My First Month Learning To Fly A Quadcopter In FPV

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I might be exaggerating a bit. The first time I got out to a park and recorded some first-person view video was just about a month ago. I’m certain that I put on the goggles before then, but I didn’t have enough room to fly for more than twenty seconds at a time without crashing until I got out to the park.

This is the footage from my final flight on my first real day of FPV flying at Samuell Garland Park in Dallas. The video signal isn’t great in this video—I snapped a leaf off my PH145 drone’s antenna in a rather spectacular crash earlier in the day. Thank goodness the PH145 usually bounces back from a crash!

I managed to make a few laps around that paved circle, but they weren’t fast or smooth. I did manage to successfully land at least once with the goggles on, but not in this video. At least I didn’t crash hard!

How much have I been practicing?

I started this journey slowly. At first, I was only getting out once a week, but that increased to two or three times a week by the end of the month.

I usually get 80% of the way through at least three batteries every time I fly. I often break each battery up into three flights or more—I need the practice landing!

Many of the days I’ve gone out to the park have been windy. That’s just the way it is here in Plano, TX.

Line of sight vs. first-person view

I’ve been practicing line-of-sight flying for a few months. I started out with my Blade Nano QX, and I flew the PH145 quite a bit before ever putting the FPV goggles on. I believe that practice was crucial to my success with FPV, but it was also a difficult transition to make.

When I’m flying line of sight, I tend to keep the quadcopter pointed away from myself. That was just about the full extent of my practice with the yaw controls. I mostly steered the drone with the pitch and roll stick.

You almost always fly forward in FPV. That means you use a lot less pitch and roll for steering, and a whole lot more yaw. This transition was difficult for me. It is easier to fly FPV if you’re always moving forward, and I’m finally getting used to this—I seem to spend a lot of time hovering in place when flying line of sight!

My friend Alex kindly pointed out another important piece of information. When I was flying line of sight, I was exclusively flying in a self-leveling mode—usually Betaflight’s horizon mode. When flying FPV, it is easier to fly in either rate or air mode. Air mode is similar to rate mode, except it will spin the motors up to pitch and roll even when the throttle is off.

I’m much more comfortable flying FPV in air mode. It is a bit like using cruise control. You pitch the quadcopter forward a bit, and you’ll naturally maintain some forward momentum. Then you mostly just have to yaw to steer. You do have to make some adjustments to your roll when you steer, but Betaflight’s FPV camera angle compensation does some of that for me.

From simple circles to drone gates

On that first day at Samuell Garland Park, I was so proud of myself for being able to circle around the perimeter of the park a few times. I was even more excited when I could manage to land! This is most of what my practice involved for two weeks.

I also started trying to fly closer to the ground, but it is difficult to gauge just how well you’re controlling your craft when all you have to look at is a big, grassy field. While flying at Oak Point Park, I discovered that there was a tree within range of my PH145’s underpowered 25mw VTX—things are much better since I upgraded to a 200mw VTX!

You’re probably asking yourself why I was surprised to find a tree at a place called Oak Point Park. There are hundreds of trees at Oak Point Park. Most of them are quite close together. This is a lone tree not far from the parking lot, and it is well groomed and easy to fly under.

That’s some video of me flying at the park on a windy day. This is about three weeks into my FPV practice.

Circling the tree and flying back towards myself is much more interesting than circling around in the sky while doing the occasional flip. It is a long walk out to that tree when I crash, and using myself as a target isn’t the safest course of action.

I read about people building gates out of things like PVC pipe and pool noodles. I didn’t know if I could fly well enough to make it through a gate, but I knew I could at least use them as checkpoints to race past.

I made eight drone gates—we affectionately refer to them as “drone holes.” We had them out at the park a few days after I discovered the tree. To my surprise, I am often able to fit the PH145 through the holes! The wind was blowing towards the parking lot again, and the wind was strong.

I was told my drone holes are too small!

We met a guy at the park that day who is involved with the local drone-racing group. My drone gates are about three feet across and maybe three feet high. He says these are too difficult, and that their group uses drone gates with a five-foot diameter.

I’m lazy. I want our drone holes to be light and easy to haul around. I’m enjoying trying to hit the smaller gates. I’m hopeful that practicing on the small gates will make the big ones easier to hit!

The PH145 vs. the Holybro Shuriken 180 Pro

My friends at Gearbest were nice enough to send me a racing drone to test. I chose the Shuriken 180 Pro, because the price is comparable to my DIY PH145 drone—the Shuriken is probably a little cheaper! Not only is it cheaper, but it arrives at your door fully assembled and ready to go.

The Shuriken 180 Pro is quite a bit faster than the PH145—it pulls 3.8G compared to the PH145’s 3.2G! It is an excellent value for the money, and it’s quite fast, but not so fast that I can’t handle it.

I simply can’t handle it as well as the PH145. That’s partly due to the extra thrust, but also because I just don’t fly it as often. I’m not likely to hit any gates with the Holybro Shuriken—yet! I’m sure I’ll be graduating to the faster speeds soon enough.

I may not be able to hit drone gates yet, but I can sure rip around in the air with the Shuriken 180 Pro! I’ve been trying to fly it with the camera tilted all the way up to 45 degrees. This makes it scream through the air at high speeds, but I’m not yet skilled enough to slow down. When you tilt the drone backwards to air brake, you can’t see the ground anymore, so you can’t tell how fast you’re going!

Trees and other obstacles

Going into my fourth week of FPV practice, I ended up trying something a little different. We went to a different park with more trees, and we only brought one drone gate out to the picnic tables with us. This felt like a totally different experience, and it was a ton of fun. I performed way better than I expected!

Having plenty of objects near the ground makes it easier for you to judge exactly how your quadcopter is moving. When I’m up in the sky, I have a hard time figuring out how fast I’m going, or if I’m drifting a little to the side.

With all those trees, I was expecting I’d be crashing a lot. To my surprise, this wasn’t the case at all! I did bump the drone gate once or twice, and I did miscalculate a turn and bumped into a tree once, but I burned through at least three batteries without any major incidents.

Going back to Samuell Garland Park

There’s probably a bit of hyperbole involved when I talk about “my first month” of FPV flying. I know I made some bumbling test flights at home the day the goggles arrived, but I’m mostly ignoring those extremely short flights. I’m also pretty certain that I got a few decent FPV flights in before my first trip to Samuell Garland Park, but that probably only adds a week to my practice time.

So I’ve probably been practicing for a little more than five weeks. That might be more than a month, but it doesn’t make for a good blog title!

The video I captured at my one-month-anniversary trip to Samuell Garland Park isn’t as impressive my flying through the trees a few days ago, but it provides an excellent picture of just how far I’ve come in my first month.

In the video of my first visit, the most exciting thing I was able to do was circle around the control line ring, and it was anything but a smooth journey. I can now do that much more smoothly and at high throttle. I can also fly close to the ground, pass through 3’ drone gates, weave through trees, and fly through the covered seating areas at the park.

What’s next?

I am delighted with my progress so far! Four or five weeks ago, any flight longer than a minute was slightly stressful and often ended in a crash. Now I can stay in the air until my battery dies, unless I’m trying to pull off something that pushes the limits of my abilities.

That’s the only way to learn, though—pushing your abilities to their limits. There was only so much I could learn high up in the safety of the open sky. I now have the skill and confidence to fly near the ground and around obstacles. I can really see how well I’m doing, and it is easier to tell how controlled my maneuvers are.

The PH145

Every day I push myself to go a little faster, and that’s what I’m going to continue to do. My PH145 is a fun, little quadcopter. I’m much less comfortable with the Shuriken 180 Pro. It is a little too powerful for me, but I know I’ll be able to handle it if I just practice a little more. I have a stack of batteries for the Shuriken now, so I plan on practicing more!

Holybro Shuriken 180 Pro - A Fast and Durable FPV Quadcopter

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UPDATE: There’s lots of information about the Shuriken 180 Pro in this blog post. I’ve since upgraded to a Shuriken X1. If you haven’t already bought the 180 Pro, I highly recommend you skip it and go straight to the Shuriken X1.

If you are a regular follower of my antics, then you know that I’ve been working on designing the PH145 drone’s 3D-printed frame. I’m both surprised and elated by just how well the PH145 has turned out. While I was designing the PH145 and pricing out the parts, I was also keeping an eye on the competition.

As the cost of the PH145 started to solidify, I started shopping around to see just how much drone you could buy for the same price. I don’t expect all my readers to be the do-it-yourself types, so I wanted some that would be ready to fly right out of the box.

The Holybro Shuriken 180 Pro

I told my friends at that I was interested in one of their FPV racing drones, and they were nice enough to send me a Holybro Shuriken 180 Pro!

tl;dr summary

I love this Holybro Shuriken 180 Pro. It is fast—definitely faster than the PH145. It is also durable. I’ve already crashed it a few times, and the props survived some rather hard hits in the grass. The Shuriken’s exposed props are easily broken in a gentle crash on asphalt or concrete—that’s why I like the enclosed props on the PH145.

The Holybro Shuriken 180 Pro Fits Well Enough In My Drone Case

I don’t think I can break this frame in a crash, and props are cheap. If you’re thinking about buying the Holybro Shuriken 180 Pro, it is time to stop thinking. It is sturdy and a ton of fun, so go buy one already!

UPDATE: I did break the Shuriken 180 Pro in a crash!

I said that the Shuriken 180 Pro is a sturdy basher, and I stand by that statement. I have crashed into pavement, and I have smashed camera first into trees at high speeds. It took quite a crash to cause serious damage to the Shuriken 180 Pro.

It landed on its face from what seemed to be a fairly high altitude. It must have hit way harder than I’ve ever crashed before. We didn’t get to see the crash. It came down in an empty parking area. The aluminum camera mounts were bent, the plastic camera holder was shattered, the two front motors were bent, and the impact pushed the battery forward and dislodged the VTX antenna from the circuit board. When I plugged the battery back in, sparks and magic smoke came out.

I was able to salvage the camera, two motors, and four 30 amp ESCs.

After the crash, I went straight home and ordered a Holybro Shuriken X1. I wasn’t quite ready for a quadcopter with that much power, but it only took me a few weeks to get used to it.

Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t bother with the Shuriken 180 Pro. It is inferior in almost every way to the Shuriken X1.

Shuriken 180 vs Shuriken 180 Pro

UPDATE: The Shuriken 180 has been discontinued.

I am sometimes a little slow on the uptake. I didn’t even realize there were two different Shuriken 180 drones. I was looking at the specs of the older Shuriken 180, and I’m pretty sure I thought it had the price tag of the Shuriken 180 Pro!

The older Shuriken 180 is almost a direct competitor to my own PH145 drone. The Shuriken 180 has bigger motors and props than the PH145, while the PH145 weighs a bit less and is a lot safer in a crash. The Shuriken 180 costs about $175 shipped. That’s a little cheaper than my PH145, and the Shuriken arrives at your door fully assembled!

I’m sure the Shuriken 180 is a great quadcopter, but I don’t own one, so I don’t have first hand experience with it. I do have a Holybro Shuriken 180 Pro sitting here on my desk. The Pro version costs about $40 to $60 more, but you do get a lot more quadcopter for your money.

The Pro version has a better camera, and the 1806 2700KV motors have been upgraded to 2205 2750KV motors.

Like I said, the cheaper model looks like a great drone, and it would be a ton of fun to fly it. If you’re new to racing drones or FPV, and you want to save a few bucks, I’m sure you’ll have a blast with the base model Shuriken 180. I recommend that you spend the extra $40 and upgrade to the Shuriken 180 Pro.

Why not the Shuriken X1?

The Holybro Shuriken X1 looks like it is out of my league! I think it weighs a bit less than my Shuriken 180 Pro, but it has bigger motors and 5” propellers.

The Shuriken 180 Pro is small and dense, and it has two plates sandwiched together. All the wiring and electronics are hiding between those plates.

The Shuriken X1 is built on an open carbon fiber plate, and the wiring and ESCs are just strapped to the top of the frame. There is nothing wrong with this—all our home built drones look just like this. We do this to save weight and cost.

It looks like the Shuriken X1 is a rocket compared to the Shuriken 180 Pro, but I think the Shuriken 180 Pro will be able to take more of a beating. The Shuriken X1 doesn’t cost much more than the Shuriken 180 Pro, and speed is so much fun, but I know it will lead to more crashes.

