What do you think of when you think of gliders, quadcopters and other ready to fly drones?
If you’re like most of us, you don’t think about leisurely flights over fields. You think of surveillance. You probably also think of buzzing around the park.
What you likely don’t think of, however, is airsoft drones.
It might seem strange to even suggest rtf drones as airsoft battle aids. After all, many of them are made from foam.
But you may want to consider adding a RC helicopter or drone to the mandatory airsoft gear you bring to the field.
As you might suspect, these RC drones will not hold up well if they are shot, and that’s to say nothing of the electronics.
However, remote control drones are becoming more popular on the airsoft battlefield, especially in huge milsim games where surveillance is necessary.
Despite the advantages that they pose in an airsoft scenario, there are still disadvantages. That’s why we’re here today, actually.
Today’s article will focus on the advantages, disadvantages, and considerations of quadcopter use in airsoft, and will give you a good idea how to build your own airsoft drone.
What is a Drone?
For those of you who don’t know, or haven’t ever seen one, a drone is a small, RC aircraft. Most of them use IR controllers. However, some newer models can be controlled from a phone via an app.
Most drones are made of lightweight foam. This allows them to fly quite well, as long as the weather is calm.
However, to get one that can fly against a breeze, you’ll need a few hundred bucks, at least if you’re using an ordinary drone.
What Kind of Airsoft Drone Would You Need?
As said before, a drone isn’t something that usually works well in a game of airsoft simply because of its fragility and wind resistance issues.
However, there are some drones that will work. Even better, they’re not horribly expensive.
The best RC drone to use is the multirotor Hobbyking Foldable Tricopter. This is not a copter for beginning pilots, and you need somewhere to fly that is the size of a ball field, but the results are spectacular.
The whole system, including the controller with the GPS functionality, tops out at $242. However, when most good-quality drones cost $500, this is an amazing deal.
The air frame of this drone is made of thin aluminum tubing. This makes it a hard target to hit from the ground, especially if it’s flying at over a hundred feet in altitude.
The frame is also large enough to make it stable if there’s a breeze. No need to worry about it crashing with a little puff of wind.
The frame is over 400 millimeters from motor to motor. This means you’ll have room for your video camera, transmitter, battery and possibly other things.
Hobbyking sells both the frame and the entire system. However, it’s best to buy the frame and add your own power system.
You will need enough power to carry a large payload.
For that reason, it is best to put in several brushless motors. The NTM 28-30S 800Kv 300W brushless outrunner motors are good examples of what to use.
Pair those with 10×4.5 slowflyer props and you have something that will give you all the lift you could possibly need.
The thing to remember when choosing your power system is that your drone is going to weigh over a pound after you’ve got it loaded.
You don’t want it to fall out of the sky or never get off the ground in the first place. Make sure your power system can handle the demands you put on it.
There are plenty of flight control systems out there that would work for an airsoft drone of this type.
However, if you are going to fly the drone with FPV goggles which will allow you to see what the drone sees, you will need some safety features, at least position hold and return home.
That way, you don’t crash the drone as you’re flying.
Another consideration when choosing a control system is how easy it is to use. If there is a learning curve, you need to make sure that the online resources and support community are good.
That way you won’t be sitting around staring at your controller or the included software wondering what the heck you’re supposed to do.
It’s also wise to choose a control board with a three-gyro axis, a magnetometer, accelerometer, and a high-performance barometer.
This way, you have a full six degrees of freedom and the ability to sense precisely what your position is.
Though a compass isn’t necessary, it is a good idea to have a board with the compass integrated in as well.
You can even find boards that will let you program in way points, letting the drone fly autonomously.
You will need a tiny video camera for your drone, and something for it to transmit back to, whether that be a tiny monitor on your transmitter, a little monitor beside you, or even goggles you can wear.
The sky’s really the limit, pardon the pun, here. It would serve you well to write out some guidelines on what you want your camera system to be able to do.
Do you want it to do 780P video? Do you want to be able to tilt it by using a wheel on your transmitter?
Whatever you want to do, write it down first. Then you can more easily find a system that meets your specs.
About the Transmitter
If you are going to do this project and spend the necessary money, you want a transmitter that will allow a lot of customization.
This way, you can add extra functionality to your drone over time. You won’t have to spend the money to buy a new transmitter if you discover later that there’s something important you left out, or found a need for.
Your transmitter will grow with you.
Advantages of Using an Airsoft Drone
Theoretically, if you had a drone which could handle the rigors and demands of an airsoft game, there’d be a lot of reasons to use one.
For example, drones are very common in the military. Why not use them at the hobby level as well? It would definitely add a lot of realism to your game, and be a good simulator.
