Quadcopters, drones, and other RC fun


Just a general note that while the little and inexpensive drones are fun to fly, they’re generally a lot more difficult to actually learn on because they’re so much more unstable. Though once you’ve mastered a nanodrone, something like a Mavic is super-easy.

I have the Air Hogs USS Enterprise (which is already more stable than the palm-size drones) and it’s way, way more challenging to keep it from running into things in my house than it is to fly my Mavic around outside at 35 mph. :)


On Parrot… Not surprised. Their drones were in a weird space between cheap and good. They didn’t cost as much as DJI’s stuff, but their video, control, and range paled in quality compared to DJI, and Parrot was cheaper but not cheap. My first drone was a Parrot AR.Drone that my wife got me, that did an uncontrolled flyaway on my second flight. Luckily I recovered it and it was only a little scratched up, so it went back into the box and back to Amazon for a refund.

People could spend $499 on a BeBop that takes cruddy video and has short Wi-Fi line-of-sight range or $699 on a Phantom 3 that shoots 4K from a mile away. If you’re cheap, you’re not going to spend the $499, and if you do any research you realize that you’re getting a hellaciously better drone if you spend the extra $200 on the DJI.

(Though I see B&H has the original BeBop for $199. That’s actually a reasonable price for that drone.)


It’s the 4:1 module from Banggood. It’s a custom board with four chips running Multiprotocol which allows it to transmit a wide variety of protocols. Takes a bit of mucking around, though part of the learning curve is just dealing with the TX itself and figuring out how to configure a model to begin with. Channels, channel order, inversion, rates, switches, modes, etc, etc, etc. Always take of your props when trying to bind!

You can also get one of the OrangeRX modules from Hobbyking and flash it it with Multiprotocol, presuming your TX has the right firmware or (in some cases) mods.

Headset is the Quanum FPV unit from Hobbyking which they had on sale for about $50 over the holidays.


Unstable is not really the right word - there is nothing particularly wrong with the flight code on them, that I have seen. Once trimmed, all of mine are nice and stable and hover reasonably statically. But they will almost certainly lack features like altitude and GPS hold, which can be a boon on your first flights.

What they suffer from mostly is average control and their biggest problem in that regard is the TX’s. Really cheap TX’s are not all that good. They lack resolution or are poorly sprung or have short throws, etc, all which can make actually flying them difficult.

The other issue could be where you choose to fly - a nano outdoors is always going to be more susceptible to wind than a larger, heavier bird, particularly if they are under-powered with a crappy controller.

But you are going to crash anyway, so better to do that with a cheapo that is a bit more difficult to control before getting something nicer! And they are still tons of fun to fly. And you can fly them indoors! :)






So for the last few days I have been trying to get my multiprotocol module’s firmware updated so it will bind with the Eachine E010. Turns out that despite the protocol being available for selection in the menu, that does not mean it is actually loaded in the module firmware.

Finally, success!

Took a bit of faffing about, but mostly due to shit soldering on my part, followed by a suspected dud microcontroller programming unit.

So, note to self, if your soldering looks like this:

…it may pay to practice just a little before attacking your production board. Thankfully, it cleaned up ok and upon spending a few minutes practicing on a protoboard with my proper soldering iron instead of the portable butane unit, the joints came out a bit more respectable:

Like that, anyway, I forgot to take a pic of the actual board before putting it back in the case, so that is my practice run.

If you are familiar with Arduino, then flashing these will be no problem for you. But I am not. Essentially you use the Arduino IDE to compile the code yourself, commenting out any protocols and functionality you don’t need (and you will need to as they support way more protocols than can actually fit in the 32KB of available chip memory - hence why the E010 protocol was not in there from factory). Then you flash the unit via a USPASP or USBtinyISP ICSP programming module, which I gather is standard operating procedure for Arduino stuff.

Anyway, the $4 programming module I got from BangGood did not do the job and would not connect to the actual chip. I thought my soldering was still dodgy, but multi-meter checked the connections between the header pins and their respective chip pins and it all seemed fine. So I dropped down to Jaycar to grab a much more expensive (read better quality) programming unit to try again. Apparently these cheap Chinese jobbies are quite hit and miss.

Still took a bit of driver juggling to get the Arduino IDE to recognise the programmer, despite Windows device manager being happy (these things apparently all work natively on MacOS, FWIW), but I managed to get it successfully flashed in the end.

Then it bound with the E010 without any issues at all. Chalk and cheese. Wow, what a difference it makes in flying. I mean the TX that comes with the E010 is rubbish, but it is such a dramatic difference it’s crazy. If you want to fly and play with these cheap Chinese quads, this is a great way to improve them. As I said, this particular quad is nice and sedate, so great for indoor flying, but I still had problems with fine control through corridors and such. Not any longer!

Note, I still think these cheap quads are a great way to get into the hobby, regardless.

I’ll fly it FPV a bit later tonight and I am sure it will make a dramatic difference there.


I got my Go Professional Case. Highly recommended, Shultz approved!

Shultz Mavic by Sam Posten III, on Flickr

I managed to avoid crashing my first two flights, I consider that a win. Played around a bit but shut down due to winds.

Banned in Hong Kong!


I picked up a Hubsan 501s - $200 with a bunch of extras. I can’t swing a mavic, but this thing is a nice bridge between toy and drone. Nice motors, gps hold, follow me mode, speedy little thing.

They have some on Amazon for like 270. They can be squirrely but at this price point they are good units for outdoor, decent fpv (1080p and not stabilized video, and fisheye lens, but smooth and no lag, just doesn’t make publishable video really) and more range than anyone needs.


