Starter long range setup

Many people have asked me about the best way to start exploring longer distances with miniquads, so I figured I’d write something up as a reference.

  1. Frame: I’d say start with a frame capable of six inch props. Which one? As long as it can fit your electronics of choice, it’s a matter of taste. My personal favorite these days (May 2018) is the iFlight xl6, but this is really the least important aspect. Because we try not to crash often when flying at range, you don’t need a strong and heavy frame. Lighter flies longer. I prefer having the option to bottom mount a battery as to not block the antennas, and this frame fits the bill.
  2. Radio: A month ago I would have said TBS Crossfire, but now you can get a FrSky R9M for under $50 and the R9 Slim receiver for $25. I’ve them, and the performance at a given power is comparable to the full size TBS Crossfire module at a fraction of the price. The only disadvantage is that the power is limited to 1W instead of 2W, but that really should not be a concern for most people. If you find yourself in need of more power, you are either flying in a very noisy environment or would do better with a different control frequency such as 433 Mhz.
  3. Video Transmitter: without a doubt, the best deal out there for “semi long range” is the AKK K31P,  a steal at $9. Cons: the power is fixed at 600mw, which could be a problem if you also want to fly with others. No smart audio, soldered antenna pigtail. You may want to look into other AKK models for the features, but 600-800mw is enough to go pretty far in the right environment.
  4. Video Receiver: I have had excellent results with the Eachine Pro58 flashed with the Achillez Plus firmware. I flew almost five miles with a miniquad using this receiver. You do not need an expensive receiver or a Clearview to fly far, this receiver will do just fine.
  5. Antennas: my favorite antenna by far is the TrueRC x2 Air. It’s not cheap, but it’s an investment. If you want to test the waters with a less expensive directional, try the x-air. From experience, you’ll get about 30% more range with the x2-air but this may not be important at first. On the quad, I prefer the 80mm Pagodas because they stand as far from the frame as possible. You might as well buy two and have one as the omni on your goggles.
  6. Motors, props, batteries: really anything goes here. If you’re going to fly 6″ props you want at least 2206 motors, kv doesn’t matter much because long range is about low and steady throttle. I’ve had good results with HQ 6045 biblades, but try a bunch and find your own favorite. I’ve put all sorts of batteries on 6″ quads, up to 5200 4S. I choose the battery for a particular goal. For example when I flew to Alcatraz I picked a 2300 4S because I wanted to be able to fly for at least six minutes carrying a GoPro.
  7. GPS: you absolutely want one for long range. Here are a couple that have worked well for me: RTFQ Ublox m8n, HGLRC m8n. At $15, you will be happy you invested in one.
  8. Miscellaneous: there are many scenarios in which you may have to look for your quad far away, using the last known GPS coordinates as a starting point. I haven’t tried any of the lost model beacons that have come out recently, but the Tile Sport made it easy to find my quad in tall grass a number of times. I don’t always put it on the quad, but it’s reassuring to have when I’m going to be flying over dense vegetation. Also, having a way to know if the spectrum is 900-Mhz friendly where you’re flying is nice. If you plan to fly a spot often, it may pay to sit there for a while with a laptop and an RTL-SDR dongle to make sure there are no powerful sources of 900 Mhz transmissions nearby.

Lastly, you may want to consider testing the alpha version of GPS Rescue that Mike Campbell and I have been developing for Betaflight. No matter how many precautions you take, you will failsafe or lose video if you push the limits. Having a quad that has a chance of coming back autonomously if everything goes wrong is comforting 🙂

Hope this is useful and happy exploring! If I forgot to mention something , please let me know in the comments.

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