  If taking video or stills, respect other people’s privacy.  
  • Don’t over charge lipos, your battery will degrade over time, resulting in lesser flight times, continue and they will puff up and end up causing serious damage to you and others.
  • Always store lipo batteries at half charge or discharge them for storage mode if you don’t plan to fly for a few weeks
  •  If you don’t have a good charger and you want to store your batteries, charge them fully fly half your usual flight time and stop. Batteries will have close to half the charge and you can store them.
  • Fly basic movements, back and forth side to side nose out, tail in. Once you know those movements properly, move up to repeating the same movements with nose in, tail out. Remember your rudder, ailerons and elevators are reversed when the quadcopter is facing you. When you are ok with these movements learn to incorporate rudder with ailerons for bank turns and other advanced manoeuvres .
  • Don’t ever take risks that may endanger others.
  • If flying indoors always use propeller guards if available, it will save your propellers.

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