Key things every beginner FPV racer needs to know about flying and building a racing quadcopter.

Posted by Lee McKenzie on 19th Apr 2015

Nothing is more frustrating than being a beginner at something. Especially when it comes to building and flying your very first FPV quadcopter. 

The initial excitement can quickly wear off when you don't know what you are doing and can quickly become frustrated by your lack of knowledge and understanding of quadcopters as you're learning how to go about building and flying them.

I remember my very first build was filled with disappointment as I broke things, lost things, burnt things, snapped things and had to try to recover my sanity during the darkest moments. However nothing gives you more satisfaction than getting through the little problems and learning more about your quadcopter and the way it operates. After all the more you know about how your racer works, the better you are prepared to get on top of problems when you are out in the field racing. You can also rely less on third parties to help you fix your quadcopter which could cost you time and money.

So to cut a long story short I'm going to list some of the things I wish I knew before I started my first build. Some of these are common sense and some are things that may surprise you so here we go.

#1: Quadcopters can vibrate! 

This means if you don't have good prop balancing (lets face it, unless you are doing professional filming your probably not gonna bother too much about balancing) or dampening of some sort or another in the right places, you will lose screws and things when they just vibrate out. 

I was completely naive to this when I did my maiden flight and ended up losing a few screws and a camera lens due to vibration. To ensure nothing vibrated to oblivion again I used my partners nail polish to keep everything rattling out.

#2: Motor Rotation and Prop Adapters: 

Make sure you put the right CW/CCW prop adapters on the right motor. I made the mistake of getting this wrong and had a counter clockwise thread prop nut spin competely off the motor and into the long grass never to be seen again. Prop nuts (if they come with CW and CCW adapter: some don't) should be self tightening, so make the your CW threaded prop adapter goes on a CCW rotating motor.

#3: Buy plenty of propellers:

Nothing stalls your flight progress more than running out of propellers. Buy waaaay more props than you think you will need because you will crash, LOTS. And you usually destroy some props when you crash. Which brings me to the next point.

#4: Learn how to crash:

Yes you read that right! Before you learn how to fly, you should learn how to crash. Why? Because you will save your equipment and make it easier on your wallet. Props can be the biggest victims when it comes to crashing, but you can reduce your chances of props and other things breaking by completely shutting down the throttle before colliding with the ground or other objects. By doing this, you allow the motors to spin freely, reducing the amount of energy the props have to dissipate when hitting objects, and potentially getting away with just a chipped or bent prop instead of a snapped one. Which by the way can be reused.

#5: Secure your battery properly:

These things have the most mass out of all the components and can destroy electronics or set fire to your quadcopter if not secured properly. You'll be surprised where this thing can end up in even the smallest crash. Stick it to the frame with velcro, then strap it on tight with a battery strap or 2.

#6: Carbon Fiber conducts electricity:

I didn't know this and was having trouble with esc's sitting on the arms without heatshrink. At times they would just start smoking. I asked around on forums about what could be causing it without any helpful solutions until I stumbled across a comment that stated that carbon fiber conducted electricity. Duhhhhhhhh! my ESC's were shorting out on the frame.

#7: Use an SMA extension cable:

When installing a VTX (Video Transmitter) into your FPV quadcopter, use an SMA or RP-SMA extension cable between your VTX and your Antenna. The weakest point in the VTX is where the Antenna connects to the VTX. In a crash, this becomes a hinge point and can snap off, especially because the antenna is quite exposed. So no matter what, use an extension cable to eliminate the hinge point and save your expensive VTX.

#8: Make sure you never power your VTX without an antenna plugged into it:

You need to have an antenna plugged into your video transmitter otherwise you can very quickly burn out your VTX when you supply power to it. Another important thing to remember is to make sure your antenna has the right connector before plugging it in. I have made the fatal mistake of plugging an RP-SMA antenna into an SMA VTX. For some reason my replacement Skyzone 600Mw VTX was SMA instead of RP-SMA. Doh! Another wrecked VTX!!!!!!

#9: Buy 2x the parts (if you can afford to)

Nothing frustrated me more than breaking a part, then having to wait weeks for new parts to arrive or have to pay excessive amounts on shipping to get parts fast. If you can, double up on everything, from frames to motors to esc's to flight controllers. But sometimes you just can't do that depending on your budget.

#10: Make sure you connect your motors in the right sequence:

One day I decided to try a Naze 32 flight controller after using a CC3D flight controller, and then had a quadcopter flipping backwards on takeoff and doing all sorts of stupid things and breaking propellers before I could even get off the ground. Until I realized that the Naze 32 had a different motor sequence than the CC3D. Also double check that your motors are spinning the right rotation too. 

#11: Have plenty of batteries on hand:

This one is pretty obvious, but the more batteries you have the more air time you will get due to not having to wait for your battery to fully charge before you can fly again. Have a couple batteries charging while you fly so that once your current one is dead. Just pop in a freshly charged one and you're good to go.

I hope my experiences will help people avoid the same mistakes that I have. Nothing puts you off more than continually being forced to sit on the sidelines as you wait for parts and repairs when you could be out having fun racing your FPV quadcopter.

I know there are more frustrations to be had by beginners, if you have your own tips for the beginner pilots out there feel free to leave them in the comments section below.