What is FPV drone racing?

FPV drone racing is a new high speed competitive racing sport that is often compared to competitive video game playing. Racing drones are very different to the drones used to take high quality aerial videos and photographs. Using FPV goggles or monitors, pilots fly quad-copter drones through three-dimensional courses reaching speeds up to 120mph. FPV stands for First Person View, and refers to the video signal transmitted from a camera attached to the front of the drone. The goggles display a live image for a fully immersive experience, giving racers the sensation that they are flying.

Almost all drone races today use the FPV systems. The FPV (Front Person View) drones are much smaller than standard drones and tend to be much lighter and much faster. Generally, racers will make their own drones built for speed, agility, performance and durability. These custom drones provide greater control, and are able to fit through smaller spaces and survive crashes.

There are three types of drone races:

  1. Rotorcross
    This is considered to be the most exciting type of drone race, where crashes are expected! Two or more racers compete at the same time around a course to see who will finish first.
  2. Drag Race
    This a race to find the fastest drone. Two or more drone racers compete over a short distance to see which one accelerates the fastest.
  3. Time-Trial
    In this race each drone runs the course alone. Whoever has the shortest time is the winner.

What are the Drone Racing Rules and Regulations?

With FPV drone racing becoming so popular, the CAA has established a discrete set of rules for FPV racers.

  • As FPV pilots can’t see their drone when it’s in the air, the CAA instructs that FPV operators must be accompanied by a spotter who remains in visual contact with the aircraft at all times.
  • FPV racers also have larger flight distance limits; they are allowed to fly a maximum of 1000 feet in any direction.

In the UK, FVPUK.org is the largest not for profit association for drone pilots, and the national governing body for drone flying in the UK. FPV works alongside the CAA, the National Air Traffic Service (NATS), and the House of Lords on matters relating to drones and FPV racing. For everything racing related, the British FPV Racing Association is dedicated to promoting and advancing the sport of FPV racing in the UK. Currently they have 15 official drone racing clubs, and hold racing events throughout the UK including the UK Nationals.

The World Organization of Racing Drones (W.O.R.D.) is the worldwide authority created to bring together drone racing communities and is also the organiser of the World Drone Prix, the first global drone racing event held in Dubai. For the competition, 150 pilots compete through the week for the 32 spots in the finals, held on a custom built outdoor track. The race track is built to test the drones speed and pilot’s agility, with built in obstacles and tight turns. Once your drone is running low on battery, they will have a pit-stop on raised platforms for a battery change. Held at night to maximise visual appeal, it is one of the first drone racing events to cater for spectators.

Other races being held this year include the 2016 U.S. National Drone Racing Championships in New York, brought to viewers by the International Drone Racing Association (IDRA). Taking place in Hawaii, the 2016 World Drone Racing Championships is the longest of the competitions, lasting 5 days. Set in a tropical location with rugged terrain and steep cliffs to challenge the pilots.

The dos and don’ts of drone racing

DO meet other racers.
YouTube, forums and local flying fields are a good place to start, so ask questions and find out everything you can from people already racing. As a sport and hobby, it is very community based, so local flying fields are a good place to meet racers. Read up on the laws and where you can race - safety is the most important factor in drone racing.

DO join a club.
As a member, FPV UK offers advice, support and information on FPV flying. As soon as you are a member you are covered through the club with 3rd party liability insurance.

DO your research into drone devices.
Research into models and how much you want to spend on your drone before buying. For beginners it’s suggested you will need a standard 250mm FPV racing drone, radio transmitter and pair of FPV goggles. You can get drones with modifications that will be at a higher cost, but due to strict rules regulating the power of electric motors, batteries and propeller size, it is unlikely you will need to for the race track.

DO practice and get hands on experience.
Start small, practice with friends or use simulation software – there are free options for this available. Drone racing is a trial and error process, so learn from your mistakes and keep flying until you are comfortable before you consider taking part in a race.

DO build your own.
When you are ready and feel comfortable flying an aircraft, try and build your own. This will help you understand how the drone works, plus it will help you know how to repair it when the drone crashes.

DON’T be afraid to crash.
When you’re just starting out, this will be inevitable. Crashing means you learn from your mistakes and it will make you a better racer in the long run.

There are some important factors to consider when buying or building a drone for racing.

Speed: is the most obvious factor, with racing drones reaching speeds up to 120mph in the big competitions. To get maximum speed, use light materials, choose the frame of the drone carefully and use batteries with a higher voltage to deliver the extra power needed to go faster.

The camera: Some models come with an integrated camera, whereas others come with an attachment to add a camera such as a GoPro. Built-in cameras tend to be lighter as they are built specifically for drone racing. You’ll also need to check the video resolution of the camera and whether or not the angle can be controlled when racing.

The Flight Controller: which keeps the drone stable. You will want to make sure your drone has a frame which is durable, easy to repair and has parts that can all be replaced individually.

Where can I race my drone?

There are FPV race meet ups all over the country, with some places having local drone flying clubs. A club will be able to advise on drone safety and can help observe during each race to ensure the drone is safe.

Racing in the UK comes in many different formats, from a formal competition, to a casual race or just freestyle flying through obstacles. The British FPV Racing Association now holds Specialist Group Status at the BMFA (British Model Flying Association) making it the official governing body of FPV drone racing in the UK.

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