My friend Brian’s Shuriken X1 just arrived a few days ago. I’ve seen it fly once, and it is absolutely bananas. I’m already afraid to recommend the Shuriken 180 Pro as a starter drone—it flies smooth, but the power is a lot to handle. The Shuriken X1 has a ridiculous amount of thrust. Brian seems more than a little worried about learning how to FPV with it!

UPDATE: I know I have interjected this information twice already, but I think it is important to mention it again. The Shuriken X1 is ridiculously fast, very sturdy, and a huge upgrade over the Shuriken 180 Pro.

I was flying in just five minutes!

It was so easy to get this thing airborne. There were only two things that slowed me down, and they were both my fault. The DHL delivery guy knocked on my door while I was in the middle of pulling a double shot of espresso. I rushed to sign for the package so I could stop the espresso machine before the pull ran too long.

Charing My Batteries After Flying The Shuriken 180 Pro

It was definitely a longer shot than I prefer, but it made an acceptable latte, and I was determined to finish that latte before I went outside to test out the Shuriken 180 Pro! While I was drinking, I created a new profile on my Spektrum DX6 controller. It took me longer than I’d like to admit to find the bind button on the drone, but once I found it, I was paired up in seconds.

I also wanted to switch the video transmitter to 600mw. The jumpers are tough to remove, but I had it switched before my latte was gone!

I strapped in one of my 1500mAh 4S batteries, plugged in my Eachine EV800 goggles and DVR, and went outside. I was able to zip around the parking lot with ease. There’s not enough room out there for me to fly FPV.

The first flight

The Holybro Shuriken 180 Pro arrives with Betaflight installed on its flight controller. I’m not certain, but the PID settings looked like they were set to the defaults. Even so, it felt pretty good out of the box.

It was obviously faster than my PH145 quadcopter, but it is just as easy to control. I was quite relieved that the Shuriken wasn’t a Ferrari to my PH145’s Honda Civic. It feels more like comparing a base model Corvette to a Corvette ZR-1.

I don’t have the tools to measure thrust, but I can measure weight and can make educated guesses based on data gathered from the Internet. According to the blackbox data, my 240g PH145 drone can pull about 3.2g of acceleration on the Z-axis. The heavier Shuriken 180 Pro hits numbers just over 3.8g with the “indestructible” tri-blade DAL 3045 bullnose props that I’m currently running. I need to test with the stock 4-blade 4040 props—I bet they pull a little harder!

I don’t remember what I did wrong, but I don’t have DVR video of the first few minutes of flight. This is the video of the second half of my first battery.

I’m an absolute beginner, but as far as I can tell, the PID settings feel pretty good out of the box. The yaw rate felt really low to me. It didn’t take long to fire up the Betaflight Configurator to adjust the rates. I bumped the yaw rate to 1.15 and the roll/pitch rate to 1.3. This is just my personal preference.

The FPV camera—my only complaint!

The FPV camera actually works really well. It has a CCD sensor, and it is a big upgrade over the CMOS camera I used on my PH145. The transmitter can be toggled between 25mw and 600mw. The extra broadcasting power is awesome!

I easily get too far away at the park with my PH145 drone, and I have to turn around quickly before the signal completely disappears. The 600mw transmitter lets me get all the way to the edges of the park. This is an upgrade I will be making on the PH145!

My only complaint is that the camera angle isn’t adjustable enough. It is hanging on a swivel, but there is absolutely no room to operate the swivel. At first, I thought I would be stuck at the default 45 degree angle. This is fine if you know what you’re doing, but I’m not yet skilled enough to FPV at the speeds this angle encourages!

Lowering the camera angle on the Shuriken 180 Pro

You can adjust the angle by moving the camera to a different set of mounting holes. That will give you about a 15 degree angle. It also moves the camera out past the front of the frame.

The aluminum standoffs need to be just a few millimeters longer. That would allow for easy camera angle adjustments.

My first FPV flight with the Shuriken 180 Pro

I am impatient. There were 20 mph winds and a 40% chance of rain here in Plano, TX on the afternoon the Shuriken 180 Pro arrived at my door. I didn’t care. I had to go out to the park and try out the new drone!

The wind was fierce. It was blowing straight towards the parking lot, and I had to tilt the drone about 20 degrees into the wind to maintain a hover. I decided to try flying FPV anyway!

This thing is fast! I took to the air, and I accelerated away from myself for a few seconds. When I turned around, I could see myself in the camera, but I was so tiny! I cruised around in the air for a bit, then I decided to head back. When your camera is at a 45 degree angle and you level off, you can’t see much of the ground at all.

Everything worked out fine, except for the fact that I’m terrible at flying FPV. I flew out into the field, turned around, and flew back. Then the wind wanted to take me out over the parking lot, and that’s a place I didn’t want to be.

I was able to come back out over the field, and I wanted to land, but I didn’t know how high up I was. The drone fell much farther than I expected—it seemed to fall for quite a few seconds after I cut the throttle.

Shuriken 180 Pro Minor Prop Damage

It didn’t take any serious damage. Just a few chips in the props.

This thing is sturdy

This is definitely not a drone built purely for racing. They probably could have made it a lot lighter, and it still would have been a sturdy enough craft.

This little drone with its 4” propellers weighs just as much as the Shuriken X1, and the X1 has room for 5” propellers! I imagine that extra weight provides the structure that makes the Shuriken 180 Pro more capable of surviving a hard crash. I’m sure we’ll find out, because I am a terrible pilot!

Batteries and flight time

I tried out all my 4S batteries, because that’s the sort of thing I tend to do. I’ve only been flying the Shuriken 180 Pro for a few days, so I don’t have a ton of data yet.

I’m seeing five to six minutes of flight time on both my 1500mAh 4S LiPo and 1300mAh 4S graphene LiPo.

My PH145’s favorite battery is the 850mAh Venom 4S LiPo. While the lightweight PH145 sees six minutes of flight time with the 850mAh, the heavier and higher-power Shuriken only sees 3.5 minutes. The beginning of that flight is fun—the Shuriken does feel zippier with that 12 percent weight reduction, but the little battery feels quite drained and weak for the last minute or so.

The Shuriken 180 Pro Weighs 471g With An 850mAh 4S Battery

The 850mAh Venom 4S LiPo batteries are a lot of fun—the Shuriken 180 Pro only weighs 471g when flying with one! I already have five of them for my PH145, so I’ll also be flying them in the Shuriken. I don’t recommend that you buy any, though. They cost just as much as a 1300mAh or 1500mAh 4S LiPo, but the 850mAh only provide about 2 minutes of good, fast flight time.

You may want to relocate the FPV antenna

The antenna is stiff, and it is the tallest part of the Shuriken 180 Pro. That means it is going to be under a lot of stress when you crash. The SMA antenna connector is soldered right onto the Shuriken’s circuit board. That single, large circuit board isn’t just for the video transmitter. The flight controller is part of the same board, so if you break that antenna connector, you may have to replace the entire board.

I’ve already ordered some short SMA antenna extensions from Amazon. They’re inexpensive, and I think it is wise to protect that connector—I do crash an awful lot!


The Shuriken comes with two sets of 4-blade 4040 propellers. I know I crash all the time, so these aren’t going to last long.

I ordered a set of supposedly indestructible DAL 3-blade 4045 bull nose propellers. My research says they can generate 900 grams of thrust on 2205 2750KV motors. Most other 4” 3-blade props generate 650 grams to 750 grams of thrust. We’ll have to see how that compares to the stock 4-blade props!

Even if they don’t generate as much lift, at least they might be indestructible! I am most assuredly in need of some indestructible props. I had to replace three props after my first crash on asphalt. It was more like a hard landing than a crash.

Broken Props from Crashing the Shuriken 180 Pro

I smack the PH145’s prop guards into concrete and asphalt all the time, and it rarely damages a prop. I recommend flying the Shuriken 180 Pro in areas where you’re more likely to crash into grass!

The 600mw FPV transmitter is a huge upgrade

This is an upgrade I will be making to the PH145. Its transmitter is only 25mw, and it doesn’t take much distance before the picture in the goggles starts getting snowy and scary. In parking lot, I can’t even get 20 parking spaces away before I nearly lose video. It’ll go much farther at 25mw at the park, but still not nearly as far as I’d like.

You can see how quickly my signal degrades in parking lot in this FPV recording of my PH145.

The 600mw transmitter in the Holybro Shuriken 180 Pro is a huge upgrade. I can make it all the way across the parking lot at, and I accidentally flew farther away on my first trip at the park than I could ever fly with the 25mw transmitter!

The verdict

I love the Holybro Shuriken 180 Pro. I’m glad my friends at Gearbest decided to send me one, because I don’t think I would have been smart enough to buy something like this on my own! It is fast, agile, and a ton of fun. I know I’ll be flying it all the time.

Half the fun of the PH145 has been designing and building the quadcopter, and I have enjoyed finding and correcting its shortcomings. If you don’t enjoy building things, and you just want to get up in the air, the Holybro Shuriken 180 Pro would be an excellent choice. If you’re anything like me, you’ll crash a lot, so stock up on propellers!

If you’ve never flown a quadcopter, you should start with something like the Blade Nano QX or the KingKong 90GT. The Nano is a very inexpensive way to get started—it is how I got started! We’ve since discovered the tiny KingKong 90GT brushless FPV drone. It costs a bit more, but it can still be flown outside on windy days. It isn’t nearly as beginner friendly as the Blade Nano, but it will take you much farther on your FPV journey!

My 3D Printed Quadcopter - The PH145 Drone

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My journey into the world of quadcopters started in December when my friends participated in a quadcopter build weekend at makerspace. I watched, and I helped them build 450mm drones, but I didn’t build my own quadcopter—I felt like I had too many other unfinished projects going on at the time.

My friend Brian must have gotten sick of me not participating, because he gave me a Spektrum DX6 transmitter for Christmas. I immediately ordered a Blade Nano QX micro drone to practice with, and I had it for less than a week before I started upgrading it. I was crashing a lot, and as soon as the frame started getting roughed up, I started designing a parametric brushed motor quadcopter frame.

I knew I didn’t want something as large as a 450mm drone, and being able to fly around inside the house has been a great way to practice. I wanted to build something small, fast, and nimble. Something I could fly around the house, but still take out to the park to fly with my friends. Something that could survive a crash.

The first drone I found in my research was the RS90 quadcopter at Thingiverse. It seems to fit all criteria: It is small, nimble, and durable. Then I discovered the DJ105 drone. It’s only a little bigger, uses bigger motors and propellers, and generates a lot more thrust than the RS90. It is also a simpler design—flat parts are easy to 3D-print!

The DJ105 requires low-profile motors and fancy, more costly 2.5” propellers from RotorX. This drives up the cost of the drone and limits your choice of parts. Scaling the quadcopter up to allow for taller motors and 3” props brings the cost down a little, and it opens up a wider selection of suitable motors and propellers.

tl;dr How did I do?

I managed to design a parametric quadcopter model. It can be easily scaled from 2.5” propellers and a 105mm wingspan all the way up to at least 5” propellers and a 230mm wingspan. I’m not sure how practical the sandwich-style design is at larger sizes, but I’d definitely like to try printing a frame that can accommodate 4” propellers!

PH230 vs PH170 vs PH145

The PH145 drone weighs in at 234 grams with the camera, and its all-up-weight is 411 grams with my 1500mAh 4S LiPo battery. I don’t have the equipment to measure top speed and acceleration. All I can say is that it is fast! I enjoy punching the throttle for a couple seconds and watching it quickly ascend into the sky—it sounds like an angry swarm of bees!

My friend Alex has a rather fancy-looking FPV racing drone—a Blade Vortex 250 with 5” props, and he runs a 1300mAh 4S LiPo. His racing drone is much faster than the PH145. My 3” props are probably my biggest limiting factor. I have an 850mAh 4S LiPo en route, and that will give me a 20% weight reduction. I can hardly wait to see what that feels like with the smaller battery!

My Venom 850mAh 4S LiPo battery is amazing. It can keep my little drone in the air for nearly six minutes of spirited flying, and the weight reduction compared to the 1300mAh or 1500mAh 4S batteries makes the drone feel so much more nimble and quick! The 850mAh 4S is by far my favorite. As soon as I finished running the battery down for the first time, I ran inside and immediately ordered a four pack!

