Drone Racing – What It Takes To Fly Fast
The popularity of Drone Racing has rapidly increased over the last couple of years and is now considered a professional sport, with championship events being held throughout the world.
This sport involves using a camera mounted on the drone, to send video instantaneously to FPV goggles worn by the pilot (for a cockpit perspective). They race small, fast and agile multi-rotors (also known as drones) at speeds of up to 120 mph thru a course of gates and tunnels. The goal is to complete a set course as quickly as possible.
More elaborate courses include special lighting effects and multi-level race gates to really test a pilots flying skills. Spectators are amazed by the speed and maneuvers, not to mention the crashes and collisions.
This fast growing sport is becoming more mainstream everyday, with racing leagues and events sprouting up all over. Back In 2015, the first US National Championships in Sacramento California offered racers a slice of $25,000, in 2016 that amount was escalated in a big way by the $1 million World Drone Prix in Dubai.
The sport has now grown to become a serious business, Fox News, Cnet and many others have all reported on it’s popularity and ESPN recently announced a new multi-year international media distribution deal with the International Drone Racing Association (IDRA) to bring FPV drone racing to the masses.
Another recent deal is with DR1 Racing which announced that CBS and beIN will now join Eurosport, Fox Sports, and Twitch.tv in broadcasting the DHL Championship Series of DR1 drone racing to over 100 countries around the world.
What is drone racing exactly? Here is an overview by DRL.
While you can race any drone in a local meet, Competitive FPV racing leagues require drones to meet certain standards. The DRL makes all of the drones used in its events in house. Pilots are supplied with drones, backup drones, and parts by the league itself, not independently.
The commercial sponsored racing leagues are for the more experienced drone pilots. In order to compete in these sanctioned races, you will need a more advanced drone as well as a high-quality controller and goggles.
What makes Racing Drones Different
These quadcopters are designed to compete in FPV (first person view) racing events. Built from more durable materials like carbon fiber and have an open body frames that offer easy access to the parts for upgrades and needed repairs.
Racing Drones are more about components than features, Popular aerial photography drones like the DJI Phantom, have automatic stabilization features and batteries that can last 25 minutes, You are unlikely to find these type of features on a racing drone.
After take off, it’s the pilots skill that keeps it flying, Most racing drones are designed for 5 minutes of hard racing, which saps battery life really fast.
Purpose Built Designs
Drone manufacturers along with other known brands are introducing new designs and Ready To Fly models that include all the needed components.
FATSHARK, known to racers worldwide. just introduced their Fat Shark 101 racing drone bundle that has everything you need to get started.
Designed specifically for beginners that want to try drone racing, this kit includes the drone, radio and recon headset. Able to be upgraded piece by piece for those that prefer to spend less upfront and buy better later.
The Fat Shark 101 radio transmitter can also be used with online simulators, so you can practice flying with zero risk.
They Come In All Sizes
Freedom Class Giant Drone Racing is introducing a new premier class considered the next evolution in the fast growing sport of FPV Quadcopter Racing. Ten times bigger than the current racing drones. These aircraft have the size, speed, power to be fitted with the latest technology and equipment to captivate audiences at an event. (More on this as it develops)
Ready To Try A Racing Drone?
Doesn’t matter if your new to drones, have flown hobby quadcopters for a while or an FAA Certified Pilot, flying one of these fast little quadcopters is as exciting as it looks.
Now that your familiar with what it is and how it’s done, If Drone Racing is a hobby you would like to try, continue reading for a general overview about whats needed, along with helpful information and links to 5 of the most popular Racing Drones currently available from top manufacturers like Immersion RC, Walkera and Arris.
Getting Started, First you need to decide if you want a RTF model or prefer to build your own with parts you purchase. If you decide to buy a Racing Drone, don’t forget to get some extra props and batteries. A build may be cheaper, but it takes time. Compatible component FPV frame kits are available to make it easier.
RTF (Ready-to-Fly) = For the person that just wants to get up and flying.
ARF (Almost-Ready-to-Fly) = For the person that wants to customize their aircraft.
If the quad you buy doesn’t have one, you’ll need to purchase a good quality controller (radio, remote, transmitter- what ever you call it) and a good pair of goggles or a monitor for your display.
Here are the basic components you’ll need for a FPV Racing system:
- Racing Drone with a nice thick carbon-fiber frame.
- Radio Controller with a compatible receiver.
- Camera (With as wide a view as possible).
