DRONES ACCESSORIES

Quadcopter Flight Controllers: The Process Behind Every Quadcopter

Flight controller on quadcopter
Jack Brown
Written by Jack Brown

Ever wondered what makes the quadcopter what it is today? A dozen of processes definitely! A quadcopter requires a number of components in order to work smoothly and the flight controller is one of the most important in the list.

The quadcopter flight controller is basically the point of contact between the device and the user. Whatever information you feed into the transmitter will be conveyed to the quadcopter by means of the flight controller.

Basically, the flight controller is nothing but a circuit board that manages the functioning of the drone. If you want it to move in a certain direction, all you have to do is put in the controls and the circuit board will then manipulate the motors of the device likewise. It is basically the nervous system of the quadcopter.

Cyclemore 10DOF flight controller

Also, because the controller comes with so many sensors, they can give us accurate information with respect to the position and other details of the copter in the air. The efficiency of a quadcopter is hugely dependent on the flight controller as it is the component that processes all the functions and the controls that manage the flight of the drone.

Today, we are going to discuss the best flight controllers with all their important features.

Best quadcopter flight controller: Top 5 products in the market

Crazepony EMAX Skyline32 Naze32 Flight Controller

When we talk about one of the best quadcopter flight controllers we must mention the name of Crazepony. The Crazepony EMAX Skyline32 Naze32 Flight Controller is considered to be a top of the line flight controller.

For starters, in terms of compatibility, this controller is fully compatible with receivers like OLED, OSD as well as Spektrum Satellite Receivers, making it suitable for a huge range of receivers. In the product you will find a built-in compass which allows the user to understand the direction in which the quadcopter is going, hence allowing you to keep track of its movement.

Crazepony EMAX Skyline32 Naze32 Flight Controller

As far as the size of the controller is concerned, the dimensions of the product are 35mm x 35mm x 5mm, which makes it portable and easy to carry around. Moreover, the GPS position hold of the controller is a very important addition to the product, simply because of the fact that it will help the quadcopter return to base in case of any emergency.

Even more, you will be able to keep an eye on the battery voltage of the device, thanks to the battery voltage monitoring feature. In addition, to make sure that your quadcopter and the controller are safe, there is a built-in low voltage alarm to let you know of any anomalies. You can also set up as well as configure the product with the help of the onboard Micro USB.

Apart from the basic features, you will also find a magnetometer gyro which will assist in the flight of the quadcopter. Moreover, there is also some space where you can set up an accelerometer, barometer, which can only be an advantage for the user.

It is due to all these features, the controller is often considered to be an apt replacement for Naze32 and CC3D controllers and makes it the next generation controller for QAV250 quadcopters.

If you like this product you can find and check its price here.

Hobbypower KK2.15 Multi-rotor LCD Flight Controller

Next up on our list is a top of the line flight controller, which will give its contemporaries a run for their money. The first thing we will look into is the ease of set up which gives this controller a definite advantage over the others. The software version used on the board is the V1.9S which has a reputation for making the setup process a lot easier as compared to any other software version.

This KK2.15 board supports considerable improvements in a number of areas. For starters, the sensors you find on the board are definitely better and updated to keep you up to date with the latest technology.

Hobbypower KK2.15 Multi-rotor LCD Flight Controller

Moreover, the memory and header pins are also improved in comparison with its predecessors. The KK2 feature of the controller makes sure that things which are plugged into the controller are correctly placed and are not in the wrong ports.

There are two particular sub-features which assist the KK2 here and they are the fuse protected buzzer and voltage sense header. These two additional features are duly updated with added polarity protection being given to the voltage sense header.

Moreover, the voltage sense line is given a red color and has been updated to provide a better degree of accuracy to assist the users efficiently. In addition, extensive updates are given to the KK gyro system with the introduction of the 6050MPU system to make sure that any concerns with flight stability are duly taken care of.

Like this great product? Then you can buy it here.

CycleMore NAZER 32 10DOF Flight Controller

The third product on our list is already making a lot of noise in the market, thanks to some unique features it boasts of. The CycleMore NAZER 32 10DOF is a state of the art controller and deserves your attention.

Firstly, this is a product which comes with a magnetometer, otherwise known as a compass. This is an integral part of any flight controller as it allows the user to be aware of the direction the quadcopter – a must for a proper and uninterrupted flight. In addition to this, there is also a barometer that the controller houses.

