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FPV - How did I get started?

If you are a drone pilot or have been working with drones, quadcopter or fixed wing, I am sure you have heard of FPV, and this post is not targeted towards those who are already in the hobby. With a quick search one can find a lot of tutorials, articles, and even complete training on how to become an FPV pilot. I am writing mostly to give another perspective on how did someone get started on it. Although, I have to state beforehand that my experience is neither unique nor it’s a good way to start with FPV.

Before that I would like to provide a few information where you can seriously learn and understand the process of entering the hobby, building a racing / freestyle quad, and becoming an FPV pilot for racing, freestyle, or however you want to do it for. The sky and your hard-work is the only limit.

  1. OscarLiang: My favorite tutorial and reviews site on anything FPV-related. The writings are very comprehensive and easy to understand compared to a few others who can be too technical, incomplete, too verbose, boring, or lacking in details.
  2. Propwashed: Similar level of comprehensiveness to OscarLiang. I do read specific articles such as How to fly in Rate mode?, PID Tuning guide, LiPo battery guide, and all the technical materials needed to fly a racing quad. But, there can be a few posts that could only be found in OscarLiang. Such as the review or benchmarks of various FPV gears and electronic components.
  3. GetFPV: Also similar to the above two sites. They might also have specific articles that I could not find elsewhere. The difference is GetFPV is also a shop for FPV gears or products. Although, I haven’t really compare them side-by-side. I found that OscarLiang reviewed more products and have more variation on the topics being discussed.
  4. FPV Know-it-All: Created by none other than Joshua Bardwell himself. I do enjoy his explanation of various topics in a friendly manner and easy to understand for beginners. Everyone should watch his PID Tuning Masterclass. But, he seem to be only producing videos, not written articles.
  5. Ethix: Steele Davis a.k.a Mr. Steele is a part of them. His videos and piloting skills are what I would consider as crazy but in a positive way. Although there’s a lot to be learned from his content, he doesn’t seem to write articles or provide a comprehensive guide for beginners. There’s however a few guidelines on FPV.
  6. Johnny FPV: Johnny Schaer, he’s a racer and FPV pilot. I think he has one of the most spectacular videos ever made with FPV. He doesn’t have lots of tutorials or content for learning, but definitely you can learn his equipment setup, and even buy the same set of equipment. But, even though you do, it doesnt’t mean you can match his quality of work.
  7. Sozo: The YouTube channel has videos mostly for long range expedition. It also has tutorials for FPV and racing pilot, accompanied with LiftOff simulator.
  8. TheJumperWire: Not very specific to FPV, but more on electronics, quadcopter, and programming it. The author, Sean Kelly has been working with bitcraze on Crazyflie which is a famous programmable and open source quadcopter platform to do research on autonomous drone. I enjoy his series of articles on LiPo battery characteristics.
  9. Drone Racing League: A leading organization that promotes drone racing all over the world. They have racing competition. All you need to do is download the simulator, practice, and enter a race. If you just want to be a racer. This is where to start.
  10. There’s definitely more, but I can’t recall them.

Also, I have to mention Team BlackSheep and VelociDrone where one is an FPV shop that has been a pioneer in the hobby, and VelociDrone which has been one of the go-to simulators to practice racing, freestyle, or online race. There are others such as LiftOff or DRL (Drone Racing League) simulator, but I haven’t personally used them, because I haven’t got the chance or a high-end gaming computer to also try them out.

Next, how did I get started? As I have mentioned before, I was brought into the hobby after I was involved with a project on autonomous drone with DJI Matrice 100 using ROS. Afterwards, I discovered FPV while searching for parts and components to custom build a quadcopter. But because I do not have a personal space or workbench to work with electronics, I decided not to build one for now, and instead bought a BNF 3-inch quadcopter built by GEPRC from Banggood.

A 3-inch quadcopter is a good balance between being able to fly freestyle, racing and but not throwing yourself immediately to higher-powered 5-inch or 7-inch ones which will require larger capacity LiPo batteries with more weight, size, and more experience on how to handle its speed and range. The bigger quads (although they are still mini-quad) can give a false sense of inspiration, and then you started to take more risks without having a good sense of how it flies, how it’s being tuned, and how to manage all aspects of controlling it.

If I could restart I would start with micro quads that are often referred to as Whoops such as the Emax TinyHawk, Eachine Trashcan, Beta65 / 75 / 85 from BetaFPV. They are good for flying indoors, and getting a feel of flying FPV without flight assistance from sensors such as GPS or Optical Flow to hold its position for hovering. But, I don’t want to spend extra money unless if I actually have a chance to fly indoors — which is unlikely as indoor space tend to be occupied by people — unless if I join a race. Although, they are okay for outdoors too, I’d rather use a Toothpick, 3-inch or larger.

It’s recommended to practice with simulator before flying the real quad, but only after a few flights with my first 3-inch, then I started to really feel how real-life flying is compared to simulator. Aside from physics, real flying require more awareness of the environment, and the configuration of the hardware or flight controller (BetaFlight):

  • LiPo battery characteristics, balanced charging, discharged, what is storage voltage, etc. is very important
  • Electronics and how to recognize symptoms when things are broken (motors, capacitors blowed up, short circuit)
  • Basics of Radio Frequency Communication
  • What’s the difference between TBS transceiver vs FrSky
  • Why do some people need long range transceiver at 900 MHz
  • What kind of antenna to use (Pagoda, Leaf, RHCP or LHCP polarized, SMA or RP-SMA connector)
  • FPV frequency selection on video transmitter (VTX), which channel, band, and transmission power numbers and how it’s being regulated. In Singapore the limit is 100mW, otherwise you would need permission.
  • Without watching the recorded video of my real flight — VelociDrone doesn’t do recording automatically — I wouldn’t be aware of my weaknesses.
  • Throttle management is different on a 3-inch compared to 5-inch. With smaller propellers I have to make sure that throttle doesn’t drop for too long at low altitude, otherwise the quad can easily drop to the ground and flip.
  • VelociDrone’s smallest mini quad is a 4-inch. Although they have micro quads, it’s still not a 2-3 inch quad.
  • The list doesn’t stop here while on the simulator you can simply ignore regulation, hardware, electronics, and focus on flying.

I realized that having an understanding of the fundamentals of building a quadcopter does help with developing an interest on FPV. But, having a good understanding or even mastery of the technology doesn’t always translate to an interest in racing or freestyle flying. First and foremost FPV requires time, a certain personality trait and adventurous mindset. Because there is not much rationale behind practicing hard to learn the basics of high speed racing and acrobatic movements other than a sense of adventure and curiosity. Not to mention understanding the regulation of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle in countries you’re flying in.

Some people are either simply lazy (it does require hard work), or their lifestyle doesn’t lead them into that direction. With all the news of people landing drones at the airport and spying at people’s home, it discouraged people from understanding the various aspects of the hobby whether it’s quadcopter, FPV, or fixed wing. The result is the activity tend to be associated with pranks and immaturity, while in reality the hobby has a lot more variation in it other than people who bought drones for photography or videography.