Image source: Unsplash
Propeller and Quad Drones have become one of the fastest growing pieces of technology from the last decade. The marketplace has been flooded with drones for every purpose, be it commercial mapping, professional film production, or personal recreation. There are as many models of drones as there are types of cars, but that doesn't change the basic drone parts required for flight. Today, we want to go over the essential drone parts you should be familiar with before taking to the skies with your very own quadcopter.
How Do Drones Take Flight?
The most common type of drone is the quadcopter, a four-prop machine that uses propeller-generated lift to take to the air. The concept here is not much different from a helicopter where a large rotating propeller generates enough thrust to lift the object off the ground. The big trick with a quadcopter drone (which we will just call a “drone” from here on out) is using four precisely balanced propellers to not only lift the machine but to move it in different directions at different speeds.
This directional control is initiated by adjusting the thrust of one or more of the propellers. By accelerating different combinations of props you can shift the balance of flight and change the directional movement of the drone. The basic concept here is simple enough to understand, but the underlying science and technology behind this balance can be complicated. Fortunately, the hard work of balancing the drone is handled by a series of drone parts, with each designed for a specific and critical function.
This article will go over the ten drone parts necessary for flight. If you want to be an expert drone pilot, then it's critical you know how each of these pieces works to take your machine to the skies.
Are There Different Types Of Drones?
Yes, there are drone types other than the traditional quadcopter style. The most common deviations are multi-prop drones that use anywhere from six to twelve different propellers. These types of drones are usually much larger and geared toward professional or competitive uses. These aren't necessarily more maneuverable than a quadcopter, but they generate a significantly higher amount of lift.
Therefore, they can carry heavier payloads, such as professional film cameras. Some of these other large drones have been developed as delivery vehicles that can send small packages into more remote and difficult-to-reach areas. The other common type of drone is the fixed wing or flying wing style. These look less like helicopters and more like science fiction jet planes.
The most common style of fixed-wing drone looks strikingly similar to the B-52 bomber, a large, single wing that sweeps back on both sides. These are more geared towards faster speed and higher altitudes since the fixed-wings provide the added lift of a traditional plane.
These also conserve power because the wings give the drone the ability to glide for long periods of time. Though these are technically in the “drone class” of aerial vehicles, they have more in common with model planes than they do a quadcopter.
What Drone Parts Are Required For Flying?
While there's a myriad of variations to the standard drone, there will always be a basic system of propellers, motors, and centralized processors needed to take flight. These ten drone parts are the essential elements you'll encounter when maintaining and servicing your quadcopter-style drone. If you want to pilot a drone safely, it's important to know the basic functions each of these parts and how they work together to control the drone.
1. Standard Propellers
The standard propellers, also known as props, are the main source of lift for the drone. These are arguably the most important drone parts. If these are damaged or not functioning properly, then the whole machine has no chance of flying, regardless of the conditions. The standard props are most often constructed of lightweight, durable material, much like hard, processed plastics, ultra-cast aluminum, or carbon fiber.
These propellers are the first drone parts you should inspect before clearing the model for flight. The slightest bit of wear or other damage can become a serious problem mid-flight. These will move incredibly fast and are subject to sudden changes in speed and direction, and that kind of movement exasperates any existing damage. It is highly recommended that you invest in spare propellers when purchasing a drone.
2. Pusher Propellers
The pusher props are responsible for the forward and backward thrust of the drone. These drone parts are crucial for the safe operation of the machine because they cancel out the torque from the standard lift props. These are often smaller than the standard props and are located on the back of the drone.
They are often made of the same materials as the main props and include a grill or face guard.
While the standard props generate the lift for the machine, they also put an extreme amount of rotational torque on the whole body. The pusher props move in a contrary motion, generating a counter-balance to that torque. This is where more advanced physics come into play with modern drones. This counterbalance must be precise. Otherwise, the rotational momentum of the drone will throw it off balance and it will drop like a stone.
3. Booms & Engine Mounts
The booms are the arms that extend out from the central body of the drone, and the engine mounts sit at the end. These are fairly self-explanatory, but don't let that simplicity fool you. The booms and engine mounts absorb most of the negative torque from the movement of the drone.
The fast directional movement of the drone puts an extreme amount of pressure on the booms and mounts, so these need to be equal parts lightweight and tough. You should always check your mounts and boom connections before a flight to make sure you don't lose a prop or motor while operating the drone.
4. Landing Gear
The landing gear, which is sometimes referred to as the landing sleds, can come in many forms. In fact, this is the most diverse of the drone parts, and it can come as a simple padding sled, a drop peg system, or even a fully automated, retracting armature.
The most typical landing gear is the sled which is a simple pair of cross pads that resemble the base of a winter sled. These cross pads usually have some flexibility to allow for a soft touchdown when you land.
