Vector Quads VQ250 Tilt Rotor
It’s time for a new kind of drone racing – drag racing.
Recently I was given the chance to build and fly a tilt rotor quad, meaning the arms that hold the motors actually tilt forward and back. The idea is that if the main body stays level there will be less drag, and when flying FPV the camera will remain level. It sounded interesting, so how could I pass that up?
The Vector Quads VQ250 was the weapon of choice, and they were kind enough to provide a kit for this review. Don’t think that a free kit will buy a good review though, you still have to earn it.
The VQ250 sports 3mm carbon fiber top and bottom plates, and custom molded glass fiber reinforced nylon hardware for the arm, motor, and servo mounts. Vector Quads includes all the necessary hardware and hex keys in the package, as well as a pair of velcro straps and a vibration isolated action camera mount. The frame can support up to 5″ props, and the motor mounts accept 18XX or 22XX motors. Bare frame weight is about 225g. List price for the kit is $46.00, which honestly is a crazy low price for the quality of these components, and as of this writing it is on sale for $36.75
Looking at the assembled frame, it’s not a bad looking quad. It’s not a great looking quad, in fact it’s a pretty standard H-style 250, but it is far from ugly. What does stand out is the hardware. The motor mounts are custom molded, not 3D printed, and are made from a very high-quality glass fiber reinforced nylon. They lock into place on the arms, and can be rotated to fit different sized motors. With 18xx-sized motors the bell rests inside the mount and the motor wires can be run through the carbon fiber arm to the center of the frame, and with 22xx-sized motors the mounts are flipped with the motor wires running under the mounts and into the arms. The result is a nice, clean arm with little to no exposed wiring. It would be nice to see a mount that cradles 22XX-sized motors the same as it does the smaller ones, perhaps we will in the future.
The arm mounts are made from the same nylon material, but also have bright red rubber sections that work as vibration isolation, and look pretty sharp as well. The center of the arms has an opening to bring the motor wires through, and each side of the mount has a small hole through which you can route the wires. Again, the result is clean and professional looking, though I do have some complaints.
The manufacturer had advised me they wanted this to be an FPV quad for beginners – easy build and easier to fly thanks to the fixed camera pitch. The problem is, this thing isn’t all that easy to build for a beginner. A single servo controls the angle of the arms and is connected via a control rod that runs down the center of the frame. The servo and control rod assembly eats up a fair amount of real estate inside the frame especially along the bottom, making it difficult to find good locations for mounting ESCs. You also need to be sure your motors come with extra long wires or you’ll need to extend them so that they run inside the arms, around the arm mounts, and into the frame to reach the ESCs. I opted for DYS XM30A ESCs which are pretty darn small, and yet I still had trouble getting them all to fit due to the servo mount.That same control rod causes another problem as well, which is where to mount the PDB and flight controller. The frame has holes for mounting these on both the top and bottom plates, but neither is all that easy to work with. Mounting to the top plate made it difficult to solder to the PDB, and mounting to the bottom plate was made difficult because you need to be sure the PDB is high enough that it is not impeding the movement of the control rod and/or shorting out on contact. In the end I had to pull from my selection of standoffs to come up with a solution that worked. It wasn’t a bad solution and in fact works just fine, but an absolute beginner may have trouble figuring it all out. The end result is a quad that again doesn’t look bad, but isn’t the cleanest build ever. That probably doesn’t bother some (I’ve seen some builds that are a complete rat’s nest of wires that flew great), but it does sort of get to me.
