Build your own racing drones, drone racing & FPV racers
FPV racing drones are becoming increasingly popular and the appeal is obvious. With FPV racers you can experience breathtaking speeds and perform spectacular flight maneuvers that are not possible with normal multicopters. Whether drone racing or freestyle, FPV drones are simply huge fun!
On this page, we provide information about racing drones, freestyle drones and tips for building FPV racers yourself.
Do I need a real FPV racing drone?
Basically, all you need is any drone with a camera and a way to transmit and display the live camera image. Special FPV racing drones, on the other hand, are much faster and more agile. Especially in terms of speed, there are big differences between a normal quadcopter and a special FPV racer.
These racing drones are offered either completely self-assembled, as a kit or as RTF (ready to fly) version. While ready-assembled FPV racers as well as kits are recommended primarily for beginners, you always have the option of subsequently replacing individual components when you build an FPV drone yourself and thus continuously improve your multicopter.
If you don’t want to fly primarily on drone courses, but want to take first-class photos and videos with your copter, you should also take a look at high-quality camera drones such as the DJI Mavic 2 or Xiaomi FIMI X8 SE. These drones also reach high speeds and have all sorts of fascinating extras as well as excellent cameras. So, if you want to create high-quality video footage above all else, you’d better buy a drone designed specifically for this task.
FPV drones – the differences
Basically, there are three different types of FPV drones: Racing drones, freestyle drones and FPV drones for photo and video shooting. For each of the three areas, there are special drones, kits and components, each of which is precisely tailored to the corresponding requirements. But rest assured, most FPV racers are also great for indulging in FPV freestyle or even participating in FPV races with a freestyle drone without any problems.
What is FPV Racing?
First of all, what is FPV anyway? The abbreviation comes from English and stands for “First Person View“. In FPV racing, you as the drone pilot sit virtually in the cockpit of your FPV racer and are right in the middle of things instead of just being there. The live image transmission of the FPV camera on FPV goggles or a monitor puts you right in the middle of the action.
FPV racing includes flying on natural or marked courses – alone against the clock, in pairs or in teams against other pilots. Professional FPV racing courses consist of a series of obstacles, flags and gates. However, natural environments are just as suitable for a drone race.
Open spaces, forests, parking garages or even vacant buildings are often used here. The sport is becoming increasingly popular and there are now various FPV racing events and courses worldwide.
Of course, you don’t have to participate in a real competition to enjoy FPV racing. Anyway, it requires some practice to maneuver a racing quadcopter safely.
To get started, it’s best to find a wide area and familiarize yourself with the controls of your racing drone. Due to the high speeds of over 62 mph (100 km/h), FPV racers differ significantly from “normal quadcopters” and therefore require an extremely high level of attention and concentration. You should therefore plan for a longer practice phase before demonstrating your skills in wild chases and on obstacle courses.
FPV Racing Drones
In the field of FPV racing drones, a distinction is made between professional racing drones with impressive performance characteristics for experienced pilots and more semi-professional models that do not immediately overwhelm beginners.
In any case, you need much more space to operate a real racing drone than a home racer. In any case, operation within your own four walls is not recommended. A large, clearly visible meadow or, ideally, a special racing course is more suitable.
Professional FPV racers are almost exclusively self-assembled. Those who seriously want to get into FPV racing usually want to do it themselves and assemble their own competition drone from various components. Even though there are of course some ready-made models (RTF) available on the market, the trend for race copters is clearly moving in the direction of DIY drones.
The most powerful models often reach speeds beyond 90 mph (145 km/h) and require great caution and a lot of skill to operate. Therefore, real race copters are not recommended as beginner drones. You should already have gained sufficient experience in handling quadcopters before you decide to purchase a race drone.
Due to the use of powerful batteries as well as action cams often attached to the quads, real race copters usually come with take-off weights between 300 and 700 grams. Together with the achievable speeds, it quickly becomes clear that these are by no means toys. Operating racing drones requires not only a great deal of experience, but also a high degree of responsibility.
Home racers are among the smallest multicopters available on the market. Often referred to as nanoquads, these copters differ from conventional mini-drones primarily in the presence of an FPV camera.
As the name implies, home racers are suitable for use within one’s own four walls or else in the garden or front yard. With the help of FPV goggles, you will experience a unique FPV experience – as if you were flying through your home yourself.
Nanoquads are very light, extremely compact and belong to the weakest race copters in terms of performance. The achievable flight times are usually relatively short (a few minutes) due to the small batteries – but these can be recharged relatively quickly. Currently popular home racers are e.g. the Blade Inductriy FPV or the Revell Control 23872.
Depending on the type of motors used, these small home racers are sometimes referred to as “micro-brushless copters” or “brushed indoor copters”. Due to their light weight and low power compared to larger models, home racers are considered relatively harmless and are therefore best suited for beginners.
