In the article about buying my first drone I wrote that entering the quadcopters hobby was incredibly daunting. I was only able to pick out the parts I did by watching YouTube videos and buying the exact hardware that was being used, under the assumption that if they got it to work I would be able to. While this turned out to be true it definitely wasn't easy. There did not seem to be any starter guides that truly assumed you were coming in knowing absolutely nothing. 40 minute YouTube videos showing you how to "easily set up" your drone were equal parts boring and confusing.
When my AcroBee drone kit and Taranis X9D Plus arrived it was laughable at how little documentation was provided. The AcroBee was just a box of loose parts and the Taranis manual was literally more warnings that actual instructions.
The whole hobby seems to be predicated around the idea that some mentor taught you how to build and fly a drone in the past and now you're just doing it again. Every YouTube video and article I came across made everything sound so matter of fact when it was anything but.
After a couple of hours of banging my head against the wall and scrounging the Internet I was finally able to build, pair and fly my AcroBee drone with a Taranis X9D Plus transmitter. I now want to pass that information onto anyone who puts some combination of those terms into Goggle and hopefully finds this article.
Before you get started you are going to need some tools. At the bare minimum a #0x25 Phillips head screwdriver and very fine tweezers. Ideally the tweezers would be plastic (or plastic tipped) to minimize the chance you will damage the electronics.
You don't need this but a self-healing cutting mat is a great thing to have for hobbies where you are building stuff so I highly recommend you get one.
1. Build your AcroBee drone
It would be near impossible for me to describe in words how to build an Acrobee drone. You simply must see one get put together and thankfully NewBeeDrone (or at least one of their employees) has a very helpful YouTube video that does just that.
One thing you shouldn't gloss over is when you push the motors down. Be very careful not to pinch the cables that come out of the motor. It takes a lot of pressure to push the motors down but once they are in you're going to have a hell of a time moving them.
This also isn't explicitly mentioned in the video but just in case you are wondering, the micro-USB port on the bottom of the board is so you can connect your drone directly to a computer. The free floating cable is for the battery which slides into that little plastic cage on the underside.
Something else that should be brought to your attention is that these things get really hot, really fast. If you aren't actively using the drone unplug it, especially from your computer. Leaving it powered up for a long period of time is almost surely going to damage the electronics.
2. Pair the drone to your Taranis X9D Plus
You now have a fully built AcroBee drone but how do you get your Taranis X9D Plus to talk to it? Thankfully, NewBeeDrone has another video that talks about this.
For posterity's sake, I wanted to write out similar instructions just in case something happens to the video or if you can't watch it.
- Power up your Taranis X9D Plus by flicking the ON switch in the middle of the body upwards. If this is your first time turning it on don't worry about the warning screens that appear. Just press any buttons to get past them and to the main screen.
- Pressing the menu button should transition you to a screen with "Model Selection" in the top left corner. Below it should be a list starting at 1 that has a single entry with a generic name like Model001. This is the entry we are going to modify.
- Press the page button to drill into the model setup screen. Navigate to the bottom of this screen either by pressing down a lot or by pushing up once which will wrap around to the bottom of the screen.
- Ensure the "Mode" is set to "D8". You can modify it by navigating to the option, pressing the enter button and then pressing up/down until you see "D8".
- Ensure your "Channel Range" is set to "CH1-8" in the same way.
- Now it is time to put the drone into pairing mode. It needs to be powered on for this so ensure a battery is connected. The corner opposite the camera should have a bind button right next to an LED. Press and hold this button (your plastic tweezers are great for this) for a second and release. An LED that was previously blinking in the top right corner of the board should now be a solid color indicating the drone is in pairing mode.
- On the model setup screen of your transmitter navigate to the word "Bind" and press the enter button. Your Taranis should start beeping and the previously solid LED on the drone should start blinking. This indicates you have successfully bound them together. Based on the model and firmware of your Taranis it may even talk when the bind is successful.
So we now have our drone and transmitter talking to one another. That means we just move the sticks on the transmitter, the motors spin up and we're flying now right? Oh no young Padawan. We still have a long ways to go.
3. Connecting your drone to Betaflight
In my naivety I thought that these drones worked right out of the box. There was some sort of common frequencies or something they all worked on and once you had bound one to a transmitter you were ready to fly. I could not have been more wrong. Like most complex hardware you are able to configure it and that is done through some software called Betaflight.
The easiest way to download Betaflight is through the chrome web store but it will not be for long. Google is deprecating Chrome apps in its bid for world domination and someday you will only be able to get Betaflight from the project's GitHub page.
Once you have the software installed and running plug the AcroBee drone into your computer. You may just be able to hit the connect button in the top right hand corner and have it work. Otherwise look in the dropdown for something that sounds like it could be the drone. If you succeed you should see a 3D representation of your drone on-screen. If you pick it up and move it around the 3D model should move in tandem.
