Are you interested in becoming a drone hobbyist or potentially a drone operator for commercial use?
One key issue with learning about drones and how they operate is the mechanical makeup of a drone. Drones are simple devices made up of complex parts. In this article, we will make an attempt to break down the parts of a drone into more understandable parts and the function of each part.
Let’s start with the propellers.
Propellers: The propellers are the rotating blades that provide and direct thrust to a drone. They can be made of plastic, carbon fiber, or real wood depending on the manufacturer of the product. Propellers are attached to motors which power them via battery voltage. Plastic propellers are less expensive and usually break in collisions or when they hit an object in flight whereas carbon fiber propellers tend to bend in collisions with objects in mid-air.
Motors: The motor is an assembly that consists mainly of magnets, wire coils, copper conductors, PCB’s circuit boards, electronic speed controllers (ESC), and protective housings for components. The job of the motor is to spin very quickly in order for momentum to maintain directionality. Higher quality motors will have more poles so they spin faster at lower amperage draws with less heat dissipated per revolution. Brushless motors are the higher-end choice for hobbyists and professionals alike as they last longer than brushed counterparts while providing more power with less heat output per revolution (efficiency). Motors also come in different voltages such as 12v or 14.8v typically denoted by LiPo voltage levels.
Custom Motors: Many hobbyists and some commercial drone users choose to custom make their own motors. Motors can be purchased separately or in a kit. They are built from scratch by hand but can often cost more than the drone itself.
Remote Controls: A remote control uses a receiver that decodes signals sent from a transmitter through an antenna on the drone. The depth of field on the camera is set from this same controller and it sets different speed modes for the drone as well. Controllers have levers that control how fast and slow your device moves, which way it turns, etc…
Battery: The battery is utilized primarily for power to the motor(s) and electronic components of a drone during flight time. Depending on the manufacturer’s recommendations, high-quality batteries will have overcharge and over-discharge protection and will display voltage, amperage, and watt-hours.
Positioning Systems: Drones with positioning systems (GPS for example), such as DJI’s Phantom 3 series of drones can position themselves in space with precision even when no one is controlling the drone. This allows the device to travel a set course at a max speed determined by parameters set by the user or itself depending on which system you have.
Remote Control Batteries & Chargers: All RCs have built-in rechargeable battery packs that are typically high-quality Lithium Polymer cells. Controllers usually have charging ports where batteries slide into for recharging via USB port or wall adaptor charger.
Propeller Guards: Propeller guards for drones serve two purposes. The first is that they prevent you or others from coming into contact with rotating propellers that could cause significant injury to a person’s body. Second, they protect the propellers themselves when crashing into objects during normal use, which also prevents the replacement of blades after every crash.
Motors & Mounting Brackets: Motors come attached to brackets that can be secured to specific places on the drone depending on the type of mounting. For example, motors that are designed to be attached to the bottom of a drone usually have larger motors that attach with zip-ties or small screws.
Battery Chargers: Drones utilize rechargeable batteries that are similar to your phone or laptop’s battery pack albeit much larger for obvious reasons. Low-quality drone batteries may only have one voltage level which could lead to dangerous overcharging and overheating along with reduced battery life.
The Drone Body: A good drone will have at least some type of body that serves two purposes. First, it protects the internal components of the drone against any damage that could be caused by crashes or just general wear and tear over time. Second, it determines how easily your device can break apart for transport or storage depending on the size of the UAV.
The Drone Landing Gear or Legs: Landing gear for drones come in different shapes and sizes, but all serve the same purpose which is to protect your UAV’s body and other components from getting damaged when landing on various surfaces. The majority of drones have four legs that extend outwards from the corners of their respective devices.
There are a lot more specific parts for each drone and even drone manufacturer-specific parts; this is a basic list to familiarize yourself with the basics. Starting out as a drone hobbyist is fun and enjoyable, especially when you begin to learn the components that make up a drone. As you begin to learn more, we recommend reading some of the FAA guidelines for drone hobbyists and those thinking about getting into commercial drone operations. FAA drone guidelines for hobbyists can be found here. https://www.faa.gov/uas/recreational_fliers/