CycleMore NAZER 32 10DOF Flight Controller

The primary job of this barometer is to measure the altitude letting the user know how high the quadcopter is flying. This helps you know whether the product is flying at a safe level or not. The dimensions of the flight controller are 36mm x 36mm and it is weighed at just 6 grams, so you can easily consider it as a lightweight product.

In order to shed some light, as far as the display is concerned, the manufacturer equipped it with extra-bright LEDs to ensure that you don’t have any complaints here. Moreover, this flight controller is said to have a really compact kit which includes breakout cables, mounting screws, bent headers, straight headers, set of standoffs, and the likes.

Last but not least comes the set up of the controller which is more or less easy to use and the product can be easily configured with any MultiWii software.

If you interested in this product you can buy it on Amazon.

Andoer QQ SUPER Flight Control Board

The next flight controller on our list comes from the reputed house of Andoer. The Andoer QQ SUPER Flight Control Board has a number of different features which makes it quite formidable.

The first one among many is the multi-rotor flight control – this particular feature enables it to work on a number of different types of quadcopters, therefore giving you options while choosing the right one for you. Moreover, it is said to support a number of different receivers which is crucial when it comes to flying a quadcopter.

Some of the receivers it usually supports are DSMX, DSM2, 11MS, etc. Hence, you are not devoid of options, although, it must be kept in mind that the flight controller itself does not come with any receiver.

Andoer QQ SUPER Flight Control Board

In terms of providing stability to the flight, this product does score high, thanks to the 3-axis gyroscope it has. This makes sure that your quadcopter doesn’t face any glitches in flight which is very important. In addition to this, you will also find a 3-axis acceleration sensor in the product which alerts you of any change in the acceleration of the quadcopter.

If you are looking for a product where the setup is easy, then this is the flight controller you should be looking for. Many users appreciate this as being one of the easiest to set up products.

If you interested in this product you can buy it here.

YKS Openpilot 32 Bit CC3D Flight Controller

If you are looking for a plug & play device, then there is nothing better than the YKS CC3D Flight Controller. It is considered to be a high speed product, which enables you to take charge of your quadcopter like no other.

The feature you need to know about first, is the CCD3 – this one is responsible for giving you that crisp feeling you get when flying an object whether it is a quadcopter, an octocopter, a tricopter, and the likes. This flight controller supports Spektrum satellite receiver which is an important part of the entire process of flying a quadcopter.

YKS Openpilot 32 Bit CC3D Flight Controller

A unique part of the controller is the port flexibility you will find here as it is equipped with the innovative Flexi-Port Technology. Moreover, you will find a small PCB which measures only 36mm x 36mm and is in control with the reduction and control of electric noise. It also has a considerable impact on the overall flight of the quadcopter.

In addition, the flight controller comes with a 3-axis gyroscope array which takes care of the flight stability, a factor which plays an integral part in the overall quality of a quad. The software which enables you to configure it is said to be compatible with Linux, Windows and Mac.

This flight controller doesn’t require any drivers and can work simply with USB support, something which makes it faster than other flight controllers.

Like this amazing product? Then you can buy it here.

Uses of a flight controller

When it comes to flying a quadcopter, the pilot has absolute control. However, it is close to impossible to control all the four motors at once. This is where the flight controller comes in. This small circuit board is capable of channeling the RPM of each motor of the device in response to the input fed into it.

For instance, a pilot just feeds in the command to move forward in the flight controller. This device then works on the command and decides how to manipulate the motors to achieve this goal.

Flight controller for quadcopter

The flight controller is an essential component of the whole setup as this is what gives the user the power to maneuver the device according to his/her desires. But, if you’re a beginner is a bit difficult to imagine how a flight controller looks like or does. So, let’s see, in detail, what these flight controllers actually do.

  • Firstly, the flight controller receives the signals from the operator’s transmitter. This allows the commands and instructions of the user to reach the quadcopter midair.
  • The flight controller is also useful for functioning alongside sensors that are placed on board for a smooth flight. These would include devices like an accelerometer, gyroscopes and the likes.
  • The controller has yet another function. A quadcopter is a multirotor that comes packed with four different motors. Each motor has a specific speed. So, the flight controller is capable of computing the speed of each of the four motors, and then it sends a signal to the Electronic Speed Controllers or ESCs. This facilitates a smoother flight.

But there is something really interesting about flight controllers. Each of these functions mentioned above can be performed by the quadcopter flight controller numerous times, which leads to an efficient flight. The devices actually come equipped with a number of sensors in order to help them do the calculations for the motor speeds and the likes.

