Why I fly FPV Quadcopters, and You Should, Too!

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In December of 2016, I helped folks out at a quadcopter build event at TheLab.ms makerspace. They were building 450mm quads to fly by line of sight. My friends tried to talk me into building one, too, but it didn’t look all that appealing. Everyone talked about putting cameras and gimbals on these quads, much like a DJI Phantom, and that didn’t interest me. I enjoy photography, but videography is hard work, and I rarely see compelling footage from a DJI drone.

My friend Brian really wanted me to participate in the hobby, so he bought me the most expensive piece of required equipment for Christmas—a Spektrum DX6 radio. Don’t repeat our mistake. Don’t buy a Spektrum radio. Save money, get better range, and get more features with a Taranis QX 7 or X9D+.

Hyperlite Flowride

I ordered a toy quadcopter—a Blade Nano QX, and a mess of batteries, and I started playing. I started designing a 3D-printed FPV quadcopter frame almost immediately. In fact, I had it built, tested, and uploaded to Thingiverse by February 17. I had taken one of my first FPV flights a week later, and I haven’t stopped since!

Why FPV Quadcopters?

When I was in my early twenties, my friends and I enjoyed fast cars. We enjoyed driving them, and we enjoyed modifying them in an attempt to make them go faster. Most of my friends ended up zeroing in on the DSM family of cars—the Eagle Talon, Mitsubishi Eclipse, and Chrysler Laser. These were little all-wheel-drive monsters with solid, turbocharged engines that could handle a lot more boost pressure than was available from the factory.

This was at a time when V8 pony cars were running 14.5 second quarter miles from the factory. The Eagle Talon would only manage a little over 15 seconds from the factory, but it was possible to get that down into the high 12-second range with just bolt-on parts: a 2.5” or 3” turbo-back exhaust, a boost controller, and some modifications to the intake. This was a fantastic value at the time, and the car was a ton of fun to drive.

Racing quads scratch a lot of the same itches. They’re stupid quick, and easily pull 9 g or more when you punch the throttle. A fast sports car can only pull a little over 1 g. Flying an FPV quad is like playing a video game, except the quad isn’t virtual. You’re also infinitely less likely to kill someone when pushing your quadcopter to its limits, and that means you can push it to its limits all the time—no more waiting for traffic to clear up!

I suppose we don’t tend to modify quads, though, since we build them from scratch. We do often upgrade parts as things wear down or break, though, so that’s a little like modifying a car. I’ve spent more money on bigger turbochargers than I’ve ever spent on a single quadcopter.

And speaking of video games, building quadcopters is a lot like building a computer. There’s a wide array of components available at various price points, and you get to pick and choose what will meet your needs and fit into your budget. Unlike building a gaming rig, our quads need to be sturdy enough to survive crashes at over 80 MPH, and the build process involves quite a bit of soldering.

Racing quads? Are you racing these things?

Sometime early last year, I ran into some drone-racing guys at my favorite park. They were packing up their race gates as I was arriving, but we chatted for a few minutes. They wanted to know if I raced, and I told them that I didn’t. So they said that I must be flying freestyle, and I didn’t really think that was true, either. I was still learning.

I was every bit as much of a freestyle pilot as I was a racing pilot at that point. I was just trying not to hit trees, trying to fly a little faster each day, and trying to get a little closer to hitting things without actually making contact.

Racing sure didn’t sound like my cup of tea. I’ve participated in racing events before, but that was with cars. We used to go to the drag strip a lot—all-wheel drive is fantastic off the line! I didn’t race often, though. Running at the drag strip meant 10 to 20 seconds of driving followed by a whole bunch of waiting.

Drone racing is similar. You fly for two minutes, give it everything you’ve got, and then wait for another turn to go. This isn’t for me.

When I go out flying with my friends, it is normal for me to fly enough batteries to stay in the air for 60 to 90 minutes.

What is freestyle?

I often meet passersby while flying, and they usual inquire about the drone in my hands. I always tell them the same thing. These are FPV racing quads, but I don’t race. I fly freestyle. It is all about having fun and doing various tricks. It is a lot like skateboarding, but also a little like barnstorming!

When flying freestyle, I’m trying to have fun. I’m trying to pull off interesting maneuvers, and those maneuvers get more difficult and technical as my skills progress. I’m also capturing this with a GoPro in the hopes that I collect enough interesting footage on a single outing to string together a fun two- to three-minute video that I can set to music.

I spend most of my time flying in parks, though, so the video has been getting repetitive. Office buildings make for some awesome video, but they’re busy at least five days a week, so I don’t get much practice at locations like that.

We build and repair just as much as we fly!

This is definitely an exaggeration, but for a while it was surprisingly close to the truth. My friends and I used to buy cheaper gear, and quadcopter components weren’t nearly as bulletproof two years ago as they are today.

In those days, something was always breaking. Some days we’d smash a camera, other days we’d burn out an ESC. Sometimes you bend a motor or break an arm. Every now and then, the problem is less obvious.

Flowride Being Built

A combination of things have happened to help alleviate this problem for me. I don’t crash as often now. When I do, it is often much more spectacular, though. I’m buying higher-quality parts. The quads I fly today cost about $550 each, and I have to invest several hours building each one myself. Two years ago, I was flying a preassembled quad that cost less than $250.

It also helps that I’m spending most of my time flying at parks. I’m slowly finding new spots to fly, and those spots are full of concrete and steel. I imagine that pendulum is going to swing back the other way for me soon!

If you enjoy tinkering, soldering, repairing, and upgrading, then this hobby might be a good fit for you. I know some folks that enjoy building even more than they enjoy flying!

You don’t need to be a pro to enjoy flying FPV!

I always have a good time when I can get better at something. Especially when I can see that progress. I had fun when I was golfing. I got to watch my drives go farther and straighter. I also enjoyed practicing pitching the ball onto the green from 50 yards out. I always hated putting. I still hate putting.

I play quite a few video games with high skill ceilings, and I’m always excited when I start regularly pulling off difficult moves.

The same is true when flying FPV. I had fun when I was lucky to take off, fly a few laps around a big open field, figure out where I was standing, and disarm the quad six feet above the ground—sometimes referred to as landing. I had fun when I was learning to fly under trees. I was ecstatic the first time I pulled off an S-turn and a power loop!

I’m still learning, and I’m still experiencing that feeling. I have more free time to fly, so I’m progressing faster than most of my friends. No matter how quickly they’re progressing, though, they’re still having fun. They’re enjoying every step of their journeys.

I get out to fly four or five times a week, even if I’m only out long enough to fly one or two batteries. My friend Brian usually only gets out on weekends—winter daylight hours aren’t helping him! We have other friends that get out to a park once or twice a month.

These 5” racing quads look mean and scary!

They are. At least, they can be. Safety first!

These propellers spin at over 20,000 RPM. The tip of the props can be moving at up to 300 miles per hour! If you’re negligent, they can cut you open right to the bone. Most of our quadcopters weigh more than a pound. My setup weighs 1.6 pounds when in the air, and I’ve clocked it at over 120 miles per hour using GPS.

You can’t just fly these things around a crowd of people. Getting started in the hobby can be intimidating.

We don’t just fly big, heavy quads!

We fly smaller quads, too. Some of them are small enough to safely fly indoors.

I have a 3” micro quad—a Leader 3 from Full Speed RC. When we refer to the size of our quadcopters, we are measuring the propellers. My Leader 3 weighs less than six ounces, but it can still reach speeds of in excess of 80 miles per hour. Both [my 5” quads][phq] and my Leader 3 can reach their top speeds in less than three seconds.

The Leader 3 may be too fast and powerful to fly indoors, but it is an order of magnitude safer than my big freestyle quads. It is a great way to build confidence flying outside before moving up to a 5” quad, and it is fun for me to fly when the 5” would be too loud or dangerous.

There are all sorts of options for indoor fliers. The venerable Tiny Whoop has been a popular indoor FPV drone for years. In fact, I used to fly a cheap Tiny Whoop clone myself—the Eachine QX65. There’s been a lot of progress recently in this category, though, and I think there are a lot of better options now.

I recently picked up an EMAX Tinyhawk. It weighs more than a Tiny Whoop, but it’s still less than two ounces. The extra weight comes from the much sturdier frame, better motors, and bigger battery. I’ve been having a great time flying my Tinyhawk. It is a big upgrade over my Eachine QX65, though I hear the official Tiny Whoop and Newbeedrone Acrobee both fly better than the Tinyhawk.

I’m excited about the Tinyhawk bundle Emax is offering. It includes everything you need to get flying for $165: a Tinyhawk, box goggles, a controller, a battery, and a 6-port charger. Throw in some extra batteries—you always need more batteries, and you’ll have everything you need to get started for less than $200.

How do you get started flying FPV quadcopters?

I could write an entire post about how to get started in the hobby. I’ll do my best to keep it brief here. There are three or four common paths to get into FPV quadcopters, but you can definitely land anywhere in between. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. Each path has advantages and disadvantages.

Jump into the deep end

Buy a $200 Taranis X9D+ and $500 Fat Shark HDO goggles with a $170 RapidFire module. Then spend $600 on parts to build an awesome 5” freestyle quad, and stick a $400 GoPro HERO7 Black on top. Then you can throw all that stuff into a $200 backpack. You’ll realize that you’ve spent over $2,000, and you haven’t bought a charger or batteries yet!

My ThinkTank Backpack full of stuff

Each battery will fly 3 to 6 minutes, and they cost about $25. A charging setup will run you between $60 and $150.

Not many people begin their journey this way.

5” on a budget

You can start with 5” without spending nearly that much money. Skip the GoPro and use a backpack that you already have lying around. Buy a $120 Taranis Q X7, a $70 set of Eachine EV800D box goggles, and a $180 bind-n-fly freestyle quad like the Eachine Wizard 220HV. You’ll still need batteries and a charger.

My BFight 210

That’s less than $400. You’ll eventually want to upgrade the goggles, and the Eachine Wizard will probably need repairs quite often, but this is a much more reasonable way to get a feel for the hobby.

Each battery will fly 3 to 6 minutes, and they cost about $25. A charging setup will run you between $60 and $150.

For a long time, my friends and I were recommending the BFight 210. Even when it was new, you could get it for around $130, and some of my friends are still flying theirs over a year later. Unfortunately, the BFight 210 is getting outdated and is harder to find, so I’m recommending the Eachine Wizard X220HV—the HV model is a huge improvement over their older models.

I don’t feel great about recommending something I haven’t used myself, but that’s the best I can do right now!

2.5” or 3” is a better way to start

Buy all the same gear I mentioned in the previous section, but skip the Eachine Wizard. Buy a Full Speed Leader 3 instead. You’ll save $60, and your batteries will be even cheaper!

A little over a year ago, I might not have made this recommendation. These days, though, 2.5” and 3” quads fly an awful lot like a 5”. They’re also a fantastic way to learn to fly.

You won’t need as much space as you do with a 5” quad. They aren’t nearly as heavy, so you won’t be paying to repair someone’s windshield!

Batteries are a little cheaper. Each battery will fly for 3 to 5 minutes, and they cost about $12. You’ll use the same charging setup, and that will set you back somewhere between $60 and $150.

Forget about the real world

You don’t have to buy goggles. You don’t have to buy a quadcopter. The only piece of hardware you need to get started is the controller, also known as the radio. You can plug the $120 Taranis Q X7 or $200 Taranis X9D+ into a USB port on your computer, and use it with several popular FPV quadcopter simulators.

My Old Spektrum DX6 and My Taranis X9D+

This is the direction I point everyone in. Forget about the real world. Get a radio and hop in the simulator. The monetary investment is small. You won’t break anything when you crash. Simulator or not, you will crash a lot. You won’t have to waste time searching for your quadcopter when you crash. Did I mention that you’ll crash a lot? You won’t have to charge batteries, either.

NOTE: Yell at me about this old video. It is well over a year old, but it is the only Liftoff video on my YouTube channel. I need to record something better!

Every time you crash, you just hit the reset button and start over.

The simulators won’t turn you into a pro. I always tell people that I fly seven times better in the simulator than I do in the real world, and it isn’t as much of an exaggeration as you might think. The flight controllers and software on our quads have been improving at a tremendous pace, so the gap between the simulator and real life is closing, but you still won’t be able to pull off everything you manage in the simulator in real life. You eventually need to practice on the real thing!

There are free simulators, like FPV Freerider, but I always recommend Liftoff. It is available on Steam for $20 and supports Linux, Mac, and Windows. Liftoff is more capable than FPV Freerider, has more interesting maps, and you can directly transfer your rate settings between Liftoff and a real racing quad running Betaflight.

But the simulator just isn’t enough for me!

This brings us back to where we started. There are plenty of indoor-friendly drones to choose from. The don’t fly much like a 3” or 5” quad, but they’re a ton of fun, and they’ll get you used to the controls. They’ll also help safely scratch the FPV itch if you’re not patient enough for the simulator.

As I said earlier, Emax has a fantastic bundle with everything you need to get flying for $165. Throw in another five batteries for $25 more, and you’ll be having a blast.

If you buy a Taranis radio to learn with the simulator, the Emax Tinyhawk would be a good second step on your journey. The base Tinyhawk is $99 without the radio and goggles. It will bind right up to your Taranis, and it comes with a battery and charger. You’ve been flying in Liftoff already, so I don’t have to tell you that you’ll want more than one battery.

The Tinyhawk will fly outside, as long as it isn’t too windy. Around the house, I get nearly four minutes of flight out of each battery. There’s more room to maintain speed outside, so it is easy to drain a battery in two minutes!

