Team BlackSheep Discovery Pro: Building A $3000 Quadcopter

FPV: Lawmate, Fat Shark And TBS

As an R/C enthusiast growing up, I already knew the joy of standing under an awning at a hobbyist’s airport and flying rectangular patterns, being careful to keep my craft close enough to determine its orientation. Fly too far and it became difficult to tell front from back, and I watched more than a handful of planes tumble through fields when their pilots strayed too far away and couldn’t tell whether to roll left or right.

The pilot camera is your eye in the air

The idea of FPV got me excited because it plopped me into the cockpit. And if you plan to take your quadcopter out of LoS, then its first-person-view subsystem is incredibly important. I went with a tuned 2.4GHz transmitter (TBS’ Unify wasn’t available yet) and tuned receiver, upgraded to include the groundstation and a 5000mAh 3S LiPo battery to match. A set of Fat Shark Dominator video glasses plug into the receiver through one long combination video/power cable. It’s all quite fancy-looking on the ground.

A transmitter sends video information back to you on the ground

Pretty much opposite the R/C hardware, an FPV subsystem beams video from the quadcopter’s camera, through a video transmitter and into a receiver on the ground. You can observe the feed through an LCD screen, as with TBS’ groundstation, or with FPV goggles on.

TBS' groundstation receives the signal and displays video on its LCD screen

There’s no real software configuration involved, aside from any options you want to change in TBS’s CORE menu (like enabling camera switching). Setup is as easy as running power from the Discovery Pro’s frame to the transmitter, picking a channel via DIP switch, matching that channel on your receiver, and plugging in your FPV goggles. If you upgrade to the groundstation like I did, you get a compact LCD display that observers can watch as you fly through the Fat Shark Dominators. You can hook the goggles up through a long bundled cable or, if you prefer a little more freedom, add a 5.8GHz repeater to broadcast video to them wirelessly. I didn’t plan to wander too far from the groundstation, so I passed on that option.

First-person-view goggles put the same information right in front of your eyes

FPV is the defining characteristic of this experience. Yes, the quad-copter itself is amazing to fly, and the ability to record video from hundreds (or thousands) of feet up presents a multitude of practical applications. But a pilot’s view is what attracted me to TBS’ Discovery Pro after so many years away from the R/C world. TBS, leveraging its own products and hand-picked third-party offerings, not only makes it easy to get started, but also enjoy a professional-quality experience. As of this writing, my video link still isn’t perfectly clear and stable out to long distances. But there are enough enthusiasts out there successfully flying the same equipment several kilometers and back that I’m confident I just need one more weekend to iron out the remaining few bugs.

Chris Angelini
Chris Angelini is an Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware US. He edits hardware reviews and covers high-profile CPU and GPU launches.
  • 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?