What is FPV?

What is FPV Flying?

FPV stands for First Person View.

By streaming real-time video from the camera on the drone, you are flying like a bird! It’s like you are sitting in the cockpit of the aircraft while controlling it, but your feet are actually firmly on the ground.

Pilot Controlling FPV Drone wearing FPV GogglesFPV Drone, flying with goggles, you can see what the drone sees

Flying an FPV drone is the most surreal experience I’ve ever had. You can go anywhere in 3D space, what you can do is totally up to your imagination.

 

FPV Drone simulator

It’s almost like playing a video game, but if you crash in the game, your PlayStation isn’t going to hit your lounge wall at 90MPH! Believe it when we say, replacing a top tier FPV drone can be just as expensive as a new PlayStation (if not more).

The level of focus required while flying FPV is intense, and the speed and maneuverability of an FPV drone make it a truly sensational experience.

 

Traditionally we fly RC models by looking at them directly without any FPV equipment, which we call “line of sight” (LOS).

 

Flying FPV Drones as Hobby

More and more FPV drone pilots are now flying drones on a professional level (racing and video making), but the majority of us just fly them on our days off as a hobby.

The FPV drone hobby has some of the friendliest online and offline communities. Everybody helps each other out, and our local group regularly meet, fly and race together.

FPV drone racing-meetup-gate-flyingA group of friends racing together in a park

With the help of this guide, you learn to choose parts, build and repair your own quadcopter. You will also learn to tune it to fly exactly the way you want it to. Everything in this hobby is highly customizable and upgradable.

 

Get a Taste of Flying in Simulators

“I don’t even have a drone yet, how can I learn to fly?”

You don’t need a drone to learn flying these days, there are many FPV simulators available for practice.

Crashing in FPV is exceptionally easy, so crashing virtually will save you both money and time. The physics of FPV simulators are getting more and more realistic, and the transition from a simulator to a real FPV drone is relatively indistinguishable.

 

Simulators can teach you the basic controls of a drone, and the muscle memory your hands require. You will also be able to use the same radio transmitter to fly the simulator and the real drone if you follow my recommendations.

Speaking from experience, it’s not a good idea to learn to fly on a full size drone. You will crash a lot in the first few days, and it’s dangerous and expensive if you crash and damage it. As you practice more, muscle memory will take over and you will crash less. Practicing in a sim in advance can accelerate that process and prepare you for it.

 

FPV sims are all excellent in their own ways. If you have a decent gaming PC I’d probably recommend Liftoff and DRL, and if your computer isn’t great, then Velocidrone is more likely to work well. Sims like Liftoff and Velocidrone have built-in tutorials to help you learn how to fly and learn Acro mode, which is what you really need.

Learning how to fly FPV drone in computer simulators

FPV sims are probably the cheapest way to get into quadcopter flying. You can practice anytime of the day regardless the weather. It’s not exactly like flying in real life, but it’s close enough as basic training. Recommend time to spend is 5 to 10 hours in a simulator before attempting to fly a real drone, this will help you tremendously as a complete beginner.

To fly FPV simulators, the first item you should buy is a radio controller that supports FPV simulators. That means USB HID / joystick support that is plug and play without any dongles or adapters. You can use the same transmitter to fly your drone later.

Don’t use XBox console or keyboard because it’s pointless. Only using a proper transmitter will build up muscle memory and provide the full benefit of the training.

 

FPV Drone Overview

 

Let’s cover the basic terms used in this hobby to avoid any confusion later on.

What is a Drone?

The word “drone” is being used a lot these days and has become synonymous with any unmanned aircraft with an onboard camera, and sometimes a camera is not even necessary for the title! Other than for military use, most “drones” were historically used for aerial photography (AP) and were large with a heavy payload capacity for carrying cameras and equipment.

What is a Multirotor?

The word Multirotor (or Multicopter) covers anything that is a “copter” with more than 1 main motor or propeller. For example, a “tricopter” has 3 motors / rotors, a “quadcopter” has 4, a “hexacopter” has 6 etc. But these are all “multirotors”.

FPV Drone sizes comparison - Mini Quad F450 Quadcopter

What is a Mini Quad?

A Mini Quad is basically a small multirotor, or more specifically, a quadcopter. But most people call them FPV drones these days.

Mini quads are designed to be fast, nimble and crash-resistant, so even when you crash you can usually just pick it up and take off again. This resilience gives pilots the confidence to fly faster, through smaller gaps, and constantly push their limits to the next level.

Since this fantastic invention, we’ve seen huge progress in the power of FPV drones, increasing propeller sizes, higher battery voltage, larger motors, all coming together to give insane power-to-weight ratios of over 15:1! Turning these little toys into insane rockets, the fastest racing drone in the world is capable of reaching 180mph(~290Kmh) in a matter of seconds.

What is a Micro Quad?

