With each new build, drone enthusiasts who are actively involved in the process of assembling these autonomous flying vehicles dream of going faster and higher. There is a massive difference between people who use drones for professional purposes and those who build them as a hobby. This post is about flight controllers, one of the primary components of a DIY quadcopter.
A flight controller is the brain of a drone. It makes all the decisions–with or without receiving signals from the remote controller. When you assign a particular task to your drone, the flight controller processes the incoming signal and sends the relevant signals to the motors and other parts of the drone. This post is intended to help you find the best flight controller for your drone kit.
Best Drone Flight Controller
1. HGLRC FD413
HGLRC FD413 is popular with drone assemblers due to its high performance and easy-to-understand layout. Not everyone who builds drones has a college degree in electronics. Some just want to explore and try something new. HGLRC makes sure that every person has a chance to build their own quadcopter and fly it without any hesitation.
This 16X16mm flight controller is tiny. In fact, it comes with the smallest mounting pattern available in the market. The F411 Flight Controller stack is compatible with flight controller firmware like Betaflight and Kiss. As you would already know, installing the firmware on the stack is essential for better performance. The package includes an FD411 Flight Controller and an FD13A BLS 4in1 ESC.
HGLRC FD413 is Suitable For –
The HGLRC FD413 is suitable for anyone looking for a flight controller board that is easy to mount, lightweight and stays cool even after extended usage. However, the user needs to be well acquainted with at least one flight controller firmware.
Configuring this board with Betaflight is easy as a pie. If you do run into problems, you can always contact the customer care representatives for technical assistance.
- The smallest mounting pattern (16X16mm) available in the market.
- Flight tower system with two stories (FC and ESC).
- Lightweight (9g) design.
- Reputed and trusted brand.
- Can configure this flight controller with open-source firmware.
- The product could have minor issues on arrival. The quality inspection needs improvement.
2. USAQ Naze32
Best Overall Runner-Up
USAQ Naze32 is one of the rare F1 flight controller boards that are compatible with configuration firmware like Betaflight and Cleanflight. Most people turn away from this mini-stack, thinking it won’t support the latest software. USAQ is one of the most reputed hardware manufacturers. They revise their products as per the latest trends in the firmware industry.
What made this stack so famous over the years?
Initially designed for small to medium-sized quadcopters, this stack also goes well with larger drones. The USAQ Naze32 comes with a powerful 32bit ST microprocessor. Furthermore, the board comes with gyro and accelerometer sensors. You can control both the yaw and the orientation with the remote control.
USAQ Naze32 is Suitable For –
The USAQ Naze32 is suitable for someone looking for a versatile controller board that supports various airframes. You can connect this controller with a tricopter, quadcopter, hexacopter, so on and so forth. The F1 boards are tried and tested. You are less likely to run into bugs during the configuration, especially with Betaflight and Cleanflight.
- High-performance flight controller.
- Reputed brand.
- Open source firmware support.
- Supports the latest configuration firmware like Baseflight.
- Flexible motor outputs.
- Easy to mount.
- You may run into some hurdles while configuring with Cleanflight.
- Some of the components in this stack need updating.
- F1 stacks are less popular these days.
3. iFlight SucceX Micro F4 V2.1
iFlight SucceX Micro F4 V2.1 is designed for Micro FPV racers. Instead of a traditional flat layout, SucceX has come with a new flight tower system. The design is both minimalistic and lightweight. The flight controller, electronic speed control (ESC), and the video transmitter (VTX) are stacked on top of each other. Rubber pads separate them.
Furthermore, the pinned interconnects make assembling easy and effortless. The iFlight SucceX Micro F4 V2.1 also comes with a 16x16mm mounting pattern–smallest available.
The package includes a Micro F4 Flight controller, a Micro 15A Brushless ESC, and a PIT/25/100/200mW VTX. You will be surprised by how tiny and lightweight this board is. It is truly meant for action drones.
iFlight SucceX Micro F4 V2.1 is Suitable For –
This controller is meant for advanced users only. The three-layer flight tower system also comes with onboard memory. Along with the apparent benefits of having a little board, you also get to install Ground Station Software on the onboard memory chip. This software is capable of recording, storing, and streaming information during the flight. In short, the iFlight SucceX Micro F4 V2.1 also has a drone black box.
- This stack comes with the tiniest mounting pattern (16x16mm).
