Flying FPV in the winter can be hard on RC pilots and RC models. Low temperatures can even lead to such profanity as “nice weather for flying, but it’s too cold to go outside!” Here are a few tips that can help you and your drones survive those freezing winter FPV sessions.
Further Reading: For other useful tools and spare for mini quads.
LiPo Performance in Winter
Is cold temperature better for your quad because the motors and battery are less likely to overheat, and the denser air can help propellers to work more efficiently? Yes that’s true, but the cold can also be very bad for LiPo battery performance.
In a nutshell, the chemical reaction inside batteries can be greatly affected by temperature. For LiPo batteries in particular, they perform the best at around 35°C (95°F). Below around 18°C (64°F) the performance starts to decrease noticeably with much less power and possibly shorter flight times due to worse voltage sag. It can actually feel like you are using a really old battery pack (or one with lower discharge rate).
I did a test when it was around 10°C outside, I flew my drone around a race course multiple times and recorded the maximum output power of the battery. As you can see from the graph, the maximum output power slowly builds up and reaches maximum in the middle of the flight as the battery gets warmed up, but gradually declines from there as the battery charge depletes.
To conclude, when flying in the cold, it’s a good idea to warm up the batteries before flight (e.g. put your next battery in your pocket). And don’t forget your used LiPo that is still warm, can be a great hand warmer too! :)
The same happens to any battery, including the one in your GoPro, it won’t last as long in the cold either. You might normally get 5 flights out of it, but in the winter you might only get 2 flights. One trick is to have multiple batteries and rotate them for every flight, place it on a warm place before inserting it in the GoPro before each flight will boost the run time. There are even special GoPro batteries designed for cold temperature.
It’s hard to fly smoothly with frozen numb fingers. I’ve been using this remote glove (or hood whatever you wanna call it) for years and it’s been one of the most effective ways to keep my hands warm on a windy cold day.
Highly Recommended! Get them here:
This transmitter glove goes over the radio and your hands to keep you snug and cosy. It also does a good job preventing cold wind getting in. The transparent plastic allows you to see what’s on the screen perfectly well. It fits most if not all of the full size transmitters on the market, including the Jumper T16, Radiomaster TX16S, Taranis X9D+, QX7 and the Spektrum DX6.
I am pretty sure I would complain more about having frostbite, but the plastic cover sometimes “collapses” and interfere with the fingers that are holding the sticks. To avoid that I just use some cardboard inserts to keep the cover away from the hands.
Disposable Hand Warmers
Get your disposable hand warmers here, Amazon: https://amzn.to/3VRawtP.
Just $1 a pack and each pack lasts about 10 hours (tested and confirmed!), these are probably the most affordable way to keep warm if you don’t fly very often. How warm are they? Well, I’d say they feels slightly warmer than a LiPo after an intense flight on a 5″ racing drone, but not too warm and burn your hands.
These disposable hand warmers look a bit like an oversized tea bag, very easy to use, simply take it out of the package and it will start to warm up after a couple of minutes.
Not only for FPV, these hand warms are also handy to have whenever you are taking a walk outside in the cold. But I really like putting one of these inside my transmitter glove and pocket which works exceptionally well, a bit like an Irish coffee for your hands :D
Rechargeable Hand Warmer
If you fly a lot in the winter, having a rechargeable hand warmer will probably save you money in the long run.
Some of them can be used as a power bank to recharge your GoPro and smartphone in the field, which is handy. You can use it to warm up your battery as well.
Flying From Inside the Car
One way to keep yourself warm when flying in the winter is to do it from inside the car and turn on the heater :D
Be aware that signal will be weaker when flying from inside the car, you might get away from it if you fly relatively close range though. Try to fly carefully for a bit and get a feel for what kind of reduction in range you will get and see how it’s working for you.
If you still want to fly with decent range, one work around is to extend the antennas or use external receivers and place them on the roof of the car.
For example, you could use an SMA extension cable with a magnetic base for your radio transmitter. These extension cables work for 900MHz (Crossfire & R9M) and 2.4GHz. However note that there will be signal loss to a long coaxial cable, therefore you can also consider mounting the transmitter module outside instead but that’s more complicated to do.
