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Happy New Year, and welcome to the Illinois 4-H Emerging Technologies: Drones/UAVs page.

Here you will find resources to help you start your own Drone SPIN Club, or Drone Fair Project.

As you may have heard, we here at Illinois 4-H are working to finalize our own full Drone Curriculum, and we will be looking for clubs to pilot it starting in February 2018! Email Keith Jacobs at kjaco4@illinois.edu for more information.

The purpose of this page is to act as a springboard for you to explore this exciting field on your own. While there are many explanations and resources on this page, to maximize your learning experience, it is up to you to dig deeper and follow your interests and curiosity wherever it may take you. We will periodically add content and links to this site for those interested in staying up to date with the UAV field.

So what would a Drone SPIN Club Cover? Below is an example of activities your Drone SPIN Club could engage in:

  1. Learn what a drone is, and general applications
  2. Learn general aerospace fundamentals and principles
  3. Learn how a drone works?
  4. Discuss FAA regulations and privacy
  5. Learn the basics of UAV operation
  6. In addition, more advanced clubs/projects may focus on building and operating their own Drone or UAV, and may even tackle adding additional technologies like cameras and gps units.

Use the resources and links on this page to explore the awesome world of Drones!

First Things First: The FAA and Safety

The Federal Aviation Administration is responsible for keeping our skies safe. To keep those safe both in the air and on the ground, The FAA put out a set of rules and regulations that a drone operator must follow. These rules apply to drones that are between .55 lbs and 55 lbs. Drones under .55 lbs do not have to adhere to these rules. Drones over 55 lbs need special permissions from the FAA to fly.  And these are the rules:

  • Only Fly in the Daytime
  • Only fly within Line-of-Sight. You must ALWAYS be able to see your drone
  • Do not fly further than 1 mile away from your location
  • Do not fly over crowds
  • Do not fly higher than 400 ft.
  • Do not fly within 5 miles of an airport
  • Never fly near emergencies such as fires or hurricane recovery efforts
  • Never fly for money (unless you have an FAA approved remote pilots license)

Along with theses general rules, there are a multitude of rules and regulations that must be followed in order to ensure everyone is safe when flying. The complete list of Rules can be found HERE

To help ensure these rules are known and followed, The FAA released an APP called B4UFLY that can be downloaded HERE. https://www.faa.gov/uas/where_to_fly/b4ufly/

The B4UFLY app provides model aircraft users with situational awareness and considers the user’s current or planned location in relation to operational restrictions to derive a specific status indicator. The color and shape coded status indicators inform the user if model aircraft operation is prohibited, requires the user to take certain actions, or if there are no FAA operating restrictions other than flying safely. All model aircraft operations must always yield the right-of-way to manned aircraft.
Key features include:

  • Heads-Up Status View for quick “at-a-glance” review of current status
  • Map Interface to plot nearby flight restrictions 
  • Planner Mode - an advanced user feature to “plan” for different flight locations and times
  • More Info - helpful links for using the B4UFLY app and additional FAA resources

Remember to always be aware of your surroundings, and fly with caution! So, now the fun stuff!

What is a Drone?

According to the FAA, An unmanned aircraft system (UAS), sometimes called a Drone, is an aircraft without a human pilot onboard – instead, the UAS is controlled from an operator on the ground.

Many times drones are referred to as UAVs, which is similar, yet slightly different than a UAS. While a UAS refers to an Unmanned Aerial System which includes a pilot, multirotor/airplane, and a control system, a UAV refers to an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle or the actual quadcopter/airplane. Over the past several years, drones have made their way to the public eye, and have come a long way since the days of scratch building hardware and systems to match. While the technology has advanced tremendously in the past 5 years, the basics remain the same, and this knowledge will enable you and your club to study, and one day even design your own personal use drones!

This following article provides a great overview of the history and future of the Drone industry. There are many links and videos to help illustrate these topics!

The following video link provides a brief introduction to the world of drones!