Conclusion

It doesn’t matter if you’re flying around open fields doing flips and rolls, or you’re pulling off a sweet dive down the Empire State Building. It doesn’t matter if you have inexpensive gear, or you’re carrying thousands of dollars’ worth of hardware around in your backpack.

Flying FPV is fun. It is fun when you’re just starting out. Learning new tricks can be challenging but rewarding. Everyone I fly with is having a good time regardless of their skill level.

For some of us, it is a lot like driving fast sports cars, but with a lot of advantages. Flying FPV quads is so much cheaper, our quads accelerate faster than a Top Fuel drag car, and they corner harder than a Formula One race car. It is like playing a video game in real life.

Do you fly FPV quads? Are you racing or doing freestyle? Did I miss anything important here? Tell me about it in the comments or stop by to chat on our Discord server!

Updating My 2018 FPV Freestyle Quadcopters for 2019

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I built the first of my 2018 quadcopters in October of 2017. It was an OwlRC Dragon frame with individual Wraith32 ESCs, a Kakute F4 flight controller, Holybro AtlAtl VTX, and a Runcam Eagle 2 with a set of T-Motor F40 Pro v2 2600 KV motors. It was built to fly on my existing collection of 4S batteries, but all of the components were capable of handling 6S batteries.

So of course I had to try a 5S battery, and it was amazing. A little overpowered, but definitely awesome. The 2600 KV motors were a bit too fast for that kind of voltage, but it was easy enough to control that with a throttle limit on my Taranis. So at the beginning of 2018, I ordered a full set of 5S packs and enough parts to build a second, nearly identical quad. This time, I used ZMX FinX30 2600 KV motors. These are 2207, while the T-Motors are 2306.

My Pair of Hyperlite Flowride Quads

In May, I decided it was time to try a proper freestyle frame with a top-mount battery. I didn’t want to drift too far from my existing pair of quads. I decided to build a quad using the 6” Hyperlite Flowride frame. The arms on the Flowride are a little on the narrow side, so I figured it was time to make the move to a 4-in-1 ESC, so this time, I used a Tekko32 4-in-1.

I absolutely loved the Flowride frame with 5.5” props, so I ordered two more frames. It was a piece of cake migrating the components from my other two quads to the new frames. The arm-mounted ESCs look silly, but I figured when they eventually got smashed, I could upgrade to them to Tekko32 4-in-1 boards, too!

Upgrading to a Helio Spring

I had a weird problem with my Flowride quad. The flight controller, a Kakute F4, would randomly lock up—usually after a snap flip or roll.

I’d been intrigued by the idea of the Helio Spring flight controller for a while. It runs the gyro filtering separately on an F3 chip, and it runs Betaflight, Butterflight, or Raceflight on an F4 chip. This seemed like a good opportunity to give it Helio Spring a try, so I ordered one.

Helio Spring V2 on a Hyperlite Flowride

Not only did the replacement flight controller solve all my problems, but this was the best flying quadcopter I have ever flown. The Helio Spring’s propwash handling was amazing.

Even after transferring the Kakute F4 and other components on my two OwlRC Dragon quads over to identical Hyperlite Flowride frames, I rarely fly them. The quad with the Helio Spring just flies so much better. Every time Betaflight for my standard F4 boards starts to catch up, the IMU-F firmware on the Helio board seems to get an update, and it pulls ahead.

My Helio quad also has less noise in the video feed—the Tekko32 is so much cleaner than the Wraith32 ESCs. I usually only fly the Kakute F4 quads when something bad happens to my Helio Spring quad!

2018 was tough on my quads

I’ve had a lot of small failures on all my quadcopters this year. I’ve broken a few motors. I’ve burned out some ESCs, including two Tekko32 4-in-1 ESCs.

One of my Kakute F4 quads is down to three good ZMX FinX30 quads. The fourth is working, but it isn’t as smooth as it should be.

My Kakute quad with the T-Motor F40 motors has developed a twitch. Is it a bad ESC? Is the gyro going bad? I’m not sure, but it seems like a good excuse to upgrade it to a Tekko32 and a Helio Spring!

The first Tekko32 on my Helio Spring quad failed slowly. One corner started dipping on snap rolls, and that corner’s ESC was weak enough that it was limiting the entire quad to about 70 amps most of the time. Usually it could hit 150!

I lost the second Tekko32 just a few weeks ago in a crash. I smashed a motor, and one of the Tekko32’s 4-in-1’s speed controller modules was scorched in the crash. I’m not sure that a beefier ESC would have helped. When a motor gets stuck like that in a crash, a lot of power can flow easily and very quickly. It seems like that’s the most likely time to fry an ESC.

Choosing motors and getting ready for 6S

I decided to order a fresh set of motors along with my replacement Tekko32 for the Helio Spring quad. Which motors, though?

I prefer the feel of my 2207 motors, so I was looking at T-Motor F60 Pro V2 motors. I fly my 2600 KV motors with an 80% throttle cap. Naive math says a 2100 KV motor on 5S would be comparable to a 2600 KV on 5S—not quite the truth, but it is a close enough estimate for my research purposes. The T-Motor F60 is available in 1750 KV and 2350 KV. That’s either too low for 5S or too high for 6S.

I briefly considered trying the Stingy Edition Rotor Riot Hypetrain motors. They’re 2150 KV 2207 motors. That’s pretty reasonable, and only a little too high for 6S.

Hyperlite LR Edition 2207.5 1922 KV motors

In the end, I went with the Hyperlite LR Edition 1922 KV 2207.5 motors. I’m extremely pleased with my choice. They feel fantastic at 100% throttle with 5.5” props on 5S. They’re a bit lacking on the top end with 5” props on 5S, but they’re not short enough on power that I’m complaining.

1922 KV seems like a good compromise for me. When using my existing 5S packs, that’s comparable to a 2400 KV motor on 4S. In the future, when I upgrade to 6S, it will be comparable to a 2800 KV motor on 6S. This math is rather naive. The real world doesn’t scale quite like this, but the numbers make it easier for me draw comparisons to my older quads.

Since so many of us flew 4S for so long, I am often asking myself, “What would this motor be equivalent to on 4S?” I like to think of this like the old Pentium Rating that Intel and Cyrix used to use.

I now have a nice, smooth, 5S freestyle quad. I borrowed a couple of 1000 mAh 6S pack from my friend Brian. They’re perfect for my quad. They’re 30 or 40 grams lighter than my 1300 mAh 5S packs. According to the GPS, my top speed that day increased from 86 MPH on 5S to 95 MPH on 6S, and I can really feel the difference when punching the quad over trees.

6S is definitely in my future, but I’m content to continue flying my 5S packs until they begin failing.

My backup quad has also gotten the full upgrade

I have seven good F40 motors remaining. I expected to use them on my backup quad, and I expected it would take a long time before I burned through four of them.

I’ve been enjoying the Hyperlite 1922 KV motors too much. I didn’t just order a Helio Spring and Tekko32 to get my backup quad back into the air. I also ordered another set of Hyperlite 2207.5 motors.

I’m super excited about this. For the first time, I’m have two completely identical quads!

For now, my tertiary quad will still be running parts from my 2018 build. I’ll have plenty of spare motors, ESCs, and flight controllers to keep it flying. This will be the quad I bring out when I do something risky where I’m likely to lose or destroy a quad. I have no excuses now. I need to start posting videos flying over rivers, creeks, and lakes!

The parts list for my current build

Aside from the frame, all of the parts on my 2018 quadcopters were some of the most expensive components you could buy. This year, some of my components are priced a little better.

I shopped for an ESC upgrade, but I thought it was best to stick with the Tekko32—mostly due to laziness! I looked at the Aikon AK32 4-in-1. It looks like it has even more filtering than the Tekko32, and it only costs about $15 more. Connecting the Aikon to the Helio Spring looked like it was going to be too much work. The Tekko32 plugs directly into the Helio Spring—the pin order is identical. The Aikon AK32 has two extra pins. I would have had to make my own cable. I didn’t want to have to do that.

At $21.99, the Hyperlite 2207.5 motors cost $3 less than the F40 or F60 motors from T-Motor. The motors and 4-in-1 ESC don’t add up to a huge cost savings, but it is a surprising savings nonetheless!

I’ve also been saving a few dollars by using the AKK X2 Ultimate VTX instead of the Holybro AtlAtl. When I chose the AtlAtl, it was convenient to have a VTX that mounted in the stack. My frames aren’t tall enough for three boards in the stack, though, so I had to move to something different.

I figured the AKK X2 was worth a try, but I also assumed I was going to be getting what I paid for, and I thought I’d eventually be using something more premium. That wasn’t the case. I’m quite pleased with the AKK, and I’ve ordered two more for each of my other quads.

  Hyperlite Flowride 2019 Build
Frame Hyperlite Flowride 6”
Motors Hyperlite LR Edition
2207.5 1922 KV
Props HQ 5.1x4.6x3
ESCs Holybro Tekko32 4-in-1
FC Helio Spring V2
VTX AKK X2 Ultimate
Camera Runcam Eagle Micro
Antenna TBS Triumph
Receiver TBS Crossfire Nano
GPS Module HGLRC Ublox M8N

GPS on a race quad? What!?

I’ve avoided GPS for a long time. I wasn’t opposed to the idea, but support in Betaflight used to be almost worthless, and our older flight controllers didn’t tend to have UARTs to spare. It felt like we were lucky to have just enough UARTs for ESC telemetry and SmartAudio!

Not only that, but the GPS units I remember seeing a few years ago were big, had large antennas, and they cost more than my flight controller. It surely didn’t seem like it was worth the space, expense, and effort to put a nearly useless component on my freestyle quads.

This has changed. Betaflight has a new feature called GPS Rescue, and you can get small GPS modules for $10 to $20. Even with ESC telemetry, TBS Crossfire, SmartAudio, and a GPS module connected, my Helio Spring still has one unused UART. GPS is cheap enough to try and easy enough to fit on my quad now, so why not?

GPS Rescue is absolutely nothing like the return-to-home feature on a DJI drone. If you think you’re going to put this on your freestyle quad to avoid learning to land, you’ll be in for a world of trouble!

GPS Rescue only works if you’ve flown a few hundred feet from your starting location, and it will only return to your general area. It will attempt to land, but I tested that once, and it did a poor job. It doesn’t have a vast array of sensors and cameras available like a Phantom or Mavic, so your Betaflight quad will happily descend into a tree.

This is fine, because it isn’t intended to make your race quad behave like a DJI Spark. It is meant to help bail you out when your video feed gets sketchy.

Sometimes you’re flying at the edge of your video range. You turn around to fly back, and your video gets much worse when your antenna orientation changes. Sometimes you drop behind a hill or you wind up slipping behind a building or wall. These would be occasions when you might be happy to have the GPS Rescue mode switch available to you.

Your quad should climb to a preset altitude and start flying towards you. When your video feed clears up, you can take back over and resume your flight.

It is possible to set GPS Rescue as your failsafe, but this seems like a terrible idea for most of us. Imagine losing your control link while under a tree or while flying inside a building or parking garage. Your failsafe would kick in, GPS Rescue mode would activate, and your quad would immediately ascend into the tree or the ceiling.

The new GPS options have my OSD even more cluttered than ever. Knowing my ground speed is fun, but the other data is mostly useless to me. I have direction to home, distance from home, and number of satellites enabled in my OSD. Once I get GPS Rescue tuned in, I’m hoping I’ll have the confidence to turn half of those options off!

GPS Rescue is worthy of its own blog post.

New props for 2019!

For most of the last year, I’ve flown 5.5” props. I started with the DAL Cyclone T5544C props. They fly great, but they often make it almost impossible to get smooth GoPro footage. A fresh set is usually fine, but one tumble into the grass, and then you’re almost guaranteed to be in Jello City until you change props. They’ll all look fine, but they’re not!

Then I switched to the HQ 5.5x4x3 v1s props. They’re fragile in a different way. They’ll survive gentle crashing without inducing Jello, but when you hit a tree branch, you often completely explode a prop!

I felt it was worth the trouble running 5.5” props. It is a reasonable compromise between 5” and 6” props. 6” props have more bottom-end power that you can really notice when pulling out of a dive. They’re also more efficient, so you’ll usually see longer flight times. The biggest problem with 6” props is their lack of top end. They reach top speed quite quickly, but your top speed tends to be quite limited.

You can say all the same things about 5.5” props. The advantages and disadvantages just aren’t as pronounced. You can catch yourself from a dive with 5.5” props almost as well as with 6”. I was getting flight times that were 20% to 25% longer with 5.5” props compared to 5”. The lack of top speed isn’t as bad with the 5.5”, either.

So why am I giving up the 5.5” props?

I had a lot of luck with getting smooth flight footage using HQ 5.5x4x3 v1s props, but when my stock was running low, they were out of stock everywhere. They haven’t been restocked, either, so I’m assuming they’ve been discontinued. Flying DAL T5544C props is way too frustrating, so I needed to find a plan for the future.

I tried out an old set of Racekraft 5051 props that I found in my closet. Racekraft 5051 props are awful for freestyle—they’re very, very noisy. That doesn’t matter, though. They’re a ton of fun, because they are so damned fast!

With the 5.5” props, I have to limit my throttle to 80% when I fly 5S on 2600 KV motors. Any higher, and the props flatten out, and the quadcopter sounds like a banshee. I usually don’t pull more than 125 amps on 5.5” props.

