Do You Like to F....... Part 1

By Kathleen Hickey

Going Down The Rabbit Hole

My interest in FPV racing started a few months ago. Watching You Tube Videos of FPV racing and freestyle is a very different experience from watching tranquil, slow moving aerial photography footage. FPV racing is fast and looks uncontrolled, when it is in fact very calculated (usually). While it may be the worst nightmare of any drone owner to crash, in FPV racing, crashing is more of a matter of when, and not if. When flying a standard hobby drone, there may be occasions when there is more than one in the air because you're flying with friends, or doing a demonstration. In those cases, pilots usually fly a good distance away from each other, to avoid getting into each other's shots, and for safety reasons. In racing, quads are racing in close proximity, at speeds of up to 80 miles per hour. Instead of avoiding obstacles, racers and freestyle pilots want to go through them. Racing pilots seemed like the bad boys, and girls, of the drone world, and I wanted to learn more.

So take my hand and lets go together, into the world of FPV Racing. 

The Breakdown  

Because I realized there is so much content and information, I decided to break the blog down into three different posts. My method in writing is to seek out the information on my own, without asking someone for assistance. It helps me to understand what information is available for readers to find on their own, and the most helpful resources. Because racing is so new, it was difficult to find out about the history, and guidelines of drone racing on my own. 

I was very fortunate to have the assistance of Joe Scully Race Director of FPV Racing Events to give me a full history and breakdown of FPV racing. FPV Racing Events hosts premier racing events in Canada, and the United States. Information on their upcoming events can be found by following the link to their website. 

To help with a pilot perspective, I was lucky to have the input of AJ Goin, aka Awkbots, team pilot for Ready Made RC (RMRC)

To help with some of the terms, products, and lingo, I have also included a glossary, which is available at the end of the blog. I will add additional words per blog as they apply.

In the Beginning

FPV technology first became available almost ten years ago, when Fat Shark released the worlds first wireless FPV video goggle. Fat Shark's technology and importance in FPV racing was mentioned by Joe Scully in our conversation about the history of FPV. "It really developed that immersive experience where people could go inside the craft and see exactly what their craft was doing." 

Although the technology existed, application and accessibility were slow to follow. In the past ten years, as drone, and video technology have become increasingly better in quality, and more affordable, so has the demand and interest for FPV. People that are drone pilots are more easily ale to transition into FPV, or racing if they have found themselves looking for another type of flying experience, which is something Joe spoke to. "Once you put the camera, and the goggles, and the VTX on, you know everyone goes up and they see what their house looks like, and they see what their neighbors house looks like from the air. Then they get kind of tired of that, and then what’s the next step, and the natural evolution is racing and that’s how I’m thinking in short terms it has really taken off." 

Two years ago, FPV Racing found a place for racers and fans to share and watch incredible racing and freestyle videos, and like many other things in modern day life, we have You Tube to thank. Joe Scully broke down the four most influential FPV You Tube videos, and what they have done for FPV racing, and freestyle. 

"There’s one video that I like to refer to when I’m talking to people new into the drone racing world. It’s called “FPV Racing – Crash Session” and it is a German group that released this. It came out in about October 2014, so just over a year ago this video came out and it has had 2.2, almost 2.3 million views, and that’s the one that I think really sparked drone racing where it is now, and that was one of the first videos where the craft had LEDs on them, and the footage on-board with the GoPros was HD. it looked phenomenal and everyone really got excited, they were like 'this is like watching Star Wars' you know, in first hand."

"Shortly thereafter a group in France released another video. What they did, is they did the same sort of thing as the German people, but they raced on a bike course, like a mountain bike course, so it was actually defined,  and there was caution tape and so forth, and this was probably about the same time, about  November,  December 2014 and that video now has had 2.2 mil views."

"I think the third video in succession would be when Charpu was found on Tested, a video blog, and they followed Charpu, and his whole freestyle flow element of flying through really interesting locations." 

"Then people are now looking for the next bog location, so the next one I think was done by another German group they released another video around January 2015 and they did a race literally underground, in an underground parking garage."

Those four videos have helped to push FPV racing, and freestyle into the forefront of the drone industry. Due to its You Tube origins, most pilots go by their You Tube names. The names are used in their videos, and when they race, or compete. Freestyle is another component of FPV racing. In freestyle, pilots perform tricks, and try to fly under, through, and over various obstacles in unique locations. Drones for freestyle usually larger than ones used for racing, or competition quads, to accommodate a larger and heavier camera. Some pilots show videos in FPV only, and some use line of sight cameras, as well.  

Watching videos can help give a better sense of flying, and to learn about pilots, and their various styles. It can also work as inspiration to start flying, like it did for AJ Goin, aka Awkbots. "Justin Welander aka Juz70. I saw his videos 3-4 years ago and was instantly hooked. When I first saw his videos, I was still dealing with issues from a couple of concussions I had received from motocross. I couldn't ride any more but still wanted to be around the sport. At the time I was filming motocross races just for fun. I got a lot out of just being at the track, filming, and editing. That filled the void of not riding any more. Then I saw a Juz video and found a new thing. Every time I watched one of his videos I couldn't help but think how cool it would be to film motocross like that, and I eventually did film a race with a hoverthings 450 frame, that took me all week to get working, and managed to get flying the day before the MX race. It was line of sight only though. That was my first quad that I had built, and had bought a Blade MQX a few weeks prior to learn how to fly line of sight." After taking a break for a couple of years, Awkbots has become a Team Pilot for Ready Made RC, and has competed in two races, most recently at F3Expo in Atlanta, where he and his team won the ThunderDrone 500. 

Are you hooked yet? The next two parts will cover races, parts and components, how to get into racing, and a 2016 schedule of the FPV events you wont want to miss. Please keep in mind that all drone flying requires pilots to follow safety guidlines and standards. If you are in the US, please visit the FAA website, or Know Before You Fly to ensure a safe flying experience. 

And as always... Happy Flying

Glossary

  • Fixed Wing: Usually referring to hobby planes, which have wings, and not removable propellers, or props. 
  • FPV: First Person View - a method used to control a UAV from the viewpoint of the pilot. The UAV is piloted from a first person perspective by an on-board camera, which is fed with wireless technology to a video monitor, or FPV goggles. 
  • Multi-Rotor: Another name for multicopters, or quadcopters. 
  • Quad: Another name for a drone. 
  • RPV: Remote Person View - another term for FPV
  • RC: Remote-Control 
  • Video Piloting: An alternate term for FPV and/or RPV
  • VTX: Video Transmitter System