May 082012
 
My Quadcopter

My Quadcopter

Flying quadcopters can be a very expensive hobby. So, what does it cost from soup to nuts? In this post, I will throw out some cost estimates of what it might cost to build a DIY quadcopter and share what I have learned over the past months that might help you save some money.

Estimated Parts Cost

  • Frame $10 -$300
  • 4 Motors $40 -$100
  • 4 ESCs $40-$100
  • 4 Props $5-$50
  • 1 Flight Controller $15-$250
  • 1 Lipo Battery $10-$50
  • Transmitter and Receiver $25-$450
  • Miscellaneous Parts (Wire, connectors, etc) $20-$50
  • Battery Charger $5-$100

Total Estimated Cost $170-$1450 *

* Keep in mind that these estimates include a transmitter, receiver, battery and battery charger. Many kits will not include all these items.

From $170 up to $1450, that is quite a range!

Continue reading and I will sort out where in that range I have spent my money…


Below, are rounded prices for the parts I used on one of the quads I fly and a little bit about why I chose the parts that I did:

My Quadcopter Cost – $325
(including Tx/Rx, battery & charger, not including shipping & taxes)
VC-450 Kit

VC-450 Kit

Frame $75
I have posted about building my own frame for under $10 and it is possible to build a frame very cheaply that will fly. However, it is hard to be precise without a CNC or laser cutter. Unless, you like to tinker, I would recommend buying a kit frame.

One of the best is the VC-450 from Hoverthings. It costs $75. It is easy to put together and is precisely engineered. For beginning or expert pilots, it is hard to beat the VC-450. (Update 06/09/12 – The VC-450 has recently been discontinued. It was replaced by an upgraded frame called the HT-450 which is a bit more expensive.)

Other good frames are available that cost even less. Some members at RCGroups and other forums will cut frames using their CNC or laser cutters for $50 or less. Usually these frames consist of center plates and motor mounts made of G10 and you provide your own wood or aluminum arms purchased locally.

There are many high end frames that I have not tried, and they may be great, but I don’t think it is necessary to spend over $100 to get a good frame.

Turnigy SK3

Turnigy SK3

4 Motors $65
There are so many choices for motors out there that it can be overwhelming. My best advice is to find motors that match up well with the frame and payload of your quadcopter. If the size and kv are wrong, they may be unusable.

Quality motors can be had in the $15-20 range and there are many choices. I have some KDA motors and some Turnigy SK3 motors that are in the $15-20 range that I am very happy with.

I would avoid motors under $10 and the ones over $20 are just too pricey for me.

Turnigy Plush ESC

Turnigy Plush ESC

4 ESCs $45
From what I have seen, the Turnigy Plush ESCs are one of the most popular ESCs around. They cost a little over $10 and are often sold out and on backorder from HobbyKing. Lots of sellers on Ebay get much higher prices for them because of this. I was lucky enough to get a set from HobbyKing and they work great.

When I have needed more ESCs, I have been able to find generic versions, under other brand names that are very similar to the Turnigy Plush ESCs for about the same price. I just look to see what kind of programming card the generics use. If it looks exactly like the Plush programming card, I assume it is a clone.

There are much higher priced ESCs, but from what I understand, these are sometimes rebranded versions of the same thing, so I suggest something like the Turnigy Plush or a low cost clone.

Gemfan Props

Gemfan Props

4 Props $5
I started out using APC propellers. For 8 inch props they are about $16 a set. They are great props, but I was crashing a lot when I started out, so I switched to Gemfans that can be had for less than $5 a set. Now, I am not crashing much, but I still like the Gemfans. I found the props I currently use for $4.00 per set at DIYQuadCopters.com. They are Gemfans and Dan who runs the site is very helpful and ships from the USA. A set of four includes 2 CW (labeled R on the prop) and 2 CCW props.

I prefer using prop adapters instead of prop savers. I had an old prop saver O-ring snap in mid air and down she came. However, if you make sure the O-rings are good, prop savers can save your motor shaft from getting bent in a crash.

