M285: Affordable InmersionRC Vortex quadcopter clone running Open Source

The MANA M285 is a 295mm FPV quadcopter that is perfect for long distance flyers, and for those pilots that want a quad that can carry an HD camera, yet easily fit in a backpack. Thanks to its folding design it can easily slip into even small backpacks and totes. Best part is InmersionRC Vortex 285 clone running open source flight computer hw/sw also is highly affordable and is currently available for only $125.

Quadcopter drones come in many shapes and sizes. As the size of the drone changes, so does its ability to perform its functions. Quad size is typically measured as motor center to motor center on the diagonal or largest distance.  250 or less is the usual size of the fast and agile racing drones, while 350 or more is characteristic of stable professional video drones such as the DJI Phantom 4 or DJI Inspire. A 285-295 frame is a sweet spot in the middle for a great do-it-all drone.

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Even though this quad is a cheaper clone of $400 Vortex 285 has been designed to be a exact replica with nearly all the original´s features. You get a carbon fiber frame, foldable arms, and a vibration dampened carbon fiber plate for mounting the HD action camera of your choice.  It is so similar that most mechanical parts are interchangeable.

However, not everything is the same, the electronics vary slightly from the proprietary Vortex configuration. You  get an excellent electronics package with an SPRACING F3 class flight controller with MWOSD, and  600mw 40 channel 5.8ghz Video TX.

This quad flies on  20A 2-4s ESC, and 2204 2300kv motors with support to 3-4S  batteries.

As an Almost Ready To Fly drone includes out of the box all mayor components. You must have a compatible receiver (sold separately) and RC radio controller  in order to “bind”.  ARF models do require some assembly, typically 30min to 1 hour of build/configuration time. Mana 285 provides de 3 pin (power, ground , signal cable) so it  will works with SBUS, PPM and DSMX receivers.

My current MANA285 is configured as a long range setup:

MANA M285 ARF quadcopter ($125)

Devo 7E Transmitter running Deviation Open Source Firmware ($64)

Redcon 2.4G DSM2 DSMX Receiver ($6)

SKyzone SKY02S V+ Diversity FPV Goggles ($299)

3S LiPo Battery ZAP POWER 2200mah 30C  ($14)

This kit is designed to work with the standard Devo7e with Deviation Firmware and DSMX protocol, however if your devo is modified with a 4-1 transmitter, you may be interested in using a FrySky receiver instead for extreme long range.

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The MANA (same as the original Vortex) is designed with a few unique features that are intended to help protect it during crashes. The most immediately noticeable of these is the folding arms. During any high-speed crash, the arms will kick back towards the body and absorb a substantial amount of energy in the process. But you will still dent or break the propellers. So my first recommendation for improving flight performance is to buy a bag of Gemfan 5045 as these are cheap and just perform overall better than the stock bullnose propellers that come with the quadcopter.

My second recommendation is to try out Betaflight as MANA285 electronics package  ships with an older firmware version of Cleanflight, and will either require you to use to an older version of the Chrome APP, or update the firmware on the FC.  I flashed mine with the latest version of Betaflight and everything went well. Betaflight 3.1.7 ( https://github.com/betaflight/betaflight ) is night and day and it runs great on the MANA.

Compatibility goes beyond the spare parts and thanks to the Vortex user community it is even possible to find various upgrades and modifications based on open designs, for example fully compatible 3d printed spares.

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I’ve had the MANA M285 for about a week and it’s immediately become my favorite quad. The MWOSD is fantastic, and it’s basically a standard Vortex quad you can swap out parts on easily. The MANA is a ton of fun to fly but once you start getting down and dirty with it you better get your bench ready for some repairs, not a problem as frame only vortex clones are readily available.  I love the folding arms feature.

Pros:

  • Highly recommend! Worth the money! 8/10
  • Close clone of the Vortex  drone. If you want to impress your friends by saying that you own the Vortex, this just might pass for it 😉
  • Cleanflight/Betaflight open source support.
  • Room for upgrades, it would not be difficult to add a GPS and turn it into an autonomous drone with iNav.
  • Great flier! Highly maneuverable and acrobatic but capable of long range.
  • Built-in OSD
  • Nice and colorful LED lighting.
  • 3S/4S.
  • Cheap replacement parts ($25 for a complete frame)

Cons:

  • Comes with old cleanflight, but not a big deal, all quad folks update firmware often so a natural need in this hobby.
  • ARF, you need your own receiver.  It is not good if you are impatient, MANA should have provided a BNF version option as it  in other drones.
  • Up to 26 screws to dismantle if you want to make some change (it is not normally necessary, but it can be tiring if you need to change any component after a crash).

So in perspective if you are looking for a small portable drone that looks like a Vortex, can be hacked to the capabilities of the DJI Spark  and run on open source software then  might just be the drone for you.

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