New Quadcopter Checklist

A couple of days ago I had a chat with a guy who had troubles to get his quadcopter up and running. This made me think: if he had those issues, he might not be the only one. Especially when you are just coming into the hobby, all of this can get quite overwhelming.

Although this checklist is aimed at pre built - ready to fly - quadcopters, basically the same steps can be taken when building your own - in this case I would apply the “test early, test often” paradigm to catch mistakes as soon as possible. Going back one step is not as bad as having to disassemble the quadcopter completely to fix the one cold solder joint.

Since I also review quadcopters, my approach might be a bit “too much” for some, but it has proven to be very efficient, so I will share the whole process.

  1. Visual Inspection
  2. Betaflight Configuration
  3. Motor Check
  4. VTX & OSD
  5. ESC Check
  6. Hover test
  7. Test flights

1. Visual Inspection

First of all I take the quadcopter out of its packaging, and make a thorough visual check:

  • Are all the plugs plugged in
  • Are there any obvious solder blobs on the ESC or battery pads
  • Are the antennas (receiver and video transmitter) attached in such a way that they will not get chewed up by the prop

2. Betaflight Configuration

The next thing I do is to connect the quadcopter to the Betaflight configurator. This is primarily to ensure that the flight controller is actually working. I check that the quadcopter on screen is moving according to it’s physical movement.

I then use the dump command in the CLI to get a complete backup of the settings before touching anything. I copy/paste the output to a file named quadcopter_name-stock.txt. This ensures that I have a working configuration and I always know which betaflight version (board) to use when updating or reverting.

Should something not work as expected after updating Betaflight to a newer version or changing settings, I can always revert to this - known working - state.

While I am here, I usually also set my rates and setup my channel in the VTX tab. Other than that I do not change anything else in the settings, like PID’s, filters and other flight characteristic related settings. I want to know how the quadcopter is flying with the stock configuration that the manufacturer intended, this usually gives me a good idea about how much thought the manufacturer gave to those settings, or if he just slapped on the defaults without ever actually testing them.

If the receiver is powered via USB, which is often the case on the AIO boards, I also bind the copter to my transmitter and set up the modes to my liking.

3. Motor check

In this step I check that the motors are all spinning in the proper direction.

Caution: Before attaching the battery take off the props to prevent any mishaps!

I disconnect the quadcopter from the computer, power on the radio, and make sure that it is in disarmed state, throttle to absolute minimum. I then plug in the battery and finally plug it back into the computer.

In Betaflight I then go to the motors tab and spin up each motor after another. Do not spin them up to high without a load, just high enough to see that they are spinning in the right direction.

Double check in the “Configuration” tab in which direction the motors should be spinning, default in Betaflight is “props out”, but some manufacturers like to set it to “props in” (the checkbox “Motor direction is reversed” is enabled) instead.

I like to slightly touch the motor on the side to see in which direction my finger gets moved, this is how I check the direction. Do not apply to much pressure. I know other people like to use a piece of paper instead.

4. VTX & OSD

While everything is powered on, I also verify that I can receive an image in my goggles, on my default channel.

At this point I also set up the OSD. I basically always have the same layout: Timer 2, average cell voltage and RSSI. All of that on the top in the center of the screen. While I am reviewing the quadcopter I might have multiple other elements active, like for example throttle position.

I also enable the warnings and add TTF to the stats screen which is shown at the end of the flight - this helps me with setting the max value for the filter.

5. ESC Check

I am always interested in the ESC’s that have been used, since I might want to enable RPM filtering at some point. I hook up the quad to the JESC configurator to see which version of BLHELI_S is flashed, which MCU is used and how low the deadtime is.

6. Hover test

After all of the above is done, I attach the props. I double check the prop directions and give the copter a short test hover.

I have never had a ESC or battery fail on me by going up in flames on the first hover test - if you are afraid that this might happen, obviously do not do the hover test inside - better do it outside.

I arm the copter and slowly increase the throttle until the copter starts hovering. If something is wrong, it will show now: most of the time if something is wrong, the copter will simply flip over.

Caution: The key is to do everything slowly in this step. If you go full throttle here, bad things will happen - especially with the bigger rigs. I also test my 5” rigs this way.

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7. Test Flights

After confirming that everything is working properly, it is time for some test flights. Here I try to push the quadcopter as hard as my skills allow me to and look for things to improve in the tune.

This is usually also the step where I test the durability, I don’t crash on purpose, but most of the time I reach a point after a couple of packs where I am starting to feel too confident, push myself more and more and mistakes start to happen.

At this point I also like to check the range. I keep moving further and further away from me, trying to stay as low as possible and not flying over obstacles from which I can not recover my quadcopter. This gives me a good sense of the general range. Since I am only allowed to fly with 25mW, my video signal usually drops out long before my control link.

Chris is a Vienna based software developer. In his spare time he enjoys reviewing tech gear, ripping quads of all sizes and making stuff.

Learn more about Chris, the gear he uses and follow him on social media:

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