- Video transmitter (VTX) and a receiver for video signal.
- Display device (monitor or goggles).
Antennas are an item worth mentioning, while included in most models, upgrading these can a have a great impact on video and range regardless of model. There are a lot of options out there, but the ImmersionRC 5.8 GHz SpiroNET antennas are the most popular and they’re extremely durable.
Joining Facebook groups and online Drone Racing forums is a great way to get information and find out about new gear from other racers.
Should You Build Or Buy
There are advantages and disadvantages to both and really comes down to your own preference.
If you want to build your own, Drone Frame Kits are available or you can purchase a RTF racing drone that comes complete with a Racing Quad, a pre-mounted camera and a controller. You will still need a monitor or FPV Goggles to complete the setup.
- You can purchase fast drones without losing a bunch of time and money. If you are a beginner, your main objective is to learn how to race and get comfortable flying through a camera view.
- Buying RTF (Ready to fly) will get you in the air faster, but you will crash at some point and need repairs. Check for the availability of replacement parts for your model when you purchase.
- Buying a small racing drone is a good idea for beginners, because you WILL crash a lot. It’s part of the hobby.
- Does it offer a product warranty or guarantee.
Check out our post on some of the Best Low Priced Beginner WIFI FPV Drones to help you to get a taste for the hobby and experience FPV Flying without costing you a lot of money.
- It can take days, even weeks to complete if you run into problems during assembly.
- If you are the DIY type, building would be a good learning experience and enable you to know how to fix the drone yourself.
- Modding (Modifying) is common in drone racing, enables you to keep up with the advancing drone technology, over time you can add or change parts very quickly.
- Most pro racers customize their quadcopters and make improvements to increase both speed and agility. You can learn how to tweak your own machine.
UTUBE offers a lot of information about building a fpv racing drone and how-to upgrade parts to improve their performance.
This FPV Academy video on building your own racing Quadcopter explains the difference in parts and aplications.
Break Down of the Parts Required
2. Radio Controller
A compatible receiver is a item a every beginner should consider investing in when starting out. Get the best you can afford with at least 6 channels or more. After all, you may have it for a while, because the drone itself is what gets the most damage.
Some popular models from $60 to $300
- FlySky FS-i6 with iA6B Receiver: Inexpensive, popular choice among beginners
- Flysky FS-I6S Controller with FS-iA6B Receiver: Beginner model with touch screen interface
- Turnigy Evolution with TGY-iA6C Receiver: Game controller design and touch screen
- FrSky Taranis X9D Plus with X8R Receiver: Favorite among racers, has Audio Speech Outputs and Vibration Alerts
- Futaba 8JA with R2008SB Receiver: Great features and known for reliability
Most FPV equipment runs on 5.8Ghz analogue technology, as of 2017, there are now over 10 bands and 80 channels available. Most new FPV transmitters now offer 40 channels which make them compatible with most all FPV receivers, goggles and monitors. Many now include the Raceband frequency range as well so you can fly with up to 6 of your friends at once with almost no degradation.
Tip: When you buy a VTX, Double check the “channel chart” to make sure that your video receiver (or goggles) are compatible. Some video transmitters come with internal microphones installed. These VTX’s will allow you to hear your quad while flying by plugging set of headphones into your goggles.
Connex recently announced the ProSight system. It is the first extremely-low latency digital video link that is small enough to fit onto most mini quads. Digital systems are currently quite expensive but as the tech improves so will the price and eventually transmitting FPV video over a digital link will be the norm.
Fat Shark is the most well known manufacturer of goggles and one you will see most often at an FPV racing events. High-quality goggles will improve your vision and make it easier to guide your drone through the race course.
The ability to put yourself in the cockpit and feel like your actually piloting the drone makes for a real immersive experience.
Some goggles come with video receivers built into them, but with the Dominator goggles you will need to buy an add-on video receiver made by Fat Shark. You will also need the matching video antennas. One or two if using a patch antenna, for the video receiver (located on the goggles) and one for the video transmitter (located on the drone).
Also, it is highly recommended that you practice without goggles at first, learning to control the speed takes some practice to master, so give yourself plenty of open area.
The goggles definitely add a different prospective, so crashes are part of the learning curve. It does take some getting use to, but after a few flights, you will get the hang of it.
