I am in the Midwest United States, so all currency/location/standards references are from that background.
The essentials for the build can be divided into a few parts. At first the list seems simple.
The Truth About the Essentials:
There is a large number of combinations for what will/can work in this build. There are different transmitters (everyone has a favorite and they range from $10-1000+), receivers ($5-50+). batteries ($7-50+), chargers ($5-200+), and tricopters/multicopters ($150-1000+). You also have to think about buying spares/multiples of various components. Reducing all of this down to a reasonably effective build took me a while, but I ended up with what follows in this blog post.
General Characteristics of My Build:
Most things that could be bought cheaply, were bought cheaply. This means that I bought everything I could from www.HobbyKing.com. HobbyKing is known for having very cheap prices, but a long processing/shipping time (and fairly pricey shipping). Also, I bought a few things from ebay. All in all, I bought from five sources: SimpleCopter.com, HobbyKing.com, eBay.com, 9xrprogrammer.com, and ???. I tried to do it all in one night of purchasing, so everything that I thought I might need was included in the orders.
To give you an idea of the purchases I had to make, the list of vendors is below.
Transmitter - eBay
Receiver - HobbyKing
Battery - HobbyKing
Battery Charger - HobbyKing
Tricopter - SimpleCopter, Hobby King, 9xrprogrammer.com
Special Note: The 9xrprogrammer.com purchase is to buy a USB to Microchip programmer that taps into the electronic speed control (ESC) for each motor, which then rewrites the firmware that controls the ESC's behavior (flashes it to SimonK firmware). This is not necessary for the build, it just gives great performance with the ESCs that I chose to buy (it changes a electric plane ESC into a fast responding ESC suitable for multicopters). If you don't want to go through the work of modifying your own ESCs, that is FINE! You can buy ESCs that work well in their original form with no problem. (In the past few days, I have become aware of an ESC that has the same functionality as the modified ESCs, but the firmware is already built in for just a few dollars more [it is a new product on the market]. Hopefully this ESC works out nicely so you can just buy the best right away, instead of having to modify your own ESCs.)
General Comments About Components
Most people should buy at least a reasonably good radio transmitter. This means (from my limited experience) a Spektrum DX6i (www.HorizonHobby.com) as a minimum. The DX6i (DSM technology) is a six channel radio that can be digitally 'bound' to a digital (DSM) receiver with ease. It also has the necessary features that allow for tuning the flight characteristics of most airborne RC devices (planes, copters, multicopters). In general, what a person looks for is the ability to adjust servo signal ranges (how far the big the control signal can be [positive or negative]) and the shape of the control response (expo, i.e. exponential control response - low sensitivity at low stick displacement [reduces twitchiness] and high sensitivity at high stick displacement [allow for large response with large stick displacement]).
The DSM technology seems to be the standard, that is why it was recommended in the transmitter part above. With that in mind, you can buy the standard DSM receiver from www.HorizonHobby.com, but it is expensive. A workaround is to buy the OrangeRX receivers from HobbyKing.com. These seem to work very well and are very cheap in comparison ($6 for six channels and up for more channels).
The batteries needed for this build are lithium polymer in nature. Keep in mind that these batteries take more care than others (Like they could start a fire, so charge and use them with care). I don't know much about batteries but it seems that the HobbyKing.com Turnigy and Zippy batteries work just fine (and are very cheap), so I used those. Note: If any of your batteries start to swell or smoke, don't use them anymore (you probably overcharged them or discharged them too quickly). Beware, lipo batteries can catch fire (youtube - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-AoAYrEy-o).
There is a large range of chargers. If you want responsibly charge lithium polymer batteries (lipo), then you should get a balance charger. A lipo battery that is used for the tricopters will have either 3 or 4 cells, but care must be taken when you have multiple cells in one battery pack. The cells within the single battery pack should be charged independent of the other cells in the pack (this is what balance charging is). The balance charger will connect to the cells within the pack (via extra wires connected to the pack) and figure out the cell voltage for each cell in the pack, then charge them the way it thinks the pack needs to be charged. Care must be taken in buying a battery charger so that the lipo batteries are not overcharged (brought to too high of a voltage) because they will start a fire (youtube - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-AoAYrEy-o).
