Make a UAV for Research and Photography




You, yes you, can build and fly a personal UAV. Read this and see how!

If you like this instructable, consider voting for me in the RC contest.

I remember riding in the car when I was little, watching the shadow of our car float over the ground beyond the guard rail. I would imagine that the shadow was from a plane and would think about what it would be like to see the journey from the air. What if I had a little plane that I could fly from the car and explore the areas just behind the trees. What if I could launch a plane on a hike, and see the far peak on the other side of the glacier, or take a video of myself and friends waving from the top of a mountain?
These days, I live near the ocean and wonder what it would be like to capture video of sailboat races, darting in and out of the masts like the seagull scene in "Finding Nemo." What about a video of whales from the air? To see what the seagulls see as they float over the water, under massive bridges and over tiny islands...

Then I found FPV UAVs and the dream became a reality.

This instructable will walk through your my first FPV UAV, teach you how to get started, how to make one, how to fly one, and introduce modifications you can make as you dive deeper into the sport.

*NOTICE: I do not use this plane for any purposes other than photography and research (i.e. search and rescue concepts, aero design, measurements and mapping, etc...)
I do not support the nefarious use of these planes for spying or militaristic intent. I believe that as more UAVs fill the sky, it is important to show their potential as tools for science and recreation. As I build and fly, I often get comments like "what evil will you strap to it?", "who are you spying on?" To those people, I hope that you stop watching fox news and start watching Planet Earth. The world is full of places to explore, it gets even better from the air!

Step 1: Eyes in the Sky

FPV is going to cost you money. I hate to say it, but its true. The part you want to shell out a little dough for is your telemetry equipment. I went ahead and got a set of Fat Shark goggles with a camera. I really like the package I got from

The goggles, camera, transmitter and receiver, plus shipping all came to my door in less than 3 days at a cost just under $300.00
I got the:
Fat Shark Predator V2 Video Glasses w/Transmitter and Camera

There are cheaper kits. There are more expensive kits. I chose this one but can always upgrade later!

Why should I spend $300:
-You can fly, drive, sail, any model with this camera. It can be moved and placed whenever you want. You can even strap it to a dog and see what he does.
-The goggles allow for hookups with other video equipment and camera upgrades
-Fat Shark has figured out a nice system, they fit well and even have extra lenses for those who wear glasses. 

Step 2: Choosing a Learner

Start easy! 
You will crash. Things will break. It will suck. You will get over it.
So start with something that is meant to crash and not cost you a ton! I started with the Stratos Firebird, an excellent foam plane that can be purchased for about $110.00 USD. It comes with everything you need to fly and is basically idiot proof. I would give the firebird kit to a small child and they would be able to put it all together, even without the nice included instructions.

Why I loved the firebird as a starter plane:
-Insanely easy to pull out of the box and put together
-Comes with controller and battery and charger
-Replacement parts are cheap and available (a new fuselage is around $30.00)
-Durable. I have crashed mine a few times HARD, and then just glued it back together with contact cement. Like it never even happened. 
-Twin engines are programmed to help you learn! That's right, the plane has features to teach you good habits, then you can turn off the program when you feel comfortable. 
-I think it looks cool, and it comes with decal numbers and such to personalize it.

STEP 1: Build Kit (I did it while drinking beer and watching a movie, it is easier than Legos)
STEP 2: Strap a Camera to it (I used zip ties, aluminum tape and a piece of copper strip as a skid)
STEP 3: Hit the field and learn to fly it. (If you have played video games, you can fly this RC plane.) 

 - I would recommend the first few flights without the camera! If you lose your telemetry and need to get the plane home without the goggles, will you be able to? Really get a good feel for how the plane reacts and flies in light wind, how the launch feels, etc... Then strap on the goggles and go for a flight.
- Spend an afternoon just flying in a circle and landing somewhere near yourself. Don't fly to Vegas on your first flight. Try to see if you can steer the plane toward yourself and make a nice landing. This is a necessary learning step that should not be missed. It will take time, and you will probably need contact cement before a longer flight ever gets underway.
 - Stay Positive! Remember learning to ride a bike? You fell, it sucked, you got back on the bike. Keep in mind that its all part of the learning experience. Again, I highly recommend the firebird. When I crashed, it all went back together and kept flying.
- Fly somewhere safe. These planes can get away from you and crash. Be sure to start in an area where people or animals cant get hurt, and where retrieving your plane will not involve trespassing or cliff diving. A big open field works well, or look online for local RC airports (YES, they do exist!