OpenPilot CopterControl

OpenPilot CopterControl

Flight Controller $30
Choosing a flight control board depends on a pilots skills and what type of flying they want to do. This is an area where I don’t mind paying up for the features I want.

Easy Flier – I am an inexperienced pilot and need a board that does good self leveling. For line of site flying, I use the OpenPilot CopterControl board that cost $90. It has rock solid firmware and is easy to configure. Unfortunately, they have stopped making it. The new OpenPilot CC3D board is expected to be out soon and should be available in bigger quantities. I don’t know what the price will be.

Update – 7/19/12 The Hobbyking KK2.0 Multi-rotor LCD Flight Control Board is a great choice for a low cost flight control board with gyros and accelerometers. It is under $30! There are lots of other good alternatives, some of which are listed here.

FPV Flying – I recently got into FPV and spent $230 for a DJI Naza board because it has excellent altitude hold and very steady leveling. The altitude hold makes learning FPV much easier. The Naza is also very much a plug-n-play type board that doesn’t require a lot of configuration or tuning.

Expert Pilots – A more experienced pilot who wants to control everything with the sticks and do acrobatics may do just fine with a $15 Quadcopter board.

Turnigy Nano-Tech Lipo

Turnigy Nano-Tech Lipo

Lipo Battery $20
Batteries also come in lots different price ranges. The C rating is important to insure the battery can deliver enough amps. Most of the batteries I have purchased are Turnigy nano-techs from HobbyKing. They are not super expensive and have high C ratings. The “nano” technology is supposed to have some added benefits. I don’t have anything to compare them against, but they cost a bit more than the B grade and lower priced standard batteries HobbyKing sells. The reviews of the B grade batteries aren’t too good.

I have both the 2200mah (less than $20) and the 3300mah (about $30) batteries. The 3300mah is quite a bit larger and heavier, but I get much longer flight times with this configuration.

HobbyKing 6 Channel TX/RX

HobbyKing 6 Channel TX/RX

Transmitter and Receiver $25
I started out with the $23 HobbyKing 6 Channel TX/RX and I love it. It is dirt cheap and works great. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have an lcd, but is configurable from a pc. Also, all of the trims are analog. For less than $25 it is a very good, cheap way for a beginner to get in the air. Also, it makes a great backup radio if you upgrade to a better radio later.

I recently purchased a Turnigy 9X, but haven’t used it yet. It has a lot more channels to maximize the capabilities of many flight controllers.  It has an LCD and digital trims. Also, the ER9X open source firmware can be loaded on the transmitter for added functionality.

The Spektrum TX/RX systems are very popular among quad pilots. I considered the Spektrum for my second TX/RX, but they cost a bit more and the Turnigy 9X works with the HobbyKing 6 channnel receivers I already have, so I went with that.

Miscellaneous Hardware

Miscellaneous Hardware

Miscellaneous Hardware $20
Wire, connectors, zip ties, battery straps, heat shrink, solder, double sided tape, nylon standoffs, etc. are all needed to build you own quad. Not much to say here, except that if you plan to really get into the hobby, buy in bulk.

IMAX Battery Charger

IMAX Battery Charger

Battery Charger $40
I started out with a $10 charger. It works fine, but takes forever to charge a battery. Recently, I purchased a $40 IMAX charger that has many more charging options and charges much faster. It comes with an AC power supply, which is nice. Unfortunately, my power supply died and they had to send me a new one. While I was waiting for the new one, I used the DC cables that come with it to charge off my car battery, a handy feature while in the field.

If I had known I was going to get into the hobby this seriously, I would have bought the $40 charger initially.

Conclusions

  1. It may be wise to buy a $50-100 frame kit made on a CNC machine out of durable materials like G10. It saves time and they are engineered to be level.
  2. Quality motors are available in the $15-20 range, so why pay more?
  3. Turnigy Plush, HobbyWing or similar clone ESCs work well and cost about $10 each.
  4. Props are a great place to save money since they often break and the cheap ones work great.
  5. I choose to pay up for my flight controller to get the features I want and so it will be easy to configure.
  6. Good high C rated batteries are about $15-30.
  7. Cheap, yet functional, HobbyKing transmitter/receivers are a great place to start and to save a lot of money.
  8. Make sure and order plenty of wires, connectors, etc. They are more expensive and harder to find locally.
  9. Though a cheap charger will work fine, they are slow, so it may be better to go ahead and buy a higher priced one that has more options.