Last night I was standing out on my porch when suddenly I saw, about a block away, a small object with red lights flying around trees and rooftops. I realized that technically I was looking at a UFO, even though I knew it had to be a hobby drone. First one I’ve ever seen at night.


What are the current thoughts in the $700-800 range? I was thinking about a Phantom 3, but then I ran across the Autel X-star and Yuneec Q500 and I’m having some difficulty figuring out which way to go. Looking to shoot still and video, mostly over water, reasonably near a boat…

I got my remote pilot temporary certificate yesterday (which is funny, because while I have 2800 hrs of flight time in airplanes, I’ve never flown anything R/C). My employer has a Blade 350QX which they got a few years ago but haven’t flown, but I think we need something with more flight endurance and a gimbaled camera.


@tfernando, definitely the Phantom is the way to go. The prices on the Phantom 3 series have dropped nicely with the release of the Phantom 4 and Mavic. And honestly, about the only thing my Mavic has over my old Phantom 3 Pro is the awesome portability. (And collision avoidance, but I’ve learned not to fly into things.)

It looks like DJI only sells the $499 Phantom 3 Standard now in that series, but the Phantom 3 Pro is available for $799 from Adorama via Amazon. (I paid over $1K, and Best Buy still wants $999.) Though you will likely want another battery, and you want to stick to official DJI models for that. The Pro offers 4K video and much longer video and transmitter range than the Standard. The biggest difference is really the Lightbridge video transmission, which has much less delay and much better range than the system used by the Standard. ($399 for a refurb’d Standard from DJI is an amazing deal, though, for anyone here on a budget looking for pro-quality stabilized video.)

Autel’s US office is actually the guys who used to run the Woodinville, WA DJI Store. They found Autel and have helped them get going in the US. The X-Star Premium is essentially a good Phantom 3 Pro clone, but it’s the same price, has less third-party support (there are some cool apps for DJI’s API), and it’s not as easy to find parts, etc. With no price advantage, I would stick with DJI.

Yuneec stuff looks great spec-wise, but just go to YouTube and search for “Yuneec crash” or “Yuneec problems.” There have apparently been a lot of issues due to the firmware not being nearly as tight or reliable as DJI’s.

TL;DR: Get the Phantom 3 Pro. Great drone, now $460 less than when first released.


@DennyA Thanks, that pretty much sells me on the Phantom 3 Pro :) I had the chance to see a DJI Inspire 1 in action up close, but that’s enough over my budget I’m looking for something else.


I read an article a while back, probably linked from here, that positioned a strong case for DJI still leading the industry by miles in price/features when it comes to drones as a camera platform. They consistently have the best, most feature rich and reliable product in several price ranges of all well known brands. Can’t find it now, though, but doubt you will go wrong with a Phantom 3.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I seem to have acquired another 'copter…

This is another micro sized quadcopter - Eachine QX90C, one of a growing range of cheap, small sized units coming out of China characterised by70-100mm frames, 8mm brushed motors, full featured flight controllers running open software, usually as bind and fly. There are many different models available now, coming thick and fast and improving rapidly in terms of build quality, components and performance. This sucker was AUD$75!

I have not managed to fly my previous FPV bird much, but when I tried it outdoors, it was a complete no-go. Slow and sedate indoors, but too light and way underpowered to cope even in a light breeze. Good to practice on and fly around the house with the kid, but not so good for getting outside in some wide open space and really getting a bird’s eye view.

Took a few days to manage to get it set up. Comes with a choice of built in receivers, DSM in my case, so I managed to bind it with my 9XR-Pro TX with no problems, but from there, you really need to fart around in the flight control software to ensure everything is working correctly and assign a TX switch to arm the motors. Getting connected was painless - the flight boards have a USB connector on them and are pretty much plug and play on Win10. The CleanFlight software has a standalone Chrome App configuration tool that is completely painless. But all my channels were messed up, out of order and reading incorrectly. It took me a bit of trouble shooting to get to the bottom of the problem, which turned out to be disabling an ‘auto’ option for sub-protocol selection on my TX and setting it manually. Channels immediately mapped correctly, so a bit more trial and error to work out how to configure a three position switch (flight mode selection) and I was done.

Took it out today and it flies very nicely. Decent power, very agile and quick and seems to have a nice tune out of the box. Flight modes are the key though. CleanFlight has three flight modes, angle, horizon, acro. Angle is fully stabilised with limited pitch/roll axes. Horizon is stabilised, with unlimited pitch/roll. Acro is completely unstabilised. Horizon mode is great - you can be really aggressive and get the thing tipped right over, but if you get into trouble, just middle the sticks and it returns to level.

With the QX90C I did my first manual flips today (in Horizon mode, which makes ‘catching’ a cinch)! My Dromida has an acro mode, but it is gutless and I would never attempt a manual flip as I don’t think it would be possible (it has a auto-flip button, but that seems to use customised rates that are otherwise unavailable). Power reserves make a massive difference to responsiveness and the ability to roll quickly to complete a flip.

Flying FPV is amazing, very, very cool. Next step is some flips while flying FPV!

Is there an assistance group for people addicted to buying these things?


I took some awesome photos yesterday of a fog-frozen Colorado. Here’s just a sample and a short video (editing a longer one together):


There is always one…


Haha I didn’t even spot that.


Another video from yesterday, wherein I harass my llamas and then bump into a tree. I was really impressed how well the Mavic recovered from a ‘crash’ like this. It just went right back to being stable.


I love how the llamas are like, whatever man, we’re just trying to eat over here. Llamas gotta llama.