FPV Drone Racing: Everything You Need To Know
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I’ve written a lot of posts about drones, including reviews of things like the DJI Spark and others, but Iv’e not actually covered WHAT FPV drone flying IS!
This post aims to change that. FPV drone flying or racing is a great hobby that will have you out in nature picking your drone up from the ground and climbing trees and all sorts! More on that later, for now let’s look at some basic questions about FPV drone racing.
ABOUT THIS POST: This post is going to be a huge guide to FPV drone flying. This is everything you need to know, so feel free to scroll through and learn about FPV drone flying!
What does FPV actually stand for?
FPV stands for ‘first person view’ meaning you usually wear goggles that let you see what the drones camera sees. This lets you feel like you’re ACTUALLY IN the drones cockpit flying it personally.
It means you don’t need to worry about where the drone is or what direction it’s facing because the directions are relative to what you (the drone) sees.
It’s become very popular for racing because you’re able to perform some pretty impressive movements and tricks in the air, when you’re not limited by worrying which way you’re pointing.
Most drones are NOT actually FPV. They’re ‘line of sight’ which means you have to watch the drone in the air, and move it according to which direction it’s pointing. This makes it very difficult to do any sort of acrobatics, because you quickly lose track of which way is forward.
But with FPV, you see what the drone sees, so your ‘forward’ is ALWAYS the right direction.
You can turn and twist around as if you were actually inside the drone you’re flying. This makes it very easy to start doing some complex movements in the air, and avoiding obstacles as if you’re actually driving.
A lot of drone pilots start out with something like a Redpawz R011 or a BetaFPV drone and then develop a taste for a faster drone.
What is Wifi FPV?
Wifi FPV refers to how you’re receiving the FPV signal to your device. You’ll either be seeing the drones video feed on your phone or tablet, or through FPv goggles.
Generally, phones use Wifi signal to receive the video, while FPV goggles use RADIO. Radio waves are MUCH better and more reliable as you’ll soon figure out.
I’ve crashed lots of drones because the wifi signal was too laggy or failed at the wrong moment. For flying FPV and racing indoor or outdoor, you can’t rely on Wifi signal. The only exception would be the DJI drones which have well developed apps and components on their drones.
The DJI spark in particular has a GREAT wifi FPV signal, but you still couldn’t RACE it or punch through small gaps just by relying on the Wifi signal. It’s just not reliable enough and it’s too slow.
The real difference between Radio FPV and Wifi FPV is the latency. Latency is basically update speed. How fast does a movement of the drone ACTUALLY show as a movement on the video feed.
Ideally you wan’t basically NO delay between the drone physically moving and what you see on your goggles. To achieve that, you have to use Radio FPV. Wifi just doesn’t cut it.
Do all drones use Wifi?
Not all drones use Wifi, but most of the cheap consumer drones marketed as being FPV will use Wifi. It’s a tricky area, because technically they ARE FPV even with Wifi, but the signal is so weak and the latency is so bad, that you can’t really use them as FPV drones.
Ideally you want to look for a radio connection using proper fpv goggles, and a receiver on the drone. That’s your best chance of getting a strong signal even when going through small gaps.
Because you don’t want to have ANY lag, otherwise if your wifi feed lags at the wrong moment, you’ve crashed into the sides and broken your drone!
Do I need internet to fly a drone? do you need a smartphone?
You don’t need internet to fly most drones. The confusion comes when we’re talking about Wifi. you will need to use the Wifi on your phone to fly lots of the cheaper drones, but that doesn’t mean you need to be connected to the actual internet with your phone to fly the drone.
You can have your phone on AIRPLANE mode and I’d actually recommend doing that. By putting your phone onto airplane mode, you increase the signal and make the video connection less likely to lag out.
That was something I discovered through long trial and error, and surprisingly hardly any of the drones instruction manuals tell you about that.
How does an FPV camera work?
An FPV camera works quite simply. The camera is attached to the lipo battery on your drone, and contains a small lightweight camera, and a transmitter/antenna system.