- Unique and ingenious flight tower system.
- Suits autonomous flying drones.
- Ideal for drone racing.
- Easy to screw it on a mounting pad.
- Comes with tiny 2s batteries (they have also made provisions for connecting 3s battery if needed).
- Supports open-source firmware.
- Not for beginners.
- High-priced model from iFlight.
4. iFlight SucceX-E
Best Value Runner-Up
SucceX-E is another F4 flight controller stack from iFlight. All SucceX boards are meant for those who seek the highest quality for a reasonable price. This product does not come with a three-layer flight tower system, but the quality and performance of the single-layer 32x32mm stack speak for itself.
This is one of those flight controllers that, despite its large size, is meant for racing drone quadcopters. This is primarily a result of the variety of features this stack has to offer. It comes with 4 UARTS, 8MB onboard memory (to be used as a black box), and a powerful F4 processor compatible with the latest configuration firmware.
Furthermore, it comes with the standard-sized 4mm holes (located at each corner of the stack). Enough slots are provided to connect peripherals like motors, ESCs, and the camera. Besides, there are four LED plugs (in case you wish to use the quadcopter for night time flying). The board is 100 percent plug and play. No soldering required.
iFlight SucceX-E is Suitable For –
Why should I pick this board over iFlight SucceX Micro F4 V2.1? Except needing more mounting space, the SucceX-E offers all the features present in the Micro F4 V2.1. Although, the SucceX-E does come with an additional 4g weight.
Maybe this is the reason most people prefer the newer version. But if the additional 4g weight is not a concern for your quadcopter kit, you can save some money by going for SucceX-E.
- Despite its size, suitable for those who are into drone racing.
- Quality product at an affordable price.
- Supports open-source firmware.
- Built with the advanced OSD circuitry.
- Provision to connect four LEDs.
- 8MB onboard memory provided for black-box support.
- Wider mounting pattern.
- Weights more than flight controllers designed in a tower system.
- Relatively old-fashioned.
5. YoungRC APM2.8
YoungRC APM2.8 is a ready-to-use flight controller that comes in a protective carbon fiber casing. Ordinarily, a flight controller board is just a tiny circuit board with pins and slots open and vulnerable for damage due to water, wind, or dust. Such is not the case with YoungRC APM2.8. You should note that this board only connects with straight pins.
This product is an upgrade to the older version 2.52 that had a 1.0mm 6P SM06B GPS interface. The APM2.8 is enabled with the advanced DF13-4P I2C external compass interface. The package includes the APM2.8 flight controller board and a protective case. No servo cables or pins are provided.
YoungRC APM2.8 is Suitable For –
This product is for those who have some specific requirements. Those who need a protective case over your flight controller will love this product. Maybe the weather condition in your region does not support quadcopter flying. The protective case will make sure the inner circuit remains intact even after collisions.
Further, this board only supports straight pins. So, you should go for this board if you already have a lot of straight-pinned servo cables at your home or the peripherals at your disposal go well with straight pins.
Also, kindly note that this board only works well with the Mission Planner Firmware. The latest software like Betaflight might not work with this board–the older versions might.
- Rare flight controller with protective casing over it.
- Can endure harsh weather.
- Plug and play model.
- Does not support the latest firmware.
- The user is restricted to using straight line pins.
6. BetaFPV Toothpick F4 2-4S
Best Budget Runner-Up
BetaFPV is one of the most popular drone companies in the world. With their well-researched and high-performance products, they have made a name for themselves. Also, the customer service is prompt– the ticketing system on their website works great. The Toothpick F4 2-4S board is meant for lightweight drones only.
In case you are wondering what a toothpick quadcopter is, they are lightweight micro-quads used for very specific missions. The parts used in such a quad are also miniaturized. The mounting holes in this board are 26.5mm apart–which is not the standard, and hence you are required to fit the stack on a custom-designed pad.
The good news is, you don’t have to install any firmware–it comes with the latest version of Betaflight, the MATEKF411. Moreover, you will find all the diagrams and how-to tutorials on the BetaFPV website. The documentation of this product is in-depth and easy-to-understand.
BetaFPV Toothpick F4 2-4S is Suitable For –
The BetaFPV Toothpick F4 2-4S is one of the best flight controllers for a toothpick drone or a brushless whoop. There are several options provided to help you cut the overall weight of the drone.
- Specially designed for a miniature quadcopter.
