It has been a while since I published my original Supplier Catalog post and things have changed. A lot. This post is an update, listing the parts I’m currently using to build my quads and the reasoning behind each one. I hope you find this useful.
Updated Parts Catalog
In the last couple years I’ve been testing parts from various manufacturers, at different price points. Let’s just say that I’ve been slightly disappointed by some name brands as I found that cheaper alternatives often work as well or better. Your mileage will definitely vary.
Of note, at this point I’ve settled in quad sizes around the 210mm mark using 4S batteries and 5 inch unbreakable propellers. This of course biases my part selection criteria. Also note that I’m staying away from recommending state of the art gear. I’m only mentioning things that I’ve used for long enough to feel confident. Suffice to say that I fly most of the parts here multiple times a week.
Vendors to Avoid
I thought long and hard about whether to mention this or not. And since my intention is to actually help fellow pilots enjoy the hobby, I’ll just say it. Chances are that while looking for parts you’ll stumble with a store called Ready to Fly Quads (to which I won’t be linking). My experience with them – and I’m not alone on this – has been worse than dissapointing. Do yourself a favor and do not buy anything from those guys.
Quadcopter motors usually have a 4 digit designation that describes the diameter and height. In essence, the bigger the motor, the more space for more copper windings which leads to more torque. For my, the sweet spot lies in the 22 to 24mm diameter by 5 to 7 mm height, which translates to 2205 to 2307 model numbers. Be aware that the bigger the motor, the heavier it is.
Another specification that goes together with the physical size is the “Kv” rating which refers to how many revolutions per minute the motor wants to yield for each volt. I’ve tested Kv ratings between 2100 and 2700 and I think my sweet spot is between 2300 and 2600 Kv. With aggressive props, motors above 2500 Kv tend to get warm, so be careful.
Some people swear by brands such as Scorpion and T-Motor. Don’t get me wrong, those motors are nice, well finished and overall good quality. However, in my experience, the price difference is simply not justified. As of late I’ve been buying motors from various places in China. This kind of makes sense if you consider that the brand-name motors are built in the same factories as the cheaper ones.
In particular, I’ve been buying a lot of motors from MyRcMart.com. As of late, my go-to motors have been showing as out of stock, but these tend to work well:
- RCX H2205 (V3) 2633KV Multirotor Outrunner Brushless Motor
- RCX SE2205 2400KV FPV Racing Edition Motor
- RCX H2205 (V3) 2350KV Multirotor Outrunner Brushless Motor
When purchasing, I usually pick 5 motors (the 4 main motors and a spare) along with 4-5 bell assemblies. Most of the times when a crash damages a motor, you can easily replace the bell and make for a simpler repair. Note that at around $13 per motor, it does not really make sense to stock on bearings and try to repair them. Just toss and replace.
While in there, make sure you order 3 or 4 sets of aluminum locknuts.
I like mounting my ESCs in the arms of the quad, where the airflow from the propellers helps keep them cool. Also, having 4 completely separate ESCs makes repairs easier and cheaper. Another advantage for me is that by moving them away from the stack, I can build lower profile quads. Currently my daily quads are all 15mm tall low riders, which provide much better handling because the center of gravity is lower.
I’ve experienced a couple of smoking ESCs in the last few months. Interestingly in one of the incidents, the ESCs were expensive $30 ones, so price alone does not guarantee anything. When you get your ESCs, do take a careful look with a magnifying glass to examine the part placement and quality of solder. I’ve seen $8 ESCs that look and operate beautifully as well as $35 ESCs with mysaligned parts and poor soldering. It’s better to spot those issues while on your work bench.
Since my original experience with SimonK firmware I’ve completely switched to BLHeli. Now that I think of it, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen anyone flying with SimonK.
