Quad Life: MY FPV Journey 2 - Show Me the Money!

By Kathleen Hickey

So, you've checked out a race or two, or hung out with a local FPV group, and you've decided that you want to fly. What's the next step? There are three ways you can go.

The first would be to purchase a Ready To Fly (RTF) quad. You can purchase a quad that's ready to fly out of the box. Some retailers also offer sets that come with Fat Shark goggles. Some retailers to check out would be Horizon Hobby, or ReadyMadeRC. The benefit of going to RTF route is saving yourself from figuring out various parts, and a build right off the bat. If you have never used a radio or controls of any sort, or if you're completely new to the RC and drone world, a RTF could be a good introduction. You'll want to make sure that the quad you buy has replaceable parts that you can purchase. 

The second option would be to build your own quad. I wanted to build my own for various reasons. First, I usually don't take the easy road with most things. I like to really challenge myself. Basically I'm a sucker for punishment. I also knew that I wanted to fly and there was no doubt that this was something I wanted do. Another fact to consider is that you will crash. Crashing your quad is part of the package. The very best pilots crash . The benefit of building your own quad is that you know how to fix it when something goes wrong. You can also customize the parts you'd like to use to make a quad that you like to fly. There are you tube videos on how to build your own, but if at all possible, find someone that is willing to sit down with you and teach you in person. You would be at the mercy of their schedule, and it may take some time to build it, but understanding how the quad works, and how to build it is very valuable. 

The third option would be to go to your local hobby shop, and see if they build quads for their customers. You would have to pay for their time to build it, but it's a way of using the second option, without having to go through the build process on your own. You may want to ask if they would be willing to take you through the process, so you can learn what it's like from start to finish. The benefit of going through a shop is you have a real person that you can talk to. Make sure to also get quotes on repairs, and labor for those repairs. I can't say it enough, but you will crash, so it's important to know what that cost will be before you commit to that shop building the quad. 

This might be a good time to bring up an important point. There are no absolutes in FPV. From your props to your radio to your quad, everyone has an opinion on what they believe is best. It's important to not get too overwhelmed with advice and suggestions. Also, ask people why. If someone tells you to build your own quad, ask them why they think so. If someone suggests buying a RTF, ask them why. Pilots feel very passionately about what they use, and how they like to use it, and once you find what works for you, you'll feel the same way. 

Space One FPV provided my 180mm Frame, four motors, four ESCs, and a flight controller. 

I decided to start flying Line Of Sight (LOS) first, before going right to FPV, with goggles. There were two main reasons for this decision. The first was because the people around me recommended that I being LOS first. They believe it's important to see how the quad flies with your eyes first, and learn how to hover, turn, and keep the quad even in the air, before moving on to FPV. Some people believe that you should go right to FPV, and not fly LOS at all. Another determining factor for me was the cost. I could start to fly the quad without purchasing all of the FPV equipment, and parts.

The list of things to purchase is long. And if you're like me, with no previous RC experience, it can be an expensive hobby to get into. Here are a few tips:

  • Have an idea of what you want your quad to do, and how you would like to use it. Picking parts for your quad is a chain reaction. The motors, ESCs, Battery, props, FCs, PDBs, everything is connected, and they have to support one another. Before buying things off of friends, or the internet, make sure all of your componets will play nice with each other. Otherwise you are spending money on products that won't work, or will need to be replaced sooner than later.
  • What kind of shopper are you? About 90% of the pilots I have spoken to about this topic, suggest that you buy good quality tools and parts from the start. The first reason being that in FPV, you really do get what you pay for. Secondly, it will be more costly in the long run to replace parts on your quad, or your gear because you didnt spend a little extra to begin with. Also, there is resale value. If you decide you don't like a certain part, and it's still in great condition, you have a better chance of selling it. With that being said, I don't suggest you buy the newest latest thing for your first quad build. Purchase reliable, good quality items. You don't need to buy the new hype motors, or ESCs. Not only do you want to avoid "testing" the newest thing when you're building your first quad, but it may also be more difficult to find people that can help, and answer questions if something comes up. 
  • When planning your budget, allow for extra parts. Don't buy just four motors, props, ESCs, because you just need four. Something may not work. You may damage your quad within the first couple weeks. Nothing is worse than waiting for extra parts to come, especially if that part is now out of stock. You don't need to become  a hoarder, but have a few extras around.

Sound daunting? If you just want to get your feet wet, another option is a mini drone, or quad. 

This is my Proto-X. There are also other small quads to choose from. They come with remotes, and are a great way to get down flying basics.

Regardless of how you want to do it, one guarantee is that things will break, parts wont work. You will have to replace things, and there are many little tools, parts, and equipment that you'll need. before you start investing, consider the costs and reality of the hobby. You don't want to get to a point where you're so frustrated you'll want to stop. 

Up next; The Struggle is REAL! My challenges...until then...

Happy Flying!

*Very Special Thanks to Erick Robles:

Custom RC Hobby: (626) 993-2999 - IG: customrc1

259 Sierra Madre Villa Ave
Ste A

PasadenaCA 91107

 

Do You Like to F.......Part 3

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 SkinlabFPVCobra 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!

The Pilots

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. 

The Race

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." 

Events

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. 

XDC_2 - Extreme Drone Circuit FPV Race At Zappos HQ, Las Vegas NV - January 7-9 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!

 2016 Winter Barnburner Drone Racing Series Presented by ReadyMadeRC 

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. 

World Drone Prix

Taking place in Dubai this spring, World Drone Prix is offering a million dollars in prizes. 

Drone Worlds

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....

Happy Flying! 

Glossary

  • 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