The Racekraft 5051 props are super stiff. They can go flat out with my high KV motors with too many volts. At 100% throttle, they have no problem breaking 180 amps! They’re stupid fast, even if I use the same 80% throttle cap.

I spent two weeks flying random 5” props that I had in my closet, then I went back to 5.5” props. This was an eye-opening experience.

Going back up to 5.5” props made me realize just how much top speed I was giving up. I was also giving up a lot of responsiveness. Even so, I had quite a collection of 5.5” props, so I waited until I burned through them to order new 5” props.

HQ 5.1” v1s props

I ordered an assortment of 5.1” HQ props. 5.1x4.1x3, 5.1x4.6x3, and 5.1x5.0x3 v1s props. They’re all fantastic.

The 4.1 pitch props feel extremely responsive, and the 5.0 pitch props feel like they offer a lot more punch.

I only have a few sets of each of those two props. I ordered a whole mess of the 5.1x4.6x3 props, and I didn’t even wait until I had a chance to try all three. I figured if I was going to make a mistake, I’d err towards the middle. I’m low on props, so I couldn’t exactly wait until I finished trying all three to order more!

The 4.6 pitch HQ props are a good balance between efficiency and thrust. With my relatively huge 1300 mAh CNHL 5S packs, even a rather high-throttle freestyle flight lasts at least three minutes. I’d say I average a little over 3.5 minutes, and I’ve had some gentle proximity flights approach six minutes.

I don’t know if it is just the props, improvements in Betaflight, or improvements in the recent release of the 1.1.0 IMU-F firmware, but I tend to have Jello-free GoPro footage almost all the time now.

I purposely flew the same set of HQ props several days in a row. Even after some pretty rough crashes, I just bent the props back into shape and kept flying. When one of the props still had a visible crease, I thought for certain that I’d have major shaking in my GoPro footage when I got home. It was still smooth as glass. It was awesome!

I haven’t had that kind of luck with every set of 5.1” HQ props. Sometimes things are unbalanced in just the right way that I do get Jello in my GoPro footage. I had shaky footage eight batteries in a row the other day. The props looked reasonably clean, the quad sounded normal, and it flew great. I just have to be more vigilant.

At any rate, having bent props occasionally causing Jello is a huge win over the DAL T5544C props, because they often caused Jello in the GoPro after touching a few leaves!

4S vs. 5S vs. 6S

I’ve been flying quadcopters with a huge compromise for almost a year now. I built my 2018 quadcopters to be capable of supporting 6S voltage, but I assumed I would be running mostly 4S batteries. So I built my quads with 2600 KV motors. I enjoyed the high KV 2305 motors on my old Holybro Shuriken X1, so I figured the newest revision in the same lineup of motors was a good plan.

Those motors were a ton of fun on 5S, but I can see now that it wasn’t the smoothest setup. Even with the throttle capped at 80%, they still had an explosive amount of power—more power than I needed. The throttle cap doesn’t limit the amount of power Betaflight has available during flips and rolls or when it is attempting to stabilize your craft. This made tuning a bit difficult.

Today, my compromise is in the other direction. I have a stack of 5S batteries, and I know for certain that I will be replacing them with 6S batteries as they start to age and fail.

On 5S with 5.1” HQ props, I would almost tell you that my new quads have all the deficiencies of 5.5” or 6” props with none of the advantages. The top speed is limited quite a bit with this combination of voltage and KV, but I’m also not seeing that instant torque when pulling out of a dive like you do with 5.5” or 6” props.

I also don’t get that explosive acceleration that I was seeing on 5S with the Racekraft 5051 props on 2600 KV motors. That stupidly fast acceleration combined with the high top speed was fun, and I certainly don’t expect to see it on 5S or 6S with 1922 KV motors.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m complaining. This is the best freestyle setup I have ever owned. It is smooth, snappy, and it is usually rather difficult for me to induce propwash oscillations.

When I moved up to 5S, it was a really good value. Reasonable but budget-friendly 4S 1,500 mAh packs cost about $20 to $22 at the time. My 1,300 mAh 5S packs from CNHL were around $25. These 5S batteries are a bit heavier than the $20 1,500 mAh 4S packs, but that just means that they have more capacity. They cost about the same or less than 4S packs if you measure by the watt hour.

At the time, 6S packs weren’t available in as wide a selection as they are today. I would have been paying $35 to $40 per pack. I save a lot of money, and the efficiency and power gains when upgrading from 5S to 6S aren’t that dramatic.

6S batteries really open this quad up. I ran two of my friend Brian’s 1,000 mAh CNHL 6S packs. They’re 30 or 40 grams lighter than my 1,300 mAh 5S packs, which is nice, and they make the quad go quite a bit faster.

There are two reasons why I’m upgrading to 6S, and Brian’s batteries are one of them. The most commonly available 5S battery for miniquads is 1,300 mAh, and they weigh nearly 220 grams. That’s too heavy. If there were a reasonably priced 5S pack somewhere around 180 grams, I wouldn’t have chosen 1922 KV motors. I would have shopped from something in the 2200 to 2300 KV range and kept on flying 5S.

Brian’s 6S 1,000 mAh packs from CNHL weigh about 185 grams, and they cost about $28 each. I’m excited about this weight savings. I’ve only flown two of these packs so far, but my quad felt so fast and nimble, and my flight times were comparable enough to my 1,300 mAh 5S packs. I’d hate to make a judgment about that without more data, but I think I’m going to be pleased with my future battery upgrade.

The future of this build

As long as I’m talking about the future, I may as well talk about cameras. My GoPro Session 5 hasn’t failed yet, but I’m worried about it. The back cover isn’t attached correctly anymore, and I suspect there will be a camera upgrade in my future.

I’m bummed out that the Session 5 has been discontinued. It is a fantastic form factor for FPV freestyle quads, and it is quite a bit more durable than the larger GoPro cameras—especially when it is inside a nice TPU mount. There’s still a small chance that I’ll buy another Session 5, but their price at Amazon is already approaching the same price as a GoPro Hero 6 Black.

I’m excited about upgrading to a full-size GoPro. Even the Hero 6 Black would be a big upgrade. The Session 5 has a minimum ISO of 400, while the Hero 6 Black can go down to 100. That would make ND filters slightly less necessary. Not to mention the video quality is just a little better overall.

The full-size GoPro cameras weigh roughly 45 grams more than the Session 5. I’m not excited about the idea of flying a freestyle quad that weighs more than 700 grams. My current weight with the Session 5 and a 1,300 mAh 5S pack is just shy of 680 grams.

I’m hopeful that I’ll be shedding enough weight in the future to even things up. When I upgrade to 1,000 mAh 6S packs, I’ll be losing 30 grams.

Plugging a heavy TBS Triumph antenna into an MMCX to SMA adapter is wasteful. I could probably save another 10 grams or more by plugging a Lumenier AXII antenna directly into the VTX. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of room in the back of my Flowride frame for a VTX, so I have it sitting between the camera and the flight controller. I’m not so sure that saving 10 grams is worth the effort, but we’ll see.

I won’t be surprised if half the batteries I carry will be 6S within the next 3 months. I currently carry eight 5S 1,300 mAh packs, and I bring along a field charging setup if I’m going to spend more than 20 or 30 minutes in the air.

Three of my 5S packs are getting pretty old and tired. Old enough that I’ve started thinking of them as my warm-up packs. It won’t be long before they need to be retired, and when they are retired, they’ll also need to be replaced!

Conclusion

I honestly didn’t think I’d have all that much to say about this upgrade. I switched frames nearly six months ago, and the only significant change I’ve made to the hardware since then is the motors. Yet here I am about to break 4,000 words on this post. How did this happen?!

Most of the components in this build have served me well for six to twelve months so far, and I expect that all the hardware in this build will be durable.

What do you think? How did I do? I feel like I chose the perfect motor for my transition for 5S to 6S. Do you think I should have chosen any different components this time around? Let me know what you think, or stop by our Discord server and chat with me about it!

Hover-1 XLS Folding Electric Scooter Brake Upgrade

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I’ve had my Hover-1 XLS Scooter for somewhere around seven months now, and I’ve put over 200 miles on it. I mostly take it on short trips to the park—most of the time I take a round trip shorter than 1.5 miles, but I do tend to make those trips almost every day.

In the time I’ve owned the scooter, my only major complaint has been the brakes. Out of the box, they didn’t stop the bike very well. I was able to adjust them, and that improved the situation a lot, but they still weren’t great.

I believe I over-adjusted the front brake, leading it to start leaking hydraulic fluid. I noticed this after I was already out of warranty. I could have attempted to get the hydraulic caliper replaced anyway, but from what my research tells me, these cheap hydraulic calipers are horrible.

If you found this post, you’re probably looking to replace a broken brake caliper on your Hover-1 XLS. I’m not going to make you read the entire post to find out what I used.

Here’s the TL;DR. I bought a pair of Shimano M375 brake calipers. They aren’t hydraulic, so they’re less prone to having weird issues. They bolt right on, and they have so much more stopping power than the stock calipers, and they’re inexpensive. I’m able to lock up the wheels and skid to a stop. I wouldn’t recommend doing so, but the original brakes certainly couldn’t do that!

The long story

Do you know the story of the boiling frog? I was that frog. My brakes were performing worse and worse until just about stopped working. By the time any replacement calipers arrived, my brakes weren’t really brakes anymore. They could reduce my speed, but they sure wouldn’t stop me!

I procrastinated quite a bit. I’m not a completely useless mechanic. On cars, I’ve replaced brakes, swapped exhaust manifolds, upgraded fuels pumps, and done all sorts of tuning. Replacing calipers on a bike should be easy, right?

Shimano M374 brake calipers on my Hover-1 XLS

My biggest problem was not knowing what to order. There seem to be all sorts of sizes and mounting options for brakes. What kind of mount does the Hover-1 XLS have? Am I going to have to replace the rotor, too? If I order the simpler non-hydraulic calipers, will I need to replace brake levers and cables, too? Ugh!

I still know very little about bicycle brakes. I just looked for a set that were meant to fit the same size brake rotors—the Shimano M375, and I eyeballed the mounting hardware in the photos. The calipers I chose were less than $20 each with free 2-day Prime shipping. Even if I didn’t or couldn’t return them, I’d only be out $20, right? It seemed worth the risk!

I only ordered one caliper. I replaced the dead, leaking front caliper, and adjusted it using the business card trick. The I went for a ride. I didn’t even wait until I got home. I ordered a second caliper to replace the rear brake while I was still at the park!

My Hover-1 XLS Folding Electric Scooter

These calipers are an amazing upgrade and simple. They’re a little more sensitive, especially compared to my dying front caliper, so they did take some getting used to.

Two months and another hundred miles later

It has been two months, 100 more miles, and a fresh set of brake calipers since I last wrote about my Hover-1 XLS scooter. Was it the right choice? Should I have bought something else?

I know this isn’t a review. If you found this post, you probably already own one of these scooters. I’m still going to give you my opinion anyway!

It is disappointing that I had to replace the brakes, and that the less modern, less complex parts work better than the original hardware. Hover-1 wanted to be able to list hydraulic brakes on their spec sheet, and they didn’t even use proper hydraulic brakes—the good ones have hydraulics right up to the brake levers.

Shimano M375 brake calipers on my Hover-1 XLS

I always tell everyone that I probably should have bought an electric kick scooter, like the Xaiomi M365. They’re nearly as fast, have almost as much range, but they weigh half as much. Loading the 50-pound XLS scooter into the back of the SUV is an awkward maneuver.

I did learn one useful trick to help loading your Hover-1 scooter into a car. If the kickstand is down when you’re folding up the bike, you can use the kickstand as a handle. Then you can grab the other end of the scooter just below the handlebars. This makes the process much less awkward!

Another good option would be converting a regular pedal bike into an e-bike. Electric conversion kits are available at Banggood for around $400, and they look pretty easy to set up. With some time and effort, you could definitely DIY a proper e-bike that won’t cost much more than the Hover-1 XLS. You’ll have a much more capable bike that way, but you’ll need to invest an unknown amount of time. Ultimately, I imagine this is the best choice.

My dirty Hover-1 XLS Scooter

All that said, I’m not unhappy with my purchase. So far, I’ve invested something short of $600 and a couple of hours into my e-bike purchase. That includes the scooter, a helmet, and the brake calipers. Weather permitting, I ride the bike almost day. I’ve probably been on around 100 journeys this year, and I expect to continue to use the e-bike just as often over the next year.

What do you think? Do you have a Hover-1 XLS? Do you enjoy it? Are you happy with your purchase? Do you have some other form of electric transportation, like the Xaiomi M365? I’d like to hear about it in the comments, or you can stop by our Discord server to chat about it!

Six Months With My Ryze Tello Photography Drone

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Back in March, I ordered a Ryze Tello photography drone. Why on Earth would I buy a toy drone for photography or video purposes?

Myself and many of my friends fly FPV racing and freestyle quadcopters. It is a ton of fun. Some of those friends have proper photography drones: a DJI Phantom 4, a Mavic 2 Pro, and a couple of DJI Sparks. These don’t seem to be any fun at all.

Especially the DJI Spark drones. They’re constantly requiring updates before they’ll allow you to fly. The updates often failed and needed to be retried. By the time they were done updating, they’d wasted half of a battery just sitting on the ground.

The DJI Spark was the only one of those drones that I’d be willing to make room for in my already overstuffed quadcopter backpack. I just didn’t want to spend $350 to experience the headaches my friends were having with their Sparks.

Why was the Ryze Tello interesting?

