Team BlackSheep Discovery Pro: Building A $3000 Quadcopter

Remote Control: FrSky And ImmersionRC

The combination of FrSky’s Taranis X9D, ImmersionRC’s EzUHF system and DJI’s Naza-M V2 enables remote control of the Discovery Pro. It also requires the lion’s share of software-based configuration.

When I received my Long Range Set from TBS, the Taranis transmitter was configured to communicate at 2.4GHz. Extending its range necessitated an upgrade to ImmersionRC’s EzUHF JR module, which offers up to 500mW of power in the 430 to 440MHz frequency range. Of course, the Taranis supports the JR standard, so it was easy to pop off its back cover, line up a few contacts and slide the module into place (even if a manufacturing defect kept it from seating fully).

Similarly, I had no trouble connecting the module via USB to my Lenovo Helix and confirming its control software. The same went for ImmersionRC’s EzUHF Long-Range RC RX, which sits on the Discovery Pro and receives input from the transmitter. Both components require matching firmware (already installed in my case). Should you find occasion for an update, ImmersionRC Tools is the utility you’ll use. It also facilitates customization of frequency settings, servo mapping, real-time spectrum analysis, antenna configuration and channel count. Oh, and if you plan to exploit PPM technology, and I highly recommend you do, that’s set in ImmersionRC Tools, too. Switching to PPM allowed me to hook the Long-Range RC RX up to TBS’ header block through just two servo cables: one carrying the PPM signal and the other for switching between cameras. Otherwise, each PWM channel interfaces through its own cable.

Binding the Tx and Rx components is a simple processBinding the Tx and Rx components is a simple process

Binding the transmitter and receiver so that they’re able to “talk” to each other is a straightforward process akin to pairing Bluetooth-enabled devices. Don’t count on the link between you and your quad becoming a bottleneck in this build.

Configuring the Taranis controller is decidedly more time-consuming—but not in a bad way. The FrSky radio system offers audible alerts for the settings, values and alarms you want announced (particularly relevant if you have FPV goggles on). Additionally, a model system allows you to import a fellow enthusiast’s Discovery Pro setup. It supports up to 16 channels and is highly programmable. In short, you end up with a ton of freedom that simply needs to be harnessed.

This isn’t something I would have ever figured out on my own after reading through FrSky’s manual. Even the YouTube and forum walk-throughs weren’t complete. I needed three or four different sources to get my Taranis working the way I wanted. There’s the basic throttle/rudder/elevator/aileron setup, of course. But you’ll also want to add gimbal tilt/roll control, along with a way to flip between the FPV camera and GoPro. The real zinger was customizing a three-position flight mode switch to toggle between the Naza controller’s GPS, Attitude and Manual modes, all of which can be overridden by a second switch triggering Failsafe mode. After dialing in all of that, I still hadn’t touched 10 of the 13 property pages defining my Discovery Pro model.

The radio is mostly a pleasure to use, though. Movement in the control sticks is confident, the toggle switches snap into each position, FrSky’s backlit LCD readout is easy enough to navigate and the chassis is rugged enough to take abuse without imposing too much heft. It’d be nice if the built-in antenna was removable, and the bundled Ni-MH battery is pretty crummy. However, the Taranis is based on open-source software, allowing anyone to download its code to make modifications. The radio is also significantly less expensive than competition from Futaba, which saved me quite a bit of cash.

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  • blackmagnum
    Sunbathers beware! On another note: 3k dollars would build an awesome gaming machine, but getting some fresh air is all good.
  • firefyte
    The page title is a bit off "Buikding And Flying..."
  • Shankovich
    A company in Toronto called DreamQii made one that's around $1000 for the kit and is modular. A much better deal IMO, and it comes with a sturdier gimbal. Can you guys review that one? Kinda want one but not so sure about the whole thing.
  • Bondfc11
    The radio in the photos is a dead match for the JR radio I use for flying my helicopter.
  • g-unit1111
    Pretty sweet but if I had $3,000 to spend money on something, this would be like last on my list. :lol:
  • qlum
    I have looked at quad copters quite often but every time I look I come to the same conclusion: To expensive for something I will get bored of pretty soon anyway.

    Anyway the last time I was nervous about something I did was when I had to solder a serial connection on a bricked router. It was a first for me but all went far far smoother then I ever expected.
  • geof2001
    please follow up with some video and first flight commentary
  • d_kuhn
    Soo... while this looks like a very cool drone, if you're looking at your first buy you might want to look a bit more modest... like the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+... $1300 buys you a nice quadcopter with a stabilized camera. That's a lot less $$$ to lose when you auger in on your maiden flight.
  • desert_beagle
    great article.. just expecting the delivery of my TBS Disco + Taranis today.. yes, it's expensive, but it's a lot of fun.. )
  • quadcopterhq
    Really great overview of what it is like to build your own custom quadcopter, one of the most coherent and in-depth ones I've seen so far. To be honest, all the work makes me want to just recommend buying an off-the-shelf ready-to-fly option like the DJI Phantom! Of course, this model is much more capable and for any pro the customization is necessary (and enjoyable potentially too) to be able to get the video results required.

    What kind of flying time does the rig have? And could you attach a larger, heavier camera if you swap in a different gimbal or are you limited to the GoPro line?
  • cangelini
    @quadcopterhq: Thanks! I'm getting about 8 min. in the air and seeing around 17A of draw, which seems higher than it should be. Need to do some weight-shedding. The main reason I'd stick with the GoPro is for the 30-pin connector that feeds video into the system for switching sources mid-flight. I'd love to compare more turnkey solutions, though.
  • Pretty hard core build when you have solder everything on... for the cost i would expect something a little less... hard core (lack of a better word)
  • videobear
    Reviews of cars, now quadcopters. Tom's use to be a site for computer homebuilders. It would be nice to see more material focused on that, and less on side issues.
  • Darth_Indy
    Yours is the first article about drones that actually talked about responsible use of the drone. Thank you. Advanced drones are not lightweight toys any more, these things are getting heavy (think bowling ball and greater) and with this additional weight it means that collisions with a plane or someone on the ground could result in serious injury or even death. Flying one of these bigger drones over crowds of people or into shared airspace is not just a bad idea, it's potentially dangerous (sorry for the rant, I have a friend that had a near miss this year and safety must be discussed honestly).
  • Jacob McIntosh
    These drones are awesome, but how long will it be before the FAA steps in?
  • Bondfc11
    Southpark is on it!
  • 119632 said:
    Yours is the first article about drones that actually talked about responsible use of the drone. Thank you. Advanced drones are not lightweight toys any more, these things are getting heavy (think bowling ball and greater) and with this additional weight it means that collisions with a plane or someone on the ground could result in serious injury or even death. Flying one of these bigger drones over crowds of people or into shared airspace is not just a bad idea, it's potentially dangerous (sorry for the rant, I have a friend that had a near miss this year and safety must be discussed honestly).


    Quick ground all aircraft, destroy all satellites, shoot down all balloons and burn all the kites.
  • CaroH
    What is the legality limits on use of this copter for hobby purposes? Are there altitude restrictions, or requirements to keep craft in line of sight?

    It would be bad if this article encourages people to break the law.
  • 1816014 said:
    What is the legality limits on use of this copter for hobby purposes? Are there altitude restrictions, or requirements to keep craft in line of sight? It would be bad if this article encourages people to break the law.


    It would depend on the laws of your country/state same goes for RC helicopters and planes.
  • shrapnel_indie
    Where I live, the FAA has put a ceiling on how high they can be flown: 400ft. It may be a good idea (here in the States) to check with the FAA for the rules in your area, or with the equivalent agency within your country.