The PH145 At Breckenridge Park

The PH145 frame is durable. I’ve managed to crack two of the prop guards on the original prototype frame. One crack is at the exact point of a design flaw in the model—I’ve since repaired it in OpenSCAD. The other break is near the center of a prop guard. I changed the model and made all the guards 50% thicker. It took high speed-crashes into asphalt to break the prototype frame. I won’t be surprised if the new nylon frame is effectively indestructible—only time will tell!

UPDATE: I finally crashed hard enough to break the nylon frame! It snapped right at two adjacent zip tie slots on the top frame. I knew these would be weak points, but I thought they were far enough inside the frame that it wouldn’t matter. I was wrong. The bottom also broke in the same area. It cracked at one of the thickest points right next to a screw. I assume this area was under more stress due to the two broken points directly above.

It still flies fine, so I’m not in a hurry to print a new frame. I’ve eliminated the zip tie slots, and I have made several other minor improvements to the model. I’m sure I’ll be printing a new frame in a few weeks.

The PH145 3D Printed Brushless FPV Quadcopter

I’ve only been flying the newer, stronger frame for a couple of days. I don’t crash as often as I did even a week ago, but I’ve hit the ground pretty hard a couple of times. The new frame shows no signs of breaking yet, but I am popping the heads off nylon screws much more easily now, since there is less flex in the frame.

I completely missed one of my goals. I won’t be flying the PH145 indoors. It is heavy enough to do real damage to furniture, televisions, and our cats. It also generates way too much wind and noise! Other than that, I’m elated with how this design and build turned out!

The full parts list is near the bottom of this blog post.

UPDATE: I’ve learned how to read the blackbox flight recorder data. I need to do more science, but I’ve been scanning the logs. The PH145 manages 3.1g to 3.2g of acceleration on the Z-axis with the Gemfan 4-blade props. I need to order another set of RotorX RX3040 props to test!

Motors and props

I’m going to start by saying that I have no idea what I’m doing. This is the first drone I’ve ever built, so some of my assumptions may end up being wildly inaccurate. That said, the parts I chose are working well together.

Since I’m using 3” props, I need a motor that can spin fast. That means I need to use a motor with a high KV rating. I was hoping to use 2205 or 2206 brushless motors, but they’re only available at around 2300KV.

I decided to use the DYS BX1306 4000KV motors. They’re available everywhere and reasonably priced. My only complaint is the bullet shaped prop nuts. They’re long enough to extend past my frame. I’ve ordered a simple set of prop nuts, but they haven’t arrived yet. I’m still landing and taking off bullet-shaped motor nuts!

PH145 Quadcopter

There are other 1306 4000KV motors available at Amazon, like the Crazepony EMAX RS1306 motors, and they ship with shorter nuts. I bet they’d work just as well.

So far, I’ve tried two-blade and four-blade 3030 bullnose props. The two-blade props have been a disappointment. They make the PH145 feel completely gutless when paired with either my 1500mAh or 1300mAh 4S batteries, and they didn’t even provide an increase in flight time. I plan to try some three-blade props. I’ve read some amazing things about the RotorX RX3030T props—I have a set on the way right now!

My set of RotorX RX3030T propellers have arrived, and they are amazing! I went outside to test them, and I was in the air for 9:45 with my 1500mAh 4S LiPo. That’s more time than I’ve ever been in the air on a single charge! While I was out there, I also tried one of my 1300mAh 3S LiPo batteries. It was in the air more than a full minute longer than I’ve ever seen from one of these 3S batteries.

The RX3030T props don’t just keep the PH145 in the air a little longer. They feel like they have at least as much thrust as the cheap 4-blade bullnose props, and they sound a lot quieter, too! As soon as I came back in the house, I ordered two more sets.

Forget all the other propellers. Just get the RotorX RX3040T props. They may cost twice as much, but they’re definitely worth it!

UPDATE: The RotorX RX3040T props perform better than any other prop I’ve tried, but I’ve broken a lot of them. I’ve been running a set of Gemfan 4-blade 3035 props for a couple of weeks. I like them nearly as much as the RotorX props, but the Gemfan props are much less fragile. I managed to break nearly two full sets of RotorX props in a week, but it has taken me two or three weeks to break my first Gemfan. I doubt they’re as sturdy as DAL props, but they’re also not as heavy!

Should I use a 4-in-1 ESC?

You can most definitely save a few dollars if you use four separate ESCs, but I like how easy it was to fit the 4-in-1 ESC unit into my design. It is the same size and uses the same mounting holes as the Naze32, and I didn’t have to figure out where to fit four separate boards. This alone is worth the extra cost of a 4-in-1 unit.

The 4-in-1 ESC board I’m using claims to have four 30-amp units on a single board, but I’m dubious of this claim. It is working just fine so far, though, so I can’t complain!

The biggest potential downside will be having to spend $60 to replace four ESCs if I ever fry one. It would be easier and cheaper to replace a single ESC. If I ever blow out an ESC, I will revisit this situation.

Naze32 and Cleanflight vs Betaflight

The Naze32 flight controller seemed like the way to go. They’re inexpensive, and they work quite well. I had no idea what I was doing, and ended up ordering an older revision 5 board. The revision 6 boards are available for about the same price, and it looks like they have a more convenient pin layout. The revision 5 board is working just fine, but don’t make my mistake—just buy a revision 6 board!

Afro Naze 32 Revison 5

I ran the Cleanflight firmware for my first week of flying. Cleanflight had me up and running with a stable quadcopter, but the default PID settings were sluggish and unresponsive. I tweaked the PID settings over the course of a few days, but I never managed to get things feeling great.

Betaflight was much better out of the box—better than I ever managed to get out of Cleanflight. My advice is to skip Cleanflight.

3D-printing with Taulman 910 nylon filament

The Taulman 910 nylon is the most amazing filament I’ve ever printed with, but at the same time, it is one of the least friendly materials for 3D printing. The parts it produces are nothing short of amazing. They’re extremely flexible and amazingly sturdy.

Taulman 910 is so flexible that I was worried my drone wouldn’t be rigid enough, but once you screw the two pieces of the frame together with the nylon spacers, it becomes quite solid.

I say the Taulman 910 is unfriendly, but it is actually quite easy to print. It sticks just fine to a 40C heated glass bed with a coat of Elmer’s glue stick applied. The only problem is that it oozes like crazy. I had to scale up all my screw holes, and there’s always a ton of nylon whiskers to clean up after the print.

Printing With Nylon Filament is Messy

You can print Taulman 910 at temperatures as low as 260C, but you get better layer adhesion at 275C. The higher temperatures don’t help with the ooze.

In the end, it is worth the trouble. A drone frame 3D-printed with Taulman 910 filament can take a beating, and it just bounces back for more!

FPV camera and goggles

I know so little about FPV cameras and goggles. The first thing I did was add just about the cheapest FPV camera, transmitter, and goggles to my Amazon cart. Then I thought it would be nice to have an on-screen display with battery information, so I removed the camera and goggles from my cart and started shopping for fancier stuff.

I quickly realized that I had no idea how any of this stuff worked, so I added the cheapest goggles and camera I could find back into my cart. I’m using an Eachine 700TVL camera and transmitter combo along with Eachine EV800 goggles. They work just fine, but I’m terrible at flying FPV so far. I’m going to need lots of practice!

PH145 Camera Mount

The camera, transmitter, and goggles are less expensive than I would have guessed. Everything I needed to start flying FPV only cost me an extra $110 or so. For some reason, I thought it would cost a lot more!

The Eachine camera is available with 110- and 170-degree lenses. I opted for the 110-degree lens, because that is close enough to what I use in first-person-shooter games. It still has enough of a fish-eye effect to be disorienting to me, but I think I’ll be able to learn to adjust.

There is one caveat when using this Eachine camera and transmitter. It comes with a connector that plugs into a 3S LiPo battery’s balance plug. That won’t work with my 4S batteries, so I cut that connector off and wired it directly into the 5-volt BEC. I prefer this solution anyway, because it leaves me with fewer cables to plug in when I attach a battery.

The camera, transmitter, and antenna added about 30 grams to my drone. Flight times with my 1300mAh and 1500mAh 4S batteries each dropped by about 30 seconds when I mounted these parts to the drone. The camera’s power consumption is quite low, so I’m attributing the lower flight times more to the 8% increase in weight.

I already modified my Eachine EV800 goggles to add an inexpensive little DVR device! I added an Eachine ProDVR. I included my first test recording a little ways above this paragraph. It is some gentle flying right outside my apartment—I didn’t want to scare the neighbors too much!

Eachine EV800 FPV Goggles Modified With a DVR

Adding the DVR definitely isn’t a plug-and-play operation, but if you’ve ever used a soldering iron, it should be a piece of cake for you. You only have to solder three wires to a set of rather large pads. I was already reassembling the goggles in less than five minutes.

You can solder a few more wires and add a switch if you’d like to have access to the DVR’s on-screen display, but I didn’t bother with that. I just plugged the DVR into the AV input to format the microSD card and configure the device. I don’t expect to ever use the OSD again.

Choosing a battery

When I ordered the parts to build the first PH145 quadcopter, I ordered a CrazePony 1300mAh graphene 4S LiPo battery. It was good for about 8 or 9 minutes of gentle but spirited flight time. I was happy with the performance, so I ordered a pair of cheaper 1500mAh 4S LiPo batteries. They’re working quite well, too. They’re a bit heavier, but they cost less and provide more flight time.

I’m currently waiting for a Venom 50C 850mAh 4S LiPo battery to arrive. There’s also a 75C version of the Venom 850mAh battery, but I don’t think my drone can consume power that quickly! I have a feeling that this will be the optimal battery for the PH145. The lighter weight should make the PH145 accelerate better, and I’m hoping for flight times near 6 minutes. I’ll update this post as soon as the new battery arrives!

I have tried a handful of 3S LiPo batteries. I borrowed a 2200mAh 3S battery from my friend Brian. He uses it to power his 450mm drone with 10” props. I also bought four used 1300mAh 3S batteries from another friend.

Assortment of LiPo Batteries

The 2200 mAh 3S battery works, but it is a little too heavy—it weighs more than either of my 4S batteries!. It flies for about 9 minutes, and it is much easier for my inexperienced hands to control compared to the 4S batteries.

The 1300 mAh 3S batteries are great—especially with the two-blade props. The weight savings compared to the 2200mAh battery makes a difference you can easily feel.

The 1500mAh 4S batteries are my favorite so far, but I’m using the 1300mAh 3S batteries every time I fly FPV—the PH145 is just too fast and responsive for me to control in FPV with the 4S batteries!

If you’re new to flying, you should definitely have some 3S batteries on hand. Something in the 1300mAh range is probably ideal. If you already know what you’re doing, just go straight to the 4S LiPo batteries!

Nylon vs steel vs aluminum screws

The sandwich of the PH145’s two 3D-printed nylon plates are held together by 25mm nylon spacers and 10mm m3 nylon screws. When I crash hard, I often pop the head off one or more nylon screws. I crash a lot. When using the thinner prototype frame one day, I went through almost a dozen full batteries, and I crashed enough times to loose seven screws. The PH145 flies fine with lots of missing screws, but it doesn’t take a crash nearly as well!

The current version of the frame with thicker prop guards puts a lot more stress on the nylon screws when I crash. I broke six or seven nylon screws and lost a spacer the first day I flew the new frame. I crashed a few times that day, but I’ve crashed much harder before!

PH145 Drone with Nylon Spacers

I have plenty of black steel m3 screws here, but I don’t want to use them. Replacing the 30 nylon 10mm screws with steel 8mm screws will increase the weight of my quadcopter by about 17 grams. That’s a 4% increase in weight when I’m running the 1500mAh battery, and all that weight would be at the edges.

UPDATE: I got tired of replacing broken nylon screws. I ordered a set of supposedly aluminum screws, and I started using steel pan head m3 screws from an assortment I had on hand. The steel screws won’t break. That means I moved the weak spot, and I’ve been waiting for something new to break. This finally stressed the zip tie holes on the top frame, and one pair of holes finally broke.

The aluminum screw I ordered were actually just expensive steel screws. They weighed just as much as my cheap screws. I’m waiting for another set of aluminum screws to arrive.

If you want your drone to look snazzy, there are all sorts of brightly colored aluminum screws you can choose from. I’m boring, though, and I prefer the plain black screws.

Transport your drone in style

I stopped by my local Harbor Freight and picked up a foam-filled, faux-aluminum carrying case. The foam is perforated, so it’s easy to cut out a square that perfectly fits your drone and transmitter.

