So you are new to Drone Racing (aka FPV Mini Quad), and wondering where to start? This guide will help you by explaining the basics of buying, building and flying a drone, or mini quad. I will also recommend other great resources related to FPV at the end of this article.
What is Drone Racing?
Drone Racing is a sport where remote-piloted drones are racing together in a course at up to 100MPH. (The fastest drone can reach over 140MPH max)
It doesn’t matter if you are piloting or just watching the drone race, anyone who takes it seriously would put on a pair of video goggles to watch from the aircraft’s perspective.
Welcome to the world of FPV (First Person View).
Flying a quadcopter in FPV is the most surreal experience I ever had personally. You can go anywhere in a 3D space, what you can do is totally up to your imagination.
Drone racing is like a video game, except it’s real. There is no “reset button”, and you could damage your mini quad in a crash. It’s the adrenaline rush that makes it an exciting experience.
You will be building and repairing you own quadcopters, choose parts and upgrades to fly faster. You can also tune it to fly the way you want. Everything is highly customizable.
The Mini Quad FPV hobby is one of the most friendly communities I have ever experienced. Everybody helps each other out, meet, fly and race regularly together and just have fun!
In this guide, we’ll cover the following topics:
- History of Drone Racing
- Cost? To Build or Buy?
- Parts and Equipment
- Getting Started with Flying
- Race Types and Setting up Racing Course
- Video Frequency Management
The Origin of Drone Racing and the Types of Drones
Drone racing began with the invention of mini quad. Mini quads are basically small quadcopters that are about the size of your palm. Prior to that people were mainly flying larger quadcopters and hexacopters no smaller than 450mm.
These 450mm quadcopters are large and heavy. They lack agility and durability compared to a mini quad. Miniquads are designed to be tough and crash-resistant, so even when you crash you can usually just pick it up and take off again. This gives pilots the confidence and allows them to fly faster, through smaller gaps, and pushing their limits to the next level.
When talking about drone sizes, the numbers such as 250 or 450 mentioned, are the wheelbase size, i.e. the diagonal motor to motor distance. Basically that indicates the size of a multicopter.
Since then, we’ve seen huge progress in the power of these mini quad, increasing propeller sizes, higher LiPo battery voltage, larger motors… Some insane power to weight ratios of over 10:1 is becoming possible, turning these little toys into insane rockets, which are capable of reaching 140mph in a matter of seconds (~225Kmh).
How much does it cost?
Building a drone can be expensive, but just like anything else it largely depends on your choice of components.
To give you a rough idea, a FPV racing drone (mini quad) can cost somewhere between $150 to $500 or even more. That is just the quadcopter itself and does not include any accessories such as spare batteries, FPV Goggles, Radio Transmitter, building tools etc. Basic accessories can cost you another $150 to $500. So you are looking at spending as little as $300 to get started, but expect more along the road if you are seriously hooked. :D
Speaking from experience, this hobby has gotten much cheaper than when I started back in 2013. Competition is driving the price down for every components, parts are designed better and more robust… The most significant change is the propellers, they are made so durable I don’t have to change them for days! Compared to what I used to go through at least 10 propellers per session.
Should I Build My First Drone or Buy a Pre-built One?
If building a quadcopter from scratch sounds too challenging, you can consider a pre-built model such as a RTF (ready to fly) or BNF (bind and fly) kit. The lower end ones such as the EMAX NightHawk Pro 280 and Eachine Wizard normally cost less than $200, while the high end ones include ImmersionRC Vortex and TBS Vendetta could cost around $500.
RTF drones get you started with flying quicker, but there is still a learning curve how to set it up and such. It usually costs more than building your own, and its spare parts are also more expensive.
If you want to get someone with experience to advise on which one you should buy, or help you choose components to build one. Our IntoFPV forum is a great place for that.
Anyway I would recommend building your own customized quadcopter even if you are just starting! Building it is part of the fun, and the skills and knowledge you learn along the way, will enable you to repair and upgrade the quad later on.
Whether you are buying a prebuilt drone or building it yourself, you should write down a list of things that you need and have it checked by someone more experienced.
Buy a Radio First and Learn How To Fly
“I don’t even have a quadcopter, how can I learn to fly?”
No you don’t need a quadcopter to learn flying these days, there are many FPV simulators available for you to practice on. I do not recommend learning flying on a full size mini quad. It’s dangerous and expensive if you crash and damage the parts.
Here is a list of FPV flight simulators for Drone.
FPV sims are probably the cheapest way to get into quadcopter flying. You can practice anytime of the day regardless the weather.
The first thing you need to buy is a radio transmitter that should work great for mini quad, yet allows you to play with simulators. Undoubtedly, at the moment the best options are:
Here is a guide how to select radio transmitters.
You can also learn flying on a smaller model like a micro quad, but it’s unnecessary in my opinion since simulators are pretty good enough these days. Not to mention a micro quad flies quite differently than a larger size mini quad (such as a 5″) due to power levels.
And you should learn flying in acro mode (rate mode) and forget about self-level mode even as a beginner :)
While you are learning how to fly, you should also plan your quadcopter build and buying gears keep reading.
Parts and Equipment You will need
As your first build, I strongly recommend building a 5″ mini quad because it’s the most versatile platform you can get for flying acro and racing. It’s efficient yet powerful enough to carry a HD camera, and it’s much easier to build than smaller quadcopters.
Here are a few posts I strongly recommend reading first.
