betaflight-basics-setup-configuration

How to use Betaflight | Basic Setup

We all have smartphones which mostly run on software's called Android or iOS. Betaflight is a software that the FPV Flight controllers run. But why do we need these software’s in the first place? We have to keep in mind that not everyone’s use case scenario is the same. Most modern Flight controllers are so advanced and feature rich that the manufacturer can’t cater for the needs of everyone, and by doing this the manufacturers can also save some costs and thereby, cheaper Flight controllers.

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Betaflight bridges the gap between functionality and ease of use. Betaflight over the years with continuous development has become easy to use and configure. Betaflight has most if not all of the funcionality of the Flight controller listed under GUI, Graphical user interfaces- similar to laptops where you point and click. This point-click interface between man and machine is so refined that getting started with Betaflight has never been easier.

Today we are going to learn how to use Betaflight configurator and look at the various options and customizations present in Betaflight.

Installing Betaflight

Installing Betaflight is the first step in configuring your flight controller. Since most people use Windows, we will base this article around Windows. Betaflight software can be installed on Windows, Linux and MacOS operating systems. Based on your operating system, download the appropriate files from here.

betaflight install

Double clicking on the downloaded file will guide you through the installation process. After installing Betaflight, we need to download drivers. Drivers are interfaces between Betaflight and the Flight controller. The drivers used are the CP210X driver and the STM32 VCP, virtual com port, driver from Joshua Bardwell’s OneDrive hosting or can be downloaded from the official site from here.

betaflight download
download betaflight

After installing Betaflight, as of this writing on Feb 2020 is the Betaflight 10.6.0 release. If you did everything right, opening Betaflight should work and a new com port, COM3, should appear. Clicking on the connect icon will open Betaflight.

betaflight windows

Another piece of nifty software that comes in handy is the ImpulseRC driver. This driver helps us boot the flight controller into bootloader mode. More on this below

Backing up and Installing latest Firmware

Every flight controller comes with a factory Betaflight Firmware installed and backing up should be first on our agenda before fiddling with the settings. Backed up files can be used to restore to default values in case things go south.

betaflight firmware

CLI, command line interface, is used to backup our default firmware. On the bottom of the page, there is a bar that is used to type all our commands. Type in that bar- diff all. Diff all gives the factory firmware which can be saved as a text file for later use. Click on the save to file and save it in a folder.

betaflight CLI

After backing up our default firmware, we can now check for the latest Betaflight release. To update the firmware on to the flight controller, the flight controller must be in bootloader mode or in simpler terms programming mode. Bootloader programs the Flight controllers with a new set of code.

To put the Flight controller into bootloader mode, there is a button present on all the flight controllers which must be held down and connect the USB cable to put the FC into bootloader mode. I must say it is not the easiest thing in the world. There are several ways of going about this- from the CLI command line and using the ImpulseRC driver fixer.

ImpulseRC driver fixer

In the CLI command line, typing bl, short for bootloader, will reboot the flight controller into bootloader mode. This works for most Flight controllers. If this doesn’t work, the ImpulseRC driver can be used which can be downloaded from here. Opening the ImpulseRC diver will put the flight controller into bootloader mode.

how to flash betaflight
flash betaflight

Betaflight target is a board specific firmware that differs from flight controller to flight controller, as each manufacturer uses a different board layout. In the above picture #version line; Betaflight / OMNIBUSF4, this gives our board manufacturer and the Betaflight target. In my case, OMNIBUSF4 is my Betaflight target.

In the first drop down, the Betaflight target is selected and in the second drop down, the Betaflight firmware version is picked. Sometimes the latest Betaflight firmware may not always be perfect and might contain bugs and software issues and If that is the case, older firmware’s can be reflashed again.

I usually like to delete the older firmware completely, click on the full chip erase, before flashing the firmware. Clicking on the flash firmware flashes the respective firmware onto the Flight controller.

Betaflight Receiver Setup

I usually like to delete the older firmware completely, click on the full chip erase, before flashing the firmware. Clicking on the flash firmware flashes the respective firmware onto the Flight controller.

betaflight receiver setup

Based on the type of transmitter and receiver being use, the receiver should be setup accordingly. If the receiver is a Ibus, Spektrum or a Sbus receiver, the serial receiver tab should be enabled in the particular UART. After enabling the serial rx scroll down to configuration tab and select the type of receiver you are using, Sbus in our case. However PPM receivers do not require enabling of serial Rx.

betaflight receiver configuration

The transmitter talks to the quad through the receiver. Setting up the receiver is an important aspect in the setting of a quad. One part of the receiver is ensuring that the movement of sticks on the transmitter corresponds to flight controller firmware.

