Tuesday, 24 October 2017

iNav Basics - Flight Control Boards

October 2017 - Betaflight is the most recent firmware for flight control boards (FCBs) and iNav is the GPS enabled
re-write of Betaflight which also caters for fixed wing models.

All the setup is done using the iNav Configurator. Works on PC and Mac as long as you can locate the correct drivers for the board you have. All the information on iNav is kept in the iNav Wiki on GitHub

I'm quite new to all this auto pilot stuff and there is a steep learning curve, so I thought I could pass on what I have learned so far.

So far I have experience with the Paris Sirius AIR3 F3 board with GPS from Multiwiicopter
Omnibus F4 V1 board
Matek F405 Wing
Matek F411 Wing
Ublox Neo M8N GPS module

The value of the AIR3 board is that it comes mounted in a gel damped housing with all the connectors and GPS sensor, and it's pre-loaded with the latest stable iNav firmware. Most of the tricky stuff is already done for you.

The AIR3 is an F3 board and doesn't have a built in OSD, but an addon OSD is available. The AIR3 OSD is configured using the MWOSD Chrome App, and partially by using your transmitter sticks.

If you're handy with a soldering iron and want to do it all yourself, you can follow Matt Ogbourne's video series on the Omnibus board setup. You will have to do all the soldering, firmware flashing and setup yourself. The Omnibus F4 does have a built-in OSD, which is configured in the iNav Configurator.



UPDATE 2018: The Matek F405 Wing and F411 Wing boards have changed the game. They are dedicated fixed wing boards with more servo outputs and a built in BEC specifically for servo power, as well as separate filtered BEC's for video, RC receiver and other gear.

Servos, Camera / VTx and receiver can be powered straight from the board.

A quick tip for soldering on the battery and ESC plugs. Silicon covered 16AWG is the best size wire, 18AWG is OK for low current light weight planes, but 14AWG is a bit too thick and difficult to solder onto the pads.

Power supply for non Matek Boards
The connections to FCBs are a little more tricky than normal ESC/receiver/servo connections because FCBs are more sensitive to incorrect or fluctuating voltage supply. With voltage spikes, FCBs can shut down, brown out or reboot causing total loss of control of the model.

It is highly recommended that the board and servos are powered by an accurate and stable 5.0V BEC like the AIR3 iNav BEC. You need to make up a power distribution cable so the BEC can plug into the board, and power the servos separately. As the 5.0V is being supplied to the FCB by the BEC you must disconnect the 5V line (red wire) from the ESC. Not a good idea to have two power sources for the FCB. Then all the signal wires from the servos and ESC connect to the board. The ground wires can either connect to the BEC or the board.

Another recommended precaution is to plug a voltage smoothing capacitor into your FCB, like this 3300uF 25V from MultiWiiCopter. The capacitor connects to any spare output pin-set across the power and ground pins, and absorbs any voltage fluctuations. Can also be plugged into receivers for added safety.

If you want to live dangerously you can just plug the servos and ESC straight into the board. like you would with a receiver, but you are only one voltage spike away from a crash.