Staying in the Air..

Keep in mind these are only the components required to get in the air. Getting in the air, doesn’t mean staying in the air. Crashes happen and parts often fail. Most folks initially order at least one extra motor and ESC, a few sets propellers, 3 or more batteries, and perhaps a backup receiver and flight control board.

I didn’t include shipping cost either. Shipping can really add up if you buy things from a lot of different places. These estimates assume you already have a soldering gun lying around and that time spent building is free and fun.

Estimates

The estimates above are based on current prices. As with most technologies, new capabilities are constantly being added and prices go down for a specific feature set over time. However, older commodity components, like wire and connectors, may go up in price due to inflation.

My estimates are based on medium sized quad using mid range, “hobby grade” products sold over the Internet. High end, “professional grade” products used by aerial photography and video companies are much more expensive. They can easily cost thousands of dollars. It should be noted that very professional results are possible using hobby grade products. Also, buying over the internet tends to be cheaper than buying from local hobby shops.


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  41 Responses to “How Much Does it Cost to Build and Fly a Quadcopter?”

  1. I am new to all this stuff, and I am studying all the information.although i can fly quadcopter and octocopter hopefully with your help i will build one soon

  2. This is my first dive into the world of quatcopters. I fly planes with the Spektrum DX6i. Will this quadcopter bind and work with a Spektrum DX6i transmitter? If not, is there a way to make this work?

  3. What a great page! Thanks for the time and effort taken to do it ! I’m gonna start building right now, I’m a begginer and I’m happy to have your page as a guide…so, please let us know any updated advise that you have! Thanks a lot!

  4. I am thinking about building one of these multicopters but I have a concern. I would consider myself a good builder and cost is not a sgnificant concern. I would consider myself an intermediate flyer of RC airplanes and have flown the counter rotating helis. A couple of years ago I built and tried to fly a conventional heli and was unsuccessful. I’m 66 and my eye /hand coordination apparently isn’t what it used to be. Are these machines with their more modern electronics easier or more difficult to fly then a Helicopter? In other words should I give this a try or stick to planes? Thanks

    • They are pretty easy to fly in self level mode. I think you will find it easy with your experience.

      • Thanks for the reply. Your site has been very helpful. I think I’ll give it a try. I think I’ll use the SK450 hobby king frame and their KK2 controller.

  5. I’m thinking of getting into FPV flying and have been looking at a lot of sites like yours and lots of YouTube movies. The one thing that discourages me, however, is the god-awful, high-pitched whine that they all seem to make. So my question is this: Is there a way to make the machines quieter? I wouldn’t mind a relatively low-frequency whirr, even if it’s pretty loud but those high-frequency noises really put my teeth on edge. Plus, I wouldn’t want to subject my neighbors to such an annoying sound. Any suggestions? What I want is a good, stable (quiet) platform and a high-resolution image.

    • I haven’t heard of any way to make them quiet, although some motors are quieter than others. I guess that is why most good aerial videos change the sound to music.

      • I was thinking perhaps of using gearhead motors to lower the RPM and drive larger propellers. That should quiet things down. I’m looking in to it. I’m not trying to make the machine silent, just less annoying.

  6. Hey!

    Very nice tutorial ! very weel done and interesting !

    I was planning to use this type of quad to lift a go pro and to film.

    what is the highest this quad can fly without starting to lose control ?

    thank a lot buddy !

    max from montreal!

    • Thanks! The height depends a lot on piloting skills and which controller is being used. If it has a good loiter feature it could probably make it up a few hundred feet. The stability decreases on decent, so it is best to bring them down slow.

  7. Great site – I am just in the info gathering stage now but I hope to get up and running – likely with your suggested build.