The Ryze Tello is $100 and makes use of some of DJI’s amazing software. It is also extremely tiny—it is the smallest drone in my backpack.

My needs are simple. I don’t need a drone that can follow someone around. I don’t need fancy panning shots. I just wanted an camera on a tripod, but I wanted that tripod to be 20 feet in the air.

I don’t need amazing video. I just wanted some B-roll for my YouTube videos. I figured I could put the Tello in the air, aim it at where my friends and I were milling about, and leave it sitting there pointing at us for five to ten minutes.

For the most part, I actually can manage to do this. Unfortunately, it is terrible. Worse than terrible.

I haven’t recorded a single usable video with my Ryze Tello

I’ve tried so many times. I don’t know why the Tello is still in my bag.

During the first few months, the biggest problem I had was lighting. The Tello is just an aerial webcam, so I didn’t expect much in the way of quality. In April, the average temperature here is nearly 80 degrees, so we almost always find a spot in the shade.

We don’t exactly sit in the dark, but it is dark enough that the Tello’s footage looks horrible. It does better if your subject is in direct sunlight on a bright day, but we don’t usually want to spend much time in direct sunlight. Spending hours in the sun is how we get burned!

When we had cooler days, I made sure to spend some time flying my FPV quads while I was standing in some good lighting. The video I recorded is almost worth using. Almost.

This is the biggest problem with the Ryze Tello. It doesn’t record to local storage. All footage is streamed over WiFi and recorded by your phone.

Don’t let the Tello get too far away from your phone!

The farther the Tello is from your phone, the more often it drops frames. It doesn’t just drop frames, though. Your bitrate gets lower as distance increases. When the bitrate drops, the video becomes a useless, blocky mess.

I’ve sort of gotten around this by planting the Tello in the air and leaving my phone directly underneath it. It helps with the bitrate, but it is still far from perfect.

When you’re playing back your video, you can see every keyframe in the video. That’ll be the frame where everything looks crystal clear. Then everything gets blurrier and fuzzier until the next keyframe. This repeats every few seconds.

The Tello is often bad at holding its position

I’ve flown plenty of toy quadcopters with tiny brushed motors, just like the Ryze Tello. They don’t do well in the wind. That’s fine. That was to be expected.

The Tello uses a camera on its underside to help it hold position. It needs something to focus on. If you’re out in a grassy field, you’re in trouble. Dropping something large under the Tello seems to help, but it isn’t perfect.

It drifts quite a bit while attempting to record 10 minutes of video. I’ll often find that it aimed at my friends and I for two or three minutes, then it starts to yaw to the right, and it continues to slowly yaw for the rest of the video. It doesn’t take long before we’re completely out of frame.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a toy drone to fly around and play with, the Ryze Tello isn’t terrible, but there are much better toys. The Eachine E010 has no camera, but it is only $13. The Eachine E013 with extremely basic FPV goggles is about $60, and the bigger Eachine FlyingFrog with the same FPV goggles is $88. These are all a lot more fun than the Tello, and they’re much better stepping stones into the world of FPV racing or freestyle!

If you’re looking for a very basic, low-end photography platform, you should look elsewhere. I would be extremely pleased with the Tello at $99 if it recorded video to local storage. I don’t care if I have to add an SD card, or if it had a few hundred megabytes of on-board storage. Without local storage, the Tello is essentially useless for me.

The Tello’s ability to hold position outdoors is impressive considering its size—it would be difficult to do much better with this form factor. That ability is completely wasted if you can’t manage to capture a clean video.

Do you own a Ryze Tello? Have you managed to capture any compelling video with it? Are you using one of its competitors, like the Xiaomi MiTu? Let me know what you think in the comments, or stop by our Discord server to chat about it!

Why Did I Buy an Electric Bike? The Hover-1 XLS Folding Scooter

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Six months ago, we moved into a new house. Plano, TX has some amazing parks, and my friends and I make good use of them—we regularly fly our FPV racing quadcopters at these parks. There are miles of bike trails running through those parks, and those bike trails go right past some of our favorite flying spots. Best of all, those bike trails are now just a few hundred feet from our new house!

I thought I had a brilliant idea—I needed to buy a bike. Then I remembered that I live in Texas. In July, it is 105 degrees outside most days. When we go out flying in that kind of weather, I’m ready to pack up and get back in the car before I finish flying my first battery. Did I really want to pedal a bike for a couple of miles, get all sweaty and sticky, and then start flying drones?

I think I’m too old to learn to ride an electric skateboard, so I started researching electric scooters. I had my eye on box the Xiaomi M365 and the Razor E300 electric scooters. The Xiaomi scooter is the better of these two scooters, but it costs about twice as much as a Razor. I guess these sorts of contraptions are referred to as kick scooters, but these two don’t require the kicking.

Then my friend Brian noticed that meh.com has selling the Hover-1 XLS scooter for $550—about $300 off the usual price. Until then, I wasn’t in a hurry to choose a scooter, but deals at meh.com are only good for 24 hours!

The Hover-1 XLS weighs twice as much as the Xiaomi, but it also has a higher advertised top speed and range. I didn’t think the weight would be a big deal—I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve loaded the XLS into a car. I thought the additional range might come in handy, and having a seat seems like a bonus. Both upgrades seemed worth the extra $100.

You probably already guessed that I wound up buying the Hover-1 XLS scooter from meh.com.

Where do you use a scooter like this?

Not on the road, that’s for sure. At least not around here. My neighborhood is surrounded by a trio six-lane roads to the north, south, and west. To the east, there’s a busy two-lane road. I wouldn’t ride anything like a bike on any of those busy streets.

I’m getting a lot of mileage just using the nearby bike trails. I ride out to the park almost every day to fly. The two most common spots that I fly aren’t far away. One is a 1.5 mile round trip, the other is less than half that distance.

One of those spots can’t be reached by car. If we drove, we’d have to walk at least 1,500 feet. That’s at least five minutes of walking while carrying all our gear—my backpack full of drone gear is nearly 30 pounds! None of us want to walk. We want to fly—we do enough walking when we crash.

Does the Hover-1 XLS really have a 15 mile range?

Not in my experience. One day, I decided to see just how far my city’s bike trails actually go. The maps around the park claim there are six or seven miles worth of trails. I didn’t take a direct route, though. I explored several dead ends, and I didn’t start with a full battery—I had taken a 1.5 mile trip from the day before, and I didn’t charge the battery.

I crossed under a highway about six miles into my journey. When I looked up, I could see the sign stating that the folks heading north were about to cross into the next city. The path crossed underneath the freeway, and I was able to follow the path south for about a quarter mile. That’s when I decided to turn around to head home—I hadn’t even flown any of my quads yet!

I made it another two or three miles before I ran out of battery. I was surprised, because the display claimed I still had nearly half my battery remaining. I had to push the bike nearly half a mile and wait for my wife to come pick me up. It was 98 degrees outside that day. Pushing this bike in the sun was not fun! Especially since I was hunched over the handlebars while being weighed down by my heavy backpack.

Hover-1 XLS Folding Electric Scooter

I don’t know for certain how far I rode on that charge. The trip odometer automatically resets when you turn off the bike, and I stopped to wander around off the trail several times. Before stopping the first time, though, I subtracted the current reading of the trip odometer from the main odometer, so I was able to do some math when I got home.

I rode 7.6 miles that day. Adding the 1.5 mile trip from the previous day puts my total at 9.1 miles. There’s a slim chance that I had not just one 1.5 mile trip already logged on that charger, but I don’t believe that I did, and I have no plans to repeat this process to find out for sure!

I’m heavy, and the Hover-1 XLS hates hills

I’m about 6’ tall and 220 pounds. I had to pack light the day I ran out of juice—my backpack was only 12 pounds.

I grew up in a rather hilly city in Pennsylvania. When I was a kid, riding away from my house on my dirt bike was awesome—it was all down hill! Riding back up the hill to repeat the fun was an arduous task. When I was small, I was barely heavy enough to exert enough force to push the pedal down when trying to get back up that hill. Even when I got bigger, that hill was still tiresome.

Eight-year-old me would consider the entirety of my local bike trail to be quite flat. The Hover-1 XLS disagrees.

On flat ground, I have no trouble riding at 17 or 18 miles per hour. On much of my nine mile journey, though, I was lucky to reach 12 miles per hour at full throttle. The inclines weren’t all that steep, but it took everything the Hover-1 had just to keep going.

I bet it is possible to reach 15 miles with the Hover-1 XLS, but I never will. I’m at full throttle more often than not. I might be able to manage ten of my usual 1.5 mile round trips on a single charge if I keep the speed more reasonable, but I have no intention of trying.

Is the Hover-1 XLS worth $500?

If you live somewhere hilly, you won’t be able to use it at all. If I rode my Hover-1 XLS away from my parents’ old house in Scranton, I would have to push it home. It would never have enough power to make it up that hill. I’d also be terrified going down that hill. The brakes on the Hover-1 XLS work reasonably well—especially after adjusting them, but they aren’t spectacular.

UPDATE: The brakes on the Hover-1 XLS are pretty bad. My front brake caliper failed, but that might have been my fault. I wound up replacing both calipers on my Hover-1 XLS with simple mechanical calipers made by Shimano. They’re less than $20 each, and they stop the scooter so much better. It is like night and day!

You may be a braver soul than I am, but I would never ride this thing on roads with any sort of traffic. Then again, I wouldn’t ride any sort of bike on those same roads, so I may not have the best opinion here.

Hover-1 XLS Folding Electric Scooter

So far, the Hover-1 XLS is shaping up to be a good investment for me. I haven’t been keeping a log of my journeys, so I’ve just done some simple math. I have put a little over 100 miles on my bike so far, and my most common journey is a 1.5 mile round trip. I’ve made a few longer journeys, but I often take it to a spot that’s not more than a quarter mile away. My average journey may not actually me 1.5 miles, but I’m going to assume it is for simplicity’s sake.

As of today, each trip to go flying at the park has cost me about $7.50. If I continue to go to the park five days each week, that cost will be down to about $4.00 per trip by the end of the year. By this time next year, I’ll be under $2 per trip. Will the bike survive that long? Only time will tell.

Money is only part of the value

Things were different when I had to drive a car to the park. If I only had time to fly one or two batteries, I wouldn’t bother going out. I didn’t want to load up the car, drive to the park, walk to some shade, and unpack all my stuff for just ten or fifteen minutes of flying.

Hopping on the bike feels a lot quicker and more efficient. Once I pick up my backpack and start heading for the garage, I know I’ll be at the park powering down my bike in about five minutes. I don’t think it actually takes much longer when driving, but it feels like a much bigger task.

It is unlikely that I would actually take my quadcopters to the park every day if I had to drive.

That’s not the only advantage, though. I’m flying at new spots that I would never bother to walk to. There’s a small field with a few trees less than 500 feet from my house. If I were driving, I would never fly in this field—it is too boring for that kind of effort.

It is an awesome spot to ride the e-bike to, especially on a hot day. The bike path goes under a bridge. I can set up my chair under the bridge where there’s a lot of shade. There’s no grass under there, so there aren’t as many bugs, either. It works out great if I just want to fly a few quick batteries.

There’s another spot I fly that is nearly two miles away on my e-bike. It is a fantastic little parking lot for flying micro quads. It is awesome, because the parking lot is closed most of the time, so there are never any cars there. If we wanted to drive there, we’d have to park over a quarter of a mile away.

I wouldn’t fly there if I had to drive!

What about electric kick scooters and skateboards?

My friend Alex has a Meepo electric skareboard, and he wrote an excellent review of it. The Meepo is smaller, lighter, and faster than my Hover-1 bike. Its advertised range is lower, but I bet Meepo’s estimate is more conservative.

I am over 40 years old now. I’ve never had a skateboard. When I was a kid, we all had BMX-style bikes, and we were constantly outside riding them when it wasn’t raining or snowing. I’m comfortable riding a bike. I’d be comfortable riding a kick scooter. I don’t think I should attempt to learn to ride a skateboard.

Loading the Hover-1 e-bike into a car is a pain. 50 pounds doesn’t sound heavy, but when it is folded the shape and weight distribution make it rather unwieldy. It won’t fit in the trunk of a small car, so you end up having to slide it into the back seat. That means you’ve got to push it in while leaning way over in an attempt to take weight off the far end so that it will slide—not ideal at all.

A skateboard would be so much easier. I could pick it up and carry it short distances. I could throw it in the trunk without any real effort.

A kick scooter, like the Xiaomi M365 would have been a good compromise for me. It would be half the weight of my Hover-1 XLS, and much easier to hoist into our little SUV. I don’t need the extra potential range or speed of my Hover-1 XLS—most of my trips are less than a mile away.

If you had to do it over, would you buy the Hover-1 XLS again?

I think I would make that choice again, but I’d be tempted by the lighter, cheaper, smaller Xiaomi M365. The Hover-1 XLS has serve me well so far, and I think it will continue to do a good job into the future.

My wife just bought a 21-speed bike. A regular bike with manual pedals. It isn’t anything fancy—just one of the cheapest hybrid bikes we could find on Amazon. If she sticks with it, we’ll know what features are important to her, and then we can invest in the right bike. For now, this will do.

I followed her on my Hover-1 XLS the first time she went out. The first thing I noticed was how slowly we were moving. I’m used to cruising along the bike path at 15 miles per hour, but we weren’t even going half that speed most of the time.

I took her bike for a test drive. The e-bike definitely has me spoiled. Pedaling was so much more work! It doesn’t help that her bike is set up for someone a full twelve inches shorter than I am. I only rode a little over a mile, and my knees were unhappy—they have to bend quite far when the seat is so low!