Sensors in a flight controller

Different quadcopter flight controllers come with different sensors. Below is a list of some of the most common sensors available with these programmable controllers.

The Accelerometer

First and foremost, almost all flight controllers have an accelerometer. This is essentially a device that measures the linear acceleration of the copter in a 3-axis system. This sensor gives an output that allows the user to make an idea of the position of the drone.

The simple fact that an accelerometer is able to detect and respond to gravity means that it stays stable in the air, ensuring a smooth flight. The correct way to mount an accelerometer on to a flight controller board is by aligning the linear axis of the device with the primary axis of the UAV.

The Gyroscope

Just like the accelerometer, the gyroscope is useful for measuring the rate of angular change. Once again, this can be measured up to 3 axes. However, you need to do some iteration in order to get the angle. The rotational axis of the sensor should align with the UAV axis.

Inertia Measurement Unit (IMU)

This part of the quadcopter flight controller consists of both the gyroscope and the accelerometer. There are some systems that combine the use of a magnetometer and the likes.

The Magnetometer

As the name suggests, this sensor is basically an electronic compass placed on the controller board. This is especially required to align the drone’s direction as compared to the magnetic field of the earth.

The Barometer

A barometer, as we know, is a device for measuring pressure. A pressure sensor on the drone can give us an accurate value of the height of the device from the sea level. The most accurate information about the height is given by the combination of the pressure sensor and the GPS altitude.

The distance sensor

A distance sensor is being incorporated in the most modern quadcopter flight controllers. This basically improves on the height value given by the pressure sensor or the barometer. A distance sensor can be ultrasonic, laser or lidar technology.

How to choose the best controller?

There are different types of quadcopter flight controllers in the market and, to help you decide on best one, below are some factors you could consider.

Flying style

Before we jump into purchasing a quadcopter and wanting to fly it like a pro pilot, we need to understand that there are different styles of flying and one flight controller is usually best suited for one specific style.

Arduino flight controller

So first make a choice on your flying style. Here are some options:

  • Cinema flying – This is a term used to denote flying purposes that are essentially meant for obtaining smooth videos. These might be used for the purposes of moviemaking as well. For this, you will need to have a flight controller that has dampened flight characteristics and slow control stick rates. The latter means that you will have to maneuver it slowly, instead of giving it a sudden push.
  • Autonomous flying – This is another rather important style of flying. A lot of flyers, especially beginners, look to fly the quadcopter without using too many controls. For this, you would need a controller that is able to do maximum work like auto take-off and auto landing.
  • Sport flying – Sport flying is the most exciting and adventurous flying styles of all. This is also quite different from the other two since here, you would be required to make quick changes in the flight of the device and you would have to vary between very aggressive and very passive maneuvers. Also, if you are racing with other pilots, you would need your flight controller to support you in the quest. The device should be able to move on from fast roll rates and hold a particular angle. This is why a sports quadcopter flight controller is a real challenge to use.

Open source flight controller

This is another aspect you should keep in mind before you go and purchase the controls for yourself. In an open source board, you have the choice to bring in changes on to your board, add or remove features as and when desired.

Price

There are quadcopter flight controllers in different ranges in the market now, but you have to choose the best suited to your needs. For a beginner, it is best to opt for a cheap device since this might get damaged within time. If you choose to go for an expensive control board, make sure the quality of the setup is strong enough for the money.

Here are a few features to keep in mind for a good flight control:

  • Gyro stabilization – this allows the pilot to keep the quadcopter stable in midair and well under control.
  • Self-leveling – this is a rather useful feature that allows the quadcopter to stay level in the air by letting go of the pitch.
  • Orientation mode – a quadcopter having an orientation mode gives the pilot the chance to control the orientation of the drone.
  • Altitude hold – this feature allows the quadcopter to hover and remain stable at a certain distance from the ground level and the pilot does not have to keep adjusting the throttle.
  • Position hold – similar to the altitude hold, this feature allows the quadcopter to stay at a fixed position or location.
  • Return home – this is a special feature that is present in a lot of copters which allows the device to return to its initial position of takeoff even when the flyer loses control.
  • Waypoint navigation – this is another exciting feature in a copter. By virtue of this quality, the device can follow a few points marked out on a map as part of the flight plan.
  • GPS – this feature has been gaining a lot of importance lately. It not only allows the device to maintain its position but also keeps a record of the flying data for convenience.