FPV drones for photo and video shooting
Whether you want to count this area of drone flying as part of the FPV segment or not is up to everyone. However, the fact is that an FPV drone can be helpful in many ways for taking photos and videos, since you always have the live image of the camera in front of your eyes while filming. Nowadays, almost all current consumer drones have live FPV image transmission, so nowadays almost all drones can also be called FPV drones.
What is FPV Freestyle?
In FPV freestyle, as the name suggests, there are no limits to creativity. Freestyle flying with drones is all about testing the limits of your copter and your own skills. Learn breathtaking flight maneuvers, new tricks and find out what your FPV racing drone is capable of! Freestyle drones are often equipped with an HD action cam in addition to the FPV camera to create high-resolution freestyle videos and share them with other drone pilots.
Safety and Regulations
When operating FPV drones, you should pay attention to safety as well as the applicable regulations. Multicopters in general and FPV racers in particular can pose a great danger to you as well as to uninvolved persons due to the fast rotating propellers. Therefore, always be extremely careful and responsible.
For drones over 250 grams (or equiped with a camera, when you are living in the UK), there is also a general obligation to attach your registration number, on which name and address must be noted. This applies not only in the FPV area, but generally for handling multicopters.
Furthermore, UK based drone owners are required to have liability insurance. However, since most liability insurances do not cover the use of drones, a separate drone liability insurance is usually unavoidable. Only small toy drones are exempt from compulsory insurance in the UK.
In general, the field of FPV racing represents a legal gray area. The operation of multicopters is actually only permitted “on sight“. When using FPV goggles, this requirement is not met.
It is therefore recommended to always have a second person (a so-called spotter) with you during any flights. We recommend that you carefully read the respective requirements in your country and your insurance policy and take the appropriate precautions.
You can also obtain further information on the subject of safety and the legal situation in appropriate forums and from local model flying or multicopter clubs.
Ready-to-fly, kit or build it yourself?
Once you have finally decided on one of the three areas of FPV flying, the next question is whether you should choose an FPV kit for a ready-to-fly racer or build it completely yourself. Naturally, there is no clear-cut answer here. In summary, however, if you have two left hands, go for the RTF model. However, if you feel like tinkering and have the confidence to use a soldering iron, then buy a kit or build your own racing quad.
The advantage of an FPV kit over an RTF drone is clearly the modular design. Similar to a PC that you assemble yourself, you also have the advantage when building an FPV drone to be able to exchange components later and replace them with better components.
Whereas in a kit all the individual parts are matched to each other, when building your own drone you have to make sure that all the components fit together and are compatible. A lot of research is required here to end up with an optimally matched FPV drone.
For starters, an RTF FPV racer or an FPV kit may therefore be a good choice, but as soon as you take a liking to this hobby, the prefabricated copter will most likely quickly no longer be enough for you and you will want to build your own racing quad.
Since it can be difficult, especially for beginners, to figure out what components are needed for a DIY FPV racer, we have listed the most important individual components below and described what each component is needed for.
FPV Racing Drone DIY: What do you need to build an FPV drone yourself?
Building an FPV Racing Drone yourself can pose many questions, especially for beginners. Therefore, we explain which individual components are needed and what function each component has.
The frame of the drone is the basic structure of the FPV racer and determines the later appearance as well as the size of your copter. The selection of FPV frames is gigantic and some pilots even create their own designs that perfectly fit their own requirements.
The size specifications for FPV frames always refer to the distance between two opposing motors or their space on the frame. Common sizes range from 3 to 7 inches. Larger frames are also available, of course, but these are mostly used when building larger camera drones. By the way, the size of the copter frame also determines which propellers will fit the frame best.
While racing frames are usually particularly lightweight to maximize agility and top speed, frames for freestyle drones are primarily concerned with robustness and space. After all, an additional action camera also needs to be accommodated somewhere.
Finally, when choosing an FPV frame, you should also think about the total weight of the future copter. While builds with 3 or 4 inch frames usually stay below 250 grams, bigger frames allow significant heavier builds.
FPV Flight Controller
The flight controller (FC) can be thought of as something like the brain of the copter. The sensors installed on the controller continuously collect data about the orientation of the multicopter and send it to the onboard firmware.
To make the copter behave as the pilot wants, the flight controller combines the pilot’s input signals with the orientation data and then sends appropriate control commands to the motors.
Flight controllers have continued to evolve and become more powerful over time to keep up with the demands of modern firmware. Especially the development of the installed 32-bit microprocessors has to be mentioned here. Most of the processors come from STMicroelectronics and have the generation names STM32 F1, F3, F4 and F7. The higher the number, the faster and better equipped the chip.
While F1 chips should be obsolete by now, F3 chips can still be used with most current firmware without any problems. Future-proof, however, is probably with F4 or even F7, even if F4 should be sufficient for most pilots.
