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This Instructable will teach you how to build a tricopter with Rotor Bits. This Instructable also contains theoretical discussions, tips, tricks, and other information that I hope will get you well on your way to becoming a tricopter expert.

Craft Design

Let's begin by taking a moment to discuss the design to the multirotor aircraft we will be building in this Instructable. If you are at all interested in multirotor aircraft, you have certainly heard of quadcopters, the most popular type of multirotor. Quadcopters are multirotors with four propellers. There are many tutorials around the Internet for building various types of quadcopters (I even wrote one myself).

Tricopters are another type of multirotor that only have three propellers to provide lift for the craft.

For some reason, tricopters are not nearly as popular as quadcopters and as a result, there are not many high-quality tutorials online about how to build them. Tricopters are a really elegant type of multirotor though, and they have a number of advantages over other types of multirotor:

  • Because tricopters have only three propellers instead of four or more, they are the least expensive type of multirotor to build.
  • Because tricopters have only three motors they have a longer battery life that other types of multirotor.
  • Tricopters have a very wide space between the front two motors (120 to 180 degrees) making them excellent for aerial photography/videography.

Tricopters do have a couple important downsides though:

  • The rear motor on a tricopter is tilted by a servo for yaw control (more on that later), the servo assembly is a complex piece and is more fragile than other designs.
  • Tricopters have no redundancy in case of motor failure, if a motor fails during flight, your tricopter will inevitably crash.

Instructable Table of Contents

Steps:

  1. Parts
  2. Connect Arms to Tricopter Hub
  3. Assemble the Rotor Bits Servo Mount Set
  4. Attach the Landing Leg Mounts
  5. Attach the Motor Mounts
  6. Position and Attach the Landing Leg Mounts
  7. Attach the Landing Legs
  8. Mount the Motors
  9. Attach the Propeller Mounts
  10. Attach the KK2.1 Flight Controller
  11. Attach the ESCs
  12. Attach the Radio Receiver
  13. Wire the Radio Receiver to the Flight Controller
  14. Solder 3.5mm Connectors to UBEC
  15. Attach the UBEC to the Tricopter Frame
  16. Connect the Motors to the ESCs
  17. Connect the Battery to the UBEC
  18. Program the ESCs
  19. Update the KK2.1 Firmware, Part 1: Setup
  20. Update the KK2.1 Firmware, Part 2: Updating
  21. Connect the UBEC to the Flight Controller
  22. Load the Tricopter Motor Layout
  23. Connect the ESCs and Sero to the Flight Controller
  24. Bind Radio Receiver to Radio Transmitter
  25. Perform a Receiver Test
  26. Perform a Sensor Test
  27. Calibrate Accelerometer
  28. Mixer Editor
  29. Verify Motor Spin Directions
  30. Balance Propellers
  31. Fasten Down Loose Wires
  32. Attach the Propellers
  33. Congratulations
  34. Tuning your Tricopter
  35. Appendix A: Charge the Battery

Step 1: Parts

In order to build your very own tricopter, you are going to need to order some parts, quite a few parts in fact. Before I list the parts used in this tutorial, I just wanted to make a note about the supplier I chose when purchasing components. I ordered all of the components used in this tutorial from HobbyKing. HobbyKing is an online retailer of a wide-range of hobby parts, including parts for building multirotor aircraft. The reason I chose to order components from HobbyKing is, quite simply, because their prices are very low. Now, I do not intend this page to be a review of HobbyKing, or of any of the products listed, but I just wanted to note that the trade-off for HobbyKing’s low prices is slow shipping speeds and non-existent customer service. This last point is probably the biggest drawback to using HobbyKing, their customer service is absolutely pathetic. If you don't want to use HobbyKing, you can usually find the parts you need from sellers on eBay.

Anyway, you will need the materials in the table below to construct your tricopter. I included some notes about each component below the table. The notes are numbered and correspond to the numbers in the left column of the table. One last detail and then I promise we will get to the parts list. HobbyKing has warehouses located in many countries, with their main warehouse located in Hong Kong. I found that ordering all of my tricopter parts from the Hong Kong (international) warehouse led to extremely high shipping costs (for me $114). So, after a lot of experimentation, I found that I could minimize shipping costs by ordering some components from the international warehouse, and some parts from the U.S.A. warehouse. I included a column in the table that tells from which warehouse I ordered each component.

