More and more top pilots are posting cinematic long range FPV videos of mountain diving, flying across rivers or sweeping over villages. The sense of exploration in these videos is truly breathtaking, and reminds me of what got me interested in FPV in the beginning – to explore!
Quite frankly these footage inspires many to jump aboard the FPV hype train, though the technical aspects of long range flying can be daunting for some. In this article I will share some tips to help you fly long range more safely and confidently.
Further Reading: Using ND Filters on GoPro for more Cinematic Videos
How Far Do You Fly?
The rule of thumb is, fly as far as you are able/willing to go and pick up your model when you crash :)
Take Baby Steps
Don’t push your limit the very first time, take multiple attempts and fly a little further every time. This allows you to understand your drone’s capability better in the given environment, and it minimizes the chance of losing your quad.
Stay Line of Sight
The most important thing about flying long range is to keep your mini quad in line of sight at all time. Obstacles can easily disrupt your video and radio signals, and high frequencies such as 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz are known to have bad object penetration ability.
The easy thing to do is to keep your altitude. Unless you know what you are doing, avoid anything risky like going to the other side of the mountains, or flying under tree line etc.
Before taking off, make sure to carefully inspect the environment for any possible bind spots that could block your signals. Simulate and plan the flight path in your head that allows your quadcopter to maintain line of sight during flight.
Don’t Get Lost
Look for visual markers on the ground, so you are less likely to lose orientation and know roughly where you are.
Make sure you have enough battery to make your way back.
This is the biggest error pilots tend to make when flying long range the first time. Take wind speed and direction into account as well, if you are flying back with headwind it will drain your battery much quicker.
That brings us to another point, never fly when it’s “too windy”, especially when the wind is strong enough to push your quad around.
My general rule of thumb is using 40% of capacity for outbound flight, and the rest for inbound. This gives you 20% margin of error just in case. For example, if you are using a 2000mAh battery, you should turn back as soon as you’ve consumed 800mAh.
And that brings us to yet another point, having a current sensor it very important :) This tutorial explains how to calibrate it if you haven’t done so already.
If you are flying down a mountain or hill, you should also reserve extra fuel to fly back up.
Choosing FPV Setup
DJI FPV System
The recent trend is using DJI FPV system for long range, with the latest update in Jun 2020, people are able to push their maximum range to 11-12km which is impressive for a 5.8Ghz system. Also it doesn’t get affected by multipath interference so that’s another bonus point.
Get the DJI FPV System from:
- Banggood: https://bit.ly/30WDPSw
- RaceDayQuad: http://bit.ly/2M4L7fd
- NewBeeDrone: https://bit.ly/37HbgtI
- ReadyMadeRC: https://bit.ly/2YQvv41
- GetFPV: https://bit.ly/3hMhm0f
For antennas and other accessories, check out this post.
Analogue FPV System
With 5.8GHz VTX, higher transmitter power means more range, but it has a diminishing return and it overheats quickly if power is too high. One of the most powerful options I have come across is the AKK FX2 Ultimate, which gives you up to 1200mW output power. But really I think 600mW-800mW is plenty much for long range when using the right antenna combo.
On the video receiver side, definitely use a diversity receiver module on your FPV Goggles.
- Buy Rapidfire Receiver Module from Banggood
When it comes to antennas, look for high axial ratio (i.e. as close to 1.0 as possible), which will reduce multipath interference, and your signal won’t lose strength due to signal polarization. See my FPV antenna guide for product recommendations.
With the right setup, 5.8GHz can go a long way (VTX, VRX and Antennas). I have personally tested mine with a 25mW VTX and it went as far as 1Km, imagine how far a higher power VTX can go :) You can estimate range by converting VTX power into dB.
If you are allowed to use lower frequency for video transmitter, e.g. 1.3GHz, this would be a better option. Check out my tutorial of 1.3GHz video frequency for FPV. The downsides are it’s not always legal, and you won’t be able to use 2.4GHz for your radio and fly with anyone with 2.4GHz radio, because the two interfere with each other.
Further Reading: Learn about the frequencies that are used in FPV
Advice for DJI FPV Pilots
Watch bandwidth to determine signal quality, the signal bars are not very reliable.
Use the highest power level allowed if it’s legal, by default it’s 700mW in FCC mode, but this can be increased to 1000mW or even 1200mW with this hack. If you are in CE mode, forget about flying long range, 25mW is just crap :(
Set Goggles recording to automatically start upon arming, so you can look back where you crash!
