Intro: Custom Fit Drone Case (DJI Phantom), Quadcopter Carrier
I was looking for a solution to carry and store my quadcopter (DJI Phantom 2 Vision+). I saw many different for sale items, but after spending quite a bit on the craft itself I was looking for a less expensive option. This was the result. Using a free older pelican, and some craft materials combine with quite a bit of measuring and cutting I was able to create a water proof and durable carrier for my drone.
Step 1: Step 1: Find the Case
Any type of case, piece of luggage, or enclosure will work. you have to make sure it is deep enough to fit all your components. For this build I found a very used and abused Pelican King Case (now called the 1600). The case I was able to acquire was fairly banged up, and missing a clip. I wasn't worried and contacted Pelican to see if I could buy a new seal and clip for the side. Their response was NO. I couldn't buy the parts because they were free since Pelican offers a lifetime warranty. Very lucky on my part. They did mention the case had to be at least 10-15 years old since it's marked King Case, but who cares right?
You could even check your local thrift shop for hard side luggage or even craigslist for free cases. sometimes they're out there and Pelicans come with that awesome warranty.
Step 2: Step 2: Find the Foam and Cut to Fit.
You can purchase many types of foam inserts for cases or make your own. Many folks will direct you to Kaizen Foam or the pluck and pull commonly found in Pelican cases. I chose to save some money and hit the local stores. At Joann Fabrics I found a green foam used in upholstery. The nice thing about this material is it comes in various thicknesses and lengths. Joann Fabrics had it on sale for 40% with an additional 20% for signing up for their text coupons.
I removed the bottom foam from inside the case and used it as a template. Since the foam edges are nice and straight I lined it up on two edges and then marked it with a Sharpie. Once it's marked, a nice sharp knife and a good straight edge will get you where you need to be without measuring. Cut as many layers as you need to fill the case keeping in mind the lid. The layers will allow you to cut out levels in the foam for different depths.
Note: When cutting the foam (if it's soft like this type) don't try to cut completely through on your first pass. Make a few passes each one a little deeper than the other. You'll make it through fairly quickly without distorting the cut because you pushed too hard and squished the foam. Also try to keep the knife perpendicular (at 90 degrees) to avoid angled cuts unless you want them that way.
Step 3: Step 3: Templates, Templates, Templates
For the next step you will need some templates. This can be done a few different ways. You can measure each component and make notes for a drawing later, or find a way to trace the items your going to place inside your case. For this project I tried both to see which was better.
Note: For the controller and other items I recommend simply tracing around them. This goes much faster and due to the odd shapes it's much easier. For things which will fit into a box or rectangle just using the measurements can work as well.
For the aircraft itself, I wanted to provide support and protection beneath the gimbal and camera system. For this I drew out and measured the footprint of the Phantom. I then determined where the camera would land within that footprint and made a box for it.
Note: The landing skids don't need much room, but leave a little extra space to make removal easier.
For the copter itself I removed the propellers and turned it upside down. I then traced around the shape and included an area in the event I want a have a battery installed while it's in the case. You can now begin deciding where items will be inside the case.
Note: Initially I drew out the entire template and later decided to use a cutout method. The first plan was to cut through the paper, but it was harder than I thought to keep a straight line.
Step 4: Step 4: Layout
Cut out the templates you drew for the items to be stored and begin laying them out where you want them. I used repositionable Elmers spray glue to lay out the templates onto the foam. With the templates stuck down so they don't move on you, trace them with the Sharpie.
Note: Remember you are tracing OUTSIDE the template. If you want a more snug fit, cut inside the lines
If you can find a sharp knife with a long enough blade, you can cut through the foam in several passes very easily.
If you have an extra piece of foam try cutting the shapes from that. The roll I purchased was long enough (2.5 yards) to give me two extra panels. If you nail it on the first try it's one less thing for you to cut.
Since I want the landing gear and gimbal to fit tighter and they will be made in the bottom layers, I'm starting the cut outs from the top working to the bottom.
Note: you can see in my master template the gimbal and landing gear cutouts are still part of it. Once the top few layers are prepped, I can cut the template down without needing multiple copies. This saves time and paper.
Also, you may be able to glue the layers together and cut once using an electric knife. When I redo this insert, that's the method I'll be using.
Work layer by layer testing each piece as you finish the cut out. Make sure they line up to your satisfaction and drop in the parts for a snug fit. Once you have all your pieces cutout, stand back and see if you missed anything. You can also add cutouts to you foam. In my case (no pun intended), I finished the Phantom and controller then began laying out the patterns on the top layer. Since these parts were relatively basic shapes, I traced them on the foam and cut them out. Once they were notched I checked to see what depths I would need before proceeding to the next layer. Be careful getting too close to the edges as the foam can tear if it's not thick or sturdy enough.
Step 5: Step 5: Stack and Glue
Now that you've mocked up your insert and fitted everything you can begin the stacking and gluing process. Any glue which says it works with foam will work. Do not try superglue as it may actually melt the foam depending on the type. If you're unsure, test the process using the pieces you cut out.
Note: read the instructions on the glue. It may also be necessary to ventilate the area to make sure you're not breathing in the over spray.
I'm using Loctite's spray adhesive. I tried the Elmers used in a previous step, but it just wasn't strong enough. When using this, make sure you have a well ventilated area and generously spray the two sides you plan to join together. Wait about 30 seconds or so and the glue will be tacky. Then stick the foam together. The foam will begin to grab immediately and you may have to make a few adjustments. Work methodically and quickly so the glue doesn't bond too much. Once that's done, press the layers together and let them sit. Cure time will depend on temperature and humidity so leave it in a warm dry place over night.
Step 6: Step 6: Finishing and Covering
If you're satisfied with the foam by itself you can skip this step. Since I was using green foam, I wanted to knock down the color factor a bit. I chose to use felt to cover the foam. You can use any number of materials including PlastiDip or similar spray rubber material if you'd like.
Lay out the material and make sure you have a little overlap around the edges. Apply the glue and smooth it over the foam. Once the glue sets and dries it's back to work.
You can trim it to the edge exactly or work with it to create a bit of fold over. If you choose to wrap the entire insert that's up to you. Another option is to Flock your foam. This is similar to the feel of a subwoofer enclosure. For this you simply spray adhesive onto the foam and drop flock through a screen covering the glue. Once it's set, your're done and it looks like it was made that way. Or go crazy and try any combination of these methods.
Note: As with any chemicals, be they glue or fibers, use your head and find a well ventilated area. You can also wear a mask and gloves to protect yourself.
The Plastidip has a strong odor while curing. make sure you leave it outside to dry and cure. Plastidip around the edges helps keep the foam from tearing or splitting with use. In the images you can see the plastidip reinforcement.
Step 7: Step 7: Decorate the Case
This isn't really a needed step, but hey you did a lot of work. Why not show off. Decorate your case with anything you choose and let folks know what interests you.
Hopefully you've found this guide helpful. I welcome any and all comments. Cheers!