Less expensive goggles include:
1. EACHINE VR-007 Pro: Good starter level set of goggles
2. Eachine EV800: 40CH, Raceband Auto-Searching, 5″ LCD and AV IN function
3. Eachine EV100: 5.8G 72CH FPV Goggles
4. Eachine VR D2 Pro: 5 Inches, 40CH, Diversity with DVR Lens Adjustable
Getting Started in Drone Racing
Now that you have the necessary equipment, you need to learn how to use it.
Before you dive head first into drone racing investments, visit a few races to get a feel for the layout and how things work at such events. This is also an opportunity to talk to other drone racers and experts about what they use and how they started.
To become a proficient drone racer you must be willing to put in the practice time. Fly in open spaces where you have room to make a mistake and correct yourself.
As you get better, start introducing obstacles into your flying. You can either create the obstacles yourself (race gates and pylons) or use natural obstacles (trees, boulders, etc.).
Create Your Own Practice Coarse
Most of the items you need can be set-up and dismantled fairly quick.
All you need for your own racing coarse is a open area and some obstacles, they can be made from items you already have.
Utube is filled with ideas on the subject. You can also buy pre-made racing gates and flags to set up a race with your friends.
Here are a couple things to keep in mind:
- Never race in or around public places, because if your drone has a malfunction, it can cause harm to people and property. High speed and spinning blades can be dangerous.
- As a mandatory safety precaution, always check that nobody else is using the same channel you are on. If this happens, you can cause problems for other participants.
- Li-Po cells are the best sources of energy for your drone, but they are also the most dangerous components! In a case of an accident, a battery can get damaged. If this happens, it can explode, or ignite and cause a fire. Always carefully inspect your batteries after a crash, if it is damaged, Do not use it and dispose of it accordingly.
- Using a damaged drone isn’t recommended as well. If your drone is damaged, make sure you replace all damaged components before you continue. By doing this, you eliminate the risk of all aforementioned issues and you will have the best chance for winning a race.
- Never try to catch a drone that is falling or trying to land, because spinning rotors can hurt you. Always wait, until a drone is safe on the ground, and then pick it up. This is a common mistake with beginners.
- In addition, always try to land your drone in a designated area, Landing pads are a good way to mark the location.
- Be aware of your surroundings. It’s easy to get caught up in flying and forget to consider people, animals and objects in the area.
Just so you know, flying beyond “Visual the Line Of Sight” (VLOS) is currently not allowed under current FFA regulations. So when flying a drone in FPV anywhere outdoors, It’s always a good idea to have a spotter. A person that can watch out for approaching people or animals (no one wants a tap on the shoulder mid flight) and can warn you about any potential hazards like trees, buildings and power lines that you might not see in your goggles or monitor. The reason is because FPV flying severely limits peripheral vision and any distraction makes crashing much more likely.
Some areas are stricter than others about imposing this law, The last thing you want is to get fined or have your drone confiscated (or worse, go to jail) Save yourself some trouble, bring a spotter. Plus, it’s better than being by yourself and you both can share the experience.
When you feel your ready for some competition, gain experience in some less formal events, like local FPV races and meetups. (See list below)
Simulators Are A Great Way Test Your Skills
To practice and save cost on broken parts, try a simulator. They can be a fantastic training tool. You’ll need a controller and cable to hook up your computer (most are Mac and PC compatible). But it will allow you to fly anytime.
Just So You Know – using a game controller (Xbox, PS4, etc.) Most game controllers center both sticks after releasing them. On a radio transmitter built for RC flying, the left stick does not have a spring to return the stick to center. This can cause poor control in some situations.
Popular Drone Simulators
DLR High Voltage: Has a robust, evolving feature set, including high-intensity drone racing. It also packs maps based on tracks that DRL’s real world pilots compete on.
FPV Freerider: Offers a variety of environments, with a race component added to each one. You have the option to easily switch between flying FPV or Line of Sight depending on your flight preference.
LiftOff: A game for everyone from FPV racing veterans to gamers, The ability to create new levels is a plus for people who get bored with the same old tracks. Offers multiplayer feature.
VelociDrone: A single player FPV drone racing simulator. Using real world racing drones you can fly through an unlimited array of custom tracks with a variety of gates and barriers.
Start Small and Work Your Way Up
If you’ve never flown a quad before, start out by flying a small mini drone around the house. A Tiny Whoop class micro quad is a great little racer for beginners. Capable of flying in the smallest of places with ease. The propeller design allows you to bounce of walls and objects without damaging the craft, making it easy to maneuver under and around obstacles. A top choice among many novice drone racers.
