3D Printing a Drone
I purchased a Flashforge Creator Pro a few months ago and love it. I have been printing all sorts of neat things with it. But after printing a few basic statues, figures, and random parts for things I decided to take on a more difficult project. After scouring Thingiverse for hours finding all kinds of fun projects, I came across a drone called the Crossfire 2. I started reading about it and instantly got excited. Not only do I love 3D printing but I also had a new fascination with drones. When I was living in San Diego I came across a drone event that was going on at a park. My roommate and I stopped to check it out. There was people FPV (First Person View) drone racing, vendors were set up, and they even had drones to give away. I didn’t purchase a drone or win one that day but it definitely sparked my interest in them. I knew that the Crossfire 2 was what I had to build next!
Choosing Your Parts
I started by reading all the directions. Once I was thoroughly confused by all of them, I turned to Youtube and Google for answers. The actual guts you choose for your drone can vary. After reading a lot of articles on how to select your motor size, battery, ESC’s, props, and the flight controller I ended up choosing completely different hardware than what the original Thingiverse Crossfire 2 went with. Those are the vital parts of your drone. You can also get fancy and add a gimbal, FPV camera for racing, and all kinds of other things. So figure out what you want to use your drone for when choosing which parts. Also, remember you need 2 clockwise motors and 2 counter clockwise motors.
The Guts I chose:
- Flight Controller: Naza-M Lite
- Motor: DJI Phantom 3 Motor 960KV
- Props: Phantom 3 9450 Self-tightening Propellers
- ESC’s: TURNIGY Plush 30amp Speed Controller w/BEC
- Battery: Multistar LiHV High Capacity 5200Mah 4S Multi-Rotor Lipo Pack
- Remote: Turnigy 9X 9Ch Transmitter w/ Module & 8ch Receiver (Mode 2)
Printing Your Drone Pieces
Unfortunately, 3D printers aren’t exactly main stream. They may be hard to come across if you don’t live in a big city. In San Diego, the library offered 3D printers for anyone to sign up for and use. So be sure to check the internet to see if your community has a similar offer. If you can’t find a local 3D printer, you can order 3D prints online at various places. I purchased the Flashforge Creator Pro and I could not be happier with it. It prints fantastically accurate models. I chose to use ABS plastic for this project as it is much stronger than PLA. Some pieces of the drone will need to be printed with different infills. Follow the printing directions that you downloaded from Thingiverse and printing should go smoothly.
I also made a little time-lapse of the drone arms being printed. These printers are oddly fun to watch! Forgive my poor GoPro skills, this is the first timelapse video I’ve tried to make. I think it does a decent job showing the Flashforge Creator Pro print.
Putting It All Together
Once you get all of your pieces printed out it’s time to start assembling your drone! You will need to also purchase a bunch of M3 nuts and screws as well as a bunch of nylon m3 nuts, spacers, and screws. You can buy a giant kit of all the hardware off of Amazon. Take the m3 nuts and super glue them into all the spots shown to you in the directions. You will also add nylon spacers to the main body as highlighted in the Crossfire 2 directions. The next step will be getting the electronics ready.
Hopefully, you aren’t afraid of a little soldering as you will have to do a bit of it to get the drones electronics ready. If you are a bit nervous to solder just watch some YouTube videos, it’s really not to hard. Once you are ready, solder all of your electronics together. It’s pretty straight forward but the directions the Crossfire 2 comes with won’t be much help. I googled “how to build a drone” and I had plenty of links to learn from. Use heat shrink or electrical tape to make your solder joints look clean. For me, the soldiering went really smoothly and was one of the easier parts of the build. If you want you can buy bullet connectors to solder onto the ends of your wires to make connecting and disconnecting old/new parts easy. I ended up going this route and I am glad I did. My first couple of times trying to fly didn’t go so smoothly!
Continue to follow the directions and you will eventually have a fully built 3D printed drone that is ready to be programmed and paired to your remote. I found the Naza to be really easy to set up but it wasn’t the first flight controller I went with. I bought a generic cheap flight controller the first go around that I ended up bricking it trying to update the firmware. I got tired of messing with the generic flight controller and splurged on a Naza. Follow the instructions that DJI provides you with on the Naza to set it up correctly with the remote control/receiver that you purchased. Getting your remote control and receiver set up was honestly the most difficult part for me. If you have ever worked with a remote transmitter and receiver you will probably find this part easy. I wasn’t sure which wire went to what on the flight controller. The Turnigy remote control and receiver I purchased did not come with directions. Luckily though, you guessed it, I found a YouTube video showing how to connect my exact remote with my exact flight controller. Once I found this it was cake! Here is the video on how to program a Turnigy 9x with a Naza-M Lite.
Once you have everything wired up correctly it’s time to plug it into your computer and program it! Follow all the DJI software instructions and update the flight controllers firmware if available. You should now be able to see the input from your remote to the flight controller. Calibrate all the inputs and set up your flight modes, which should already be done correctly if you watched the video on how to program the Turnigy 9x with the Naza M lite. After all of the following is complete there is only one thing left to do…