I’m definitely happier with my electric bike. I say the same thing all the time. I don’t want to be tired and sweaty before I arrive at a flying spot with my quadcopters. I’d also prefer not to have to pedal my way home after walking a mile in the hot Texas sun searching for crashed drones. Some days I end up crashing a lot!

Conclusion

Sometimes I buy a new toy, gadget, or tool, and I immediately tell everyone I know that they have to get one. If they’re exciting enough, I’ll start giving them as gifts right away. The Hover-1 XLS folding scooter isn’t one of those toys.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy with my purchase. It meets my needs, and I use it almost every day. I started writing this post when the scooter had just short of 100 miles on it. Today, it has over 120. It just isn’t perfect.

The brakes aren’t great, even after adjusting them. It is a bit too heavy. Its range is good enough most of the time, but I’d like more. At around $500, though, the price is just about right for what you get, but I feel like they could have equipped it with better brake hardware at this price point.

Do you have a Hover-1 XLS or Xiaomi M365 scooter? What do you think of it? Do you prefer some other mode of electric transportation? Tell me about it in the comments!

Full Speed Leader 3 Micro FPV Racing Drone

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Back in December, I bought a Leader 120 micro quad. It was a fantastic deal. It was on sale for $85 at the time, and I just couldn’t pass it up. It had a few shortcomings—an under-powered 25mw VTX, and a low-end FPV camera. I figured it would be a good upgrade over my aging, beat-up KingKong 90GT.

The Leader 120 was an amazing upgrade. It has way more power than my old KingKong 90GT—even when using the same 550 mAh 2S batteries. I upgraded to a set of Infinity 550 mAh 3S for $8 a-piece, and that really opened up the Leader 120. It wasn’t quite as capable as my 5” racing quads, but it wasn’t far off, and it was tons of fun.

The Leader 3

About a month ago, I saw the Leader 3 show up on Banggood.com. It wasn’t in stock yet, but I was intrigued, and I told myself I would order one as soon as they started shipping.

It looked like a worthy upgrade over my Leader 120. The Leader 3 has a VTX that can be controller by the Betaflight OSD and dialed up to 600 mw. At first, the 25 mw VTX on the Leader 120 didn’t bother me much. If you crash too far away with a micro drone, they’re extremely hard to find. At some point, I added a Crossfire Nano receiver module to my Leader 120. That really made the 25 mw VTX feel limiting.

The Leader 3 has a much better camera—a Caddx Turbo F1. I often have to stop flying my Leader 120 in the evening due to a lack of light. The extra dynamic range and faster exposure adjustment on the Caddx Turbo F1 let me transition from flying above and below trees much more easily.

That would have been enough of an upgrade to justify the purchase for me, but it doesn’t end there. The 1106 motors on the Leader 3 are 50% larger than the 1104 motors on the Leader 120, and the frame is big enough to accommodate 3” propellers. The Leader 3 also comes equipped with an F4 flight controller and more capable ESCs.

How does the Leader 3 fly?

I was happy that I bought the Leader 3 less than a minute into the first flight. It flies more like a 5” quad than any micro I’ve ever flown. It is more stable than the Leader 120. The wind doesn’t knock it around as much—you wouldn’t think an extra 20 grams would make such a big difference there.

I was power looping trees and hitting gaps with confidence right away. The stock tune is pretty locked in, too. Snap flips and rolls are quite sharp with no bounce back. I haven’t experienced much in the way of propwash oscillation, except on a very windy day.

When flying on a 3S 550 mAh battery, the Leader 3 is very responsive. It has more bottom end power than the Leader 120. I haven’t taken the radar gun to the Leader 3 yet, but I have a feeling it has a lower top speed than the Leader 120 on the same battery. It isn’t a big gap in top speed, but it is almost certainly there.

I’m sure the Leader 3 has a higher top speed on 4S!

You’re running 3S batteries? Why not 4S?

I already have five 550 mAh 3S batteries that I used on the Leader 120. I had to solder XT30 connectors on each of them, but I’m glad that I didn’t have to buy new batteries.

The Leader 3 does support 4S. That means I have to give it a try, but I don’t think it will be ideal. I’ve heard of a few instances of 4S batteries burning out motors on Leader 3 quads, but I believe they were all with earlier versions of the motors.

The Leader 3’s 1106 motors are 4500 KV. That’s just a bit lower than ideal when running 3S on 3” props. My Leader 3 has a lot more oomph on the low end, but doesn’t seem to reach the same maximum speeds as my Leader 120. The KV of the motors is the reason for this.

If you’re going to run 4S, you should probably stick to 2.5” props. I’d recommend the Gemfan 2540—they’re fantastic props!

As I said, I will be sticking with 3S. I don’t want the fastest micro quad in the world. I want something that flies as much like my 5” miniquads as possible, and I’d like it to be durable and reliable.

Which batteries should you buy?

I wouldn’t buy my Infinity 550 mAh batteries again. They have the wrong power connector, and there are cheaper, better alternatives now with much faster shipping.

You can get a 3-pack of 450 mAh 3S batteries with XT30 connectors from China Hobby Line for $24. They have free shipping on orders over $50, and I usually get my batteries in less than a week.

I’ve been flying 5S 1300 mAh packs from China Hobby Line since February. I’m still flying most of those batteries today. The only one that isn’t still airworthy is one that got smashed in a crash.

If I have to buy new batteries for my Leader 3, China Hobby Line batteries will be my choice.

What makes a quadcopter durable?

The lighter your quad, the less inertia it has when moving through the air. The lower the inertia, the less force it will take on impact when you smash into a tree or concrete.

My Leader 3 weighs 156 grams with a 550 mAh 3S battery, a Crossfire Nano RX, and a TBS Immortal T antenna.

My friend Brian bought a heavier micro quad—a Diatone GT M3. Its 1408 motors each weigh about 10 grams more than the motors on the Leader 3. Not only is Brian flying a heavier 3” quadcopter, but he also has to equip it with a heavier battery. With a 450 mAh 4S battery, his GT M3 is somewhere around 200 grams. That’s a light battery. The 650 mAh CNHL packs he usually runs put his micro quad at more than 230 grams.

Brian’s Diatone GT M3 is nearly 50% heavier than my Leader 120, so all his crashes put significantly more stress on the quadcopter. In fact, he destroyed a bearing in one of his motors the first day he flew his Diatone quad!

A lighter quad will also do less damage to property when you inevitably crash into something.

Why fly a micro? Don’t 5” miniquads fly better?

The performance and handling gap between 3” and 5” quads is closing, but a 5” still wins by a large margin. The larger quads are more stable in the air, and they don’t get knocked around when it is windy. 5” quads are also much better for freestyle flying, because you can use their huge momentum to huck them over objects like launching a pumpkin out of a trebuchet.

I fly my 5” and 6” quads most of the time, but I always keep a micro quad in my backpack. It was inexpensive. It doesn’t weigh much. It doesn’t take up much space. A set of six batteries for the micro weigh less than a single battery for my 5” quads. It would almost be silly not to carry a micro quad in my giant backpack!

When do I fly my micro quad? Sometimes you’re out flying, and the location gets busy. If a park has too many people wandering around, flying a 5” miniquad can be dangerous and quite a nuisance. Nobody notices a micro quad flying around, and it is unlikely to send someone to the emergency room if something goes wrong.

And sometimes you just don’t want to risk a $450 quadcopter and a $200 GoPro HERO5 Session in a flight over a lake!

Propellers

The Leader 3 comes with a set of HQ 3x3x3 v1s props. They’re fantastic props. They feel great, they fly great, and they’re quite sturdy. I wanted to buy more, but I had trouble finding them. Every set I found for sale were for motors with a single hole to fit a motor with a 5mm shaft. I couldn’t find any 3-hole versions of the prop.

I decided to try the EMAX Avan 3024 props. They’re available at Amazon with Prime shipping, they’re reasonably priced, and they looked interesting.

The Avan props have a more aggressive-looking profile than the HQ props even though they claim to have a gentler pitch. The Avan props are shaped kind of like the Racekraft 5051 props—they are wide and aggressive near the hub while narrowing out towards the tip.

The Avan props are lighter and more flexible than the HQ props. I have to bend them back into shape after the majority of my crashes, but I’m quite pleased with how they fly. I expected them to be more efficient than the HQ props, but they’re so similar that I can’t tell the difference.

Should you buy a Leader 3?

In the early days, I thought that the Leader 120 was a fantastic value—it was constantly on sale for about $85! After mine arrived, and I got to fly it, I realized that it was still an amazing value at $100 to $120.

The Leader 3 is only a few dollars more, and you’re getting so much more for your money today. It has all the features of a modern 5” quad—a 600mw VTX with Smartaudio control, a quality CMOS camera, and an F4 flight controller. That’s pretty much everything my premium 5” and 6” miniquads are equipped with.

There are more powerful and faster micro quads that fly better than the Leader 3. They cost more, they’re heavier, and they require bigger batteries. You’ll pay less for your Leader 3, you’ll pay less for your batteries, and the lighter weight will make it harder to break things.

If you’re like me, you don’t need or want the fastest, premium micro drone. You want something that flies smoothly and is inexpensive to operate. Something you can put dozens and dozens of batteries through without requiring any serious repairs. That’s the Leader 3.

Do you agree? Is a little 3S micro quad with 1106 motors a good choice? Or do you prefer heavier micro with 1408 motors and a big 4S battery? Tell me your thoughts in the comments, or stop by our Discord server and chat with me about it!

Adding Another Disk to the RAID 10 on My KVM Server

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My NAS is a virtual machine hosted on my home KVM server. My KVM server has a RAID 10 array composed of two 4 TB drives. This gives me a measly 4 TB of usable disk space, and I can share that space with other computers in the house. Since it is a Linux MD RAID 10, it is super easy to add a third drive when I run out of space—at least, it should have been! I hit a roadblock in March, but we’ll talk about that later.

My NAS VM was spacious in 2015. I had more than 2 TB of free disk space available. The only thing that was steadily consuming more and more of my disk space was the constantly growing collection of RAW files from my Canon 6D DSLR. I was only taking about 120 GB worth of photos each year, so it seemed like I had quite a way to go.

In 2017, I started flying FPV quadcopters. It is a ton of fun, but I was saving a lot of video. My early quads weren’t powerful enough to comfortably carry a GoPro camera, so all my footage was standard definition video captured on my goggles. Even these small files were enough to really start eating into my free space.

This year, I started recording GoPro footage. A day of flying usually generates at least 15 GB of new video, and when the weather is nice, I fly three or four times a week.

In late February, I noticed that I was down to less than 400 GB of free space. It was time to add another disk. One more 4 TB drive would bring my RAID 10 from 4 TB to 6 TB of usable space. I figured an extra 2 TB would tide me over for nearly two years.

I hit a roadblock in March

I was excited when my third 4 TB disk arrived. I cracked the KVM box open, put the drive in, and got to work adding it to my RAID 10.

Except I couldn’t add it to my RAID 10. Why can’t I grow my RAID 10? I’ve done this countless times in the past! What’s going on here?

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root@kvm:~# mdadm --add /dev/md1 /dev/sde1 
mdadm: added /dev/sde1
root@kvm:~# mdadm --grow /dev/md1 --raid-devices=3
mdadm: Cannot reshape RAID10 in far-mode

I created my original RAID 10 with far-copies. I chose far-copies, because the layout optimizes the disks for sequential reads. Writes are slower than the default near-copies, but read speeds are closer to the speed of RAID 0.

Unfortunately, you cannot reshape an array that is using far-copies. I had to convert to near-copies, but you can’t do that directly. I knew what I had to do, but it was going to be a pain in the butt—mostly because I had to open the server again!

I had to put another mirrored pair of disks into a fresh MD RAID device, add that new device to original Volume Group, and then use pvmove to migrate the data off of the original pair of disks.

Then I had to reverse the process. I tore down the original RAID 10 and recreated it with near-copies, added the new RAID to the Volume Group, and ran the pvmove in the opposite direction. Once that was done, I was able to remove the temporary disks from the Volume Group and tear down that array.

I have no good documentation of this part of the process. At this point, I am back to where I should have been when I started down this path in March—everything was super easy from this point on!

Adding a disk to a Linux RAID 10 array

The title of this section is a little misleading. There isn’t just a RAID 10 block device that needs resizing. There’s a Physical Volume (PV) that needs to grow, there’s a Logical Volume (LV) that also needs to grow, and there’s a file system on that LV that needs to grow.

Then I need to add more disk space to my NAS VM!

I’ll list the steps here, and then I’ll go into more detail.

  • Partition the new disk
  • Use mdadm to add the new partition to the RAID 10
  • Use mdadm to change the layout from 2 disks to 3 disks
  • Use pvresize to grow the PV
  • Use lvresize to grow the appropriate LV
  • Grow the EXT4 file system on that LV (lvresize will handle this)

At this point, the RAID 10 is roughly 50% larger, and the file system where my virtual disk images live has been appropriately expanded.

I had to go through a few more steps, because I needed to expand the storage of my NAS VM.

So what does this process look like?

I’ve done quite a poor job of saving my terminal output for this blog. I didn’t save the output of my work with fdisk, and I didn’t save the pvresize and lvextend output.

I can’t easily recreate accurate fdisk output, but I can at least show you the commands that I used. I’ll try to do better when I run out of storage next year!

