Code better not harder

It's not about flying

2 months has gone by, and due to various circumstances, bad timing, rain, and coronavirus doom & gloom, I haven’t flown at all. But, I have flown in the simulator a lot more. On the other side, I have heard from FPV pilots that freestyle or racing, or whatever we’d like to call it is not only about flying. But isn’’t flying a core part of the experience and the main reason why we got interested in the first place? Let’s assume that it’s.

If flying is the ultimate goal, then just spend extra money to buy a good quality assembled quad such as Mr Steele’s Apex or JohnnyFPV’s bundle and keep practicing. With enough effort, shouldn’t anyone be able to acquire the same level of success and experience? But does the tool defines the person behind the tool? Yes, if the person is the one building it, but what if there’s more than one quad with varying styles built by the same person, a team, or a company?

After a while, everyone is unique in this hobby / profession. That’s the interesting part of craftsmanship. JohhnyFPV is not and never be the same as Mr Steele, Joshua Bardwell, Le Drib, Alex Vanover, Quadmovr, Boris B, Team BlackSheep (TBS) or Drone Racing League (DRL). Also, there are few others less known ones such as PhantomFPV, which has his own unique style of teaching:

J-TRUE FPV that I’ve just recently been watching:

I’m really impressed with this one in particular:

Each has developed their own unique style after a long time. Now, we’d like to think that the style was developed due to how they practiced flying. A pilot is just someone who flies an aircraft? Right? That’s probably right, but only to a limited degree. We have to understand that there’s a reason why each of them has their own preferences of quadcopter configuration, flight controller tuning, radio transmitter, goggles, FPV camera, motors, frame and propeller size, and weight. For example, Mr Steele prefers a CCD technology in an FPV camera due to lower latency, while the majority of popular FPV cameras are equipped with CMOS technology, probably because they are cheaper. PhantomFPV prefers a small-sized radio transmitter, and he’s yet to reveal the reason why.

I can feel in the simulator how a DRL Racer 4, which is the racing quad used by DRL is heavier, and it needs a slightly different handling. I don’t prefer that most of the time, compared to a smaller and more popular quad with a 5-inch propeller size at about 500-600 grams, while DRL Racer 4 is 7-inch and about 1 kg in weight.

Each of these configuration and components affect the feel of flying, and not everyone prefers the same configuration, it really depends. Also, a beginner or someone who doesn’t fly often may not need a very specific configuration. That’s where we can start to explore why it’s more than just flying.

From what I’ve learned so far, I acknowledge that a lot of them are DIY engineers with a relatively good experience in DIY electronics, embedded software, radio control, or RF engineering, and just a basic understanding of aerodynamics. That’s especially true of Betaflight developers, TBS or DRL. But, it really is a different world, although related from the software industry that I came from.

In the software industry, we put personal computers and mobile device as the core of activity, as if they are the most important element of developing software. Which we should have known that it’s not, but we are often out-of-touch from the users who used our software, and this is not necessarily always bad, as in modern software products there are too many layers on the technical and business side, and each developer of a particular layer (let’s say database, graphics engine, with the exception of user interface) do not necessarily need to interact with an end user or even use the final product of such software.

As software run everywhere, even in flight controllers! There are embedded software engineers that write software for flight controllers of course, and these people can be pilots or not. But, I’m pretty sure there should be pilots among Betaflight developers, otherwise they won’t be able to form opinions and ideas on how a flight controller should work.

That’s the great thing about this industry, and somehow the core technology just magically exist for beginners such as myself. It certainly has a steep learning curve, and a lot of gray areas regarding regulations (Radio Frequency usage and UAV). Also, an easy-to-use software is not very common here. With the slight exception of Betaflight configurator, the majority of supporting software being used for FPV system is not made for the average user.

Investing huge amount of effort to make the software much better and easy to use in this industry is risky, and probably could only be afforded by companies such as DJI or DRL. Even TBS won’t go as far as producing software for the masses. Skydio, on the other side focuses on autonomous drone, which is what they should be doing.

Now, to summarize should someone learn to build a racing quad in this hobby? The answer is yes. There’s a lot of step-by-step tutorials available. It’s not necessary to build a meticulously engineered product to be sold, or you’ll waste a lot of time and money, just enough to fly freestyle and racing. Then go from there as experience accumulates.