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Multi-Rotor Copters


APM Controllers

These three MRCs all use an APM variant of controller and firmware. The RTFhawk (a.k.a. Pixhawk), ReadyToFlyer (a.k.a. Arduflyer), and mini APM controller. At the time, all of them had APM:Copter v3.1.5 firmware loaded, which is now considered and old release firmware. Since the transmitter is programmed for the same switches and modes, it makes the transition comfortable between MRCs. I consider APM firmware to be the best performing and feature-rich open source code on the market. You can read more about it here.

My RTFhawk is finally doing some AV work after a successful transition from my less expensive FlameWheel 550 test bed nylon frame to the Tarot 680 Pro carbon frame. The 3-axis GoPro camera gimbal uses a STorM32 gimbal controller written by Olli W. in Germany. The gimbal firmware is closed-source but very feature rich. The gimbal hardware is open-source which makes it inexpensive.

The advantages of the Tarot 680 Pro hexacopter (outer photos), at twice the price of the Turnigy HAL (center photo), are that it is lighter and it can fold up for travel.


OPQ - One Piece Quad

I built up this OPQ with a MultiWii PRO Battle of the Sensors controller. At first I thought it was some gimmick to use up spare sensors but it seems that the heli guys use these sensors and it has a board selection in Multiwii r2.3 so we'll see how it flies!

#define SIRIUS_MEGAv5_OSD // Paris_Sirius™ ITG3050,BMA280,MS5611,HMC5883,uBlox

The board uses a different gyro and acc chip set than the Pro2/Pro3/APM boards. The Pro3 uses a MPU6050 3-axis MEMS gyro + accelerometer chip. The "Battle" board uses a MPU3050 and gyro and a Bosch 280 accelerometer.

I'm not sure about other differences or if you can even tell which ones your using.

The motors are Witespy Red Special Motors with HQ 9x4.5 Carbon Composite Props. I soldered the motor wires directly to the RTF EZ 20amp ESCs.

To connect the ESC power on the bottom side of the OPQ I used a 45mm Power Distribution Board that is locked in place with the FC mounting screws. The screws go through the power distribution board and the OPQ frame to hold the bottom section of the QuadFrame M3x8 vibration dampeners.

The rubber dampeners are isolated on both ends from the metal inserts and provide good vibration reduction to the sensitive gyros and accs. I also used some Next Level Landing Gear Bumpers for 500 & 650mm Quad Frames. They mounted underneath the motors with plumbers goop.

My first test flight of the OPQ with the "Battle of the Sensors" FC was in my backyard. For the video, the little quad flew very stable in 20-30mph winds in a nearby office park. You can view the video here.

Cinestar Octo Clone

Our biggest Multi-Rotor Copter (or MRC) is the 8-motor Cinestar Clone Octocopter. Although it has an intimidating appearance, it is a docile and stabile flyer for lifting heavier cameras like a Sony Red or mirror-less NEX. It uses a DJI Wookong Flight Controller with GPS and compass and can be flown hands-off, if needed.

Here is a sample video we took at the Canandaigua CHIEFS field in September 2013.

Canandaigua CHIEFS Octo-fest 2013 from Gregory Covey on Vimeo.


We recently replaced the Alware 2-axis servo-driven gimbal with a new technology 2-axis brushless motor gimbal. The resulting improvement in our Sony NEX mirror-less camera was simply amazing! The technology upgrade didn't stop there. We upgraded the DJI Wookong IMU to the new V2 unit which eliminated the stability issues in the octocopter and also have a 3-axis brushless gimbal ready to test for the 2014 flying/filming season. As soon as you think you are on top of the technology curve it changes again! Check out some of the videos on my Vimeo page here.

My buddy, Jeff, and I both have ImmersionRC products that feed OSD (On-Screen Display) information along with a video feed from the camera to our ground stations using a 5.8GHz link. The antenna trackers use GPS infomation from the EzOSD on-board the MRC fed through an audio channel to keep the directional helical antennas pointed at the ship. This provides the strongest signal link to our monitors without interfering  with the R/C control link at 2.4GHz.

A two-man team can be used; one to fly the MRC and one to direct the video passes for the best angle.


After first testing the new 32-bit ESC (RTF32) on my old FlameWheel 450 and then on my Turnigy H.A.L. quad, I was so happy with the performance upgrade that I decided to build a hexacopter that I call hexaHAL.

The hexaHAL uses an Arducopter 2.5.2 flight controller and has six blades for heavy lifting, stronger control in wind, and emergency redundancy in case of motor, prop, or ESC failure.

The initial test flights were done using a weighted PVC pipe to simulate the camera and gimbal. After several successful flights, I swapped the pipe for my 3-axis GoPro gimbal that uses AlexMos v2.2b2 firmware. You can view my initial test flight test with the camera gimbal here or below.


hexaHAL APM 3.1 Test Flight 3 from Gregory Covey on Vimeo.


FlameWheel 450 Clone #2

My newest quad was another $11 Flamewheel 450 clone body from HK mated to a 200mm QuadFrame Landing Leg Set. Although the power system was similar to my original Flamewheel 450, the Flight Control was a new MultiWii Mega Pro 2 board from Witespy. Note the orange tail ball set, also from Witespy, used to help keep orientation of the quad in the air. I used a tall CD case to protect the electronics and provide easy access with the twist top. MRCs don't need to be made from expensive carbon fiber material.

Mini Quads

Mini Quads can accumulate fast so I purchased a Plano Bow Case to store some of my favorite originals. It kept them safe for storage and travel. Although the technology is now outdated, the designs were all considered at one time to be impressive for their small size. The flight controllers were Multiwii variants, some having BARO sensors and GPS receivers.

