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DTFc Flight Controller – Review

After putting the DTFc (avalable from RotorGeeks here) Top 5 Flight Controllers June 2016, many of you asked for a full review. So never one to disappoint at Drone Insider here it is:

Impressions

Well it’s a flight controller, like most of them, the DTFc comes in a protective metal case. Inside you will find all the pins necessary in both right angle and straight configurations, as well as Nylon nuts and bolts to stop it shorting with your Carbon fibre frame. It is also designed to stack with your OSDOGE which again simplifies your build. The 5V regulator is 1.2A which is more than enough to run a camera as well as LEDs and RX, with still more room to spare.

DTFC_Tilt-Top_600

We were slightly disappointed not to see a 12V BEC or at least an LC filter, but we realize that it is incredibly tough to fit both a flight controller on PDB so we commend DTF UHF for their efforts. The DTFc also doesn’t feature a flash chip black box, so if you are hoping to tune to perfection this may not be the FC for you. That being said there is a space for it underneath the board so you can solder a flash chip on it, if you a handy with a soldering iron.

Flashing

DTF UHF thought that it would be best to save one of the ‘precious’ serial ports on the F3 so DTFc uses a Virtual Com Port instead (VCP). Now if you are experienced with Flight controllers or are coming from Moto Cyclone this will be no issue to you. However, if you are not used to VCPs there are few differences you should note.

  • Every time you use the CLI on Cleanflight you must disconnect and then reconnect
  • In order to connect the FC to your computer there are a different set of drivers and sequences to follow. Rotorgeeks do have a guide on how to use this but we found it much easier to use a very handy Impulse RC Program found on this thread (we can’t link it directly)

All 3 serial ports would be used up, in the case you are running SBus, Blackbox and an OSD/Telemetry. We think this however is a fairly unlikley scenario for most uses, so we generally prefer the use of a CP2010x like the F303 does. If you really want Black Box logging on your DTFc you can solder on a flash chip or use an external OpenLog device.

The Build

In terms of normal PDBs this was obviously a bit harder, due to the care which has to be take around some of the finer Flight controller components. We wouldn’t recommend this board for first time builders, but it is certainly good for people building their 2nd+ quad. The design on the solder pads means there is more than enough space for ESC wires and as long as you are not sloppy with your soldering you should run into no issues. Luckily when we first powered on there were no infamous blue sparks. The Lack of a PDB stacked below the DTFc meant we had acres of space left in the Shreiker, something we’re not used to in micros! This feature makes the DTFc perfect for low slung quads like the Atom, where vertical space is at a premium. The Flat bottom also allows you run standoffs half the normal size and still route wires and a battery strap underneath the board. The LED pins are the perfect place to tap off for a 5v for a camera.

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Design

When it comes to making a Flight controller and PDB in one, we realize that this is breaking new ground so we don’t expect it to be perfect. From the looks of the board it seems that the PDB was designed around the flight controller for understandable reasons. If you plan to use this board for micros it is important to bear this in mind, as PDB solder pads are not centered on the board meaning the wire management may change if you are replacing a PDB with this board.

There were a few designs differences which are worth noting

  • If you have the ESC pins facing inwards, be sure to have them slanted up otherwise the ervo connecters press down on the BOOT LOADER button.
  • Also watch out for the right hand +ve ESC solder pad as it is right next to the -ve Micro USB, so you could have a possible short if you are a messy solderer
  • Please Note that in order to get 5V going through the ESC pins you have to jump the little solder pad to the right of the ESC pins. In our opinion this is a good design as it avoids the issue which occurred with the early Naze rev6 where ESC sometimes drew 5V from the micro USB, in the case of a bad soldering job.
  • We were worried that 120A or 1800W on 4S running so close to so many sensitive chips would cause noise or EM interference but so far we haven’t had any issues.

DTFc-back-800x600

Specs

  • Integrated F3 based FC and PDB in one board
  • ICM-20608-G shock tolerant IMU using SPI
  • 120A current sensor
  • PPM/SBUS/SUMD/ Any other input you desire – just plug it in and configure
  • Dedicated LEDstrip port with on board 5V regulator
  • 6S capable! Made for power
  • Runs Betaflight – BLHeli ESC Passthru capable (use the DOGE target!)
  • Want to try the more advanced dRonin software? That’s coming too!
  • Two serial ports available – not shared with SerialRX port or USB port

Flying

Flying this thing was a treat. We must confess that we got lucky with the tune. We flashed the DTFc before we built the quad, loaded Luxfloat and set the PIDs off of intuition. Turns out we got it spot on. Never had such a good first time tune (whether this was our skill or Borisb’s incredible coding remains to be seen). We ran looptime at 4K in order to fully utilize the F3 chip. The weight saved by not running a PDB marginally improved flight characteristics as any shaved always weight does. One key thing to note is that the Gyro is designed specifically for high noise environments, like the quads we fly. Some however are having issues similar to the Naze rev6 and Lumenier Lux, in that they can’t get quite as good a tune due to gyro noise. The debate is still out to whether this is a coding issue or a hardware issue. In our flights with it we have no had any issues.

Conclusion

At $45 the DTFc is quite expensive especially as the XRacer is now selling for as low as $26. Obviously it would be cheaper simply to a buy PDB and a separate flight controller. But remember the extra you pay is buying you great customer service from David at Rotorgeeks as well as supporting innovation from the people at DTF UHF. The Flight Controller does everything asked of it and more. It flies brilliantly, while at the same time simplifying and lightening your build. Yes VCP is a pain, but once you learn how to use it, it’s not a major hassle. Unlike some Chinese products, it is clear that time and common sense has gone into this board, and it is clear design features are there for a reason. We hugely respect DTF UHF for taking the time to innovate in the hobby and even though this is not a perfect product, it is certainly a good first try.

Build/flashing: 5/10

Flying: 8/10

Overall: 7:10

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