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How to Build a Drone that can Lift a Person

Have you ever found yourself staring at the sky and wondering how hard it would be to build a drone that can lift a person?

Drones are nowhere near as complex as helicopters and if you have the right parts and plans it is possible for almost anyone to build their own passenger drone in their backyard.

In fact, there have been some famous examples of people building their own passenger drones ever since drones have existed.

Here’s a list of everything you need to consider and the parts you’d need if you want to build a drone that can lift a person.

One of the first models of the Jetson One drone

Important Factors to Consider

Here are the three most important factors for building a heavy-lift drone that need to be considered.

Power to Weight Ratio

Before you begin, you need to work out exactly how much weight the drone will be able to lift, because it’s what makes the drone fly.

By looking at the datasheet of a motor you can see how much thrust it can make and then work out how much weight the drone can lift.

The ideal power to weight ratio for a drone is around 2:1. So if a drone weighs 100 pounds (45 kilograms) you need twice that ammount of lift in order to fly well.

How Much would a Passenger Drone Weigh?

You can work out what a drone will likely weigh before building it by simply adding together all the weights of the parts individually.

Drones are actually pretty basic machines. You need a frame for everything to sit on, motors and propellers, electronics, and a source of power.

Once you have your parts list, add up the weight of all the parts and add about 10% extra for things like solder, wiring, and other parts added while building the drone.

With the estimated weight of the drone, you can now work out if the drone would be able to fly with someone onboard.

For example, let’s say we want to lift someone who weighs 175 pounds (80 kilograms). If our drone weighs 350 pounds (160 kilograms) then the drone will weigh at least 525 pounds (238 kilograms) with its human payload.

What Type of Drone Parts can Lift That Much Weight?

To lift something a weight of 525 pounds, and still have a 2:1 power to weight ratio we are going to have to need the biggest and best drone parts available to consumers.

The good news is, if you are motivated enough it’s actually pretty easy to source and buy most of these things online.

Keep reading to check out some of the crazy drone parts we have found!

Parts Required to Build a Drone that Can Lift a Person

Before reading this section, we’d suggest reading our article on how do drones work in order to understand all the parts we’re talking about better.

Motors

Most heavy lift drones use at least 8 motors to get their payloads off the ground. Some can even use up to 16!

These giant motors we found on AliExpress are some of the largest and most powerful we could find.

With a max thrust of 187 pounds (85kg) each, you would need around 6 motors of these motors to hit the 2:1 ratio sweet spot. We would go with 8 motors, as a backup just in case a motor decides to stop working midair.

ESC (Electronic Speed Controller)

In order to get your massive motors spinning, you need an equally massive ESC. Underestimating your ESC needs could lead to a fire midair, which is probably something you want to avoid. 

These ESC’s we found on esccontroller.com have a massive output of 500 amps and should provide enough power to lift a person.

Propellers

As well as needing some extra large motors, we also need some extra large propellers.

These massive props from AliExpress are the same size as used in the thrust test for the motor above so they should work pretty well.

Ideally, you would want 3 or even 4 bladed propellers to give you more control in the air. 

Frame

A Carbon fiber frame is the best option because it is light and strong, so more of your drone’s power can actually go towards lifting a person.

This is probably going to be the most DIY part of the build, as there aren’t really any commercial frames for sale that were designed to carry a human passenger.

The hardest part about making a DIY carbon fiber frame is going to be adding a safe enough place for you to sit on the drone.

When it comes to safety, adding ducts is a must for passenger drones. We think the extra weight is worth it if you get to keep all of your limbs after a flight! 

Ducts provide two key benefits to a drone. Firstly, ducts provide a level of protection to the pilot by enclosing the props in some type of housing.

Secondly, they help to increase the efficiency of your motors and props.

The only downside of ducts is they add a lot of weight, so the efficiency you gain needs to be enough to counteract the weight gain. Ducts also add more surface area to a drone, making it more likely to get pushed around by wind and air during flight. 

Flight Controller

We’ve found several necessary features you’re going to need in your flight controller.

For a passenger lift drone you probably only need a drone with an accelerometer, which will help keep the drone stable and level when you need it.

Altitude hold would help to keep you at the desired height and GPS positioning could be used to ensure the drone can hover in place reliably. 

If you want something that you have to fly yourself, you could go super simple and get a basic FC that has at least 8 motor outputs. 

If you wanted to have the drone be flown by autopilot there are a lot more options., Going with autopilot means you need to add in the waypoints of your flight first and the drone would then fly that set path through the air. 

Something like the Pixhawk or DJI A2 Flight Controller would be perfect. 

LiPo Battery

After you have assembled this monster drone you will still need to power it. This is probably the hardest part of the build to get right.

Getting a lithium polymer battery large enough from a retail store is impossible. You will need to somehow cobble together enough batteries in series to get up to your desired voltage.

The components we suggested above are rated for around 120v, so that would be twenty 6s batteries in series! 

Redundancies to Keep the Drone’s Passenger Safe

Crashing a larger drone can cost more than just the price of repairs. If a drone as big as a passenger drone falls from the sky and hits something or someone, it’s not going to be a good time and could hurt the passenger badly.

One way to help prevent damage to people or property is to add redundancies; a backup in the event of an emergency.

Backup Battery

If a battery fails midair you want to have a backup the system can automatically switch to a working battery.

What makes this hard is you have to double the weight of your flight batteries to allow for the spare. Even with a smaller spare battery, this is still going to lower flight time by quite a bit.

More Motors

The more motors you use on a drone the more stable it becomes. If you have four motors and one fails, the drone will surely crash.

If you have sixteen motors and one fails, the flight controller will be able to correct for the bad motor and maintain flight.

On a human-carrying drone, more motors can be the difference between landing safely and crashing right away. 

Backup Receiver

Drones are usually controlled using something like a 2.4ghz radio link.

There’s two main ways that receivers ensure that your drone will always be connected.

Newer receivers often have diversity and even quadversity that can switch to a new link if one fails.

Some receivers also have dual-frequency that can switch between 2.4ghz and 900mhz, depending on which has the stronger link at the time. 

Final Thoughts

Building a drone that can carry a person is extremely dangerous, and even though it would be fun, we strongly recommend that you don’t try it.

The best thing about drones is that the very definition of the word means they are unmanned, and won’t endanger a person if they crash.

Drones are evolving to do many dangerous jobs in place of people, and there are some companies like Ehang who have proven it is possible to build a reliable passenger drone.

The Jetson One drone is currently the best person-carrying drone on the market, and it’s really cool!

Let us know what your ideal passenger drone build would look like in the comments down below!

Kerry

Saturday 30th of July 2022

What was the estimated cost from building your drone?

Ryan

Wednesday 28th of September 2022

It would not be cheap...the motors and esc's alone would be a few grand. It would be the same to build a suitable frame and then A LOT of time spent building and testing. At least 10K USD I would say.

TJ

Tuesday 27th of September 2022

@Kerry, Any response on this? I was wondering the same, would love to build my own drone I can "ride"