Using a computer joystick/gamepad instead of RC for manual control

As a newbie of a few months studying the DIY Drones site and assembling a custom quadrotor system, I am looking for some clarification on this page of the Arducopter Manual wiki.

Reading the page literally, I had/have the impression that a "joystick" control device can be used instead of a typical RC Tx/Rx combination. I have the three listed prerequisites.

However, I ran into some difficulty when trying to calibrate the ESCs on my custom quadrotor. Mission Planner, APM 2.5, GPS, and the 3DR transceivers appear to be functioning. When I attempt to calibrate the ESCs, I hear one "trill/song" followed by one beep (not two beeps as described in the Manual). I can open Mission Planner and see that the joysticks appear to be working (and yes, I calibrated the controller first on my Win7 laptop).

I get the feeling that I am missing something basic. Like: You have to have an RC system connected before you can use any joystick controller.

Someone probably has an answer or two, or at least some questions back to me. If needed I can provide more details on my current configuration. Mostly, I just want to know if I need to get some RC gear on order...  I am excited to continue my project!

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Sorry, I don't have any experience with the Mission Planner's Joystick calibration routines.

I haven't flown a quad with a gamepad, but have flown a plane. The experience was not all that good. Servo movements are very sensitive and also very rough compared to RC control.

Granted, a quad has no servos (unless you have a camera gimble?), but throttle response is also touchy. Plus you don't have the clicks to hold the throttle sticks as on a normal RC Tx so you have to hold the stick in position manually.


The gamepad takes over control of whatever channels you set up, but the RC system retains control over the others. I think you still need an RC controller to make it work.


I was hoping that the longer range of XBee compared with my spektrum RC gear would allow me to fly further than RC range, but the extra traffic generated by the gamepad limits the Xbee range so there is no real benefit. The extra twitchy and noisy response that I mentioned makes it harder to fly anyway. I now use the gamepad primarily to control a pan/tilt camera on my FPV plane while flying in auto mode.


After you hear the trill song and have enabled the gamepad (use the Joystick button on mission planner), do you have any response from the motors when moving the sticks?


James, thanks for your comments. There is no response from the motors when moving the sticks. I have a device that is perceived as a GP Controller in Win7. The device resembles a typical hand-held RC transmitter, but is sold with the RealFlight Basic Simulator package. Mission Planner recognizes the sticks, and also recognizes two switches for Mode changes. Just not seeing completion of the ESC Calibration method (Automatic) as described in the Manual (wiki). I am using the 3DR transceivers, not XBees. I am hoping for clarification from one of the Developers, if one would respond by sharing on this thread for easier discovery by others who may be interested. (I have sent a request by email to Michael Osborne.) Thanks again.

One thing - have you previously set up this quad using RC gear? There may be a problem with the throttle signal not allowing the ESC's to finish calibration - similar to when you have your throttle stick above minimum when you turn on your RC gear. The joystick may be not calibrated right.

In fact - if you haven't been through the normal RC channel calibration step then the channel ranges will not be set up right. Have a look in mission planner and see what RC1, RC2 etc have as their min, max and trim values. Without an initial RC channel calibration, they are probably all at 1500, which is why you get no response from the motors.



Thanks for the tips! No, this quadrotor has not been previously set up with RC gear. I will check again in Mission Planner.

@whoever is reading this:  A big 'thank you' to all DIY Drones members who have offered information, either on this thread or through emails. Based on that information, I have ordered RC equipment to complete my quadrotor system.

So far, all of the following components appear to be working: a small, dedicated LiPo battery and BEC to supply power to my APM 2.5 board, 3DR "air" transceiver, and a video transmitter. Mission Planner installed and updated on an ultrabook laptop running Win7, with a 3DR "ground" transceiver connected through a USB port. Live video streams without noise from an in-air Aiptek A-HD 1080P video camera to an on-ground receiver connected to an Axion 9" portable TV (not sure I can use video goggles with my eyesight).

That said, I have not yet received and installed the RC radio components, nor have I completed RC radio, ESC, or sonar calibrations using Mission Planner. I might have some RF radiation issues to resolve before the first flight.

It's really cool that in Mission Planner I can see the orientation of the quadrotor over our home's position. I can move the quadrotor in any direction and see the responses in Mission Planner. GPS tracking seems to work great, even inside my home with a lock on only 3 satellites. So far so good!  Thanks to all who have contributed their expertise!  Now I just have to wait to receive the RC gear... 

A tip for newbies in the States who are expecting deliveries from afar:  *Twice* I waited for 3 weeks, then went to our local USPS delivery center (not a "Post Office") to receive a package. No delivery receipt was left in our mailbox. I brought with me a printed copy of the receipt from the supplier (with my address and their shipment tracking number), which (from my experience) was essential for receiving the package. I can only speculate about the root cause of the delays. Perhaps some packages are placed in a special area, based on the results of scanning.

Hey John,

I'm where you were when you were looking into this. Do you think you could post more about your RC discoveries here? You mentioned that you ordered RC gear but I'm curious what you found out in order to make that decision. Is it impossible to use the mission planner without an RC controller.

The way I see it I just need the RC controller to unlock the ESCs and power up the motors. After that I was really hoping to be hands-off. For this I'd prefer not to spend $200-$300 on gear for just this purpose....unless I have to. 

Maybe you could help me expand this thread for newbies like me. Two questions:

  1. What is the absolute bare minimum of RC gear (if any) needed to fly a quad in fully autonomous mode
  2. Any lessons you learned while getting yours to work?

Thanks in advance.


@Matt,  I have been busy since Oct.7 on other projects, so my quadrotor project is on hold (not to mention a shortage of dry days locally). I did buy a Turnigy 9X, and upgraded to the FrSky module as outlined on links below from Mark Harrison. However I have not yet calibrated the ESCs. Maybe you will have more luck chasing down info from one of the developers than I had. :-)  Maybe you can find someone nearby who is willing to let you use their equipment for an hour or two?

@matt any luck? It's almost a year past. I was wondering if you were able to unlock your ESCs and run hands off. I'm looking to do the same and have been having a hell of a time trying to figure out how to run it with a joystick. 



Hi GinaMoose,

Sorry for the late reply. The notification fell into my spam. 

Anyway I did get things going but the joystick idea didn't pan out. There's just too much lag. So I bought a really cheap RC radio from hobbyking and that worked great for me. 

Once I had the radio, unlocking the ESCs was a breeze.



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