Step 3: Take Off the Training Wheels, Order Parts for the Real Deal

What is your project goal? Do you want speed? A heavy camera? How about flight duration? Initial cost?

These are all factors that should be thought of when getting your first flight platform. There are literally hundreds of options, so lets break it down and make it easier.

Hobbyking, Nitroplanes, local hobby shops, etc... are a great place to start. People put a lot of time and effort into making kits and models for you to fly. I find it is better to start with a kit model and then work up from there. Choose one that meets your needs.

I chose to go through HobbyKing for my first build. Shipping from china takes a long time...  weeks.  I ordered my parts and started to work with the Foam plane from a local hobby shop. This worked out really well as I was getting comfortable flying and knowing what to expect from crash damage etc before building a nicer model.

I chose the Target Drone v1.5 body, it looks very similar to the Boeing ScanEagle. Boeing puts a lot of work into aircraft  design and the ScanEagle has set records for flight endurance and reliability. Seemed like a good platform for sports photography and research! The Target Drone v1.5 is also DESIGNED to be a FPV rig. I got mine on sale for about $70.00. 

Radios and receivers, servos, motors, propellers, batteries, chargers, and ESCs are all available on hobbyking. I ordered a basic radio setup (Turnigy 9x), a brushless motor, a few 9g servos, a cheap ESC (poor decision), a decent battery, and a basic charger. I later found that my local hobby shop had much nicer ESCs from EFlight, and have since upgraded.

Craigslist and local listings area great place to find this stuff for cheap!  Some people lose interest in RC and just sell everything. Most RC hobbyists have extras laying around too. I always keep a few servos, wires, receiver, etc... on hand in case a crash or malfunction takes my plane out of commission. Radio shack always has servos and extra little parts for prototyping and fixing up your plane!

-A plane (Try here:
People also seem to really like the Bixler, after watching some youtube vids, I can easily see why!
-A motor suitable for your plane. Look up the specs for your plane or look at the motor for a rating. They usually post a range of plane weight, wingspan and propeller.
-A propeller for your motor. The numbers refer to the size and screw rate (turns the motor will make to drive the plane a given distance). Careful not to over do the prop. If you add too much load, the motor will overheat!
-An ESC (electric speed controller) get one rated higher than your motor! If you have a 30Amp motor, get a 40 or 50 amp ESC.
-Servos for your controls, the plane page should tell you how many to get and what size they need to be. Mine called for three 9g servos, I added an extra for my camera to look around.
-A battery for your flight. These come in a range of cell numbers, sizes and weights. The term #S refers to the number of cells (3s, 4s) and the mah rating (2200 mah) is a rating of milli-amp hours. a 2200mah will run 2.2 amps for an hour. Get a battery that your motor is rated for. 
-A charger, I got a cheap turnigy charger that I hooked up to an old PC power supply. works like a dream! (old pc power supplies are free if you go to the recycling center or find a friend with a busted PC.)
-Glue (I love hot glue, contact cement, and gorilla super glue)
-Tape (I use aluminum tape, electrical tape, Gaffers tape, and 3m Di-Noc Carbon vinyl
-Basic tools (pliers, screw drivers, hex wrenches, etc...)
-Beer and Snacks are optional but recommended.

Step 4: Gotta Build It to Fly It

Putting the plane together is not a chore, it is a hobby. Have fun with it! Get to know your plane.

My plane did not come with instructions... so I have put together some guidelines:

-Un-box your parts and take an inventory. If the plane calls for 3 servos and you find 3 wire looking things... chances are good that they are control rods to the servos. Pile the parts into what looks like proper categories.

-Do the easy parts first, within an hour you can be staring at your airframe, even without having anything glued. I added the wing spar, slid the wings on, screwed on the landing gear, etc... Just to see how the plane looks and make sure that everything is correct. It would suck to get halfway into a build only to realize that your wings are not the same size.

-THIS plane, is YOUR plane. Instructions are not necessary because you are a MAKER. You get to decide the best layout for your own rig. You may screw up, its a learning process... and I have some tips to cover up the blemishes.