The motors on a drone are not your standard electrical motors. Drones use a brushless motor, which is lighter and can move at a higher speed than an electromagnetic or brushed motor. Without the usual bushings and copper brushes used in most electrical motors, these small servos can move faster with less directional drag. A typical motor uses copper or ferrous-magnetic material to spin the components within the casing, but that causes a lot of directional torque and vibration.
A brushless motor uses a frictionless system to drive the internal screw, which allows the onboard computer to change directions. The ability to rapidly change the spin on the motors is crucial because it's necessary to pilot the drone effectively. That's why these type of brushless motors are ideal for drones. The life of these parts can be short, depending on the manufacturer, so you might have to replace them a couple of times over the life of a drone. It's important to check these drone parts every couple of flights so you can make sure they are running at full capacity.
6. Flight Controller and Onboard Computer
The flight controller and onboard computer function like the brain of the drone. They form your hands-off center of control. The flight controller and onboard computer receive data from the transmitting remote, the electronic speed controllers, and any other sensors on the machine.
This highly advanced piece of hardware then processes that data into the props and motors. This is a balance between your instructions from the ground and the ESC system, as both work in tandem through the onboard computer to maintain balance and directional control.
7. Remote Control & Transmitter
If you've ever used a toy RC car or flown a light model plane, then you already have a basic understanding of how a drone remote works. There are different versions of remotes, in both control type and transmitter. The most common remotes work with a radio frequency transmitting system.
This sends your directions to the drone through the air without losing the signal. The technical controls are usually a double-stick, with one operating the directional controls while the other adjusts the altitude and speed.
8. Electronic Speed Controllers
The electronic speed controllers, or the ESC, is the balanced system of propeller movement based around a central processor. This system communicates with the interior central computer to help maintain the rotational speed, direction, and balance of the props.
This is one of the more advanced drone parts, as it's a self-regulating control system that takes all the guessing out of the equation. An intricate program maintains the plane-balance of the drone, adjusting the standard lift props in speed and rotation as you send information from the transmitter.
9. Control Receiver
The control receiver can come as an infrared receiver or a standard antenna. The type will depend on your remote controller, so if you're using a traditional radio transmitter for your remote, then you will probably have a high-yield receiving antenna somewhere on the top or bottom of the body.
These aren't complicated pieces, but it's imperative they work without a problem or you could suddenly lose control from the ground.
The heaviest of the drone parts you will deal with is the battery. The world will beat down the door of the scientist that develops a reliable, multi-use, lightweight electrical battery. That technology is the driving force of automated vehicles, drones included. While the batteries are simple, they are no less important to the well being and safe operation of your drone.
Not all batteries are equal, so it's very important that you understand the limitation of the electrical source on your drone. The flight time of your drone will depend on the abilities of your battery pack, so the better the battery, the higher the electrical capacity. That higher capacity means a longer flight time, which is what can separate a poor quality drone from a high end one.
Non-Essential Parts And Variations
While the ten drone parts we discussed above are essential to safe flying and control of the drone, there might be other parts included that you should know about. Though these components aren't necessary for standard flight, your particular model of drone might include these advanced parts. It's good to know what you're looking at when shopping for new models, so keep an eye out for these advanced features.
Cameras and Video Recorders
Basic cameras are the most common feature found on consumer-grade drones. There will most likely be a POV camera for guided flight, which puts you in a virtual cockpit inside the drone and makes it easier to fly.
There may also be a professional camera on board designed for HD recording or filming. There's massive variation in these cameras, so be sure to check the resolution and control system to make sure you're getting the right camera for your needs.
Onboard GPS & Telemetry Recorder
One of the more advanced drone parts you'll encounter is an onboard GPS or telemetry guidance computer. This is a separate system from the ESC and internal processor. This is a feedback-heavy module that uses GPS and onboard sensors to record the detailed flight path of your drone.
These are common with commercial-grade drones that are designed for surveying land or tracing property lines. These GPS modules will communicate with targeted satellites, much like the GPS on your phone, to document the precise latitude and longitude of the drone.
Gimbal and Camera Motor Control Module
If you're using your drone for filming, be it personal or commercial, then consider a gimbal mounted system. A gimbal is an armature that moves the field of view for the camera, giving you an option to move the shot independently from the movement of the drone.
This is ideal for anyone that needs to choreograph specific shots from the onboard camera. The advanced modules will have a servo control for the gimbal, allowing you to move your camera on the fly.
Collision Avoidance Sensors
The more expensive a drone gets, the more likely it is to have an advanced collision avoidance system. This is a collection of sensors on the drone that monitor the objects surrounding the unit.
These sensors feed into a dedicated computer that detects possible collisions. This system can then notify you of impending calamity, or more often than not, take temporary control from the user and safely move the drone out of danger.
Some Final Thoughts On Drone Parts
The ten drone parts we highlighted above comprise the basic parts with which you should be familiar, but the world of drones doesn't stop there. As these flying machines become more popular, there will be even more variations introduced into the market.
If you're interested in joining the world of recreational flying, or if you need a mobile solution for your business, then you should look into getting a drone before the technology takes off and leaves you behind.