FPV Drone Racing

An Introduction to Drone Racing

If you’ve looked out of the window or watched the news just once over the last year you’re sure to have seen the ever increasing use of drones – also known as quadcopters, UAVs, multicopters etc. They are used by both hobbyists and professionals that are involved in a variety of commercial industries. Until recently though, the most popular quadcopters have been reasonably large (approximately 350mm diagonal measured from motor to motor) and designed to be super-stable for achieving smooth aerial videos.  But some enthusiasts realised that this technology could have other uses - and so added FPV equipment and started developing smaller quadcopters with fantastic agility and robustness,  ideal for speeding through challenging high-adrenaline courses.  And of course they had to find out who was the fastest!  So Drone Racing was born.

There is no set course for FPV racing; the layout depends on who is organising the event. Some are quite long, designed for the competitors to be able to gain as much speed as possible - so far we have clocked a racing quad at an impressive 66 miles per hour. Other courses are small, with very low gates designed to test the technical skills and abilities of those competing. 

FPV drone racing is the latest craze to take over the multirotor and FPV community. An FPV racing drone is usually a 250mm sized quadcopter, but that can vary and be a 280mm or even 300mm frame. This quadcopter is designed to be as light and nimble as possible for racing around all sorts of courses and obstacles. The drone will have a camera installed which is attached to a transmitter. This transmitter will then relay the live image to a receiver in a pair of FPV goggles such as the FatShark Dominator V3 goggles. The live downlink is only possible due to the advanced technology that ensures the video has no lag and is clear enough to weave around obstacles on a racing course. 

Before thinking about getting into FPV racing it’s important to think about what a racing quadcopter really is, and what options there are out there when you’re looking to buy. 

FPV Drone Racing - FirstPersonView Hidden Valley Event from First Person View

What is an FPV Racing Drone?

In FPV racing, “250” describes the diagonal length in millimeters between the two outermost motors. 300, and even 350 sizes are available, but 250 is by far the most popular and economical in terms of the size of batteries and motors required to fly a larger frame.

To understand more about the FPV and quadcopters we talk about here, why not have a quick read of our glossary and F.A.Q.

A Quick Drone Racing Quadcopter Comparison

Two of our most popular FPV 250 racing models are the Emax Nighthawk and the Immersion RC Vortex. Both are fantastic machines, excellent for a beginner and worthy of even the most skilled racer. However, they do have their differences, which we will now explore.

The Emax Nighthawk is more standard looking than the Vortex, presenting the look and feel of a more traditional do-it-yourself racing quadcopter kit. Don’t be fooled by its elemental presentation, the Nighthawk has a beast of a racer restrained within and once you progress from a beginner to a more experienced pilot, you will be able to summon additional force. Once you have set the Nighthawk up, you can easily tune the flight controller to your abilities, from the beginner to a professional racer.

The Nighthawk needs to be assembled, which will take some time, but if you crash and damage the Nighthawk, you will be experienced enough with its build to fix it yourself and as the parts are all easily available, you can buy yourself a set of spares to get yourself racing as soon as possible. It is also very easy to customise to your specifications and requirements, as the body has plenty of mounting options for a wide variety of possibilities.

You may be wondering exactly what you will need to build an Emax Nighthawk, and how much it will cost. Well this kit would be a complete setup, and would cost you £376.96 before adding an FPV kit. We would recommend adding an Attitude V2 FPV kit to the Nighthawk. This Attitude V2 kit costs £354, making the total FPV racing kit with FPV £730.96 and would include:

  • Emax Nighthawk 250 Frame, motors, ESCs, propellers, flight controller
  • Power Distribution Board
  • Vonista 1600mAh 3S LiPo Battery
  • Vonista 80W Charger
  • FrSky Taranis X9D Transmitter with X8R Receiver
  • Attitude V2 kit which includes600TVL camera, 250mW transmitter, FPV goggles with built-in receiver

For more information you can read our Emax Nighthawk 250 build log.

Watch the Emax 250 quadcopter in action

The ImmersionRC Vortex

The other option is the almost ready to fly ImmerisonRC Vortex. The Vortex is BNF, which means that you can Bind and Fly it straight away, meaning there’s no building involved. An interesting feature of the Vortex is its folding arms. In the event of a crash, the arms will just fold back preventing major damage to the motors, ESC’s and frame. This also means that you can easily store and carry the Vortex. The only additional items that you really need to purchase are an RC transmitter such as the FrSky Taranis and a few spare batteries, which can range from 1300mAh 3S or 4S for racing, to 1600mAh or even up to 2200mAh for practicing rather than racing. 

ImmersionRC Vortex Racing Quadcopter Review Video from First Person View

You will also need a set of goggles for the FPV set up. As the Vortex comes with a 600TVL camera pre-installed along with a video transmitter, we would recommend buying the Dominator V2 FPV goggles with a receiver module, which may be the standard 5.8GHZ Receiver Module, or their Race Band Receiver Module which can work on 4 different frequency bands.

