A basic understanding of the parts of an FPV quadcopter is essential for any serious pilot. We will cover the hardware in two parts. First we cover the components & video system. Then we will show you how the components are connected in the anatomy section. Once you learn the fundamentals of this hardware and your first build will be a breeze.
The class, or size of a quadcopter has an impact on the components that go into it. Before we talk about the components and anatomy, it's important to understand the various sizes of copters out there. The differences between sizes can be blurry, so we will use the MultiGP FPV racing class guidelines as a baseline.
As the size decreases, the parts become smaller and smaller but also more affordable. Micro and Tiny Whoop classes are quickly gaining in popularity and new parts are being released daily. This article uses the mini class in the photos and examples as they are the 'standard' racing class used at major races.
FPV quadcopters are simply radio controlled multi-rotors with live video transmission gear on-board. You could leave off the video gear and fly the copter line of sight (LOS). This means simply flying the aircraft without the first person view, without goggles or a screen broadcasting video back to you. Adding the video components transform the copter into an FPV capable machine.
Thinking in this way we will cover the basic components of the quadcopter first, then the FPV video gear in the next section.
The frame is the platform to mount all of the parts of the aircraft on. You will commonly see frames made from carbon fiber as they are light and strong. Smaller frames are commonly made of plastic. There are many, many designs available, but the essential thing to understand is the frame is the platform where you will be mounting all the hardware for your build.
You will commonly see frames accompanied by a number like 180, 210, 250 or similar - this number refers to the size. The size is a diagonal measurement in millimeters from motor shaft to motor shaft. The size of the frame determines the size of props you can use on that frame. It is best to double check which propellers your specific frame can handle before buying them. Normally a 180 frame can handle 4 inch props, a 210 can handle 5 inch props, and a 250 can handle 6 inch props.
The size also influences how the parts will fit and lay out within your build. For example, a smaller frame like a 150 or 180 will be a very tight build with very limited space. This requires careful consideration when buying and assembling the components. Jump up to something like a 210 or 250 and you start having extra wiggle room to make the build easier and allow for you to attach extras like an HD flight recorder camera like a GoPro or LED lights.
For further reading, see: Component Spotlight: Frames
This board takes the power from your battery and distribute it out to the other components in the quad. PDB's range from very simple in design, to more advanced through combination with other parts or voltage regulators (BECs).
For further reading, see: Component Spotlight: Power Distribution Board
This piece of hardware is the brain of your drone. This board is controls the various components that you connect to it. It is made of a 3 major parts:
For further reading, see: Component Spotlight: Flight Controller
The receiver is the small board with antennas that takes the inputs from your radio and feeds them to the FC. The inputs from your radio are interpreted and create the controls and movements of your drone. The transmitter is the radio controller that you hold while flying. This radio sends your commands to the flight controller through a small piece of hardware called the receiver.
Generally speaking receivers only communicate with the same brand of transmitter. In other words if you buy a FrSky transmitter, it won't communicate with a Spektrum receiver. You can sometimes buy additional modules to solve this problem, but it comes at an additional cost.
When shopping for equipment, the receiver and transmitter are one place where you want to invest wisely. Radios can be used to control multiple copters, other radio controlled equipment, and even flight simulators.
For further reading, see: RC Radio Transmitters & Receivers
Brushless motors attach to the end of the arms of your frame. This type of motor contains electromagnet coils which are connected together. Each motor has 3 main sections which is connected via 3 wires which connects to an electronic speed controller (ESC). Each motor can rotate in either direction depending on how you connect the motor to your ESC's. Two of the motors will rotate clockwise, and two of them will rotate counter clockwise.
For further reading, see: Component Spotlight: Motors
Each motor in your build is connected to an electronic speed controller. These small boards control the speed at which your motors rotate. Each ESC is connected to both your PDB and your flight controller. This powers the ESC and sends the correct signal to your motors based on your inputs. You will commonly see these mounted on the arms or below on the belly of the quadcopter.
For further reading, see: Component Spotlight: Electronic Speed Controllers
An on-screen display is an optional accessory that allows you to see live information displayed as an overlay on your flight video. An OSD can show you all kinds of information about your aircraft. OSD's for FPV often have basic requirements and are most commonly used to display battery and flight time information. This information helps you know when you are running low on battery and it's time to land. OSD's are often available as separate boards, or built into a PDB.
