Getting in to FPV drones | My experience and some tips!
Updated: Mar 13, 2020
Getting in to FPV (First Person View) drone flying can and most likely will change your life. I remember watching a FPV video for the first time, it was a pilot called Nurk FPV flying in, around and under - yep under - a moving train (watch below!). The video ended with a split S (half roll and half pitch back) over his own head to land in front of himself. For some reason it was this move, not all the other crazy stuff he did, that intrigued me the most and got me hooked on the hobby. I just couldn't believe he had so much control over the drone and I knew I just HAD to experience it for myself. The thought of absolute freedom behind the goggles - flying anywhere you want and however you want - was overwhelming. That one video alone has probably brought thousands of people in to the hobby!
Unfortunately though I watched this at 1 am on a Saturday and then proceeded to stay up until 5 am going down the “build a drone yourself” rabbit hole, starting with another famous video by UAVfutures, the “$99 build”. One thing led to another and I was soon swamped by the complexity of taking the first step. If you ever do start thinking about building a FPV racing drone you'll soon understand what I mean!
*This video is outdated, I'm linking it because it's a landmark for the hobby, another one that must have dragged thousands in!
The first step
So what is the best way to get in to FPV? I honestly don't think there's a right answer, everyone is different! Your personality, time available and money will dictate how you approach and progress in the hobby. In my case I was immediately hooked and would watch videos from pilots like JohnnyFPV, HiFlite, Wild Willy and Gapit over and over and over. I was obsessed! I hadn't even received my first drone and I was already trying to figure out how the heck they made the drone move the way they did and trying to replicate it in the simulators. Trust me you'll know if you want in or not, if the force is strong with you or not!!! Just take the first step! Either buy a cheap ready to fly, build one yourself with the best parts or get a tiny whoop, all roads lead to a truck load of fun (and money spent!).
https://www.quadcopters.co.uk/ - check this site out, it'll have everything you need! The parts I use are listed further down.
Personally if I could change anything back from when I started in FPV it would be to build or buy a high quality drone. Many people disagree and recommend you buy a cheap basher drone but for me it ended up being the wrong decision. I outgrew it in less than two months and ended up very frustrated that I wasn't getting the results I wanted. I would fly parks and fields, my crashes were very mild and I hardly broke anything. A higher quality drone would have been the right decision for me, but cheap certainly is the right way to go for many others.
Moving on to my progression, my learning process was to obsessively watch the pilots I liked and practice for many hours in a simulator. I think simulators are a must, they give you the opportunity to learn the basic mechanics of the moves you love and then adapt them to the real quad (gravity is usually the biggest difference!) and bit by bit you improve, it takes a VERY long time!!
I'd say it takes about 18 months to gather the confidence to go full freestyle mode over hard surfaces like parking lots and abandoned buildings. It's extremely difficult and requires a very high level of skill, it's by no means a plug and play hobby. It's a long process and I think one of the main barriers is our own fear of crashing and breaking stuff. Once you've flown enough using the same quad you learn its limits and response times and gradually that fear becomes controllable. Again, and I can't say this enough, simulators help a lot for muscle memory and trick practice!
Tips for beginners
Pick rates based on your favorite pilot.
DO NOT change these in any way, you need to build muscle memory for them.
Start with simulators and use them a lot. Any will do but Velocidrone is my personal favorite.
Practice in the simulator closed area maps (Warehouse, Basketball stadium etc), not just the easy open area ones! I highly recommend practicing weaving around pillars or trees (very hard but teaches you throttle and pitch control).
Try and get top 100 in a some of the race maps (Velocidrone). If you do race, increase camera tilt to 45 degrees.
When you get your real drone set it up with the exact same rates.
DO NOT keep changing PID tune, flight controller firmware or gear all the time! Find a well used tune (again from a favorite pilot or just default) and stick to it.
Good gear is essential! I've had the same gear and tune for over a year.
This is where I'm at skill wise after two years in the hobby, my favorite flight so far!
What you can expect to pay to get in to the hobby!
1. Good quad: £280
2. Good radio: £90
3. Good goggles: £220 (can go cheaper)
4. 5x lipos: £100 (can be cheaper as long as min 75c)
Total £690. You will also need a charger and all the tools to build. FPV is expensive if you're on a budget!
Frame: Astrox X5
Flight controller: Hobbywing F4 G2 FC
Speed controller (ESC): HobbyWing 4 in1 45amp ESC
Motors: T-Motor F40 Pro III 2400KV Motor
Video transmitter: VTX TBS Unify Pro HV Race 5.8ghz
Antenna (video): Foxeer lollipop
Camera (flight camera): RunCam Swift 2 FPV Camera
Transmitter: Taranis QX7
Transmitter receiver: FrSky XSR 16ch ACCST SBUS
Goggles: Aomway Commanders or Skyzone
Batteries: Tattu 1300mAh 4S 75C
HD camera: GoPro 7 Black
TBS ND filters
Soldering Iron https://amzn.to/3atMVHY
Heat shrink blower https://amzn.to/2vF3eD8
Cable ties https://amzn.to/38vQr35
M3 hex button screws https://amzn.to/2TvfMWI
Lipo bag https://amzn.to/2PVsifI
Solder wire and flux https://amzn.to/39zucKP
Double side tape https://amzn.to/2VTW74r
XT60 connectors https://amzn.to/2TNv5c1