Should I Build A 6S-Capable Racing Quad?

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If you came here looking for the short answer, I’m just going to give it to you. Yes. Absolutely. If you’re already building a high-end racing quad, it may only cost you a few extra dollars to use ESCs that support up to a 6S LiPo. I’m now running low-end 5S LiPos on both of my favorite quads with 2600 KV motors. I don’t expect to go back to 4S!

That’s the tl;dr. If I were you, I’d want a deeper explanation. I am not at the end of this experiment yet, but I’m pleased with the results. My first flight on 5S put a big enough grin on my face that I went home and ordered four more. I’m going to walk you through my journey and thought process. You can tell me what you think of my progress in the comments!

Choosing ESCs for my T-Motor F40 Pro V2 2600 KV quad

My build didn’t start out with F40 Pro motors in mind. I had a set of T-Motor F40ii motors from my dead Shuriken X1, and I thought they needed a new home. They’re strong, sturdy motors. I didn’t want to see them go to waste.

T-Motor F40 Pro V2 Parts

This is what I ordered.

I reused the Runcam Eagle 2 and the stock 30a ESCs from the Shuriken X1. It flew just fine, but it was just awful. I couldn’t get clean video out of it. Not even close.

I figured my old ESCs might have been noisy, so I added a capacitor. That didn’t work, so I decided to replace the ESCs. I chose 35a Wraith32 ESCs. They were only a few dollars more than other BLHeli_32 ESCs, but they also happened to support 6S. They didn’t fix the video problem, but now all my hardware was safe to use with 5S or 6S!

I continued to fly it even with the video problem—it was still a fast, angry quad, but it wasn’t much fun with the horrible video. I was guessing I had an unbalanced motor, so I started waiting patiently for the T-Motor F40 Pro V2 motors to be released.

The fresh motors cleared up the problem. My video still isn’t perfect at full throttle, but it is more than flyable. I now had a quad that could run on higher-voltage batteries, and I was excited. I couldn’t wait to try some!

I have two similar quads now that I run on 5S. One has F40 Pro V2 2600 KV motors, a Runcam Eagle 2 Pro, and a Holybro Kakute F4 V2. The other has ZMX FinX30 2600 KV motors, a Runcam Eagle 2, and a Holybro Kakute F4 V1.

Why 5S?

I built this quad on the assumption that 5S or 6S would be problematic. I figured I’d try 5S, and it’d be fun to show off, but ridiculous or too expensive to fly regularly. I chose high KV motors because I enjoy flying with them. I was hedging my bets. I wanted something that would fly great with my existing 4S packs, but I knew that could be a problem at higher voltages.

T-Motor F40 Pro V2 5S Quad

I still wanted to try 5S batteries, and I’m glad I did. At full throttle, these two quads have ridiculous power. Spectators always have something to say when I start hitting the throttle and screaming across the field.

Watching some of KababFPV’s videos encouraged me to add a throttle limit to my Taranis. Setting the throttle limit to 75 or 80 percent on 5S doesn’t seem to impact my acceleration or top speed in any significant or noticeable way, but it does give me extra usable range on my throttle stick and more flight time.

Cheap 5S batteries are better than premium 4S batteries!

I was confident that this would be true, but seeing the voltage numbers on my OSD and doing the math was still surprising.

I’ve been running CNHL 1300 mAh 70C 5S LiPo batteries. At the time I ordered, they were $22.99 each with free shipping. I bought four.

Assortment of 4S and 5S LiPo Batteries

The longer you’re in the air, the more your battery tends to sag when you punch the throttle. I am not an aggressive pilot, but I enjoy collecting data for science. When these batteries get low, and I punch the throttle, they sag down to around 3.1 volts per cell.

If my 4S LiPos drop that low, they’re only delivering 12.4 volts. When the 5S dip that low, they’re still delivering 15.5 volts. That’s the kind of voltage you’ll see while cruising around on a 4S!

What does this mean in practice? I have more punch with my 75% throttle limit on 5S than I ever had on 4S. I also have more punch on a nearly depleted 5S than you can ever get out of a fresh 4S. How awesome is that?

The best part is, the 5S batteries are cheap! You can spend $40 or more on a Tattu R-Line battery in an attempt keep your sags above 13 volts, or you can spend $25 or less on low-end 5S batteries that won’t drop below 15 volts.

Batteries will be cheaper, but what will this really cost me?

If you’re already using premium parts in your build, then ensuring that your build can run on 5S or 6S batteries doesn’t cost much more. Runcam cameras can accept much more voltage than 6S. My Holybro Kakute F4 flight controllers can handle 6S, and it is the same flight controller Joshua Bardwell used to test Betaflight 3.3’s Kalman filters.

The Holybro AtlAtl is a solid VTX that can be controlled by Betaflight, and it has no problem with a 6S input.

I already had all these parts on hand. The only thing I had to do was choose ESCs that support 6S. There are plenty of choices, but my Wraith32 ESCs are only about $15 each, and I was able to get a set of four with free 2-day shipping from Amazon.

I could have saved $10 or $20 by choosing different BLHeli_32 ESCs that could only operate at 4S. That seems like a small price to pay for this big performance bump.

Why not 6S?

I plan to try 6S. My friend Brian is working on a low-KV 6” build using 6S batteries. I’ve plugged his batteries into one of my quads, and nothing exploded. I even flew a bit using one of those batteries on my old T-Motor F40ii motors. It was awful! The quad was extremely twitchy and didn’t even seem happy at half throttle.

I just told Brian to remind me to try one of his 6S next time we’re flying. I don’t think it will be the right choice for me, but I want to see how it feels now that my quad has a better tune!

Assortment of 5S LiPos

All my motors are 2600 KV. I’m surprised and impressed that my motors barely heat up even after a spirited run on 5S. They’re not cold, but if I ate a slice of pizza at that temperature, I might say it was a cold slice. Not quite room temperature, but not nearly as hot as my phone feels when playing Neon Chrome.

This may seem obvious, but a 5S LiPo can push your motors 25% harder than a 4S. A 6S LiPo can push the motor 20% harder than a 5S and 50% harder than a 4S. A 50% increase power in huge.

I’ve also been helping Brian find 6S LiPos for his experiment. They aren’t cheap, and the selection isn’t all that wide. The selection of 5S options may not be plentiful either, but I quickly found two inexpensive and appropriately sized options for my quads.

What is VBAT compensation?

I feel dumb. I always assumed the VBAT compensation on the PID tuning tab was meant for sagging batteries. I used to turn it off.

I’ve since learned that it works surprisingly well when switching between 4S and 5S batteries. I have enabled VBAT compensation, and I tuned my PIDs in when running on 5S. Even when I switch to a 4S, the quad still feels nearly as locked in as when I’m running 5S. I’m hoping the same will be true next time I try one of Brian’s 6S LiPos!

Which 5S am I running?

My bag is full of Infinity 1500 mAh graphene 5S LiPos. They’ve served me well. They are not only inexpensive, but they’re also the best 4S LiPos I’ve ever tried. The runner-up for me were the Venom 1300 mAh 4S. The Venom batteries cost a lot more, and they would sag quite a bit deeper.

I couldn’t find any appropriately sized Infinity 5S LiPos. I wanted a 5S with a capacity comparable to my existing 1500 mAh 4S packs. If you do the math, a 1500 mAh 4S and 1200 mAh 5S have a similar Watt hour rating. You can also be lazy like me and assume weight is equivalent to capacity.

My batteries:

My first test battery was the 5S Dinogy 1300 mAh. It is a fine battery. It cost $24.99 with free shipping. Its weight is about the same as my Infinity batteries. My first flights were fast, fun, and it seemed like my flight times would even be higher on 5S. I was already convinced that 5S would be my future, so I went to order more!

The price had gone up to $27.99 since my original order, and I knew it would take three weeks for the new batteries to arrive. I didn’t want to pay more, and I didn’t want to wait that long. It was time to start shopping around for other options.

I found the CNHL 1300 mAh 5S for $22.99 on ChinaHobbyLine’s website. They have free shipping on orders over $50, they ship from the US, and they use USPS Priority Mail. I ordered four batteries on a Friday, and I had them on Monday or Tuesday. Why on Earth did I order four batteries? I should have ordered five. That would be enough to fill my parallel charging board to capacity with 5S batteries.

What if I want a 4-in-1 ESC?

I’ve been thinking about upgrading my BFight 210. I already broke the frame and moved the guts to a 6” FLOSS 2 ultralight frame. I thought it might be fun to try some ZMX FinX23 motors, and if I go that route, it might be nice to have the option of running my 5S LiPos on there.

The arms on the FLOSS frames are quite narrow, so I will have to shop around for a 6S-capable 4-in-1 ESC board. There isn’t a big selection of 4-in-1, 6S-capable, BLHeli_32 ESC boards. They’re out there, though, so you shouldn’t have much trouble finding one for your build.

I keep hearing that the current crop of 4-in-1 boards don’t hold up well with 6S if you push them too hard. The racing leagues are now allowing 5S and 6S batteries, so I expect there will be a lot of improvement here in the near future!

More voltage translates to increased efficiency

This statement is factually correct, but I haven’t been able to collect much data. Our weather here this winter has been near freezing one weekend, then 70 degrees the next. Batteries work poorly when they’re cold.

Flight times are amazing on the warm days, and poor on the cold ones. This has been making comparisons more difficult. I may not have enough data for a solid conclusion, and my 4S and 5S LiPos aren’t as directly comparable as I’d like. My CNHL 1300 mAh 5S LiPos are 19% heavier than my 4S, and they tend to stay in the air roughly 20% longer. That almost makes me want to chalk the longer flight times up to the increased capacity. The Dinogy 1300 mAh are almost as light as my Infinity 4S 1500 mAh packs, but I want to say they fly about as long as the CNHL packs. I need to fly more to confirm that.

Here comes the convoluted bit. My quads have significantly more pep with an 80% throttle cap on 5S than with no throttle cap on 4S. With these throttle settings, carrying a GoPro Session 5 with a 5S feels much like running a 4S without the added weight of the camera.

What about carrying a GoPro on 4S? It flies adequately with the extra camera weight on 4S, but the 1300 mAh 5S is able to stay in the air longer. My few 4S runs with the GoPro lasted three to four minutes. The 5S usually lasts five minutes.

It is awesome to finally carry a GoPro!

So far, being able to comfortably carry a GoPro Session is my favorite part about my 5S upgrade. I’ve tried carrying action cameras before, and I always hated it. I tried strapping a camera to my Shuriken X1 several times. No matter what I did, it always felt like a boat. It felt more like a truck than a sports car.

My new T-Motor F40 Pro v2 and ZMX FinX30 motors are both so much more powerful than the motors on the Shuriken X1. Even on 4S, the quads still feel great, but the 5S really opens them up!

Both sets of new motors produce more power than I can currently make use of. Even if I were still running 4S, I still would have attempted flying with a GoPro Session. I’d like to think I’d have been pleased enough with the performance. I bet the Session would have still become a permanent fixture on my quads.

But thank goodness I don’t have to settle for the 4S performance and flight times! I’m finally carrying a GoPro, and I’m finally able to record awesome footage, and even with the extra weight, my quads are faster than ever before. How awesome is that?!

Final thoughts

I couldn’t be happier with my upgrade to 5S. I built these quads with the intention of running my existing 4S packs, and I’m stoked that they both perform so well on 5S. Their motors aren’t getting warm, they have so much more punch, and their flight times have improved.

I don’t have to buy expensive Tattu R-Line 95C batteries for $40 in an attempt to squeeze every last bit of performance out of my quads. I can almost buy two 5S batteries for the price of a single 100C R-Line battery, and the 5S will outperform the R-Line in every way without even being pushed to its limits.

If most of your build will support 5S or 6S, then you should absolutely choose 5S- or 6S-compatible parts for the rest of your build. The boost in performance is so much fun, and being able to buy cheaper batteries will lead to big savings over the long term.

I’m still in the early stages of this experiment, but I like where things are going!

Are you running 5S or 6S on high-KV motors? Do your experiences match mine? Or are you running 6S on low-KV motors? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Leader 120 Micro FPV Quad: Amazing Performance on a Budget

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Early last year, I discovered the KingKong 90GT micro drone, and it was fantastic. The 90GT is too big to fly indoors, but it was more than powerful enough to fight a strong breeze outside.

It didn’t take us long to figure out that we could relocate the motors to make room for bigger props. Upgrading from 1.9” to 2.5” props made it feel like a completely different quad! Thrust went up by 50% and I was getting an extra minute of flight time.

NOTE: The video above is from my old micro drone. It is the KingKong 90GT upgraded from 1.9” props to 2.5”.

These micro quads are a lot of fun to fly, and you can fly them in situations where a 5” racing quad might be inappropriate, or even dangerous. Ever since upgrading the KingKong 90GT, I’ve been on the lookout for a more powerful micro FPV quad.

The KingKong FlyEgg 130 was a dud

As soon as I saw the KingKong FlyEgg 130, I asked my friends at Gearbest if they would send me one to review, and they were kind enough to oblige. It arrived with a faulty camera. I was impatient, so I soldered my old KingKong 90GT camera into its place. It didn’t quite fit the frame, but I was able to make it work.

My first flight seemed extremely promising. It was an upgrade in every possible way over the KingKong 90GT, but I had a crash on my second battery, and I managed to bend a motor. That was the beginning of the end, and I hadn’t even flown the FlyEgg for 10 minutes yet!

Failing to upgrade the FlyEgg 130

I figured it might be worthwhile to install some premium motors on the FlyEgg 130, so I ordered a set of Brotherhobby 1106 motors. The number 3 motor was problematic. I could hover, but if I hit the throttle, it would fall out of the sky. I tried adjusting motor timings, increasing minimum throttle, swapping out motors, and even replacing the 4-in-1 ESC. Nothing would help.

I even ordered a replacement 4-in-1 ESC, but I still had the same problem. I’d sunk enough time and money into making this work. I was bummed out, and I didn’t even want to think about the FlyEgg 130 anymore.

It looks like they’re using entirely different motors on the KingKong FlyEgg 130 now. Maybe the new motors aren’t as soft as the original ones! Even so, I don’t imagine the FlyEgg 130 is worth the additional cost compared to the Leader 120.

The Leader 120 is amazing

I got an email from Gearbest telling me the Leader 120 micro FPV quad was on sale for about $80! I’d never heard of it, so I looked for flight videos on YouTube. It looks like there were some issues with the earliest batch, but it sounds like all the problems are ironed out now.

