A Broke Student's Quadcopter Build


Introduction: A Broke Student's Quadcopter Build

About: A broke engineering student with a love for inventing and making.

Before beginning this build I better start by saying that I am a college student (and like the typical student I am broke ) but unlike most students I have built a few multi-rotors in my spare time by setting aside some of my beer money :D.

All of these I have crashed and burned into the ground (As you will do) . As you can imagine this was a big hit on my pocket. It was now a decision between beer or drones?

So i set off on a mission of saving money while building one of these contraptions.

I wanted something Fast and portable. (My previous builds had been pretty big, expensive and difficult to transport)

I needed something down the lines of a 250 sized racer!!

This is what I came up with.

Step 1: Some Tips Before Buying Anything.

So if you're thinking about building a Multi-rotor or drone, the first thing I would recommend is doing as much research as you possibly can!

This is a mistake I made at the start and have regretted ever since.

Buy an Eachine H8 before spending any other money. These little quads cost only around ten bucks and allow you to get a feel for flying without the risk of crashing something expensive. here is the link: http://www.banggood.com/Eachine-H8-Mini-Headless-M...

these things are awesome: you can even fly them indoors.

Learn about the basic components. There are a tonne of youtube videos online so get watching them before buying anything.

  • DC out-runner motors.
  • Electronic speed controllers.
  • Lipo battery's.
  • Flight controllers.
  • XT60s.
  • Power distribution boards.
  • voltages.
  • Cameras.
  • frame sizes.

Step 2: Sourcing Cheap Parts

The parts I used in this build are the bare minimum to get me back up in the air. I spent hours with my best friend (the internet ) to find all of these parts at a rock bottom price.

  • 4 x EMAX Simonk 12A ESC
  • 4 x MT1806 2280KV Motors (I would recommend getting the 2204s instead for the sake of a few bucks extra)
  • 1 x CC3D Openpilot Open Source Flight Controller 32 Bits Processor
  • 1 x Turnigy 9x transmitter and receiver set (I already had these from my previous builds)
  • 1 x 10cm^2 of copper PCB board (also had this spare)
  • 9 x 25 mm nylon m3 standoffs
  • 1 x Sheet of 6mm ply, around 50cm^2 of the stuff ( found this in my uncle garage, don't think he noticed)
  • 1 x male & female xt60 connector set (buy a set of 5 or 6, should only be about a buck)
  • Some heat shrinks in various sizes
  • 10 x cw & ccw 5040 propellors
  • 1 x 1300mah 40c lipo battery
  • 20 x m3 x 10mm screws
  • Some Velcro strap (also sourced from my uncles garage )
  • Some pieces of wire for connecting things up (usually you'll have enough spare from where you trim it off other components)

The total for all of my parts only came to about 50 euro considering i could source and hack most of it from other places. So get inventive to save money.

Step 3: Designing the Frame

To design the frame I used both AutoCAD and Inventor to model up the build (I have plans on 3d printing a shell for it)

you can use the plans attached for mine or you can look up some great ideas online ( Instagram is a great source of inspiration for these things, just follow everything that has #drones )

As you can see from my plans and sketches I took time to ensure there was sufficient clearance between the props and between the propellers and the frame.

When designing your quad have a look at "ECalc" it's a great tool where you can input your components and it will give you estimations of flight times and to whether or not your build will burst into flames from your motors drawing too much current due to over-sized propellors :D

ECalc Link: http://www.ecalc.ch/ it's about 1 euro for a month...well worth it.

Step 4: The Parts Are Ordered (Woohoo!!) Lets Build This Thing

First things first , build a frame (I was too impatient to wait for the parts to arrive to start building so i got started on the frame)

Simply put i got a sheet of ply, I marked out the pieces as in the drawings and cut them out with a jigsaw.

If you have access to better tools by all means use them, but this is what i had to work with.

Once the frame is cut out, drill out the necessary holes as in the diagrams.

Now get sanding that thing down to smooth out the edges.

Step 5: Add Some Colour

I decided to add some colour to make this thing stand out.

I spray-painted the bottom black so that it is clearly visible in the sky and the top yellow, because it looks cool and I had some yellow spray-paint.

You can add a clear coat for protection but i didn't bother because it's most likely going to be smashed into the ground anyway (I'm not the best flyer in rate mode ).

Step 6: The Parts Arrived :D

Now begins the fun part!

See attached a schematic diagram for the wiring layout of my build get out your soldering iron with a fine tip and some of the good ol lead solder and get soldering the escs to the motors you may notice that the wires are pretty long coming off the motor, So trim them down to save space and weight.

Step 7: Making a Power Distribution Board

So to distribute the power between the battery and all of the escs I decided to make my own power distribution board rather than making a wiring harness.(soldering all the positive wires together and negative wires together)

Check out the drawings above for the way I made it ( MAKE SURE YOU DO A CONTINUITY TEST BEFORE POWERING ANYTHING UP )

get out your multi-meter and make sure there are no shorts between positive and negative.

Now solder the positive and negative leads from the ESCs to the PCB board respectively. Note: either cover the power distribution board with some heat shrink or epoxy over the whole thing so nothing can short out if it gets wet!)

Step 8: Hooking Up the Brains of the Operation

So next you've got to hook up the CC3d as shown in the diagram (This flight controller is the easiest thing to set up compared to some of the flight controllers I've worked with.
Once the wires are hooked up grab a Usb cable and plug the cc3d into your computer.

(WARNING: having the props on the motors at this stage may result in the loss of your favorite hand, so take them off the motors)

Note the arrow on the board..this should be facing to the front of the drone. if not then you can adjust the yaw appropriately in the software. I have mine set to 90 degrees from the origin.

Download the CC3d Openpilot software from the internet and follow the setup wizard until your quad it set to go.

Step 9: Testing & Tuning

Now its time for the fun part.
Take your newly built masterpiece outside to an open area away from any glass , cars , electrical lines, lakes , rivers and other miscellaneous nuisances. Turn on your transmitter.

Plug the battery into her on nice even ground. Arm the quad using whatever sequence you set up in the wizard. Give it a light throttle and get a feel for things. if it seems a bit fidgety hook it back into the computer and adjust the Pids until you can fly it around comfortably.


Step 10: Now Sit Back and Bask in Your Awesomeness

If this is your first quad then well done !! sit back and enjoy tearing through the air like a champion knowing that you built this thing with your own two hands.

I will be uploading the 3d printable file for the 3d printable body in the coming weeks so in the meantime hang tight and enjoy the flight.

Remember to be safe and do not to kill anyone or damage anyone's property. because that is something you most definitely don't want.

Feel free to comment if you have any questions or anything you think I should change or improve on.


Step 11:



    • Creative Misuse Contest

      Creative Misuse Contest
    • Clocks Contest

      Clocks Contest
    • Water Contest

      Water Contest


    Hi and welcome!

    We're glad you want to share something with the community, and this project looks very interesting. However, in order to be published this project must only contain original images created by you. Please replace any stock or otherwise borrowed images with your own.

    Once you do that, leave me a message and we will publish your work!


    Your friendly neighborhood instructables staff.