You can use almost any Cleanflight compatible flight controller you wish. Currently there are no stable firmware builds specific for tilt rotors, though there are a few in development. Setup is rather simple though, so long as you know how to program your transmitter and have at least five channels. Your primary flight mode will be leveling/attitude mode (sorry, no acro with tilt rotors!), with the main difference being on how you configure your transmitter. Normally your sticks control the first four channels for throttle, pitch, roll, and yaw. In order to make leveling work with the tilting motors you need to set your elevator stick to only output zero for pitch, and instead assign that output to a spare channel. In Cleanflight that channel will be configured as an AUX channel that controls the servo that adjusts motor tilt. Vector Quads covers this in their guide, but it still took me a few tries to get it right. Once configured you end up with a quad in which you control yaw, roll, and throttle, but pitch remains fixed and the motor arms rotate forward and back.Flying a quad in this manner takes a moment to get used to, but is incredibly simple. The motors only tilt about 45 degrees as to be sure you are still generating enough lift, and I found that accelerating forward from a full stop is much quicker than with a traditional drone. One issue I experienced however was with tuning, most likely because I hadn’t done any… What the manufacturer recommended was setting up a switch on the transmitter that switches elevator stick input back to pitch and locks the arms back to their normal upward-facing position and tuning it like a standard quad, then making adjustments as needed. This is where things got interesting. Suddenly I no longer had just a tilt-rotor quad. Now by flipping a switch I had a tilt-rotor or a traditional quad that I could fly in acro/rate mode. This was pretty cool! I didn’t need to make any changes in Cleanflight at all, this was all handled via my transmitter.
Once I had gotten a semi-decent tune I started flying in both modes. With fixed-tilt it flew as good as any other 250. I had outfitted it with 2206 2300kv motors, so I had a TON of thrust at my command. This actually ended up being an issue with the tilt-rotor mode though. Even though the motors were tilting I didn’t feel like I could gain any real speed without climbing. This is by design however, as again this quad was designed with beginner pilots in mind. I expressed my concern with the creator and he advised to mix in some pitch with the servo output, and again I felt stupid for not thinking of it sooner.I started simple, by adding 25% of my elevator stick input to the pitch output and 100% to the servo. Now the body would pitch forward a bit thereby letting the arms rotate forward farther, in turn giving me more forward thrust. It felt a lot better to me, even as a newer pilot, but I wanted more speed! I moved up to 30%, 45%, and finally 55% pitch output. WOW. This thing is a SCREAMER now. As a result of the pitch the camera angle is no longer fixed, but it doesn’t pitch down far enough to impede your view much. I debuted my little beasty at Flite Fest and boy did I get some looks! I don’t think anyone was expecting to see a 250-sized quad go from zero to lord knows what in a heartbeat. I showed off how it worked, showed how to change things in the TX instead of needing a PC and custom firmware, and handed over the controls to several pilots.
It was fun to watch others fly it. I always started them off in a standard leveling mode rotating arms with zero body pitch, then finally letting them run free with what I am dubbing “drag race mode”. Almost everyone responded the same: “WHOA!” Even those who flew it in acro mode would switch back to feel that rush of speed. With the elevator pushed full forward and throttle at max it would cruise at a steady altitude at speeds normally only seen in much smaller race quads. Oh sure it corners like an old Buick when going full out, but who cares? IT’S FAST!
Flying the VQ250 in FPV is a blast. The semi-fixed camera angle means both flying and landing is a breeze since you can always see the ground AND the horizon. With a 2.1mm lens you get an even bigger view of the world, and never have to worry about whether or not you’re going to smack into something. Being able to experience the kinds of speeds in person that I’ve only ever seen in YouTube
So what did we end up with? Is this a good quad for beginner pilots? No, it isn’t unless they get someone else to built and set it up for them. So who is it for? Well, in my opinion this is the quad for the pilot who has everything.
You know the type. The pilot who has a 450, a 333, a 250, a 180, a “tiny whoop”… they’ve flown them all, and honestly they all fly pretty much the same. This quad is something different. This quad can go from balls-out speed to crazy acro at the flip of a switch. It is tough enough to take the abuse, and inexpensive enough to splurge on something out of the ordinary. Get a couple for your club and start having drag races – who can arm and cross a gate at the other end of the field the quickest?
This isn’t the be-all-end-all quad, and this won’t be your go to frame, but you will enjoy fooling around with and flying the hell out of it. There is room for improvement, and already the creator has things coming down the line that will address the concerns I voiced above. They gave me support all along the build process and took my concerns and criticisms to heart and responded professionally each time, understanding that without happy customers there is no Vector Quads. I expect big things from this company, and can’t wait to see what they do next – did I mention they make this as a Tricopter too?