Beginners FPV Drone Guide
What is FPV?
FPV or first person view is a technology which allows pilots to view a live video feed from their drone. Pilots use a handheld controller and their FPV video feed to operate the drone, manoeuvring it through trees and around all sorts of obstacles. The chart below breaks down the necessary gear to fly FPV. Wikipedia definition of FPV.
Interactive Drone Chart
Speed: FPV drones with 5" diameter propellers can fly up to speeds of 150 kilometres per hour. Specifically designed drones can fly over 230 kilometres per hour!
Range: Legally, all drones must be flown within visual range of the operator. Depending on the component selection, FPV drone range can be over 10 kilometres.
Cost: Entry into the hobby can be as little as a few hundred dollars for a micro sized drone and low end gear. Micro FPV drones can cost anywhere from $100-$300. To build a standard FPV racing drone with 5" diameter propellers, the cost can vary from $300-$700 depending on the specification.
Weight: Micro drones can weigh anywhere from 25 grams up to 250 grams with a battery. 5" drones usually weigh between 400 grams to 800 grams with a battery. A 5" drone by itself usually weighs around 250 grams to 500 grams.
Flight Time: Flight times vary heavily based on how fast the pilot flies. Micro drones will typically last from one minute to four minutes. 5" drones will typically last from two minutes to six minutes. Long range drones can fly for over half an hour in some cases
Why Get Into FPV?
FPV is an exhilarating hobby allowing pilots to take to the skies, from the safety of their chair on the ground. It allows pilots to explore their surroundings like never before and to competitively race at high speeds through abstract obstacle courses. For the cost of a sky dive, you can purchase all the necessary gear to soar through the air for minutes on end. And when your battery is flat, swap it for a charged one and the fun resumes. Because the FPV drones are remotely operated, they can crash at high speeds without causing injury to the pilot. FPV also has the potential to teach pilots a range of technical skills such as soldering, cinematography, programming, electronics and even control theory. These skills can help to open up future career opportunities in the fields of engineering, product design, trades, computer science, etc. The FPV drone community is also one the best there is. By coming along to your local club for a race, fun fly or even just a chat, you can meet a whole group of like minded people who share the passion of flight.
Types of FPV Drones
The term 'drone' is a blanket term used to cover a wide variety of craft. Hobbyist drones typically fall under one of four categories: racing, freestyle, micro or long-range. Racing drones are light weight quad copters designed to be highly agile with a moderate focus on durability. Freestyle FPV drones are designed to be highly durable with moderate agility and the ability to carry a HD action camera. Freestyle and racing FPV drones most commonly use 5" diameter propellers however 4" and 6" propellers are not uncommon. Micro drones use propellers ranging from 2.5" down to 20 millimetres. Micro drones are designed to be small, agile and light; characteristics which make them ideal for indoor and outdoor flight. Long-range drones are similar to freestyle drones however their motors are usually slower and more efficient, carrying propellers ranging from 5" to 8". They are also designed to optimise antenna placement and battery carrying capacity to increase their range and flight time.
How To Get Started
To get started in the FPV hobby you're going to need a few basic items. These include the drone, FPV goggles, radio transmitter, drone batteries and a battery charger. You can start by building a drone however, for simplicity it is recommended to start with a pre-built one known as a ready to fly (RTF) drone. Another option to enter into the hobby is to purchase a radio transmitter which can be connected to a computer to use on an FPV simulator such as Liftoff, DRL or Velocidrone. Once you've got a grasp on FPV flying and want to build your own FPV drone, you can use the interactive drone chart to learn about the specific drone components you'll need to complete your first build.
A frame is the drones' skeleton which every other component attaches to. Frames are usually made from carbon fibre or various plastics and held together with steel, aluminium or titanium fasteners.
The camera is your eye in the sky and captures a live video feed which you view on the ground through your FPV goggles. FPV cameras usually capture 480p-576p analogue video however higher resolution digital FPV systems are also available.
The flight controller is the brain of the drone which all electronics connect to. Its on-board micro-controller processes signals from the receiver, gyro and accelerometer and generates commands for the ESC to keep the drone flying. It also has the ability to connect to other electronics including LED strips and GPS modules.
Electronic Speed Controller (ESC)
The electronic speed controller receives signals from the flight controller which it uses to control the speed of each motor connected to it. The ESC is like a water tap except instead of water flow, it controls the flow of power going from the battery to each motor.
Video Transmitter (VTX)
The video transmitter receives the video signal from the FPV camera. It then encodes it into sine waves which it transmits through the air at a frequency of 5.8GHz.
The FPV antenna connects to the VTX and propagates the video transmission through the air in all directions. This ensures that the video receiver on the pilots' FPV goggles have the best chance of receiving the video feed clearly.
The transmitter is how you control the drone. It converts finger movements on its two control gimbals into 2.4GHz or 900MHz radio waves which are sent to the drone. Transmitters also have auxilary switches which can configured for a wide range of operations including arming the drone, changing flight modes, or changing the drone LED colours.
The radio receiver receives signals from the specific transmitter it is connected to or 'bound' with. It converts the radio waves into electrical signals which are sent to the flight controller. Some receivers can also send back information, known as telemetry, to the transmitter such as battery voltage or signal strength.
The battery pack stores the energy to power the FPV drone. A battery pack is a cluster of individual lithium ion cells connected together. FPV drone batteries usually vary from one cell (1S) to six cells (6S). Battery capacity can range from 100 milli amp hours (mAh) for a micro drone to over 1500 mAh for a regular 5" FPV drone.
The battery charger is used to put energy back into the batteries after they have been discharged from flying. Chargers are either powered from a DC input such as a large external battery or an AC input such as the mains power. Conventional chargers can charge a wide variety of batteries and also have features such as the ability to discharge batteries and put them into storage modes for safe-keeping.
Motors are the engines of the FPV drone, spinning the propellers at high speeds. As different drones vary in size and application, so do the motors. Motors come in a wide variety of sizes, speeds and configurations to suit just about every FPV drone imaginable.
Propellers are the spinning blades which turn motor rotation into usable thrust by forcing the surrounding air to move in a specific direction. Drone propellers are usually made from a range of plastics which vary in strength and elasticity. Propeller material along with the pitch, diameter and design of the blade are key contributors to the performance of the blade. Propellers come in all different shapes and sizes although 5" propellers are most commonly used for FPV racing drones and freestyle drones.
FPV goggles are your visual portal into the world of FPV. The goggles display live video directly from the drone which you use to pilot the drone around obstacles. Goggles usually include other features including the ability to record the drone's live video or to connect to a computer with HDMI to use the goggles with a simulator.
The video receiver is a module which is connected to the FPV goggles. Its purpose is to receive the video signals from the drone being transmitted through the air and to feed the video signals to the FPV goggle screens.
Action cameras are an optional addition to an FPV drone but a must have for freestyle FPV flying. Action cameras are mounted onto an FPV drone to capture the action in high definition.
I am a passionate race quad pilot with about five years of experience under my belt. When I'm not flying, I also enjoy completing personal engineering projects such as race quad frames or anything mechatronic. You can follow me on Facebook @OSpreyFPVracing and on YouTube at OSprey Projects.