PH145 and Spektrum DX6 Tranmitter in Their Case

Just in case you don’t have a Harbor Freight in your neighborhood, I found what looks like an identical case at Amazon. It claims to be an inch longer and wider, but it has the exact same tool holder in the lid.

Enough with all the stupid words! Where’s the parts list?

You’ll have to 3D-print the frame using Taulman 910 nylon filament. I’m working on the logistics of selling the frames myself in my Tindie store, but nylon leaves a pretty messy print, and I’m not sure about how I feel about selling something that requires so much cleanup.

I’m also running this FPV camera and transmitter:

These are other batteries I’ve tried so far:

The 1300mAh 3S batteries I’m using is a different brand. They are Zippy 1300mAh batteries. I bought them from a friend, and he used up a healthy percentage of their life already—my charger can’t put much more than 1000mAh into them.

I am NOT suggesting that you buy 3S batteries! If you already have some, you can definitely use them to operate my quadcopter. This quadcopter runs much better on 4S batteries, and the smaller 850mAh size battery is ideal.

UPDATE: The Venom 850mAh 4S is DEFINITELY the battery to buy. Mine just arrived. I ran outside to try it out as soon as it was finished charging, and it is awesome! The drone felt so nimble and quick—it weighs in at 347 grams! I can’t wait to see that number again when I replace the steel screws with aluminum!

I was in the air for 5:49 of rather spirited flying just outside the house. I’ve only just learned how to do flips, so I was doing quite a few of those. I zipped back and forth in a straight line quite a bit—that’s all I have room for out there. I need to take it back out to Samuell Garland Park to really open it up. I can’t wait to see how fast it is now!

Should I build or buy a drone?

As far as I’m concerned, building a drone is the way to go. It is always good to understand how things work. If you build your own drone, and something goes wrong in the field, you’ll already know how to fix it.

I build the PH145 from scratch, because there isn’t anything quite like it on the market. At this point, I’m quite confident that the PH145 frame will survive any crash I can put it through—I’ve hit concrete quite hard on several occasions so far.

There are plenty of quadcopter frames on the market to choose from. Most of them are quite inexpensive. When my friend Brian crashes his 450mm drone, he usually breaks one of the arms. A set of four arms costs only $12. He’s managed to also break a motor once, and that cost him another $10. Do-it-yourself drones tend to be inexpensive and easy to repair.

Me and My PH145 Drone at Breckenridge Park

That said, my friends at have sent me an FPV racing drone that I feel is good competition for the PH145. It is the Holybro Shuriken 180 Pro. It isn’t a kit. It arrives at your door fully assembled. Just attach the antenna, pop in a battery, bind it to your existing controller, and you’ll be in the air in no time!

You’re probably looking at the Shuriken 180 Pro and thinking that it looks absolutely nothing like the PH145. The Shuriken has bigger, exposed propellers, more powerful motors, and a carbon fiber frame. You’re absolutely correct—this is much different than the PH145!

I chose the Shuriken, because it is fast, and the price is comparable to the PH145. It is exactly the sort of thing I might have bought if I didn’t design the PH145.

I’ve been flying the Shuriken 180 Pro from Gearbest for a few days. It is a fantastic quadcopter—fast, maneuverable, and very sturdy! It is a significantly more powerful than my PH145. The open props on the Shuriken survived some pretty hard crashes into the grass, but it doesn’t fare as well on asphalt. I had a very minor crash in the parking lot at, and I had to replace three propellers.

I hit that same parking lot at full speed with the PH145 all the time, and it is rare that I break a prop when doing so. That said, the Shuriken 180 Pro is a good bit faster than the PH145, costs about the same, and is fully assembled and ready to go out of the box. You can read my review of the Shuriken 180 Pro for more details.

I’ve been learning to fly FPV with both the PH145 and the Shuriken 180 Pro. I can manage flying the Shuriken, but I do a much better job with the PH145. If I didn’t have the PH145, I’m sure I’d be more comfortable with the Shuriken. I’m just not good at handling the extra thrust yet.

What’s next for the PH145?!

I have some minor upgrades on the way. Things like a lighter battery, better propellers, and aluminum screws. The PH145 is already faster than a novice like me can handle. I still can’t wait to see how fast it will be after these upgrades, even if I’m only capable of flying it fast in a straight line!

In the near future, I plan to continue to learn to fly my quadcopter. So far, I’m doing a bad job learning how to fly in first-person view. Learning is going to be a lot of fun, and the best part is that I’ll be crashing a lot. I think the latest iteration of the PH145 frame is close to bulletproof, but I look forward to trying to prove myself wrong!

Designing a 3D-Printed Parametric Micro Quadcopter with OpenSCAD

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Last month, I bought my first drone—a Blade Nano QX. A friend recommended this quadcopter to me, and he said it would be a great way to learn to fly a drone with my Spektrum DX6 transmitter. I think he steered me in the right direction, and I’ve been having a blast.

The Blade Nano QX is quite sturdy. I’m getting much better at flying it, but I still crash it quite often and quite hard! I knew the frame wasn’t going to last forever, and I enjoy modeling 3D-printed designs, so it wasn’t long before I started thinking about design ideas.

Custom 3D Printed 820 Quadcopter Drone

My plan was to 3D print a new frame for the Blade Nano QX flight controller and motors. I also ordered a set of 8.5x20mm motors—they’re absolutely huge compared to the stock 6x15mm motors, but the Nano’s brain couldn’t control them properly.

I have a Micro Scisky flight controller with integrated DSM2 on order, but it won’t arrive for several weeks. In the mean-time, I’m going to focus on the 6x15mm stuff, and I’m going to work on making this build a Blade Nano QX++.

The early ideas

It is nearly impossible to beat the Blade Nano QX frame with a 3D-printed part. The Nano is injection-molded, and the walls of the arms are extremely thin. These thin walls are rigid, because they have a curved top.

The injection-molding process doesn’t have to worry about gravity, either. You can’t 3D print out in open air—the plastic is subject to the effects of gravity during the print, so everything has to be supported by something. My goal is to build a frame as tough and light as the Blade Nano QX.

I decided my design would be printed with the top of the quadcopter facing down. That would keep the flight controller and the propellers at a similar height, and it would allow me to build landing gear and a battery holder on the bottom.

An Early Prototype 3D Printed Drone

I could have gone with a simple cross shape, but that seemed boring. Instead, I used curved arms. I don’t usually do a good job making curvy things with OpenSCAD, but this wasn’t too bad. Most things in OpenSCAD are the union, difference, or intersection of cubes, spheres, and cylinders.

My quadcopter’s arms are the difference of a couple of disc-like cylinders. Then I squish that perfect circle on one axis with OpenSCAD’s scale function. The math to make sure that leftover curve will connect the motors to the flight controller is simple enough, although I did guess at that number instead of doing the math at first.

  span=105;  // wingspan from center of motors
  frame=2.4; // thickness of the frame and arms

  sides=sqrt(span*span/2);  // length of the sides of the square

  curve_scale=(sides-25)/2 / (sides/2) * 1.1;  // 25 is a magic number representing the Nano's flight controller
  difference() {
    scale([1, curve_scale, 1])
      cylinder(d=sides, h=frame);
    scale([1, curve_scale, 1])
      cylinder(d=sides-frame*2, h=frame+2);

From here, I take a difference of that ring shape and a large enough cube. That leaves me with an arch.

Now I have a fun way to connect the flight controller mount to the motor mounts. How am I going to mount the motors?

I know cylindrical motor mounts will work best, but I also know that everyone will have their 3D printer calibrated a little differently. The mounts need to be tight enough to keep the motor from spinning, yet loose enough that you can still fit the motor inside. The tolerances are tight enough that things might vary from one spool of filament to the next. If the motor mounts aren’t tight enough, the motors will spin freely and rip out their wires. If the motor mounts are too tight, you’ll never get the motors in place.

Slightly Broken Drone

I hoped to avoid that by using C-shaped motor mounts. They worked reasonably well in ABS, but they completely failed in Taulman 910 nylon filament. I spun two motors hard enough that the wires were pulled out.

From here, it is all just a matter of working out the math to place the motors and arms in the correct places.

The first test flights

Shortly before the first 3D printed test, we were experimenting with my Blade Nano QX at makerspace. One of my friends had his 450mm quadcopter with 10” blades with him. We set it up on a desk, and we spun it up just fast enough that it was about to take off. Then I tried to see how close I could fly my Nano to it.

The effects were surprising. I started out near the ceiling, and I tried to lower the Nano onto the bigger quadcopter. I could only get so close before I couldn’t descend anymore. We all found this potential air vortex to be interesting, and I’m not quite sure what happened next, but I did somehow manage to penetrate this air stream. My Nano hit one of the blades, and was thrown across the room into the wall. One of the arms was ripped in half.

Not to be discouraged, I opened up my laptop and fired up the 3D printer. I printed my early prototype. It was only 90mm from motor to motor, which is actually a lot smaller than the Blade Nano. My motor mounts ended up being a little too small, but a little cutting and some tape got everything temporarily mounted.

My prototype was in trouble as soon as it was airborne! It was impossible to control, ridiculously fast, and downright crazy. We chalked it up to the small size and the tape.

The next day, I printed a correctly sized drone that didn’t require tape. It wouldn’t fly correctly, either, but it was flying a bit better. I could get it into the air, but the drone wanted to fly forward and to the left. I tried to correct for this with the controls, but the longer it was in the air, the more it would lean in that direction!

I ordered a replacement Blade Nano QX frame from Amazon. After installing everything on the new frame, everything was flying better. Not perfectly, but I didn’t realize that right away. Something was wrong.

The foam flight controller “mount” is important!

There was a lot of discussion about why my 3D-printed frame wouldn’t fly. In my test flights, I used a rubber band to hold the flight control board and battery to the frame. I guess this transmits all sorts of vibrations to the controller, and it just can’t compensate for it.

Separating the controller from the frame with the foam worked great, but my quadcopter still wasn’t flying right. As it turns out, one of my 6x15mm motors was dented. I imagine this happened during the incident with the large drone. After swapping it out, my little ABS drone was flying just as well as the Blade Nano QX frame!

Upgrading to nylon

I’ve been tempted to try printing with nylon for years. The hot ends in a lot of 3D printers have a PTFE tube down the center. Nylon is printed at between 260 and 275 degrees Celsius. PTFE begins to melt at 260 degrees Celcius, so these printers don’t have a chance of working with nylon. My 3D printer has an all-metal hot end, so 275 degrees Celcius is no problem.

Printing my own microquad frame with Taulman 910 nylon filament seems like a good test run before printing something like the DJ105 quadcopter frame.

A Squadron of ABS and Nylon 3D Printed Drones

Nylon is difficult to print, but I could tell right away that it is a lot sturdier than ABS or PLA. I ended up with a lot of whiskers and spiderwebs all over my quadcopter frames. I tried to tweak some of that out using Slic3r, but it seems like it is inevitable. When the print job is done, the leftover nylon in the hot end oozes out of the extruder very quickly, just like it does during the print.

All that stray nylon is a pain to clean off, because it is too sturdy to just rip or pull off. I have to trim everything with a knife and scissors.

The nylon feels extremely sturdy. I don’t think I can crash a quadcopter with brushed motors hard enough to break the nylon. I did break several ABS motor mounts. The ABS mounts that I broke were three walls thick. I reduced the nylon motor mount walls to only two walls, and I don’t think they’re in any danger of breaking.

The nylon flexes much more than ABS or PLA. The larger frame I built for the 8.5x20mm motors flexes a little under its own weight. I’m thinking about adding some sort of bracing to reduce this flex.

Nylon allows for thin prop guards

I didn’t add propeller guards to my design at first. I’ve printed enough kilograms of ABS to know that I’d need very thick prop guards to survive an impact. I figured adding a set of prop guards would be a good way to see what nylon could do.

A Custom 3D Printed Nylon Drone

I believe my first set of prop guards were about 0.8mm tall and 1.6mm wide. That was too thin, so I bumped it up to 1.6mm x 1.6mm. That’s what I put on the first 8.5x20mm motor drone. I have it in my hand here now, and these prop guards will work great. I’ve thrown this drone at the floor with the motors and props installed, and it just bounces around. No damage at all!

What’s next?

I’m waiting on a Micro Scisky flight controller to arrive from China. The Micro Scisky is a compact flight controller for use with brushed motors, and it has an integrated ESCs and a built-in DSM2 radio. It runs the same software as the Naze32 flight controllers all my friends used in their 450mm drone builds—CleanFlight or BetaFlight.

