drone racing: What is it?

Posted by
Korey Smith
July 7, 2015
FPV & Racing


Drone racing is a sport where drone pilots strive to build extremely fast and agile multi-rotors (otherwise known as drones) to fly around a set course as fast as possible. Almost all drone races today are done using FPV (First Person View) systems. FPV is a type of drone flying where pilots use cameras to fly drones as if they were sitting in the cockpit. Some pilots fly using FPV monitors, where as others use specialized FPV goggles to give them a more immersive experience.

FPV flying was originally done using RC Planes, but in recent years, multi-rotor drones have become extremely popular, much more stable, easier to fly, and more agile than RC planes. All of this has made multi-rotor drones the perfect platform for FPV flying. From late 2013 to 2015, people began making FPV drones that were much smaller than what was considered the standard. This allowed them to be even more maneuverable than before while also being able to fit through tighter spaces and hold up better in crashes. After flying these mini FPV drones, it became apparent that FPV Drone racing was going to become extremely popular in the future.

Drone racing is already starting to take off, but I believe that it’s still at it’s infancy stage, and what we’re doing right now is “nothing” compared to what drone racing will eventually become years down the road. That being said, people who race drones right now are truly the pioneers of a new sport. We are the ones who will define what FPV drone racing is, how it’s regulated, the technology that’s used and most importantly, what it means to be a drone racer in the future. We believe that drone racing is here to stay, so there’s no better time to get into the sport than right now

What Do I Need To Get Started?

To get started, you’ll first need to buy all of the right components. You’re going to need a racing drone, batteries, a battery charger, a good controller, FPV goggles, a video receiver and a few other miscellanies items. I can’t go into detail on what you need in this article because it would make this page too long, so go read our other post called Drone Racing: What You Need To Get Started. The info in there will give you all the details on what to buy, why you need it and where to buy it.

Ingredients To Make a Great FPV Racing Drone

by now you may be asking yourself “How do I know if my drone is going to be good for drone races?” There are a lot of things that make a great racing drone, but here’s what’s the most important.

Speed: Obviously you’re going to need a drone that can go fast, but how fast is fast enough? Usually drones tend to have a top speed of about 35mph, but racing drones can easily go over 50mph (sometimes even faster). To achieve higher speeds, you can do lots of different things. The easiest way to go faster is use more powerful batteries that have higher voltages (14.8v batteries instead of the traditional 11.1v). Another way would be to reduce the weight of your racing drone, because sometimes less is more. Take off the useless stuff like GPS, OSDs, extra long wires, heavy landing gear etc…

Sight: The FPV camera is one of the most important components for drone racing. When drones are in forward flight, they can tilt anywhere from 1 to almost 80 degrees depending on how fast they’re going. Because of this, It’s very important that your camera can be tilted up. This will allow you to see where you’re going when the drone is tilted forward. Your FPV camera also needs to be durable, have a high frame rate (60fps) and a wide FOV (field of view so you can see around turns).

A good Flight Controller: Lots of people overlook the flight controller when thinking about drone racing, but it’s the only thing that keeps your drone stable, so don’t overlook it! If you’re serious about drone racing, make sure that you get a flight controller capable of running the firmware known as CleanFlight. It’s basically the best firmware available for mini racing drones.

Durability And Repairability: When racing drones, it’s almost guarantee that you’re going to crash at least once for every three flights you do (otherwise you aren’t flying fast enough). Some people crash more, some crash less, but it happens to everyone. That’s why you should look for a drone frame capable of taking lots of hits before breaking. You should also be able to replace all of the parts for your drone individually. Most FPV racing frames are in the 230mm to 300mm size range.

Learning To Fly

After building your first FPV racer, learning to fly is the next step. You should start by at least learning how to hover around without using any FPV equipment. This kind of flying is called Line-of-sight and is the easiest way to test and tune your racing drone. After learning the basics of line-of-sight flying, then you can start trying FPV. You will find that FPV is pretty easy in open spaces, but it gets much harder when flying through obstacles or tighter spaces.

After learning how to cruise around like a graceful cloud, then you can start experimenting with things like going faster, flying closer to the ground, flying through or under trees and seeing what obstacles you can go through without losing signal.

Once you have the ability to fly your drone around while confidently knowing it’s limitations, then comes the last stage of learning FPV drone flying. This is when you start learning flips, rolls, nose dives and other cool maneuvers. At this point, you would be ready to start developing your own makeshift tracks at your local park. You could use the obstacles around you like sidewalks, paths, light poles, trees, or you could buy air gates made specifically for drone racing.

Air gates are what most drone races use as obstacles to keep drone pilots on the track. They are usually three to six feet in diameter and shaped like a half circle. some races will also use tall flags to signify turns and slaloms. Other forms of track guidance include: cones, rope lighting, arrows, tires, trees, or anything you want really!

What It’s Like To Fly a Racing Drone

For some, it’s about getting the fastest time around the course. For others, it’s about exploring the world from new prospectives. For me, FPV racing isn’t about any of that – it’s about the experience. It’s about the feeling you get when taking huge risks and then succeeding.

I actually don’t get to race very often, but just because you have a racing drone, that doesn’t mean you have to race with it. There’s another kind of flying called freestyle. The main objective of Freestyle drone flying is just like any other freestyle sport. You fly in the craziest ways you can think of.

Imagine that you’re hundreds of feet in the air, and then suddenly you’re spiraling toward the ground at 80mph. Your palms start sweating, your heart starts racing and all you can think about is “Am I going to make this maneuver. Will I pull out of it or smash into the ground, destroying everything I’ve worked so hard to build”. All of these thoughts intensify as the ground gets closer and closer, until the moment when time slows down and you take action, pulling up just before hitting the ground.

Korey Smith

Korey Smith, independent film maker, RC model enthusiast and co-owner of MyFirstDrone

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