FPV Mini Racing Drones
These Popular Racing Drones come with a Radio Controller (RC transmitter) and are great for novice pilots looking for some fast flying fun. These are some of the Best Ready To Fly Racing Drones currently available.
FAQ About Drone Racing
What is an FPV Racer?
A lightweight multicopter equipped with a camera for First Person View that gives the pilot a cockpit perspective of flying. Built out of high strength materials like carbon fiber or G10 fiberglass. Racing drones generally have 2 cameras, one for recording and one for FPV.
They are built for speed and agility, They use 5″or 6″ propellers for lift which then power these bad boys at speeds exceeding 100 mph through gates and around obstacles on a race course.
Where did Drone Racing get it’s start?
Drone Racing began as an amateur sport in Australia in late 2014. Many hobby enthusiasts built their own FPV drone racing equipment.
The first FPV drone races started as amateur competitions in Australia and New Zealand with Rotor cross, were the goal is to complete a set course as quickly as possible. Just like in other forms of competitive flying, drone racers are constantly modifying and making tweaks that will give them an edge.
Are there different Types of Drone Races?
Currently most events use 3 formats:
- Rotor cross: Competitors race through a coarse and the first one to cross the finish line wins.
- Drag Race: Competitors race a short distance, usually 100m, as a test of acceleration and top speed.
- Time Trial: Single competitors speed through a course, in which the best finishing time wins.
How much does a racing drone cost?
You can get a ready-to-fly racing drone for as little as $200. However, this quadcopter will only be enough for racing at meet-ups and local events. If you want a competitive racing drone, you will need to build it and that can run from $600 to $800.
The price for a good transmitter can range from $150 to over $1000, The FrSky Taranis X9D Plus is a top favorite for drone racing, because of it’s low price, high quality and great features, cost around $200.
A budget of $300-$700 will get you a 250mm spec racing drone with a good RC controller, flight controller, FPV video feed and a small video display.
Add another $300-500 for a pair of high-quality drone racing FPV goggles like the Fat Shark Dominator V3.
How Fast are Racing Drones?
These small drones can travel at speeds exceeding 100 MPH. The current” WORLD RECORD title holder for the “Fastest ground speed by a battery-powered remote-controlled quadcopter” is the DRL RacerX. A small quadcopter that zooms at a never-before-seen top speed of 179.6 miles per hour.
POPULAR DRONE RACING LEAGUES AND ASSOCIATIONS
As an organized sport, drone racing has spawned a number of national and international racing organizations.
Here are a few that you may find helpful.
Drone Pilots Federation: An International organization, formed as a non profit organization and neutral party to serve as a drone racing sanctioning body and as an educational and advocacy entity to assure the safe and responsible use of drones.
The International Drone Racing Association (IDRA): With over 35 participating countries, IDRA is the preeminent, global drone racing & extreme rotor sports entertainment company. Organizes drone racing competitions like the semi-professional Challengers Cup and professional Drone Racing Series.
Aerial Sports League: Located in Northern California, the ASL leads a global community representing thousands of drone dogfighters and FPV racing pilots. ASL Certified Hardware leads the industry in durability and functionality.
Drone Racing League: DRL combines world-class pilots, iconic locations, and proprietary technology to create engaging drone racing content with mass appeal. They also offer a RACING simulator to test your skills.
RacingFPV.com: Canadian indoor racing league, racing 250mm and open class.
MultiGP: Hosting frequent competition-based tournaments as well as free-fly and casual events and they welcome all pilots regardless of skill level and events are free to fly.
FPVlive.tv is a live streaming service and platform specializing in First Person View (FPV) events which include but not limited to Drone Races, Motorsports, Workshops, Concerts and any other event where a first person view can enhance the spectator experience.
Finding local FPV flying events
The Mini Quad Club: Popular Facebook group where meetups and mods are actively discussed.
Meetups.com: You can find local drone racing meetups and user groups.
So you’re up to par for now, but Drone Racing is a sport that is constantly changing and updating. This technology is getting More sophisticated and advancing fast. New drones are sure to come.
The next development will probably be around developing a VR Drone, Hobbyists are already flying 360 camera rigs (Ricoh Theta 360 camera) and posting the results on utube.
As better VR Drones hit the market, users will be able to experience the thrill of drone racing.
Meanwhile, find some friends and start experiencing the excitement that Drone Racing has to offer.