A 450mm Drone at Drone Flying Event with

When the Micro Scisky controller arrives, I plan to get straight to work fitting it into this 3D model and getting my 8.5x20mm quadcopter off the ground. I’m already getting impatient. I probably should have ordered one with Amazon’s two-day shipping!

I’m confident my 820 drone will be powerful enough to carry a first-person-view (FPV) camera. That sounds like a lot of fun, and it will let me get in some FPV flying practice before moving on to my next drone.

Alex Flying His FPV Racing Drone

I’ve been researching both the RS90 and DJ105 quadcopters on Thingiverse. They’re both amazing designs for small, brushless drones. I was leaning towards building a DJ105 drone, but it uses 2.5” propellers. Those aren’t very common, and there aren’t a lot of motors that will fit the DJ105’s tiny frame.

UPDATE: I designed a parametric 3D-printed nylon quadcopter. I call it the PH145. It uses 3” propellers, 1306 4000KV brushless motors, and a 4S LiPo battery. It is loud, fast, and extremely sturdy! You should check it out!

Repairing an Old, Sagging Recliner - Part 2 - Replacing the Cushion

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Two years ago, I bought a big, old Lane Summerlin recliner off Craigslist for $100. It looked great, but I knew before I bought it that the seat was falling out. The guy that sold it to me knew this recliner was in trouble—he made me sit on it several times, and he kept asking if I was sure I wanted to buy it.

Lane Summerlin Recliner from Craigslist

I was OK with this. I just wanted an extra chair for the corner of my home office, and at the time, I didn’t think I’d be sitting on it all that often. If I hadn’t repaired it, that would have been true, but that old recliner has grown to become an important part of my home office. I sit on it almost every day!

The Lane Summerlin is a nice recliner—especially if you’re tall! The armrests are high enough that my elbows can actually reach them. Sometimes I don’t want to hit the armrests, and this chair is wide enough that I can easily tuck my elbows in between—like when I’m playing video games!

Lane Summerlin Born in 2007

My Summerlin recliner will be celebrating its 10th birthday this year, but Lane still produces this recliner today. I don’t know what I’d have to pay locally, but they start at $715 at Amazon. Adding together a full set of springs, enough seat cushion foam for three recliners, and the initial cost of the used recliner, my total cost is about $180, a little elbow grease, and an unexpected learning opportunity.

I should note here that I only bought two springs. At a later, random date I liberated a full set of springs from a couch my friend Brian was throwing away.

Had I known two years ago how much I would like this model of recliner and how much I’d be using it, I would have gladly paid $715 for a factory-fresh model. I’m happy how things turned out, though. If you have an aging recliner, I hope my story will encourage you to repair it.

The previous repairs

As soon as I got my recliner home, I flipped it over and discovered missing and broken springs under the seat. Recliner-seat springs can be found at Amazon for about $10 with Prime shipping, and they’re easy to replace. I already wrote 1,600 words about that two years ago, so I won’t go into too many details here.

Seat Cushion Springs

The hardest part about putting those springs in is stretching them into place. I should have done some research two years ago, and I should have done research again when I decided to replace the cushion this week. You can get a T-Hook tool from Amazon for about $5. I’m sure my fingers and back would have thanked me if I had been smart enough to order one. Most of the T-Hook tools are an add-on item, and I’ll definitely be adding one to my toolbox on my next order.

When I was replacing the springs, I noticed two problems. The wooden frame that the springs are attached to had already been repaired once, and it was repaired poorly. The L-bracket in one of the front corners came loose at some point, and whoever reattached it didn’t line things up right—the L-bracket was back about an inch from its original location. This meant my springs weren’t getting as much tension on one side.

I also noticed that the seat cushion was in terrible shape. It had some cuts and gouges, and it was squished quite flat in the back. My quick fix at the time was to put the cushion in backwards.

It worked well, and it was a huge upgrade. The recliner may not have felt brand new, but I didn’t sink to the floor anymore, and the chair was worth sitting on.

I’ve been talking about replacing that cushion for two years, but the chair has been good enough, so I lacked any real motivation. I’m not sure what triggered my impulse to buy a new seat cushion, but I finally did. Had I known how much more of an improvement it would be, I would’ve bought one two years ago!

Replacing the cushion

Replacing the seat cushion was as easy as I expected. I measured the existing cushion. It was 4” thick and 24” wide. I never measured the length. I knew from my previous research that I would be buying a long piece of high density foam. I figured I’d cut it a few inches too long—I could always shorten it, but I can’t make it longer once it’s cut!

The Nicer Side of the Old Recliner Seat Cushion

I ordered a 4”-thick 24” x 72” piece of high density foam for $47 shipped. It cost a little more than some of the other options available at Amazon, but its compression rate was higher than most of the other high-density foam. A six-foot length of foam was more than I needed; it was enough to replace the foam in three recliners! The foam was inexpensive, and I have enough now that I could screw everything up and try again if I have to, and it was easy to put the rest back in the box and stick it in a closet.

Cutting the foam was easy. I put the old piece of foam on top for size, and I hacked away at it with my Swiss Army CyberTool 34. I was in a hurry, and I didn’t need a clean cut. I figured that side would be facing the back anyway!

Getting the new piece of foam in wasn’t as easy as I expected. The old, flattened, tattered foam slides in and out quite easily. The new foam was a tight fit, but I was able to muscle it into place. While I was cutting, I learned that the old foam was probably 1” or 2” narrower, and it was really bulging in the middle once I got it into place.

I was worried that this would work poorly or look funny, but once I got the recliner reassembled, it looks perfectly flat. It also feels amazing! I’m pretty heavy, and I don’t think I sink down into the chair at all. It is literally—not figuratively!—like a brand-new chair.

Straightening the seat frame

There’s not much to describe here. I took the screws out of the existing L-bracket, and I muscled the piece of wood in the front back to where it was from the factory—or at least extremely close to it! I drilled a new hole, and I put a fresh screw into the L-bracket.

The Goobered Up L-Bracket

Without the springs pulling on the frame, it was easy enough to move the frame back into place. I’m not sure how much impact this had on my repairs, but I figured I should fix it while I had the springs out.

I’m hoping this repair helped a little, and it was easy to do. I didn’t do a before and after with the new seat cushion for verification, but I’m not confident that I’ll be able to feel the difference. Those springs were just as hard to pull into place when the frame was an inch shorter on the left, and the seat never felt like it was leaning to one side.

It was a simple fix, though, and it only took a few minutes.

The results

I thought it felt like a new chair when I replaced the springs two years ago. I was wrong. It felt like a slightly less used chair—a chair that was comfortable enough to sit on, though.

With the new cushion, it truly does feel like a brand new chair. If I had just spent a few more minutes’ time and a few extra dollars two years ago, I could have been sitting on this the entire time! If you’re replacing springs, I highly recommend replacing the cushion at the same time.

Do you have an old, sagging recliner? Does it have busted springs and a sad, lumpy cushion? If you repaired it, I’d love to hear about how your repairs went! Was it worth your time and effort? I’m extremely happy with my results!

I Upgraded to a Canon 6D Full Frame DSLR

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It has been a year since I wrote about my first DSLR, a Canon Rebel XSi. By the time I bought that camera, it was already old, roughed up, and way out of date. It was still a fine camera capable of taking excellent photographs, and it still is. It was an excellent and inexpensive way to dip my toe into the waters of professional-grade digital photography, but I’ve known for a while that an upgrade was in my future. I’ve been buying all sorts of camera gear—mostly lenses—but I’ve been making sure everything I bought would work with a full-frame Canon DSLR—just in case!

Canon EOS 6D with Tamron 28-75 f/2.8

A few months ago, my wife started attending our Photography Club meetings at She’s been learning a lot, and she was borrowing my Rebel XSi to take pictures for our weekly photography contests. More and more often, I’d reach for my camera only to realize it wasn’t there. I was hoping to hold out a little longer before buying a new DSLR body, but this seemed like a good excuse to finally pull the trigger.

Should I upgrade to full frame?

When I bought my old, used DSLR, my primary use case was shooting better photos for my blog, and that old Rebel XSi from 2008 was more than up to the task. In fact, it did a fine job in almost every situation, especially after upgrading to my favorite lens—the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8. I could take awesome photos around the house, in my home office, or at other less-than-ideally lit indoor locations. As long as I could keep the ISO down at 400, I was good to go.

Long Exposure of a Bus

I could have upgraded to a much less expensive crop-sensor camera. The Canon t4i, t5i and 60D are all reasonably priced cameras, and they can all push well past my old Rebel XSi’s ISO 1600 maximum. We recently upgraded my wife to a Canon 60D, so I’ve had a chance to compare photos!

I was using my Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 lens in downtown Plano one night at the Plano Art and Wine Walk. With only the street-lights to illuminate my photos at ISO 1600, I couldn’t get a fast-enough shutter speed to prevent people’s arms from being blurry when they were walking by. This was the biggest limitation of my old camera that I wanted to correct, and it is what led me towards the Canon 6D.

Why the Canon EOS 6D?

I did a lot of research before settling on the Canon 6D. I am a fan of used camera gear, and the Canon 6D has a nice price point on the used market. The Canon 6D sits about half-way between the price of the Canon 5D Mk2 and Mk3 on the used market.

I skipped the Canon 5D Mk2 because the low-light performance isn’t as good as either the 5D Mk3 or 6D. I could get a nicer, newer crop sensor Canon 60D for less than half the price of the 5D Mk2. They say having the full-frame sensor gets you about an extra half stop of light sensitivity, but I didn’t think that was enough to keep the 5D Mk2 on my list.

Tommy and Greg at The Downtown Plano Wine and Art Walk

I’d already been thinking about purchasing a Canon 6D for months, and this is the photograph that convinced me that it would be a worthwhile upgrade. I was pushing my Rebel XSi as far as I knew how, but Tommys and Greg’s hands are just a blur under those street lights, and there’s so much noise in their faces.

It was too dark that night to capture a lot of shots I would have liked, but this one stood out in my mind because I almost had it.

Canon 450D / XSi at ISO 800 Canon 60D at ISO 800 Canon 60D at ISO 3200 Canon 6D at ISO 6400

The Canon 6D and 5D Mark III have similar capabilities. The advantage of the 5D Mk3 compared to my Canon 6D is its huge quantity of autofocus points. I have rarely been in a situation where I need more than my center autofocus point, so I had a hard time getting excited about this.

The Canon 6D has Wi-Fi and GPS. I was hoping the Wi-Fi would come in handy, and getting a location stamped on all my photos is a nice bonus. For my purposes, saving $500 by going with a used Canon 6D was a no-brainer!

There are some excellent Sony mirrorless cameras. I’ve handled a few. Their owners love them, but I didn’t feel comfortable with the LCD display in the viewfinder. The ones with better low-light performance than the Canon 6D also cost a good bit more, but if I didn’t already own a bag full of Canon EF mount lenses, my decision might have been more difficult!

New or used?

So far, I’ve had good luck with almost every piece of used photography gear I’ve bought from Amazon. I had one occasion where the item we received wasn’t as described. The used Sigma 18-125mm I ordered for my wife was supposed to be the model with optical stabilization, but the lens we received was the older model. The seller refunded a large portion of our purchase price, which made the lens an excellent value.

Brian at Beer Brew Night

That’s my worst experience with buying used camera gear on Amazon, and it wasn’t bad at all. I’ve purchased three used lenses and three used bodies so far, and every one but the Sigma was exactly what I expected. I’ve mostly bought things that are described as being in “like new” condition.

I’ve saved nearly $2,000 buying used equipment instead of new. Your mileage may vary, of course.

My Canon 6D body was marked “used – like new” at Amazon. It was packaged in its original box, and it had a shutter count of around 5,000. You wouldn’t have known that it wasn’t brand new. The box was from the bundle with the Canon 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM lens. It would have been amazing if that lens happened to still be in the box!

Just for your reference, I paid $1,150 for the Canon 6D body in September when new bodies were listed for around $1,750.

Was the full-frame Canon 6D worth the money?

I’m quite pleased with the upgrade. More than anything, I wanted better low-light performance out of my new camera, and the Canon 6D easily meets that requirement. I can take photographs around my office for the blog without turning on all my lights. My old Rebel XSi topped out at ISO 1600, and it was fairly noisy up that high.

