How to choose an fpv racing drone Flight Controller
What flight controller should I buy for my FPV Racing Drone? There is F1, F3, F4, F7 microcontroller based Flight Controllers and there are many many versions of each microprocessor made by many many Chinese companies. Firstly, be aware, almost ALL Flight Controllers are manufactured in China. I don’t care whose name is on it or what retailer you bought it from, everything comes from China with very few exemptions. Let me start with some background, then circle around to the original question of how to choose a flight controller.
Flight Controllers or FC’s almost exclusively run on Betaflight software. This is the programming inside the Flight Controller that tells the microcontroller what to do and when. this is what keeps your drone in the air. This is very important, it is the software that controls your drone, not the hardware. Betaflight software has become much more advanced in the past 24 months and does an exponentially better job at stabilizing your craft out of the box ( without having to mess with PID or other settings ) than it did in the past. In many cases, a well thought out machine flies very well without having to “tune” the software as was the norm only a year ago. So don’t get all hung up on which flight controller to buy, the software really does the work.
Let’s get back to the Flight Controller itself. Flight controllers are computers, they are both designed and manufactured by hundreds of different companies some better than others. These Flight Controller computers are both designed and manufactured, and there is a big difference here! The design of the Flight Controller is pretty important. Most current flight controllers are pretty well designed, and there are not that many original designs to choose from, in many cases good designs are cloned or copied by manufacturers that do not have the skill, interest or time to design their own FC so they copy an engineers design and reverse engineer it from someone who has taken extensive time and effort to make the FC work properly with the software. Much easier to copy than to put in the effort to create your own. Not Cool, but it happens regularly. Now this company has a design. A great example of this is the SPF3 or Seriously Pro F3 FC. A vast majority of the F3 Flight Controllers on the market are direct ( or very close ) clones of the SPF3.
For the sake of simplicity, let us concentrate on the SPF3 FC. It is, in my opinion, the most stable and common FC currently available. Now, remember, you are a company, you have a design and you need to get it manufactured. now this is where it starts to get tricky and where we start to circle back to the original question and reason for this posting. In China, where almost all of these FC’s are manufactured, there are literally countless companies that are all fighting for the right to manufacture your FC. It is very competitive and extremely cutthroat. You ( as the company ) will have endless directions you can go to get your Flight Controller manufactured and ready for market. Not all manufacturers are the same, pricing varies wildly and competition is fierce.
What many of you may not know, is that it is a very common practice to build a new product using used materials. Yes, used components on your new board. ever wonder where all of your old electronics go, they are literally “recycled” back into making new products, some of which you may have in your “new” flight controller. Think of how inexpensively you could make a new product if you had access to components that were “recycled” from old electronics. Yikes, but it is real. Have you ever asked yourself “how can they make this so cheaply” well boys and girls, there is your answer? So, if you are using used parts on your new board, it is almost impossible to control quality if your parts are not directly from the parts manufacturer. This brings us to the magic words ” Quality Control ” Chinese products do not have a quality problem, they have a Quality Control problem, maybe now you see why. Don’t get me wrong, this is not the case all the time, but if you are price shopping and cheap pricing will be your deciding factor. You get what you pay for has never been so relevant.
Here we are, full circle, what Flight Controller should I choose?
1: Choose what you know, if there is a flight controller that you have used in the past, and it has worked for you, no need to reinvent the wheel. You know how it wires up and maybe you already have the right connectors in the right place.
2: Buy tried and proven product from a branded manufacturer or reseller that has English speaking representatives. chances are they don’t want a headache either and have chosen quality manufacturers to produce their products.
3: Newer is not better, not even close! this industry moves very fast, there is little time to properly test products before releasing them into the marketplace. Unless you are very savvy and don’t mind doing a manufacturers R&D for them for free, then stick back a generation, let someone else with more time on their hands and who enjoys the tinkering to make shit work. When it is proven and works, buy it.
4: There are currently 3 main Flight Controller types available F3, F4, F7 with F3 being the go to. Go to it! F4 and F7 are both on the cutting edge, Betaflight software designed for these boards are just being put in the mix. Unless you are an advanced enough pilot and understand the advantages of the F4 and F7 boards, the time is not now, not yet. so My opinion, F3 FC from a reputable source so that you can get support if necessary or warranty if required.
For an in depth breakdown of flight controllers checkout Oscar Liang
You will need to know how to solder to take on a build with a new FC. Soldering is the key to success, if you are not proficient at soldering stop now please, it really can’t end well. Get your soldering skill up to spec and maybe attack this later.
A final point, in my opinion, everyone should start with a ready to fly machine, you should learn how to take it apart, and put it back together easily before you ever attempt a scratch build. Youtube videos are created by professionals who have done this many many times and like most things, it is not as easy as it looks. So have fun, fly like the wind and as Red Green used to say “Keep your Stick on the ice”