In mid-2017 we shifted our stance on ARF miniquad racers. ARF quadcopters like the Wizard X220 showed the world that manufacturers could create a (semi) quality product that would use reliable off-the-shelf parts, fly well, and cost under $200. Prior to seeing just how good these ARF racers were, our suggestion to all readers was to build their own first quad. Now, we suggest that first-time pilots get into the hobby with an ARF racer for a variety of reasons.
Still, we recognize that this hobby is made up of a rather large crowd of DIY-type folks. I’m certainly one — I will almost always choose to build my own stuff, even at cost parity. To this end, I wanted to put together a list of quality parts that can net you a fantastic home-built quadcopter. My challenge was to beat the sub-$200 price point that most Chinese ARFs fall under these days. Note that even though I was going for cheap, none of these parts are the cheapest available. For this reason, the quadcopter you would build with this list would be better than many ARFs!
Another challenge was to purchase all of these parts at a single retailer. Buying parts from two, three or more retailers can quickly swamp you in shipping fees that kill any potential savings by going the DIY route. The retailer I chose for this list is Banggood — they maintain a huge stock of quadcopter parts, ship worldwide with ludicrously low rates and have an advertising program which greatly supports our site. One note with Banggood: their prices are always “sale” prices. What I list here may not be the current price of any of these parts, but should average out.
Almost Ready to Fly (ARF) Parts List
The parts list in this section includes everything you’ll need to build an equivalent quadcopter to an ARF-style quad (e.g. one that does not include Transmitter / Batteries / Goggles).
Frames are always a personal aesthetic choice. I really like the latest look that many manufacturers are going with that feeds off of the Armattan Chameleon: pure X, small body, protective camera cage and short flight controller stack. Here are two great options available on Banggood:
Check out this build guide from Whiffles for the TransTEC Frog.
Flight Controllers / VTX
I’m a pretty big fans of the combined Flight Controller and VTX boards that have been popping up on the market lately. Now that the flight controller directly controls the VTX through software combining them saves you space, time spent wiring and cost. The big downside is if you burn out a VTX chip by powering it on for an extended period of time without an antenna, it will cost you a lot of money.
Since Betaflight development is locking into the F4 chipset more and more each release, we recommend that all newer folks stick with that chipset.
HGLRC F4 V6PRO $64 – I like HGLRC’s products and this FC seems like a winner. It is a combined FC+PDB+VTX which will fit well in the smaller frames I recommended.
EXUAV Flytower F4 Pro V2 $101 – This compelling FC has all the electronics your quad will need: FC+PDB+VTX+ESCs. Do not buy ESCs (next section) if you buy this FC!
NTXF4 Omnibus $40 – I had to put this FC in the list because it seems like an absolute steal at $40 for a FC+VTX. The specs look great, but it is from an unknown manufacturer and has no reviews at the time of this writing. Note the lack of VBAT pads for the ESCs. Buy at your own risk.
Our ESC pick was an easy one. The ESC market has been pretty stale lately with almost every BLHeli_S ESC performing equal to each other. We have been using Racerstar ESCs for a couple of years now and have never had any problems. For their cost, they are a no-brainer.
Racerstar RS30A Lite BB2 x4 – $40 – Note that you can pick up the BB1 models and save $6. They will fly fine but we recommend you stick with the BB2s.
DYS is currently selling the “Samguk” series of motors as their budget offering to the market. DYS has a great reputation in the hobby and these motors are a total steal at $10/pc. They even have the latest in-vogue motor design with the bell bottom chopped off to save weight. Samguk motors come in one of three sizes: “Wu” is 2206, “Shu” is 2306 and “Wei” is 2207. We recommend the “Wu” 2206 since they are more likely to fit into many spec classes, though the “Shu” 2306 will likely produce slightly more thrust at the cost of more weight.
Similar to ESCs, this pick was a fairly easy one. If you want an inexpensive FPV camera, the best option is still the 600TVL SuperHAD CCD cameras. There are cheaper cameras, but this camera is a classic that will fit most frame designs and will not disappoint.
600TVL SuperHAD – $25
Picking the first option from every section above nets you a subtotal of $196. Goal met — and this would be one sweet quadcopter, at that!
Making it Ready To Fly (RTF)
To get your quadcopter ready-to-fly, you’ll need a few more items. Here are our recommendations:
Radio Control TX/RX
Get an FrSky Taranis X9D. It’s not cheap at $200 but it is the best on the market. Every other guy at your local flying club will be using one and knows how to use one. It also has great resale value if you decide the hobby is not for you. The FrSky XM+ receiver is a cheap, lightweight receiver built for quadcopters that works great with the X9D.
If you simply cannot afford a Taranis, FlySky radios are very good alternatives for under $100. Just make sure you get a FlySky iBus capable receiver instead of the
This is a tough recommendation since everyone has a slightly different face / eyes and will prefer different goggles. For my money, I love my Eachine EV800Ds and would absolutely recommend them on the lower-end of the market. If you are looking to invest a bit more money into the hobby and want FatShark-style goggles like the pros wear, consider FatShark Dominator goggles or Aomway Commanders.
Some FPV gear comes with antennas, but they are almost always garbage. Do yourself a favor and drop $10 to get a pair of Pagoda antennas. Make sure you consult the manual or product page of both your FPV goggles and the VTX you purchase to buy the correct antenna polarity (SMA vs RP-SMA). See our antenna guide for more details.
Pagoda Antenna – $5 x 2 ($10)
We’ve collectively flown hundreds of hours on Banggood’s Infinity branded LiPo batteries. They are every bit as robust and power-rich as the big name brands but come in at a fraction of the price. 1500mAh or 1300mAh will work, we recommend the larger packs for beginners.
Make sure you pick up a few of these, I would recommend a minimum of 2.
Infinity 1500mAh 4S LiPo – $19 x 2 ($38)
Picking all the components from above and including the cost of the quadcopter parts, you could be flying for $556.