When winter came, I decided to build a few mini quads from spare parts and inexpensive kits. The first was this x230 Mini Quadcopter sold at Hobby King as a combo kit without FC and receiver. My plan is to use the proven KK2 board with LCD and make my own foam shell for indoor flying during the cold winter months.

I successfully flashed my ZTW and Blue Series ESCs using the HK Atmega flashing tool and bs_nfet.hex file from SimonK. Both of these ESCs are all n-FETs. The older "Mystery" A-Series 12a ESCs use both n-FETs and p-FETs so they would use the bs.hex file, but these ESCs are not what comes with the x230 Mini Quad Combo from HK.

The performance increase was fantastic! I flew indoors in my gym and the foam shell provided excellent protection when touching a wall. The green tape designates the front of the quad for now. I also added some feet cut from the light flooring material sold at home improvement stores to protect the battery from getting hit.

Click here for my build review thread on the x230 Mini Quadcopter.


The second mini quad was my Bambucopter clone with a 210mm width. The XX-Copter Series Mini-Copter that I am building was designed to use the MYSTERY A1504-18 2700KV RC Helicopter Brushless Motors. I also successfully flashed my ZTW and Blue Series ESCs using the HK Atmega flashing tool and bs_nfet.hex file from SimonK. Both of these ESCs are all n-FETs.

I decided to try the MultiWii Pro 2 board with uBlox GPS from Witespy. This board can use either MultiWii or MegaPirate code and has new improved sensors which will create a more stable flight. I decided to try the maiden flight of my Bambucopter with the MWC Pro 2 controller in my home gym and it was amazingly stable once again using the default PID settings.

Click here for my build review thread on the x210 Bambucopter clone.

Turnigy H.A.L.

My third MRC is the Turnigy H.A.L. (Heavy Aerial Lift) Quadcopter (585mm) from Hobby King. For only $32, it seemed like an awesome value for a solid frame with excellent quality parts. In fact, it is so inexpensive that you can buy a second frame for spares! My Turnigy H.A.L. uses a DJI NAZA Flight Controller and I have added a DJI F550 Landing Gear Set from AeroXcraft to support my battery pack, video camera, and 5.8GHz EzOSD FPV system. Flight time is set to 9 minutes using a 4s 5800mAh pack with a good 10-15% safety in capacity.

Test flying the H.A.L. in my backyard and an empty office park

Click here for my build review thread on the Turnigy H.A.L.

FlameWheel 450 Clone #1

My second quad was a new Flamewheel 450 clone body from HK for only $11. For that price, I bought a second one to use for spare parts...if needed. Q450 Glass Fiber Quadcopter Frame 450mm

I transferred most of the components from my original ST450 Quad. I used an ST450 as my first quad because I got it for free. It worked but it was not very strong and I always had screws falling off. One Flamewheel (or clone) leg eliminates 18 screws on an ST450. 18x4=72 screws...and that's just the legs!

My new Flamewheel 450 quad also got an upgrade to the KK2.0 Multi-rotor LCD Flight Control Board that I had planned to use in my Turnigy H.A.L. The H.A.L. got an upgrade to a DJI NAZA-M with GPS.

Since some folks were breaking the legs off near the motor mount, when hit just in the right spot, I decided to buffer the area with some synthetic wine corks. We have plenty of corks around our house!

I decided to enhance the height using the $15 200mm Tall Landing Skid Kit from GLB. It fits snugly around the bottom plate requiring only a few cable wraps to keep it secure. For some reason, the bottom carbon tubes didn't show up with my kit so I used an existing brass tube which I painted black.

The added height will allow me to land in some snow this winter. I also installed my oil gimbal that used to be on my Turnigy H.A.L. To simulate my camera load, I tested it for the first time with 1.25oz of lead. After a few flights, I removed my original shock absorbers made from rubber wine corks.

Click here for my build review thread on the Flamewheel 450 clone.


ST450 Quad

My first quad build was the ST450 quad in an "X" configuration. This was a rugged test quad with no real lifting goals. I simply wanted to learn about the KK1 controller board with the v4.7 firmware and its flight stability capability.

The frame reminded me of my old erector set when I was a kid. Fortunately, the ST450 doesn't have any of the sharp edges that my erector set had.

Here are a few flying photos of my ST450 "Erector Set" Quad. Even with the arms bent in slightly different directions, the KK1 board with v4.7 firmware keeps it quite stable. The ST450 just has too much hardware to come loose and the arms can be bent out of alignment. I decided to replace the ST450 with a DJI Flamewheel 450 clone and have much less maintenance.

Click here for my build review thread on the ST450 quadcopter.

The learning curve on my first quadcopter was an incredible amount of fun!


Parrot AR.Drone 1 and 2

My first quads wer the Ready-To-Fly AR.Drones from Parrot in France.

The Parrot AR.Drone is the first quadricopter that can be controlled by an iPhone, iPod Touch, or even an iPad. It is a groundbreaking device combining the best of many worlds, including modeling, video gaming and augmented reality (or AR). Equipped with two integrated video cameras, ultrasonic altimeters, gyro sensor, an accelerometer, and an intelligent autopilot, the AR.Drone is incredibly easy to fly both indoors or out.

For my full review on the AR.Drone 1, go here.

The AR.Drone 2.0 version has a higher resolution 720p HD camera (30fps - 92° angle). Video storage on the fly with Wi-Fi directly on your remote device or now on a USB Key. A whole set of new sensors and high-end technological refinements for sharper controls and improved control even in the higher altitudes. An "Absolute Control" mode for intuitive piloting for beginners which moves your AR.Drone 2.0 in the same direction you move your tablet, whatever the orientation. A new acrobatic flip move, lets you perform barrel rolls as you are flying!

For my AR.Drone 2 thread go here.