Betaflight Motor Configuration

Motor configuration tab help us to configure how the ESC talks to the FC. If the ESC is running DSHOT 1200 firmware, the motor configuration tab is where we let the FC know that the ESC is running DSHOT1200, meaning to say the firmwares have to match.

Tip of the day: If the selected FC and the ESC firmware do not match, the motors will refuse to spin.

betaflight-motor

The ESC/Motor Features drop down menu has various firmware's that are used in the ESC’s. Dshot1200 is the latest ESC firmware and if your ESC supports it, it will appear in this drop-down menu and you select it. On the contrary you downgrade from a higher newer firmware to an old one. If you for some reason want to run Dshot600, it can be done but be sure to change the firmware on the ESC as well

gyrp-pid-frequency

Gyroscopes or gyro in short measures the angular orientation of the quad. Gyros are even found on smartphones. Have you played car racing games where you tilt the phone to the right or left and the car turns? Ever wonder how!!

The frequency determines how often the gyro measures the angular orientation in a second. A higher update frequency means a better and more accurate quad. For example, if the gyro is set at 8KHz update frequency, the gyro measures its orientation 8,000 times every second. The drone industry has advanced and there are gyros that can update at 32KHz (32,000 times every second). PID loop frequency will be discussed in detail further down the article.

Betaflight Channel Mapping

Channel mapping is done in the receiver tab. Channel mapping is basically checking if the movement of the sticks on the transmitter and the corresponding response of the quad is correct. If you followed everything until now and assuming nothing went wrong, when the sticks are moved on the transmitter the tabs on the receiver should move.

betaflight channel mapping

A mode 1 transmitter has the throttle and the roll channels on the right stick and the pitch and yaw on the left sticks. A mode 2 transmitter has the pitch and roll on the right stick while the throttle and the yaw movement are on the left stick. If the controls are inverted, in the channel map dropdown menu change the AETR1234 to TAER1234. Now let us see what the tabs actually mean

Roll [A]- Roll is the rolling movement of the quad when viewed from the front of the quad.

Pitch [E]- Pitch is the nose up and nose down movement of the quad when viewed from the front of the quad.

Yaw [R]- Yaw is the turning movement of the quad when viewed from the front of the quad.

Throttle [T]- Throttle is the speed at which the quad flies. (Please include these for a visual representation beside each Pitch GIF Roll GIF Yaw GIF )

Enter your text here...

Roll [A] - Roll is the rolling movement of the quad when viewed from the front of the quad.

Roll-Drone

Pitch [E] - Pitch is the nose up and nose down movement of the quad when viewed from the front of the quad.

Pitch-Drone

Yaw [R] - Yaw is the turning movement of the quad when viewed from the front of the quad.

Yaw-Drone

Throttle [T] - Throttle is the speed at which the quad flies.

Betaflight Modes

Modes are similar to the modes found on a car with different driving modes. Similarly, the modes on a quad are for the different flight types of the quad with the quad behaving differently in each mode. A switch on the transmitter is used to toggle between the different modes.

One such mode is the ARM. Arm mode enables the quad to be armed. This is a crucial step because unless you setup the ARM mode on the quad, it will not fly. A 2-position switch is required to arm and disarm the quad.

betaflight-modes
betaflight flight modes

To setup the ARM-DISARM on the quad, pick and assign the switch on the transmitter. Now if you flick the switch, the tiny yellow bar will move indicating the position of the switch with 1000 being the first position and 2000 being the second position of the switch. Place the slider at the position 1000 and click save.

Angle Mode- This mode is recommended for beginners. Angle mode is a self levelling mode that works by using the onboard Gyros of the FC. The quad levels itself when you let go of the transmitter sticks and will not let the quad tilt past 50, degrees by default, in an effort to minimize abrupt movements

Horizon Mode- This is a step up from the Angle Mode which provides a little freedom in flying. The Horizon mode lets you do flips and rolls without restricting you from doing acrobatic flying with the quad and still levels itself when the sticks on the transmitter are let go.

Acro Mode- This mode disables all restrictions placed on the quad and gives full freedom in the control and movement of the quad. With the auto levelling feature disabled in this mode, input from the flyer is required to level the quad.

Angle mode is not really used by pilots because most of the beginners have extensive practice in a simulator before flying. The Horizon and Acro mode are extensively used and is usually setup on a 2-position switch. Check our guide on the popular FPV Drone Simulators.

Betaflight OSD

OSD stands for On screen display. As the name suggests, the OSD feature displays the various flight parameters onto the video being transmitted. The various OSD parameters can be switched on and off by the user, resized by the user and placed wherever you want.

betaflight osd

There are various parameters to choose what gets overlayed onto the screen. But we have to keep in mind that having too many details takes up screen space and obstructs your view. Hence it is advisable to have only the important aspects being displayed.