- Supports the latest open-source firmware.
- Enough options to connect standoffs and connecting cables.
- BetaFPV has raised the quality with this flight controller.
- 26.5mm separates holes. It can be challenging to mount.
7. TCMMRC FC F4
Best Super Cheap
Are you looking for the best flight controller under the $30 price range? This F4 stack comes with all the features of a premium product. It is easy-to-use, supports the latest firmware, absorbs shock, and has a reasonable layout.
Furthermore, TCMMRC is one of those companies that only manufacture drone-related products. This flight control system is one of its flagship products. Also, it is very convenient for beginners. Just plug and play. No soldering required.
The stack comes with an MPU6000 gyroscope sensor. This sensor is fast and responsive. It provided stability to the drone and prevented it from wobbling in the air. This is a crucial feature for aerial photographers. Also, the OSD circuitry makes it easy to read and understand the slots. Even the most advanced processors come with OSD circuitry.
TCMMRC FC F4 is Suitable For –
The TCMMRC FC F4 is beneficial for those who are looking for a simple, budget-friendly, and feature-rich flight controller stack. Configuring and connecting the stack to the drone kit can be quite challenging. This product employs a plug and play model. It is beginner-friendly.
- Soldering is not necessary. Beginner-friendly flight controller.
- Weights just 3.6 grams.
- Can be configured with open-source firmware.
- The package does not include a VTX.
- The recover selection protocol pad needs to be welded on the flight controller.
What is the Best Flight Controller for a Quadcopter?
If the price is not a concern and you are looking for the best product in the market, I would reckon iFlight SucceX Micro F4 V2.1 to be the best flight controller for a quadcopter. Indeed there are other budget-priced products available in the market–with similar features– but they all have something missing. No product except iFlight SucceX Micro F4 V2.1 is perfect.
For instance, HGLRC FD413 F4 Flight Controller Stack does come with a similar flight tower system, but it has two layers as opposed to three. The video transmitter (VTX) is missing. The FD413 F4 is suitable for those who do not wish to stream live video on a monitor. Since we are talking about the top product in the market, I would pick Micro F4 V2.1 over FD413 F4.
How Do I Choose a Drone Flight Controller?
Contrary to what most people think, building a drone at home does not require a college degree in electronics engineering. Also, you don’t necessarily need in-depth knowledge of autonomous flying machines. That being said, you do need some Googling skills and curiosity to learn something new.
Google can answer most of your queries, whereas YouTube video tutorials can guide you through the installation process. Trying to build a drone merely by reading the instruction manual can be quite challenging. Before you move ahead with the installation process, you must have the right components and parts at your disposal. This section will help you choose a drone flight controller.
Here are the Factors You Should Consider Before Choosing a Drone Flight Controller
1) Open-Source Firmware Support
A flight controller may or may not be available pre-configured. Also, since you are building a DIY quadcopter, you will most likely need to make some modifications. An open-source firmware like Betaflight allows you to configure the flight controller within seconds. You don’t need to be an expert. Hence, look for open-source firmware support before choosing a flight controller.
2) Mounting Pattern
Flight controllers are just circuit boards that need to be mounted on a plane surface. Before ordering a flight controller, it is essential to check the drone kit specifications once. Order the one that will fit on your drone kit perfectly.
The price is, by far, the most critical factor. Before choosing a flight controller, always make sure why you are building the quadcopter. Are you planning to use the drone for aerial photography? Or are you into drone racing? The more critical the application, the more money you should be willing to spend.
The processor is the critical component where all the incoming and outgoing information is processed. It performs calculations and carries out tasks it is programmed to function. If you head out to buy a flight controller, you will find them with four types of processors: F1, F3, F4, and F7. F4 and F7 are the latest ones.
5) Essential Sensors
Gyroscope and accelerometer are two standard sensors used in a flight controller. Without these two, controlling your quadcopter will become a nightmare. An accelerometer can measure the speed of an object (in this case, the quadcopter) when it is moving linearly. On the other hand, the Gyroscope sensor can also measure the tilt and lateral orientation. Both sensors are necessary components of a flight controller.
Choosing an incorrect flight controller for your drone can make your drone sluggish, erratic, or utterly unpredictable. This is because a flight controller (or drone in general) should be chosen keeping the application in mind. It matters if you are merely trying to learn the flight characteristics or want to use this device for professional purposes.