Buy SMA Extender with magnetic base (3 meters):
For video link, you could put an external receiver on top of your car, and connect it to your goggles with a long AV cable. The FuriousFPV Dock-King used to be the best option because it has built-in magnet that will stick to metal, however they have stopped making it. You can probably DIY something like I did here and get it 3D printed.
Goggles Fogging Up
The displays in FPV goggles can steam up in the winter due to temperature difference. I’ve found if you keep them in a warm place before use, such as on your forehead or just leave them plug in for 10 minutes, can help a lot.
Flying at Night
Days grow shorter in the winter, for people with a 9-to-5 job might miss the opportunity to fly in day light. You could however fly FPV at night with a good low light capable camera. Check out this article where I explain how to fly at night, and compared a few great FPV cameras for night flying. The cameras I tested in that post might be a little outdated, to update you on the latest cameras that do well in low light.
For DJI FPV System, it’s the Caddx Polar:
- Banggood: https://oscarliang.com/product-ibz9
- GetFPV: https://oscarliang.com/product-f5tq
- RDQ: https://oscarliang.com/product-p69r
For analog, it’s the Foxeer Micro CAT 3:
- GetFPV: https://oscarliang.com/product-kg72
- RDQ: https://oscarliang.com/product-5b8q
- Amazon: https://amzn.to/3CeKiZA
If you need a Nano size camera for night time flying, the Toothless 2 Nano starlight is a pretty good choice. Make sure to get the Starlight version for low light though. Buy Foxeer Toothless 2 Nano Starlight:
- GetFPV: https://oscarliang.com/product-zsne
- RDQ: https://oscarliang.com/product-vp2w
- NBD: https://oscarliang.com/product-dyda
Things Break More Easily
Prepare to break more propellers, and just stuff in general. Plastic is more brittle in the cold, tape and glue can also lose stickiness. Things like propellers and TPU parts might be indestructible or just get bent in the summer, but they can be destroyed/shattered much more easily when they hit something in the winter. Get some spare!
When it’s too cold to go outside, why not just stay warm and cosy at home and fire up the FPV flight simulator?
There are now so many options when it comes to FPV sim, with tons of tracks and maps you can practice on. They will keep you entertained and motivated for a long time before you get bored.
Flying in the Living Room
You can get a tiny whoop and fly in the house, they are tiny and fun (until you fly it into your wife’s hair)! If you want to know which Tiny Whoops to get, check out my tiny whoop buyer’s guide which I explain all the popular options and related accessories.
Not only flying over water requires waterproofing your electronics, extra moisture in the air and water droplets on grass in the winter can get into your model too. It’s important to keep your model in a dry place after every flight session.
As a good practice, put everything in a bag before you bring them inside, close the bag up so it still has the cold dry air in the bag. This will prevent condensation on your electronics from the indoor warm moist air. When everything is warmed up to room temperature you can take them out of the bag.
The best way in my opinion to prevent moisture is waterproofing the electronics (conformal coating). You don’t have to do this to the motors as they won’t short when they get wet. But you may consider conformal coating your flight controller, ESC, video transmitter, receiver, and possibly your FPV camera too. However you do have to be very careful when applying the coating and do not get it on buttons, USB connectors, barometer, and camera image sensor as the coating can damage these components.
Many electronic components are likely to stop working or even burn out if they come into contact with water, especially salt water which is more electrically conductive than fresh water. Waterproofing can really help to protect your components when you are flying (or crashing) in a wet environment.
You still have a job to do even if you are not flying at all – look after your LiPo batteries!
If you are not planning to fly for a long time (e.g. one month or even longer), you should store all your batteries in a fireproof container/place, and make sure they are discharged to 3.85V (the storage voltage) to maximize their lifespan.
- Nov 2015 – Article created
- Dec 2017 – Added info about LiPo performance, Waterproofing, FPV simulator, and heat pack
- Nov 2018 – Added info about “flying from inside the car”, updated article
- Jan 2020 – Updated
- Jan 2021 – Updated
- Dec 2022 – Updated, shortened URL