The Feed and Care of a Racing Quad: CleanFlight

As you probably know, there is some software called CleanFlight. This software is robust, user-friendly, and available on essentially any operating system because it is a Chrome App. It is compatible with most different kinds of flight controllers, but you will likely need to download drivers to get it to work.


The full setup.

Propeller Removal

Before you do any sort of setup, you have to make sure that your propellers are off, because the software actually runs the motors to verify that everything’s working OK. If your hand gets in the way of one of those props, your hand loses, so you have to take them off before you do anything. This was harder than I expected, and I learned several lessons:

  1. My quad has silver and black prop nuts. The silver ones unscrew counterclockwise, and the black ones unscrew clockwise.
  2. Each motor goes with one of the two prop nut colors. At this point, I was pretty sure that I had them backwards, but I figured I’d soldier on and if it became a problem, I’d fix it later (probably a bad idea).
  3. The prop nut can be taken off by a 10mm wrench. It’s easier to take the quadcopter into the shop for sizing, rather than bring a bunch of wrenches to the quadcopter.
  4. No pain, no gain. It hurts to get those propellers off using your fingers to stop them from spinning, but it’s also the best way I could think of as doing it. [apparently, there are these things called “prop wrenches” which would probably help with this predicament in the future]


Motor orientation explanation and diagram by dacloughb.

Each propeller should spin a certain direction. The prop nut should tighten in the opposite direction, so if the prop slips, the nut tightens. I think. I’m not really sure about this. It’s entirely possible that I could be thinking about this backwards, so I’ll report back once I get a prop in the face.


Switching Boards

In the process of getting my CC3D flight controller to work, I discovered that the OpenPilot website was not working. [edit: it turns out that OpenPilot is no longer available; instead, check out LibrePilot.]  This prompted me to switch everything out for the AfroFlight Naze32 flight controller instead. This way, I could use CleanFlight as opposed to OpenPilot or some other software. It is likely that I could have also used CleanFlight with the CC3D board, but I was in kind of a rush and wanted to just get things done, so I switched out boards.


CC3D board (before carnage).


In order to do this, I had to take off the very top plate (which may or may not have a purpose, I can’t tell). It’s the black one pictured below (my finger is pointing to it). The hex keys on the quadcopter are 5/64 inch.


Naze32 onboard


Computer Time

I basically just followed this guide from Flite Test to get everything all set up on my quad. Although the version they use in this video is slightly outdated, all of the buttons are the same on the CleanFlight app that I was using; the only thing that had changed was the UI. I set all of this up on my Mac because my Windows computer couldn’t seem to get the drivers downloaded (at this point, I was still using the CC3D board, so this is probably why. I didn’t feel like switching back). I had to download drivers to get the software to even recognize the flight controller, and I flashed it with a clean version of the Naze software. All of this information is in much more detail in the video and on the Flite Test website.

I did not balance the props or mess with the PIDs at all because I basically don’t know what those are yet, but I plan to tackle that in a later article.

I also had to set up my FlySky TS-6 transmitter. I would recommend using this article as a guide if you have this particular transmitter. Again, other than changing the name of the mode and reversing two channels, I didn’t have to change any settings from this article.


I thought that the quad didn’t work the first time, but it turns out that the back two motors don’t activate as quickly as the first two. I’m still not really sure how to fix this, so I just leaned forward a little bit and punched it up into the sky. I haven’t tested this new version extensively, and I’m not sure if it’s in acro mode or not. I plan on flying it on the 4th, so I’ll probably write up something about how I could improve those flights later.


Ready to go! (ish)


Edit: The second day I flew it, I experienced a very odd bug, where the front right and back left motors would eventually just stop working if the transmitter was connected. I’m still not entirely sure what is causing this particular issue, but I’m looking into it.


Basically, the quadcopter tuning process works like this:

  1. Spend 45 minutes getting progressively more frustrated when you can’t plug it into the computer and get it to be recognized.
  2. Switch boards, switch boards, switch boards again.
  3. Follow FliteTest guide.
  4. Set up transmitter.
  5. Fly.
  6. Crash.
  7. Go back to step 1.





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