These are some ESCs I can recommend from GetFPV:
- Lumenier 30A BLHeli ESC 5v/1A BEC
- Lumenier F390 20A BLHeli ESC
- Lumenier F390 30A BLHeli ESC
- Lumenier 30A 32bit Silk ESC
Other good options from MyRcMart.com are:
- RCX 30A (FVT Little Bee) Mini BLHeli_S Multirotor ESC
- AirBot 30A Super RacerBee (BumpBee) V2 BLHeli_S
- RCX 20A (FVT Little Bee) Mini BLHeli Multirotor ESC
Also take a look at RcTimer.com – since recently they are carrying ESC options that look interesting.
Flight Controllers and Firmware
I’ve been stuck with Betaflight for the last couple years. It’s a firmware I like, can be tuned beyond what I need, works well and shows respect for its open source roots. Keep in mind that I write software for a living, so I would prefer to keep the software debugging on my quads to a minimum.
The folks at RcTimer.com have put together an awesome stack consisting of a PDB with sensors that plugs right into one of two awesome flight controllers:
- BeeRotor F3 (AIO) Flight Controller with OSD
- BeeRotor F4 BetaFlight Flight Controller with BFOSD
The stack runs from $50 to $60, provides filtered 5V and 12V to my gear and runs Betaflight like a champ. This configuration is short enough so as to fit comfortably in my low riders. I do like the OSD as I can take quick glances at the stats while flying. Also, knowing how many mAh have been consumer so far is a more reliable indicator than flight time alone. I haven’t had any issues with the sensors on these boards. Both the gyro and accelerometers perform reliably.
I’m no stranger to building my own frames. I’ve used aluminum, PVC, wood, carbon fiber and 3D printed materials to varied degrees of success. However, I have to admit that for the size of quad I fly, carbon fiber plate is unbeatable.
3 and 4 millimeter 3K carbon fiber plate – your run of the mill plate for this application – is resilient, lightweight and surprisingly rigid.
My go-to frame these days is the Lumenier QAV-210. I have four of them because I like to have identical spare quads.
Since I jumped into the lowrider bandwagon my criteria for choosing camera got simpler: I’ll take whatever I can fit in the 15mm of height between the plates on my frames. The cameras I’ve found so far are more of a spy camera variety, but they work. You can get them at Banggood.com:
- Super Light Mini Color 2.8mm M7 Wide Angle Micro Camera
- 800TVL 150 Degree Camera For Kingkong
- Turbowing TWC25 1⁄4 CMOS 700TVL 120° 1.0lux NTSC Wide Angle Mini Camera
- Eachine Flyingfrog Q90 Micro FPV Racing Quadcopter
Some of these carry microphones, which I remove as my VTX already has one. Note that these are CMOS cameras so dynamic range won’t be their strong suit. But as I said, they are small, lightweight and cheap. To mount them, I just hold them in place with hot glue or shoe goo.
Radio Control & Receiver
I’m still a fan of Taranis and Aloft Hobbies. While I used to mount FrSky D4R-II receivers, the size constraints on my tight builds forced me to change. My new go-to receiver is the FrSky XSR. This tiny receiver supports S-BUS, Futaba’s serial protocol that provides 16 channels with very little latency; telemetry and all in a smaller form factor.
I do a bit of prep on them before mounting, but you cannot go wrong with these receivers.
As most quad aficionados I do 5.8 GHz analog video. All the low cost transmitters on this band look very similar, with most being sold by Boscam and Foxeer. Back when I started I would lose one VTX every couple of months – even the good ImmersionRC ones. Nowadays, I can’t even remember the last time a VTX died on me. I have spares on stock from a year and a half ago!
I purchased my last group of video transmitters from FPVHQ 5.8 GHz Video Transmitters. If you plan on flying socially, pick 200 mW. With 600 mW you’ll most likely interfere with other pilots and once you get the right antennas, the additional power won’t help.
A few years ago I tried multiple antennas with varied results. Nowadays, I keep my trusted IBCrazy Bluebeam safely on my goggles together with a SpiroNet Patch. This gives me solid coverage on the field, and the patch helps with penetration when flying low between weeds and other obstacles.
For my quads, I’m using various forms of mushroom antennas. These are cheap and perform very well. I can fly well beyond 200m with solid video.