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The Fabrication, Construction, and Operation of a

Keegan Heer
AP English 12
2nd Period

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For the past few months my mind has been obsessed with flight. No amount of video
gaming or online videos could satisfy my need to create something that could defy gravity by
myself, and I decided to build something using my schools 3D printing technology that could do
just that. After seeing the multitude of RC planes and helicopters that go horribly wrong within
the first few moments of flight, I decided the best craft for me to create would be a quadcopter.
The project includes much more than just researching what a quadcopter is, though, and I delved
into the history of the crafts, the pros and cons of a quadcopter versus planes and helicopters,
their uses, before moving into what my project actually entailed. I read papers on the design of
quadcopters, especially in the 3D printing community, which lead me to reading on aerodynamic
theory from college professors and textbooks, as well as RC control systems, how specifically all
those toys for children work and the different kinds of controls (there are many). After I had all
my research materials together, I set out to actually design, print, assemble, and fly my own
quadcopter. The entire process was mentally exhausting and simultaneously the most proud I
have ever been of a project in my life.
A quadcopter is any multirotor helicopter that has only four rotors and is only acted on by
those for rotors. This is to say, any craft with four sets of propellers and no other mechanisms
that could act upon the craft (ie: engines, other propellers, an RCS system, etc). Quadcopters are
categorized as rotorcraft instead of fixed-wing because they generate lift and thrust based on
propellers instead of engines of some kind.


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Quadcopters, or more specifically quadrotor helicopters, work on the same principles as

single rotor helicopters, with the obvious difference being the number and location of the blades.
The forces that operate on a quadcopter are the same four basic forces that work on any
aerodynamic craft: lift, drag, thrust, and weight (Anderson, 1985). The lift and thrust is provided
by the four rotors, and the drag and weight are provided by the air and gravity (respectively).
Generally, helicopters operate by providing thrust and lift through the main rotor, or the large
spinny thingy on top. Unfortunately, when that rotor spins one way, the rest of the craft spins the
other way (Newton), which is why there is a smaller rotor attached perpendicular to the main on
the back of the craft. Quadcopters run into the same issue, if you have all four of the rotors
running the same orientation (say, clockwise), then the entire craft spins the opposite
(counterclockwise). To fix this, without adding an additional rotor, quadcopters simply align two
of the motors to spin one orientation and two to spin the opposite, thus equaling a net spin of
zero (Carillo). This is also how many controls of a quadcopter are done, to spin clockwise you
lower thrust to counterclockwise spinning rotors and vice versa for other directions. To move
forward, simply lower thrust to the front facing motors, and the same for any other direction.
Move left by lowering thrust to left motors, right by lowering thrust to the right motors. Increase
thrust to all motors and the craft will rise, decrease thrust and it will fall (Carillo).
Quadcopters have been around for far longer than most people think, with the first
primitive designs appearing in 1907, and gaining some more popularity in the 1920s. Designs
for the crafts dropped off soon after, as electronics were expensive and often times difficult to
use (Hoffman). UAVs have been around for a similar amount of time, with the US navy
presenting an early pilotless plane in the late 1910s and working on them up throughout the
present. Several manned versions of the quadcopters actually were introduced, but ultimately
abandoned due to poor performance and stability. Both of these designs have remained present,

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albeit quietly, throughout the years but made a large comeback in the late 1990s and early 2000s
(Carillo). The introduction of cheap and reliable electronics made for much more economically
feasible crafts, and thus the use of quadcopters was reintroduced as a hobbyists first steps into
aerodynamics, and UAVs have become the US governments favorite way to spy on foreign
Quadcopters have been argued to be better than helicopters before, but ultimately public
appeal remains to the helicopters. Quadcopters do carry less potential energy in their blades
(smaller blades equals less energy), which means they are less efficient than helicopters are, but
they retain several pros that should be taken into consideration. Quadcopters are easier to
maneuver, as they dont require changing the tilt of their blades in the way that helicopters do,
and they are mechanically simpler than helicopters are, making them easier to fly and produce
(Javir). There have been a few attempts to create commercial quadcopters, but no manned
constructs or any larger than a few feet squared. Quadcopters have been considered for many
applications in the past, and are being used more and more often in todays world. They were
originally going to be used for possible personal transport, but the idea was ultimately abandoned
(Carillo). Now people are exploring possibly using them as research tools in flight control theory,
navigation, real time systems, and general robotics research. They have also been used in
military and law enforcement for surveillance, reconnaissance, and search and rescue missions
(Hoffman). You may have even seen concept ideas from companies like Amazon, who are trying
to use them as a new delivery service, and others are using them more and more for aerial
imagery and other camera work.
Quadrotor helicopters can be controlled two different ways, being manual or automated.
Manual controls usually come in the form of an RC controller plus radio transmitters and
receivers (Bouadi). Automated controls are the same crafts with pre-programmed controls (ie:

