By Kathleen Hickey
When it comes to FPV Racing, there was so much to talk about, I decided to separate the blog into three parts. "Do You Like to F.......Part 1" contained a little about the history of FPV racing, the You Tube videos that helped create the fan base, and basic flying information. "Do You Like to F.......Part 2" focused on the anatomy of the quad, including a video from Tested on how to build your own, and the basic materials and parts you will need to race. "Do You Like to F...Part 3" is all about the pilots, race structure, and events to look forward to in 2016.
I again have to give a big thank you to Joe Scully, Race Director of FPV Racing Events for giving 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. Another thank you AJ Goin, aka Awkbots, team pilot for Ready Made RC (RMRC). And because Part 3 is pilot focused, I will also be sharing videos from Paul Baur, aka SkinlabFPV, Cobra Motors sponsored pilot and team pilot for Horizon.
To help with some terms, I have included a glossary at the end of the blog. Because it's not fun if you don't understand what people are saying!
There are many components to racing, but without a doubt, the pilots themselves are the heart of FPV. It is their passion, daring, and dedication that has inspired people from all around the world to get out and fly. From racing to freestyle, pilots have been a driving force in the growth and innovation of FPV racing.
When learning about FPV, and meeting people that fly, it's clear that some pilots share a strong bond, and have great relationships with each other. They are in a competitive setting, but because it's so new, most pilots are happy to help each other. Joe Scully spoke to the willingness of pilots to help one another, especially if there is a new pilot that may not be familiar with adjusting their equipment to accommodate race requirements. "The thing with multirotor is it’s a new industry, it’s a new organization, or family, and everyone is so helpful that if you show up at a race...we provide a VTX for most of our racers, and so people show up and they’ll only have a boscam which means they are going to have to solder a special wiring hookup so that they can accommodate it. A lot of these people will say no problem, and others might say this is a kit I bought at a hobby shop, and I’ve flown it in a park, and I don’t know what to do to it. And usually someone just grabs it, and they say here, and they solder the three solder points on there, and you’re good to go. So everyone is really, really friendly, and that has been everywhere we go."
AJ Goin (Awkbots), is relatively new to FPV racing, and comes from a motocross background. He started flying about six months ago, and has been racing for about three. We spoke a bit about the relationships pilots have with each other, and his experience so far. "This hobby doesn't seem to be as extreme contrast of the type of groups in something, like motocross. We are all kind of nerds in a sense, and you have to be a little bit of a unique person to have had the patience to research and build these quads. For me personally I really enjoy meeting everyone and hanging out, and treating it how it should be, FUN!"
To get a taste of the fun AJ, and other pilots have at large events, take a look at his video, one of my personal favorites from F3Expo, which took place in November at the Georgia Dome.
Most FPV pilots, and generally all professional pilots, will post racing or freestyle videos on You Tube. Here is a selection of videos from pilot Paul Baur (SkinlabFPV).
There are many talented pilots that will post videos not only on You Tube, but on their Instagram, or Twitter feeds. FPV gained popularity through social media, and following your favorite pilot is a great way to keep up to date on the latest videos, products, and events they will be racing in.
You may see pilots sponsored by a particular brand. Generally they represent the brand when they are racing as individuals. Pilots can also be part of a team. For example, Awkbots is a team pilot for RMRC, and SkinlabFPV is a team pilot for Horizon. When they attend a race, they can race with their team, as individuals, or both.
Because FPV Racing is still relatively new, there can be variations in the structure of each race, depending on the league or group that is hosting the event. Currently, there is not an umbrella organization, league, or association for FPV Racing as a whole, like the NBA, BFL, or NBA. There is also no standard way to rank pilots outside of each individual or team race, per event. The International Drone Racing Association (IDRA) had created a ranking system, based on results from select racing events, but the ranking is not used as an industry standard.
To enter a race, pilots will usually pay a race fee. Unless a race is part of an expo, or trade show, entry for spectators is usually free. Very few races are by invitation only, which means that non sponsored or beginner pilots can have a chance to enter into practice or qualifying rounds in professional races. Depending on each event, there can be one, or several classes that pilots may race in. A class is usually based on a build element of the quad. For example, one class may be based on the wheel base, or measurement of the frame (250mm or under/251mm or over). Some classes are based on prop size (4", 5" 6"). Classes can also be determined by lipo cell count. If you are interested in racing, it's important to look at the race website for racing and class guidelines, so you know if your quad would be eligible to race. Professional pilots build a number of racing quads, so they can enter various classes. Joe Scully broke down the class structure for FPV Racing Events. "As a local, you’ll see that race flyer out there, and it will take you to a website, and from there you’re going to know if you have what it takes to fly, you’ll know if you have the right craft, and if you’re fortunate enough to go to one of the events that we have, or one similar, we have 4-5 different classes can you build one for every class so the average person, they’re going to try and build as many as they can race as much time get as much flight time in as possible."