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root@kvm:~# mdadm --add /dev/md1 /dev/sde1 
mdadm: added /dev/sde1
root@kvm:~# cat /proc/mdstat 
Personalities : [raid1] [raid10] [linear] [multipath] [raid0] [raid6] [raid5] [raid4] 
md1 : active raid10 sde1[2](S) sdd1[1] sdc1[0]
      3906885632 blocks super 1.2 2 near-copies [2/2] [UU]
      bitmap: 5/30 pages [20KB], 65536KB chunk

md0 : active raid1 sda2[1] sdb2[0]
      243090240 blocks super 1.2 [2/2] [UU]
      
unused devices: <none>

At this point, I have added sde1 to my existing RAID 10 device. You can see that sde is followed by (S). That means that sde1 is currently configured as a hot spare. If sdc1 or sdd1 fail, the MD device will use sde1 in place of the problematic device.

This isn’t our intention. We want to store live data on sde1.

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root@kvm:~# mdadm --grow /dev/md1 --raid-devices=3
root@kvm:~# cat /proc/mdstat 
Personalities : [raid1] [raid10] [linear] [multipath] [raid0] [raid6] [raid5] [raid4] 
md1 : active raid10 sde1[2] sdd1[1] sdc1[0]
      3906885632 blocks super 1.2 512K chunks 2 near-copies [3/3] [UUU]
      [>....................]  reshape =  0.0% (146816/3906885632) finish=443.4min speed=146816K/sec
      bitmap: 8/22 pages [32KB], 131072KB chunk

md0 : active raid1 sda2[1] sdb2[0]
      243090240 blocks super 1.2 [2/2] [UU]
      
unused devices: <none>
root@kvm:~# 

Now I have told mdadm that I want to grow /dev/md1, and I want to grow that array two three disks. The (S) is now gone from sde1, and the array immediately began reshaping.

You’ll notice that the number of blocks in the array is still 3906885632. When you create a fresh array, it is usable immediately. When will our RAID 10 grow?

I believe it happens as soon as every single block from the original devices has been moved to its new home. In the case of going from two disks to three disks, that should be shortly after the 66% mark.

I wasn’t present when the array officially grew, but I was here in the 90% range. By then, it had already grown to 5860328448 blocks.

We’re not done yet. The underlying block device has grown, but LVM and my EXT4 file system don’t know that yet.

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root@kvm:~# pvresize /dev/mapper/raid10_crypt

I’m sorry I don’t have any output for this commant. raid10_crypt is a LUKS encrypted block device sitting on top of my /dev/md1. /dev/md1 is my RAID 10 array.

You don’t have to tell pvresize how much to resize the PV. It will detect the size of the underlying device, /dev/md1 in this case, and it will resize accordingly.

There are three layers to LVM. The Physical Devices sit on the bottom. Volume Groups are made up of one or more Physical Devices, and those Volume Groups can be sliced up into Logical Volumes. You can think of Logical Volumes as partitions.

You don’t have to resize Volume Groups. They know how big their Physical Volumes are. When you grow the PV, you will immediately see more free space in your VG.

I do have an LV that I need to extend, and it contains a file system that needs to grow as well.

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root@kvm:~# lvextend /dev/raid10_crypt_vg/kvm -r -L +2000G

kvm is a Logical Volume in my raid10_crypt_vg Volume Group. The kvm LV contains an EXT4 file system. The -r flag tells lvextend to resize the file system. The -L +2000G flag tells lvextend to make the LV about 2 TB larger. That leaves me with 326 GB free in this Logical Volume.

At this point, all the hard work is done!

This looks like a lot of work. How long did this take?

Correcting my far-copies mistake felt like it took forever. It took months! I had to borrow a hard drive. Then I had to help my friend Brian move to a new house. Then I had to buy Brian’s old house. Then I had to move into Brian’s old house. Then I had to deal with four weeks with a useless Internet connection.

For the purposes of this blog post, I’d like to assume that I created this RAID 10 three years ago using the default of near-copies. If we make that assumption, the upgrade was a breeze.

The only bummer is waiting for the RAID 10 to reshape long enough for it to increase in size. If you ignore that, it took less time to run the various mdadm, pvresize, and lvextend commands than it took to install the new hard drive!

FreeNAS and ZFS do this for me! Why would I want to use LVM?

You can’t do this with ZFS. Once a zpool is created, you can’t add new drives to it. You can either replace all of your existing disks with larger drives, or you can create an additional zpool.

Let’s say you’re using RAID-Z2 with six 4 TB disks in your zpool. You will be dedicating two disks worth of data to parity. That’s 8 TB of parity and 16 TB of usable disk space.

If you create a second identical zpool, you’ll be dedicating an additional 8 TB to parity. This will bring you up to 16 TB of parity and 32 TB of usable disk space.

Now lets say I do the equivalent with MD and LVM. I create a RAID 6 array with six 4 TB drives. I’ll end up with 8 TB of parity and 16 TB of usable disk space. So far, this is just like RAID-Z2.

Now I want to upgrade. I can add additional drives to my RAID 6 device. I can add four more disks, and I’ll have 8 TB of parity and 32 TB of usable disk space. If I added the full six disks, I’d be at 8 TB of parity and 40 TB of usable space.

ZFS has no trouble growing upward, but ZFS’s inability to grow outward forces you into a particular upgrade path. Every time I run out of space, I can just add one more disk to my array. ZFS either forces you to plan ahead, or forces you into a bigger investment when you suddenly run out of disk space.

I’m ignoring many of ZFS’s cool features

ZFS is fantastic. It checksums every block on every disk. It is a copy-on-write file system, and that means you get lightweight snapshots. You don’t have to decide how much space to dedicate to a volume, either. That’s handy!

I understand why growing arrays isn’t a feature in ZFS. ZFS was meant to live on expensive servers in huge data centers. I’ve worked in big shops before. It was rare that we upgraded anything. We just spent lots of money to make sure each machine was equipped to function for two or three years, then we replaced the hardware.

I tend to be more frugal at home. I’d like to have ZFS’s checksums, but I also don’t want to guess at my data storage needs for the next three years. Things changed for me, and my calculations all went out the window anyway!

I’d prefer not to buy six disks when I only need two. Saving $600 or more up front is nice. Not having a bunch of unnecessary disks spinning away 24 hours a day in my server is even nicer.

Hard disks fail. The older they get, the more likely they are to fail. Why put all those miles on four extra disks when I can put fresh disks in as I run out of space?

Conclusion

I am getting off topic. I could fill a rather long blog post with ZFS vs. MD/LVM. I will have to put that on my to-do list. It would be a good topic!

I don’t like writing how-to posts, even more so on advanced topics. I also don’t enjoy using too much hand waving in the middle of a post, either. My hope is that I managed to strike a reasonable balance in this post—especially considering that I didn’t save quite enough terminal output for you to follow along on a perfect step-by-step journey!

Just remember. If you want to be able to grow your Linux MD RAID 10 arrays, you have to create them with near-copies. Thankfully, this is the default, so most of you should be fine!

Have you made my mistake before? Are you using LVM at home on your VM host or NAS? Do you think I’m out of my mind? Do you have any questions? Leave a comment, or stop by our Discord server and have a chat!

Six-Inch Hyperlite Flowride Quad

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Remember when I posted my FPV quad builds for 2018? I figured I wouldn’t be building another quad until the second half of the year, but I just couldn’t wait that long. The calendar barely rolled over to April, and I was already building another!

I should start by saying that my pair of OwlRC Dragon quads are still flying great! I did manage to damage one motor on each quad. I was able to keep them both flying fine for a while, but I kept having to enable more and more filtering. I finally gave in, found the bad motors, and replaced them. The notch filters are turned off again, and they’re both flying great!

The downtime was disconcerting, though. I pushed the F40 Pro V2 quad’s bad motor far enough that it started acting really wonky. By the time I was repairing that quad, the ZMX FinX30 quad wasn’t acting quite right, either. I felt like I didn’t have anything to fly for over a week. It was time to add a third 5S-capable quad to my bag.

If I built this quad in April, why am I writing about it in June?!

I had a pretty serious hiccup. The Kakute F4 that I used in this build was faulty. On one of my first batteries, I had an extremely gentle crash. I hit the grass, and the motors stopped spinning. The OSD stopped updating. I couldn’t arm or disarm. I unplugged the battery, and everything was fine.

I had other similar incidents, but those crashes were usually a bit harder—no harder than the punishment I’ve put my other Kakute F4 quads through. One day, I was flying under a picnic table, and my GoPro just barely touched the bottom of the seat. The quad fell 6 inches to the ground and had to be power cycled.

Then it started locking up when doing snap flips and rolls. Sporadically at first, but then on almost every flip. I eventually replaced the flight controller, and it is flying great again.

We were in the process of buying and moving into a new house at the end of April and into May. I didn’t have as much time as I’d like for flying. I really didn’t have enough time to repair a quad, especially when the other two were flying just fine.

At least this was a good excuse to try Butterflight on a Helio Spring flight controller!

The Hyperlite Flowride

Ever since I started flying with a GoPro HERO5 Session, I’ve been interested in trying a frame that allows for a top-mounted battery. All of my 5” miniquads have had bottom-mounted batteries. That felt fine to me, until I tried strapping a GoPro on top. Rolls and flips felt like spinning a dumbbell. The center of gravity is close to the center, but the bulk of the weight is on the outsides.

It felt terrible on my Shuriken X1. It felt even worse on the less powerful BFight 210. Fortunately for me, my heavy, angry 5S quads have no trouble using their sheer power to muscle themselves through flips and rolls. That’s not efficient, though!

Hyperlite Flowride

Putting both the battery and GoPro on top may move the center of gravity much closer to the top, but it moves all that weight closer to the center. Snappy flips and rolls are much easier that way.

I decided to order a Hyperlite Flowride. A few days later, the Hyperlite FlosStyle was announced. I’m glad I ordered the Flowride—I wouldn’t have had the patience to wait for a FlosStyle! You shouldn’t buy a Flowride. Everything I like about the Flowride is done better by the FlosStyle.

I don’t have a FlosStyle frame, so I’m going to tell you why I like the Flowride! There’s only one reason I can think of to buy a Flowride frame today. If you’re still running individual ESCs, the arms on the Flowride are wide enough to fit them.

I thought about this, because it seems like a quick and easy upgrade for my OwlRC Dragon quads!

Why do I like the Flowride?

The Flowride is very much an Alien-style frame. It has the big, bus-like fuselage. The FPV camera sits pretty far forward, so the props won’t obscure your view too much. The GoPro mounts directly above the FPV camera, and the 3D-printed Hyperlite GoPro mount is phenomenal.

I don’t believe the Flowride has room for a full-size FPV camera. That’s fine by me. I’ve been moving all my quads over to the amazing Runcam Eagle Micro. It is an improvement over the already awesome Eagle 2 and Eagle 2 Pro cameras, but it is about 10 grams lighter, and it takes up so little space!

Like all of Bob Roogi’s other frames, the Flowride is extremely well thought out. It is made from high-quality carbon fiber. The arms are quite a bit wider than the FLOSS frames, and that shows in the additional weight. I’m OK with that. My quads have more power than I know what to do with!

The Flowride has a perfect SMA antenna mounting hole on its bottom plate. There is just enough room below the hole to fit a 90-degree SMA elbow. I was thankful for this mounting point when my attempt at using an MMCX Pagoda antenna failed—more on that later!

The full parts list

Here’s the parts lists. The total cost for each quadcopter was somewhere around $350.

  Hyperlite Flowride
Frame Hyperlite Flowride 6”
Motors T-Motor F40 Pro V2
2306 2600 KV
Props DAL Cyclone T5544C
ESCs Holybro Tekko32 4-in-1
FC Helio Spring
VTX Holybro AtlAtl HV
Camera Runcam Eagle Micro
Antenna TBS Triumph
Receiver FrSky R-XSR

This is similar to the parts I used in my previous two builds. The only difference is the frame and ESCs. After swapping out the defective part, the flight controller is different, too.

I’m a big fan of the Holybro stack, but it is a little too tall for the Flowride. I wound up using 30 mm standoffs. That gives me enough room for the three boards in the stack.

I’m probably going to need to look for an alternative to the Holybro AtlAtl in the future. There’s plenty of room to mount a VTX outside the stack, and all the frames I like are using shorter standoffs. I’d like to bring my center of gravity down 5 mm, but this is working fine for now.

2600 kv motors? On 5S?!

When I built my last pair of quads, I was hedging my bets. I loved my Shuriken X1 with T-Motor F40ii 2600 kv motors. I wanted to improve on and repeat that success. I built those quads to be capable of running on 5S or 6S batteries, but I expected to continue to use 4S packs—2600 kv on 4S feels fantastic.

That’s not what happened, though. The benefits of 5S are just too great—they’re inexpensive, they don’t sag, and they pack even more punch!

I decided to go with T-Motor F40 Pro V2 motors for this new quad. Lower KV motors would be a better match for the batteries I’m running, but I’m trying to make my quads more homogeneous. I already have F40 Pro V2 2600 motors on one of my other quads. Using them again means I can stock fewer spare parts.

I had planned to use the ZMX FinX30 2207 motors on this build, but they’re more difficult to source.

2600 kv motors? With 6” props?!

I don’t plan on running 6” props on this build, but they do fit. I had some on hand, so I just had to test them!

I have a switch set up on my Taranis X9D+ to limit my maximum throttle. On my 5” quads, I run with an 80% throttle limit. That still packs more punch on 5S than 100% throttle on 4S, and it gives me more resolution on the throttle.

