Introduction: Installing an ITELITE Range Extender on Your DJI Phantom 3 Standard Quadcopter Remote Controller

About: Research Biochemist, Adjunct College Professor and Service Support Engineer. Electronics and arduino enthusiast

You have your new quadcopter and one of the first things that crosses your mind is "I need more range !". In this modern era of DIY and learning things on the internet, it's not so bad gaining an understanding subject matter and learning how to work with things you aren't familiar with. However if the unfamiliar subject is the physics of signalling it can be difficult to understand and put into practice successfully. The truth of the matter is that it's an easier subject to understand after you have just put in some time flying around your aircraft (and crashing them). Understandably you're a little bummed that you don't have one of the DJI models with the lightbridge 2, but the good news is that for a little over a hundred bucks, you can more than triple the range of your Phantom 3 Standard, depending on your environment. The stock model has a maximum controller range of about 2,000 feet or so, but with the ITELITE range extender, most of the time, I have been able to fly comfortably to about 6,000 feet even in a park in the middle of a residential area and my farthest was a little over 12,000 feet over Folsom Lake (almost all the way across), a couple of times, but flying over a body of water with no obstructions is close to an ideal signal situation (and an ideal way to lose your quadcopter for good, so be careful). It should be mentioned as a warning though, losing or crashing your aircraft due to lost controller signal is easier than you might think, so heed the warning lights on your controller and don't push it. When you start to lose video downlink, the aircraft losing your signal from the controller is not far away (as a sidenote however, if you are not too concerned about losing it, just turn your Phantom quadcopter sideways because the video transmission antenna are on the sides). Whether you have a range extender or not the most important things to keep in mind regarding maintaining a signal with your aircraft are that there should be no obstructions between it and the controller and also the environment you're flying in. You'll always fly much farther in flat wide open areas with little or no electromagnetic interference (residential areas, power lines, etc) and even a little farther if you are standing on high ground.

OK so you just got your ITELITE range extender in the mail and you open it up and there are no instructions, or any papers at all, just the hardware in a box. It might seem unusual, however ITELITE is located in Poland and the people of the fine country of Poland are all quite intelligent, so my guess is they don't need instructions over there. At any rate you just want to get it installed right and start flying without having to sit around and figure it out and so this instructable is for you.

You'll need

1 Phillips screwdriver

2 Drill with 1/4 inch bit

3 Two of any of the following: 5/16 inch wrench, 5/16 inch socket and ratchet, adjustable wrench (1/4 inch ratchet and socket size and the smallest you have of the other two)

Step 1: Opening Up the Remote Controller and Removing the Stock Antennas

Getting into the remote controller is a quite easy task.

1 Remove the four screws holding the top and bottom casing together

2 Where the antenna sticks out of the unit, the bottom part can be slid out leaving the antenna attached to the top casing. You'll actually have to wiggle it out cause it might not exactly just slide out so easy because the very end of the antenna piece has an expanding clip piece that holds it from sliding out when the top and bottom casings are together, so kinda wiggle it to an angle then slide it out.

3 Remove 3 connectors attached to the circuit board on the top half that are connected to components located in the bottom half of the remote controller unit. All three connections have a different amount of pins, so you wont need to remember which ones go where. The circuit boards and the majority of the components are located in the top half of the remote controller

So now you're looking into the top part of the controller and you'll see two circuit boards,one smaller one stacked on top of a larger one. The two video receiver antenna right in front of the joysticks are connected to the top board and the single controller transmission antenna is connected to the bottom board. They're connected by U.Fl connectors, they're the same type that you see in your laptop where the antenna are connected to the wifi card. You'll notice there is some silicone adhesive around the connectors, so you'll have to get a combination of some sort of picking tool or small screwdriver and a pair of small needlenose pliers or similar and just carefully remove the adhesive picking it away slowly. There's no wonderful technique for this, just care really because you really don't want to damage the PCB board or the connectors. Ive learned the hard way that when it comes to DIY projects, patience tops the list of virtues to exercise. The two video receiver antenna also are held into their place with generous amounts of the silicone adhesive. How much care you use removing them just depends on if you want to keep them as functional spare parts or not, if you don't want them, you can be as vigorous as you want removing them. As far as the transmission antenna sticking out of the remote controller, I just sawed that whole part that sticks out from the controller casing off, but if you don't want to do that, just remove the antenna.

Step 2: Bonus Fix: Get Rid of Buzzer

Personally, that buzzer was just driving me batty, so while you have the remote controller open, they're pretty easy to get rid of. Its called a Piezo buzzer (see picture). The buzzer consists of basically a coil, like a solenoid with a flat round piece of metal or ceramic on top and the whole thing is encased in plastic. All you need to do is take a small pair of cutters and kind of poke them into the plastic close to the top and carefully cut away the plastic on the top and then remove the piece of metal underneath covering the solenoid and no more noise ! No need to remove the whole component from the circuit board, leave it there and leave the actual electronic circuitry intact.

