FPV Drone Propellers: The Definitive Beginner Guide

Updated on
FPV Drone Propellers: The Definitive Beginner Guide

As a seasoned FPV pilot with hundreds of hours behind the goggles, propellers are a topic I’m incredibly passionate about. The right prop for your build makes all the difference in flight performance and efficiency. After countless prop experiments and mid-air failures from bad props, I’ve learned the ins and outs of proper prop selection and directionality the hard way.

In this comprehensive guide, I’ll share everything I wish I had known when I first started picking, installing, and maintaining props. Whether you’re new to the hobby or a fellow experienced pilot, this article will help you master propellers once and for all.

The tiny details make a huge difference here, so strap in, and let’s dive in.

What are Drone Propellers and How do They Work?

Drone propellers are the spinning blades that generate the lift and forward thrust to make quadcopters fly. They rotate at high speeds to create the difference in air pressure that produces upward and forward movement.

The angled blades of the propellers are designed to make the air above them move faster than the air below them as they spin. This difference in air pressure results in an upward force called thrust. More thrust pushes the drone higher while less brings it back down.

Increasing or decreasing the RPMs of the propellers through motor speed controls the amount of thrust produced. Most drone propellers have either 2, 3, or 4 blades or “arms.” The more blades, the more surface area and thrust, but also more weight.

Two-blade propellers are lightweight and efficient but less inherently stable. They are commonly used on smaller quads. Three-blade props offer a balance of stability and efficiency for larger drones. Four-blade props generate maximum thrust and control authority, ideal for heavy payloads and professional drones.

The key propeller components

Before we get into prop direction and selection, let’s go over some of the basics of propeller anatomy and terminology.

The top and bottom

The top of the prop almost always has numbers, letters, or other symbols embossed on it. This is the side that faces upwards when installed on the drone.

The bottom of the prop is usually blank or has a logo/branding. This side faces downwards towards the ground when installed.

Leading edge

The leading edge is the rounded, curved front of the propeller. This connects to the top side of the prop hub.

Trailing edge

The trailing edge is the sharper back edge of the propeller and connects to the bottom of the hub.


The chord is the distance between the leading edge and the trailing edges. A longer chord creates more thrust.

Propeller pitch

The pitch is the theoretical distance the propeller would move forward in one revolution if rotating in a solid medium. Pitch helps determine the amount of thrust generated.

Propeller diameter

The diameter is the length of the blades from tip to tip. A larger diameter generates more thrust.

How to Determine Propeller Spin Direction

Installing props in the correct orientation is critical for getting proper performance. A reversed prop can create instability.

Prop Configuration – Props in vs. Props out

Once you know each prop’s intended rotation, you need to determine the configuration. There are two options:

Props In (Regular): The top of the propeller faces towards the center of the quad.

Props Out (Reversed): The top of the propeller faces away from the center of the quad.

props in vs props out
FPV Drone Propellers: The Definitive Beginner Guide 2

Important Safety Tip: Never install props while motors are plugged into USB and battery at the same time. Follow the “two out of three” rule:

  • Props + Battery
  • Props + USB
  • Battery + USB

But never all three together during testing to avoid dangerous accidental propeller spin-ups.

Verifying motor spin direction

Before flying, it’s crucial to verify your motors are all spinning in the correct direction. The Betaflight software makes this easy to check.

Using the Betaflight Motors Tab

  1. Open Betaflight and connect your flight controller
  2. Go to the Motors tab
  3. For Props In the configuration, disable Motor Direction reversed
  4. For Props Out, enable Motor Direction reversed
  5. Plug in the battery and check each motor spins in the expected direction
  6. Reverse any motors spinning in the wrong direction

The Motors tab also has a handy motor direction test feature. Follow the steps when prompted to confirm each motor spins correctly.

Remember: Never have props on during this process!

Checking motors individually

You can also test each motor individually in Betaflight:

  1. Remove all props
  2. Plug in battery
  3. Click each motor number and check the direction
  4. If wrong, click reverse or normal to correct
  5. Repeat for each motor until all are spinning correctly

How to Mount Propellers

Once you’ve verified the motors are spinning the right way, you can install the propellers in the intended configuration.

  • Props in/ regular

Propellers spin inwards toward the center of the drone.

  • Props out/ reversed

Propellers spin outwards away from the center.

When installing props, press down firmly until the prop is flush with the top of the motor bell. Loose props can damage motors and create instability in flight.

  • Securing prop nuts properly

Tightening down the prop nuts correctly ensures your propellers stay securely attached during flight.

  • Use the right tool

A proper prop tool allows you to tighten the nuts fully. Pliers can damage the nuts.

  • Hand tighten first

Initially, tighten each nut with your fingers until resistance prevents further tightening. This prevents cross-threading.

  • Tighten with Tool

Place the prop tool on the nut and tighten down fully until the prop is entirely secure.

  • Improve Grip

Wrapping a battery strap around the motor bell improves grip and makes it easier to tighten the nuts.

Tight prop nuts are critical for stable, vibration-free flight.

How to Choose FPV Drone Props

Choosing the right propeller for your quadcopter and flying style makes a huge difference in performance and handling. Here are some tips on picking props for different disciplines:

Freestyle Props

Freestylers need maximum control and stability in turbulent conditions and prop wash. Key factors:

  • Low pitch – Prefer 5040, 5037, 5043, etc. The low angle of attack avoids stalls in reverse flow.
  • High kV motors – Required to spin low-pitch props fast enough for thrust. But less efficient.
  • Avoid blade stalls – Keep the angle of attack low, even in the prop wash.