-You may need to cut into the wings to get to the servo mounting bays. There should be an indent in the wing if your plane comes with servo covers. Use a razor knife to gently cut the skinning away from the intent outline only. The hollow cavity allows for servo placement, my wings even came with internal servo extensions.

Step 5: Give It Life!

When installing the motors and servos, be sure to mount them securely. Use contact cement and superglue as well as screws, I mount my servos using zip tie mounting pads in case I ever need to replace one. 

The landing gear servo is mounted in a balsa wood case and glued to the inside of the plane with contact cement. The front wheel mount required drilling into the frame to find the mounting hole, the indentation was not correct and I wound up having to cover holes with di-noc. I would recommend measuring before drilling.

Step 6: Looky Looky

Get fancy on the cheap with an extra 9g servo or two.
The turnigy remote is awesome once you learn to program it. Once you figure out how to tune one servo to a remote stick, it is easy to just add more. In one of my extra channels, I use a small servo to look up and down by turning an extra knob on the remote. Hot melt glue saved the day on mounting the camera to the servo. Not sure its great for the camera, but its only hot for a few seconds. 

I also decided that landing was for people in planes. UAV's do not need to land, they can parachute or even get caught in a net. I opted for the parachute, with a servo holding a rubber band in place as a release mechanism.

Step 7: Finish Work

Your plane has a motor, the wing flaps are programmed, the parachute works, the camera can look around... now its time to decorate.
Don't weigh it down too much, but stickers and decals personalize your plane and make it something you are proud of. I put extra 3m di-noc on the wing leading edges and belly of the plane because it is a really nice protective layer and looks like carbon fiber. you can put a clear coat on top to make it shine the same way as well!

When you travel to fly, the wings can be folded for transport. Just slide the wings onto the spar (and metal alignment pins) and tape with gaffers tape to reconnect the wings. Press down with firm even pressure to ensure a good stick.

Step 8: Test, Re-test, and Go Fly!

Here is a video of my parachute rig. It is still going through iterations and testing before I trust it to work every time.

I detached my rear landing gear and instead made a slider that moves on an aluminum extrusion ramp. This is going to be my launch platform!

Remote Control Contest

Second Prize in the
Remote Control Contest



    • Barbecue Challenge

      Barbecue Challenge
    • Sensors Contest

      Sensors Contest
    • Beauty Tips Contest

      Beauty Tips Contest

    74 Discussions

    Thank you for your support! I finally found that there is a set of instructions to build this model on hobbykings "international" version (they ship from several warehouses with different order pages depending on country). These provide more detail for those who wish to view it. At the bottom of the order page here: You will find a tab labeled "files"
    The pdf contains instructions.
    I however, did not want to include instructions. I saw the plane as a blank frame and built it how I saw fit. I hope that others who build from this project design will post their own unique features, hacks and mods. I hope this helps!
    PS, I will add a second section with flight data and photography soon,


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for your good infos. Could have been more extensive though.

    Anyway you propose to buy a 110$ plane for learning and after moving to a 75$ ?
    And how about the vital point of "Return to home" function ?

    Good point for the parachute and the launcher. Two great ideas.

    More details would be welcome!


    2 replies

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    And also how about the 2 cameras? One for FPV and the other like gopro for shooting and filming ?
    In this case, are you servo remote the gopro start or just mounting it with filming all the time?

    Wazza, Thanks for the support!
    The main differences between the foam plane for $110 and the $70 TD1.5 is the functionality and what comes with it. The firebird comes with motors and remote etc... But it is meant to be a trainer, a stepping stone to bigger UAV's. The TD1.5 is made of fiberglass and balsa, and alas, only the frame costs $70. The motor, esc, radio, etc... all add up to more and there are a huge variety of upgrades to choose from that could cost very little, or thousands. My rig is set up to carry a parachute, large battery and an HD camera along with the FPV gear. I will soon post more pages with flight data and photography! I also have replied to resistanceisfutileiflessthan1ohm concerning the amount of description in my instructable. Please feel free to follow the link there for the factory build instructions. My goal was for this instructable to be useful for other models as well, each will be slightly different. Hope this helps!