Tricopter Parts

Part NumberPartQuantityCountryLink
1RotorBits Tri-Copter Mounting Plate1U.S.A.HobbyKing
171000339-0
2RotorBits Servo Mount Set1U.S.A.HobbyKing
171000393-0
3RotorBits Motor Mount (Universal)2U.S.A.HobbyKing
171000359-0
4RotorBits T Connector3U.S.A.HobbyKing
171000387-0
5Carbon Fiber Square Tube 10 x 10 x 250mm3U.S.A.HobbyKing
078000007-0
6Carbon Fiber Square Tube 10 x 10 x 100mm1U.S.A.HobbyKing
078000004-0
7RotorBits M2.5 x 20mm Screw1U.S.A.HobbyKing
171000416-0
8RotorBits M2.5 NyLock Nuts1U.S.A.HobbyKing
171000417-0
9Turnigy 2200mAh 3S 20C Lipo Pack1*U.S.A.HobbyKing
T2200.3S.20
10Turnigy Accucel-6 50W 6A1U.S.A.HobbyKing
ACC6
11Hobbyking KK2.1.5 Flight Controller1U.S.A.HobbyKing
9171000446-0
12HKU5 5V/5A UBEC1U.S.A.HobbyKing
5AUBEC
13Corona 919MG Digital Metal Gear Servo1InternationalHobbyKing
DS919MG
14Turnigy Multistar 2213-980Kv 14Pole Multi-Rotor Outrunner3InternationalHobbyKing
9192000115-0
15Turnigy Multistar 20 Amp Multi-rotor Brushless ESC3InternationalHobbyKing
9351000007
1610x4.5 SF Props 2pc Standard Rotation/2 pc RH Rotation3InternationalHobbyKing
017000064
17Turnigy 6X FHSS 2.4ghz Transmitter and Receiver*1InternationalHobbyKing
9255000014
18Turnigy Multistar ESC Programming Card1InternationalHobbyKing
9351000006
1910CM Male to Male Servo Lead1InternationalHobbyKing
258000011
20Nylon Screw Phillips Head M3x8mm1InternationalHobbyKing
OR009-00502
21

XT60 to 6 X 3.5mm bullet Multistar ESC Power Breakout Cable

1InternationalHobbyKing
015000094
22PolyMax 3.5mm Gold Connectors1InternationalHobbyKing
AM1001A
23Universal Propeller Balancer1InternationalHobbyKing
171000401-0
24USBasp AVR Programming Device1InternationalHobbyKing
381000147
2515CM Servo Lead Extension1InternationalHobbyKing
015000164-0
26Male-Female Wire Jumper Cable1InternationalHobbyKing
438000072

* The Turnigy 6X is a six-channel transmitter, which means it has plenty of channels for controlling a basic tricopter, however, if, and this is a bit of a complex topic for this first step of the tutorial, you wish to put a camera gimbal on your tricopter, you might want to upgrade to the Turnigy 9X, which has three additional channels which can be used to control the gimbal motors.

Optional Parts

Part NumberPartQuantityCountryLink
27Blue LED Strip2InternationalHobbyKing
6LED-BL
28Green LED Strip1InternationalHobbyKing
6LED-GR
29Turnigy Receiver Controlled Switch1InternationalHobbyKing
9107000266-0

Total Cost

The total cost of the parts, not including shipping, is about $245. Shipping obviously depends upon where you live, but it should be something around $50 total for the cheapest shipping option.

Part Notes

1-8 These parts are all in HobbyKing's Rotor Bits line of products. Rotor Bits is a modular multirotor construction system. The idea is like Legos for multirotors. Using different Rotor Bits parts, you can build just about any kind of multirotor.

9 The Turnigy 2200mAh lithium-polymer battery is the power source for the tricopter. You only need one battery for your tricopter, however, I recommend buying a second one so that in the field, you can quickly swap out the first battery after it goes flat and continue flying. Depending upon the payload I put on the my tricopter, and how aggressively I fly, I get anywhere from five to twelve minutes of flight time on a charge. This might not sound like a lot of time, but it actually feels like plenty of time when you are flying. Now you could buy a battery with more capacity, but batteries get rapidly more expensive with increasing capacity and they also get heavier so I like to just buy two smaller batteries.