The Leader 120 is an upgrade in every way over my beloved KingKong 90GT. The Leader 120 has bigger motors, bigger props, a better camera, more modern flight controller, and it can run on a 3S battery. Full Speed managed to cram all this hardware into a quad that costs 30% less than my 90GT!

2S or 3S batteries for the Leader 120?

I already had a handful of 550 mAh 2S LiPos for my KingKong 90GT. I also had a 400 mAh 3S and a 550 mAh 3S on hand for the KingKong FlyEgg 130. This gave me a good base for experimentation!

The Leader 120 flies amazingly well on 2S. If you’re just watching it cruise around, you probably wouldn’t notice that it isn’t flying on 3S. It is fast on 2S, and has decent punch. If you’re trying to do acrobatics, you’ll really appreciate a 3S battery.

I enjoyed the Infinity 550 mAh 3S batteries, so I ordered half a dozen for myself. The Leader 120 is super fast on 3S. We clocked it at 69 MPH with the radar gun! I’m confident that I could squeeze a little more out of it. I’d sure like to see a speed gun run break 70 MPH.

I had to order a Leader 120 for my nephew

I ordered a second Leader 120 as soon as I got home from the maiden flight of my own Leader 120. It is a fast, agile, stable, and sturdy little quadcopter. We gave my nephew a full FPV setup including a BFight 210 for Christmas. I figured an amazing and inexpensive drone like the Leader 120 would be an excellent addition to his hangar.

I sent him the Leader 120 and all my 450 and 550 mAh 2S batteries. The Leader 120 flies quite spiritedly on 2S, but I imagine it will be tame enough that he can have fun flying it around in his neighborhood.

The Leader 120 is a Plug-N-Play drone

What does Plug-N-Play mean? I’m not entirely sure that there’s a standardized definition. Usually it means the quad ships with everything up to but not including the receiver. You get the quad with motors, flight controller, camera, video transmitter, and a battery.

You don’t get a receiver, radio transmitter, or FPV goggles. The Leader 120 is compatible with most serial receivers, including FrSky, FlySky, and Spektrum.

Leader 120 Micro FPV Drone

I had a spare FrSky compatible D8 serial receiver, and that’s what I used for the first few weeks. It was the cheap receiver that shipped with my BFight 210. It doesn’t have diversity, and the range is terrible. I had a few failsafes with it when I was flying right near the edge of video range. That’s only a few hundred feet with the Leader 120’s tiny 25mw VTX.

I upgraded my Leader 120 to a real FrSky R-XSR receiver. Now it can fly as far as any of my full-size miniquads, assuming I can still see the video. There was even a free UART pad for telemetry, and the Betaflight LUA scripts even let me adjust the PIDs!

I reused the generic D8 FrSky-compatible receiver in our nephew’s Leader 120. It should work well for him, and the reduced range should help keep him out of trouble. If you’re flying with a Taranis radio, I’d recommend using at least an XM-Plus receiver. They’re small, reliable, and have excellent range.

Are these tiny micro FPV quads worth the money?

This is extremely subjective. It will depend on your circumstances, and my own opinion on micros has shifted a bit with all the progress that’s been made since my beloved KingKong 90GT.

My good friend Brian enjoyed his 90GT at least as much as I did, and that convinced him that he wanted to build a premium 3” micro quad. The parts for that micro have cost him more than $300, but he’s had a lot of fun building it, and he enjoys flying it. He’s also been constantly upgrading it!

That’s about what it cost me to build an amazing 6S-capable 5” FPV quad using premium parts: T-Motor F40 Pro v2 motors, 35a BLHeli_32 ESCs, a nice F4 flight controller, and a premium smartaudio VTX on an OwlRC Dragon frame.

You can get a fantastic beginner-level 5” quad like the BFight 210 for around $140. That’s less than the price of many of the micro quads, and the BFight flies a lot better than a micro.

That’s the problem with most of the micro quads. They’re fun to fly, but they don’t feel nearly as locked in as a 5” racing quad. Fortunately, they’re getting closer and less expensive!

The Leader 120 handles so much more like a real racing quad than my KingKong 90GT ever did. It isn’t quite there yet, but that gap is no longer a huge chasm. The Leader 120 costs less than $90. My weaker, slower KingKong 90GT cost about $130. I am amazed at what you can get for your money.

That said, 5” quadcopters still offer the best value. There has been a lot of competition at that scale for a long time. There’s no shortage of motors, ESCs, and flight controllers at many price points in the 5” class. The bigger quadcopters are also easier to work on and repair.

So why would I want a micro quad?!

You can fly a micro quad in many situations where a big, angry 5” quad would be inappropriate. A 5” racing quad sounds scary. They’re heavy enough that they carry a lot of momentum. I wouldn’t want to be hit with a 600-gram quad that is ripping through the air at 85 MPH.

Fewer people will notice your 2.5” or 3” micro quad. They’re quiet. They don’t usually travel as fast as a 5” quad, and they weigh less than 140 grams. It would be much harder to smash through a windshield with a micro quad, and I’d be surprised if anyone would bleed out if they got cut by a prop.

Leader 120 Micro FPV Quad and My Cat, Rascal

I don’t advocate flying your 3” micro in crowds, but they’re much more suitable to smaller spaces than a full-size miniquad. Last week, we were in a huge, open field at a park. We fly there a lot, and there’s usually plenty of room for us. That wasn’t the case for a significant window of time on our last trip.

To one side was the parking lot, our pilots, and spectators. In another direction, there was a guy slowly walking his dog. Then another group of people showed up and meandered around. We were effectively boxed into a triangle for about twenty minutes. Even at a slow pace, we were always two or three seconds away from being dangerously close to something.

I’m happy to have the Leader 120 in my bag, because it let me fly two or three batteries while everyone else was effectively grounded. I’m certain that I’ll always carry a micro with the rest of my quads. It doesn’t take up a lot of space in my cavernous backpack, and it is a ton of fun to fly!

Should your first FPV quad be a micro?

My friend Brian and I talk about this all the time. He spent a lot of his time early on flying his KingKong 90GT. I agree that it was a fantastic way to practice and gain confidence, but it eventually turns into a hindrance. We just couldn’t fly our KingKong 90GT like a full-size miniquad. You have so much more control when you fly a heavier 5” racing quad, and the 90GT didn’t have enough thrust to recover from acrobatic maneuvers.

These points have always made me discourage people from starting with a micro quad. You’ll hit your skill ceiling pretty quickly, and you won’t be able to advance any farther. I tend to encourage people to start with a real miniquad like I did.

Except I didn’t start flying with a full-size miniquad. You could easily argue that my PH145 was an overweight, overgrown micro quad. It was heavy, so I wouldn’t notice a gentle breeze like I would in a real micro, but it was relatively safe and under-powered.

I’m officially changing my advice. Modern micro quads like the Leader 120 are fantastic. They feel more like a 5” racer than the KingKong 90GT ever could. I don’t see any problem starting your FPV journey with a 2.5” or 3” micro quad. It is a safe, inexpensive, and fun way to enter the hobby!

Final thoughts

The Leader 120 is an amazing piece of hardware, and its price point is nothing short of amazing. For $90, you get a surprisingly good micro CMOS camera, peppy and durable motors, durable props, and a fast, smooth flying experience. I have no idea how you can beat this combination of price and performance.

The Leader 120 isn’t perfect, but I didn’t expect perfection for $90. My only serious complaint about the Leader 120 is its 25mw VTX. As long as you’re in range, it works quite well. The Leader 120 may be tiny, but it is super fast—especially when using a 3S LiPo. It takes no time at all to reach the end of your reliable video range.

Leader 120 Micro FPV Racing Quad

In practice, that’s a minor complaint. The farther you fly, the harder it is to recover your quad when it crashes. The difficulty only increases when you’re flying a micro. Even freshly mowed grass is deep enough to almost completely conceal one of these tiny quads. Staying within a few hundred feet with a micro is a good idea anyway.

Do you fly a Leader 120 or one of the other Full Speed micro quads? Do you have a micro quad that you prefer? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

My Resignation from The Board of Directors at TheLab.ms

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Dear Board of Directors and Members of TheLab.ms,

I regret to inform you that I am resigning from my position as a Floating Board Member at TheLab.ms, effective immediately.

Eight months ago, I was honored and surprised to be elected to my position on the board by a popular vote of the membership of TheLab.ms. I had planned to privately deliver this letter to the Board of Directors, but the board didn’t elect me. I believe the people that elected me to this position deserve an explanation as to why I am leaving my post. You deserve an explanation for why I am letting you down.

Shortly after the start of the term, our Treasurer informed us that the organization was losing money, and losing money fast—we were told that our monthly income was barely more than half of what we required to pay for TheLab.ms’s operating expenses. This came as a surprise, because the previous Board of Directors had been telling everyone that the organization was right around the break-even point.

The dire financial news rallied leadership and membership at TheLab.ms, but that mobilization petered out during the holiday season. That’s when members of leadership began tendering their resignations: first the Treasurer, then the Education Coordinator, and eventually even our President. Each of these resignations increased the workload of the remaining members of leadership—a group of people that were already stretched extremely thin. It doesn’t help that the organization has had an absent Chief Technology Officer for the past six or seven months.

It feels like it is time to move on. The volunteer pool at TheLab.ms is getting smaller, and the work required to save the organization is growing. The work I’ve been putting in doesn’t seem to be making a big enough difference to justify my continued efforts.

I’d like to continue to contribute to TheLab.ms, but I won’t be putting in the sort of time you’re all used to. I will no longer be attending “Weekly Video Game Night.” I’ve been hosting or co-hosting six or more public events every single month for the past five months, and I don’t have the time or energy to continue.

I may have been foolish, but I wanted to lead by example. Why should I expect anyone to do something that I’m not willing to do myself? We haven’t found a better way to recruit new members into our community than hosting public events. I’ve been asking members of leadership and members of TheLab.ms to host events for years. I hoped they would follow my lead, but not many have. Not nearly enough.

At this time, TheLab.ms isn’t the makerspace that I hoped it could be. I hoped that after two or three years of work, we’d finally be in a position to start acquiring tools and equipment that someone like myself wouldn’t be able to have at home. We’ve had the laser cutter for almost a year now, and I thought it would be the first of many such pieces of equipment.

Unfortunately, we are struggling to keep the lights on. It will be a long time before we would be able to afford any equipment that I’d be interested in using. Much longer than I’m willing to wait, and getting to that point will require an investment of much more time and effort than I’m willing to provide.

I sincerely hope that everything goes well for TheLab.ms in the future, and I wish the next leadership team the best of luck in saving this sinking ship!

Pat Regan, former Board Member at TheLab.ms

Giving the Gift of an FPV Quadcopter

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Early in November, I decided that we should give our 13-year-old nephew, Caleb, a full FPV quadcopter setup for Christmas: a 5” racing drone, 6 batteries, a LiPo charger, FPV goggles, and a Taranis X9D+ transmitter. My wife was worried that we’d be spending too much on his Christmas gift, but I convinced her that it was an excellent idea.

BFight 210 at Oak Point Park

Cost is only one obstacle, though. Flying FPV racing quads can be an inexpensive hobby. I always compare it to golfing. My driver cost more than you would have to pay for a full set of entry-level FPV quadcopter gear. We bought him a better-than-entry-level transmitter, so our whole setup did end up costing more than a driver, but I think we did alright!

I had other worries

Racing quads are not toys. The relatively inexpensive BFight 210 quad we got for Caleb is easily capable of reaching speeds in excess of 80 miles per hour. It is most definitely not a toy. A crash could easily smash through somebody’s windshield or send someone straight to the hospital. Safety is paramount.

I often tell people that we spend as much time building and repairing drones as we spend flying them. There’s some hyperbole in that statement, but it helps drive home the message that you need to enjoy working on electronics if you’re going to have a good time flying FPV racing quads. If you don’t think you’ll enjoy spending an hour soldering replacement parts onto your quadcopter when you get home, this hobby might not be for you.

Even ignoring the hardware and soldering, there is a steep learning curve involved in configuring all the software. Binding a new drone to your Taranis radio has proven to be problematic for new pilots, and that’s the first and simplest step in that process. Many have trouble configuring Betaflight correctly as well. Betaflight is the software that runs on your quadcopter’s flight controller.

We’re constantly running into people that are inches away from being able to fly their new quadcopter, but they’ve missed one or two minor configuration details along the way. Even if they’ve managed to get their new quadcopter in the air, they might have missed an important configuration detail that ends up making their quadcopter fly poorly. It is a complicated hobby, and everything goes more smoothly if you have help!

Someone needs to know what they’re doing!

If the recipient of your gift has to learn everything the first day, they’re going to be in trouble! I did most of the difficult work before we gift-wrapped all the hardware.

I mapped some switches to communication channels on Caleb’s Taranis X9D Plus radio and configured it to communicate with the quad. I configured Betaflight and mapped all the important modes to appropriate switches. I picked a channel on his VTX and tuned his goggles into the correct channel. I also put the props on correctly and took it out for a quick test flight.

These are all things that he will eventually need to learn how to do. If he had to spend hours working on all this stuff before he got flying, I think he would have been disappointed. If he didn’t do a good job setting all this stuff up, his early flight experiences may have been poor.

The simulator is invaluable

Caleb and his family flew into town on Christmas day. As soon as he was done opening his presents, I plugged his Taranis X9D Plus into my laptop, fired up Liftoff, and him and his father practiced flying for about an hour.

It was raining the next day, so we couldn’t go out flying. I put them both on the simulator again, and I had them practice exactly what they needed to be doing their first day out at the park. I wanted them to get up in the air—not too high, but not so close to the ground that they’d accidentally wreck. Then I had them make big circles around the map and come home for a landing.

The next day, we repeated that exercise, but this time we did it with a real quadcopter! We went out and they flew laps around a big open field. They did a fantastic job, too. Most of my friends learned to fly without a simulator, and we didn’t do nearly as well on our first flights!

That same day, Caleb watched me fly my quad through a drone gate several times. He wanted to learn how to do that, too. When we got home, I fired up Liftoff and loaded a race with lots of drone gates. Caleb and his father practiced flying through the drone gates for about an hour.

The next day, we went back to the same park and I set up one of my drone gates—a pop-up soccer goal with the net cut out. It is much smaller than the gates in the simulator, but Caleb did a fantastic job flying through it. I was amazed! It probably took me a month before I managed to fly well enough to do that!

