How to Make a DIY Rugged Drone Mission Case
As with anything else in aviation, drone accessories tend to be much more expensive than non-aviation versions of the same products.
This page of the site describes how I saved some money by building my own customized, rugged drone carrying case using a standard hard case with pick-and-pluck foam as a starting point.
In addition to being less expensive than "official" hard drone cases, building your own carrying case for your drone and accessories allows you to customize the case exactly how you want it. If you change your mind (or your gear) in the future, you can purchase replacement foam inserts and reuse the same outer case.
This case was custom-designed to hold my Autel EVO II Pro 6K drone and other accessories including five extra batteries, the charger and charging hub, the Smart Controller, and miscellaneous accessories such as an anti-collision light for night flying, lens filters, and extra SD cards, in as compact a case as possible. That's my actual case and drone in the picture.
I started with a standard hard case with pick-and-pluck foam, and dug out the compartments to fit my drone and accessories. Then I sprayed it with rubberized paint to prevent the foam from falling apart with use.
Total time to build the case was about two hours, not counting the drying time between coats of paint; and the total cost was under a hundred dollars. I'm pretty happy with it. Here are the steps I used.
Step 1: Choose a Good Case
The first step to building a rugged mission case for a drone and accessories is to choose a hard case with foam inserts that can be customized to your needs. This is best done with paper and pencil, drawing the layout of your drone and accessories as you would like them to fit in the case, and then choosing the case accordingly.
If in doubt about the size, order a case a little bigger than you think you'll need. Most vendors will not accept a case for return once you've plucked the foam. Remember to factor the non-pluckable foam border (usually about a half inch on each edge) that surrounds the pluckable cubes into your measurements.
I also suggest that you choose a waterproof case to protect your expensive drone and accessories from unexpected rain storms.
Hard cases come in a complete range of colors. I chose orange, both to match my drone and because I just like orange.
Step 2: Lay Out Your Drone and Pluck the Foam
The next step is to lay out your design on the actual foam, and once you're sure you have it the way you want, start plucking out the foam to match your drone and accessories.
It's a good idea to place a layer of cardboard over the foam while experimenting with the layout so as not to make indentations in the foam before you know exactly where you want to excavate it.
Be careful with the plucking. Once you remove the foam from then matrix, you can't put it back without gluing it, which usually doesn't work out too well.
You can fit a lot more equipment in your case if you think ahead and "stack" your drone and accessories, creating storage wells under components that don't use the whole depth of the case.
For example, in my case, I left a small well under the drone compartment on the left to store the anti-collision light and its lenses, extra SD cards, and lens wipes. I left a larger well under the controller compartment on the right to store the battery charger and the harness for the controller.
Step 3: Dry-Fit Your Drone and Accessories
The next step is to test-fit your drone and accessories in the case, being as careful as you can not to separate the foam anywhere you don't have to. The foam will come apart easily until it's coated with some sort of fixative or covered with a piece of flat foam.
The specific layout, of course, will depend on your particular drone and the things you need to carry on a typical mission. You should try to make space for everything you may need. It's much easier to carry one case that has everything you need to the job site.
Remember that if you don't need an accessory for a particular mission, you can always leave the space empty that day. For example, I have a total of six batteries, so I rarely need to carry the charging block. I just leave that space empty when I don't need the charger.
But if you do need an accessory and have no space to store it, then you'll have to carry it separately, which kind of defeats the purpose of the case. So design and build it with the idea of having a place to store everything you may need for a mission.
If you mess up, you can buy replacement foam inserts for most cases and start over again. But to adapt an adage from a well-known carpenter, it's better to check twice, and pluck once. The replacement foam costs almost as much as the case itself.
Step 4: Secure the Foam Insert to Prevent it from Coming Apart
The foam inserts in the case won't last for long if you don't secure them somehow. There are two popular ways to do this.
One way is to glue a layer of flat high-density foam over the top of the insert. Obviously, that means cutting openings in the foam sheet to match those in the inserts.
Be sure to follow the label directions, work in a well-ventilated place, and use a painting respirator and eye protection when applying spray paint. You won't be much of a drone pilot if you can't breathe or see.
You'll probably need to apply four to six light coats of rubberized paint to the foam to make it as secure as it's going to get.
Make sure to follow the label instructions regarding drying time between coats, and especially between the last coat and placing your expensive drone and equipment in the case. I suggest allowing at least 72 hours after the last coat to allow the paint to thoroughly cure and for any solvents to offgas before putting your aircraft and equipment in the case.