Drone Flavors:

Drones come in many different shapes, sizes and configurations. For simplicity, we will focus on two different types: Multi-copters and Fixed Winged airplanes. These both have very different capabilities, and advantages.  

Multicopter/ Multirotor: A multicopter/multirotor refers to a drone that has two or more propellers that provide lift for the aircraft. These include bicopters (2), tricopters (3), the well-known and traditional quad copters (4), and hexicopters (6). While they are typically reserved for professional applications, many high capacity/Heavy lift drones come with 8-16 propellers. The number of propellers on a multicopter is really only limited by the battery and weigh capacity of the aircraft.


These aircrafts are typically self-stabilizing like most consumer drones on the market, and use a variety of technologies to keep them safely in the air. These drones typically fly up to 40 miles per hour. On the contrary, there are many drones that are non-stabilized, and require constant pilot input to stay in the air. This is the case with most racing drones, and these UAVs can fly over 80 miles per hour!

Fixed Wing Airplanes: Fixed wing airplanes are what we typically think of when thinking about an airplane. Just like multicopters, there are many flavors of fixed wing aircrafts. Some have tails with stabilizing wings, some have a small wing in the front and a large wing in the back, and some even take vertically from their tails! The thing that makes them all the same is that they have wings that are fixed in one position, and provide lift for the craft. In addition, with the exception of gliders, they all have at least one motor that spins a propeller to provide thrust for the aircraft.

                            FLying Wing

Watch the following short video for a brief description of different types of drones:

General Applications

While many people who purchase or build a drone will only fly recreationally, there is a growing list of applications both personally and commercially.  Keep in mind, that to make money flying drones, you must possess a part 107 sUAS liscence from the FAA. Details on how to become licensed are located in the additional resources section.

The most common non recreational uses for a drone are: film/ cinematography, Aerial Mapping/ Surveying, Precision Agriculture, Drone Racing, and potentially Package Delivery. As the technology advances, more and more uses for these devices are being tested all over the world.

The following links provide examples of common applications:

Watch the video link below to learn more about the many applications for Drones/ UAVs!

General Aerospace Principles

For any object to fly, that object must achieve lift. While fixed wing and Multicopters accomplish this in different ways, the general principles are the same. There are 4 aerodynamic forces to consider when dealing with flight. A force can be thought of as a push or pull in a specific direction. A force is a vector quantity so a force has both a magnitude (amount) and a direction.

Weight- The weight or force of gravity on the aircraft

Lift- the force that overcomes the weight of the aircraft. This force is achieved through the use of wings in the case of fixed winged crafts, or multiple propellers in the case of multicopters.

Drag- The force that pushes against the aircraft opposite it’s direction of travel. Think about how your hand gets pushed backward when you put it out of your car’s window.

Thrust- The force that moves the aircraft forward. In the case of a fixed wing aircraft, thrust comes from the propeller(s)/motors or jet(s) propelling the aircraft forward. In the case of multicopters, thrust comes from the propellers variably changing their speed to move the aircraft forward. 

These principles are explained in depth by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The following link will take you and your team through a series of educational modules that focus on Aerodynamic Principles in Depth.

The Beginner’s Guide to Aerodynamics- At this Web site you can study aerodynamics at your own pace and to your own level of interest. At this Web site you can study aerodynamics at your own pace and to your own level of interest. Some of the topics included are: Newton's basic equations of motion; the motion of a free falling object, that neglects the effects of aerodynamics; the terminal velocity of a falling object subject to both weight and air resistance; the three forces (lift, drag, and weight) that act on a glider; and finally, the four forces that act on a powered airplane. Because aerodynamics involves both the motion of the object and the reaction of the air, there are several pages devoted to basic gas properties and how those properties change through the atmosphere.

At the bottom of each lesson are links to multiple activities surrounding these principles.

While this site is very detailed, there is a mirror site which explains the same principles in a much easier to follow format for beginning and younger youth.