Main Batt Voltage- This is the battery voltage that gets measured in real time. This is one of the most important parameters that helps you determine the flying times of the quad. A low voltage warning means it is time to land without damaging the battery.

Timers 1- Timers keep a track of the flying times of the quad.

Craft Name- This is especially useful when a few people are flying and to lock onto the channel of your quad.

VTx Channel- VTx channel lets you to identify the channel in which the video transmitter is in and lets you tune on the goggles. Of course there is an auto scan feature on the googles, but what if 10 people are flying?

Current Draw- This is another feature that helps you save the quad from burning itself. Motors these are insanely powerful and are increasingly power hungry. The current draw will let you monitor the current being drawn by the motors and if you are drawing too much current, it might be a good idea to pull back on that thottle.

MAh Drawn- This lets you monitor the power drawn from the battery. This can be determine how much power the quad draws at various throttle limits and find the sweet spot that works best for you.

osd-warning-battery-voltage-betaflight

Warnings- As the name suggests, when you get below the minimum safe voltage of the battery, the warning command will blink on the center of the screen grabbing your attention and forcing you land.

Rates and Expos

betaflight-rates

RC Rates- RC rates or Rates in short is the rate at which the quad executes a command given by the user measured in degrees per second. This refers to the Yaw, Pitch and the Roll of the quad. Higher the rate, faster the quad rotates. A higher rate might also means increased sensitivity to the transmitters sticks with small deflections producing large and sudden movements on the quad.

RC Expos- RC Exponential or Exponential in short increases the stick sensitivity when the sticks are centered and gradually increases near the end

means the minimum and maximum stick deflection is the same and with increased expos the straight line becoming a curve at the center.

Super Rates- Super rates are a combination of RC Rates and RC Expos. Super Rate is a relatively new parameter that was introduced by Betaflight. Super Rate is essentially a combination of RC Rate and Expo, increasing Super Rate values vastly quickens rotation speed in the far reaches of the stick range. At the same time, sensitivity reduces around center stick. Although Super Rate has replaced the primary function of Expo, Expo can still be used in conjunction with RC Rate and Super Rate if an extremely dull center stick region is desired.

How to find the right Rate or Expo?

I always adjust RC Rate first. Take the quad for a cruise just casual flying, no flips or rolls and making a note of how the quad responds to the sticks when taking turns.

Then increase or decrease Super Rate doing flips and rolls. You can also check in the GUI, what deg/sec you prefer. Note that Super Rate also affects your centre stick sensitivity, so you might need to fine tune your RC Rate afterwards…

Now perform some precise and smooth flying with very little movement around mid stick. Adjust RC Expo until you find a good balance between precision and responsiveness. You might need to go back and forth a few times to get the right feel.

PID Tuning

PID tuning fine tunes the flying characteristics of the quad. PID tuning is a tedious process that takes a lot of patience and time consuming. We can talk about PID tuning all day and still not be over it. There’s not one right way to do it. Some people like to manually play with the PID values, while some people with the technological advancements feed the black box data of the quads into PID analyzers to get the desired values. ​

Try both the methods and see go with what works best for you. PID Analyzers are gaining popularity in recent times and are proved to provide good results than manual tuning. Here is a good video on Plasma tree PID analyzer

CLI Interface

CLI stands for command line interface. With consequent development going into developing the Betaflight software, it is impossible to list all the commands under GUI (Graphical user interafaces, simply put visual tabs that we can see on the screen). Also the commands found in GUI are available and also be used in CLI.

A command in CLI is represented by the [command] followed by the [setting], the setting that we are changing, and the value that we assigning to the setting.

command setting = value

For example, set roll_expo = 10

The CLI command line is case insensitive, meaning to say- SeT RoLL_eXpO = 10 is the same as set roll_expo = 10. After changing the value, it can be verified by using the get command.

Get roll_expo will return the value o, that was previously assigned to roll_expo.

For a list of CLI commands, check the github repository of Betaflight

Conclusion

That’s it. We’ve reached the end!!! Setting up and getting familiar with Betaflight takes time and getting used to. It takes time, took me a good while before I got the hang of it. Betaflight is one of the several Flight control software found today. The reason for the immense popularity behind Betaflight is that Betaflight is Open source (what this means is each and every person that uses Betaflight can participate in improving Betaflight.

You contribute to Betaflight by writing codes if you have programming knowledge or the simplest thing to do would be reporting bugs to the Betaflight team, so that it can be improved in future updates).

Take your time in getting familiar with the software and don’t forget to have fun building quads.

Happy Flying!

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