    The Bear, The web company is putting a warning label on the goggles because they are able to be used with high strength radio equipment. I would highly recommend reading up on all legal matters before getting into this hobby, however, fpv flight with these goggles only requires an amateur ham license if used with long range UHF equipment (ultra high frequency). A standard radio, as shown in this instructable (2.4GHz), is used for general RC flight. Flying this plane with this setup and FPV goggles is ok under current law. Do not fly your plane further than you can see and/or hear. IF the goggles cut out, you should be able to return and land your plane under normal RC flight operation (as stated when practicing with the firebird.) Thank you for your concern!


    2 years ago

    can you program it to fly itself?

    I'm a noob at programming so I can't!


    2 years ago

    Any updates on this instructable? It looks like you got quite a few new hits from the mailer I got from instructables.

    Interested in knowing how your parachute experiment worked. Seems like a vertical launch tube with a spring driven piston and pin retention (pulled by a servo to trigger) could be more efficient and avoid some of the timing issues with stopping the prop. Also seem like you should insert a leader to move the shroud lines away from snags.

    Was interested to see how your launch ramp worked out. It looks like you were aiming for a boosted launch, but it seems like without rollers or bearings you might bind up using regular sliders for those extruded rails. Maybe even two slides made from delrin would be enough to keep the shuttle from binding and survive smacking a stopping block multiple times.


    2 years ago

    If properly filtered, can the camera show infared images?

    1 reply

    Reply 2 years ago

    Most CMOS cameras do support infrared filters, but I have no idea what you'd be using it for...

    Also, I'm not sure it would transmit to the goggles, but you could try and tell me if it works!


    2 years ago

    For beginners, (me, although I have worked with drones before) I wish this was a bit more in depth and detailed. This is a very cool project, but for someone like me I'd need "Pick up the drill, drill 3 holes to the left of the wings, between the _____ and the ____."


    2 years ago

    Hi, I think it would be wise to belong to the B.M.F.A (British Model Flying Association), as providing you fly this vehicle responsibly you will be covered by their insurance policy.

    You will receive a booklet with lots of info on Do's and Don't s, and some very useful info.



    2 years ago

    Four things you should do before flying any RC aircraft (UAVs/Drones/Etc, included):

    1 Seek out local RC pilots who will help you learn how to fly. You will cause yourself considerable grief and expense if you try to do it alone.

    2 Join the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) at and follow their safety code for model aircraft, especially follow the rules about FPV piloting (Use a spotter, don't fly out of visual sight range, don't be a safety hazard or nuisance to others)

    3 In the USA, register yourself as an RC/UAV pilot with the FAA for just $5 at (nowhere else--the others are expensive spam/scam sites)

    4 Stay away from other aircraft of any scale and restricted areas like airports and landing approaches, or government facilities.

    The hobby industry and the AMA have worked hard to preserve the safety of the public, the reputation of radio control hobbyists, and most importantly, the freedom of RCers from onerous government regulation. We don't want our hobby screwed up by a few irresponsible flyers and bad publicity--believe me, it very nearly happened this past year.

    Sorry for the preachiness, but we can't do enough to get this important message out.

    1 reply

    Reply 2 years ago

    Absolutely right on! Agoid grief, disappointment and fines. Follow these suggestions and join the thousands of us who safely pursue the modeling aircraft and photography hobbies! Good post: Thanks!


    2 years ago

    Nice idea but not the best choice of vehicle. Pusher prop makes desirable hand launching precarious. No need for landing gear... Just adds unneeded weight. (I have this very model and its marginal for this application.) A Radian plane and and Mobius camera would be much better. As for the parachute and catapult? Forget it! And, learn to fly first with an experienced helper. And join the AMA. Mostly, though, be very careful where you fly. Avoidable accidents endanger the model aircraft hobby as incidents are always exagerated by the media. DOZ


    2 years ago

    Nice work McMag, keep posting and building. If you post flight videos, use them to highlight build modifications, maybe update this instructable with your mods/discoveries :)

    Yours in UAV/FPV - me!


    2 years ago

    UAV? (Upstairs at Vinnie's?). FPV? (Fat Protective Vet?). Not a clue what these acronyms stand for. Guessed at RC.

    1 reply

    Reply 2 years ago

    UAV= Unmanned Aireal Vehicle
    FPV= First Person View
    RC= Radio Controlled

    hope this helped ;-)


    2 years ago

    Excellent tutorial for all-round confidence and getting down to basics - but where is the sketch for the Arduino?