Besides the chipset, FCs differ mainly in their additional equipment. In order to be able to realize ever easier racing setups, many actually independent additional functions were integrated into the FC over time. In so-called All-in-One Flight Controllers (AIO FC), for example, you will often find a Power Distribution Board (PDB), an On Screen Display (OSD), a voltage regulator (BEC) or even the Electronic Speed Controller (ESC).
Whether you go for an AIO FC or prefer to install the ESCs separately depends entirely on your ideas and demands on your FPV quad, just make sure to buy the right components.
Depending on the model, FCs can be programmed to different degrees to customize your FPV quad even more. For example, many FPV pilots like to fly in the so-called “Acro” mode. In this configuration, the FC is not allowed to influence the copter beyond the pilot’s control commands, only the data from the gyro is still used.
FPV Power Distribution Board
Power Distribution Boards (PDB) are designed to significantly simplify cabling in multicopters. The PDB acts as a power distributor to which all components including the battery are connected.
Some PDBs also offer additional features such as voltage filtering or provide an OSD. Since there are now also flight controllers with integrated PDB, a separate purchase is not always necessary.
FPV Electronic Speed Controller (ESC)
An Electronic Speed Controller (ESC) is the link between flight controller and motor. The ESC converts the output signals from the flight controller into three-phase electrical pulses that are used to regulate the speed of the motor.
One ESC is required for each motor in order to control the individual rotors individually. Like the flight controller, the ESCs have their own firmware that controls the calculations.
Most current ESCs have a 32-bit processor and are operated with the firmware BLHeli_32 or KISS. Unlike older 8-bit ESCs, these new processors can handle faster digital protocols such as D-SHOT 1200. In addition, newer ESCs can be used to control even more functions, such as LEDs.
You should match the selection of the appropriate ESCs mainly with the size of the motors and propellers as well as the type of battery (3S, 4S, 6S).
Nowadays, almost all drone motors are so-called brushless motors, which have been used in model aviation for years. The small but powerful brushless motors use three-phase current to power the electromagnets and thus drive the motor.
Fortunately, a uniform system has developed for designating the various motor types, which – once understood – greatly simplifies the selection of the appropriate motor. For example, a 2206 – 2450kv motor has a diameter of 22 mm and a housing height of 6 mm. Finally, the kV value provides information about the possible revolutions of the motor per volt. Torque also increases as the kv value increases, even though more current must flow to achieve it.
Using a 4S battery with normally 14.8 V results in a value of 36,260 rpm in our example (2450 kV x 14.8 V = 36,260 rpm). So this is the maximum rpm of the motor (without propeller).
Propellers or props come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and are made of different materials. The pitch of the individual rotors also has a major influence on the behavior of the copter. Propellers are named based on their size, the number of blades and their pitch. For example, a 4.5 x 4 x 3 propeller has a diameter of 4.5 inches, a pitch of 4 inches, and consists of three individual rotor blades.
The pitch of the individual rotor blades determines how far a propeller moves forward in one complete revolution – in our case, 4.5 inches (11.43 cm).
The larger a propeller is, the more thrust it develops. At the same time, large rotors also require the motors to apply more force to move them. The response time of the FPV drone is also related to the propeller size. Large propellers have a longer response time than small ones.
So which FPV rotors you finally choose depends largely on what you have in mind.
FPV antennas are used for the transmission of signals between video transmitter and video receiver as well as for the communication between remote control and radio receiver. For the transmission of control commands or video signals, the 2.4 GHz or 5.8 GHz frequency bands are usually used.
Basically, FPV antennas can be divided into directional and omnidirectional antennas. While directional antennas transmit signals over long distances but at a relatively small angle, omnidirectional antennas do not radiate quite as far, but in all directions.
In the FPV field, there are a number of different types of antennas, each of which is suitable for different purposes due to its different characteristics.
The rod antenna has a rather unfavorable radiation behavior for FPV flying. In many FPV sets, it is nevertheless supplied as standard. This is mainly because it allows you to test the functionality of the video transmitter. This is because it must only be switched on with the antenna attached, otherwise it can break within seconds.
The Clover Leaf antenna is perfectly suited for FPV flying. It is a “Circular Polarized” antenna that comes either RHCP (Right Hand Circular Polarized) or LHCP (Left Hand Circular Polarized). It should be noted that the transmitter and receiver must always have the same polarization direction.
The patch antenna is a directional linear polarized antenna and is often used as a video receiving antenna. It is space-saving and, compared to more expensive helix antennas, relatively inexpensive. Helix or spiral antennas, on the other hand, are best suited for video signal reception over long distances.
FPV Video Transmitter
FPV Video Transmitters (VTx) transmit (by using the antenna) the video signal from the camera to the FPV screen or goggles. They differ in size, signal strength and additional equipment. Depending on the milliwatt strength, the signals can be transmitted over small or large distances.
