Beyond traditional smaller quadcopter designs on the market, the usual choice for an upgrade is a hex or octocopter… but the form factor of 6 motors and props on the three-armed “Y” formation of the 3D Robotics RTF Y6 airframe provides not only good stability in windy conditions, but a hotrod of a UAV capable of over 55mph and some truly impressive video footage. But hold on – this sucker can really FLY!
3D Robotics RTF Y6 Multicopter
Upon first inspection, the 3D Robotics RTF Y6 is a somewhat menacing beast by design… looking more like a robotic wasp than an aerial photographic drone. With a total of six motors and props (3 over 3 inverted props) to provide lift, acceleration and stability in the air, the 3DR Y6 can easily carry your GoPro and gimbal and large battery packs for longer flights and greater speeds than a smaller quadcopter can manage.
Depending on the configuration you choose when ordering from the 3D Robotics website, you can select from different telemetry frequencies, radio control systems, 2-axis stabilized gimbal for the GoPro, OSD/FPV system with monitor and extra batteries and replacement parts as well as a custom molded hard GoProfessional case that the 3DR Y6 can fold up and fit inside a compact space – unlike most hex copter configurations.
When transporting or storing the 3DR Y6, you can quickly and easily fold the two forward arms back, by removing two screws with thumb-nuts and collapsing the craft toward the rudder arm. You do have to take care not to put any pressure on the gimbal if you have one as the legs won’t support the weight of the unit in this position.
The 3DR Y6 features their Pixhawk autopilot system with GPS navigation, which delivers performance, flexibility and reliable autonomous flight missions. This allows you to use Flight Planner software or the Droid Planner app on your Android tablet to set waypoints or survey an area outlined area on a map. I’ll share more on this later in this article.
The unit I tested had FPV which also included a built-in FPV camera mounted to the front of the frame, which you could use to pilot the craft or connect your GoPro to line up shots. If you like FPV flying with goggles or a monitor, the built-in camera gives you a real view of what your craft is doing whereas the smoothness of the gimbal and the wide angle of the GoPro can often mislead you thinking you have more clearance than you actually do – especially with the wider stance of the Y6 over a smaller quadcopter.
The 3DR Y6 RTF features (as listed on the 3DR website):
- A full range of autonomous flight modes, including waypoint navigation, loiter, circle, and return to launch
- Free mission-planning software enables virtually unlimited waypoints for reliable, repeatable missions, and flight data analysis
- Geofencing and robust failsafes ensure the safest operation
- Longer landing gear for additional ground clearance with camera gimbals
- A 12V regulator to run FPV and gimbals
- An I2C splitter for extra sensor/device connections
- Updated battery layout to allow for large, or parallel, batteries
- Updated motor and propeller configuration for improved efficiency and control.
- Pixhawk Autopilot System
- 3DR Power Module with XT60 connector
- 3DR u-blox GPS with magnetometer
- 850 Kv brushless motors
- 20 Amp ESCs with SimonK firmware
- 10×4.7 slow-fly APC propellers
- 4S 6000 mAh battery pack, battery charger and battery bag
- Vehicle weight (with battery): 4.2 lbs
- Box Dimensions: 20 in x 14 in x 8 in
- Shipping Weight: 12.5 lbs
- Average flight time: 12-15 minutes*
- Payload capacity: 600 g
* Average flight time for basic 3DR Y6 RTF configuration. Actual flight times will vary depending on flying style, environmental conditions, payload and other variables.
Flight Modes & Special Features
One feature I really like about all the 3DR copters is the Safety Switch which arms the motor controls so you can’t take off until you arm it. This means you plug in the battery to power up the RTF Y6 and let it warm up and locate the satellites through GPS, wait for the flashing green LED on the Pixhawk and be sure your controller and FPV is all working – then you can push the red Safety button on the top of the craft to arm it before taking off. This eliminates runaways and false take-offs and makes it safe to approach the craft without the fear of injury from spinning props. I think this is a fantastic feature for any multirotor!
There are various flight modes that the RTF Y6 can perform – many “feel” similar to other manufacturers’ craft in operation, but the Pixhawk is quite advanced and allows full autonomous control with a flight planner mission downloaded to the copter from your PC or Android tablet/phone.
I’ll get into these flight modes more in my hands-on experience coverage on the following page…
Hands-on Experience with the RTF Y6
After flying various versions and configurations of the DJI Phantom for over 2 years and a couple of hexcopters, I thought I was prepared for this experience. And it was a good prep for managing my flight controls, orientation, camera positioning and general flight with an RC controller – but this is really a different beast in the end.
I strongly suggest anyone new to the Y6 format start out in Loiter Mode (similar to GPS mode on a Phantom or S500/S900) – as this allows you to maintain smooth operation and control of the craft in most situations. And it will help you gain some flight time experience in how the craft maneuvers a bit differently – especially in the yaw/rudder control.
I maintained the Loiter mode for my first dozen or so flights with the Y6 and even played a bit with the Altitude mode to see how level I could line up shots and move in all directions.
