How to Fly FPV at Night

Flying Multirotors and FPV is very addictive but, with the winter cold settling in and the days growing shorter, when exactly do we have the time to fly our toys? How does flying at night sound?

This article is written by Carlos Costa, member of Multicopter International.

FPV Camera For Night Flying

Nowadays you can get a low light capable FPV camera for practically nothing (ok maybe it’s a bit more than nothing – you can find the Foxeer Star Light camera at surveillzone.com for $49). They work pretty well, only concern is the latency. Here is an example of the image result: This is how dark the play ground actually is.

normal-camera-dark-night-environment-Empty-playground

Through the Star Light low light FPV Camera, we can see a lot better:

flying-fpv-night-dark-star-light-low-light-fpv-camera-1 flying-fpv-night-dark-star-light-low-light-fpv-camera-2

However, unless you are lucky enough to have a clear sky and a full moon, you may still be a bit disappointed.

Although the star light board camera does a pretty good job in taking advantage of every bit of light available (min 0.00008lux in black and white), the least light you have the worse the processed image will be, making it look like parts of the image blur onto itself and as soon as you start flying, you will see it’s pretty much impossible to discern anything in the image you see.

Fear not, there is quite a simple solution and it’s much cheaper than you might think.

Enhance Low Light Visibility, Yet Remain Stealth

We can improve visibility in dark environment by adding a flashlight to the quadcopter, but that will take away the quiet pleasures of flying at night. Not only will your multirotor look like an UFO but you will also blind anyone that gets in front of your quad – including yourself if you are flying LOS.

A much better, light conservative option is to use IR light (Infra-red). Due to the interesting nature of IR (which is invisible to human eyes, but through digital cameras), it doesn’t annoy anyone and you will be able to see the same as you do with a flashlight, if not more!

The best option I found so far was a 48 IR LED illuminator for around £8 (US$12), I’m sure you can find these even cheaper if you can be bothered to look. And while the full thing is quite heavy you can disassemble it completely and use the LED board only, for a whopping total weight of 17g.

flying-fpv-night-dark-IR-light-led-star-light-with-LED-illuminator

flying-fpv-night-dark-IR-light-led-LED-illuminator-mounted-on-quadcopter-take-apart flying-fpv-night-dark-IR-light-led-LED-illuminator-mounted-on-quadcopter-back

If you don’t have a GoPro mount, try this way provided by Konrad Stepanajtys. He basically mounted the LED panel on a cardboard box, which then goes on top of the quad.

night-fpv-flying-mounting-IR-LED-on-quadcopter

The only modification I needed to do was to solder a male balance plug connector to my LED, so I can connect it directly to my 3s flight battery.

Remember to keep it away from the camera lens, so as not to cause any glare. I simply added a Gopro mount to the top front of my quad and attached the LED board there.
The results are surprisingly good.

flying-fpv-night-dark-IR-light-led-LED-illuminator-mounted-on-quadcopter

It’s not as strong as a flashlight which is not bad all together, meaning you WON’T have a big white spot aiming at the centre of wherever you are looking at, but instead a nice, even, big glow in front of you. This is the result:

flying-fpv-night-dark-IR-light-led-playground

flying-fpv-night-dark-IR-light-led-wood

Is it worth it then?

If you are considering using this method for some midnight racing in the dark I wouldn’t recommend it. Because while you can see what is in front of you, it won’t be quite enough for you to keep up with fast speeds. As you get closer to the floor you will be blinded by the glare from the floor.

flying-fpv-night-dark-IR-light-led-close-to-floor

Then again if you can afford it you could get some bigger IR LED arrays and place them around in the field where you are flying, but wouldn’t it be easier to fly somewhere where there is already some light? :)

On the other hand if you are an explorer and want to go flying around at every given time, slowly exploring all the small gaps in between the trees and hidden paths, the night can truly be both a wonderful and terrifying experience.

If you are as scared as me of losing a quad in the middle of nowhere be sure to attach a tracker. I use a nut (goggle nut smart tag) which gives me around 50m range from the current location of the craft.

Key things to remember

  • Check local regulation if you are actually allowed to do night FPV flying.
  • Your FPV camera must NOT have IR filter in order to see the IR light.
  • On your FPV Camera, change the Day/Night setting to auto or to black and white. You will be able to see a lot better!
  • Don’t get the illuminators too close to your camera. It will cause glare in the lens and you won’t be able to see anything.

flying-fpv-night-dark-IR-light-led-LED-illuminator-mounted-on-multicopter

  • Always check the voltage required by the IR illuminator. Mine uses 12v and I can connect it directly to my 3s main lipo battery (balance port).
  • For lasting protection add some liquid electrical tape at the back part of both the board camera and the LED board or get some proper cases for both.

flying-fpv-night-dark-IR-light-led-camera-with-LED-illuminator

  • Consider adding a tracker to your quad – easier to find when crash in the dark.
  • Night flight – you will be super cold! Dress warm.

5 thoughts on “How to Fly FPV at Night

  1. Daniel J

    Great review plus Tips Carlos !

    Regarding the NUT, these are Bluetooth only (not GPS)?
    I’ve read mixed reviews on the performance of these trackers (in general) – some work, some not at all .

    Can I ask please, what mobile phone App you use to “track” the Tag?

    Reply
  2. jerrod me

    Hey everyone,
    i’ve also been flying at night with IR LED and it’s great! even in pitch black i can see well enough to fly about 50% to 75% of my top speed. Hovering visibility is just fine and can see great out to about 30 feet / 10m. I use different IR LED’s that are from ebay. They are specified at 5 watts but i measured them at about 3 with my setup. I use 4 of the LED’s and angle them differently so all of my cameras FOV is illuminated. I pull about 20 watts or 1.7amps at 12V.
    However: beware if the light from the leds gets straight into the lens, it will cause a drop in contrast and destroy your image. My setup did this and it showed a ring in the middle of my view.

    Reply
  3. John Johnson

    Oscar,
    All I can say is thank you for your blog and all the time you take to share your knowledge. I have only been flying for a little over a year and I find all your information just awesome. There are few places people can go to get the kind of information you share and nowhere can you find it all in one place, as you have done. I am overjoyed that I finally found your oscarliang.net site, it’s people like you that make this community so great.
    Thank you for all your time and effort!!!

    Reply
  4. alex

    Hi Oscar ! As you said multirotor is very addictive , i make also night FPV and love it . So i suggest you to try an 4mm low illumination lens ( it is very very big but awesome) ! When you got a little bit of light its in color
    Love your blog !

    Reply
  5. scott ross

    Excellent article! Good to know about the Starlight cam, using IR light. This might be a direction I want to go soon.

    Another alternative worth mentioning is the TrueRC.net light systems made by Hugo (Hugeone on RCGroups). He has been doing night flying for a couple years using super powerful LED lights, with elaborate liquid cooling systems, on model planes. And more recently he has released a miniquad LED system, which yeild about 2000 lumens and is very lightweight – I just installed one on my miniquad and will try it tonight. These systems enable use of conventional FPV CCD cameras

    Reply

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