VTxs can transmit on different frequencies. This is especially important if you are flying together with several pilots. Different frequencies then prevent unwanted signal overlap.
The selection of FPV cameras is constantly growing and a wide variety of sizes and qualities are available. From small 600tvl cameras, to low-light cameras, to 1080p HD cameras, everything is available. When choosing a camera, in addition to price, it is also important to consider that higher video quality can potentially mean latency in data transmission. Therefore, full HD cameras are often not used in FPV racing.
Even though you can easily use a monitor for FPV flying, the visual experience is much more intense with FPV goggles. Everything from simple DIY FPV goggles to expensive models with DVR (Digital Video Recording) is available on the market.
All FPV goggles have a video receiver (VRx) with an associated antenna to receive the video signals from the FPV drone. The live image is displayed either on one or on two separate screens in the goggles.
When choosing FPV goggles, you should pay attention to the various additional features in addition to the resolution. For example, some goggles come with audio support, have HDMI inputs, a DVR system for video recording or many other useful features.
FPV Battery (LiPo)
The battery used largely determines the power and flight time of your FPV drone. Almost all drone batteries are so-called LiPos (lithium polymer batteries), which consist of several individual cells.
LiPos have several advantages at once. They have a large capacity with a compact design and therefore a high energy density. They can maintain a consistent voltage during discharge while having high discharge rates to power all necessary components of a drone. Charge current rates are also relatively high, so LiPos can be recharged quickly.
Batteries are generally rated by both electrical voltage and amp-hours. While voltage limits the rotational speed of motors, for example, amp-hours indicate how long a battery charge will last.
The designations 1S, 2S, 3S, 4S, 5S and 6S represent the number of battery cells. The more cells there are, the higher the voltage. FPV racing drones are often equipped with 4S LiPos, as they have a good weight/power ratio.
FPV Radio Receiver and Remote Control
The radio receiver (Rx) receives the control commands from the radio controller (remote control) and transmits the information to the flight controller. When selecting a receiver and radio, be sure to check the compatibility of both components.
When choosing a remote controller, you should also pay attention to the number of available channels. At least 4 channels are needed to perform basic control movements (throttle, yaw, pitch and roll). Additional switches or buttons require more channels. Therefore, an FPV remote control should have at least 6 channels.
FPV Charger (Balance Charger)
Balance Chargers have microprocessors to adjust voltage and current optimally during the charging process of LiPos. This ensures that the batteries are not damaged during charging.
Most LiPo chargers can charge batteries with different voltages. This is especially convenient, as it allows you to optimally charge different batteries (from remote control, copter or goggles) with one and the same charger.
Drone Racing – The Future of FPV Racing
Even though drone racing has been practiced by some copter pilots for quite some time, FPV racing is still at the very beginning of its development. In recent years, like-minded people often met in meadows or forests to hold exciting drone races and test their own skills. Abandoned halls or parking garages are also often the scene of the spectacular races that demand everything from their pilots.
However, FPV racing received a decisive boost with the founding of the Drone League Racing (DRL) in 2015. Founder and CEO Nicholas Horbaczewski had brought some energetic sponsors on board and launched the first official FPV racing league, as he shared in an interview. The first race took place back in July 2015 under the name “Gates of Hell” and was held in a decommissioned power plant on the edge of the Hudson River in New York.
The first full season was planned for 2016 and numerous exciting venues awaited the brave pilots. But 2016 was not only an exciting year for the pilots. As a spectator, there are also completely new opportunities to follow the exciting races.
When we think about drone racing, it’s a real-life video game experience that blends the virtual and real together.Nicholas Horbaczewski, DRL Founder and CEO
DRL planned a total of six FPV races for 2016 and had settled on the U.S., New Zealand and Mexico as the host countries. On the website as well as on the YouTube channel of DRL you can find many exciting videos about the preparations for the current season and also individual pilots are portrayed here. The actual races will also be made available on the DRL website and YouTube channel.
An event is made up of many races and any one race is only a few minutes long, so it’s bite-sized content and perfect for online consumption.Nicholas Horbaczewski, DRL Founder and CEO
According to DRL, a total of 12 pilots take part in each race. They steer their nearly 80 mph (130 km/h) fast FPV racers through a special course consisting of various gates and determine their winner in several breakneck races. To make the experience even more interesting for spectators, additional camera angles such as 360° perspectives were added to the exciting competitions over time.
As a special highlight for all fans, the DRL also offers its own free online game in addition to the live recordings. Just in time for each new race, the corresponding course can be tried out online by anyone.
It will be interesting to see how the sport develops in the coming years and how long it will take before there are official major events like the DRL in Europe. But one thing is clear: FPV drones remain a hot trend!
We at dronenoize.com wish you lots of fun and success building and flying your FPV racing drone!