If you are the type of person who wants to get right to flying a drone, building your own drone might not be the best option for you. There are plenty of affordable ready-made drones already on the market.
If you’ve learned to fly drones, and love to tinker, building a drone might be the next best evolution in your drone hobby. Building a drone allows you to explore the parts of the drone. You can learn the science and engineering involved in building an operational mini unmanned aircraft. Building drones is something you can get your entire family involved in!
Of course here at Makers Make Stuff, we love the sense of achievement that comes from building and doing things yourself.
Upgrade your skills and enrich your learning by joining us as we explore what it takes to build a drone.
What are Drones?
Drones are unmanned aircraft. Initially used by the military, drones provide intelligence-gathering capabilities, anti-aircraft capabilities, and much more. For civilians, drones can aid in search and rescue missions and provide traffic information among other uses. Some companies want to explore the idea of using drones for same-day delivery services.
Just this week, I was researching an upcoming family vacation, and the footage on the vacation website was all aerial photography and videography captured by a drone. Drones hover above holiday parades and other events to capture footage from the air. Videographers and photographers take advantage of the views drones are capable of achieving.
Drones for commercial use are expensive. If you’re not an expert at flying drones, you’re almost guaranteed to crash it or lose it in the woods. You wouldn’t want to crash or lose an expensive drone. I advise practicing your piloting skills on cheaper toy drones.
My mother gave my kids a small RC drone for Christmas, and my husband lost the mini drone in our woods within 30 seconds of its maiden voyage. They are difficult to operate at first.
Since the commercial use of drone technology has taken off, we have seen an increase in the availability of personal drones.
Drones Are Expensive
Personal drones can range in price from as little as $34 to as high as $15,500 for a ready-made GPS enabled videography/photography drone.
Toy drones are a great way to get yourself started with the drone hobby. Toy drones are inexpensive, and you won’t be out thousands of dollars while you’re learning to fly a drone. You will inevitably lose or damage your first few drones. After you become a capable drone pilot, you can move up in the drone world to more functional drones.
Why Build a Drone?
Much like DIY RC Cars and DIY Model Rocket Kits, building a toy drone can be a fun hobby for yourself as well as an educational STEM opportunity for your children. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Introducing your kids to STEM materials at a younger age increases their engagement with STEM and raises the possibility of your kids entering the STEM fields.
So join me while we explore the drone hobby and what it takes to build a DIY drone.
First, let us discuss the rules of flying a drone.
Drones are unmanned flying vehicles (UVAs). Some drones are capable of entering air space and even impeding the flight path of human-crewed aircraft. If your drone weighs more than 0.55lbs and less than 55lbs, then you have to register your drone with the FAA. The cost to register your drone with the Federal Aviation Administration is as little as $5.00. This step can help keep you safe from any liability should your drone get you into any trouble, such as entering controlled airspace or landing on someone else’s property.
If you plan to fly your drone commercially, such as selling the footage, you have to register your drone and obtain a license for yourself as the operator.
The next thing you want to do is check what kind of airspace you’ll be flying in. The FAA classifies airspace. As a recreational drone operator, if your drone can reach heights above 400 feet, you’re liable for making sure you’re flying in airspace that allows recreational or commercial drones.
There are websites you can use to determine the classification of the airspace, and you can even register your daily flights in real-time using some of these websites.
Registering your drone and knowing where you plan on flying your drone will keep you and your drone safe. It’s especially important to be registered and licensed if you live within proximity to any airport.
We live near one of the largest commercial cargo airports in the country, with flights going over our property several times a day. Even if we planned to fly only above our 5-acre parcel, we would need to register our drone and ensure it does not impede the flight path or view of any cargo flights going overhead.
Building a Drone:
Ok, now that the scary fine print is past us, let’s get to the fun part of building a drone!