A micro quad is basically an even smaller mini quad that have 3” or smaller, with a frame size (wheelbase) of 150mm or less. There is no rules really, if it’s small, it’s a micro quad :)

fpv drone size comparison - 5" Mini Quad and 2" Micro Quad5″ Mini Quad on the left, 2″ Micro Quad on the right

FPV Drone Sizes

The size of an FPV drone is determined by the maximum propeller size it supports. For example, a 3″ drone is designed to spin 3″ propellers.

 

As your first build, a 5″ mini quad is recommended because it’s the most versatile platform for both freestyle flying and racing. It’s the most popular size, so advice and build logs can be easily obtained online.

The size of FPV quads have changed quite a bit throughout the years.  At the beginning, 6 inch quads were the normal. Then came 5 inch, which became the common face of FPV for a long time, and is still likely the most popular.

 

But as electronics get smaller and regulatory laws change, smaller drones are gaining more and more attention and popularity. The trend now is going smaller.

Of course, there is always exception to the trend. Long range has brought back 6-7 inch quads. And X-class and Beast class have made 12-13 inch quad popular. It is even hard to call the latter two “mini quads” anymore.

5-Inch

Pretty much the standard for FPV drone nowadays, excellent balance between power, efficiency, and agility, it’s great for both freestyle and racing, and even long-range. Components are larger, therefore easier to solder and maintain.

 

4-Inch

 

4 inch is the middle child. This category started to get more attention when the 250g weight limit was introduced in some countries, while the 4″ is the biggest size that can achieve that without impacting performance too much.

 

However when building and choosing parts for a 4″ you have to be careful, because there is no parts that are specifically designed for 4″, and you have to use parts either from a 5″ or a smaller 3″.

This results in the lack of standard when it comes to motor mounts and flight controller stack size. Some frames use 13xx-15xx motor while other uses 18xx-22xx motor. (What’s Motor Size) The same goes for the stack, some uses 20mm stack while other uses 30mm stack (flight controller mounting explained).

2-Inch, 2.5-inch and 3-Inch

2″-3″ is becoming very popular, due in part to regulatory law that makes you register any quad over 250g. The other reason, electronics are getting smaller and more reliable, these small drones can do pretty much anything a 5 inch drone can do.

 

Typical build: 2-4S lipos 300-800mah, 13xx-15xx

Tiny Whoops

Tiny Whoops are ducted micro drones that typically have a 55mm-75mm diagonal (wheelbase)

 

They run on 1S or 2S batteries which means they are relatively low in power. The built in prop guards (aka “ducts”) can protect people and your TV from props and let you bounce off stuff and recover, great for flying in the living room.

On the flip side, the ducts make them heavier and reduces performance, making them less ideal for outside and windy use.

Most people fly them in Angle mode (stabilized mode) and race them that way too, but they’re not nearly as good for flying in Acro – which is the ultimate goal of flying outside and doing freestyle/racing on full size quads. So Tiny Whoops are fun toys and a good way to start, but a less great way for long term progress.

A typical tiny whoop weighs only around 20g including battery, and they are great fun to fly in the house, and great tools to learn flying with. 

Ultralight (toothpick)

The ultra-light (or toothpick) class gets its name from the frame looking like a bunch of toothpicks tied together. As you can probably guess, they are not made to withstand crashes, but to get the most performance out of them. But they are actually pretty crash resistant because they are so small and light.

 

They are also very quiet, as to not annoy people and pets, and when flown on 1 to 3S batteries, typically still pretty safe around people even though they don’t have prop guards.

They can range in performance from “tame” to “extreme” – some of them can approach the level of performance in a traditional 5″ prop mini quad in terms of power to weight and sheer speed.

 

Cinewhoops

 

These are 3″ or smaller drones that are equipped with propellers protectors (ducts), and carries an HD camera like the GoPro for capturing cinematic footage. They are designed for slower and smooth flights, not for freestyle and acro flying.

6 Inch and 7 Inch

This category of quad is making a comeback due to the gain in popularity of long-range flying.  It is not to say that you cannot use these for freestyle. These quads are not as agile as a 5 inch and tend to be “more floaty”. The components vary quite a bit for this category depending on the style of flying you want to achieve.

X-Class and Beast Class

X-class and Beast class quads are the biggest in this list, and they are similar.

For a quadcopter to be considered an X-Class, the frame size should be between 800mm-1200mm (diagonal motors distance).  The props size generally are 9-13 inches.  X-class was created for spectators to be more easily see visually during the race. That’s because the smaller 5-inch FPV drones, which most race events are held for, are extremely difficult to view from the stands.

Beast class uses all the same components of an X-class, but it uses a smaller, sub-800mm frame. Beast class is supposed to perform more like a 5-inch quad than X-class.

These types of quads are not recommended for beginners at all. They are expensive to build and maintain, and they are very dangerous. Remember, with great power comes…..

