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UAV 101: the Basics

ATF drone in pieces

So you want to build a drone, cool beans but how do you get started? Follow this series of blogs to get started. We will have video and written components to this series and move you from novice to pro in no time. All components needed for this can be found on Amazon or other retailers. Click on this link to search the amazon store for all of the parts needed to follow this guide.

Lets get started, first we need to go over some terms used in the Drone / UAV world.​

The Basics:

Drone:Unmanned aerial vehicle designed for military use

DIY:Do it yourself, buy the parts and put it together

UAV: Unmanned aerial vehicle of any kind

The Types:

RTF: Ready to Fly composed of Quadcopters that come fully assembled and everything needed to fly.

BNF: Bind to Fly contains everything needed to fly minus the transmitter.

ATF: Almost ready to Fly only the frame normally is available and all components must be purchased and put together.

The Sensors and Controllers:

Accelerometer: The sensor that messures acceleration

Barometer: the sensor that lets the drone/UAV meassure high above the ground

Gyroscope: This allows the drop to fly in a stable manner

GPS: Global Positioning System allow the UAV to move from location to location without user intervention

ESC: Electronic speed controller, the middle man between the motor and the flight controller.

Flight Controller: The brains of the UAV which will be configured using the Mission Planner software.

Mission planner: A free software bundle used to configure and setup DIY drones.

Video Related:

FPV: First Person View, allows you to watch a live stream from the drone.

Gimbal: A gimbal is what holds the camera on a drone during flight

With the terminology out of the way lets cover the primary stages. Building a drone/UAV can be summarized into 6 steps, with a bonus step of first flight.

  1. Choosing the Frame

  2. Mounting the Motors

  3. Soldering

  4. Setting up the Power

  5. Setting up the Flight controller

  6. Putting it all together

1. Choosing a Frame

Before we get into the types of frame, anyone starting on this journey needs to realize that it can be a costly venture. On average for all of the parts, it can cost around 300 - 400 dollars and a mistake in construction will require additional component to be purchased. However the satisfaction of completing this project and the fun in flight the device you made is worth it to some. Now onto the fun stuff.

There are 4 primary frame types used in commercial UAVs.

Quadcopter Frame

The most common and recommended starting point for DIY. This UAV comes with 4 arms which motors will be installed

quadcopter picture

Tricopter Frame

Not as common as quadcopters but another good starting part. Three arms with motors attached.

Tricopter frame

Hexacopter frame

Six arms and wix motors means more power than normal but it comes with a huge cost and investment.

Hexacopter frameframe


With 8 arms the octocopter is often used for aerial surveillance.

Octocopter frame

With a frame selected you now need to mount the Motors.

This series will continue with UAV 102: Motors and more, for additional drone/UAV news or related topics visit UAV

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