Not sure what model to buy?

If you still haven’t decided, take into consideration the things mentioned below. Keep in mind that all these information come from people who already tested these flight controllers and are happy with the result.

One of the most powerful and best quadcopter flight controllers is the Crazepony EMAX. This is suitable for people who have some prior experience in flying and using flight control boards. It is also very easy to install, making it a user-friendly device. As reported by the users, the compass is an exciting additional feature to the quadcopter.

Talking about control board sensors, the HobbyPower LCD flight controller is another convenient option. This has the most updated sensors for the benefit of the users and has been specially designed to suit the needs of both the amateurs and the experts.

The LCD screen makes it especially useful for all the operators. Also, the settings are preconfigured and you will not have to do the computer set up. The plastic case, however, might be a little fragile.

While we consider the strength of the flight control and the durability, let us look into the Cyclemore 10DOF flight controller. It comes packed with MultiWii installation and that is one of the biggest advantages of the device. It also comes with straight and bent headers. However, you will need to solder the pins on to the board.

When it comes to setups, the Andoer product is one of the most convenient to use. All you have to use are the switches and you are all set to go. This can also be attributed to the fact that the instructions were easy to understand and follow. But you will need to calibrate each of the four ESCs individually. However, this gives you a power packed performance assuring you a smooth flight.

This brings us to the YKS CC3D flight controller, which strives to give us a very stable flight. The simplicity and the user-friendly interface are what will draw you to the device. With a suitable quadcopter, you can even do a few flips.

Overall, flight controllers are important to quadcopters in order to have a safe and smooth flight. However, there ups and downs with these products and below are listed some of the most important ones.

Pros

  • The flight controllers come equipped with a number of sensors that give us accurate information about the drone, including the pressure, the height, the direction and the likes.
  • These devices convey the instructions and commands of the user to the quadcopter in order to give it some directions.
  • The controller can also help control and manipulate the motors in order to attain the desired speed for the quadcopter.
  • However, there are some disadvantages using a flight controller as well.

Cons

  • A quadcopter flight controller is a very fragile object and can get damaged very easily due to the windy conditions or a few occasional crashes. So you have to be ready to get replacement parts as and when required.
  • Some of the sensors need to be wrapped or protected with foam, lest the winds break them.

In conclusion, a flight controller is definitely an invincible and vital part of the quadcopter. Care should be taken while choosing it based on your requirements. Which one are you going to pick? Let us know in comments!

About the author
Jack Brown
Jack Brown

Jack is the Chief Pilot at MyDroneLab.com bringing experience, expertise and knowledge in this quite new industry. He is a graduate of the Drone/UAV Pilot Training Certificate program and member of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. Besides having all the necessary technical knowledge when it comes to drones, Jack and his team love to spend the time outside by the ocean, working on new features and teaching others how to pilot these amazing and exciting new robots.

  • Christopher Mills

    It’s very interesting how important is this item in any drone. It stores everything that allows it to fly, listens for commands from the controller and even allows you to rotate the camera.

    • I appreciate your views. It is like the brain of drone.

  • George Patterson

    I have bought the Crazepony EMAX Skyline32 Flight Controller and I must say I really liked it. It doesn’t have pins that stick out and make the drone to look ugly. It also has a really simple set up. I had no problems connecting it with my OSD controller, and the connecting itself was pretty easy. However, it is a really delicate flight controller that can be broken if not handled right.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience with us George 🙂

  • Mike Walker

    I got the CycleMore NAZER 32 10DOF and I’m amazed by it. Awesome flight controller. I think it is the best flight controller out there because it offers so much functionality. Great beginner flight controller.

    • Jack Brown

      Yes, it is one of the best beginner controller available on the market! Glad to know that you had great experience with it, and thanks for sharing!

  • Daryl Lu

    With the hobby fastly growing, there will be lots of options in the market. Choosing a quadcopter controller would be like choosing a car brand with lots of factors to consider. But for me, the most important features to look into are self-leveling (the ability of the controller to bring the craft to a level position when you let go of the sticks), position hold (the ability of the controller to hold a position using GPS signal against wind or other environmental factors), and the return-to-home feature (the ability of the controller to automatically return the quadcopter home if it looses signal with the transmitter).

  • Jack Brown

    I agree, those are the most important features in my book as well 🙂 Thanks for your opinion, Daryl!

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