But it was the day that I switched to Stabilize mode that got my adrenaline rush! This is a non-GPS locked mode that allows you full manual control of the Y6 and requires great stick control and practice! Switching the RTF Y6 to Stabilize mode was like attaching a GoPro to a giant mad hornet! Luckily I had seen what Colin Guinn, SVP of Sales and Marketing for 3DR, was doing with my Y6 at my live broadcast of the Drone Workshop on CreativeLive. I saw how fast it would fly and the maneuverability it was capable of so just from observing I was prepared of what it could do, but at the controls, it’s a different story! I didn’t crash it or anything it was just the responsiveness of the Y6 that took me by surprise. Kind of like getting out of a Prius and then getting behind the wheel of a Ferrari.
Switching the RTF Y6 to Stabilize mode was like attaching a GoPro to a giant mad hornet!
Okay, so I’m not really supposed to have this much fun flying my camera around, right? After all – this is supposed to be a serious tool to get videos and photos from perspectives that I can’t get in any other method, right? And I’m supposed to write a serious review about this tool to reflect my professional stance and give a solid assessment of the product… oh hell, who am I kidding? THIS WAS JUST FUN! We’re talking clinch your butt cheeks, hold your breath, eye-buldging fun to fly!
Getting past that initial flight or two I discovered when/where I could really put this to use in useable video footage and since I live near the bay, I could get plenty of opportunities to test it along the water’s edge, train tracks and more. So I did plenty of practicing and learning the limits of my capabilities – more so than that of the Y6.
You need room – plenty of it because this thing goes FAST (approximately 55-60mph at full forward throttle) and can take off light a rocket from a sitting position when you want it to.
I’ve compiled some examples in this video of some of my local flight tests, a segment from Colin’s demo on my Drone Workshop and some beauty shots around the East Brother Light Station island here in the bay where I flew a few weeks back. You can see the unique shadow of the Y6 in some of the shots which I think is pretty cool as well, though you usually don’t want those in your cinematic productions.
But what you don’t see in the above video is just how windy some of those days were. One truly impressive feature of this Y6 airframe is its amazing stability even in wind. On the island it was a relatively calm day, according to the innkeepers – which means the winds were only about 20-25mph with gusts over 30mph. All of the shots in that video are real-time – not slowed-down or sped-up, so you can see at any speed, it’s relatively stable. My only complaint if there is one, is that the Tarot T2 gimbal can’t handle the torque of the rapid movements at times and seems to jolt or “break” at times when you’re doing a sharp turn or dive. It’s also only 2-axis, so there is still some yaw movement issues that can be addressed with a 3-axis gimbal eventually.
Preparing for Autonomous Flight
I’ve only completed a couple tests so far with the Droid Planner 2 app on the Nexus 7 tablet and it worked astonishing well. My setup that I put together for the Drone Workshop in July didn’t get used during the broadcast as we ran out of time, but Colin Guinn did do a live demo of the software in action using the 3DR IRIS quadcopter. This consisted of a second FPV receiver module connected to an LCD Field Monitor, with the Nexus 7 tablet mounted next to it and the datalink transmitter feeding the info from there to the Y6. This allowed me to have both the FPV receiver on my RC controller and watch the autonomous mission on both the Android tablet and the second monitor setup on a tripod.
What makes the Droid Planner 2 software so unique, is that unlike other ground station waypoint apps that simply send your drone to different points and return the mission, you can set up a survey of an area and the software will calculate the height, camera and craft info and draw a grid for the mission to complete a full coverage pass. This is critical for precision agriculture, construction and geological surveyance.
Another kind of mission that Colin Guinn demonstrated during my Drone Workshop was the ability to set a waypoint on an object and have the craft go circle around it while aiming the camera in at the center of the circle to get a full 360-degree scan of it. Several passes can be used to create a 3D model of buildings, geological formations and topographical mapping.
DroidPlanner 2 is also the resource for the popular “Follow-Me” feature popping up all over lately as well. Read more about it on the 3DR Blog.
I’ll be digging deeper into this software and the amazing photographic and video capabilities in the months to come, so check back on this channel often.
Overview and Final Impressions
I can say without hesitation that the 3DR RTF Y6 has been the most exciting craft that I’ve had the pleasure to fly to date. With that said, do I think it’s the perfect platform for all your shooting needs? Not quite, but with some modifications/enhancements, it could definitely be in your top selection for small, portable airframes to take your GoPro or other small POV cams places you could only dream of with a wider and clumsier hex airframe.
NOTE: At the time of publication of this article, 3D Robotics management has informed me that the airframe is not currently available due to the huge demand for all their hardware products and they are upgrading some of the components and electronics to make the Y6 even more dependable and powerful – so stay tuned and I’ll share updates here as the details become available. Also look for other 3DR product reviews in my channel here on PVC, as I’ll be covering more from the 3DR lineup of hardware and software over the next several months.
Jeff Foster is a published author of several how-to books and training videos in the motion graphics, animation and video production industries and is an award-winning video producer and artist. Visit his web site to learn more about his training methods, tips & tricks at PixelPainter.com