Parts Needed to Make a Drone:
- Drone Frame: You can make your frame out of wood and other sturdy materials. You will want to use a material that you can make holes in for attaching the propellers and other flight gear. You can also buy a ready-made fiberglass frame that is sturdy but flexible enough to survive crashes.
- Motor: Most motors come with mounts so you can attach the motor to the frame. If not, you may also need to purchase mounting supplies. Drone motors come Brushed or Brushless. Brushless motors are slightly more expensive, but they last longer.
- Flight Controller: A flight controller keeps your drone stable while in the air.
- Speed Controller: This allows you to throttle your drone’s speed. With a speed controller, you can change direction and move your drone up and down in the air. The speed controller connects to the motor.
- Propellers: If you’re building a quadrocopter (the most popular drone type), your propellers will go on each corner of your “X” shaped frame.
- Batteries: This is where your drone gets its power. Most drone hobbyists choose a Lithium Polymer Battery (LIPO).
- RC Receiver: The receiver plugs into the flight controller on your drone. You hold the transmitter, which you use to fly your drone.
- Landing Gear: Landing gear helps protect your drone during crashes and falls. You want a material that can absorb the shock of a crash but won’t easily break.
- *Camera* ( optional): Cameras are popular for capturing footage of your drone’s flight. A camera is an optional item, and you may want to hold off on a camera until your perfect your piloting capabilities. You can purchase an RC receiver with a monitor to watch your drone’s camera footage in flight.
Other Suggested Materials:
If you plan on building your drone from scratch without the help of a DIY kit, here are a few supplies you will want to have on hand:
- Multi-meter: This will help you figure out any issues with your electrical connections.
- Soldering Iron and Solder: For assembly.
- Double-sided tape: This helps to attach parts to your frame.
- Velcro Strips: Again, for attaching parts to your frame.
- Zip Ties: To organize and attach your wires and other parts to your drone frame.
- Electrical Tape: Insulates your connections to prevent them from touching during flight.
DIY Drone Kits:
If all these materials and supplies are intimidating to you as a novice drone DIY-er, DIY drone kits are available to build a drone. These kits range from toy leggo drone kits (that fly) to fiberglass framed drone kits. Most of these kits come with all the components needed for the build.
This drone kit uses paper origami as the frame for the drone’s flying components. If you and your kids are into flying paper airplanes, this kit allows you to take paper airplane building to the next level. Learn the basics of drone flying and drone building using this kit to build a functional RC drone. This kit requires some soldering. This kit comes with all the components needed including a LIPO battery and RC receiver. Follow the easy instructions to create a flying paper drone.
Using standard building blocks, you can create a functional quadrocopter flying drone. This kit helps introduce kids to the STEM field and the basics of drone building and operation. This kit includes the battery, motors with propellers, building blocks, and RC controller. One thing to note with building block drone kits is that building blocks are not the most aerodynamic. This drone will fly, but the most value comes from the learning process during construction.
This DIY mini racing drone can be operated indoors and outdoors. The kit comes with the materials pictured above to build and operate a mini racing drone. This drone can fly in all directions and you can upgrade to a version with a camera. Starting at $28 this DIY drone is an affordable drone kit for the novice drone builder.
This racing quadrocopter drone kit includes everything you need to build your own high-quality racing drone. This kit even includes a camera! To make this kit operational you will need to purchase a battery and RC receiver separately. The RC Reciever you purchase will plug directly into the flight controller included with this kit. You can purchase an RC receiver with a monitor to view the camera footage in flight. This drone kit includes a carbon frame that is durable and flexible enough to withstand accidental crashes.
DIY Drone Kits
If building and constructing is your hobby, building a DIY drone will provide you with hours of fun. Teach your kids the basics of science and engineering by building a drone together. We recommend starting with one of the above-mentioned kits and working your way toward customizing your own drone by purchasing the components separately. You can purchase a ready-made drone but if you like building things as we do, then give a DIY drone kit a try! Just remember to look into the FAA regulations for registering and flying a drone in your area!