Another reason to use a drone is recon. After all, doing reconnoissance while on the field isn’t always the best strategy. Enemies can hide, preventing you from finding them from the ground until they find you.
With a drone, it would be quite easy to take aerial video of the field. You could rig the drone up to send information such as your enemy’s defensive positions back to your base station.
Then you could radio the enemy’s coordinates to the rest of your team.
Then there’s the element of surprise. Most combatants don’t expect a drone to come sailing over the field, and chances are, they won’t know what to do about it.
After all, most people won’t shoot down someone’s expensive drone with their airsoft gun, at the risk of having an angry drone pilot on their hands, which would ruin the game for everyone.
RC drones can also carry grenades or other projectiles.
This can be utter hell on your enemies, as you can fly over them and swoop fast enough to dislodge the airsoft grenade, sending it hurtling down into your enemy’s defenses.
Imagine a shower shell that takes out half the enemy team from that high up. They will have no idea what hit them.
Because you are flying a drone, you can hide, well out of the line of fire. Then use your drone to utterly terrorize your opposition.
Disadvantages of Airsoft Drone Use
Though using a drone in an airsoft game has some advantages, it isn’t all sunshine and roses. There are disadvantages, too.
Firstly, there’s the chance your drone will get shot down.
After all, even a drone with a thin, aluminum frame isn’t totally immune to shots.
Imagine someone aiming their airsoft sniper rifle (or even their pistol for that matter), at your brand new camera drone, firing an airsoft BB from their gun, and hitting you drone.
I’d be upset for at least a month afterwards.
Even if the enemy didn’t mean to shoot your drone, it’s a possibility they would. Though you can minimize the chances of damage, you can’t prevent it entirely. You run the risk of damaging the frame or electronics.
Another disadvantage of RC drone use is the fact that fields really don’t have rules in place for it yet.
That means there’s no real way to make sure things are fair, both for the drone user and the team without the drone.
After all, having a drone on the battlefield would give one team a really huge disadvantage over the other, and that won’t fly on a public field, at least not at this time.
Drones are pretty much worthless in the woods. They can snag in trees, and visibility in the woods from above is really poor.
All you’ll get is endless video of trees, since the other team has most likely camouflaged themselves well enough they won’t stand out in foliage.
Drones also don’t work in small spaces. If you’re doing airsoft in your backyard, you’re likely not going to be able to use your drone.
They need a space the size of a football field at least, to have enough space to take off and land. If you don’t give them that much space, they run the risk of crashing, or overshooting your field entirely.
Airsoft drones can be pretty cheap as far as drone prices go. However, they can also shoot up in price rapidly depending on what bells and whistles you want to add.
Then you have to also throw in the price of a camera, goggles, maybe a small monitor for your base station, or a transmitter with a monitor on it, and you start running into some serious money.
Make sure you have a fat wallet before you start this project.
Also, if you are new to airsoft, having a drone won’t be the right thing for you, most likely unless you are a seasoned drone pilot.
These drones require experienced pilots to prevent them from crashing and destroying your expensive video equipment in the process.
So, since there are no rules for drone use on public airsoft fields at this time, what would be some rules that could be implemented?
Don’t Shoot The Drone
If someone stumbles into a game area, unprotected, you don’t shoot them. You call a cease fire. It would be no problem to put a rule into affect that states you can’t shoot the drone, in much the same way.
Then if a player didn’t follow that rule, it’d be like the player who doesn’t follow any other game rule such as not calling their hits.
Secondly, there should be, for the other team’s sake, some places that the drone cannot go. Think of them like safe zones if you will.
Anyone within that zone cannot be observed. That way, the other team has a bit of time to regroup if they need it, a place to come up with strategies, etc.
Most people don’t think of radio control drones when they think of airsoft games. However, they can really be a fun addition.
You just have to make sure you do the right sort of build. You need a thin, hard-to-hit frame, a power system that can handle a lot of extra weight from batteries, video cameras and receivers, and a transmitter with plenty of customization.
You also need to check the rules at the field where you plan on playing. A lot of fields don’t have rules about drone use, even though it’s becoming more popular, and may not allow you to bring one in.
Also, it is important to make sure that you have the proper field to play on. A drone requires a space the size of a football field in order to fly properly. Anything less than that and the drone will overshoot the field.
You should make sure to follow the safety rules for drone use. Failing to do so could lead to fines or other legal difficulties.
That being said, the future of airsoft seems pretty exciting. Having drones flying in the air capturing surveillance, and even one day possibly firing airsoft BBs at unsuspecting targets, makes the future of airsoft look bright.
Despite all of this having a RC drone can really add to the realism and intensity of your airsoft game, creating something that feels much more like actual military combat than a simple skirmish with your buddies.