The question comes up a lot, should you build your first heli or buy your first heli?
Build or Buy? Let's break it down into the basics............
Before you attempt to span the void between "DIY or Ready-To-Fly?", you should buy your first heli and it should be a small, ready-to-fly quadcopter that you can use to fly around your apartment, living room, history class, back yard, etc. just to learn the basics of control. Take it out the box, charge it up and start flying the same day you brought it home. Do this before flying anything that is larger, more expensive, took a lot of time to build, etc. but please note: don't attempt to fly in your history class!
Back to the discussion
Build or Buy? We're going to help you to decide by asking you a bunch of questions, how you answer should tell you what to do.
Here's the first question
1. Do you have a long term plan or goal?
Are you trying to work your way to a high end multi-rotor application and this is just the first step or are you a curious hobbyist that wants to give multi-rotor helicopters a try? By answering this first question you're laying down the path you should be taking to get there as efficiently as possible.........after all, you don't want to waste a lot of money if you have an ambitious long term goal. If you're just giving it a try then that's a different story and you might enjoy experimenting with different things or you might want to just get flying ASAP without worrying about if your first purchase will have any long term benefit to you as a builder/flyer.
Morale of the story:
Well defined long term goal...build your own and learn the skills to make future builds successful
No long term goal...keep it simple, buy something inexpensive and continue learning what you can with it
No long term goal (2)...take your time, build your own, let the lessons learned help to define future goals
2. How specific are your needs/expectations?
There are some very specific criteria that could be satisfied with a ready-to-fly helicopter purchase but chances are if you have very specific needs then you're going to have to build your own helicopter or pony up the cash and have someone build it for you. Here's the rub though, if you let someone build it for you then you're also likely going to have to let them repair it for you which gets expensive, creates A LOT of downtime, and can jeopardize the success of your long term goals.
If your plans are very vague though and you're not sure what you're really going to do once you've figured out how to fly that mini-RTF quad (that I recommend everyone start with) then buying a RTF quad may suit your needs and keep you moving forward.
Moral of the story;
Very specific and coincidentally in line with a RTF product...no brainer, buy it and get to work
Very specific but nothing available...congrats, you're about to embark on a hugely rewarding learning process that will have you doing things you never thought possible, build your own
Not specific...find another RTF that is a step up from your mini-RTF quad trainer, maybe something second hand in the classifieds that hasn't lived a very hard life
Not specific (2)...take your time, build your own, let the lessons learned help to define future goals
3. Are you concerned about the budget?
Money may be no issue for some but for most people the cost will factor into the decision making process. It's possible to build using the cheapest components possible and by doing so you can get a really spectacular rig for a fraction of what name brand parts will cost. Along the way though you may experience shipments that never arrive, delivered parts that are different from what was ordered, delivered parts that are dead-on-arrival, vendors that offer no after-sale support, parts that may be incompatible with other parts, etc., etc., etc.......the good news is if you're not on a schedule or can roll with these types of inconveniences then you might save a lot of money and still make it into the air.
If money is no object though then there are a number of great shops that will build anything you want and even help you to get it flying but it will cost you a lot more for their service.
Somewhere in the middle of these two examples is where most people will find themselves.
RTF vs. DIY costs are hard to compare, there are so many factors involved. If you're entire decision is coming down to cost then there's a good chance you're not really sure about your long term goals and/or you're not really sure how specific your needs/expectations are. I guess what I'm trying to say is it shouldn't really come down strictly to cost. Give some more thought to the first two questions above and if all else fails, buy something used that is in good condition and do whatever you have to do to make sure you don't overpay for it. Keep it in good condition and learn what you can with it while continuing to make decisions about what to do next.
Moral of the story;
Cost shouldn't really factor in as much as your answers to the first two questions.
Unsure still? Go back and brainstorm on the first two questions. Post a new thread here at MultiRotorForums.com and discuss your uncertainties with those of us that have already been through it. Surf the classifieds here at MultiRotorForums.com and see if anything looks interesting to you. When all else fails, forget about it for a few days and go learn a new trick with your mini-RTF quad then come back to this thread and start over.
4. Do you have the skills to build a radio controlled multi-rotor helicopter?
Not a big deal as far as I'm concerned as a lot of people have learned what they needed to know and have gone on to build some really successful helicopters. If you absolutely are terrified though of a first build you can always take a look at our GROUP BUILD
thread that currently has over 80 thousand views and which has helped a lot of people to complete their first builds successfully.
In the end though, you either want to build your own or, at the very least won't mind building your own, or you just don't want to build your own. If that's the case then everything else to this point is moot and you should buy RTF.
If you've read up to this point and now find that you're conflicted because you think you should build your own but really don't want to then it comes down to money...buy a custom build heli if you and your plans can afford it and can accommodate having to outsource repairs and maintenance. If you don't have the cash to keep the propellers turning then hunker down and get used to the idea that you're going to learn to build multi-rotor helicopters! Welcome to the club in that case! Go directly to the GROUP BUILD
thread and get to work reading, learning, ordering, opening, and building!
Moral of the story;
You can build it. If you don't want to then that's a different story but don't spend the money on RTF because you think you can't build it yourself. You won't need a shop full of tools and you won't need a lot of shop space to build even the most capable of DIY rigs.
IMHO, it basically comes down to the questions above.
Keep in mind one more wrinkle worth considering....it is possible that a RTF heli will meet your short term needs while you further refine your long term needs and make decision about how to address them. In this case you should consider solutions to your short term needs that will somehow contribute to your long term needs. A manufacture's product that will meet your short term needs may or may not lead you to a next option that you can grow into. A product that relates to other higher end products may be a better choice, even if it's more expensive, because you will be able to apply more of what you've learned to the higher end product by first using a manufacturer's lower end products.
This was the concept behind my Solo-to-Pro plan of having new users build using my frames (when I was trying to manufacture them) and a Hoverfly Pro controller as the system was extremely easy to learn but could be used on the highest of high end rigs at any point in the future. By using the same flight control system from day one you'd be an advanced user by the time you were an advanced flyer! But Hoverfly has gone the way of the dodo even though they still might have the best "flying" controller out there. The point is, you can build a basic heli with an advanced flight control system and have a lot of tuning and set-up skills in your personal tool box when you're ready to build out that top-shelf helicopter that you'll eventually need.
Did this help? Are you on your way to making better decisions with a better idea of what your long term goals are? Let's discuss it and get you guys off the fence and moving forward!