Flying drones is fun, but it’s almost more gratifying when you can fly a drone that you built yourself!
And perhaps the most gratifying aspect of flying your own piece of genius: saving money while doing it. Rather than spend several hundreds of dollars to buy a drone, you can build your own drone for as little as $99.
For such complicated machines, drones have very few parts and don’t take fancy engineering to build one. There are a bunch of fun “build your own drone” kits. Some have varying degrees of effort, and you can choose one to fit your needs. For example, for kids, this LEGO drone kit is simply delightful, albeit tough to buy after-the-fact. If you want a super straightforward drone kit and online tutorial — and you have a hefty budget — then there’s no better pick than the Drone Dojo Raspberry Pixhawk Drone Kit. That kit includes easy-to-follow, step-by-step video tutorials, plus all relevant supplies (including the Raspberry Pi 4B, Pixhawk Flight Controller, drone frame, brushless motors, ESCs, RC transmitter and receiver, battery and more).
But that kit will cost about $1,000, which might not fit in your budget. If you’re willing to put in the leg work (and hunt down deals on your own individual parts), you can do it for less than $100.
And there’s no better person then RC Hobby Review expert Jake Carter to tell you what parts you need to make your own. So without further ado, I’ll let Jake take it from here.
Here’s Jake’s guide to exactly what you need to know to build your own drone for under $99:
Choose a Quadcopter Frame Design
Quadcopters are the most common type of drone — recognizable for their “X” shape with a propeller on each tip of the frame. Frames also come in tricopter (three propellers), hexacopter (six propellers), and octocopter (eight propellers) designs. Hexacopters are great for redundancy; if one motor fails you still have some stability. Since they are so large, octocopters are typically reserved for flyers looking to carry a payload.
But if you’re looking to cut costs, a quadcopter is typically the best to get started with given its lower costs.
Buy a Carbon Fiber Frame
Carbon fiber is slightly more expensive than other frame options, but it’s lightweight and durable. It will last you much longer should you keep the drone for several years. The cheapest frame option is wood, but wood warps in the rain.
Plastic is commonly used, and it’s durable. If you have a 3D printer, you can even make your own plastic frame. Aluminum frames are also used given their light weight, but they are not as durable.
If you have a few extra dollars to spare, choose carbon fiber. If money is an issue, the next best option is plastic. Wood should only be used for beginner drones that you expect to be replaced.
Buy a Brushless Motor
Drone motors come in two different types: brushless and brushed. Brushed motors contain a magnet and coils. The magnets remain in place while the coils spin. The issue with brushed motors is that the brushes wear out and must be replaced.
Brushless motors also contain magnets and coils, but with these motors the coils remain in place while the magnets spin. Because they have no brushes, these motors are more durable and last longer. BrotherHobby, T-Motor and Racestar make quality brushless motors. Check out some examples of their brushless racing motors below.
• BrotherHobby 2450KV
• T-Motor F40 2400KV
• Racestar 2600KV
Choose Higher KVs for Racing Drones
Motors come with a KV rating. The KV rating indicates the amount of volts needed to power the motor. For a beginner drone, you can use lower KV-rated motors in the 1000-1500 range. These motors give you the ability to stabilize and practice with your new drone.
If you have more experience, buy higher KV-rated motors in the range of 1500-2300. These motors are used for racing, giving more power and torque to your drone, and letting you maneuver around trees and obstacles.
Install Smaller Diameter Propellers
Propellers come with two or three blades, and are made in a variety of materials. Carbon fiber is the best material, but you can also get propellers in plastic or wood.
Propellers with a smaller diameter make it easier to slow down or speed up, which is important for a new drone owner. Longer blades are good for stable, long flights.
Match Batteries with Motor Voltage Requirements
One of the most common mistakes among new drone owners is buying batteries that don’t match the voltage requirements of the motor. KV ratings give you the amount of volts needed to power each motor. Determine the motor you want to buy first, and then match the battery with the voltage requirements.
Take Note of the Sensors on Your Flight Controller
The flight controller is what you use to fly your drone. Every controller comes with several sensors, telling you the location and current status of your drone. If you fly the drone too far away, you need a sensor that tells you to pull the drone closer or you could lose it.
The most important sensor is GPS. GPS shows you the location of your drone. You won’t always have a visual view of the drone, and GPS will guide you during flight.
The other important sensor is the barometer. The barometer is a sensor that detects atmospheric pressure. This pressure tells you the height of the drone. Flying your drone too high can cause it to crash.
The drone’s gyroscope tells you the angle of the drone. This is important when you stabilize it during flight and hover over one place. The accelerometer tells you the acceleration of the drone.
Some recommend parts for building a $99 dollar racing drone
So you’re ready to build your own racing drone? UAVfutures did a step by step drone build for just $99, a price and quality that is hard to beat when buying a Ready-To-Fly model. Here are the parts they used to build it out.
- ESCs or Electronic Speed Controller
- PDB or Power Distribution Board
- VTX or Video Transmitter
- Flight Controller
- FPV camera
Have you built your own drone? What are your best tips or favorite products? Leave a comment below!
-By Jake Carter