The Canon EOS 6D has similar noise levels until around ISO 6400, and I can still push it to ISO 12800 in a pinch. Most of the time, Darktable’s profiled denoise function does a satisfactory job at ISO 12800 on my Canon 6D. I’ve only taken test shots at ISO 25600. It gets really noisy up there, and I haven’t yet found a need to push it that far in the real world.

Canon 450D at ISO 800 Canon 450D at ISO 1600 Canon 60D at ISO 800 Canon 60D at ISO 1600 Canon 60D at ISO 3200 Canon 60D at ISO 6400 Canon 6D at ISO 1600 Canon 6D at ISO 3200 Canon 6D at ISO 6400

If you enjoy taking shots with a shallow depth of field, you’ll love a full-frame camera. The first test shots I took at my desk with my Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 had a shallower depth of field than I ever saw on my crop-sensor Rebel XSi—even with my Canon 50mm f/1.8 or Yongnuo 35mm f/2 prime lenses! In fact, it is almost a struggle to get a deep enough depth of field when I shoot something that’s sitting on my desk—I’m often pushing it to F/8 or more!

My Canon 6D body cost almost three times as much as my wife’s used Canon 60D. They’re both fantastic cameras, and the 60D would have been a huge upgrade for me. I’ve only shot with my wife’s camera a few times, but I feel that I made the right decision.

Some of the things I prefer about the Canon 6D are minor. Even though the Canon 60D also has the professional-style layout, I think the controls feel better and more comfortable on my 6D.

For me, everything comes back to that low-light performance. I have confidence that no matter how dim the room is, I can push my ISO higher to squeeze out a little more shutter speed. I’m already letting just about as much light in as I can with my Tamron 28-75 f/2.8—a better body was the only upgrade I had left, and I think it was worth every penny.

The Canon 6D Wi-Fi is terrible

The Wi-Fi capabilities of the Canon 6D are just short of being useless. I’d been using a Wi-Fi SD card in my old camera for a few months. It wasn’t all that capable, but I could at least have it copy the raw files off my camera as I was shooting. The Canon 6D’s built-in Wi-Fi can’t send raw files at all.

I have found the Android app to be useful at times, but it is a real pain in the neck for my use case. I used it to share photos on Twitter while I was at SlingFest and the Downtown Plano Art and Wine Walk. This seemed like an ideal use case for the built-in Wi-Fi.

Chisomo at The Downtown Plano Wine and Art Walk

I figured it would be easy. I turned on the Wi-Fi hotspot on my phone and connected my camera. The camera connects just fine, but the Android app can’t see the Canon 6D on the network. Canon’s app simply refuses to even look for the camera on the network. I can view photos on the camera with other Android DLNA apps in this configuration, but I haven’t liked any of the DLNA apps I’ve tried.

The only way I am able to copy photos to my camera is by enabling the access point on the Canon 6D and connecting my phone that way. That means my phone is no longer connected to the Internet. It takes way too long to copy and share photos this way. There’s so much waiting involved every time you connect the phone to a new network, and sometimes I have to power cycle the camera to make things work.

Tethered shooting with the Android app is neat, but I rarely get to use it. Disconnecting my phone from the rest of the world isn’t worthwhile.

There is a downside when moving to full frame

I’ve long been prepared for my upgrade to a full-frame DSLR. Almost every lens I bought has been a full-frame lens—Canon full-frame (EF) lenses will mount on crop-sensor (EF-S) bodies, but not the other way around! I couldn’t use two lenses from my collection.

I can’t use the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens. That’s no loss at all, since I’d replaced it with the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 a long time ago. The Tamron f/2.8 is a fantastic lens—sharp enough for me that I’ve almost completely stopped using my 50mm f/1.8 prime! It is a great value, too—especially used!

The Tamron 28-75mm is equivalent to about 45-120mm on a 1.6x crop-sensor camera—a perfect walking-around lens! It can go wide enough to use comfortably indoors, while still having enough reach when you’re walking around outside.

I knew my lenses would feel different on the Canon EOS 6D, but I didn’t anticipate just how different! My Tamron 28-75mm is so much less useful in wide, open spaces on the full-frame DSLR. It is still my favorite lens, and it is mounted to my camera 95% of the time, but I use it mostly indoors now. When I’m wandering around outside, I usually bring my telephoto lens now.

Speaking of the telephoto lens, that’s the other lens I had to replace. As soon as I got home from SlingFest last year, I ordered a Canon 55-250mm telephoto lens. SlingFest is a big place, and I missed a lot of shots because I couldn’t walk around quickly enough to follow all the action. I wanted to be prepared for the next year, and the Canon 55-250mm is a low cost used lens.

Unfortunately for me, the Canon 55-250mm is an EF-S lens, so it doesn’t work on my Canon 6D—it is in my wife’s bag now for her Canon 60D. When I bought the Canon 6D, SlingFest was already approaching fast. I also bought an ancient, used telephoto lens—a Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6. It is actually an old lens made for a film camera!

It is far from a great lens, but lighting is almost always favorable when I use it. It doesn’t have optical stabilization, so I make sure to keep the shutter speed at 1/1000 or faster. I’m slow and lazy, so I don’t shoot full manual when I’m away from home. That kept me shooting in Tv mode with the Tamron 70-300mm, which meant the lens was always wide open.

I’ve since figured out how to use Magic Lantern’s Auto Exposure mode. This lets me set a fast minimum shutter speed while forcing the aperture to f/8 or higher. My ancient Tamron 70-300mm won’t be winning any sharpness contests, but stopping down to f/8 improves the quality of the shots from my $75 lens quite a bit!

Why would I use a $75 lens on a $2,000 camera? The answer is simple: I only use my telephoto lens a handful of times every year, and it is almost always a sunny day when I use it.


I know I made the right decision. The low-light performance of the Canon 6D is leaps and bounds ahead of my old Rebel XSi or my wife’s Canon 60D. The extra money I spent is a small price to pay for having the confidence that I can get the shots that I want at night or when the lights are out.

Under good lighting conditions, it just doesn’t matter. Almost every shot I’ve taken with my Canon 6D would have looked just as good if I had taken them with my wife’s Canon 60D—or even my old Rebel XSi!

If I didn’t want that low-light confidence, I would be shooting with a 60D today. In many ways, it is a better camera than the 6D—it is lighter, has faster autofocus, and the extra zoom of a crop sensor is handy.

Either way, I am now a fan of Canon’s semi-pro and pro style bodies. They have some nice upgrades over the consumer models. The pentaprism in the 6D and 60D is brighter and clearer than the pentamirror in the consumer DSLR bodies, and the LCD display on top is much handier than I expected.

If you’re buying used like I do, the difference in price between a semi-pro body like the Canon 60D and a consumer body like the Canon t5i is quite small. I believe the 60D, t4i, and t5i all use the same sensor, too!

My First Quadcopter - The Blade Nano QX Drone and Upgrades

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We had our first quadcopter-build event in December at makerspace in Plano, TX. The budget for that drone build was around $500. That included a 450-size quadcopter, a LiPo battery, a LiPo charger, and a really nice 6-channel controller—the Spektrum DX6. It was a great class, everyone had a good time, and we built and flew four drones that day.

450 Size Quadcopter at Greg Flying His Drone Flying an FPV Drone

I didn’t participate in the class. I’ve been doing a bad job at working on my own projects lately, so I thought it would be a bad idea to add yet another project to my plate. I did help out at the class, though, and I’ve been to all our quadcopter flying events—they’re fun to photograph! I think Brian got sick of me watching, so he suckered me into the hobby by giving me a Spektrum DX6 radio for Christmas.

I’m too impatient to wait for the next drone-build class at, so on the instructor’s recommendation, I ordered a Blade Nano QX Bind and Fly micro quadcopter. It flies just like our big quadcopters, but it is small enough and gentle enough to fly indoors. This is awesome, because it means I don’t have to put on pants and drive to a park just to play with my quadcopter!

Harley And The Blade Nano

Amazon is amazing. The Blade Nano QX was available with free same-day shipping. I ordered the drone on Sunday night, and I was flying it around the house on Monday afternoon!

The first day or two

They’re pretty serious about the “bind and fly” part. It didn’t take long to find the bind option in the Spektrum DX6 controller’s menu. Once I did, I was up and flying in a matter of seconds!

Before the drone even arrived, I ordered a set of larger LiPo batteries on Brian’s recommendation. Unfortunately, they didn’t show up until a few days later. The stock battery would last for a little more than five minutes of flying time, then it had to go back in the charger for 30 to 40 minutes. I didn’t enjoy that waiting, so I most definitely recommend ordering more batteries right away!

The 200mAh Crazepony batteries are a nice upgrade. The stock Blade Nano QX doesn’t start getting sluggish until close to the seven-minute mark, and it usually didn’t drop out of the sky until the timer hit 8.5 minutes!

My Blade Nano QX with Extra Batteries

I was flying around the house quite a bit the first day, and our cat Harley really enjoys watching the Blade Nano zipping around the living room. As I got better, I started hovering near Harley while he was sitting on the cat tree. He gets really interested when I try to fly in acrobatic mode, because I have to constantly correct the thing, and it zips around like a giant bug.

Harley and the Blade Nano QX

Eventually, he started getting brave, and he finally swatted the quadcopter out of the sky—it was a real King Kong moment! The poor little Nano went spinning out of the sky, and one of his motors went kaput. I was bummed out that I couldn’t fly anymore, but this was a perfect excuse for a motor upgrade!

My motor upgrade

The Blade Nano QX uses 6x15mm coreless motors. I ordered a set of six 17,300 Kv Spintech Sidewinder Motors from Amazon for $17—they were available with Prime shipping, but not same day, so I had to wait three whole days to fly again! I don’t know how fast the stock motors are, but I’m under the impression that even 14,000 Kv motors are an upgrade. There were lots of motor options on Amazon. These Spintech motors sounded like some of the fastest, and it was only a few bucks more than everyone else’s pack of four—having two spares seems prudent to me!

I was worried I might have gone too far. I’d read that the upgraded motors make the Blade Nano QX unstable in stability mode. There is some truth there. It does seem to overcorrect quite often, but you can hear it more than you see it. I feel like I put in more aggressive cams because it sometimes almost sounds like it’s loping. It is a small price to pay for the extra power.

Blade Nano QX and Spintech 17300kv Motors

The motors were simple to install. The hardest part was tucking the wires in underneath the arms, but it didn’t take long at all.

The new Spintech Sidewinder motors seem fast—really fast! I can’t wait to compare this to Brian’s Nano in person. I thought I’d gotten pretty good at flying that Nano with the stock motors. The first thing I did with the new motors was smack hard into the ceiling!

I have no equipment to measure the speed of this upgrade. When we modify cars, we have a measuring device that we call the “butt dyno.” Small modifications can’t be measured with the “butt dyno,” but big modifications certainly can. You usually can’t actually feel the difference after an exhaust upgrade, but you definitely can feel the difference when you upgrade to a bigger turbocharger!

This upgrade most definitely registers on the “butt dyno.” It is a turbocharger upgrade for sure!

The downside of the motor upgrade

The batteries don’t last nearly as long with the faster motors. I had set the timer on the Spektrum counting down from 7:40, and the Nano always had a bit of juice left in the tank with the 200 mAh batteries. I’ve since turned the timer down to 4:40, and the Nano falls out of the sky about 20 seconds later.

It seems to fly almost as long on the stock battery as it did before the motor upgrade, but it doesn’t feel as fast. I assume the stock battery just can’t supply as much current.

I’m not sure the difference in flight time is quite as big as it seems. The Spektrum DX6 timer defaults to counting down when the throttle is above 25%. The Spintech Sidewinder motors generate lift at a lower throttle position—it starts to lift at about 10% throttle with a fresh battery! While there is definitely a difference in battery life, I don’t believe it is as high as three minutes.

Was it a worthwhile upgrade? I think so. I can still fly it in the house, and I imagine the new motors will be tons of fun outside—I haven’t tried yet! I don’t mind giving up the flight time because I have spare batteries!

No good battery-storage solutions? 3D printing to the rescue!

It seems like every time I step into a new hobby, I end up finding a way to work 3D printing into it—quadcopters haven’t been an exception! I’m not 3D printing quadcopters yet, but I did find a solution to a simple problem.

I have all these tiny LiPo batteries now. I know I’ll need to carry them around with me, but I didn’t have a good way to do that. I wanted to keep them organized, have a way to identify which batteries are charged, and make sure I wouldn’t be accidentally shorting any connections.