With the bigger props, 2600 KV motors, and a 5S battery, that throttle limit switch is essential. At maximum throttle, I believe the tips of my 5.5” and 6” props are reaching the speed of sound. The noise they make is absolutely terrifying!

Hyperlite Flowride with Kakute F4

Math tells me that 2600 KV on 5S could reach mach 1.2 at the tips of the props. I am certain that physics gets in the way long before then, but I have also read that propellers get extremely unstable at around mach 0.9.

I’m sure that folks with lower-KV builds have an efficiency advantage over my Flowride quad, but I’m extremely pleased with my flight times. I’ve managed to finesse a 9-minute flight out of a single 1,300 mAh 5S pack while running HQ 6x3x3 props. As I always do, I headed in for a landing when the battery was at about 3.65 volts per cell.

DAL Cyclone T5544C

I’ve been running Racekraft props for a long time. I used Racekraft 5046 props on my BFight 210 and Shuriken X1 last year, and I’ve been running Racekraft 5051 props on my more powerful builds this year. They’re great props. I get reasonable flight times, and they pack a punch! However, they aren’t all that smooth.

I had a few sets of HQ 5.5x4x3 props left over from a previous experiment, so I tried those first. The only equipment that I’ve used in testing these props is my butt dyno—I’m not sure that I want accurate scientific data!

The 5.5” props feel like they generate at least as much thrust as the Racekraft 5051, but they feel so much smoother. I don’t know if they have as much power on the top-end, but I’m definitely able to fly fast enough for freestyle.

The HQ props felt great, but they seem fragile. I broke three props on my first outing. All three had broken hubs. Two of those props went completely missing.

When I got home, I did some research and discovered the DAL Cyclone T5544C props. I ordered some immediately. Unfortunately, I was already out of 5.5” props before they arrived, so I flew the Flowride with Racekraft 5051 props for an entire day. I would have liked to fly both 5.5” props back to back.

As far as I can tell, the DAL and HQ 5.5” props both feel quite similar. I get similar flight times. They both hit the speed of sound at a similar throttle level. They both had a ton of grip and generate a lot of thrust.

I’m breaking fewer Cyclones. That’s a bonus. They seem more likely to bend, and it isn’t difficult to straighten them back out. When they do break, though, they are breaking spectacularly.

The Flowride is getting longer flight times

This is the part of my testing that needs more science, and that will take time. In a couple of weeks of flying the Flowride, this is what I’ve learned.

The Flowride is more efficient than either of my OwlRC Dragon quads. One of the OwlRC Dragon quads is using the same motors as the Flowride. The Flowride has different BLHeli_32 ESCs and a different frame. Everything else is nearly identical.

The first day, I assumed the Flowride was getting more air time due to the longer props. One day, I didn’t have enough 5.5” props in my bag, so I put Racekraft 5051 props on the Flowride, and it was staying in the air about 20% longer than my OwlRC Dragon quads.

Later, I discovered that 5.5” props just barely fit on the OwlRC Dragon frame. I couldn’t believe it! I’ve had 5.5” props in my drawer for months. I thought for sure that I tested this. How did I miss it?

On the OwlRC Dragon, the 5.5” props nearly touch in the front and back, but it flies like a dream. Similar punch compared to the Racekraft 5051, but much smoother and more efficient.

Still not as efficient as the Flowride!

With a similar flying style and the same props on each quad, my Flowride will always see about an extra minute of flight time. That’s usually around 20% or so.

Why is the Flowride more efficient? The weights on all these quads are pretty close. Am I getting cleaner air due to the much longer arms? Can the Tekko32 ESCs be more efficient than the Wraith32 ESCs? I’m suspecting that the longer arms are the advantage.

This quad is huge

This is the biggest quad I’ve ever owned or flown in FPV. I don’t really notice the extra size while I’m flying. The lower profile with the top-mounted battery seems to make it easier to fit under picnic tables, but I do seem to be bumping props off the sides of gaps more often now.

Every time I crash and do a test flight line of sight, I am amazed at the size. It looks huge compared to my OwlRC Dragon DSX-5 quads.

The larger size has several advantages. You want to fly a nine-minute, long-range mission? Put some 6” props on. Going for top speed? Maybe switch to some moderately aggressive 5” props. Need a good balance of both? Run 5.5” props.

The extra length also seems to provide smoother responses from the quad. Is it due to the extra leverage? Is the air cleaner when the props are spaced farther apart? I imagine it is a combination of both.

The size has a major downside for me. One of my favorite features of my giant Thinktank FPV Airport Helipak backpack is that I can easily fit three 5” quadcopters inside. I don’t have to to resort to hanging quads on the outside. I still have enough room for OwlRC Dragon frames with 5.5” props, but the long arms on the Flowride are problematic.

I could take a few dividers out of the bag, but then I won’t have space for my Leader 120 micro quad or Ryze Tello. It is a conundrum!

I’m waiting for a good MMCX antenna

I want to eliminate the MMCX to SMA cable on all my quads. Each connector impacts the quality of your signal, and the extra SMA connectors are adding unnecessary weight. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of variety in antennas that plug directly into MMCX ports.

Half of the options have a 90-degree MMCX connector. Those don’t fit my layout very well. There are a few that fit my needs, though, and I decided to try one for this build—a Foxeer Pagoda.

It fit nicely, and it saved me a few grams. Unfortunately, my video feed on my first flight was absolutely atrocious. In my rather gentle attempt to disconnect it from the VTX, the antenna came completely loose from the MMCX connector. It is the first time I’ve had that happen to an MMCX lead, and I didn’t even get a chance to pull very hard at all.

I assume the antenna was defective.

What’s next?

I was worried that I’d like the top-mount battery and Tekko32 4-in-1 so much that I’d have to upgrade the other two quads. I’d have to buy a pair of new ESCs, frames, and flight controllers. Sure, I could wire the Tekko32 into the existing AIO flight controllers, but it wouldn’t be as clean and simple!

It would cost me another $120 per quadcopter to make the switch. I am relieved that I don’t feel the need to spend the money or the time on those upgrades!

I like the top-mount battery, and I like the Flowride frame. It is significantly more rigid than the OwlRC Dragon frames. This surprised me a lot, because I remember thinking the Dragon frame was amazingly strong when I first handled it. Have my constant crashes been taking their toll?

Hyperlite Flowride

The first time I flew my Flowride build, I was amazed at how clean the video feed was—even at full throttle! I assumed this was entirely due to the upgrade to a Tekko32 ESC. Fortunately for me, that wasn’t the case. The Tekko32 definitely provides cleaner video than my Wraith32 ESCs, but part of my OwlRC Dragon’s problem has been my choice of props. The Racekraft 5051 props just aren’t smooth.

As soon as I discovered that I can fit 5.5” props on my other two quads, my thoughts about immediately upgrading mostly went away. The DAL Cyclone T5544C props are a good enough upgrade for my Dragon quads for now. They’re smoother and more powerful. Best of all, all my quads will be running the same props—that makes it easier to keep the drone bag stocked!

If I’m not upgrading frames, flight controllers, or ESCs, then what should I do next?

How’s Butterflight working out?

The first quad I installed Butterflight on was my Leader 120, and that went very well. With nearly stock settings, it flew better than my tuned Betaflight. With a bit of tuning, the Leader 120 is flying better than I ever imagined it would.

That was a good enough excuse to try Butterflight on my OwlRC Dragon DSX-5 quads. I overclocked their Kakute F4 flight controllers and ran a 32k/16k loop, and that seemed to work pretty well, at least on the OwlRC quad with QMX motors.

I had a lot more trouble with the F40 quad. That turned out to be a physical problem. The gyro chip on the F40 was touching the VTX. That must have been getting worse over time, and it explained a lot of issues I was having with that quad. I’m guessing the foam is expanding slowly or the adhesive is loosening.

After having my Kakute flight controller on the Flowride on two or three different versions of Betaflight, I figured it was time to give Butterflight a try. It didn’t correct my issue, so I upgraded to the Helio Spring.

How is the Helio Spring?

This section and the previous section probably deserve their own blog post, but I can summarize well enough here.

I like it a lot. The layout is quite nice. The VTX pins are near the back, the camera pins are near the front, and it plugged into my Holybro Tekko32 4-in-1 without any problems.

I’m running a 32k/32k PID loop on the Flowride. I left everything pretty close to stock. I added a bit of antigravity and TPA. I don’t think I’ve touched the PIDs. Just about the only tuning I’ve done is lowering the Q values in the IMU-F.

The Q values default to 3500 on pitch and roll. With those values, I believe I had jello in my GoPro footage. I lowered them to around 1500, and that cleared up the jelly, but the quad gets really unhappy with even the slightest bit of damage to the 5.5” props. It starts with jello, but a slight bend of a prop was making my motors get quite hot.

I believe I am currently around a Q value of 800 on pitch and roll, and a Q of 500 or so on yaw. This is lowering the trust in the gyro. I still get jello if my props aren’t perfect, but at least it isn’t trying to vibrate the motors to death!

TBS Crossfire

I’ve been talking about upgrading to TBS Crossfire for weeks. I wanted the Crossfire Micro TX for my Taranis X9D+, but they’ve been out of stock. I thought about spending more on the full-size module, but that thing is huge. I don’t need its additional features, and I don’t want my transmitter gaining so much extra bulk.

Crossfire Micro TX modules are finally in stock again. The Micro TX module and a trio of Nano RX modules were delivered just now. How am I managing to continue writing this blog post when I could be setting up Crossfire on all my quads? The answer is simple. I’m not home right now, and I won’t be for a couple of hours!

I’m starting to push myself far enough that failsafes are becoming an issue. I haven’t had many full failsafes lately, but I have lost connectivity for a fraction of a second on a number of scary occasions. Whenever that happens, my confidence level drops.

Should I try that power loop? Maybe not. I almost failsafed on my last battery. What if I failsafe at the top of the loop? What if I failsafe and fly into someone?

I’m not that interested in flying long range. I am very interested in keeping my confidence level up. It sounds like I’ll have a very hard time losing connectivity with Crossfire at the distances I currently fly. Having one less thing to worry about is easily worth the $250 I had to pay for a transmitter and receivers.

I will definitely have to try flying long range. If I have the equipment, why not make an attempt!

Conclusion

The Hyperlite Flowride is an excellent frame at an amazing price, but it has been superseded by the Hyperlite FlosStyle. I like the Flowride a lot, but I wouldn’t buy another. I’d go with the FlosStyle at this point.

Are you flying a Flowride, FLOSS, or FlosStyle quad? What do you think of it? Tell us about it in the comments, or stop by our Discord server and let us know what you think!

Eachine QX65 - Tons of Fun and a Great Value

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UPDATE: This post is already pretty outdated. Don’t buy the Eachine QX65. A whole mess of better, more durable brushless indoor quads are available now. I’ve upgraded to an EMAX Tinyhawk. I haven’t written about it yet, but I highly recommend it. It is a great way to get started in FPV, and it is an excellent indoor Whoop-like for experienced pilots. The bundle includes everything you need to get starts for $165—including goggles and a controller! Six additional batteries will set you back another $25. If you already have goggles and a Taranis, the Tinyhawk is only $99.

My friends and I have been talking about buying Tiny Whoops for ages. Not necessarily real Tiny Whoops, but one of the clones. None of our FPV quads are gentle enough to fly indoors, and we all want to have an option for flying on rainy days.

I’m not interested in the real Tiny Whoop. They use the original flight controller from the Inductrix. They say it flies better, but even if it does, I’m not excited about flying an unconfigurable black box.

Eachine QX65 and a GoPro HERO5 Session

The next model I looked at was the NewBeeDrone AcroBee. Their full kit comes with the parts to build the brushed micro drone, four batteries, a charger, and three different sets of motors. You get all that and a case for about $136. That’s pretty reasonable.

Then I found the Eachine QX65 bundle. Eachine’s bundle isn’t directly comparable to the NewBeeDrone kit. The QX65 is assembled and ready to fly out of the box, but it doesn’t come with any spare motors.

With the QX65 advanced bundle, you get a drone with an F3 flight conroller, two spare frames, two spare sets of props, six 250 mAh HV LiPo batteries, a six-port charger, and a single-port USB charger. You don’t get a case, but you do get all of that stuff for about $90.

I’m not interested in becoming a professional Whoop racer. I just want to goof around in the house. More batteries, a parallel charge board, and the lower price convinced me to give the QX65 a try. I’m glad I did, too!

If you’re more serious than I am, the NewBeeDrone AcroBee might be a better choice

I’m certain that the AcroBee is a better quad, but probably not by a huge margin. The AcroBee uses the newer, larger battery connector. That bigger connector can push more power to the motors.

It would be easy to solder an upgraded connector onto the QX65, but you’re going to be stuck with half a dozen batteries with the puny connector. I don’t think this is a big deal—you can always have two connectors on your quad! It is just something to think about.

The AcroBee comes with better motors. It also comes with three different grades of motor, so you can try each one and see what you prefer.

I didn’t buy the AcroBee! I bought the QX65!

I’m pleased with the QX65. It was an amazing value. I was up, flying, and having fun in about five minutes. Since it runs Betaflight, I was able to quickly configure the rates and switches to match all my other quads, too!

I did some test flight at home, but a few days after I got my QX65, my friend Brian closed on a new house. His new house has a pretty good route where you can fly up the stairs to the second floor, through a room, and back down to the first floor.

Here’s some video of Brian flying his QX65 that day!