The Vortex even comes fully built in the box, so you only need to plug in a battery, bind to your transmitter, then configure your Vortex through the OSD (this takes minutes. It comes pre-loaded with Cleanflight, but you can also choose to run OpenPilot or even Baseflight), and you are good to go. The prop direction is very easy to configure, you can just flick the propeller after you plug the battery in, and it will remember the direction that you want that propeller to turn. The arms are beautifully crafted and actually contain the ESC’s, which both helps protect them, and makes for a cleaner build.

Now for the important part, how does it actually fly? Well, the Vortex not only has aesthetic appeal, but it also has the incredible handling to match. It has been designed with meticulous attention to detail, right down to the awesome LED lights at the back. The folding arm design really is a fantastic feature in the event of a crash and puts it a step ahead of many other racing frames. As a result of its design, it flies very smoothly and really stands out when racing.

Fossil Gravity 250 and 280 Racing Frames

Another hugely popular range of frames are the Fossil Frames Gravity 250 and Gravity 280 sized frames.  These frames come in a range of colours, so you can really customise your kit, but the real kicker with these frames is that they are made from a very lightweight and highly robust HDPE material.  High-density polyethylene (HDPE) has a high strength to density ratio, which means that you can really put these frames to the test (walls, flag poles, trees...you get the drift!) without too much concern about heavy damage (within reason)! See the product pages linked above for more info on the manufacturer guarantee on these frames...they aren't kidding around when they say these are tough.

How Does FPV Racing Work and What Are The Rules?

At present, there is no single set of rules that all those participating in FPV racing are following. The basic premise is to fly around a course with obstacles such as gates to fly around/pass through. There are some general safety guidelines that FPVUK.org has written to help all FPV racers know how to stay safe and have fun! 

Some of the main points from these guidelines are:

  • There must be 50 meters between the FPV racing course and any spectators
  • Any flying must occur a minimum of 150 meters away from a congested area
  • It’s always a good idea to make a risk assessment of each new potential course area to ensure the safety of the participants, spectators and public.
  • Having an event director can ensure the smooth running of the racing
  • Radio frequency interference can cause a huge problem when many people are flying close together. Assigning a different control frequency to each competitor will allow the organisers to create racing slots for compatible pilots, without any RF interference issues
  • The event director should make sure to brief all pilots before commencing any races to explain the rules of the day

Please see the full document here for full details and more information. When racing using FPV having spotters is essential not only for safety reasons, but for watching where crashes happen so locating a crashed quad is quick and easy. 

Can Anyone Race?

Anybody can race a quad, but they might need a bit of practice first! A racing quad pilot should be able to navigate any obstacle the quadcopter might pass. It’s not all about speed, precision and smoothness trump speed in any race. Becoming a racing quadcopter pilot will take some time. If you’re a complete beginner, it would be a great idea to learn the controls on something small such as the Hubsan X4 H107D Mini Quadcopter (link). These have the same controls, and the lack of GPS means you have to be able to give the quadcopter constant input for it to stay in the air, similar to most racing quadcopters. 

When moving onto a racing quadcopter learning to use your machine properly does take time and getting a grasp for spatial awareness in a 2D space takes time as well. A racing quad pilot is always learning and must be prepared for crashing reasonably often. Having a lot of spare propellers is almost a necessity. Once you accept that the quadcopter may get damaged and crashing no longer becomes a worry, your skills will advance much quicker. This is also great for those on a budget, as the small mass of the racing quadcopters mean that the majority of the time, it is only the propellers that break, and propellers are a lot cheaper to replace than quadcopter parts. Knowing that crash damage will be minimal adds a whole new level of fun and excitement to flying that many people find appealing. Creating courses can also be cheap; gates can be made from anything, cardboard, tape, rope, even existing obstacles like goal posts can be used (when no one else is using them of course).

How Long Has Drone Racing Been Around?

It’s always difficult to know the exact beginnings of any sport or hobby, however what really seemed to popularise FPV racing was a YouTube video called FPV Racing – Crash Session!!!

Three French pilots can be seen racing through a forest, weaving in and out of trees, and having some spectacular crashes, in a very Star Wars Return of the Jedi style. This video has had almost 2 million views and seems to have become one of the internet’s many viral videos. Since being posted on YouTube in October 2014 the sport has been gathering momentum around the world, including the UK. There have been FPV events and clubs cropping up all over the country and the British FPV Racing League has been created to promote the sport, help bring people and clubs together by organising events and creating a universal set of rules for all competitors/racing pilots to follow. These are similar to those published by FPVUK. 

What’s next for FPV Racing?

This will be ever-changing, the quads will get lighter and faster, the courses will get harder and more complex, and batteries will improve for longer flight times and more power. The possibilities really are endless. Although this sport had been proliferating rapidly, we don’t see any end to it soon. 

If you'd like to see more of the action, then check  out our Drone Racing video library.