He did a better job hitting the drone gates on his first battery, though. He was flying slow and smooth. The more successful he was, the faster he would attempt to go, and his successes then became fewer and fewer. He was mostly doing the right thing, because it is important to push your abilities a little past your comfort zone. You have to find a balance between crashing and flying. Flying is more fun than walking to recover your crashed drone!

The list of gear

You need a lot of hardware to get flying. I’m going to type up a list of the things we gave Caleb to get him started. I cheated a little. The only things I had to buy were the BFight 210 drone, the Taranis X9D+ radio, and a FrSky XM+ receiver. The rest was all stuff that I already had around the house.

Total: $460

Battery total: $180

We gave him a lot of gear. I fly higher-quality 1500 mAh batteries now, and I have more of them than I want to carry. I wound up giving Caleb all my old 1300 mAh packs. It is more batteries than he’ll need, especially with the long flight times of the BFight 210.

Since I upgraded to a much better bag, I also sent him home with my old tactical backpack.

The BFight 210 FPV Racing Quad

Back in October, my friends at Gearbest sent me a BFight 210 to review. It is an awesome 5” racing quad for the price. It isn’t perfect—no $140 racing quad will be perfect. Its problems are mostly minor.

The FrSky or Spektrum compatible receivers that ship with the bind and fly models don’t work all that well. I’d highly recommend using your own receiver. I use a FrSky R-XSR receiver in mine, and I used a FrSky XM+ in Caleb’s BFight 210.

Broken Arm On My BFight 210

My biggest complaint about the BFight 210 is that the frame is somewhat fragile. It is obvious that it is trying to imitate the lightweight Hyperlite FLOSS frame, and both the BFight and FLOSS have narrow arms. Thankfully, replacement arms or entire replacement frames are inexpensive.

My friend Brian and I regularly receive quadcopters from Gearbest for review. He’s gotten a pair of Furibee racing drones since I first reviewed the BFight 210. Both Furibee drones are better equipped than the BFight 210, but they don’t seem as solid and reliable.

But you got your BFight 210 for free! Can your opinion be trusted?

Shortly after my BFight 210 arrived, I went out to the park with my friend Brian. I let him fly it, and he ordered one for himself a few days later. Shortly after he ordered his, I ordered a BFight 210 for Caleb. Right around the same time, our friend Mike from TheLab.ms makerspace ordered one, too.

My Old Quadcopter Bag, Now Caleb's Bag

They’re all still airworthy. I did have a big crash, and I broke one of my BFight 210’s arms. I moved my BFight’s motors and electronics to an OwlRC Dragon frame, and it is all still flying well. I fly it every time I go to the park.

We are all pleased with the value of our BFight 210 racing quads!

Did I have to spend this much?

No, I didn’t, but just about the only place to save any money is on the radio. I chose the Taranis X9D Plus because it is my favorite radio, and it will be easier to provide tech support if his radio matches mine.

I could have saved $80 or so if I went with the Taranis Q X7. If you want to spend less, that’s the radio I would recommend. It is just as good as the X9D+ in almost every way. They both have the same range and channel count. You can plug either into your computer’s USB port to use them with a simulator such as Liftoff.

The Taranis X9D Plus comes with a battery and charger. The Taranis Q X7 requires a bunch of AA batteries or compatible battery module.

Quadcopter Flying Gear Spread Out On A Picnic Table

The least expensive radio worth buying is the FlySky FS-i6. It doesn’t feel as nice as the Taranis radios, and it doesn’t have as much range, but it is more than enough radio for a beginner. The FlySky FS-i6 and receiver combo only costs $50. That would bring the total cost down under $300 before batteries!

NOTE: Almost all quadcopter pilots in the US use Mode 2 transmitters. Mode 2 radios have the throttle control on the left stick. Most transmitters are available in either Mode 1 or Mode 2. Make sure you choose Mode 2!

This still sounds like a lot of money

Everyone keeps telling me that flying drones is an inexpensive hobby. It is one of the cheapest hobbies I’ve ever been involved in, but I can’t seem to stop spending money! It certainly can be an inexpensive hobby, but I keep buying and building more quadcopters.

I always go back to the comparison with golfing, even though I haven’t played in years. There’s a reasonably priced golf course a few miles down the road from me. Depending on the time of day, it would cost me $20 to $40 to play a round of golf. I’m not very good, so I’d expect to lose a few dollars’ worth of golf balls.

Once you’ve bought your quadcopter and other related equipment, it doesn’t cost anything to fly. I usually need to replace a prop or two every time I go flying, but props cost less than golf balls.

You can use the same batteries, charger, goggles, and transmitter with a whole fleet of racing quads.

BFight 210 Components on my OwlRC Dragon DSX-5 Frame

Every now and then, you will have a more serious crash. You might break a motor, ESC, or frame. Replacement parts usually cost less than $20. You can get an extremely durable OwlRC Dragon frame for less than $60.

This does sound reasonable. How many batteries do I need?

Depending on how powerful and efficient your quadcopter is, each 1300 to 1500 mAh 4S LiPo battery will keep you flying for up to 10 minutes or even as little as 3 minutes. If I’m heavy on the throttle, I could burn through an entire 1500 mAh battery on my most powerful quad in under 3 minutes. If I’m just cruising around, I can get just over 11 minutes of flight out of my BFight 210.

Most of the time, you’ll have flights somewhere in between those times. Five-to-six-minute flights are very common, unless you’re carrying the extra weight of a GoPro action cam.

One battery is definitely not enough, but how many do you really need? I wouldn’t recommend carrying fewer than four batteries. It is very difficult to spend all your time flying, so that ought to be enough to spend 30 or 40 minutes at the park—especially if you bring a friend.

Four batteries is probably enough, but having more is even better!

What if this is too expensive? What if I don’t trust my kid with something this powerful?

A proper FPV racing setup is expensive, especially if you’re not sure that the recipient of this wonderful gift will maintain an interest in the hobby. Maybe they’ll have trouble learning to fly. Maybe they’ll have a big crash and be unable to repair the quad. Maybe they’ll just have trouble taking regular trips to a safe location for such a fast and dangerous piece of equipment.

There are ways to get into the hobby without breaking the bank. One of the best options is the Eachine Q90C Flyingfrog bundle. I haven’t tried the Flyingfrog yet, but I just ordered one. It is available with or without goggles. Make sure you choose the correct one!

It is a brushed micro FPV drone—an overgrown Tiny Whoop—that comes with a radio, goggles, and one battery. Add some spare batteries to your order, and you’ll have a complete FPV racing setup for around $100.

I think it is a great value, but you get exactly what you pay for. The drone uses brushed motors, and they start to lose their pep after 30 or 40 flights. At least brushed motors are cheap!

The radio that comes with the Flyingfrog is far from the best, but it is as close as you’ll get to a real radio at this price point. There are some other FPV bundles available, but the radio that comes in the Flyingfrog kit can be plugged into a computer and works with all the popular simulators.

The goggles that come with the kit may be rather low-end, but they’re also the only part of the kit that you’ll be able to take with you on your progression into more advanced FPV racing gear. They’ll work with any standard FPV racing drone, including the BFight 210 that I bought for our nephew.

Is it scary handing the controls over to a 13-year-old?!

It was absolutely terrifying! I’m nervous every time we help an adult fly a racing quad for the first time. Are they going to hit a car in the parking lot? Are they going to slice their finger open? Will they get their drone stuck in a tree? Are they going to fly out into traffic and cause an accident?

I recently published a collection of tips for beginner FPV quadcopter pilots. They’re definitely worth reading over if you’re concerned about the potential pitfalls of this hobby!

These are the questions that keep going through my head, and those worries are only amplified when the new pilot isn’t an adult. This time, though, I was using the trainer mode on our Taranis radios. I had my radio plugged into Caleb’s radio, and I could take over at the first sign of danger.

ThinkTank Airport FPV Helipak at the Park

I knew Caleb was going to be in town for a week, and I didn’t want to send him home with an 80 MPH guided projectile unless both he and his father could safely fly around our big, open park.

It only took about thirty seconds of flight time before my worries faded away. I knew I wasn’t going to have to take control. I knew I wouldn’t need to plug my trainer into his radio for his second battery.

Everything went fine. Caleb’s time in the simulator paid off. He could have gone home right then, and I wouldn’t have worried about him and his quadcopter. I’m happy that we had another day of flying before he left, though!

The simulator will fail to teach you the most important lesson

When you’re flying in the simulator, you just fly until you crash. When you crash, the game resets itself, and you start flying again.

In real life, you will have an arming switch on your transmitter. You have to arm your quad before you start flying, and disarm it again when you’re finished. This isn’t required in the simulator.

That switch is by far the most important control on your quadcopter. If you’re about to enter a dangerous situation, that’s the switch you want to flip. It will turn off all the motors, and gravity will quickly intervene and bring your quadcopter to the ground.

You need to be able to flip this switch without thinking about it. If you hit a tree, and your quadcopter starts flying in the direction of people, you should immediately disarm. If you’re heading towards the road, you should disarm. Any time you don’t feel in control, you should disarm.

Since he didn’t get to practice this in the simulator, I was worried that Caleb wouldn’t learn this instinct quickly enough. I must have drilled it into his head quite a bit, though, because he was very good at disarming whenever he bumped into the drone gate.

As you get more skilled, you won’t need to disarm in as many situations. It is better to have a broken prop or quad than a broken car or person!

It is a fun and inexpensive hobby to share

I know I keep talking about how inexpensive this hobby is. For me, it has been anything but. Buying into the hobby is the most expensive hurdle. The expensive parts aren’t even the ones flying through the air, which is awesome.

No individual part of a quadcopter like the BFight 210 costs more than about $30, and most components are under $15. A day of flying is usually cheaper than going to the driving range or an arcade. Do kids still go to arcades? We had a good time taking Caleb to the Free Play Arcade when he was in town, so I’m going to assume that they do!

Flying quads is much more fun with a friend. When we go flying, we usually take turns in the air. Flying batteries back-to-back is tiresome. Caleb’s father is going to have just as much fun flying as Caleb, and I won’t be surprised if they take turns flying.

If you’re buying this sort of setup for a kid, they’re going to need some sort of support system. They’ll need someone to keep an eye on their activities, and they’ll need someone to help when things to wrong. Flying alone is a terrible idea, and the FAA says it is against the rules.

If you’re like me, and you’re an uncle buying this setup for your nephew, then you probably know that you aren’t just giving your nephew a fun, exciting gift. You’re giving both your nephew and his father an awesome gift, and you’re also giving his father some extra responsibilities! Make sure his parents are ready, willing, and able to take on that responsibility.

If you’re a parent interested in getting your kids into FPV quads, I think that’s awesome! Especially if you’re interested in the hobby as well.

What’s the right age to start flying FPV?

I am not a parent, and I don’t know much about kids. I’m probably the wrong person to answer that question. Caleb is 13, and he is old enough. I imagine you can get away with even younger kids.

Toy packaging always has recommended ages. When I was young, all my favorite toys were labeled beyond my age. You know your kids better than I do, so use your best judgment. Can they be trusted handle an 80 mile per hour guided missile? That’s entirely up to you!

Final thoughts

The gear required to fly FPV is an awesome gift, but it isn’t for everyone. The hobby requires a big time investment, and the younger the recipient of that gift, the more help and guidance they will need from an adult. You need to remember that flying is only part of the hobby. They might have to spend almost as much time building and repairing quads as they do flying, and they may need a lot of assistance!

This is a great hobby for a parent and child to enjoy together. It is plenty of fun for adults, and it is a lot of fun for kids. Flying an FPV quad is a lot like playing a video game, except that it isn’t a game. You get to fly an actual aircraft in the real world. How amazing would that have been when you were a kid?

Do you fly FPV with your kids? If you do, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear about your experiences!

ThinkTank FPV Airport Helipak - Should You Spend $200 on a Drone Backpack?

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I spent $200 on a backpack for my quadcopters. Well, more accurately, my wife spent $200 on a backpack for my quadcopters. Is it a dumb idea? What was wrong with the old $13 tactical backpack? Wouldn’t it be way more fun to spend that $200 on another racing quad?

I just asked a lot of questions. I asked myself all these questions and more when I was shopping for a backpack upgrade, and I bet you’re asking these questions, too.

Most people shouldn’t spend $200 on a backpack

It was not a dumb idea. It has been one of the biggest upgrades to my flying experience—I’ll go into more detail shortly. There was nothing wrong with my $13 30-liter tactical backpack.

If you’re just starting out, don’t buy a $200 bag. Aside from some trouble with one of the zippers, my inexpensive tactical backpack from eBay is still working well. I passed it on to my nephew when we gave him a BFight 210 for Christmas. I’m sure he’ll get tons of use out of it.

My 30 Liter Tactical Drone Bag

I used that backpack for eight or nine months, and it served me well. I could cram a lot of stuff in and on the bag: a dozen batteries, an assortment of tools, lots of spare props, a couple of micro quads, and two or three 5” racing quads.

If you don’t currently have a solution for carrying your drones, you can’t go wrong with everyone’s favorite tactical backpack. It is extremely versatile, but I wouldn’t buy it again. The AmazonBasics DSLR backpack is better suited to carrying FPV quads and gear.

If you already have a backpack, and you’re happy with it, I think you should stick with your current solution. The best bag might be the one you already have. Spend your $200 on a Furibee Fire Dancer or BFight 210 instead!

What I was looking for in a quadcopter backpack

All the FPV content is on YouTube, so I end up watching lots of videos. When you watch these videos, you’ll see folks using these giant backpacks. When they open them up, all their gear is right there. All ready to be used.

With my tactical backpack, I had to unpack quite a few things before I could start flying. That unpacking takes about three minutes, and I end up having to spread my stuff out. I had to unstrap two quads, pull out my battery back, then pull out my Taranis case.

That sounds easy enough, but then I still have to unpack my Taranis and goggles from their case before I can even start powering things up.

Packing everything back up takes more time than unpacking.

My Quadcopter Stuff Sprawled Out On A Picnic Table

I wanted a backpack that I could set down on the ground next to my chair. Then I could just unzip it, open the flap, sit down, and start pulling things out as I need them. Everything should have a home in the bag, and I should be able to drop stuff back in its slot when I’m not using it.

There are three popular bags that seemed like they could meet my needs: the Lowepro QuadGuard BP X3, the BetaFlight Hive, or the ThinkTank FPV Airport Helipak. You already know which one I picked, so lets talk about why I eliminated the other two options.