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move forward ten feet, then turn right forty-five degrees)(Pota). Both of these designs are used
for personal as well as commercial applications, each having their own benefits. Manual controls
have the obvious benefit of not needing to know ahead of time exactly what scenario you will be
encountering, as well as having a certain improvisation element that comes in handy when
dealing in military and law enforcement situation. On the other hand, automated controls remove
the need for a controlling entity, which cuts on operation costs and ultimately makes for a
cheaper operation(Pounds). This is why companies like Amazon are developing virtual
intelligence computers that will be able to operate crafts without input from a human controller,
thus blending the two control methods and ultimately creating a system that will be both
economical and effective.
The design of quadcopters has been changed multiple times throughout the years, and no
perfect design has been stumbled upon yet. No standard form has actually been reached yet
either, with many people arguing over what the specifics of the crafts should be, what they
should be made of, what electronics should be included, and more (Pounds, 2002). Most designs
do have a few specifics in common, however, in the alignment of the blades and the general
structure of the chassis. Each rotor is usually placed equidistant from the center of the craft, often
on shafts perpendicular to each other (Pota). Most quadcopters leave their control systems in the
center, with any additional gyroscopes and other instruments very close to the center. Some
quadcopters have cameras attached as to capture video footage, but place varies according to the
use that the quadcopter will be put up to (Pounds, 2006).
To begin the actual building phase of my project, I first had to set aside the parts that I
would order and where I would get them from. I searched around through some guides on others
who had built similar crafts and followed the websites before finally deciding on parts of my
own. Once I had decided on the parts, I gathered the money and ordered them, then awaited their

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arrival, which varied by a large amount of time between parts (as they were not all ordered from
the same place.) Once I had the parts in my hands, I could start the difficult portion.
The large stretch that I hoped to accomplish during this process was to model and print
the frame of my quadcopter by myself, with oversight from my advisor (Mrs. Lewis) and to
assemble the entire craft myself. I knew the assembly would not be that difficult, essentially
sophisticated legos, but the actual modelling would take a lot of forethought and careful planning
to get just correct. My main issue was combining aerodynamics with ease of use: I could not
have a craft that was simple to put together and at the same time aerodynamically poor, and I
also could not have an excellently shaped craft without the ability to place the other parts inside
of it.
The final result of this process was a craft modelled after reading through sources on
aerodynamics and mechanical engineering. I had to make adjustments a few times before the
first print, but once I had everything ready we gave it a try. A few of the issues I ran into were
mostly due to design errors such as not allowing for enough space to properly mount the rotors,
forgetting to leave room for the controller, etcetera. In the end, I had a beautiful craft that just
needed to be programmed and it would be ready to fly.

I had originally set out to build a toy that I could fly around, maybe create some
interesting videos with, and I ended up with an enlightening experience. I explored the world of
aerodynamics, specifically to fixed-wing and quadrotor crafts, as well as control systems and 3D
design, both exciting and new fields. Building the actual quadcopter provided me with an
opportunity to meet new people, from my mentor to people working hobby shops where I bought
parts. I researched topics that I could not understand and studied them until I understood the

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math and the physics behind what makes things fly, and I now have a deeper respect for the
people that discovered these things and those who continue to discover them daily.
I have had the wonderful opportunity to pursue a project of my own choosing with time
given to me by the school, and resources provided for me by generous mentors and teachers. I
have been allowed to buy expensive robotics parts by my parents, which I am grateful for, and
owe a great deal to them in general. My project has served to ignite my passion for flight, and I
will be looking into a school where I can study aeronautical engineering or possibly even take
flying lessons. Hopefully this will lead to a career where I can either be paid to make things that
fly, or I can have enough free time to continue this hobby privately.

Works Cited

Anderson Jr, John David. Fundamentals of aerodynamics. Tata McGraw-Hill Education, 1985.
Anderson, John David. Introduction to flight. Vol. 199. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2005.
Bouadi, H., M. Bouchoucha, and M. Tadjine. "Sliding mode control based on backstepping
Carrillo, Luis Rodolfo Garcia, et al. "Quad-Rotor Control." (2011).

Datta, Sreela. "Aerodynamics." The Gale Encyclopedia of Science. Ed. K. Lee Lerner and
Brenda Wilmoth Lerner. 5th ed. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2014. Student Resources in
Context. Web. 22 Sept. 2015.

Hoffmann, Gabriel M., et al. "Quadrotor helicopter flight dynamics and control: Theory and

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experiment." Proc. of the AIAA Guidance, Navigation, and Control Conference. Vol. 2.

Javir, A. V., et al. "Design, Analysis and Fabrication of Quadcopter."

Pota, Hemanshu R., Bilal Ahmed, and Matt Garratt. "Velocity control of a UAV using
backstepping control." Proceedings of the 45th IEEE Conference on Decision and Control, San
Diego. 2006.

Pounds, Paul, et al. "Design of a four-rotor aerial robot." Proceedings of the 2002 Australasian
Conference on Robotics and Automation (ACRA 2002). Australian Robotics & Automation
Association, 2002.

Pounds, Paul, Robert Mahony, and Peter Corke. "Modelling and control of a quad-rotor robot."
Proceedings Australasian Conference on Robotics and Automation 2006. Australian Robotics
and Automation Association Inc., 2006.