10 The Accucel-6 is the charger for the battery. Note that you will need a 12V power source with a barrel jack connector to power the charger. Unfortunately, I don’t think HobbyKing sells one, but you can pick one up from any electronics retailer. You can actually also use your car battery as a power source for the charger using the included alligator clip connectors.

11 The HobbyKing KK2.1 flight controller is responsible for receiving commands from the pilot, monitoring data from its onboard sensors, doing calculations based on those commands and that sensor data, and then then issuing commands to the ESC to control the motors to move the tricopter. The HobbyKing KK2.1 is a fantastic flight controller but it does have a steep learning curve. The KK2.1 features an onboard LCD screen for its user-interface, meaning that programming the flight controller is extremely easy and does not require a laptop or specialized software. You will have to do a lot of research to understand the different settings, but once you do, it is trivially easy to change settings in the field if you have to. Plus the KK2.1 is extremely affordable. Later in this Instructable we will discuss programming and tuning your flight controller settings.

12 The UBEC is used to transform the 11.1V power supplied by the battery to 5V so it can be used to power the KK2.1 flight controller.

13 The servo is used for the rear motor of the tricopter. On tricopters the rear motor tilts in order to achieve yaw control (make the tircopter rotate around the z-axis).

14 The Turnigy Multistar 2213-980Kv 14Pole Multi-Rotor Outrunner are the motors we’ll use in this tutorial. Now when it comes to choosing motors for your tricopter, you have a near-infinite number of choices and I don’t want to make this step any longer than it already is. There is plenty of other information around the internet about choosing motors though.

15 The electronic speed controllers (ESCs) are the components that take commands from the flight controller (which in turn takes commands from you) and from those commands controls the tricopters’s three motors. We need one ESC per motor. Note that even though these are opto ESCs, we are not going to take advantage of the opto part because it is not really necessary in this craft.

16 These are the propellers for the tricopter (they come in packs of four). We only need three for our tricopter, but in a crash, the propellers almost always get broken, so you should definitely stock up.

17 The Turnigy 6X is a six-channel, Mode 2 radio transmitter. The transmitter features two control sticks that can move in two directions each, plus two toggle switches. The transmitter comes with a compatible receiver. You will need four AA batteries for the controller and you might want to get a lanyard so you can hang the transmitter around your neck, which makes it easier to control since your hands can concentrate on moving the sticks instead of supporting the weight of the transmitter.

18 This is a little card used to program and calibrate the ESCs (more on that later).

19 These three-wire servo connectors are used to connect the radio receiver to the KK2.1 flight controller.

20 These nylon screws are used to connect the flight controller to the Rotor Bits tricopter hubs. Nylon obviously does not conduct electricity, which is useful for mounting electronics, and it is also soft, helping to make certain you do not over-tighten the screws.

21 This cable harness is used to split the battery's power output into six pairs of 3.5mm bullet connectors. Three of the bullet connector pairs will be attached to the three ESCs. One will be used for attaching the UBEC. One will be used for connecting optional LEDs. And the last pair is extra, it can be used for a camera or something you add in the future.

22 We will solder these 3.5mm connectors to the input wires on the UBEC so that we can plug the UBEC into the battery wire harness.

23 The Universal Propeller Balancer is used to make sure both sides of the propellers weight exactly the same. Balancing the props will reduce the vibrations in our tricopter while in flight.

24 The wires from the servo are not long enough to reach to the flight controller so we will have to use this Servo Lead Extension to make the wires a bit longer.

25 We will use these Male-Female Wire Jumper Cables to fashion a wire harness for the power supply.

26 The jumper wires will be used to make some wiring harnesses and to connect the servo to the flight controller.

27-29 These optional components will be used to add LED lights to the tricopter in Step 36.

