Making a 3D Printed FPV Backpack

This guide will explain how to make your own 3D printed FPV backpack, which can be attached to almost anything for instant FPV fun! Getting started with first person view (FPV) video flying can be a daunting prospect. There is a lot of FPV-specific knowledge for the hobbyist to learn (video, power and radio systems) and often integrating FPV in to an existing plane can be a major undertaking. Usually, adding FPV to an aircraft involves integrating power filters and voltage converters in addition to running new cables across wings and fuselages. The FPV backpack concept lowers the barrier to entry for FPV and provides a self-contained solution which can be easily attached to any plane or multirotor large enough to carry it. By using Velcro or cable ties the backpack can be readily moved between aircraft. This is a great solution for hobbyists considering trying FPV or only wanting to have FPV equipment on their aircraft temporarily.

3D printed FPV backpack in operation.

In this guide I explain how I produced my own FPV backpack by 3D printing a small plastic frame to hold the various FPV components. The design for the FPV backpack was downloaded for free from the popular 3D printing website, Thingiverse. If you do not have access to a 3D printer, this system can be built using your own frame made from plywood or corrugated plastic board.

Specifications

The complete list of parts used in this project were as follows:

  • 1x 3D Printed FPV backpack frame by McNugget on Thingiverse (DIY)
  • 1x SkyZone TS5823 32 channel 5.8GHz 200mW FPV video transmitter (via HobbyKing)
  • 1x Rhino 610mAh 3S LiPo battery pack (via HobbyKing)
  • 1x Sony PZ0420 600TVL Super HAD CCD camera with 2.8mm lens (via Tecnic.co.uk)
  • 1x 5.8GHz RHCP Clover leaf antenna (via Tecnic.co.uk)
    The total cost of these parts was about £60, a little higher than I was originally aiming for. By using a cheaper board camera and video transmitter bought directly from Hong Kong or China, it should be possible to get close to half this cost. Making a DIY cloverleaf antenna will reduce the cost further. Keep in mind that less expensive cameras and antennas will generally produce a lower quality image. A CCD camera is preferable over a CMOS camera for FPV, as it is immune to video wobble (‘jello’ effect) caused by aircraft vibrations and handles changing light levels better.

Some of these parts were bought from Tecnic Store, an online retailer of FPV components. I would certainly recommend this retailer having used them a few times. Delivery has been fast and Terry’s customer service is truly first rate.

3D printed FPV backpack parts. Rhino 2s 600mAh LiPo battery.

Design & Assembly

I opted for a basic FPV configuration with no GPS or OSD (on screen display) capability. This was primarily to limit the total weight of the unit, so it can be used on a wider range of aircraft. The camera and video transmitter (VTX) will be powered directly from the 3S lithium polymer battery. I chose not to power the backpack using a balance lead connector to the flight battery, as that would ruin the portability of the unit and introduce complications around filters and voltage converters.

As the unit has its own dedicated battery, there is no need to use an LC filter as is typical when connecting to a flight battery. The components that I selected for this build support 12 volt operation, so there is no need to use a voltage step down converter either. If you are using a different camera or VTX, check if it is 12V or 5V rated - it may be necessary to squeeze a voltage converter in to your build.

The 3D printed FPV backpack was designed by McNugget on Thingiverse originally for use with a FatShark VTX, however it is able to contain both a miniature VTX and small LiPo battery. There are six small slots on the frame for zip-ties.

3D printed FPV frame.

In addition to the components listed in the Specifications section above, you will also need a selection of electronics tools in order to complete your own FPV backpack. Here is a list of the tools and accessories I used while making this project:

  • Soldering iron and solder
  • Side cutters
  • Wire insulation stripper
  • Hot glue gun (or 5 minute epoxy)
  • Hot air tool
  • 3mm heat shrink tubing
  • “Helping hands” tool
  • A female JST connector pig-tail
  • Fibreglass or electricians tape
  • Self-adhesive Velcro

I also had a Quanum RX-LCD5802 FPV monitor on hand to test the operation of the assembled unit. You’ll want to have your own FPV goggles or monitor on standby to test your unit before taking it to the field.

If you don’t have much experience with soldering, have a look at this playlist on YouTube which has a very good series of tutorial videos. Good quality connections are especially important for both safety and integrity of your video signal.

To assemble the FPV backpack, start by laying out the components to check they all fit on the frame. Then the first task is to produce the wiring harness which will supply power and connect the video signal. Take some measurements of how long the camera and VTX cables need to be for connecting to the battery via the JST pigtail. The pigtail will need to be shortened to 3 or 4 centimetres in length. On the VTX cable, cut off the blue and green audio wires as they are not used. After trimming the wires, strip some insulation off each of them so they can be soldered. Slide some heat-shrink tubing over the black pigtail wire and using the helping hands tool, solder the black camera and VTX wires on to the black pigtail wire. Move the heat-shrink tubing in to position and secure it with the hot air tool. Repeat this process for the red wires. Now slide some more heat-shrink tubing over the yellow video wire from the VTX and solder it to the yellow wire on the camera cable. Secure the heat-shrink tubing. It is really important that this solder joint be of a high standard as it carries the analogue video signal. Refer to the picture below to see what my wiring harness looked like.

JST wiring harness.

After completing the wiring harness it is a good idea to temporarily connect the components together and use your FPV screen or goggles to confirm everything is working as expected. Remember not to power on the VTX without an antenna attached as this will damage it.

Bench testing the FPV backpack.

The second task is to install the board camera in to the frame. Attach the camera connector from the harness and the OSD cable to the back of the camera. Check the camera is orientated correctly and use a small amount of hot glue (or epoxy) to secure it in the frame. I wouldn’t recommend using cyanoacrylate glue on the frame, as the fumes may fog the camera lens or attack the plastic material used by your 3D printer.

Now connect the VTX to the wiring harness and use some more hot glue to attach it to the frame. The TS5823 is tiny so I decided to glue it to the inside of the frame, behind the camera. You could alternatively glue it to the outside of the frame but it will be more exposed to damage. Position the battery on the rear tray of the frame and carefully secure it in position using some fibreglass tape. I also taped the battery’s balance and power leads to the battery to keep them out of harms way. Lastly, apply some good strength self adhesive Velcro to the underside of the frame.

The pictures below show my completed FPV backpack.

The finished FPV backpack. The finished FPV backpack (rear).

Finally you will need to temporarily connect the OSD button panel to the camera and navigate the menus in order to customise the settings for FPV usage. There are quite a few forum posts and YouTube videos with recommended settings for the Sony PZ0420 to try out, such as this one.

Conclusion

McNugget’s 3D printed backpack design offers the basis for a great mini-project, which will provide a self-contained system, easy to move between different aircraft. The printed frame was rigid and light, so the whole package can be used on a variety of vehicles. One of the great things about the FPV backpack is it can be put on other people’s aircraft so that they can experience the thrill of video flying without needing to invest a lot of time and money on their plane just to try it out.

If you can’t get access to a 3D printer, you can make this same system using corrugated plastic board or thin plywood. GetFPV sell a ready cut plywood FPV backpack frame if you don’t want to make your own. Be sure to range check your system before using it, and consider using elastic bands or zip-ties to further secure the backpack. On smaller planes check that the centre of gravity hasn’t been adversely affected by the weight of the backpack. Happy flying!

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