Introduction: Cheap Ready-to-fly FPV Quadcopter: £65 / $100, 100meter Range Outdoors

Hi everyone,

I've been flying drones/quadcopters for a few months now and it's been great fun so far!

A very cool (but expensive) way to enjoy a different kind of flying is FPV (First-Person View): a camera in the drone will transmit live video to a screen/goggles so you can see the drone's perspective in real time. This is used both in recreative and professional flying, and offers huge new possibilities, including drone racing.

As I said before, this comes at a price: an average ready-to-fly drone, with camera, batteries, remote and FPV screen/goggles starts from £250-£300. As a graduate student on a budget, I cannot afford a setup like this, so I tried to find a cheap alternative, which would work reasonably fine to get a feeling for the whole thing and maybe upgrade in the future.

After a lot of research, I bought a ready-to-fly Syma X5C quadcopter (£30/$45) and a 5.8GHz FPV kit (£35/$50). To increase the range I modded the quadcopter transmitter with a standard WiFi antenna, a standard practise which is well documented. This way you can easily get ranges around 80-100m, some people claiming up to 150m. It is worth noting that the FPV kit is standalone, you can put it in any RC vehicle or wherever you want.

What this setup won't give you:

  • A fast and agile race drone
  • Awesome image quality and range

What this setup will give you:

  • A dead cheap ready-to-fly drone with FPV which performs well even in moderate wind, kind of agile in calm days, and that can be used relatively far, around 100m
  • A decent FPV camera and screen which can be used in any other RC vehicle or alone

Step 1: The Quadcopter

The Syma X5 comes in a few different flavours:

  • X5: plain drone without camera.
  • X5C, X5C-1: comes with an HD 2MP camera which can record videos and take pictures and save them in a memory card.
  • X5S: same but it has headless mode, camera is not included but can be purchased separately.
  • X5SW: comes with built-in FPV, using your smartphone and WiFi connection, I haven't used it but range and quality are apparently not very good, and video is delayed.

Their prices are quite similar, and the FPV kit should work with any, so the exact model doesn't make a huge difference. The one I have is the X5C-1 and everything works great.

Step 2: The FPV Kit

Consists of two components, the camera with integrated transmitter, and the receiver screen.

  • The camera: quality is similar to the HD camera which comes with the X5C, your smartphone records much better video, but is all right for the price. On calm days results are quite nice, see the video. As this kit is specific for the X5, it can be easily attached to the quadcopter, just remove the original camera (if your model has it) and screw the support piece that comes with the kit, now the FPV camera can be clipped in and out easily. Connect the camera cable to the quadcopter to be able to take pictures and record videos as well.
  • The receiver screen: it's a usual 4.3Inch screen, with a sunshield, and a planar antenna. The screen is bright and image quality is good. It can easily be attached to the Syma X5 controller with a couple of screws, the whole setup is quite solid.

The manufacturer claims video transmission up to 600m in the package, and 200m in their website. I've tested the FPV kit alone without the drone and I get very good transmission across two walls in my office building and 150-200m in an empty open space. You won't be controlling the drone further than around 100m, so this shouldn't be a problem. It also supports 8 different operation channels.

Step 3: The Range Mod

The quadcopter comes with a mediocre antenna which gives around 30m range, which is quite poor for outdoor flying! Good news is that it's possible to greatly extend the range up to around 100m by using a standard WiFi antenna. This is well documented already, so I leave below a few links with some tutorials.

You will need a WiFi antenna (just find a bricked router), a screwdriver to open the remote, and a soldering iron. The procedure is very simple and it doesn't require precision soldering.

Some of the newer X5C-1 models come with a slightly different circuit than the one used in most tutorials, including those below: the antenna ground plate has been moved and it usually comes covered with a lump of that white foam, just carefully remove the whole of it and you'll find it!

A further range extension can be achieved by using a WindSurfer. It's just a piece of cardboard covered in tin foil which will concentrate the radio signal, reaching further, but making it highly directional, so you need to keep pointing the remote to the quadcopter. I haven't used it myself, but people claim getting greater ranges. A building tutorial can be found here, it should take around 15min!

Hope you enjoyed the instructable and let me know if you have any questions or get one!

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