<p>Toglefritz, I have to say you have produced the single best instructable I have ever seen. I say that as a pro member who has been visiting this site for at least five years. Unlike other intructables, this one covers the details that a person seeking to follow these instruction would need. Unlike others there is not only no assumption that the knowledge you have is commonplace, you mange to explain the reasoning behind many of the things you did. That is how knowledge is turned into education. </p><p>I realize this site is all about giving back and these things are done for free, however, I would like to send you a small token of my appreciation. Perhaps a gift certificate to Hobby King? If you would like to contact my privately, I can make those arrangements.</p>
<p>HogHunter, you are also amazing, thanks for your supportive attitude!</p>
<p>That's a great idea. Come to think of it, imagine if instructables had a built in tipping feature where members could make small donations to the authors of instructables they found particularly useful.</p>
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<p>Best instructable ever ! I still need practice, but it flies really well, thank you !</p>
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<p>I have not built it yet but I can say that this is the best instructables that I have ever seen. Thank you. I am inspired </p>
<p>Well written tutorial, I am impressed! I built a similar when the rotorbits was introduced. Now its equipped with Banggoods cheep FPV camera and video transmitter (maker Eachine). My tail servo last for approximately 10h, then its worn out and have to be replaced. Happy flying!</p>
I made it!
<p>I ALSO DID NOT GET THEW SCREWS TO MOUNT TO MOUNTING TEMPLATE/??</p><p>=======================</p><p>hey guys, I am building this tricopter..</p><p>I purchased the motors and I did not receive the &quot;X&quot; mounting template with them? did this happen to you?</p>
<p>yes this happened to me....</p>
<p>this is really a great tutorial. By reading this, im am finding out more info on things I never knew and im also finding out a lot of stuff I have been doing wrong. One of them I believe is Battery charging. I have been just pluggin my battery into my charger with the power cord, I haven't ever plugged in the little cord (with all the different colored wires) I thought that was for Balancing or discharge...lol and I have never programed my charger, I just plug the batt into it, turn it one, hit the test button, it pulls up my battery info and I hit charge... I have the Turnigy Mega 380 W Lithium Polymer Battery Pack Charger from Hobby King. <a href="http://www.hobbyking.com/hobbyking/store/__11340__TURNIGY_MEGA_380W_Lithium_Polymer_Battery_Charger.html" rel="nofollow">http://www.hobbyking.com/hobbyking/store/__11340__TURNIGY_MEGA_380W_Lithium_Polymer_Battery_Charger.html</a></p><p>So do I have to use both cordsets coming from my battery when charging and do I need to program it for 1.0 Amp or 2.0 amps to charge it, I think sometimes mine are going to like 12 amps!!! but they charge very fast, like 10 mins or so. they are Zippy, flight max 2200mah, 3S1P, 25C batteries.</p><p>Thanks!</p>
Dude thanks for helping me out I just found a way to stop the tail motor from spending in take-off let me know if you still have the same issue more than happy to help
<p>hey guys, I am building this tricopter..</p><p>I purchased the motors and I did not receive the &quot;X&quot; mounting template with them? did this happen to you?</p>
<p>I just ordered all the parts! I do have a few questions though.</p><p>1. how far can the tricopter fly away from the pilot?</p><p>2. how can you tell when the battery is getting low?</p>
<p>Great read! I am in the process of ordering my parts. I cannot wait to begin this project, it will be my first RC build!</p><p>Thank you for the time and effort you put into this, very informative. </p><p>VM</p>
<p>hi</p><p>Some people mount the planchet on top of the prop, some below. What is best?</p><p>r</p>
<p>This guy mounted the planchet on top of the screw. What is best u think?</p><p>http://www.google.be/imgres?imgurl=https://i.ytimg.com/vi/5bILf7zk8uA/hqdefault.jpg&amp;imgrefurl=http://www.doovi.com/video/multistar-2213-980kv-multirotor-motors/XtmkVbEDb_M&amp;h=360&amp;w=480&amp;tbnid=3yGhOYekWjCijM:&amp;zoom=1&amp;docid=hJvqJb37sXhjPM&amp;itg=1&amp;ei=HxNAVbHMHon1OI61gcgP&amp;tbm=isch&amp;ved=0CEYQMyg-MD44ZA</p>
<p>hi</p><p>I mounted the &quot;planchet&quot; on top of the prop, between the screw on top and the prop. Why did u mount in under the propeller?</p>
<p>Where can I get this setup, really like the way it looks , I am new to tricopters</p>