Feel free to explore these links and utilize the many multimedia resources available on these pages! To be the best that you can be as a pilot, it is important to have a general understanding of each of the principles explained in these links.

How Does a Drone Work

A drone is made up of many components, that work together to achieve a common goal: Flight! Here we will focus primarily on the mechanics and flight of most commonly available quadcopters. Here is the general flow of a UAV electronic and flight system. No matter what brand, size, or capabilities of your drone, the following flow is followed to achieve flight or maneuverability in the air:



Quad Flow Diagram: The pilot activates a control on the Transmitter (Tx) >>Receiver (Rx or Radio) on the UAV receives the signal from the Transmitter>>This signal or command is sent to the Flight Controller (FC)>>Flight Controller interprets the command and determines which motors need to spin and at what rate to achieve the pilot’s input command >>FC sends commands to the Electronic Speed Controllers (ESCs)>> ESCs draw the appropriate current from the Battery through the Power Distribution Board (PDB)>>Motors receive appropriate Current>>Spin Propellers>> Frame moves based on ovevrall thrust vector >>input command carried out (flight!)

The following video is a great overview of the various Drone/UAV components used in typical consumer and DIY drones.

This link will take you to an article by Fintan Corrigan that explains How a Quadcopter is able to use each of the listed components to achieve lift. Here, he explains why the motor/propeller direction is important, how the UAV achieves Yaw, Pitch, and Roll, as well as how specific motors are paired with different propellers to increase maneuverability.

The following videos are included in the link above, and provide great explanations of these topics:

Components General Explainations:

The Frame

The first critical component in any Quadcopter is the Frame. Typically made of plastic or a more durable carbon fiber, the frame provides stability and support to the aircraft. Due to its durable and skeleton like purpose, the frame defines the craft’s orientation. It allows for mounting of necessary components, and provides a starting point to expand the UAV’s capabilities. Frames are measured in millimeters from motor to motor diagonally. Like most things in the DIY universe, they can be made from practically anything!


Often times called Props, propellers provide the necessary lift and thrust to achieve flight. Longer propellers can achieve stronger lift at lower rotations per minute (RPM) than a shorter propeller, but take longer to speed up and slow down. On the contrary, shorter propellers allow the quadcopter to change speed quickly and tend to produce better maneuvering capabilities, however they require more energy to spin them. Most drone propellers are made of plastic, and for better quality are made of carbon fiber. Propellers are measured by length and pitch


Motors are rated in “Kv” units, which equate to the number of revolutions per minute a motor can achieve when a 1v current is introduced to it unhindered. The higher the Kv, the faster the motor can spin. Typically, larger propellers for larger frames require lower Kv motors. For example, many professional Octocopters use 330 Kv motors with 18” propellers. On te contrary, smaller racing drones use saller frames, requiring smaller 3”-4” propellers. These drones require small motors rated at 1500+ Kv. Generally, a faster motor spin requires much more power from the battery, causing your flight times to decrease. More RPMs also decrease the life of the motor over the long run.

Electronic Speed Controller (ESC)

Referred to as ESCs, Electronic Speed controllers supply the proper current to the motors, which in turn produce the correct rates of spin for both lift and maneuvering. Each motor is connected to an ESC, which is connected to the Battery through the power distribution board (PDB). Measured in Amps (A), and Lipo (lithium-polymer) battery Cell number. Usually ESCs also come with a battery eliminator circuit BEC which allows for some functions to still work in the event of low battery power.

Power Distribution Board (PDB)

Referred to as PDB, The power distribution board provides electrical power from the battery to the ESC’s, motors, Flight controller and Radio. Each drone typically has one PDB, and it allows for varying amounts of power to be supplied to different components on the drone from the same power source (battery).