I noticed a problem at Brian’s house that I hadn’t experienced in my single-story home. When flying in angle mode, there’s a ton of prop wash when descending from the second story. So much prop wash that it is very difficult to not smack into the ground! For some reason, I didn’t experience this prop wash in air mode, but it is nearly impossible to fly well indoors with a Whoop in air mode.

The Project Mockingbird settings are fantastic

I had already heard about Project Mockingbird long before I even ordered my Eachine QX65. Even so, I wanted to try the stock settings before messing around too much with Betaflight. The stock settings work. Project Mockingbird is just so much better.

What is Project Mockingbird? Some folks are trying to come up with settings for Betaflight and your Taranis radio that will replicate the feel and responsiveness of a genuine Tiny Whoop.

I’m not sure how close they’ve gotten, but I can tell you that the Project Mockingbird settings are a huge improvement over the QX65’s stock settings.

The prop wash in angle mode is gone. It feels much better when banking or turning. You can definitely fly your QX65 with the stock settings, but I highly recommend trying out Project Mockingbird.

I didn’t follow all of their instructions. I thought their rates were much too high for me. My other quads all fly identical rates for roll, pitch, and yaw. I modified mine to match Project Mockingbird’s ratios. It seems to be working well!

Some minor issues

I’ve had trouble with the motors working their way loose from the frame. It was a minor annoyance on my first day of flying.

I had already decided that I was going to add a 3D-printed brace to the frame. When I installed that brace, I glued it in place with Welder glue. I’ve been using this stuff since I built my arcade cabinet, and I like it a lot. It is a bit like hot glue, but without the heat. It is a little stickier than hot glue, but not by a lot, and it doesn’t cure as fast, but it is more convenient.

While I was tacking my frame brace in place, I made sure to add a bit of glue to each motor. They’ll still be easy to remove when they fail, but they’re not getting knocked out of place anymore.

Four-blade props

I bought a whole mess of four-blade props. I’m not sure if they’re an upgrade. They don’t seem to have diminished my flight times, and they have made the QX65 a bit more twitchy on sharp stick inputs.

That leads me to believe that they’re providing more thrust. The quad is acting like it has just a little too much P-gain. I might try to tune that out.

The 6-way charger is awesome!

The 6-way battery charger that comes with the advanced QX65 is fantastic. You can set each battery to 4.2 or 4.35 volts. You can also set the charge rate to approximately 1c or 2c for each battery.

The input for the charger is an XT60 connector, so you can charge your batteries in the field using the LiPos you already have for your 5” quads!

I fried my charger. The label on the input claims it can handle 25 volts. I plugged it into the 23.8 volt power supply I use to power my ISDT Q6 Plus charger, and I let the magic smoke out.

The charger definitely handles 4S just fine. I want to tell you that I’ve used my 5S packs to charge my Whoop batteries, but I can’t say for certain. I’d suggest sticking to 4S packs!

Future upgrades

The heart of the QX65 is sound. The BeeCore V2 is an F3 flight controller with an integrated OSD. I have mine running with an 8k/8k PID loop, and the CPU utilization doesn’t even reach 40%. It should be a good, relevant flight controller for quite a long time!

I’m patiently waiting for my motors to wear out. A while back, Ready Made RC included a set of upgraded Whoop motors in one of my orders—they’re always throwing something extra in the box!

When those wear out, I’ll probably try one of the outrageous sets of motors from NewBeeDrone.

I tried really hard to convince myself that I should buy an AcroBee instead of the QX65. I love NewBeeDrone. Their battery straps are top notch. Their neat Fat Shark headset foam is amazing.

What sort of indoor quads are you flying? A brushless quad like the Tiny Whoop or QX65? Are you flying a 1S brushed micro? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below, or you can come chat about it on our Discord server!

My FPV Quadcopter Field Charging Setup

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UPDATE: I’m designing an open-source 3” HD micro FPV quadcopter frame. I call it the Kestrel. You should check it out!

My friends and I avoided field charging for a long time. Why should we charge in the field? Wouldn’t it be easier to just carry more batteries for the quads? We did the math. That would cost a bit more, but it was still a good value for us.

Our flying lives were simpler back then. All our quads ran on 1300 mAh or 1500 mAh 4S packs, so that’s all any of us carried. Then we started adding micro quads to our bags. The micro burshless quads use tiny 2S or 3S packs, our Tiny Whoop clones use 1S LiPos.

Our inexpensive, prebuilt quads like the BFight 210 still use 4S packs, but all our new builds are using 5S or 6S packs.

My 10,000 mAh 6S Field Charging LiPo Battery

It was easy to carry a dozen or more 4S packs. I’m not going to carry a dozen of each size pack. That’s expensive and heavy. Maybe it is time to carry one big, heavy battery that can charge all my other batteries!

Early experiments with field charging

I started experimenting as soon as I upgraded to an ISDT Q6 Plus charger. I picked up a cigarette lighter adapter, and I was able to easily charge from the tailgate of our miniature SUV.

This has its limitations. My ISDT Q6 maxes out at 14 amps. I do this all the time at home, and I am able to parallel charge six 5S batteries in less than 25 minutes. In the car, this wasn’t possible. When charging at around five amps, the input voltage would drop quite a bit. That was enough to parallel charge two 1500 mAh 4S packs in about 20 minutes.

That’s not fast enough to keep me in the air, but it was cheap, easy, and it would let me fly three or four extra packs on each outing. Also, our newer pilots don’t tend to have enough batteries to keep flying. If you lend out your own batteries, they’re likely to come back broken—it has happened to me twice so far! Charging someone else’s packs is a cheaper option!

Connecting the charger directly to the battery would allow me to push the ISDT charger to its limits, but that requires more effort. We only sit near the car at one park, too, so working on that option didn’t seem like it would provide enough value.

Replacing the car with a giant LiPo battery!

I’ve been on the hunt for a good power source for months. SLA batteries are cheap, but they’re way too heavy to carry around. There are all sorts of battery packs built out of 18650 cells. The most common of those are 42 volt packs for electric scooters. 42 volts puts those outside the input or output range of our ISDT Q6, so they wouldn’t be convenient.

I decided to use a big, heavy LiPo battery. Hobby King has a selection of large LiPos. They have 4S 8,000 mAh packs, 6S 20,000 mAh packs, and a dizzying assortment of sizes in between. As far as I can tell, one of those giant packs is always on sale. When that sale ends, a different size goes on sale.

The day before I decided to pull the trigger, I was looking at a 4S 16,000 mAh that was on sale. By the time I was ready to order, the price had doubled! I poked through their selection, and I found a 6S 10,000 mAh for about $70. That seemed about right, so I ordered one for myself and one for my friend Brian.

You should choose the battery that gets you the most watt-hours per dollar!

My giant LiPo was shipped with an XT90 connector. That is of no use to me, so I just soldered on an XT60 connector in its place.

What do I have to carry in my bag?

Including the battery, I have added nearly three pounds of hardware to my already gigantic ThinkTank backpack.

I had to snip the banana plugs off the JST parallel cable. I soldered on a Deans connector to fit into the extra port on the XT60 parallel board. I have a JST parallel charging cable at home that came with a Deans connector, but the one that came with banana plugs is higher quality. It uses thicker wire, and it just feels nicer. It was worth the extra five minutes of labor!

I haven’t bought a second ISDT charger, but I keep considering it. It is easy enough to pull my home charger off the Bat Safe and throw it in my bag, but I have forgotten to do that on at least one occasion!

How much can you charge in the field?

On each power up, the ISDT charger keeps track of how many watt-hours it has pumped into your batteries. There is some loss when transferring power from the source battery to the destination. When connected to a full 10,000 mAh 6S LiPo, the charger can output 220 watt-hours when discharged to 3.3 volts per cell. How many watt-hours does it take to charge one of my miniquad LiPos?

  • 3S 550 mAh – 5 watt-hours
  • 4S 1,500 mAh – 16 watt-hours
  • 5S 1,300 mAh – 23 watt-hours
  • 6S 1,000 mAh – TBD
  • 6S 1,400 mAh – TBD

My big LiPo can recharge 14 4S LiPos, 10 5S LiPos, or more than 40 of my tiny 3S LiPos. Any combination of those LiPos would weigh nearly twice as much as the charging battery!

Why is that? You lose quite a bit of power to heat when charging. Shouldn’t the charging LiPo end up being heavier?

I don’t fly my batteries all the way down to 3.3 volts per cell. If they get below 3.3 volts, they crash to 2.5 volts or twenty seconds and you’ll fall out of the sky.

Field Charging Some LiPo Batteries

That makes it difficult to fly home. I always stop flying when my goggles show a voltage near 3.6 volts per cell, and the batteries usually settle to around 3.75 volts while they’re waiting to be plugged into the charger. That means the batteries being charged aren’t completely dead—they probably still have 1/3 of their charge remaining.

I am discharging the 10,000 mAh LiPo all the way to 3.3 volts. It isn’t flying. I don’t have to worry about it falling out of the sky!

How many quad batteries would you need to carry?

This has been fun and interesting to think about. What is the minimum number of batteries you can carry and still fly nonstop?

It depends on how long your batteries last, how many amps you’re willing to pump into your LiPos, and your definition of nonstop.

I am comfortable parallel charging four of my 1,300 mAh 5S packs at 14 amps. That works out to a charge rate of about 2.7C and takes about 20 minutes.

When flying freestyle with my GoPro HERO5 Session, my 5S packs last a little over four minutes. If I hustle and use a pretty strict definition for nonstop, it might take me one minute to swap batteries and get back in the air. I never go that fast, though. There’s usually a minute of idle time at the beginning of all my GoPro footage, and the footage doesn’t start until my battery has already been swapped.

Let’s pretend I can go much faster than that.

I’d prefer to charge at 2C, so I’m already pushing things. That means I’ll need to carry at least eight batteries. I’d fly four batteries, then put them on the charger. By the time I fly the next four packs, the first four would be ready to fly. If I repeat that until the big LiPo is discharged, I would be able to fly a total of 18 packs. That’s 72 minutes of actual flight time.

To maintain that pace, I would need to hire a caddy to do my charging for me. Maybe they could swap batteries for me, too!

This isn’t how I spend my time flying, and seems like an unrealistic and extreme situation. I would never have the goggles on for 72 minutes straight. I take breaks. I watch my friends fly. I check Twitter. I go find my quad when it crashes—it crashes a lot! I help friends find their quads. I keep an eye out for pedestrians when my friends are flying.

This charging scenario might be realistic for somebody, but not anyone I know!

How many quad batteries do I actually carry?

I try to carry six batteries of each type. If I drop below six, I buy enough replacements to get up to seven or eight packs—I will certainly break more batteries!

I started field charging at the same time that I removed my final 4S quad from my bag—I really do miss my BFight 210, but I don’t miss the extra weight of those 4S packs! I was carrying more than six 4S packs. My 10,000 mAh field-charging pack weighs less than the 4S packs I removed from my bag, so I’m at a weigh savings overall.

I try to carry six of each size battery, because that’s how many ports my parallel charging boards have available. I have slots set up in my ThinkTank Helipak bag to fit two rows of three LiPos.

I’m currently carrying seven CNHL 1,300 mAh 5S packs and six 550 mAh 3S packs.

I don’t have a strict charging regimen. I’ll tell you about how things went yesterday at the park. I flew three 5S packs. I was mostly cruising around and talking to my friend Brian—I fly much slower when I’m talking. I was seeing flight times way up around six minutes.

I popped those on the charger at a little over 2C. The shade had moved, so we migrated our chairs back into the shade. I poured some water from my giant 2-liter Thermos, watched Brian fly, and I loaded a battery into my Leader 120 micro quad.

I’m nervous about flying freestyle around trees with the Leader 120. I don’t want to get stuck in a tree. I won’t be able to see it, and I don’t want to waste an hour trying to get it down. This fear usually leads to flight times of five or six minutes.

The three 5S packs were done charging before I finished two packs on the Leader 120.

What about sharing the charger?

If you and your friends are all flying similar batteries, this would be fantastic. My ISDT charger has no trouble topping off six batteries in less than 25 minutes.

Unfortunately, my friends and I are all running batteries with different voltages. I run 5S, my friend Brian runs mostly 6S, and our other friends all run 4S. We have to use separate chargers or take turns. Usually it ends up being a little of both!

The verdict

Field charging is legit. At the pace I tend to go through batteries, my field charging setup has no trouble keeping up with me. I carry enough 5S packs to keep me in the air for 20 to 25 minutes—even longer since I started flying with 5.5” props! If I need to fly longer, it is easy enough to throw some of those packs on the charger—the 10,000 mAh 6S has enough juice to give me another 35 to 40 minutes of flying time.

In terms of cash and weight, field charging is an excellent value. Ten more 5S packs would cost at least $250 and weigh roughly 4.5 pounds. The giant 10,000 mAh only cost me $75 and weighs about 2.5 pounds. The charger and balance board only weigh a few ounces, and I’m just unplugging my home charger and taking it with me.

Field Charging Battery Fits In My Bag

It doesn’t matter whether I carry 6 or 16 packs with me to the field. I have to charge every pack that I fly. Field charging moves the labor from home to the field. I find this to be a good trade-off, because I’m usually chatting with my friends in the field when I’m charging!

I’m still most excited by the versatility. Did it end up being a day for micro quads? No problem, I can charge those batteries all day long. No matter what type of battery you wind up depleting on a particular day, you can always top them back off and fly some more!

Are you field charging your LiPo packs? Are you using a big LiPo, or are you using something else to power your charger? Let us know what you think in the comments, or join us in the #drone channel on our Discord server!