Why not the Lowepro QuadGuard BP X3 or Betaflight Hive?

I had one major problem with both these bags. They expect you to strap your quads to the back of the bag. I think this is problematic, because when you open the backpack, the back becomes the bottom.

That means you might have to unstrap all your quads before you even get started. I really wanted to avoid that.

I like the Betaflight Hive’s dedicated compartment for your transmitter, but you’re out of luck if you use a Spektrum radio.

The Betaflight Hive has a really cool tool holder that pops out of the bag. This looks like a nice touch. Unfortunately, they used several rows of elastic straps, and everyone seems to think it is a pain to get your tools back into the straps.

I don’t like the Lowepro BP X3’s solution to transmitter storage. It is well thought out, but you end up storing your quadcopters on top of your transmitter. That means you have to take your quads out of the bag to get to the transmitter.

This made me realize what my goal actually is. I want to avoid having my gear in a last-in, first-out situation.

With my old tactical backpack, I had to unstrap my quads to get to my batteries, and I had to unload my batteries to get to my transmitter.

The ThinkTank FPV Airport Helipak

The ThinkTank bag is as big as its name. It is ginourmous. It is so big that you can easily fit three 5” quads inside in the bag’s default configuration. In fact, I was able to fit every single thing that was inside or strapped on my tactical backpack inside the Airport Helipak and I still had room to spare!

My ThinkTank FPV Airport Helipak Hanging On My Door

As its name implies, the ThinkTank Airport FPV Helipak just barely fits under the size limit for carry-on bags. I must admit that I only checked the airlines that I’m likely to use. It will be allowed on United or American Airlines flights, and Southwest allows even bigger carry-on bags. I assume this is the reason the word Airport is included in this bag’s long name.

This bag works differently than the Lowepro X3 or Betaflight Hive. The Helipak opens like a normal backpack. There’s plenty of room to strap two or three quads to the back of the Helipak. You’ll have to come up with your own solution for attaching them—I use loops of bungie cord.

I thought it would be a bad idea to strap quads to the back, since they’d get in the way when you want to open the bag. I have gone out to the field with one quad strapped to the back, and it isn’t a problem. You can open the bag with the quad still attached. It would be difficult to run out of room for quads in this bag!

What fits inside?

An exhaustive list of every item in my bag would be long and uninteresting. Here’s the important stuff that I’m currently carrying.

The ThinkTank bag has a tripod strap on each side. It seems to be the same design that they use on their camera bags. I have a tripod with a FauxPro action cam on one side, and I have my 4” racing drone on the other. The 4” drone would fit in the stack of quads on the inside, but I rarely fly it, so I didn’t want it to be in the way.

My ThinkTank Backpack Loaded With Stuff

As you can see from the photo, almost all of this gear is easily accessible. You never have to pull one item out to get to another. The Taranis X9D Plus fits on its side. One of the compartments will fit four rows of 3 batteries, and it is tall enough to make that stack two batteries tall. I’m excited that I can fit 24 batteries in here without reconfiguring anything!

Everything is quickly accessible except for the quads. The drones are stacked on top of each other, so if you want to fly the quad on the bottom, you need to take all the others out. If I have a complaint about this bag, this is it. Thankfully, it is a very minor complaint and it rarely impacts my flying.

I make sure my quads are stacked in the correct order. The one I want to fly is on top, and my worst backup quad goes on the bottom. This seems to be a reasonable arrangement.

The only thing that goofs this up is the 6” quad. With my configuration, the props don’t actually fit in the slot I have for my drones. The frame fits, though, and the Hyperlite Floss 2 frame isn’t much taller than the props. I just stick the 6” on top with the props sticking out past the dividers. This works well, but I always have to pull this drone out of the bag.

What’s in the lid?

There is another zippered compartment on the lid. It has room for a 15.6” laptop, and there are a few small compartments in there.

I rarely bring a laptop out to the field, but I could see this being quite useful when traveling. I don’t like to keep important things in this compartment, because it is more difficult to access once the bag is already open. I tend to drop things on the inside of the lid when I’m flying to make sure I don’t lose them.

I made sure to put important tools that I use every day inside the main compartment. I put the tools that I only use once in a while, like my XT60 soldering iron, in the laptop compartment. So far, I’ve reattached and ESC wire on only two occasions.

What if I don’t want to put my quads inside the bag?!

I’m happy to carry my quads inside the bag. It keeps them out of the way, and they don’t get snagged on anything when you’re unloading your bag from the car. If that’s not your thing, or you just need to fit even more stuff inside your bag, the ThinkThank Helipak has you covered.

Each side of the bag has a pouch on the bottom and a strap on the top. These are made for carrying tripods—it is obvious that ThinkTank is a camera bag company! I have no trouble using these straps to carry extra 5” or 6” quads. In fact, I carry a 4” quad using one of these straps.

There’s also a series of loops running down each side of the back of the bag. I needed to carry an extra BFight 210 to the field one day, and I was out of room everywhere else. I tied some short lengths of ¼” Bungie cord loops to the top pair of fittings, and I was able to hook one motor into each loop.

ThinkTank FPV Airport Helipak with a 6 Inch Quad

In a pinch, I think I would be willing to pack three quads on the back and one on either side of the bag.

I was worried about carrying drones on the back of the bag. In my opinion, the biggest drawback to the Lowepro QuadGuard and Betaflight Hive is how the back of the bag becomes the bottom of the bag when you have to open the lid. That means you have to remove all your quads from the back before opening it.

Wouldn’t you have the same problem with the ThinkTank Helipak? Even though the back is the lid, won’t you still have to remove all the quads to comfortably open the bag?

To my surprise, I didn’t have to. I just flopped the bag open, and the BFight 210 was resting comfortably on the ground. I didn’t have to worry about it, because the whole weight of the backpack wasn’t resting on the quad.

Some nice touches

ThinkTank did a great job designing a backpack with the FPV quad pilot in mind. The internal compartments are quite configurable. I took two dividers out, but I left everything set up very much like it came from the factory.

I moved some of the dividers to make some of the compartments have a snug fit, and I made the compartment for the quadcopters a little bigger. My pair of stretch-x OwlRC Dragon frames were a little long for the stock configuration. The props rub a bit on the way in, but it doesn’t take much wiggling to get them in place.

How Did This Get Here?

The entire top half of the bag has elastic tool holders all around the sides and the floor, and all of the larger removable panels have the same elastic tool holders as well. I have all sorts of wrenches, drivers, and antennas stuck in those holders. ThinkTank has done a fantastic job at making sure I’m not wasting any space.

Velcro is your friend

The rough, hook side of Velcro sticks to the inside of camera bags. This should be obvious, because all of these big FPV backpacks are just overgrown camera bags, and all their dividers connect using Velcro.

If you want to stick something to the side, all you need is some stick-back Velcro tape. So far, I only have a couple of battery checkers stuck to the wall of my battery compartment. I’m sure there are other neat things I could be sticking to the walls.

Cheaper alternatives

I’ve been quite happy with my $13 tactical backpack from eBay. I kept my Fat Sharks and Taranis X9D in a Turnigy transmitter case, and that Turnigy case just barely squeezed into the big compartment of the backpack. There is plenty of room left over at the top of the compartment for a big battery bag. There are tons of places to strap drones to the outside, and plenty of pockets left over for props and micro drones.

My Turnigy Goggle and Transmitter Case

Now that I’ve experienced the ThinkTank FPV Helipak, I wanted to find a better budget bag. Something that provides many of the same features, but at a fraction of the price. I think I’ve found that bag.

My favorite alternative is the AmazonBasics DSLR backpack. It is priced at $27 with 2-day Prime shipping. That’s about what I paid for my cheaply made tactical backpack and Turnigy radio case, but it does the job of both!

The AmazonBasics backpack probably achieves 80 percent of my goals at around 15 percent of the price of the ThinkTank FPV Airport Helipak. The AmazonBasics bag is much smaller than the $200 bags, so I wouldn’t be able to carry nearly as much gear, but it is a very capable bag for the price.

AmazonBasics DSLR Backpack As A Drone Bag

You won’t be able to fit any quads inside the AmazonBasics backpack, but that’s true of most of the purpose-built FPV backpacks as well. Strapping two 5” quads to this backpack was easy. I tied one into the elastic webbing on the back and a second into one of the tripod straps on the side. You could probably squeeze one more quad into the webbing and another into the second tripod strap, but I think that would be pushing the limits.

You can still lay the bag next to your chair, open the lid, and have quick and easy access to your transmitter, goggles, batteries, and tools. My goal with the ThinkTank bag was to avoid the last-in-first-out situation as much as possible, and the AmazonBasics DSLR backpack manages that for your most important gear.

AmazonBasics DSLR Backpack As A Drone Bag

The DSLR backpack has a second compartment that’s large enough to hold a small laptop. It fits my 12” Chuwi 2-in-1 tablet just fine. You won’t fit a 15” laptop in there, though. I’d probably skip the laptop and stuff that compartment full of spare props!

Watch out! There is a larger AmazonBasics DSLR and Laptop backpack. It may be bigger, but it doesn’t have the bungie cord strap woven through the back, and that is one of the best features of the smaller bag.

Is a $200 backpack worth the money?

All my hopes were confirmed the first time I took my new ThinkTank bag out to the field. It used to take me three or four minutes just to get set up. I had to unstrap quads from my bag, pull out my battery bag, and then pull out and unzip my Turnigy case.

I’ve never managed to be up and flying as fast as I am with the ThinkTank bag. I just put down the bag, open the main compartment, and I pull things out as I need them. I don’t have to waste time attaching antennas to my goggles. I don’t have to unpack my transmitter from a diaper. I just pick up what I need and start flying.

My Stuff Sprawled Out On A Picnic Table

Packing up is much faster, too. I’m starting to get into the habit of putting things back in their place when I finish using them. The transmitter and goggles don’t land perfectly in their compartments between flights, but they’re close.

When I’m finished flying my last battery, I’m already nearly packed up. I just have to do a bit of tidying and close the zipper. In fact, I’m usually throwing my ThinkTank backpack in the car while I’m watching everyone else spend time doing exactly what I used to have to do.

My ThinkTank Helipak In The Field

If I can save five minutes on packing and unpacking each time I fly, and I manage to get out flying once a week, that will be a savings of more than four hours every year. I imagine I’d save almost as much time using the AmazonBasics DSLR backpack. Is four hours of your time worth $27 to you? Is it worth $200? Four hours per year is worth $200 to me, and I expect to fly way more often than just once per week!

The sun is currently setting at around 5:30 p.m. Sunset has been our enemy lately. Being able to fly one more battery before sunset or before it starts raining is valuable.

The verdict

The best drone bag is the one you already have. If you’re mostly happy with what you have, then you should absolutely keep using it. For most of you reading this, your $200 is better spent on a better transmitter, an FPV goggle upgrade, or another racing quad.

Maybe you’re new to the hobby, and you don’t have a bag. You have a racing quad, a set of box goggles, and you’re using a Flysky i6 transmitter. A $200 backpack is probably not an upgrade that will give you the most enjoyment. You can’t go wrong with the $27 AmazonBasics DSLR backpack. You will eventually outgrow it, but it will take a you a long way!

When should you buy a bag like the ThinkTank FPV Airport Helipak? Have you run out of gear to upgrade? Do you already have Fat Shark goggles, a Taranis transmitter, and more racing quads than you have time to fly? Is your free time limited enough that you value five or ten minutes saved in the field and at home?

If your answer to those questions is yes, then I highly recommend the ThinkTank FPV Airport Helipak. It is one of the best upgrades I’ve ever made to my overall flying experience.

The BFight 210 is Awesome and the Demise of My Shuriken X1

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Not long after publishing my first blog post about my BFight 210, my favorite quad died. I was flying the Holybro Shuriken X1 at the park. I noticed I had some spectators on the sidewalk, so I decided to fly more spiritedly.

You’re thinking that I was pushing myself too hard. You’re thinking that I was going too fast, couldn’t hit a gap, and I smashed into something. This is exactly how I thought the Shuriken X1 would meet its end.

BFight 210 on an OWLRC Dragon DSX5 frame

That isn’t the case. I suddenly lost video, and my Shuriken X1 just fell from the sky. The problem was obvious on a quick inspection. A component had been knocked loose on the board. I didn’t learn until later that night that it was an inductor.

It must have been hit in an earlier flight, and the constant vibrations finally broke the connection. It should be an easy fix, but I figured it was time to upgrade. The Shuriken X1 uses a single, oddly shaped circuit board for its flight controller, power distribution, and VTX.

I ordered an OWLRC Dragon frame, a Holybro Kakute F4 flight controller with integrated PDB, and an AtlAtl VTX. The plan was to pair these new components with the Shuriken X1’s 30a ESCs and its powerful Tiger Motor F40 II motors.

More importantly, this forced me to fly the BFight 210, and I flew it a lot!

Four weeks with the BFight 210

The BFight 210 is a fantastic machine for the price. It has some minor issues, but those problems were easy to mitigate.

  • The FrSky compatible receiver has a short antenna
  • VTX remote control interferes with SBUS—cut the white VTX wire!
  • VTX works better with a capacitor

Something I didn’t mention in my first blog post is that the video signal on the BFight 210 isn’t the best. I assumed it was just because I was using the sleeved dipole antenna that came with the drone, but switching to a circular polarized antenna didn’t clear up all the issues.

I decided to solder a 25V 1000uf Nichicon capacitor to the point where the XT60 cable meets the circuit board. The improvement to the video signal is significant. These capacitors cost less than a dollar, and I will definitely be adding one to all my drones!

The BFight 210 is light and fun. I’ve been throwing it all over the local parks. S-turning over trees, power looping trees, but mostly I’ve been practicing my low-to-the-ground flying. I’m getting a lot better at hitting gaps and openings in tree branches.

The biggest surprise for me is how efficient the BFight 210 is. When I’m cruising around low to the ground trying to hit gaps, it isn’t uncommon for me to get more than ten minutes out of a battery. The batteries come back with about 3.75v per cell. I’ve even had a couple of batteries last more than eleven minutes!

I let my friend Brian take the BFight for a spin. He ordered one for himself the next day. I also ordered one for a Christmas present. It flies smooth, and has more than enough power for a beginner.