Flight Controller

The Brains of the Drone, the flight controller (FC) controls the craft, and interprets the signals the transmitter (remote controller) sends to maneuver the quadcopter. These signals are then sent to each motor through the components of the drone based on the pilots input. Using a series of advanced algorithms, the FC calculates what each motor and component need to do to stay in the air. Not only does the FC control the UAV based on the pilots input, but it also uses environmental input to auto correct its flight path or position in space. For example, if a strong wing pushed the craft west, the FC will counteract those effects by maneuvering the craft east.  Often times FCs have magnetometer and compass/ gyros to keep the craft level and assist the pilot during flight. Most models have expandable GPS Capability and Gimbal control allowing for autonomous flight, and advanced camera capabilities.

Follow the video link below to see the capabilities of FCs and drone components: 

Transmitter / Receiver

The Transmitter (Tx) is what is commonly known as a “remote controller”. When in a pilots hands, the controller is used to control the drone. The signals sent from the Tx are received in the drone by the Receiver (Rx). Each button, switch or nob on the Tx corresponds to a different channel on the Rx. Each Rx channel specifies a different function for the drone to do.

A standard quadcopter requires a minimum of four channels to fly: Throttle, Yaw, Pitch and Roll. Additional channels allow for more advanced functions like gimbal control, to be controlled by the Tx. Most Transmitters use the standard Mode 2 layout in which the left transmitter stick controls throttle and Yaw, and the right stick controls Pitch and Roll. 

Tx/Rx combos come in a variety of frequencies including 2.4 ghz, 1.3 ghz, 5 ghz, and Ultra High Frequency. These frequencies determine how far the Tx signal can travel. Most consumer drones use the 2.4 ghz frequency for Tx/Rx control which provides a typical range of 1 mile or less. This allows for video transmission to be accommodated by the 5 ghz frequency without interference. Drones that need to fly further use the 1.3 ghz frequency, or an Ultra High Frequency transmitter that can transmit a signal 40+ miles

For an awesome example of the long range capabilities of UAVs, watch the Dragon Link team fly a fixed wing craft from space!:


The battery provides power to the aircraft. Typically a LiPo (Lithium Polymer) battery is used to power the UAV, and is rated by Cell count (3.7v per cell, typically 2-6 cells) and C rating, which stands for its capacity to discharge. The power of the battery is usually dictated by the energy draw required from the ESCs for the motors to spin. The higher the cell count, the larger the UAV.

Other components that are typically used in more advanced UAV set ups include gimbal Systems, Video Tx/Rx and cameras, infrared and laser sensors, telemetry systems and GPS modules.

Flying your Drone

This topic is best learned by doing. To get you started, watch the following video by the Flite Test crew. They are some of the most skilled and knowledgeable drone builders and pilots in the industry, and really know what they are talking about.

Additional Resources:

The internet is a vast place full of information on this topic. The following links will provide you with a wealth of information for you to continue to explore this awesome technology. The goal is to enable you to expand your horizons and stay up to date with this growing field. Throughout these links are various video tutorials and resources to get you flying safely, and even building your own Drones! 

General RC/UAV-

  • Flite Test- https://www.flitetest.com/
  • Flite Test YouTube- https://www.youtube.com/user/flitetest
    Here you will find a number of resources and videos to help you navigate the UAV and RC fields. Flite Test was started in a garage by a group of individuals passionate about flight and community. From Drones, to Fixed Wing RC, to Full Scale Flight, this is your one-stop gateway to the most exciting hobby in the world!
  • DIY Drones- http://diydrones.com/
    DIY Drones is a community based on the Ning social networking platform, and anybody who registers (it's free and easy) can post their own blog entries like this one on the front page, along with starting discussions in the sidebar at left or uploading videos below that. Your registration gives you the ability to do a lot on the site--so feel free to post anything you think will be of interest to this community!

There are other amateur sites out there, from the discussion forums of RC Groups to individual blogs, but DIY Drones is explicitly built as a social network, which means that the community is as important as the content. We're also focused on the most accessible end of the amateur UAV world, with the aim of potentially including high school students.