Step 3: Install the ITELITE Range Extender

You're going to have to drill three 1/2 inch holes for the RP-SMA connectors. In the pictures you'll notice my wires that go from the U.FL connectors on the circuit boards to the RP-SMA connectors that are (going to be) fitted into the casing are a little different than the stock wires sent with the range extender by ITELITE. These are an upgrade in the wiring and if you would like to get some yourself you can search for the following in Amazon or EBay:

2 x 8 Inch Mini PCI IPX U.FL to RP-SMA Antenna WiFi Pigtail RG178 Cable

I got four total for ten bucks on ebay. Im going to be totally honest with you. I can't say with certainty they've helped the range extender perform better. Maybe, but I haven't really noticed any difference in the range and I haven't done any tests to compare the two. I have a friend that swears by using the best wiring for everything, he's an electrician by trade and so on his advice I decided to try them. I'm not saying they don't help a little, I'm just saying there was nothing noticeable to me (I had the stock wiring in there for a couple weeks before the wire upgrade).

Anyways back to the holes, I drilled the holes in the bottom casing. You wont see the holes and connectors that way and also it seems the best place for the length of the wires going from the outside of the casing to the antenna, you can see mine in the pictures. Feel free to drill them anywhere you like, but you'll need to drill three holes. Insert the RP-SMA connectors into the hole and there should be some washers for both sides. Here's where the "any two of the following..." from the intro come in, to tighten them you'll need to tighten one side with with a wrench or socket while holding the other side with another wrench or socket, otherwise you'll just turn the other side while tightening and you'll never really tighten it in place. The size you'll need, as mentioned is 5/16. the wiring, I tried to keep kind of a little apart from the rest of the wiring, its not a necessity, and it's not anything major as far as distance from other wiring, but any little amount of distance from other wiring will reduce any interference noise from being picked up by the antenna wiring. You can see I actually unscrewed the joystick mechanism (just 4 phillips screws) and put the wiring underneath and through, again just trying to minimize the amount of other wires they're each contacting. You need to remember which one of the connectors is to the transmitter antenna and which ones are to the receiver antennas. I drilled my holes such that one hole was a little apart from the other two so I'd remember. Plug the U.Fl connectors into the circuit boards and you can use some hot glue instead of the silicone adhesive used by DJI (which I still have yet to figure out exactly what it is, let me know if you do), or they'll stay in place fine without the glue. In the remote controller unit, since you are holding it on the ground, putting hot glue or silicone adhesive back onto the wiring is optional, as opposed to being an FAA requirement when working with wiring in the aircraft (at least with regard to some of the wiring). But I suppose putting adhesive on is better, just in case, to keep them from getting loose and popping off, When you have all the wiring in place and the connectors attached firmly, you'll need to hold the bottom and top casing close together while reaching in and plugging in the three connectors you removed coming from the bottom half (USB port, battery and camera angle dial) to the circuit board on the top half. Then screw the top and bottom casing back together. On my ITELITE antenna the connector for the controller transmission is labelled "Port 1" and the connectors for the two video downlink receivers are labelled "Port 2" and "Port 3". Then use the wiring provided to connect from the ITELITE antenna to the remote controller connectors you installed (keeping in mind which ones are for the transmitter antenna and which ones are for the receiver antenna). The ITELITE antenna has like these metal things sticking out that should clip right in the bar that is on the bottom of the stock remote controller (originally the base for the weak, cruddy plastic holder thing for your phone that came with it).

Now you're all done and ready to fly !! Have fun and remember don't get too excited about your new range and start pushing the limits too much. If you feel you're not getting a satisfactory range, it is most likely where you are flying and that is true whether you have a range extender or not. i.e.If you have poor range with the extender, you'll have even poorer range without.

Commentary on possibly losing your aircraft

If it loses both the controller signal and the GPS signal, the DJI Phantom quadcopter is programmed to just land, so if you do lose it and it doesn't come back and you're pretty sure it didn't just go swirling around and crash (which they can also do given the right conditions and loss of controller signal), it should have landed right where you last saw a signal (you can load up your flight records in the DJI Go app). Im not exactly sure why DJI doesn't add some lines to the algorithm to just sit tight for a bit if it loses GPS, cause GPS is just a passive satellite transmission and the aircraft should regain GPS signal in a very short matter of time (5-10 seconds?!) if it waits. As long as there is enough power, if it waits and regains the GPS then it will be capable of returning home even without the controller signal. But maybe they'll improve on the programming in that way in the future (and send me a check for helping them out, since nobody there thought of it apparently).