I broke an arm

I’ve been worried about the BFight 210’s ultralight-style frame. The frame weighs 60 grams. The arms are narrow, and they’re only 4mm thick. Mine has taken a beating, but I finally lost an arm.

BFight 210 with a broken arm

BFight 210 frames cost less than $35. That gets you four extra arms and a bunch of extra standoffs and screws. I thought about buying another BFight frame, but I decided against it.

I ended up ordering another OWLRC Dragon frame, even though the first one hadn’t arrived yet. I’m going to include my three spare arms with my BFight 210 Christmas gift!

The order of events

It would have been nice if the BFight 210’s arm lasted another couple of days. It would have been nice to hold an OWLRC Dragon frame in my hands before I ordered one for a BFight 210 upgrade. Here’s the way things went.

When I placed my order at ReadyMadeRC.com, the shipment from Banggood had yet to reach the United States. I chose Priority Mail shipping, so I expected the frame from ReadyMadeRC.com to arrive first, but it didn’t!

I decided that I wanted to have a 5” quad in the air quickly, so I decided to set the new flight controller aside and upgrade the BFight 210.

The BFight 228!

Transplanting the BFight 210 to the OWLRC frame was easy. I spent more time looking for missing tools and heat shrink tubing than I did working on the quad.

On my BFight 210, the motor wires were routed towards the center of the quad and soldered to the ESC from the inside edge. I knew I wouldn’t be able to route the same way, but they do have enough length to fit on the larger frame.

I didn’t have to solder. I just unscrewed everything from the old frame, and mounted it on the new frame.

The OWLRC Dragon is a 5mm frame—that’s 1mm thicker than the BFight 210. That means I couldn’t use the BFight 210’s 6mm motor screws, so I ordered a pack of 7mm M3 screws.

The OWLRC Dragon frame is a stretched frame, but it still bears quite a resemblance to the BFight 210 frame. It is about 30 grams heavier, but it is a lot sturdier.

How does it fly?

It is a bit heavier, but the BFight 228 flies great! It doesn’t feel slower, and it’s smooth and nimble.

Since my Shuriken X1 took its final voyage, I’ve been spending a lot of time flying the BFight 210 near the ground and in proximity to trees, and hitting gaps between branches. More specifically, I’ve spent a lot of time flying through and around a tree we affectionately refer to as “The Lady Tree.”

I’ve been trying to fly through the back of “The Lady Tree,”“ yaw around, and fly back through the way I came. I fail a lot. Sometimes I turn too far. Sometimes I can’t manage to fly low enough on the way back.

What happened the first time I made an attempt with the Dragon frame? I made a perfect pass. Thought, back around, and through again. No problem.

Did all my practice pay off? Does the Dragon frame handle better? I’m not certain, but I think it is a combination of both. I don’t remember having much luck pulling this off before breaking the BFight 210 frame. I’m confident that the new frame handles better!

The Furibee Fire Dancer 215

My friend Brian received his new Furibee drone the same day I was upgrading my BFight 210. It is a nice-looking drone, especially for the price—it is only about $30 or $40 more than the BFight 210!

As soon as I saw it, I said it looked like a BFight 210, but then I picked it up. The Furibee 215 feels a good bit heavier, and it should. The Furibee has bigger motors than the BFight 210, and the arms are 25% thicker—it should be harder to break than the Bfight 210!

I hope Brian lets me take it for a spin! It looks like it should be faster and sturdier than the BFight 210. Is it worth the extra money?

Brian didn’t let me fly his Furibee Fire Dancer!

A bunch of us went flying at the park over the weekend, and Brian didn’t let me fly his new drone!

In truth, I didn’t even think to ask. I had too many drones of my own to test out. I’d already put quite a few batteries through my BFight 210 upgrade a few days earlier, but I had only just finished my Shuriken X1 transplant less than 24 hours earlier. I haven’t flow my X1 in a month, and I was too excited about flying it again to think about much else!

I did get to watch the Furibee Fire Dancer GT 215, though, and it looks like an excellent quad for the price. It looks and sounds faster than the BFight 210, and the frame is a good bit sturdier. It doesn’t seem quite as fast as any of our Shuriken X1 drones, but they each have $100 worth of T-Motor motors—we’d have all been surprised if the Fire Dancer could match an X1!

My Shuriken X1 rebuild

I didn’t keep all that many parts from my Shuriken X1. Just the motors, ESCs, and the XT60 cable. These are the parts that went into my Shuriken X1 rebuild.

T-Motor F40 motors on an OWLRC Dragon

I’ve only had it out one day so far. I was in a hurry to get it up and running, and the only spare camera I had was my Runcam Micro Sparrow. I wanted to move the Eagle from my BFight 228, but for all I knew, this new quad wouldn’t fly right. We were meeting to fly in less than 12 hours, and I wanted to make sure I had a good, working quad to fly!

I managed to let the smoke out of one of the Shuriken X1’s ESCs. I used one of the 30a ESCs from my old Shuriken 180 Pro. It is physically smaller than the other ESCs, and I’m more than a little worried that it’s limiting the power of my quad. I’ll have to experiment to find out!

Smashed Runcam Sparrow Micro

I ended up smashing that poor Runcam Sparrow. I was power looping drone gates, and I ran into the side of a gate at high speed. My video immediately turned white.

I cracked the Runcam Micro’s plastic casing, and the lens was nowhere to be found. I also caused the gate to fly apart, and I pulled one of its stakes out of the ground. Judging by the sounds of the small audience we had in attendance, it must have been quite glorious!

My friend Brian Beverage got some great video of the crash, too!

Impressions of the OWLRC Dragon frame

Both of my drones are flying great with the Dragon frame. I’m using Betaflight’s new dynamic filter, and I am able to turn off both gyro notch filters without any ill effects.

I haven’t done any PID tuning yet. The stock Betaflight PIDs are flying all right. My snap rolls are making me believe my roll terms aren’t far off. Snap flips on the pitch axis feel a little off—I assume the stretch-x frame has a lot of leverage on the pitch axis.

It has been a way too windy for PID tuning this week, and I’m not yet running my favorite props anyway. The BFight 210 came with two sets of Gemfan 5152 props. I’ve been wanting to try them out, and my current stock of my favorite props are all pink. The black and clear Gemfan props were more photogenic!

I’ll have my pink Racekraft 5046TCS props on both quads next time I go flying. With any luck, there will be less wind, too!

Minor complaints about the OWLRC Dragon frame

Just like the BFight 210 frame, the OWLRC Dragon doesn’t provide much protection for your camera. It would be nice if the standoffs extended forward a bit more, but it isn’t a deal-breaker for me.

I wouldn’t mind having more room inside the frame. I have a lot of empty space behind my flight controller, but there’s only just barely enough room for the camera up front. I wouldn’t complain if the central pod was moved forward a bit. That’d open up some space in front and allow for more protection of the camera.

I don't like top mounted antennas!

The tolerances are tight. I have two frames here, and each frame has two side panels. The tabs on one of those four panels didn’t want to fit into the top and bottom plates. The other three are quite snug, but they fit fine.

After finally getting it into place, and reassembling my drone a couple of times, that tight plate isn’t a problem.

Conclusion

You have a BFight 210. You broke an arm. Should you buy a fresh BFight 210 frame for $35?

I don’t think you should. I think it is a great excuse to upgrade your frame. I’m happy with my choice of the OWLRC Dragon frame, but there are other good choices.

Brian’s Furibee Fire Dancer uses a clone of the TransTEC Lightning frame. It looks like a great frame for less than $70. It is 10 or 12 grams lighter than the Dragon, but it feels quite sturdy to me!

It showed up too late for me, but KababFPV’s new Hyperlite Flowride looks like a great frame, and it is only $45. It weighs about the same as the Dragon, and it looks just as sturdy. I like the Flowride’s camera position. The camera and stack housing is shorter and narrower. I think that’s the way to go, but it will only fit micro size cameras. I’m not ready to give up my Runcam Eagle 2!

Tips For First Time FPV Quadcopter Pilots

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We’ve had three drone-building classes at TheLab.ms makerspace in Plano, TX. We built a different quad at each class: a big 450 mm quad, my small PH145 quad, and a standard 210mm FPV racing quad.

Shortly after each of those classes, at least one student has lost a quad or nearly lost a quad.

The first missing drone

After the first class, one of the 450 quads was being flown line of sight for the first time. It was the pilot’s first time flying, and it was a bit windy. The quad got too far away, and he couldn’t figure out which way it was going.

Our experienced pilot hadn’t arrived at the field yet, and no one knew what to do. We watched that drone turn into a dot out in the distance and then completely disappear. We’ve haven’t seen or heard about that drone again.

The second near-loss

One of our students finished the second drone build quite late. We took his PH145 out into TheLab.ms’s parking lot, and I hovered it around to make sure everything was functioning. The owner wanted to give it a try. It had more power than the Blade Nano he’d been practicing with, and he ended up parking the PH145 on the roof of our little strip mall.

It didn’t have an FPV camera set up yet, but it did land upright. I was able to pilot it back down to the ground.

Someone lost a PH145

One of the PH145 pilots was learning to FPV, and he was at a big, open park. It was one of the first times he was out flying FPV. It sounds like he was doing quite well, but he got too close to the ground.

Me And My PH145 Quadcopter

Bumping into the ground is common, and it usually isn’t a problem. He hit the ground, rolled 20’ or 30’ and ended up in a large pond. He was in the goggles, so he had no idea where it rolled in.

We nearly lost a LAB210 on build day

I was at the park, but I didn’t get to see any of this. I think Brian Moses was assisting two of the pilots that were flying line of sight while I was flying a quick battery in my Shuriken X1. I did hear some of it, though!

Brian Beverage was flying his brand new 5” racing quad line of sight for the first time at Oak Point Park. It is a huge park, and we were in a big open field. It is at least 1,200’ long and around 400’ wide.

TheLab.ms 210mm Racing Quad

Brian’s new drone was getting a little high up, and it was far enough away that it was just a dot in the sky—the dot of despair! They thought he was over the forested part of the park. It is too dense to walk through, and if he disarmed there, he probably would have gotten stuck in the top of a tree—a tree we couldn’t see!

Somehow, he managed to figure out his orientation and fly back. He was lucky. Brian Moses didn’t think we’d ever see that drone again.

The first missing LAB210 quad

I feel terrible about this one, and I need to accept some of the blame for this one. We had a drone flying meetup at a big, wide-open field about a week after the class where we built the 210mm racing drones. Brian Moses and I went out a bit early to set up some gates and fly a few packs—we figured we’d be instructing more than flying once everyone showed up.

But no one showed up. We flew until about an hour after the event was scheduled to start, then we started packing up. It was up near 90 degrees, I was out of water and batteries, and Brian and I were the only ones flying drones. It seemed like it was time to head out.

On the way out of the parking lot, I passed one of the new pilots from the class. I explained the situation. He said they were going to fly on their own. I figured they’d be fine.

They ended up flying in FPV for the first time. They flew quite high and rather far away. In their attempt to get back, they ended up over on the other side of the thick wall of trees and brush when they ran out of battery and their drone. There is a field over there, but it isn’t maintained. It is all tall, dense grass. You can’t see anything in there.

Tips for new FPV pilots

You’re a new FPV pilot. You want to be safe, and you don’t want to lose your drone. Here’s a list of tips for you.

There’s nothing new here. Brian and I say all of these things quite often, but there’s no guarantee that we’ve managed to say these things to every student. Compiling a list seemed like a good idea!

When in doubt, disarm

If you’re having any trouble, and you don’t know what to do, you should hit your disarm switch. Falling out of the sky is often your best option.

You don’t want your quad to get so far away that you’ll never find it. You don’t want your quad to crash into expensive property or people. It is much better to just fall out of the sky. You might break a prop. You might break a motor. Hopefully you won’t lose the whole drone!

At the angle I hit that tree, I was worried that I’d fly out directly towards the area where we were all sitting. I was moving my hand to flip the switch before I ever could have seen that.

Get some line of sight under your belt

I spent a month or two flying line of sight before I ever put on a pair of goggles. I flew the tiny Blade Nano QX around the house for a month, and then I flew my PH145 line of sight outside for two or three weeks.

You don’t have to become a line-of-sight master—I’ve gotten much worse at it! It is a good way to get a feel for the controls, and a great way to get a hang of controlling your throttle.

My Old Drone Bag

A lot of people are putting time into the simulators. Supposedly, that lets you skip the hours of learning line of sight, and you can skip directly to the first-person view.

I am certain that practicing in the simulator is a faster path to FPV proficiency, but observations tell me that you shouldn’t skip your line of sight practice completely.

Stay away from people, roads, and cars

Don’t hurt anyone. Don’t damage anyone’s property. Don’t scare people that are driving.

Be safe. Don’t ruin the hobby for everyone else. If you take out someone’s windshield, you’ll make things harder for the rest of us!

Always have a buddy

Always. Always have a buddy. When you’re in the goggles, you have a different perspective on the world. One tree often looks just like another. Your buddy should be watching your drone. He should tell you when you’re getting too far away or doing something dangerous. He should also be watching for unexpected pedestrians!

Always Have A Buddy

He’ll also be able to tell you where you crashed or disarmed. If he can’t, you’re flying too far away!

Altitude is your friend

If things get sketchy, it is almost always a good idea to gain altitude. It will give you time to recover. If there’s a more experienced pilot present, it may give you time to hand over the controls.

Too much altitude is scary

Altitude may be your friend, but too much altitude is scary. The FAA says you have to keep it under 400 feet. I prefer not to fly much more than twice as high as the trees—it is boring up there, and the higher up you are, the more difficult it is to safely get back to the ground.

In this video, you can see that I’m flying up above the trees, but as I’m coming back towards the ground there are trees on just about every side of my drone. I’ve been flying in FPV for eight months, and this still makes me nervous. If you went back six months, I probably couldn’t do this without hitting something.

Losing altitude is easy. Losing altitude and ending up where you want can be much more difficult!

Don’t fly FPV in angle or horizon mode

It is safest to keep moving forward when you’re flying in FPV. Angle and horizon modes work well if you want to hover in one place, but that’s how you bang into things in FPV. You might think you’re standing pretty still, but the breeze might be moving you backwards or sideways. You can only see in front of you.

Air mode or rate mode is a bit like driving with cruise control. You can tip your drone slightly forward, let go of the sticks, and the drone will maintain that angle of tilt. At that point it is just a matter of maintaining altitude with the throttle and steering with yaw.