Racing Props

Racers need efficiency for speed but also some stall resistance for corners.

  • Moderate pitch – 5043, 5045, and 5047 provide a balance.
  • Lower kV – For efficiency. It helps prevent over-amping motors.
  • Reasonable AoA – Not too high to lose all efficiency. But not too low to sacrifice performance.

Long Range & Speed Props

Long-range quads can prioritize efficiency and top speed over stall resistance.

  • High pitch – 5050, 5051, 5056 maximize efficiency with higher AoA
  • Low kV motors – Required for high pitch. Prevents over-amping.
  • High inflow – You mainly fly fast forward, so AoA stays reasonable.
  • Throttle limits – You may need throttle curves for high-pitch props.

Some other tips for selecting props:

  • Consider your disc loading – lower disc loading benefits more from the increased pitch.
  • Use propeller RPM calculators to verify your setup won’t exceed maximum tip speed limits and create excessive noise and drag.
  • Match your prop, motor KV, and battery voltage to avoid excessive current draw and risk of burnouts.
  • For smoother footage, avoid props that induce vibrations in your quad. Balance them or switch brands.

How Long do Propellers Last

Now that you know how to select the right propellers for your drone and flying style, a common question is, how long can you expect those props to last? The lifespan of your propellers depends on several key factors:

  • Durability: More durable materials like carbon fiber or reinforced composites last longer than cheaper props. Maybe 500+ hours for nice quality props.
  • Flight Conditions: Harsh environments shorten lifespan. Think dirt, moisture, salt spray, extreme temps. Be extra diligent with prop maintenance.
  • Usage: Heavy use equals faster wear. Expect to replace racing and freestyle props more often than cinematic props.
  • Quality: Higher quality propellers generally last longer, thanks to optimized materials and geometry. Save money in the long run.
  • Maintenance: Keeping props clean, dry, and safely stored when not in use helps them last. Don’t neglect maintenance!

No matter what, inspect propellers regularly and replace any that are chipped, bent, or worn out. Damaged props negatively impact flight performance and safety. It’s cheap insurance to swap out worn propellers.

As a rule of thumb, budget to replace prop sets every few months for recreational pilots, more often if you’re a hardcore racer or freestyler. And never risk flying with questionable props that could fail mid-flight!

How to Maintain the Propellers

To get the most out of your propellers and maintain peak performance, be sure to take good care of them and replace them as needed. Follow these prop maintenance best practices:

Inspect propellers before each flight

Give your propellers a visual inspection before every flight session. Check for:

  • Chips and cracks in the plastic blades. Even minor fractures can weaken the props over time.
  • Bent propeller blades. Noticeable curving or warping of the blades will cause unwanted vibrations.
  • Blades that are broken or missing chunks from crash damage.

Any propellers with damage should be replaced immediately. Flying with damaged props increases the risk of mid-flight failure.

Check prop nut tightness

Before taking off, turn each prop nut with your fingers and ensure they are all still tight. If not, tighten them back down thoroughly with your prop tool. Loose prop nuts are a recipe for props slipping mid-flight and causing a crash.

Replace props regularly

Even if your propellers aren’t visibly damaged, their performance can decline over time due to wear. To maintain optimal efficiency and responsiveness, it’s best to replace them periodically. A general guideline is to swap out prop sets after 20-30 full battery cycles or following significant crashes. Get new propellers to restore your drone’s agility and maximize its potential.

Clean propellers

Dirt, debris, and grime on propellers can throw off balance and reduce thrust. Give your propellers a periodic cleaning.

Lightly spray them with prop cleaner fluid and wipe clean with a microfiber cloth. Be cautious not to use any abrasive materials that may cause scratches on the plastic. You can also wash props with mild soap and water. Take care not to bend the blades while cleaning. Let them fully dry before re-installing.

Store propellers safely

When not flying, keep your propellers protected in a spare parts case or prop bag. This prevents them from getting damaged while being transported. If storing long term, avoid humidity and drastic temperature swings that could affect balance and warp blades over time.

Keep spare props handy

Having 1-2 spare sets of propellers on hand is wise for field repairs and replacement if needed.

Nothing’s worse than traveling to a flying spot and realizing you left your props at home. Spares let you quickly swap out any damaged props and get back in the air.

Don’t ignore these minor prop maintenance actions. Even little things like inspecting your props before flights and wiping off dirt can make a big difference. Properly caring for your propellers will keep them in peak condition for optimal drone performance and flight time. So take a few minutes to check over your props and keep them clean. It’s worth it for smooth, trouble-free flying every time!


Final words

After all these years and crashes, I’m still constantly learning new tips and tricks for getting the most out of my mini quad props. Don’t be afraid to experiment to find what works for your build and style—mastering propeller direction and maintenance results in smoother, faster, and more efficient flights.

I hope sharing my hard-earned prop wisdom here helps you avoid the frustrations I faced starting out. Let me know in the comments if you have any other prop questions I can answer! I could talk props all day.

Happy flying!

Did you like this article? Rate it!

We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!

Let us improve this post!

Tell us how we can improve this post?

Photo of author

Written By Kristen Ward

My name is Kristen R. Ward. I’m an adventure Filmmaker and I run a production company based out of New York. FPV drones are integral to my business. I'll be teaching you everything I've learned over the years creating videos for clients.

Leave a Comment

RChobby Lab