AMA is the world's largest model aviation association, representing a membership of more than 195,000 from every walk of life, income level and age group. AMA is a self-supporting, non-profit organization whose purpose is to promote development of model aviation as a recognized sport and worthwhile recreation activity. The AMA Organization open to anyone interested in model aviation and is free for youth under 19. AMA is also one of the only organizations to provide insurance for it’s youth/non-commercial pilot members.

Drone Racing

DRL is the premiere professional race series for FPV drone racing. The Drone Racing League brings the world's best pilots together to fly the custom designed "DRL Racer 3" drones to race head-to-head through world class 3D courses in iconic locations. Drone Racing is the sport of the future!

Drone Racing Explained- https://youtu.be/TgIW66X8tvs

Ready to Fly Drones

  • Parrot Mondo Mini Drone- https://www.parrot.com/us/minidrones/parrot-mambo-mission#parrot-mambo-mission-details
    Parrot is one of the world’s leading drone manufacturers. One of their most popular drone solutions is the Parrot MAMBO minidrone. Whether you equip it with the Cannon or the Grabber, it will make the sky a surprising adventure ground. Speed ​​racing or skill games, aerobatic or high-flying challenges, you're ready for a maximum of fun. This drone is perfect for indoor activities, and can be flown from a cell phone or tablet!
  • In addition to the Parrot Mini Drones, there are a number of Curriculum and Resources available for you to explore these cool little drones:
  • Roav Copters -https://roavcopters.usu.edu/curriculum

Developed by Jordan Bartholomew and Russ Mayo, This Curriculum focuses on safety and precision when flying your drone. You will be taken through a serries of modules that include the following       (From : https://roavcopters.usu.edu/curriculum):

Unit 1: Following safety procedures

   1.1 Follow mini drone safety practices

Unit 2: Flying the Parrot mini drone remotely  

   2.1 Hover the mini drone at specified altitudes 

   2.2 Fly the mini drone in a square pattern using pitch and roll controls 

   2.3 Fly the mini drone in a square pattern using yaw controls 

   2.4 Fly the mini drone through an obstacle course 

   2.5* Design an obstacle course and fly through it remotely 

Unit 3: Flying the Parrot mini drone autonomously using Tynker--Unit under development 

   3.1 Program the mini drone to fly a simple pattern

   3.2 Program the mini drone to fly through an obstacle course

   3.3* Design an obstacle course and fly through it autonomously

Unit 4: Collecting data autonomously--Unit under development 

   4.1 Collect data using Ardusat space board

   4.2 Retrieve data autonomously using mini drone and space board

Also, there are lessons for writing code for your drone using at this link: 

Programs/ Apps

  • Drone Blocks- http://www.droneblocks.io/
    DroneBlocks offers everything you need to start a drone programming course or club for your 4th-8th grade students. The DroneBlocks App makes programming drone missions accessible through a familiar, easy-to-use "block" programming interface. The DroneBlocks Curriculum provides a full lesson plan that takes you and your students from the basics to more advanced missions. Currently DroneBlocks only supports DJI based drones.
  • Dronedeployhttps://www.dronedeploy.com/
    Drone Deploy allows you to automate mapping flights for any DJI drone using the DroneDeploy mobile app—the most popular mapping app in the world. All you need is a drone and a mobile device. If you do not have a DJI drone, geotagged images can be loaded to the app from any drone.
  • 3D Mapping With Drone Deploy Video- https://youtu.be/q3wXggCqY_8 
  • B4UFLY -https://www.faa.gov/uas/where_to_fly/b4ufly/ 
    B4UFLY is an easy-to-use smartphone app that helps unmanned aircraft operators determine whether there are any restrictions or requirements in effect at the location where they want to fly.

DIY Drone Projects/Instructions

While you can purchase complete DIY kits, you can also scratch build the drone using everyday items or even a 3-D printed frame with an inexpensive RC electronics. Here are some builds:

For more information on this topic, feel free to contact Keith Jacobs at kjaco4@illinois.edu, and check back for updates!