RC helicopter: improving maximum control range

Related: RC truck range increase via antenna fix

Having seen what a tremendous increase in maximum range (4 times farther range) repairing the antenna in the RC car could make, I was curious what could be characterized and improved for my RC helicopter maximum control range. This is a $50 unit by Interactive Toys, FCC ID RSD-50800TX for the controller and RSD-50800RX for the helicopter. It’s a 2.4 GHz controller with about 3 dBm EIRP. The antennas are non-resonant. The radio system operates under FCC Part 15.249(a), allowing 114 dBμV/m @ 3m radiation ~ +18.77 dBm ~ 75 mW EIRP peak. The battery is 3.7 V 650 mAh, good for about 10-15 minutes of use. The manual states up to 6 of these helicopters can be used within line-of-sight of each other.

Controller power-on

33% duty cycle: 200 μs FSK(?) pulse, 600 μs period on 2406 MHz.

RC control waveform paired
Paired waveform, 2408.9 MHz for RC helicopter


Pairing beacon for RC helicopter 2406 MHz
Pairing beacon for RC helicopter 2406 MHz

You can power either controller or copter on first, within a second or so of both being turned on, they pair, and they go always to 2408.9 MHz, even if there is a strong WiFi signal on channel 1. The controller antenna is appalling. They take a Ruixing 2.4 GHz daughterboard, disregard its meander antenna and solder a 6.5 cm wire near the feedpoint of the meander antenna and slather the area in rubber cement. The maximum range of the RC helicopter could use some improvement, so I did the experiment below.

Interactive Toys RC Helicopter RC controller PCB and antenna
Interactive Toys RC Helicopter RC controller PCB and antenna


Antenna improvement of RC helicopter controller

I did three things that I expect to make a significant improvement (2x to 3x) in maximum RC helicopter control range:

  1. I trimmed about 2cm off of the controller antenna with a wire cutter
  2. I bent the Ruixing board about 0.5 cm away from the main PCB (which has a huge groundplane)
  3. I found the 3 cm copter antenna was bent over in a mess of other wires just like the RC car controller, which made such a huge reduction in range. I intend to glue the plastic I cut out back in to help protect the Li Ion battery. I didn’t put the antenna vertical for better coverage, and to avoid getting the antenna caught in the copter blades.

I observed that #1 and #2 made about a 4 dB increase in transmitter EIRP

Bent meander line antenna daughterboard away from main PCB
Bent meander line antenna daughterboard away from main PCB
cut hole to let the antenna peek out (and the Li Ion battery)
I cut an ugly hole to let the antenna peek out (and the Li Ion battery)

Via #3 I expect to make a 6-10dB increase in copter transmitter EIRP (and in RX gain)

These devices test well under FCC power limits, and from the test reports, the antennas were put in the ideal position that I did, so in reality I have just restored the FCC certified performance.

Previously, I suffered controllability problems (weak signal -> intermittent control) when more than about 30 meters slant range to the copter, which is too short for safe operations. You want to keep the copter away from other people including yourself or the child you’re teaching to operate the copter, thus I am hopeful that 60+ meter range is within reach.

From Friis free space loss equation, to go from 30 m range to 100 m range should take 10.5 dB extra, which I am hopeful to have done. Even 60 m from 30 m (6 dB change as doubling range makes 4x weaker by inverse square law) would be a huge improvement, and I feel like I must have done at least that.