Lots of new pilots argue with me about this. I even tried to fly FPV in horizon mode when I first started. It was a terrible idea then, and it is a terrible idea now.

Start small and work your way up

I spent dozens of hours learning to fly line of sight before I ever strapped a set of goggles on. Even then, flying FPV was difficult. I was extremely proud of myself when I managed to put the goggles on, take off, fly a slow lap around a big field, and make a rough landing 20 feet from where I was sitting.

You’re going to have enough failures doing the easy stuff, so don’t try the hard stuff first.

Push your skills

I know I said to start with the easy stuff, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t push yourself. I burned through more than a few batteries just learning how to circle the park at about 30’ or 40’. I was moving a little faster each time, and I was doing a better job of coming in for a landing.

I started working some rolls into my laps around the park. It took me quite a while to get comfortable with those, but I kept practicing.

My friend Alex encouraged me to learn to fly near the ground. For a long time, that meant flying six to ten feet from the ground. Then Alex made me go fly in a field full of trees. I didn’t think I could do it, but I managed. I crashed a lot, but I managed!

Some of our group took a different path. While I was learning to fly in proximity of trees and the ground, they were learning to do tricks up in the sky: loops, rolls, and split-Ses. I was more than a few months behind on learning to do a split-S!

Watch your batteries

Most of us are running 1,300 or 1,500 mAh 4S LiPo batteries on our 5” quads. If you drain them all the way, you’ll significantly shorten the life of your batteries.

I used to watch the mAh readout in my goggles, and I would start to fly home to land at around the 1,000 mAh mark. That was back when I used to fly rather slow, and it was a good plan at the time.

An Assortment of LiPo Batteries

These days, I only watch my voltage. When you’re hard on the throttle, you’ll see your voltage sag into the low 13 volt range. I don’t pay much attention to that. I watch my voltage when I’m cruising and maintaining just enough throttle to stay airborne.

When my cruising voltage drops to 14.5 to 14.7 volts, I know it is time to land. It won’t hurt if I go a little deeper, but by that time, you’ll notice your punch outs getting weaker.

VTX etiquette is important!

There is a limited amount of bandwidth available for our FPV video signals. If you power up your drone while I’m in the air, you run the risk of knocking out my video signal!

If you’re on the same channel as your friend, you will stomp all over their signal, and they will almost definitely crash. Even if you’re not on the same channel, your VTX may generate noise on their frequency as it is powering up. This is very common, and it will probably cause a brief drop out in your friend’s goggles.

title

My friends and I mostly do freestyle flying at parks. We’ve found that it is best to walk ten or twenty feet away from where the pilots are sitting before powering up your drone—the farther the better! It is especially important to not fire up your quad directly in front of another pilot’s directional antenna.

You’ll usually hear us saying things like, “Can I plug in?” or “Are you safe? Can I plug in?”

You don’t want to plug in while someone is about to hit a gap, or when they’re on course to get stuck in a tree!

We’ve been getting better at practicing our etiquette, and most of us have upgraded our equipment. When we were using cheap Eachine or Furibee goggles, we’d almost always see a tiny blip when our friend plugged in their drones—even if they were 20 feet away! I never see a blip in my Fat Sharks with my RX5808 diversity module.

Don’t be the last to show up and the first to leave

Setting up a track and putting up race gates is a lot of work. Taking them down and packing them up isn’t much fun, either!

Don’t be the guy that shows up after everything is set up and then leaves before its time to clean up. If you’re having fun flying the track, you should help tear it down.

People are understanding, and they won’t be upset if you only do this once in a while. Don’t make it a habit—people will notice!

Conclusion

Practice safe flying. Some of this may seem like common sense, but when you’re new at this, you might not realize how difficult flying a quadcopter in FPV can be!

Don’t put people or property in danger. Don’t scare anyone. Don’t be afraid to push yourself past your limits, but don’t push too far too fast. Find your limits first, then push past them a little at a time.

BFight 210

Learning takes time, but everyone I know seems to be making constant progress. They’re also enjoying themselves at every step on their journey. I had fun when I was flying line of sight. I had fun when I was lucky to circle around a big, empty field in FPV. I had fun when I could barely fly through a drone gate. I’m currently having just as much fun practicing s-turns and power loops over trees!

Don’t let it bother you if your friends are better pilots. They’ve probably have a lot more stick time than you, and you can get there with practice. They were at your skill level once, too, and they were still having a ton of fun flying!

Did I miss any important tips? Please leave a comment and let me know what I left out!

I Switched From A Spektrum DX6 To A Taranis X9D Plus Transmitter

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I started flying FPV quadcopters back in January. That was nearly ten months ago, and I was using a Spektrum DX6. My friend Brian bought a Spektrum transmitter last year to use with the 450mm quadcopter he was building. I didn’t build one of the 450mm quadcopters, but I kept saying that I’d kept saying I’d eventually build and FPV drone.

Brian must have gotten sick of waiting for me, because he bought me a Spektrum DX6 for Christmas. I’ve been using that transmitter until recently, and it has served me fairly well.

The Spektrum DX6 is user friendly, but it hasn’t been ideal. I didn’t have telemetry. I didn’t have any sort of RSSI feedback. And lately, I’ve been seeing more and more failsafes on my quad.

Switch to FrSky or buy new DSMX receivers?

All my drones have cheap DSMX receivers. Most of them worked well when they were new, but I’ve been having random problems during the last month or so. I figured I could solve my problem with new, name-brand receivers.

Spektrum DX6 and Taranis X9D Plus

There aren’t many people in the FPV racing or freestyle communities use Spektrum equipment. I checked out Le Drib’s YouTube channel. He flies with Spektrum gear, and he recommends a $40 receiver. I’m sure it is a fine receiver, but I would need at least three or four for them, and it looks too large to fit on my KingKong 90GT!

So I was staring at $150 to $200 worth of receivers, and wondering if they’d actually solve my problem. I didn’t like this idea.

I ended up spending a total of about $350 on a Taranis X9D+ and five tiny R-XSR FrSky receiver modules. I could have saved about $50 if I was patient, but I wanted these parts to arrive quickly, so I ordered them from Amazon with Prime shipping.

I could have saved $150 to $200 if I just bought nice receivers for my Spektrum radio. That may have fixed my problem, but it seemed like a lot of money to spend without getting a real upgrade.

The R-XSR modules are tiny, and I had no trouble fitting one on my KingKong 90GT. They also support telemetry. Six months ago, I would have thought telemetry was stupid—I can see everything I need in my goggles! I didn’t know that you can set your PIDs and VTX channel from your Taranis radio. For the Lua script to work, you need telemetry.

I also have a working RSSI readout, which is just amazing to me!

Why the Taranis X9D+? Why not the Taranis Q X7?

I don’t like the way the Taranis Q X7 feels in my hands. It is angular instead of rounded, and I feel like I have to reach farther for the switches.

The Taranis Q X7 is a fine radio. In fact, I’ve been recommending it to everyone participating in TheLab.ms’s FPV racing drone build. The price is great, it is every bit as capable as the Taranix X9D Plus, and you only need a USB cable to practice in the simulators.

The feel of the Taranis X9D+ was all the reason I needed to spend the extra $80. Since owning one, though, I’ve come up with some good reasons to skip the Taranis Q X7.

The Taranis Q X7 takes AA batteries. I’m not entirely against this. I have plenty of Amazon’s Eneloop clones. I have enough AA batteries that I can carry a spare set just in case the transmitter goes dead in the field.

The X9D+ comes with a battery pack and a built in charger. It lasts a long time, and I just need to remember to plug the radio into the wall after I go out flying a few times. A similar battery pack for the Q X7 will set you back about $20. That helps narrow the difference in price, and the Q X7 still won’t have a built in charger.

The Taranis X9D+ has a bigger, higher resolution display. I also prefer the 6-button interface over the QX 7’s wheel.

Why not the Taranis X9D+ Special Edition?

I have to say I was tempted. The Special Edition is a good value. It includes the hall-effect gimbals, a removable SMA antenna, and upgraded switches. If you’re into flashy accessories, the Taranis X9D Plus Special Edition is available in an assortment of colorful shells.

These are things I would enjoy having. Except for the bling. I don’t need the bling.

There were no Special Editions available at Amazon, and I was in a hurry. At any rate, replacing the gimbals and upgrading the antenna will make for good blog posts in the future!

You can’t go wrong with the [Taranis X9D+ Special Edition][xd9se]. I believe it is worth every penny. Don’t worry. If you buy a Taranis SE, I won’t be jealous for long. I will catch up to you in the near future!

R-XSR vs XM-PLUS

I’m told the XM-PLUS is a fine FrSky receiver, and it costs $10 less than the R-XSR. The XM-Plus doesn’t support telemetry, while the R-XSR does.

I was going to buy an XM-Plus for my KingKong 90GT. I don’t think it has a pin to connect the telemetry, and it doesn’t even have an OSD. I didn’t think there was much point in putting the R-XSR on there.

Brian talked me out of it. When my upgraded 90GT finally dies, I will likely replace it with something more modern, and I bet that replacement will support telemetry and have an OSD. Why buy an XM-Plus that I’ll never want to use on another drone?

The R-XSR is ridiculously tiny, supports telemetry, and it comes with a pair of diversity antennas. I chose the model with removable antennas—I’ve already broken two or three antennas in the past!

I’m a fan of Joshua Bardwell’s method of attaching antennas. He uses a zip tie and some heat shrink tubing to attach antennas to the quadcopters arms. The antennas on the R-XSR module were just long enough for me to accomplish this on both my Shuriken X1 and my BFight 210.

Taranis does what Spektrum don’t

I’ve only had the Taranis X9D+ for a few days, and I feel like I’m only scratching the surface of what it can do. These are some of the things I’m already doing with my Taranis X9D that I couldn’t do with my Spektrum DX6:

  • RSSI display in my goggles
  • RSSI display on my radio
  • audible RSSI warnings on my radio
  • Volume control knob on my radio
  • Custom WAV files
  • PID tuning on the radio’s display
  • 10 additional channels for less money

Two of those are stretching the truth. I have the PID tuning script on my Taranis X9D+, but I am a dope, and I didn’t hook up the telemetry wire on any of my drones, so I can’t actually use it. I plan to correct this situation soon!

I could have added custom audio to my Spektrum DX6, but it was a pain in the ass. You need to use some special utility from Spektrum to convert the files and manage your database of sounds. That software is for Windows, and I use Linux, so that wasn’t worth the effort for me. With the Taranis, you just need to copy a 16 KHz or 32KHz mono WAV file to an SD Card. It doesn’t get much simpler than that!

I keep mentioning the various RSSI displays. I couldn’t be more excited about this. If the Spektrum gave me an RSSI reading, I would have been able to better troubleshoot my connectivity issues.

Is Spektrum build quality better?

No. I’ve always been a little disappointed in my Spektrum DX6. Many of the switches were loose from the factory, and no matter how often I tighten the retaining nuts, they eventually start slipping again.

All the switches on the Taranis X9D Plus are rock solid. Why can’t Spektrum get this right? If I’m paying $30 or $40 more for ten fewer channels, the least they can do is tighten everything up before it leaves the factory!

I do have to give Spektrum credit for the beefy antenna housing on the DX6. It is a big, solid lump of plastic. There’s no way you’ll accidentally break that thing. I do hear that people often end up breaking the antenna on their Taranis X9D+ radios.

The Taranis antenna may be more fragile, but it gives you the option of aiming the antenna—the Spektrum DX6 antenna is fixed. When I had signal quality issues with the Spektrum DX6, the only thing I could do is reorient the radio in the hope that it would improve my situation.

Future upgrades

I say these are future upgrades, but I’m impatient, and I already ordered all these parts.

I’m matching two of the upgrades from the [Taranis X9D Plus SE][xd9se]: the M9 hall-effect gimbals and the removable antenna. I’m using an RP-SMA connector instead of SMA. Most 2.5 gHz Wi-Fi antennas are RP-SMA. They’re more readily available, and I have plenty of dipole 2.4 gHz RP-SMA antennas around the house.

I’m going to be missing out on the upgraded switches of the Special Edition, but I’m not too worried about that. I’ll also be running the plain, boring, stock Taranis X9D+ shell—I may decide to paint it! To make up for that, though, I’m adding putting in two additional mods.

The X9D+ has the electronics inside to support one more switch. I’ll be using the 6-position rotary switch. I have no idea what I’ll use it for, but it only costs $10, so I may as well add it while I have the case open!

I also ordered a larger speaker. It is supposed to make the audible alerts more clear. It is a cheap upgrade, and I’ll be in there anyway!

Conclusion

I’m extremely happy with my switch to the Taranis X9D Plus. The connection to my drone is more reliable and I finally have an RSSI readout in my goggles.

If you’re thinking about buying into the Spektrum ecosystem, I would strongly encourage you to look elsewhere. I’ve been telling myself things likes, “This is good enough,” and “This is almost as good as a Taranis!” for months. The Spektrum DX6 wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t as good as a Taranis.

Amazing FrSky receivers cost half as much as a good Spektrum receiver, and they’re super tiny.

I’ve easily matched all the functionality of my Spektrum DX6 and then some, and I’m only just scratching the surface. All my VTX modules are too old for this feature, but I’m looking forward to being able to configure my channel and transmit power from my Taranis. I’m also looking forward to learning just what OpenTX’s Lua scripting allows you to do—I can’t wait to write some Lua!

Choosing The Parts For TheLab.ms FPV Racing Drone Kit

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So far, we’ve had two successful drone building events at TheLab.ms makerspace. We built large 450mm quadcopters at the first class. They’re big enough to fly line of sight, and the components are large and easy to work with. They’re also big enough to carry a payload. That could be a camera on a gimbal, or it might be a smaller drone attached to a payload release mechanism!

At the second build class, we assembled copies of the PH145—my own 3D printed nylon quadcopter. It is a 145mm quadcopter with 3” propellers. It is a bit on the heavy side, and it pushes the limits of those small propellers. It is a sturdy little drone, and it was a great drone for learning to FPV. The heavy-duty prop guards help, because it bounces off obstacles and recovers well.

Brian and I decided that it was time to build a racing-style quadcopter.

UPDATE: We’ve built six or seven of these quads so far. Brian Beverage wrote about his experience build one of TheLab.ms’s FPV racing quadcopters.

Why a racing quad?