Get a directional antenna on your goggles – I’ve been using the TrueRC X-Air and I am getting noticeably better range and signal. Just mount this on the top two connectors and leaving stock antennas on the bottom two. Make sure to point the directional antenna at the craft during flight for maximum performance. And I just stock antenna on the Air Unit.\
Get the X-Air Antenna from:
- Banggood – https://bit.ly/2UiJe2J
- GetFPV – https://bit.ly/2UwJGJx
- NBD – https://bit.ly/2UE1faG
- RDQ – https://bit.ly/2y5IyF7
- Amazon – https://amzn.to/3dqD5sF
Improving Radio Range
For radio control link, you’ll definitely want to use a radio system that out-range your video link.
The most common RC frequency, 2.4GHz radios generally has poor range and reliability. From my experience, in the most optimal conditions, many popular 2.4GHz radios are able to give you up to 1 mile of range (about 1.6Km). For example, the Frsky Taranis with X4R-SB, and Spektrum DX8 with SPM4649T.
A better radio choice for long range would be a UHF system.
There are currently two popular UHF options for long range that utilize the 900MHz band, TBS Crossfire and Frsky R9M. These modules simply plug into the back of your Taranis module bay, making the upgrade super straightforward.
I used both, and I prefer Crossfire because it’s easier to use and more reliable. They also don’t release a new model every year and drop support for the old gear like Frsky does, so that’s another big bonus.
Further Reading: Learn about what makes a good radio transmitters for Mini Quad
Getting Better Efficiency and Longer Flight Time
Efficiency of a multirotor is closely related to battery, Motor, Props and Frame.
Simply using a larger battery to gain flight time isn’t the most effective as discussed in this article. Not only your quadcopter becomes slower due to the heavier weight, it also requires more power to stay in the air so you might not get as much flight time increase as you expect.
Efficiency is way more important when it comes to getting longer flight time.
For a 5″ mini quad, you can make it more efficient by simply using a less aggressive motor and propeller combination (lower KV and lower pitch). Try to build it as light as you can, and remove all the unnecessary parts to keep the weight down. Every gram you save is a few extra seconds in the air.
A larger rig like a 6″ or 7″ is more popular for long range because the larger propellers coupled with low KV motors are generally more efficient than 5″. Currently, a popular choice is to use motors of 1700KV with 7″ propellers (such as 7045). For example:
With such build you can carry a bigger battery such as 4S 2200mAh or even 3000mAh. However don’t expect the same agility as you would normally get on a 5″ build as this is designed to have long flight time.
When it comes to the frame design, durability is less important as you don’t plan to crash often. Being light weight and streamline is more important for long range.
6″ is becoming widely used for long range as well because it’s a great balance between agility and flight time of 5″ and 7″.
Higher voltages LiPo batteries such as 5S or 6S are also a great direction to consider.
If your FPV goggles has onboard DVR, use it for every flight. If it doesn’t, get an external DVR.
If it has auto-start, use it!
In case you crash, you can review the DVR footage and find out where you crashed. This will save you a ton of time searching for the model blindly.
Listening to the Motors and Beeper
You cannot hear your quad from far away. Some people prefer to hear the motors spinning and the buzzer beeping. This give them confident what’s going on with the quad, and feeling more connected. However it’s not for everyone because the audio coming from a quad can be really noisy and annoying.
This guide explains how to setup audio for FPV.
Setup GPS Rescue Mode
In Betaflight there is a simple version of “return to home” feature called Rescue mode.
You absolutely should get GPS for long range, GPS rescue mode in Betaflight can bring your quad back to you when signals are lost.
With basic GPS setup, you can at least tell where the quad is with GPS coordinates, how far you have gone from the launch point, and how high you are flying. These are all critical information.
If you unfortunately crashed and had to search for your quad, knowing your GPS coordinate and having a loud buzzer installed can help tremendously. Especially a buzzer with its own battery.
Buzzers with built-in battery can continue to beep for hours even days when the battery is unplugged.
Using Li-Ion Battery
Li-Ion battery has much higher energy density than LiPo and hence will provide longer flight time in theory. If your wing or quad has low current draw and high efficiency, you should definitely consider it. 18650 Li-Ion cells are the popular battery option, In this post I will show you how I built a 4S battery using these cells.
Is Long Range FPV Flying Legal in your Country?
I hate to bring this up, but I don’t want to encourage anyone to do something that might be illegal. Some countries have more strict rules than others on how far you are allowed to fly with an FPV drone, and what the maximum output power you are allowed to use on the VTX. I know as a fact that FPV is even banned entirely in some countries.
Please follow the regulations and fly sensibly, do not put yourself or others at risk.
- May 2018 – post created
- Aug 2020 – Updated tips for DJI FPV system