    You mention the battery charger as a place you’d of spend more money in the begining on had you’d of known you were going to get into “this deep”.

    If you had to do it over again – know what you know now is there any other place that it would make sense to spend additional $$. Batteries, Remote etc?

    Thanks for the great site…

    Shane

    • Probably just the charger and the radio. The Turnigy 9X has lots of features and is still pretty inexpensive. Although, the cheap 4 channel radio I bought initially was good to learn on and makes a good backup to use with the KK2.0.

  8. Hi,

    I am new to all this stuff, and I am studying all the information before buying anything.
    I want to jump in (later after I’ve practiced enough with just flying) FPV.
    Now would it be possible to just figure it all out and just before I start with the FPV stuff, to make a basic quadcopter?
    So example: (This is just an example, the number 1,2Ghz is just made up, I am looking for the best choice)
    I make my quadcopter, with a 1,2Ghz transmitter and receiver.
    Than after I am a good pilot, I could get a security camera.
    Is it possible to get a camera on a different (Or the same, doesn’t matter) Ghz without getting problems?

    Thanks,
    Isaac

    Sorry for my english, I was writing a half hour on this, than found out some obvious things while writing it. So only 30% of what I’ve written is posted now. :)

    • I wouldn’t buy a video transmitter and receiver until you are ready to get into FPV. Your rc transmitter and receiver are all that is required for line of sight (LOS) flying and a different from an FPV video transmitter and receiver.

      • ”Your rc transmitter and receiver are all that is required for line of sight (LOS) flying and a different from an FPV video transmitter and receiver.”

        I understand this, but does it mean a RC transmitter and receiver can’t fly everywhere like the video transmitter and receiver?
        I think that they are both on a different frequency, so the rc has a pretty bad range and the video, has a good range.

        Please explain where I am wrong.

        Thanks… again

        Isaac

        • The are totally different transmitters and receivers for totally different purposes and both are available on different frequencies and signal strengths. The range will vary for either one based on the power and frequency.

  9. Thanks for the greet post. I’m just doing my very early research. You’ve made no mention about how you view the video for the FPV flight? Is that via a laptop or something? Is there software that receives the signal from the camera, and you view it on the laptop or ipad or something? This is the one step missing for me….

  10. [...] keep waffling back and forth…found this site today: http://oddcopter.com/2012/05/08/how-…-a-quadcopter/ that looks much more feasible and idiot-proof. Found a couple cheap frames that could take a gopro [...]

  11. Hello, could u suggest a good site to buy the LiPo battery…3300mah will be fine? also wat charger should v get…v wanted to get both within $48..is tat possible..then v wer lookin for an accelerometer and gyro…Pls give suggestions for tat also..ty..

  12. Hi Britt,

    Another question.

    I just got HobbyKing 6 Channel TX/RX, USB Cable isn’t included in the package unfortunately. Anyway, my question is, do I still need to order that usb cable in order to use it? Or this will work out of the box?

    thanks.

  13. Hi Britt,

    I’d like to ask what’s the difference between Plush & Basic ESC? Other escs mark as SS Series what does that mean?

    thanks.

    Jay

  14. Hi Britt,

    If i start to build this kind of project which one should i start to buy first? is it the Flight Controller & Transmitter and Receiver?

    thanks in advance.

    Jay

  15. Hi Britt,
    Firstly thanks for the great blog, I’ve been checking it out over the past few days and looks like there’s loads of helpful info there!

    My friend Barry and I were thinking of following this post and building our own quad. We want to eventually work up to being able to fly a camera-mounted quad for aerial video/photography.

    Initially we were thinking of buying a kit, but we really like the idea of building from scratch, even from things we can buy locally like the wooden frame as you wrote about.

    Our ideal start would be to build a copter that could lift a camera. Would you know what types of motors and boards we would need to do so?

    See, we want to be able to practice on a cheap build, but ideally it would be one that is capable of taking a camera when we get good enough at flying it.

    Hope that makes sense :)

    Many thanks for any help.