To my surprise, I couldn’t find anything like this on Thingiverse, so I designed my own. I measured the LiPo battery connectors, designed a parametric model in OpenSCAD, and had the print job running in about 20 minutes. The first attempt was too snug, but while it was printing, I came up with the idea of adding a slot for the USB LiPo charger. With any luck, that will keep me from losing the charger!

Why am I using the Spektrum DX6?

I don’t have a good answer to this question. The drone-class instructor says it is a top notch controller, and I believe him. All the builders in his class bought a Spektrum DX6, and as far as I can tell, it seems like a great piece of hardware. If your goal is to putter around with an inexpensive micro quadcopter, the price of the Spektrum DX6 sure seems a little extreme.

I want to learn to pilot a proper quadcopter, so I don’t think the toy-like controller that ships with the “Ready-to-Fly” version of the Blade Nano QX is a good way to go. I can’t recommend any in particular, but Amazon carries a whole slew of 6-channel transmitters in the $50 range.

The Spektrum DXe Transmitter looks like the little brother of my Spektrum DX6. It is still a 6-channel transmitter, but it has fewer switches and no LCD panel and is less than 1/3 the price.

What’s next?

I don’t think I’m going to build one of the 450mm drones that all my friends are building. I’m having a blast flying around indoors, and I’d like to have something faster and more nimble. These thoughts led me to the RS90 Indoor FPV Quadcopter. The RS90 uses brushless motors, and it has blade guards to protect itself and my home. The video of the RS90 tooling around the house is quite impressive!

Learning about the RS90 also brought the DJ105 Brushless Quadcopter to my attention. The DJ105 isn’t much longer than the RS90, but it is a good deal wider. It can accommodate bigger propellers, and the creator’s build has more than double the thrust of the RS90! That sounds like a lot of fun, but I have a feeling that the extra size and power might not work well indoors.

The DJ105 sounds pretty sturdy, and I’ve been looking for an excuse to pick up some nylon filament for my 3D printer.

UPDATE: I designed a parametric 3D-printed nylon quadcopter. I call it the PH145. It uses 3” propellers, 1306 4000KV brushless motors, and a 4S LiPo battery. It is loud, fast, and extremely sturdy! You should check it out!

Should I buy a Blade Nano QX?

There are other options, but I have no experience with them. I’m told the Nano QX was hot and exciting a few years ago. That means there might be newer, better, more exciting micro drones available now. I don’t care, though. I like the Blade Nano QX, and so does my buddy Harley.

The Blade Nano QX Bind-N-Fly is a good value. It flies well, and it pairs with DSMX radio controllers, so you can learn to fly a quadcopter with your real controller without worrying about destroying your expensive drone.

Flying an FPV Drone with

If you want to build something bigger, and you’re near Plano, TX, you should stop by makerspace . They have a community of quadcopter enthusiasts, and they’re going to have drone-building classes on a regular basis.

Six Months with the Steam Link

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It is hard for me to believe that I first wrote about my Steam Link over six months ago. I’d have guessed I owned it half as long, but I realized that my recollection is clouded by the fact that I added a second Steam Link to my network just a few months ago.

The Steam Link, Steam Controller, and Rascal Pants

Being able to stream games from my computer to my televisions has come in handy, and I’ve had a chance to try some controller-based games in my Steam library that I might never have bothered to play on my computer.

How does the Steam Link work?

The Steam client on your PC captures your display and encodes that data into an h.264 video stream. That stream is sent over your local area network to the Steam Link that’s plugged into your TV. Your game controller connects to the Link, and the Link transmits your controller inputs back to your computer.

This adds some latency to your gaming. For the most part, this hasn’t caused me any problems. It probably goofs up my Rocket League game a bit, but the additional 10ms of latency usually isn’t something you’ll notice.

Steam In-Home Streaming Settings

Steam streaming doesn’t even require a Steam Link. You can stream from one PC to another as long as they are both on your local network and have the Steam client running, but the Link is inexpensive, does its job quite well, and it is easy to hide behind your TV.

Does it use a lot of bandwidth? Do I need a fast Internet connection?

If you’re using a hard-wired connection, you shouldn’t have any trouble. Playing games at 1080p just about maxes out the 100-megabit Ethernet connection on the Link. That’s enough bandwidth that I don’t often notice serious mpeg artifacts, though you can sometimes see some blocking when a game fires off lots of explosions.

You don’t need a fast Internet connection. As long as Steam will let you play your game offline, you don’t need the Internet at all. All Steam streaming traffic stays inside your house.

The Link in my office is plugged into my wired network, and so is the desktop computer that runs my games. I rarely have trouble streaming games in here.

Does the Steam Link work over Wi-Fi?

Yes, it does, but not particularly well. If you’re going to stream your games over Wi-Fi, things will go a lot smoother if one end of the connection uses a wired connection instead of Wi-Fi. If both ends are on Wi-Fi, you’re cutting your bandwidth in half—every packet will go from the PC to your Wi-Fi access point, then from your access point to the Link.

When I added a Steam Link to the TV in the living room, I tried streaming games over my old 802.11a access point. It worked better than I expected, but I had to limit the resolution to 720p. Even then, Steam’s In-Home Streaming often turns the bandwidth down, and the quality of the stream suffers. The overall latency was closer to 30ms, but I was able to play some Rocket League in the living room!

My old powerline Ethernet hardware is just too old for Steam streaming. They claim to be 200 megabit, but in practice they only manage about 30 megabit, and the latency is just awful. Newer hardware might work better, and it may be worth a try, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

A Picture Of Harley For No Reason

I decided to upgrade my Wi-Fi. I purchased a D-Link DIR-860L 802.11ac router, and I’m using it as an access point. They’re only about $30 at Amazon, which is good, because I didn’t want to invest too much money in this streaming experiment. I was in need of some extra Ethernet switch ports on the other side of my home office, and the DIR-860L does seem to be supported pretty well by OpenWRT. I’m still running the stock firmware because it looks like it has significantly better wireless performance, and I need every megabit I can squeeze out of it!

Everything is working out much better in the living room now that I’m using 802.11ac. When things are working well, the performance is nearly as good as the wired Link in my office. The latency is only about 5ms worse. Keep in mind that my PC is hard-wired to my network.

Things don’t always work so smoothly, though. I tried to play some Neon Chrome in the living room last night. Things were all right for about 5 minutes, but then I started to have connectivity issues. I figured I might try rebooting the new D-Link box, but it is located upstairs. Since I was already going upstairs, I just continued my game in my office.

Wired is definitely the way to go.

Choosing a controller

I bought the Steam Link and Steam Controller at the same time. The Steam Controller is a fantastic piece of hardware. It is a huge improvement over a PlayStation or Xbox controller when it comes to aiming in most shooters. You use the right touchpad for large movements, and then you can bring your aim in more precisely with the motion controls to pull of those head shots. It may not be as fast and accurate as a mouse, but it is surprisingly good once you get used to it.

I’m also a big fan of the two extra buttons on the underside of the Steam Controller. It is nice to have more buttons within easy reach, especially with the Steam Controller’s lack of face buttons.

Steam Controller and Dual Shock 4 On My Desk

I’m glad I bought the Steam Controller. It isn’t well suited to all games, but I would never play a game like Borderlands 2 on the TV without it. There are plenty of other controllers that work well with the Steam Link, but I’m only going to tell you about the ones I’ve tried.

When the Link first arrived, I tried all sorts of my favorite games. I quickly learned that the Steam Controller was a pretty poor choice for games like Super Meat Boy, so I plugged in my wireless Xbox 360 controller. It worked exactly as well as when I plug the controller directly into the computer.

Things have improved even more since then. Now the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 4 controllers are first-class citizens, and Steam allows you to remap the controls just like you can with the Steam Controller. How awesome is that?

As soon as I saw this announcement, I immediately ordered a PlayStation 4 controller, and I’ve been using it ever since. I’ve played quite a few hours of Rocket League with it, and the d-pad is such a huge upgrade over the Xbox 360 controllers. That said, used Xbox 360 wireless controllers are a tremendous value—we have eight of them at that we use every week for Video Game Night!

All three of these controllers work great. Use the one you prefer, use the one you already have, or use all three!

PlayStation 3 controllers are fully supported now, too. I’m using my old PS3 controller in the living room.

Is the Steam Link bad at anything?

Being that I’m of a certain age, one of the first things non-Steam things I tried to get streaming to the Link was a Nintendo Entertainment System emulator. This seems like a strange thing to stream to the TV that’s mounted above my cocktail arcade cabinet, since I could just fire it up there and play with arcade controls. It was easy enough to get working, but Super Mario Bros. just felt so terrible!

It has something to do with the video encoding. As you run through the world, the screen sort of stretches and oscillates. It looks terrible, and it feels terrible. I imagine Sonic the Hedgehog would feel even worse!

I haven’t found any native games with the same problem. Super Meat Boy is the most Mario-like game I’ve played, and it looks fine.

Why did I just think to write about this now?

Neon Chrome was part of the most recent Humble Monthly Bundle. I’m a long-time fan of the twin-stick shooter Dead Nation. I’ve been looking for a game with a similar feel for years, but most twin-stick shooters are all about spamming your gun. Neon Chrome has taken most of what I enjoy about Dead Nation and thrown in a bunch of my favorite roguelike elements from Rogue Legacy.

They’ve done a good job with this game, and I’ve been playing it a lot this week. I’m approaching the end of my second play-through, and I’ve been playing for about 16 hours so far. At some point I realized that those 16 hours were spent using the Steam Link, and I’d almost completely forgotten that I was actually streaming the game!

Neon Chrome Steam

That’s my favorite part about the Steam Link—I sometimes forget about all the hoops it is jumping through to allow me to play my favorite games on the television!

It isn’t always perfect

Every once in a while, I don’t get any audio when the Link connects to my PC. A quick disconnect and reconnect always fixes the problem, so I haven’t bothered to dig any deeper into this issue.

Like most of the issues I had with Steam In-Home Streaming in the early days, I’m assuming this problem will be corrected at some point in the future.


If you enjoy video games, and you have a large collection in your Steam library, you should definitely own a Steam Link. It is a great value at $50, and it is probably the least cumbersome way to move your PC gaming to the couch.

Choosing Quality USB Cables

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In the past, I hadn’t given much thought to the quality of my USB cables. As long as they can pass data and charge my phone overnight, that was all I needed. That changed when I acquired my Chuwi Hi12 tablet. It charges via a Micro-USB port, and the supplied charger provides up to 2.4 amps. This big tablet charges quite slowly, so I wanted to make sure I could get as many milliamps to the tablet as possible.

Thinner wires have higher resistance, and so do longer wires. For convenience, I wanted to pack a 10’ USB cable in my laptop bag to charge my Chuwi Hi12. When I ordered my nylon-wrapped 10’ USB cable, I also dropped a nifty USB ammeter into my cart as well. Truth be told, I expected most of the USB cables in my home office to have similar performance.

Chuwi Hi12 and The Old Fujitsu P2120

Had this been the case, though, I wouldn’t have bothered writing this blog post. I was surprised by my initial findings. Some of my thicker, more expensive cables ended up being poor performers. In fact, they performed worse than some of my thin, generic cables—a thick jacket doesn’t always mean there’s thicker gauge wire inside!


Buy Volutz nylon braided cables. They are high-quality cables, they look great, and Volutz cables are very reasonably priced!

The Volutz cables seem to be in short supply at Amazon. The [Anker PowerLine cables][ak] charge my devices slightly faster than the Volutz cables, and their Kevlar wrapping sounds interesting. I just wish they came in 10’ lengths!

  • [Anker PowerLine Micro-USB 5-pack][ak] at Amazon

Testing methodology

I tried to be as scientific as possible. When your device has less charge, it will draw more amperage. I used my Chuwi Hi12 because it is the most power-hungry device I own that charges using a Micro-USB port. I started with the Chuwi Hi12 at about 75% charge—low enough to draw a lot of current, while high enough that I didn’t have to wait all day for the battery to drain.

Using a USB Power Meter

I tested each cable with four different chargers and one USB battery pack. I didn’t need to test this many different chargers. I definitely wanted to compare a high-amperage charger against a more common 1A charger. My intuition says that even a crummy USB cable will work fine if the current is low enough, but my curiosity got the better of me—I wanted to know if I was carrying the optimal charging adapter in my laptop bag!