- How to build a quadcopter – It explains the construction of a quadcopter in general
- 250 Mini quad parts list – It goes into extreme detail in each component of a mini quad, and what the latest products are
- FPV Glossary – You can look up acronyms in this table
[diagram of quadcopter anatomy]
An FPV racing quadcopter consists of the following parts:
- Quadcopter Frame (how to choose mini quad frame)
- 4 x Motors (how to choose mini quad motor)
- 4 x Props (Propellers) – 2x CCW and 2x CW rotations (how to choose propeller)
- 4 x ESCs – Electronics Speed Controller (how to choose ESC)
- FC – Flight Controller (how to choose flight controller)
- LiPo Battery (how to choose LiPo battery)
- FPV Camera (how to choose FPV camera)
- FPV OSD (how to choose OSD)
Additionally you will also need the following equipment to fly your quadcopter in FPV:
- Radio transmitter (TX) and receiver (RX)
- Video Transmitter (VTX) and Receiver (VRX) (how to choose VTX)
- FPV antennas (how to choose FPV antenna)
- FPV Goggles or Monitor (how to choose FPV goggles)
- LiPo Charger (how to choose LiPo charger)
- Multirotor Building Tools
- Optional: HD Camera for recording flight footage, such as Xiaomi Yi, GoPro, Runcam 3, or Mobius
Choosing parts can be tough in your first build. If you are not sure, it’s best to buy gear that a lot of people are using, so you can look up information and get answers to your questions easier.
One important advice, buy spare! Especially props (propellers). Crashing is inevitable so you will break quite a few props. It also doesn’t hurt to have spare batteries, motors and ESCs if you want to avoid waiting around for replacement parts.
The Basics of FPV System
A FPV System on a mini quad is straight-forward:
- There is a camera connected to a video transmitter (VTX)
- You can get the live stream video on a monitor which is connected to a video receiver (VRX), or FPV Goggles which has a integrated VRX
Go and read this FPV guide to learn the basics first.
5.8Ghz is the frequency that we use for FPV equipment. Most video transmitters and receivers these days supports more than 40 channels, allowing more people to fly together at the same time.
Use low power VTX!
200mW is more favorable than 600mW if you want to fly with other people. 600mW is too powerful and will cause lots of interference for other people.
If you crash, unplug your LiPo as soon as you pick it up. If you walk back to your seat with the quad powered on, it might affect your buddy’s video signal if they are still flying (because your transmitter is now closer to your friend’s receiver than their quads).
Use Circular Polarized Antenna
VTX and VRX comes with dipole antennas which are cheap linearly polarized antennas. You should always buy circular polarized antennas for your FPV gear because they provide better range and reliability.
Flying FPV on a Mini Quad
It takes time to relate what you learn on a simulator on a mini quad in real life. Don’t worry it might take a few days and suddenly it will just click.
Here is an article about learning FPV flying, and here are some motivation and advice for learning FPV. BigglesFPV also wrote a few excellent articles about getting into FPV on the forum, IntoFPV, check it out:
And you also need to learn how to tune PID when learning how to fly.
There are quite a few flight controller firmware available to mini quad. My personal favourites are Betaflight, KISS and Raceflight. You can’t go wrong with any of these FC firmware.
Attending Meetup and Race Events
As you arrive at the FPV site, first thing you want to do is to work out who is using which video transmitter channel.
DO NOT power on your quad before you get your video channel confirmed, especially when there are other people in the air!
When 2 quads are on the same VTX channel, or when frequencies are too close to each other, one could knock out the other guy’s video. The video feed interference can cause someone to crash because they couldn’t see anything in their goggles.
Always warn other pilots before you power on your quad.
Even if you are not in the same channel, some lower quality VTX could emits power through the whole spectrum on start-up, causing interference to everyone for a slip second.
Alternatively you can always switch on your video receiver first, and check which channels are being used before you switch on your video transmitter.
With proper equipment and frequency management, normally up to 8 people can fly at the same time, but typically 4 pilots is more common for an interference free race.
Safety should always come first.
Remember that these racing mini quads are really FAST and powerful! They can cause some nasty injuries to people and animals, and damage to property. We have zero tolerance for people ignoring safety rules, because it does not only affect the pilot and victim, but also the reputation of this hobby.
- Check your local rules and regulations regarding FPV, RC and Model Flying in general
- Buy Insurance!
- Get a spotter, or a fly buddy!
- Choose your flying location sensibly
- Never fly too close to or above people and animals
- Disconnect battery immediately after picking up the crashed quad
- Do not try to catch a multicopter in mid-air
- Never use damaged LiPo, dispose LiPo battery properly
Please also read about this article that explains FPV safety in a bit more detail.
Best Configuration for Drone Racing – Quadcopter or Hexacopter or Tricopter?
Personally I prefer quadcopter especially mini quad.
Quads are easier to build and maintain. Although with the same motor/props/battery, hexacopter can have higher top speed, but every time you crash you have a bigger chance of damaging propellers, motors and arms.
Quadcopter is also a great balance between power and efficiency.
Tricopter is pretty energy efficient, and has the best yaw authority in the three. But the yaw servo can get damaged easily in crashes, and i just don’t think they are as fast as a quadcopter for a similar setup.
This post explains the different multirotor configurations in more detail.
Tips about Mini Quad Racing
Winning a race, is not all about speed, one also needs consistency. And most importantly, stay in the air!
Sometimes it’s better to go slower and steady, rather than going too fast and getting out of control. I have seen so many times the fastest pilots get defeated by a crash in racing.
Also make sure you bring spare propellers, crashes are inevitable. When you are practicing, just be prepared to crash. Props and parts can get damaged and it’s completely normal. You will only start pushing your limits and improving your skills more quickly once you stop worrying!
- Sept 2015 – Article Created
- Dec 2016 – Article revised, added “The Origin of Drone Racing and the Types of Drones”
- May 2017 – Added “Buy a Radio First and Learn How To Fly”