    Regards
    Cian

    • Cian,
      I have not built anything yet that will lift a heavy load. That would either require bigger motors than what I have used or going to a hexa or octocopter with more motors. The configuration above works really well for me with a GoPro camera mounted on it and the GoPro takes nice pics and video. The Naza flight controller is expensive, but it is so easy to fly. For me, it was worth the price. If you haven’t ever flown anything, it can take a long time to learn with many controllers. I haven’t tried all of the flight controllers, but the OpenPilot platform gives great bang for the buck. Unfortunately, the CC3D is not out yet, but should be soon. Good Luck!
      Britt

  16. Thanks for all of your information! It’s your site that has given me the insight to DIY my own Quad up here in Alaska instead of buying one as a RTF. I am very electronically inclined and have no problem fabricating my own parts and find it quite fun to do so. Thanks again for your information and please keep it up, you are doing a great job.

    Chris

    • Hey Chris, Thanks a lot for tuning in. Good luck on that quad. How far along are you? The one pictured here is my favorite. It flies really well. I am using the Naza controller on it right now and it is amazing, but not cheap. Hopefully, there will be some new boards soon with good altitude hold that cost less. I am still a rookie pilot, but this board actually makes me feel like I know what I am doing.

      • I’m still in the “gathering” stage. I have plane experience and love the build part. I considered getting a kit from what I thought was a reputable FPV web site but the last week or so it’s been down. That got my attention. I was about to spend a nice chunk of money and then I started thinking, hey, why can’t I just build from the ground up. I tripped across your site and that convinced me that I could. I keep looking for the “difficult” part expecting to find one to explain why a person should just get a pre-made kit instead. I haven’t found it yet. What I have seen is that some people just don’t plan it out. Then when they don’t plan it out they write about it and complain/wine as to why they are having so many problems and how “difficult” all this is. So when someone like myself see that we thing wow, how will I ever get this started, aww forget it, I’ll just get a RTF. When you placed setups of other quads on here I researched ever bit of it. I printed, compared and planned my build. I am not going to jump out and just start getting stuff hoping they will all play nice together, and then spend days/weeks writing all around asking why my mishmash setup didn’t fly and getting frustrated. In my case I’m lucky, money for this build is not going to be an issue at this point. I still want to build as much as I can on my own because I find the building and creating from scratch one of the most fun parts. I think what I will probably end up doing is buying a frame and then “cloning” it later. I don’t know what the span measurement for the arms would be for instance? Or the screw measurements for mounting the brushless motor directly to the frame. It’s a blast for me to make something from complete scratch like the frame and have it look better and end up stronger than the original I purchased. I do better cloning because I have the part in my hand and then I can make changes for the better.

        • Sounds likes great approach. I wish I had taken a little more time to research. Lucikily, most of what I have ordered works pretty well. Good luck with the project. Let me know how it is going.

  17. Ur quadcopter looking really great and expensive.

    • Compared to what can be spent, it is not so expensive really. Plus, I have included the cost of a radio, battery and charger,

  18. thank you for your immediate reply. I have another questions here. Sorry I’m just a beginner.

    I started with this kind of board, MWC MultiWii SE Standard Edition 4-axis Flight Control Board, is this a good one?

    and finally, what are the consideration in choosing Motors & ESC’s? Of course cost is part of the equation. :) Is it the kV for the motor and Amp for esc’s?

    another issue is that it might not be compatible with my recently acquired board.

    thanks.

  19. Hey Jay, I had a multiwii board like that but found the multiwii firmware a little hard to configure and tune, but I have read where a lot of people like them. As far as the motors and escs go, the escs need to be rated high enough to handle the maximum amps that the motors will draw and that is usually listed in the specs for the motor. There are so many variables that go into choosing motors and props that I have found it easier to just go with what works for other experts. This posts talks about it:

    http://www.oddcopter.com/2012/02/06/choosing-quadcopter-motors-and-props/

    Also, I have had good luck with the configuration in my post about the cost of building a quadcopter.

    Good Luck!

  20. Thank you Britt for your reply.

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