by JIM RYAN
Racing with Betaflight
Get with the proGram
In the May/June issue in “DIy Racer,” we discussed how to build your own first-person-view
(FPV) racer from the ground up. Since that article focused on actually building the quad, we
only touched lightly on the important step of programming the flight controller—the brains of
any multirotor. This time, we’ll cover programming using the popular betaflight app.
For my latest build, I chose a Tornado flight
controller from MotoLab. The Tornado is
compatible with Betaflight, a relatively new
open-source utility that functions as an applet
within Google Chrome. There are a couple of
nice features to Betaflight. First, it’s an unusually
powerful tool, giving you a great deal of control
over setting up your quad and then fine-tuning
the handling. Second, Betaflight is compatible
with a large and growing range of flight controllers, so you don’t have to keep learning a new
app every time you try a new flight controller.
Before we start—and I can’t stress this
enough—do not start programming your
quad with props on the motors! If it’s a
new build, leave the props off until programming
is complete. If you’re reprogramming a controller, remove the props before you begin.
The first step, of course, is to launch your
Chrome browser and download the current
release of Betaflight from the Chrome Web
Store, along with the hex file for your particular
flight controller (FC) from github.com (github.
also need to install the correct drivers so that
your laptop can talk to your FC. In my case,
I used the “driver fixer” utility on impulserc.
com since it sells my Tornado flight controller.
With all this done, you should be able to plug a
USB cable into the flight-controller board, click
the “Connect” icon in Betaflight, and have it
connect as shown in the first screen shot. Since
firmware is changing constantly, it’s a good
idea to flash the latest version to your flight
controller using the Firmware Flasher tab so
that everything is up to date. Now you’re ready
to start the programming process.
Building your own FPV racer makes an enjoyable project
and gives you the ability to mix and match components,
but you also have to know how to program the flight
controller using a programming app like Betaflight.
1 Each time your flight controller connects, you’ll start at the Setup tab. Set your drone on a known level surface and calibrate the accelerometer. Note that in the Setup tab,
you can backup and restore complete programs. This allows you to try out various settings
and then restore to your previous program if you don’t like the changes.
2 If you’re using a serial receiver, like a Spektrum satellite, you’ll need to set one of the flight-controller ports to talk to it. In the case of my Tornado FC, the correct port
is UART2. Simply turn on Serial Rx for UART2 and then click “Save and Reboot” to write
your settings to the flight controller.