Enough with the jibber-jabber! Lets see those numbers!

  Chuwi 3A Ravpower 2.4A Omaker 2.4A Fire TV 1.2A Kmashi Battery
Kmashi 6” 1.29 1.83 1.81 1.17 0.86
Aukey 3’ 1.68 1.28 1.27 0.97 0.73
Omaker 3’ 1.52 1.23 1.16 0.95 0.69
Volutz 3’ 2.09 1.76 1.85 1.17 0.85
[Anker Kevlar 3’][ak] 1.83 1.83 —— —— 0.71
Ravpower 3’ 1.86 1.44 1.4 0.4(?) 0.76
[Anker Kevlar 6’][ak] 1.83 1.59 —— —— 0.71
Volutz 6’ 1.98 1.54 1.52 1.17 0.74
Ravpower 10’ 1.29 1.03 0.97 0.84 0.6
Volutz 10’ 1.77 1.47 1.42 1.15 0.73

NOTE: The Anker cables are a late addition to the chart. I tried to replicate my test conditions as closely as possible, but I’ve misplaced two of the chargers, and all the cables I retested today scored 0.05+ amps lower than last time. I don’t know what’s to blame, but the differences are less than 5%.

The Volutz cables that I chose actually ended up being quite good! In fact, I only have one non-Volutz cable that works better than my ridiculously long 10’ Volutz cable, and it is only 3’ long!

The first cable I ordered specifically for my Chuwi Hi12 was a single Volutz 10’ Micro-USB cable—the one with the fancy blue nylon covering. My USB ammeter said it was pretty good cable, so I ordered more Volutz cables. This time it was the 5-pack of assorted cables in 3’, 6’ and 10’ lengths.

KMASHI 15k Battery and RAVPower WiFi Dingus

Aside from the Volutz cables, I also tested cables that I’ve been accruing over the years. My RAVPower Micro-USB cables came in an assortment of similar lengths, and the Aukey cables came in an assorted set of 3’ and 1’ lengths. I included the Omaker and Kmashi cables in the table, because they came with two of the charging devices I used in my testing.

Anker’s Kevlar cables (added 2017-01-22)

I’ve been using the Volutz cables for three months, and I’m quite pleased with them. The micro-USB ends still feel like new, and I have nothing to complain about. I saw a deal on [a 5-pack of Anker PowerLine Micro-USB cables][ak] a few days ago, and I just had to try them out!

They look and feel exactly like ordinary USB cables. At first glance, you’d most likely mistake them for some of the thicker generic USB cables I tested. Whereas those cheap cables are mostly rubber, these nice Anker cables are mostly copper! In fact, Anker upgraded the 5-volt line in these cables to 20-gauge wire.

I tested all the other cables three months ago, and I’m not entirely convinced that I replicated the test perfectly. I retested the Volutz 6’ cable for comparison, and I’m getting about 0.06 fewer amps out of it this time around. I have quite a few Volutz 6’ cables floating around, so I may have tested a different cable last time. The guy running the tests is most likely to blame for any inconsistencies. Today’s results are within about 5%, so I’m not too worried.

On my chart, the [Anker PowerLine cables][ak] scored almost as well as my Volutz cables. In today’s tests, my Volutz 6’ cable didn’t do quite as well as the Anker PowerLine 6’ cable—the Volutz cable came in about 0.06 amps lower than the last time I tested.

The [Anker PowerLine cables][ak] are probably the better cable. I just wish Anker sold a 10’ version to match my Volutz 10’ Micro-USB cable!

  • [Anker PowerLine Micro-USB 5-pack][ak] at Amazon

The data on the chargers is interesting

The big, clunky power supply that came with my Chuwi Hi12 provides almost 20% more amperage than either of my 2.4A power supplies. Unfortunately, it is a Chinese charger with an adapter for American wall sockets. It works fine hiding on the floor next to my recliner, but it is too clunky and fiddly to use away from home.

One of the first things I bought for the Chuwi was a RAVPower charger with a pair of 2.4A ports for about $10. It is compact, and it works great. About a week after it arrived, there was a deal at Amazon on some Omaker brand 2.4A chargers. A two-pack of Omaker chargers was $8.99. I couldn’t pass them up at that price.

Amazon, Omaker, and RAVPower USB Chargers

Instead of two identical 2.4A charging ports like the RAVPower unit, the Omaker charger has one 2.4A port and one “quick-charge” port. The “quick-charge” port can provide 9V or 12V to certain devices. If you don’t have any devices that can take advantage of the “quick-charge” port, I’d go with the RAVPower unit—it is more compact and charges ordinary 5V devices a bit faster.


If you need to charge your power-hungry USB devices quickly, or you need a long cable, I can’t recommend the Volutz USB cables highly enough. They’re high-quality USB cables with sturdy connectors, and they charge my devices at least 30% faster than my next best cable when using a 2.4A charger. The difference is almost as wide using a 1.2A charger. My Android phone will only draw about 1A, and my 10’ Volutz cables can charge my phone 20% faster than any of my 3’ cables.

I am a fan of the nylon braiding of the Volutz cables. The braiding looks cool, and the cables don’t tangle as easily, because the braiding keeps the cable stiff.

The State of Linux on My Chuwi Hi12 - October 2016

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I knew running Linux on my Chuwi Hi12 tablet would be a challenge. I did my research before ordering the Chuwi tablet, and things weren’t looking too promising when my tablet arrived at my door early in August.

Most Linux distros would boot up just fine, but most of the hardware that makes my convertible Chuwi Hi12 tablet interesting just didn’t work yet. The touchscreen didn’t work. The Wi-Fi didn’t work. The sound didn’t work.

Chuwi Hi12 Running Xubuntu 16.10

Even back then, I think you could shoehorn in a working Wi-Fi driver. That would at least leave you with a functional laptop. I didn’t buy a laptop. I bought a tablet, and a tablet without a touchscreen isn’t much of a tablet.

Too long; didn’t read!

I’ll talk about most of this at length, but I’m sure most of you are just here for the highlights.

What works:

  • GPU / Display / Manual rotation
  • HDMI Audio (untested)
  • Touchscreen
  • Keyboard dock and touchpad
  • MicroSD slot
  • USB ports
  • Lid sensor
  • Wi-Fi
  • Active Stylus

What doesn’t work:

  • Sound
  • Cameras
  • Accelerometer
  • Bluetooth (untested)
  • Suspend / Resume
  • Power and volume buttons
  • Battery and AC status
  • MicroSD slot

Other problems:

  • eats CPU after manual screen rotation (XFCE problem?)
  • Goodix touchscreen module sometimes needs to be unloaded and reloaded at boot

Wi-Fi and HDMI audio don’t work out of the box on Ubuntu 16.10. The power button was working when I installed Xubuntu 16.10, but it isn’t anymore. I haven’t figured out what change caused it to stop functioning.

UPDATE: My power and volume buttons are being recognized once again. I caused the problem by unloading and reloading the Goodix touchscreen kernel module. I was able to correct the problem by adding a delay before reloading the module. This is an odd problem, but at least it works!

UPDATE: Using a MicroSD card has been problematic, and it seems to have gotten worse over time. It got to the point where there was less than a 50% chance of my SD card working on each reboot. I decided to wipe out Windows 10 and move my home directory to the built-in flash. Since this change, I have been able to suspend and resume over and over again without any issues.

What works on Linux?

Ubuntu 16.10 has made a lot of progress. The touchscreen works—most of the time. Sometimes I need to rmmod and modprobe the goodix module when the tablet boots up. That was simple enough to automate at each reboot!

The GPU works fine, and the 2160x1440 display is detected automatically. The dock’s keyboard and touchpad work as expected. The USB ports work, and the Micro-SD reader functions correctly most of the time. I have my home directory on an SD card, and I have managed to lock up the tablet by hammering on it hard enough. The Micro-SD reader has been acting flakier and flakier. I finally ended up wiping the Windows 10 partition, and for the time being I won’t be using the SD card.

I had to compile a new Wi-Fi driver for the rtl8723bs chip. You can clone the driver from GitHub and compile it yourself. The directions are quite clear, but if you aren’t comfortable with this sort of thing, you should check out the builds from Linuxium. They have Ubuntu install media that includes their patched kernel, or you can just install their kernel on your existing Ubuntu installation.

You also have to change the mode of the Wi-Fi chip to PCI. It can be found in the BIOS under Chipset -> South Bridge -> LPSS & SCC Configuration -> SSC SDIO Support.

Chuwi Hi12 BIOS

The Chuwi HiPen is mostly functional. It works as a high-accuracy pointing device, and the edge of my palm doesn’t trigger the touch screen. However, the buttons don’t seem to trigger any events.

UPDATE: I installed the latest kernel from Linuxium. Sound doesn’t work yet, but it is able to read the charge of my battery. This is a HUGE improvement for me. I no longer need to plug in when I’m worried that I MIGHT be running low on charge!

What doesn’t work on Linux?

There’s quite a bit of important stuff that doesn’t work on Linux yet. The most important missing feature for me is sound. The Linuxium kernel is patched to support sound over HDMI, but there is currently no support for the on-board Intel sound chip. The Chuwi Hi12 and Chuwi Hi10 both use the same sound chip as the Surface 3, and work seems to be progressing there. I hope that work will spill over to our inexpensive tablet soon!

Neither of the cameras work. I don’t find that to be a big loss; I don’t use them anyway.

Suspend and resume is flaky. I can resume from suspend successfully once. If I suspend a second time, I can’t get the Chuwi Hi12 to wake up. This wouldn’t bother me much on a laptop, but it is an extreme annoyance on a tablet.

If I’m not using a MicroSD card, then suspend and resume works somewhat reliably.

AmazonBasics 11.6 inch bag

The accelerometer doesn’t work yet. I believe a driver exists, but it doesn’t work yet. I set up a simple script that watches for the keyboard dock. If the tablet is in the dock, I force the screen to landscape mode. When the tablet is removed from the dock, it switches to portrait. This isn’t an ideal solution, but it has me covered 99% of the time.

Unfortunately, once the screen is rotated, runs away and consumes tons of CPU. It doesn’t noticeably impact performance, but I bet it is eating up my battery.

Speaking of battery, Linux can’t yet read the charge state of the battery. I have no idea how much juice is remaining, so I’ve been making it a habit to plug in whenever I can.

You can now see the current charge state of your battery if you’re running the Linuxium 4.10 kernel!

Hacking around the lack of accelerometer

I added a udev rule to create a symlink called keyboard_dock when the Chuwi Hi12 is plugged into the keyboard dock. This gives my little daemon script something to watch for.

ACTION=="add", ATTRS{idVendor}=="258a", ATTRS{idProduct}=="6a88", SYMLINK+="keyboard_dock"

Here is my kludge of a daemon script. It uses inotify to watch the /dev/ directory. When the keyboard dock changes state, it rotates the display and touch screen. It also reloads my xmodmap configuration, because it seems to be lost every time the keyboard is plugged back in.
#! /bin/zsh

while true; do
  if [[ -e /dev/keyboard_dock ]]; then
    xrandr -o normal
    xinput set-prop 11 "Evdev Axes Swap" 0
    xinput set-prop 11 "Evdev Axis Inversion" 0, 0
    xmodmap ~/.Xmodmap
    xrandr -o left
    xinput set-prop 11 "Evdev Axes Swap" 1
    xinput set-prop 11 "Evdev Axis Inversion" 1, 0
    xmodmap ~/.Xmodmap

  inotifywait  /dev --excludei '^[a-jl-z0-9]'
  sleep 1;

Would I be better off running Windows?

It is a close call, but I am already slightly better off running Linux full time on my Chuwi Hi12 for my purposes. Having a proper terminal emulator with a first-class UNIX shell environment is so much more useful to me than the “Bash on Ubuntu on Windows” nonsense, and being able to use a good window manager to wrangle all my terminal windows is much more comfortable.

Two of our Chuwi Hi12 laptops

It has been over a week since I last booted Windows 10, and I’m confident that I won’t be booting it again. The lack of audio on Linux is probably my biggest nuisance at the moment, but I’ve really only missed it once or twice.

For now, though, I have a working web browser, a better Emacs experience, and I spend less time managing windows. And on top of that, everything on my Chuwi now looks and feels just like my Linux laptop and desktop.

Everything works just well enough to keep me from wanting to boot into Windows, and I’m hopeful that things will continue to improve in the future!

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