Price As Tested: $1,499
Flight Log: ~ 50 Flights
Repair / Maintenance Costs: ~ $150
The Draganflyer is a RC helicopter with a bit of a twist. Instead of a single main rotor, or even coaxial / dual rotors, it has four of them – two spinning clockwise and two spinning counterclockwise.
It’s manufactured by Draganfly Innovations Inc. and sold at www.rctoys.com as well as many other websites from eBay to Amazon.
If you’re in need of an affordable aerial video solution at a low price or just want something to fly around your backyard, the Draganflyer fit’s the bill perfectly.
In fact, this little heli has become so popular, it’s been featured on the Discovery Channel and in magazines like Popular Science.
With a diameter of just 30 inches, this little heli packs quite a punch.
The Draganflyer was developed as a simple and cheaper alternative to obtaining quality aerial video, which until recently, required renting a full sized helicopter or airplane.
The Draganflyer’s self leveling feature and anti-vibration camera system produces high quality video which makes it a viable alternative to a full sized helicopter.
It can be used for things like surveying, surveillance, small budget video production, real estate marketing, farmers field quality control or inspections of hard to reach or dangerous locations.
The Draganflyer is primarily made out of carbon fiber, high-impact nylon, and plastic and is designed so that the plastic parts take the brunt of most crashed.
Draganfly Innovations designed it this way on purpose… “The parts will remain plastic as if they did not take the impact, the carbon frame would, resulting in much more downtime in repairs as the entire harness would need to be removed.”
Most repairs can be done in about 10 – 15 minutes, but if you start breaking the carbon fiber control arms, you’ll need to get out your soldering iron and spend a little more time threading the wires through the control arms and re-soldering them to the motors.
It is quite durable during a crash, mostly due to its light weight of just under 500 grams (Approx. 1lb).
To help keep weight to a minimum and flight times to a maximum, the Draganflyer runs of Lithium Polymer batteries that allow for about 15 minutes of flight time.
But because of its light weight, its relatively large footprint makes it quite susceptible to wind gusts. Even through Draganfly Innovations claims it can be flown in 20 mph winds, I wouldn’t recommend flying it in anything above 10 or 15mph unless you’re an experienced and skilled pilot.
The standard Draganflyer V Ti package comes with everything you need to get started including the complete Draganflyer (frame, circuit board, rotors, canopy), battery, charger, transmitter,
The V Ti Pro model comes with everything the base model does with the addition of a 6 channel computerized radio, frame bracing as well as a micro wireless video camera with transmitter, receiver and camera mount.
The SAVS model comes with an upgraded video camera and transmitter, video enhancing circuitry with regulated camera power supplies, video filters and high gain video transmitter antenna as well as a vibration free camera mount, 2.4GHz Diversity video receiver with adjustable positions, two, circular polarized, 8 dbi patch antennas and a hard carry case.
You can see the differences between the available models here.
The Draganflyer’s Stabilization
The Draganflyer is very easy to fly when compared to a conventional RC helicopter and extremely stable thanks to the 3 axis gyro stabilization and thermal intelligence.
The unit used three piezo-electric gyros which aid in stabilization for roll, pitch and yaw as well as a patented thermal intelligence system which makes it a very stable platform for shooting quality video from the sky.
(Closeup of the Draganflyers cirucit board showing gyros and Ti sensors)
According to rctoys.com the “Thermal Intelligence uses patented technology to sense the difference in infrared temperature between the Earth and sky… …Ti uses four infrared sensors, so when a change is detected in the Draganflyer’s orientation relative to the Earth’s infrared horizon, it issues the correct control signals to bring the Draganflyer back to level flight.”
The thermal intelligence needs to be set before each flight while holding the Draganflyer vertically (two sensors pointing at the sky and two at the ground) at arms length and pushing a small ‘arming’ button next to the main power switch. This helps the Draganflyer see the differences in the infrared heat signatures between the ground and sky allowing it to make corrections and keep the unit level.
After setting the Ti, you’ll also need to show the heli what ‘level’ is. This is done by sitting it on a flat / level surface and holding the left throttle stick all the way down and to the right until the two green LED’s flash meaning the level position is stored.
If you don’t get it on perfectly level ground, it will tend to drift to one side and you’ll need to correct the trims on your transmitter.
Once the thermal intelligence is set, the Draganflyer’s CPU automatically returns the helicopter to level when the control stick is released. This feature makes it easy to fly, and professional quality aerial video not that far off for the amateur.
If you need to get close to the action, or can’t afford to hire a full sized helicopter / videography, V Ti Pro or SAVS (Stabilized Aerial Video System) allows you get in close to the action and still capture high quality video.
It doesn’t do High definition (HD) video, but with some modifications, a lot of upgrades and some customization, it could be converted for a price.
The SAVS high quality video is possible because of the anti-vibration video camera mount that isolates the camera from vibrations.
The video stabilization system relies on a series of rubber bands which is a bit crude, but effective. Also, because it’s electric, vibration levels are at a minimum.
The onboard wireless 2.4GHz CCD camera transmits live video to a ground base station, and uses advanced circuitry featuring several filters and independent regulated power supplies to preserve the clarity of the video signal. The SAVS base station features a diversity video (dual antenna) receiver which selects the best signal in real time.
A video recorder isn’t included, but any handheld digital video recorder or camcorder will work fine.
What Else Should You Get
While the Draganflyer comes with everything you need to fly, it doesn’t come with any extra spare parts, so I’d recommend picking up a crash kit or two – no matter how good you are, you’ll inevitably crash and will need some extra parts.
I’d also get an extra battery or two. Even though some people claim flight times of 20 – 30 minutes, unless you’re flying extremely mildly, you could expect a realistic flight time of about 15 minutes. Charging time is only an hour or so, but when you’re out at the field, you won’t want to have to wait. More batteries mean more fun before you have to recharge.
If you’re buying the base model, you might also want to upgrade to the 6 channel Futaba computer radio. It’s more customizable than the one shipped with the unit and has digital trims vs. manual trims that it save in memory. The option is not offered on their website, but a quick email and about $70 and it can be yours.
You might also want to pick up a few extra fuses. If you land in tall grass (or crash) the extra strain / resistance put on the motors can cause it to blow.
Another thing you might want to consider more as preventative therapy for your motors are the optional motor heat sinks. As I mentioned earlier, I had to replace all of my motors within the first 50 flights… had I bought the heat sinks right off the bat, I suspect their lifetimes would have been significantly longer.
And one last option you to consider is getting the thumb screw set. The main rotors screws need to be tightened often and the thumbscrews make it painless and easy task.
Tools You’ll Need
In addition to a crash kit and some of the extra’s mentioned above, you’ll need a flat head screwdriver, a hex driver and a small pair of needle nose pliers.
If you ever need to remove / replace the motor or take them off to replace a broken part (and you will) you’ll also need wire cutters / strippers, a soldering iron and solder.
Having a roll of black electrical tape and light sandpaper around will also be helpful for loose or tight fitting parts. The sandpaper can also be used to smooth off the burs found on the rotors which will slightly improve performance and noise.
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