They’re tiny, and they essentially just broadcast the video signal tot he radio waves. You then have a set of FPV goggles that picks up that signal and shows you in real time what the drone is seeing.
Often, FPV cameras don’t record what they’re seeing because they’re designed to be as small, lightweight and power efficient as possible. If you want to record what you’re seeing, you’ll usually have to buy FPV goggles that can record the video signal.
How much does a racing drone cost?
A racing drone can cost anywhere from $100 all the way up to $2000, depending on the parts and features you want to have on it. I’d suggest not spending more than about $200 on your first drone, because you WILL crash it.
Ideally, you want to focus on something that is BUILT to take crashes, and that won’t break when it does crash. The types of drone that can take a crash are of course the lighter and less powerful ones.
The faster and heavier a drone, the less likely it will survive a crash. It’s also more likely to do damage to whatever it crashes into the heavier it is as well! I’d suggest starting with one of the following if you’re just starting out with fPV drone flying:
- Redpawz r011: Basically unbreakable, the only thing this will damage is the FPV cameras connector wire, but that’s an easy fix. It’s so light that you could fly it full speed into your head and it wouldn’t hurt that much at all (I’ve done that)
- Beta FPV Beta65: A tiny drone that is the BEST indoor drone I’ve ever flown. It has on screen display, advanced settings, and manual mode.
How much money can you make FPV drone racing?
Well, this depends on what races you enter and win. If you enter the big leagues in Dubai or somewhere like that, and WIN, yo can earn some serious money like over $200,000 for example.
Yo could also get sponsored if you’re good enough and that could range anywhere from $1000 per month to $10,000 per week plus being flown to places to fly. Or if you’re lucky you could get hired by a film company to make some films for them, but for all of this you have to be REALLY good.
Not only good, but you have to know business and networking, and be able to get your name out there. You’ll probably also need to get training, have a website, insurance and proper certifications to actually fly and publish footage etc.
How fast are racing drones?
Racing drones can fly fast, in almost any direction, including straight up into the air, making them very dangerous if handled wrong. The top speeds an FPV racing drone can reach are about 120mph.
That’s not a mistake, they can really go that fast, but to go that fast you need to have the right track and environment. You won’t find your average drone pilot at the park flying anywhere NEAR that fast.
That’s professional drones on a proper track, and even then pilots RARELY fly that fast because drone flying involves tight twists and turns and moving into tight spaces, so you don’t need to go super fast to do that.
Most pilots fly at the speed of the DJI Spark which is around 30mph or lower. This lets you remain in control of the drone and you’re also able to avoid obstacles more easily at these speeds.
There are actually (unsurprisingly) speed limits for drones. In the USA, the speed limit for FPV drones according the the FAA is about 100mph.
How FPV drone racing gets you healthy!
This is an often overlooked benefit of flying FPV drones. You’re going to crash them, right? You’re also going to probably crash them in places that are hard to get to, for example up a tree or on a hillside.
This forces you to physically go and get the drone, meaning you’re more active. Lots of drone pilots end up getting fitter because they’re walking around and picking their drones up so often!
That’s why it’s a great hobby for gamers, because you’re still sort of playing a game when you’ve got the goggles on, BUT you’re also out in nature, breathing fresh air and having to walk around to set up, pace out the flying area, and pick up your crashed drones!
Why would people want to race drones?
I wrote a more detailed post about why people fly drones, but in a nutshell, it’s fun. Drone flying gives you that rush that you can’t get from playing video games. It’s like you’re ACTUALLY flying and if you’re like me, flying is a dream of yours!
You get to go out into nature, breathe proper air, talk to other pilots and walkers, and get healthy because you pick up the drones when they crash. Also, it’s a good career if you go down that path.
Drone pilots that get their licenses and commercial exceptions can earn anywhere from $10,000 a month up to $100,000 per MONTH! It’s big money and it’s not even that hard to earn once you’ve got the right licenses and contacts.