Now let's verify that your drone and transmitter and properly bound to one another. Click the "Receiver" menu item on the left hand side and you should be taken to a screen with a number of bars. If you start to move the sticks on your transmitter and the bars move then that means you're properly bound to your drone. Congrats!
Unplug your drone from the computer because we need to configure some more things on the transmitter and we don't want the drone to overheat and explode (not really explode but the electronics will get damaged).
4. Configuring "Arm" and "Mode" switches
Before you can fly your drone you need to "arm" it. I will readily admit I had absolutely no idea why I needed to do this but after I bound my drone to my transmitter and couldn't get it to fly I was ready to try anything.
NewBeeDrone's has another video that details how to do this and again I will write out the instructions just in-case.
- Power up your Taranis X9D Plus.
- Pressing the menu button should transition you to a screen with "Model Selection" in the top left corner. Select the model you want to configure. I am assuming it is the same generic Model001 entry we configured in step 2.
- Press the page button multiple times until you see "Mixer" in the top left hand corner. It was page 6 of 13 as of the firmware I used to configure my transmitter. The "Mixer" page should be displaying a list of channels and probably the first four will already be configured for things like throttle, pitch, etc.
- We need to configure "Channel 5" (which should be the first available channel) to be our arm switch. Navigate down to it and press the enter button.
- Navigate to the "Source" field and press the enter button. You are now binding whatever switch you toggle next to channel 5. I recommend a switch that has at least two states so you can "arm" and "disarm" your drone. The SB switch in the top left corner is what I went with. Once you've toggled the switch to any position you should see the "Source" field update to be that switch's name. Bonus: Navigate up to the "Mix name" field and change it to "arm".
- Now we need to do the exact same thing for our mode switch. Press the exit button, navigate to "Channel 6" and press the enter button. Select the "Source" field again and toggle another switch. I recommend one with three states (up, down, neutral) because we want to configure three modes. SA in the top left corner is what I used. Bonus: Navigate up to the "Mix name" field and change it to "mode".
Congratulations you have set up your transmitter to broadcast something when you toggle those two switches. Problem is your drone has absolutely no idea what they mean. Plug the AcroBee drone into your computer and connect to it via Betaflight again. We need to configure those two switches we set up by navigating to the "Modes" menu item. You're going to see a lot of blank rows with names beside them. You are looking for "Arm", "Angle", "Horizon", and "Air Mode".
If you click on "Add Range" under "Arm" a dropdown menu and bar with a slider in it will appear to the right. In the dropdown select "AUX 1" because apparently this maps to the "Channel 5" on our transmitter. I have absolutely no idea why but it works 🤷🏻♂️. Below the bar will be a little colored indicator (it was yellow at the time of this writing) that should move if you play with your arm switch. Toggle your arm switch into whatever position you want your drone to be "armed" and then move the colored slider so that it is on top of the indicator. You don't need to shrink the size of the slider to be as small as possible. I just dragged it over and kept it's current size.
The mode switch is configured in a similar manner with one twist. Instead of setting up one state we are going to do three, "Angle", "Horizon" and "Air Mode". Go ahead and click "Add Range" below all of those rows and set the dropdown to "AUX 2". This maps to "Channel 6" and I still have absolutely no idea why. If you move the switch through the three states you should see the indicator below the bar move on all three of them. What you want to do is move the slider to be over the indicator for whatever switch state you want to trigger that mode. I did "Angle" when the switch is up, "Horizon" when the switch is neutral, and "Air Mode" when the switch is down.
If you navigate to the "Receiver" menu item again and play with your arm and mode switches you should see the corresponding bars move which means everything is set up correctly. Congratulations!
5. Flying your drone
So, if you are like me, you would think that you now just plug a battery into your drone, place it on a flat surface, flick the arm switch and throttle up right? Well if you try that you may see the motors on your drone spin very gently but get no lift. After banging my head against this for like 20 minutes, double checking to make sure I set everything up correctly I learned one very important piece of information from this blog post.
THERE IS A MINIMUM THROTTLE VALUE!
The drone won't fire up its motors unless the throttle is below a minimum value when it is armed. This is to prevent the drone from automatically spinning up its motors and chopping off your fingers the second you plug in a battery.
So set your arm switch to "off", press down on the throttle (the right stick by default) and hold it at the very bottom. Turn the arm switch into the "on" position and release your throttle. The engines should spin up but with the AcroBee there should not be enough lift to get it off the ground. Slowly move to the throttle up and the drone should take off and probably immediately crash into something because flying a drone is hard.
Time to take to the skies
So there you have it! Hopefully this proved helpful to someone else who, like me, was completely overwhelmed when they first tried to get into building and flying a drone.#Drones