Propellers for FPV copters come in a wide range of styles and sizes. For full sized racing quads you will normally use 4, 5, or 6 inch props. You will commonly see propellers described using a system like 5x3 or 5030. This marking indicates the size and pitch. In our example we would have a 5 inch diameter prop with a 3" pitch.
Just as we have two clockwise and two counter clockwise motors, so do we have CW and CCW props. Standard props rotate counter clockwise while reverse props rotate counter clockwise. You will often find a small 'R' on the propeller to help you install them. You will need two of each to get airborne.
Props are normally the first thing to break when flying. It is always important to buy plenty of extras to keep you in the air.
The high demand that a racing drone has on your battery makes them an ultra important piece when it comes to the performance of your multirotor. You will be using LiPo batteries which have an XT60 connector which connects to your aircraft. There are a few main things to look out for when buying batteries: cell count, capacity, and C rating.
Most pilots fly between 3 and 5 cell batteries (3s to 5s) that have a capacity of 1300-1500 mAh and as high a C rating as possible.
For further reading, see: Complete Guide to LiPo Batteries & Charging
Most frames will have some commonly used layouts and places that make sense to mount a battery. You will need 1-2 battery straps to secure your battery to the frame while you fly. These straps are short pull-through velcro straps with a sticky silicone side which keeps your battery from slipping. It is also important to check that you grab the right size strap for your frame. For instance a QAV210 fram has 15mm wide strap slides, so we want get 15mm wide battery straps.
Most FPV batteries have a male XT60 connector on them. This means you will need a Female XT60 Pig Tail (XT60 connector + wires) connected to your PDB. You want to be sure that the wires of your pig tail are rated to support the battery you will be using. An easy way to check is to see which AWG rating your battery wires are and use that same size. Normally you will use around 12-14 AWG rated wire for your pig tails.
All these parts above combine into a flyable quadcopter, but the video system required to fly FPV is still missing. The addition of the following components transforms your aircraft into an FPV capable machine. These parts allow you to stream video from your aircraft back to goggles or a screen in real time.
A note on video quality: Professional pilots are always looking for the lowest amount of lag time. The faster you can get the image from the video camera, through the transmitter, and into your goggles, the better. This quick video transmission makes fast, technical, responsive flying without crashing possible.
Because of this desire for low latency video, most setups are using lower resolution surveillance video cameras - not HD cams. The amazing flight videos you see online are recorded using an additional camera like a GoPro that is mounted on the frame. There are dvances being made in low-latency live HD video streaming. The leder in the HD push is Amimon who produces the Connex ProSight HD system.
FPV uses camera technology from the surveillance industry. Most pilots are on a CCD video system somewhere in the 600-700 TVL range. TVL stands for TV Lines, or the resolution of the video. Most pilots agree, 60oTVL is the sweet spot for latency / video quality.
Mounting is most often front and center on the frame. This provides a clear forward view for the pilot. The angle of mounting has a big influence on the flight characteristics of the copter. An average up-tilt angle is somewhere between 25-35 degrees above level.
For further reading, see: Component Spotlight: FPV Cameras
The lens on your camera determines the field of view (FOV) that you see while flying. Normal lens options for FPV cameras are: 2.8mm, 2.5mm, and 2.1mm. The smaller the wider angle FOV. You can also look for IR sensitive and IR blocked. IR blocked is for daytime flying while IR sensitive gives better video at night.
The transmitter is a small piece of hardware that receives the video feed from your camera and broadcasts it out through an antenna. Transmitters have switches which allow you to adjust frequencies. You can buy different output powers commonly ranging from 25-600mw. Most commonly FPV pilots use 5.8ghz transmitters for short range video.
Video antennas transmit and receive video signal. You attach one antenna to your video transmitter and one to your video receiver. Most often pilots use circular polarized omni directional antennas on the transmitter. On the receiving end, multiple antenna types may be used. This is especially common on a diversity setup.
For further reading, see: Component Spotlight: FPV Video Antennas
Pilots use goggles or a screen to view the video feed in real time. Video signal is received through a video antenna attached to a 5.8GHz video receiver. These receivers are tuned to the same output frequency (channel) as the video transmitter. You can receive the same video feed on multiple screens/goggles, but only clearly transmit one feed on a single frequency.
For further reading, see: Component Spotlight: FPV Video Goggles
The main components of the copter are mounted to the base of the frame. This part of the frame is normally the thickest piece of carbon fiber and the most durable.
Last updated on February 6, 2017