With that in mind, do yourself a favor and buy a decent charger. Decent doesn't mean extremely expensive, but certainly get a somewhat sophisticated balance changer that works with your battery pack (depends on the number of cells you have - 3 or 4). You can buy balance chargers that will charge anywhere from 1 cell all the way up to 6 cells (and probably more). If you want to balance charge more than one battery at a time, you have to buy a charger that has multiple channels. Inexpensive, reasonably good chargers can be had for around $25-30 a channel. Note that you may need to provide a high current 11-17 volt power supply for them (like a computer or laptop power supply).
I don't have the time to build my own tricopter completely from scratch, but I still wanted to build it. This means that I essentially bought plug-and-play parts (except for the ESCs, see the ESC note about flashing with SimonK). I bought the frame from SimpleCopter.com. Dave Hall makes these very durable and portable tricopter frames in his own operation (Made in USA). He also supplies some components that ease a SimpleCopter.com build (like landing gear, a clevis for the tail boom servo, a JST connector for the flight board, spare parts). Also, he is an absolutely amazing flyer and hilarious dude (check out and subscribe to his youtube channel - http://www.youtube.com/user/hallstudio?feature=watch). His build videos are what made me confident that I could build my own with no problems and they are not boring even one bit. You owe it to yourself to check them out.
The seemingly small list of electronic components needed to build the tricopter are:
Electronic Speed Controls
Wiring for wire harness
Flight Controller Board
Servo for tail motor rotation
Receiver (already covered in more detail before)
The list is deceivingly small, but you have to be careful in your choice of these components. In general, you need all of these components plus a bunch of things that you wouldn't think about if you were new to RC. For instance, you have to create your own wiring setup, and for this you need a soldering iron, solder (flux-cored or add flux to the list too), electrically insulating heatshrink wrap, a battery connector, proper gauge wire, bullet connectors to interface with the motors. Also, you need to mount the Flight Control Board (FCB) to the frame in a vibration damping way that keeps the vibrations from the spinning motor from being transferred to the micro electro-mechanical gyros inside (you do this using a hobby specific gyro tape). If you don't mount your board in this way, you might have erratic behavior of the copter. Also, much of the copter's electronics are held in place with either zipties or hot glue, so you have to get those supplies as well. What if you break some pieces? Won't spare help out? Won't some 5 minutes epoxy give you the tool you need to do some backyard mechanic work, allowing your bird to fly? Threadlocker so nuts don't vibrate off? Throw that in too.
To keep from boring you with an even longer block of text, I am going to jot down the entire parts list for everything, from each vendor. I hope this will give everyone the list they need to get their copter going.
|Frame||Simple Tricopter 2.0||http://www.simplecopter.com/simple-tricopter-2-0/||$39.99||New design. Fragile electronics are inside the body.|
|Servo/tail connection||Clevis and pivot||http://www.simplecopter.com/servo-to-rear-yaw-block-connector/||$5.00||Used to connect the servo arm to the yaw block.|
|Landing gear||Skids||http://www.simplecopter.com/skid-for-simple-tri-or-simple-t-copter/||$6.00||Does not come with mounting hardware.|
|Flight Board Connector||JST Connector||http://www.simplecopter.com/jst-connector/||$2.00||Gives power to flight board.|
SimpleCopter - www.simplecopter.com
Frame: Simple Tricopter 2.0 - http://www.simplecopter.com/simple-tricopter-2-0/
Clevis and arm/pivot: http://www.simplecopter.com/servo-to-rear-yaw-block-connector/
Landing Gear: http://www.simplecopter.com/skid-for-simple-tri-or-simple-t-copter/
JST Connector: http://www.simplecopter.com/jst-connector/
Remember that these guys have several warehouses (Hong Kong (they call it International), USA, DE, AUS, etc). You can't make purchases from two warehouses at the same time. Also, the best stocked warehouse is the International one. With all of that in mind, buy from the international warehouse if you want an easy experience (be prepared to wait a couple weeks for shipping).
I have organized the parts by system. Since a single order is so many things for HK, I hope that this list will just allow you to just go down it and add things you think you need. Then they will be added to your HK shopping cart in a sensible order (HK doesn't allow you to rearrange the items in your cart, and with a sizable cart it can be hard to see if you got everything).
eBay.com or HorzonHobby.com:
USB microcontroller programming device