We’ve both learned a lot over the past year. Brian suggested that we do another build of the PH145, but I didn’t want to get on board with that. Components for a 5” quad are more readily available, and the prices are much better. A 5” racer is an improvement over the PH145 in almost every way. It will be more efficient, much faster, and it will cost $100 less to build.

We also thought about building another 450mm drone. The build process is easy, because everything is so big. They’re efficient, so it is easy to get a 10 to 15 minute flight time out of them. Those big props also allow for carrying a fairly sizable payload.

Racing quads are fun and cool. That alone is enough reason to build one. They aren’t as easy to assemble as the 450mm quads, but they’re not much trickier than the PH145.

A racing drone won’t have the payload capacity of a big 450mm drone, but I’m certain you could still attach one of Brian’s payload release mechanisms. It may not lift a liter of water as comfortably as Brian’s 450, but it should still be quite capable!

The bottom line is that a 5” racing quad is the most popular form factor. People want to fly them, and parts are easy to find!

Is it still a racing quad when you use budget parts?

I wanted to call this build “My First Racing Quad.” If you’re new to FPV quads, you’re going to crash, and you’re going to crash a lot. We wanted everyone’s initial investment into the hobby to be relatively low, and we wanted to make sure that repairs didn’t cost too much. Most of the parts in TheLab.ms’s quadcopter kit cost less than $10. The frame costs less than $20, and the flight controller is less than $25.

These budget parts are not as good as premium parts. The Tiger Motor F40-II motors on my Shuriken X1 are priced at around $25 each. They’re a bit smaller than the motors we chose for TheLab.ms’s build, but they are more powerful, more durable, and more efficient. Is it worth using premium motors on your first racing quad? I don’t feel that it is. I still can’t fully utilize all the thrust of my X1!

It may be difficult to win races with the cheap parts, but you can definitely participate. I’m not a racer. The flying I do would be considered freestyle or proximity flying. You don’t need ridiculous motors to have fun doing this! In fact, the purpose built freestyle quads tend to be heavier and use smaller motors.

When you’re just starting out, it doesn’t matter. You’re going to be breaking things, and you’re going to be happier replacing a $10 motor. I’ve broken lots of motors and a few cameras. You will, too!

The parts list

Stew from UAVFutures was a major influence on our parts list. I had already picked out motors, escs, and a flight controller. I believe I was narrowing down frame options when I remembered that Stew has an excellent $99 quadcopter build video. He chose a lot of the parts I had already picked out, so I used his video to finish out my list.

Stew used some extremely low end parts to fit his build into $99. I wanted our build to have an on-screen display, so we used a different flight controller. We also upgraded our camera, video transmitter, and motors.

The total cost for our parts from Banggood.com comes it at around $155. The kit we’re selling at TheLab.ms also includes a $22 battery. TheLab.ms is selling the kits for the class for $200.

I’m going to explain why we chose each part. I’m going to start with the motors and work my way in from there.

The simplified parts list

These are the parts we used. They were all acquired from Banggood.com.

Racerstar 2306S 2700KV motors

Stew’s build uses the Racerstar 2205 motors. These motors are common in budget racing drone builds. The 2205 motors were my first choice until I discovered Racerstar’s 2306S motors.

They’re bigger motors, and they don’t even cost $1.00 more. Bigger isn’t always better, so I did some research.

I’ve read a lot of bad things about Racerstar motors in general. I expected this, though, because they’re cheap and you get what you pay for. We bought than 40 of the 2306S motors. I’ll report back once we’ve used all of them.

I did see a video from Kabab FPV on YouTube. He seems to think the 2306 Racerstar motors are made from thicker or better aluminum than the 2205 Racerstar motors. He seems like a knowledgeable enough guy, so I’m taking his word for it.

TheLab.ms's LAB210 Racing Quad's Racerstar 2306S Brushless Motor

The Racerstar 2306S motors have a ridged protrusion on top that the 2205 lacks. I like this feature a lot. It should help keep the props locked in place.

I’ve already flown one of TheLab.ms’s racing quads, and I am pleased with the motors. They’re got a good amount of punch, and the drone feels smooth. I didn’t do any crazy freestyle flying, because the drone belongs to one of the members of our makerspace, and the rates are set much lower than I’m used to.

The Racerstar 2306S motors have more punch than I expected. They’re not as efficient as the T-Motor F40 motors on my Shuriken X1, but that was to be expected. TheLab.ms’s drone can fly gently for five or six minutes. If I fly my Shuriken X1 like that I can manage seven or eight minutes. I usually push the X1 hard enough that I only get three or four minutes out of a battery. I can’t wait to see how long TheLab.ms’s drone can stay in the air when we push it that hard!

I’m glad we chose the Racerstar 2306S. They’re working well, and they are huge. They look really mean!

Racerstar 20A ESCs

Stew’s build uses a 4-in-1 ESC module. I’m not a big fan of these. They require less soldering, and they’re easier to work with. The problem is that if you burn out one ESC, then you have to replace the entire module!

How often do ESCs burn out? I’m not sure, but two of my friends had to replace an ESC last month. Using four separate ESCs will keep the repair costs lower.

All budget ESCs are similar enough. We chose 20 amp ESCs, because our Holybro Shuriken X1 drones max out at less than 90 amps. That’s only 22 amps per motor, and we don’t expect the Racerstar motors can draw as much power. The highest we’ve seen so far on TheLab.ms’s drone is 65 amps, so the 20 amp ESCs should be plenty.

We definitely wanted to use ESCs that support DSHOT. DSHOT is a digital protocol that the flight controller uses to communicate with the ESCs. With the old analog protocols, you had to calibrate your ESCs. DSHOT eliminates this requirement, so there’s one less thing for new folks to have to deal with!

Omnibus Pro F3 flight controller

The Omnibus Pro F3 meets all our requirements and it is inexpensive. Most importantly, though, I used it recently in a build of my own, so we knew what to expect from it!

It has an integrated Betaflight OSD module. This is a seemingly minor but important upgrade over the MWOSD module most of us have been using. You can configure the Betaflight OSD from the Betaflight Configurator app, and the OSD has access to more settings than MWOSD.

TheLab.ms's LAB210 Racing Quad's OMNIBUS F3 Flight Controller

The Omnibus F3 Pro also includes a current sensing circuit. This allows the flight controller to monitor your amp draw and keep you appraised of how many mAh you’ve consumed—this is like the fuel gauge for your drone.

I’m excited that we get to have an OSD and current sensor on an F3 flight controller for only $22. I’m disappointed with how convoluted the wiring needs to be to support the current sensor. I probably should have found us a flight controller with an integrated PDB.

Power distribution board (PDB)

There’s not much to say about the PDB—they’re all boring and quite similar. We chose a PDB with a 5v and 12v regulators. It also has pads for distributing power to our ESCs.

The Lisam LS-210 carbon fiber frame

We picked an inexpensive frame with lots of room for components. The Lisam LS-210 frame is usually priced at $14 to $17 dollars. The frame is the piece of our build that I’m the least excited about.

It is a unibody frame. That means that when you break an arm, you have to replace the whole thing. Fortunately, the entire Lisam LS-210 frame costs about as much as a pair of arms for my Shuriken X1. Unfortunately, it’ll be more work when you have to repair an arm!

TheLab.ms's LAB210 Racing Quad

I am a fan of modern, compact frames. The Lisam LS-210 is a bigger, older style frame, but it is good for a first-time drone builder. There’s a lot more room in the middle of the frame, so you don’t have to work as hard to fit all your components!

We wanted a frame with a top mounted battery, and the Lisam LS-210 is a good fit for that. We’ve busted three or four batteries so far on our Shuriken X1 quads. You’re much more likely to hit the ground with the bottom of your drone, and when your battery is down there, it absorbs most of the impact. That’s not good for a beginner!

A 200mw video transmitter and a cheap but usable camera

Stew had to use a tiny camera and a low-power video transmitter to keep his build under $100. I have micro drones with similar cameras and VTX units, and I wouldn’t recommend anyone use those tiny, cheap parts unless they are building a micro drone!

I use a Runcam Eagle 2 on my racing quads. It is a fantastic camera, but its price tag is too high for a first-time build. We chose the Eachine 1000TVL CCD camera. They’re usually available for $10 or $12. I would be surprised if there’s actually a CCD sensor inside this camera.

NOTE: The above video was recorded earlier this year on my PH145 drone using the same Eachine 1000TVL FPV camera.

I’ve used several of these Eachine cameras. They’re not nearly as good as a $40 Runcam Eagle 2 or a $25 generic HS1177 CCD camera, but they’re definitely quite usable. I’ve smashed one of these directly into a tree at high speed, and I was pleased that the replacement camera only cost me $12!

We wanted to use a 200mw VTX module with a circular polarized antenna. There are dozens of different yet nearly identical VTX modules available from Banggood.com. I don’t recall precisely why we chose this particular module, but it seems to work well enough.

1500 mAh 4S Infinity graphene LiPo battery

We are including a battery with each racing quadcopter kit. We chose the 1500 mAh Infinity graphene battery from Banggood.

The 1300 mAh version of this battery was one of the first drone batteries I ever bought. I’ve tried other, more expensive brands, but I’ve been slowly phasing those out. Every 4S LiPo that I carry in my drone bag is now an Infinity graphene battery. I have a mixture of standard and race version of the 1300 and 1500 mAh batteries.

I’m definitely a fan of these batteries. They don’t sag as much or as quickly as the more expensive batteries that I used to use. When I’m running Racekraft 5040 propellers, my $30 Venom 75C 1300 mAh would trigger a low-voltage warning on my Shuriken X1 on full throttle punch outs almost immediately after take off.

The $20 Infinity Graphene 1300 or 1500 mAh won’t trip the low-voltage warning until I’ve flown enough to consumed 600 to 800 mAh. In my opinion, these batteries are a fantastic value!

Kingkong 5040 Tri-Blade Props

We ordered a whole mess of Kingkong 5040 props from Banggood. They seem quite durable, and they’re quite inexpensive.

People are extremely opinionated about props. I’ve heard good things about these Kingkong props, and they seem like a great starter prop.

I buy all my props from Amazon—I don’t plan ahead well enough to wait for props to arrive from China! I run Racekraft 5051 props, and they cost almost three times as much from Amazon, but they usually arrive within two days.

Why should I build a racing quad?!

There are a lot of really nice bind-n-fly racing drones, and some of them are cheaper than our racing drone kit at TheLab.ms. You don’t have to build a quadcopter. You absolutely can buy a drone that arrives at your door fully assembled.

The fully assembled racing drones are fantastic. Most of my own drones were fully assembled at the factory. It is often cheaper to buy a ready to fly drone than it is to buy similar components to build your own!

There is still a lot of value in building a quadcopter—especially when it is your first quadcopter! If you’re new to FPV, you are going to crash, and you’re going to crash a lot. When you crash, you break things. When you break things, you have to fix things.

If you buy a drone off the shelf, you won’t know how anything works. You won’t know how to fix it. When you build your own quad, you’ll know exactly how it fits together.

If you build our drone kit at TheLab.ms, you’ll probably be able to repair it. If you can repair a drone from TheLab.ms, you’ll also be able to repair my Shuriken X1—like most racing drones, it has very similar components!

I don’t think I can build a quadcopter!

If you can build a computer, you can build a quadcopter. The concepts are similar. You choose components, make sure they’re compatible, and connect them together. There’s a bit of soldering involved in building a drone, but it is fairly straight forward.

At TheLab.ms, we are trying to eliminate some of the complications. You don’t have to worry about which parts are compatible. You don’t have to figure out how correctly wire all the components into the flight controller. If you’re not proficient at soldering, there will be people in the classroom to help you out!

I don’t want to build a quad! What should I buy?

I can understand why you wouldn’t want to build a quadcopter. It is a time consuming process. There are plenty of bind-n-fly quadcopters to choose from. Many cost less than our kit. Quite a few of those bind-n-fly racing quads not only cost less than our kit, but they’re made with better parts—at TheLab.ms, we just can’t reach those economies of scale!

If you’re on an extreme budget, you can’t go wrong with the Eachine Wizard X220. You can find the Wizard bundled with everything you need to get flying for less than $200. The bundle includes a battery, a simple balance charger, a FlySky receiver, and a FlySky transmitter. The only thing missing is the goggles!

If you want something with a little more pep, I don’t think you can go wrong with the BFight 210—especially if you’re using a Taranis FrSky transmitter. The folks at Gearbest sent me a free BFight 210 to review, and I’ve been flying it more often than my Shuriken X1 so far. It is good deal lighter than either the Eachine Wizard or my Shuriken X1, and it is fun to fly!

The BFight 210 is still a budget racing drone, and it isn’t without problems, but those issues are relatively minor. The BFight 210 usually costs around $180, but I’ve seen it go on sale for around $150.

BFight 210 at Oak Point Park

If you’re not on a limited budget, my first instinct would be to recommend the Holybro Shuriken X1. Several of us have been flying them for more than six months, and we all love the X1. The electronics are starting to become outdated, but it is still an amazing drone. It is extremely sturdy and ridiculously powerful—too powerful for a beginner!

Holybro Shuriken X1

The Shuriken X1 is getting harder to find, because it has been replaced by a newer model—the Holybro Kopis 1. We’ve all been drooling over the Kopis 1, but none of us have bought it yet. It isn’t a straight upgrade over the Shuriken X1—it is more of a lateral move, but with cutting edge electronics. The Kopis 1 is less powerful than the X1, but it is a good deal lighter.

If my Shuriken X1 exploded today, I would immediately order a Kopis 1 to replace it. The Shuriken X1 and Kopis 1 both sell for around $250 to $300.

NOTE: I haven’t personally flown the Eachine Wizard X220 or the Holybro Kopis 1.

Why isn’t everything included in TheLab.ms’s kit?

TheLab.ms’s quadcopter kit includes almost everything needed for the drone to fly. It includes a battery, but it doesn’t include a receiver. Why didn’t we include a receiver?

The receiver allows your transmitter to communicate with your quadcopter. The receiver has to be matched to speak the same protocol as your transmitter.

TheLab.ms’s kit also leaves out the transmitter, FPV goggles, and LiPo battery charger. These are all rather personal items, and their prices vary quite drastically.

If you want to go the inexpensive route, you can get everything you need to fly FPV for a little over $100. You’ll do fine and be equipped to have a ton of fun with the cheap gear, but we’re recommending better hardware.

Transmitters, FPV goggles, and battery chargers recommendations definitely deserve their own blog posts. I’ll try to briefly summarize my favorite options.