<p>Hi, </p><p> you can get the kit from here: </p><p><a href="http://www.hobbyking.com/hobbyking/store/__49693__RotorBits_Servo_Mount_Set_w_Gear_Black_.html" rel="nofollow">http://www.hobbyking.com/hobbyking/store/__49693__...</a></p><p> you have to buy the servo, its not included</p>
<p>1 of best build i have see </p><p>but i have question will you recommend carbon fiber boom for a new bee</p>
I hate air hogs they are so easily broken
<p>One question, could I use the tilt system from flitetest?</p><p>It seems a bit more robust and more durable.</p><p><a href="http://store.flitetest.com/tough-tilt-motor-mount/" rel="nofollow">http://store.flitetest.com/tough-tilt-motor-mount/</a></p>
<p>One word: WOW! This is the single best instructable on a tricopter i have ever seen. After I learn to solder, this will be the first thing i'm going to build. You've got +1 follower!</p>
<p>What a great instructable. I waiting for my RotorBits tri-copter kit right now. I do have a question on the ESC connections to M1 M2 and M3. Do you cut the + wire on all 3 of those ESC connectors seeing as a UBEC is providing 5V thru the receiver to M1 and to the servo separately?</p>
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<p>Finished build.</p>
<p>&quot;Then, using a 3/16&quot; bit, drill three holes in the spots you just marked.&quot;</p><p>This seems a bit large. The screws seem to fit in the 1/8&quot; holes cut elsewhere (as a trial size).</p>
<p>and, in fact, the 1/8&quot; bit made a hole that fit correctly.</p>
<p>this has to be the best instructables i have ever seen</p>
<p>umm $245 kind of pricey and u have to build it i still dont see y you would want to other then being able to say &quot;i made that&quot; i mean the cheapest copter i could find was here <a href="http://www.tinydeal.com/cheerson-cx-10-nano-rc-ufo-quadcopter-4-ch-vs-hubsan-h111-p-128529.html" rel="nofollow">http://www.tinydeal.com/cheerson-cx-10-nano-rc-ufo...</a> and u could buy about 15 of them with $245</p>
<p>Learning!</p><p>In the course of building your own, you develop knowledge and skills that you simply won't get with one of those inexpensive RTFs.</p>
<p>Making your own multicopter allows upgrades that allow you to add features (such as FPV). The cheaper multicopters out on the market are usually made from cheap materials and do not allow upgrades, but they are definitely good for practice so in the case you mess up, you risk losing $20 rather than $245.</p>
<p>Congratulations on winning the formlabs comp. cant wait to see what you make next</p>
<p>Togle, Are you powering the KK2 at motor8(with UBEC) and at motor1</p><p>(with ESC) and receiver with UBEC? I am building my 1st Quad and read where you normally power KK2 with power wire from ESC1 to motor1 and disconnect power wires from 2,3 &amp; 4. Does this make redundant/backup power? Thanks 4 any help. GT</p>
<p>Wonderful instructable! I agree, tri-copters are very under rated. I am planning to build a quad for aerial video with gimbal. I wonder how this would work with front mounted gimbal. And thank you for the parts list and links, very helpful! </p><p>One question though, I am new to RC radios, is a 6ch sufficent or would it be worth getting the Turnigy 9ch? </p>
If you are going to be using a gimble on your quad, If you want to be able to manually control where the camera points, I'd suggest the 9 channel. Otherwise, the camera would be simply flat the entire time; unless you just wanted stability from the gimble&mdash;then the 6 channel would work fine. Overall, like it is said in the instructable, I'd you want more control over what your gimble does, go with the 9 channel; otherwise the 6 channel is more than enough for simple flying. Hope this helped!
<p>ninja114179 said it well, if you just want to fly, a 6-channel transmitter is sufficient and you will save a bit of money, but if you add a gimbal you will want to upgrade to a 9-channel transmitter so you can use the additional channels to aim the camera.</p>
<p>Any chance we can get a vid of this thing in the air?!</p><p>GREAT write up by the way!</p>
Fantastic instructable! You have me wanting to build one now. I was hoping when I got finished reading this that you would have a video of it flying but I guess I will have to build my own to see that :-)
<p>This is by far the best instructable that I have seen in all of the years that I have been reading them. Thanks for the fantastic job and the timing could not have been better. I just started building my first tricopter </p>
<p>Wow So Detailed. I can not imagine how much time you spent making it </p><p>Thanks</p>

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Bio: Hello, my name is Toglefritz. That’s obviously not my real name; my real name is Scott, but on the Internet I use the nom ... More »
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