The structure of each race, and how to move through, or qualify can vary per event. Joe described the structure that FPV Racing Events uses for their races. "We usually do a practice round and...we do it in organized heats, so it’s just like a race because we use the VTX and the raceband signal separation, we can go with upwards of 8 as long as all of our signals work, so we do actual heats of 8 so your practice session is just like a race. It’s three minutes in duration. You get to do as many laps as you want in that three minutes. You get a tone start just like in a race and that’s your practice heat. At other events they do a synchronous, … but we have found that at the locations and venues we’ve been at it’s not as safe, so we do it in controlled heats. Then we’ll go into a qualifier, and the qualifying round. We try to do as many qualifiers, as possible. Most of my events are two rounds, so with our new format that I’ve developed, at F3Expo...and this is where we rely on the software for it, so again you have three minutes, we do a tone start, you take off, and depending on the course you may, and your skill you may do 7, you may do 10 laps within that three minutes, and we take your fastest 5 consecutive laps out of that, and that’s your qualifying time. And if we are able to have more than one round of qualifying, it depends on our format during the day...we’ll try to do two rounds of qualifying. And from there, this is where everyone is different around the world it seems."
Joe goes on to explain a structure in which the qualifying time is used to separate pilots, if there were approximately 30 pilots in a race. "They would take your best qualifying time and you’d take the top 16, they would race, you take your top 8, and they would race, and then your top 4 at the finale. My style is the RC way, so regardless if you qualify first, or you qualify last you are seated into a main, and we would go up the order so we would do 23rd – 30th, they would race first, whoever won out of that group of 8 would advance into the next group, so they would be in that 16-22nd group, and so you can actually go from the bottom of the pack right up into our final 8 A main. It’s a very forgiving format...you can work your way from the bottom to the top."
If you're a pilot just starting out, MultiGP is the perfect league to get into. They welcome pilots of all skill levels, and you can join a chapter that's close to you. There are race events, meetups, and forums, and it's a group Joe Scully recommends. "Someone who buys a craft, and wants to get into racing, even if it’s a going out to that first race and watching , Multi GP is the only way to go."
One of the last, big races of the season this year was at F3Expo in Atlanta, where FPV Racing Events introduced the Thunderdrone 500, which was a team based relay competition, something race fans can look forward to more of in 2016.
Below is the live feed from F3Expo. The video is two hours, and gives an feel of the structure of an event. There is also a lot of great information from Joe Scully, and quick pilot interviews where they may talk about how much flight time they are getting in, and the equipment they are using. The race pace is faster as it gets closer to the end, and the final pilots.
In a few weeks, we will be in the New Year, and with that comes a number of exciting events. There are too many leagues and events all over the world to list them all, and some leagues are still planning their events. Here are a few events with confirmed dates that you can plan for in 2016.
Taking place during the same time as CES in Las Vegas, this race is going to kick the season off in a huge way. I'll be taking in a day or two myself, and i can't wait!
There are six races making up this series in Canada. The Season Opener begins at the end of January, and the final event is in the beginning of May.
Taking place in Dubai this spring, World Drone Prix is offering a million dollars in prizes.
Drone Worlds will take place in Hawaii from October 17-22, 2016 at Kualoa Ranch, on the Island of Oahu. Top pilots will qualify for worlds through their countries Drone Nationals.
There are many more amazing races and events to see throughout the year! Attending a race, or registering as a pilot is a great way to support the FPV community.
Learning about FPV racing has truly been such an amazing experience for me. I can say that although most people I've had the pleasure of meeting in the industry are very giving, and welcoming, the FPV community, and pilots I've had the honor of speaking with, have been incredibly generous with their time, and patient teachers. Thank you again to everyone that helped make this three part blog possible! Be safe, have fun, thread the needle, and as always....
- ARF: Almost Ready to Fly - a drone that requires some assembly before flight.
- Boscam: A type of transmitter and receiver
- CES: Consumer Electronics Show; A large electronics trade show.
- 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.
- Line of Sight: When a looking at a drone, or quad without using FPV technology. Line of sight video in terms of racing would mean a video of the actual race, and not from the pilots first person view through the quad camera.
- Lipo: Lithium Polymer Batteries
- Multi-Rotor: Another name for multicopters, or quadcopters.
- Prop: Propeller
- Quad: Another name for a drone.
- RC: Remote-Control
- RPV: Remote Person View - another term for FPV
- RTF: Ready To Fly - No assembly required before flight.
- Tone Start: In FPV racing, there are a series of tones used as a countdown to take off.
- Threading the Needle - Basically bad ass flying.
- Video Piloting: An alternate term for FPV and/or RPV
- VTX: Video Transmitter System