Transmitter and receiver options

The FlySky i6 transmitter is a great value at around $50. You’ll get both a transmitter and receiver in the box. I’ve flown a quadcopter with this transmitter, and it works just fine. Your range will be more limited, and the sticks don’t feel as smooth as the more expensive options.

Our recommendation is the Taranis Q X7. It is an upgrade in almost every way over the FlySky i6. It can be found for a little over $100 if you shop around. You’ll have to supply your own receiver module. We’re recommending either the R-XSR or the XM-PLUS. b Unlike the Flysky i6, the Taranis Q X7 can be plugged into your computer’s USB port. It will act as a joystick, and it can be used with many different FPV drone simulators. You can do this with the FlySky i6, but you have to buy extra adapters and cables. By the time you buy those cables, you’ve closed a lot of the gap between the price of the QX7 and the i6. I’d rather pay the difference and upgrade to the better hardware!

Until recently, I was flying with a Spektrum DX6. I wouldn’t recommend going that route. I’ve since upgraded to a Taranis X9D Plus. If you’re willing to spend a few extra bucks, it is a nice upgrade over the Taranis Q X7. I find the X9D+ to be more comfortable in my hands. It has a better screen than the Q X7, and it comes with a battery pack and charger.

Choosing FPV goggles

I keep hearing the same advice everywhere, and I agree with it. Buy the cheapest goggles you can find. They’ll be more than enough to get you started, and they’ll last you quite a while. I used my cheap goggles for seven or eight months before I decided to upgrade to an expensive set of Fat Shark goggles.

My favorite set of cheap goggles are the FuriBee VR01 box goggles. This blog post is getting long, so I’ll just point you to my review of the FuriBee VR01 goggles.

If you’ve never flown a quadcopter, you shouldn’t be in a hurry to buy FPV goggles. Take your time and do some research. Try on other people’s goggles if you can. The people I fly with at TheLab.ms have an assortment of different goggles and headsets. Most of us are more than willing to let you try out our stuff!

Choosing your battery charger

Chargers range in price from $20 to $300 and beyond. I’m using one of the $20 chargers. It is an imitation B6 balance charger—often referred to as a “four button” charger. I didn’t know what I was looking for at the time. I was willing to buy a genuine IMAX B6 charger, but I didn’t know how to verify that they were genuine. I didn’t want to spend $45 on a fake, so I purposely ordered a knock off, and it works just fine.

LiPo batteries are dangerous. You might burn your house down.

Conclusion

I’m excited about the racing quadcopter we assembled at TheLab.ms. It is an awesome starter drone—reasonably priced and inexpensive to repair. It may not be as fast as my Holybro Shuriken X1, but if this is your first drone, I’m certain you’ll find our quad to be super fast!

If you’re near Plano, TX and want to get into FPV racing or freestyle, you should definitely come out to TheLab.ms! Our community will be happy to help you get going. You can come build our quadcopter, or we can help you choose a prebuilt drone. Either way, you’re definitely welcome to come fly with us!

BFight 210 FPV Racing Quadcopter

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Last month, my friends at Gearbest sent me a free KingKong FlyEgg 130 micro drone. I had a lot of trouble with it—a flaky DSMX receiver, a dead FPV camera, and I broke a motor in the first crash. I still want to write about the FlyEgg 130. It is a neat little drone, and I definitely want a 3” drone with an all-up weight of around 120 grams in my bag. Upgraded parts are on the way, so that blog post is probably a couple of weeks away.

BFight 210 FPV Racing Drone

Gearbest didn’t have identical, individual replacement parts in stock, and it seemed silly to replace the whole drone. They sent me a free BFight 210 racing quad to try out instead!

The BFight 210

This is a different style of machine than the quad I regularly fly—the Holybro Shuriken X1. Compared to the BFight 210, my Shuriken X1 is heavy and quite powerful. Its expensive T-Motor F40 motors are fantastic, and they have no trouble compensating for the extra weight.

The BFight 210 is about 75 grams lighter than my Shuriken X1. Its motors aren’t as big and powerful, but the BFight 210’s lower weight makes it feel great in the air.

In fact, I couldn’t stop talking about how different it felt while I was flying my first battery on the BFight 210. It feels lighter than the Shuriken X1. The X1 seems like a heavy Corvette with wide tires grabbing hard around the turns, and a huge motor forcing that massive car down the road.

The BFight 210 reminds me of my Miata—it doesn’t need much effort from the tires or the motor to throw its light frame through the corners. That said, the BFight 210 isn’t as far behind the Shuriken X1 as my old Miata was from a Corvette!

The BFight 210 has more modern hardware than my Shuriken X1. The ESCs support DSHOT, and the VTX can be controlled by your transmitter. I’m looking forward to finally being able to test out turtle mode in Betaflight 3.2!

The DSMX version of the BFight 210 is problematic

It was easy enough to follow the directions to pair my Spektrum DX6 to my DSMX BFight 210. The product descriptions clearly states that you can’t change VTX channels from your transmitter unless you’re using a FrSky transmitter. They don’t tell you that a DSMX transmitter will cause your VTX to continuously change channels as fast as it can!

I had to snip the white wire connecting the flight controller to the VTX. I am now able to control the VTX from its push button.

This isn’t the only problem with the DSMX version. The DSMX receiver module that BFight chose to include with the drone has a single antenna, and that short antenna is soldered right to the board. It isn’t even long enough to properly clear the frame. I lost signal for a short time during my first two batteries.

I’ve been running into minor annoyances with my Spektrum DX6 lately. The BFight 210 has given me enough reason to order a Taranis X9D and a handful of R-XSR receiver modules. In a couple of days, I’ll be Spektrum free!

You won’t have either of these problems with your BFight 210 if you’re running FrSky!

The BFight 210 is a budget racing quad

My Shuriken X1 was completely ready to go from the factory, and I expect the same is true of the X1’s replacement—the Holybro Kopis. Both of these drones cost $100 to $150 more than the BFight 210.

You get a lot of drone for your money with the BFight 210, but there are a few inexpensive things that I wish they included in the box.

The BFight 210 comes with a dipole whip antenna. These are quite durable and save you 5 grams of weight, but I was disappointed in my video feed with this antenna. The drone does come with an adapter to connect an RP-SMA antenna, and I installed it as soon as I got home from my first flight session with the BFight 210.

BFight 210 faux battery straps

In lieu of a proper battery strap, the BFight 210 ships with a couple of Velcro cable ties. I’m sure they’ll get the job done, but it wouldn’t have cost them much to include a proper battery strap.

Also, my BFight 210 didn’t ship with props. I didn’t plan on using the props that came in the box, but I would have liked to check them out!

I bolted on a set of Racekraft 5046 props. They seem like good propellers for the BFight 210. They feel good, and unlike on my Shuriken X1, they didn’t sag my battery into low voltage warnings until the battery was nearly drained.

The FPV camera

The BFight 210 ships with a generic-looking Sony HS1177 CCD camera. It looks comparable to the CCD camera that shipped with my Shuriken X1. It is a capable camera, but I’m spoiled by my Runcam Eagle 2.

I think the camera is interesting, because it includes a tiny joystick on the back for operating the OSD. I don’t know how easy it would be to use in the field, but at least you don’t have to remember to bring your joystick cable!

The camera is not protected in a crash, and the camera only mounts with two screws. I let my friend Alex have a shot at the controls, and he bumped into some twigs at the top of a small tree. It knocked the camera angle out of whack, and I wasn’t able to tighten it back up with the screws.

This was easy to fix when I got home. I put a small piece of 3M foam mounting tape on each of the carbon fiber camera mounts. It keeps the camera snug, and I don’t expect to have any problems now. At least until I hit a sturdy tree branch head-on!

The 2205 2300kv motors

I am impressed with the FLOVERFLY 2205 motors. Cheap motors are often capable of generating almost as much power as a high-quality motor, but they are often terribly inefficient.

We are using Racerstar 2306S motors on our budget FPV quadcopter kit at TheLab.ms makerspace. They are quite powerful, but they use a lot more power than the T-Motor 2306 motors on my Shuriken X1.

I pushed the BFight 210 a little harder on my second battery—mostly just doing a couple of short punch outs. I was rather tame on my first day of flying, because I was worried about losing signal with the terrible DSMX receiver, and the park was rather crowded. I did a few punch outs to see how much power the motors had.

However, most of my time in the air was spent flying in proximity to trees near the ground. I was also talking to my friends while I was flying, and that always leads to slower flying! I landed my second 1300 mAh battery when it got down to around 3.7v per cell, and it was in the air for over 7 minutes!

That’s about as long as my Shuriken X1 can manage on a gentle flight like that, and the X1’s motors cost more than half of the total price tag of the BFight 210!

The frame

The BFight 210’s frame reminds me of the FLOSS frame. It must be rather light, and it has narrow arms that are each held on by two screws. Everything is packed in near the center, and it sits quite low.

BFight 210 FPV Racing Drone

I’m worried about how narrow these arms are. They’re narrow, but at least they’re made from a thick piece of carbon fiber! It took me six months to break an arm on my Shuriken X1, but those arms are more than twice as wide.

I haven’t been able to find replacement frame parts for the BFight 210. This worries me a bit, but not a lot. If I do break an arm, there are plenty of inexpensive frames available from Gearbest or Banggood.

I’ll report back when I manage to break the frame!

I love and hate 4-in-1 ESCs

The BFight 210 ships with a 30 amp 4-in-1 ESC module that support bl_heli_s and DSHOT. It works great, and a 4-in-1 ESC is easier to work with and tidies up the build quite nicely.

There is a downside to using a 4-in-1 unit. If you blow out one ESC, you have to replace all four. Our group burns up ESCs on a regular basis. Sometimes they burn out in a crash when the propeller rips chips right off the top of the ESC. Thankfully, this won’t happen with a 4-in-1 ESC!

I burned out an ESC on my KingKong FlyEgg 130. The motor than I bent in my first crash fried the ESC a few batteries later, so now I’m waiting for a replacement 4-in-1 board.

At the rate things are going, it looks like everyone will be using 4-in-1 ESCs in the future. So I guess I can’t complain too much!

The OMNIBUS F3 flight controller

I am a fan of the OMNIBUS F3. I recently used an OMNIBUS F3 Pro in a 4” quad build, and that led to us using them in 10 FPV quadcopter kits at TheLab.ms makerspace. They’re inexpensive, they have plenty of UARTs, and they’re fairly easy to work with.

My only complaint in my own builds is wiring up the current sensor. When BFight builds the drone for me, I don’t have to worry about that!

The VTX

If you have a FrSky transmitter, you can control your VTX settings from your transmitter. This is quite handy. It would be better if it were one of the VTX modules that’s compatible with Betaflight, but the BFight 210 is a few months too old for that to have worked out.

I can’t use my transmitter to control the VTX, so I have to hit the little button hiding inside the frame. It will be tough to reach that button in the field, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to decipher the LEDs when they’re hiding inside the frame, either.

That said, it is a switchable 25/200/600mw video transmitter—I wish my Shuriken X1 could be set as low as 25mw! It seems to do its job quite well.

BFight 210 vs Holybro Kopis!

I’ve probably put more than a hundred of battery packs through my Shuriken X1, and it has served me well. I’ve been comparing the BFight 210 to my X1 all throughout this blog post. It is an easy comparison for me to make, but it probably isn’t all that useful for you. The Holybro Shuriken X1 is getting harder to find. Holybro seems to have replaced the X1 with the Kopis racing quad.

Everyone has been saying good things about the Kopis. It is lighter than the X1, has more modern electronics, but it has less powerful motors. The X1 has more power than I need anyway, and it sounds like the Kopis flies like a dream.

Unlike the BFight 210, the Kopis and the X1 both use top-of-the-line parts. Do you need those more costly parts? The Kopis is a better drone than the BFight 210 in every way except price. Is that premium hardware worth an extra $150?

The answer to those questions will be different for everyone. For me, my BFight 210 is probably going to be my backup quad. If I smoke an ESC or break an arm on my Shuriken X1, I’ll pack it up and fly the rest of my batteries on the BFight 210.

If my Shuriken X1 fell into a lake today, I think I would come home and order a Holybro Kopis. The Kopis is light like the BFight 210, but it is sturdier, more powerful, and more efficient. It also has a nicer VTX module that integrates with Betaflight.

If you’re on a limited budget, or you’re buying your first FPV racer, then the BFight 210 might be a good fit for you.

Standard components

The BFight 210 uses standard components in its 30.5mm stack. If you break your ESCs, flight controller, or VTX, you can find suitable replacements or upgrades without much trouble.

This has been my biggest complaint about my Shuriken X1. It uses a single, custom circuit board for the PDB, flight controller, and VTX. The X1’s frame doesn’t have standard 30.5 mm mounting points. If one component on that board goes, everything needs to be replaced.

I can’t sneak in a newer F4 flight controller into my Shuriken X1, because it just won’t fit. They’ve corrected this with the Kopis!

The verdict

If you made it to my blog, you’re probably already interested in buying a BFight 210, and you’re trying to decide whether or not you should pull the trigger. I think it is a fine drone. It has plenty of power, it flies smoothly, and it feels so light in the air. I don’t think you’ll regret buying one.

The BFight 210 feels like it has 80 percent of the performance of my Shuriken X1, but at a little more than half the price. It is a very good value, and in reality, the BFight 210 is more drone than I can handle. If you’re new to FPV flying, or you’re as much of a rookie as I am, the BFight 210 will be plenty of racing drone for you.

That said, I love the extra power of the Shuriken X1. The other day, I was ripping around the park with the BFight 210. Then I fired up the X1, and as soon as I took off, I did a big punch out. There were a few dozen kids nearby participating in soccer practice, and I heard a whole bunch of them hooting and hollering when they heard the X1 rip into the sky.

The Shuriken X1 always gets attention from a crowd. They barely noticed the BFight 210. Partly because it isn’t as fast, and partly because it isn’t as loud!

The BFight 210 has some interesting competition at the same price point. I keep hearing good things about the Furibee X215. There should be one on the way to my friend Brian, but they seem to be having trouble keeping them in stock. I’m sure he’ll let me try it out when it gets here. I’ll be sure to report back.

The BFight 210 has its problems, but they’re all minor. You can upgrade the VTX antenna and battery strap for less than ten dollars, so I wouldn’t let that hold you back.

Are you flying a BFight 210? What do you think of it? Would you recommend it to others? Let us know in the comments!