The Path to Racing a Drone: Part 1

So the bug has you?  You want to race drones?  Bravo, you are about to embark on something that is fun, exhilarating and cutting edge.

It's also frustrating, expensive and sometimes very, very dangerous.

Now that we have that out of the way, let's talk about the basic gear.  To start with, we're not talking about camera drones that fly themselves.  We're talking about racing drones.  They stay in the air by virtue of your control of the sticks.  You strap on a pair of goggles and go really, really fast.  Or you fly acrobatically around objects.  Or both.

So, the basic equipment is as follows:

  • A racing drone
  • A controller
  • FPV Goggles
  • Batteries
  • A battery charger
  • A computer
  • Maybe an HD action cam (like a GoPro)

Let's talk about the basic skills you will need:

  • The ability to solder along with some basic understanding of electronics
  • The ability to fly
  • The ability to not suffer from motion sickness (I'm serious, if you suffer from motion sickness, go look at another hobby)
  • Maybe the ability to edit a good flight video

In case you don't realize this, those two primary skills are doozies.  Basic electronics is important so that you don't do things like fry flight controllers at best or turn your batteries into bombs at worst.

Flying turns out to be a hard skill to learn.  There are crutches you can use along the way but ultimately there is no replacement for being in the air in full acro mode.

Lastly, you're going to need money.  This is not a cheap hobby.  It is not the most expensive, but the startup costs are not for the faint of heart.

Are you still with me?  OK, good, let's get you started as quickly as possible.

Basic Entry

I get asked a lot, "How do I start?"  There is one answer I have started leaning towards:  Buy a modern controller and get a good simulator.  The very simple reason for this is that you will get stick time.  You will learn the basics of flight.  It is possible to spend hours in front of a computer with a modern controller in your hand and learn how to not crash.  You can even learn some semi-advanced maneuvers.

So, what are your options when it comes to modern controllers?  There are quite a few and each one wages a holy war against the others.  The two dominant players in the market are FrSky Taranis and Spektrum (I have used both).  There are others, such as the Turnigy Evolution (this is my simulator controller), the TBS Tango, FlySky and Futaba controllers.

If you need the bargain basement it's hard to beat the Turnigy Evolution.  If you want the best of the best, I would look at a Taranis radio with modern innards (so that it can connect easily to your computer).  

Like I said, this can be holy war territory.  But just remember this:  Your first controller will likely not be your last.  So long as you have one that allows you to fly a sim and your first build, you're good to go.

The simulator I would recommend is FPV Freerider.  It's $4.99 and allows you to experiment.  It also runs on very low-grade computers (like my first gen Macbook).

Once you get the controller and the sim set up, what do you do?  You practice.  You do things like run the courses and try to stay low.  You learn throttle control and what yaw, pitch and roll do.  You look up maneuvers on YouTube from guys like Joshua Bardwell (look through is videos, he has "how to" on many tricks).  You practice, practice, practice.