FPV Drone Flying Style

Before choosing parts for your build, you should recognize what flying style the drone is designed for. The common flying styles are:

Freestyle

Racing

Long range

Cinemaphotography

Although not all sizes can achieve all the styles, but people still try.

Freestyle is the most popular for hobbyists. It is about free flying and doing tricks. There is no rules to how you can fly, the sky is the limit. And also, the ground, so don’t crash.

 

Racing is flying through a designated course. Usually consisting of gates that you have to go through. Drone Racing is like racing roller-coasters, just without the tracks. Get the most powerful parts that can take abuse while keeping the weight to minimum, this is what FPV racing is about (plus the skills).

Long Range is trying to achieve long distance flight. With this style it’s mostly low key cruising, trying to be steady with throttle to minimize current draw and maximize flight time and distance. 

 

When talking about Cinemaphotography in FPV, there is no specific build, and it all depends on the job. Popular builds for making cinematic footage are:

3″ Cinewhoop

2″ Naked GoPro builds

Regular 5″, 6″ or 7″ carrying GoPro, using Hypersmooth or Reelsteady for stabilization

Building From Scratch or Buy Pre-Built?

Almost everyone flies a 5″ drone at some point in their FPV career, because it just flies SO GOOD! You have two options:

 

Build your own FPV drone

 

Buy a ready-to-fly FPV drone

If building a quadcopter from scratch sounds too challenging, there’s an abundance of choice for ready-to-fly quads that perform extremely well.

The skills and knowledge you will learn from building your own FPV drone can enable you to diagnose, repair and upgrade your FPV drone later on

Every pilot has specific needs, you can get exactly what you are looking for from picking your own parts

There are now DIY kits, which has everything for you to build. These kits tend to be the lowest quality, but they are also the cheapest and enough to get you started with learning how to build and fly, this is perhaps adequate if you want to spend the absolute minimum. 

 

You could buy a BnF (bind and fly) that’s already built, and ideally, tuned as well! All you need to do is bind it to your radio, and go. It saves time from building your own. But almost no BnF is perfect, and the closer they are to perfect, the more you pay, eventually. And, if you break it… you’re going to need to take it apart anyways, and solder, and learn how to fix, and so on… So even if you buy a BnF… eventually, you’ll probably have to learn how to build.

For these reasons, building your first quad is a must. Once you know the in’s and out’s, you can then do whatever you want :)

Whether you are buying a pre-built drone or building it yourself, you should make a shopping list, and have it checked by someone experienced. If you want some advice on selecting components, ask on my forum IntoFPV forum. We have a wealth of experienced pilots and are always ready to welcome new members and answer questions.

Parts and Equipment

An FPV drone consists of the following parts:

 

Frame 

4 x Motors 

4 x Props (Propellers) – 2x CCW and 2x CW rotations 

4 x ESC’s or a 4in1 ESC – Electronics Speed Controller 

FC – Flight Controller 

LiPo Battery

FPV Camera 

Video Transmitter (VTX) 

FPV antennas 

Additionally you will also need the following equipment to fly your quadcopter in FPV:

Radio transmitter (TX) and receiver (RX) – how to choose a radio transmitter

FPV Goggles 

LiPo Charger

Beeper with built-in battery

When starting out you can get by with just a few basic tools, just to name a few:

 

Soldering iron and solder

A set of hex drivers or Allen keys (sizes dependent on your frame choice)

An M5 (8mm) nut spinner or ratchet for your propeller nut (or you can just use your big pliers)

Wire Cutters

Cable ties

Electrical Tape

Multimeter

Smoke stopper

There are many other useful tools you can consider to have which will make building and repairing your quads more enjoyable!

 

Choosing Parts

This can be tough for your first build. If you are not sure what to get, it’s a good idea to get what’s popular so if you run into problems, there are more people who might have the answer. Do your research!

Getting LiPo Batteries and Charger

For LiPo batteries, typically a 4S 1500mah on a 5″ drone would give you 5 to 7 minutes of flight time. You can start with a set of 4 batteries for practicing, but you will probably need more later on as you improve and want to fly longer.

Getting a Backpack

Get a backpack designed specifically for carrying your drones and all your gear for flying

FC Firmware

There are quite a few flight controller firmware available for FPV drone, but it doesn’t matter, just use Betaflight – this is probably what 95% (just a guess) of the people in the hobby use. It’s free, open source, performs very well and being updated frequently. It supports virtually every flight controller available on the market. Apart from freestyle and racing, Betaflight has added features geared for long range.

KISS (close source) is another popular firmware that is very easy to setup and flies very well. You will need to purchase KISS specific hardware to use their firmware.

iNAV (open source) is very popular with long-range and autonomous flyers. They do not support as many flight controllers.

ESC Firmware

 

Every ESC has its own processor and there is “ESC firmware” running on it. The language spoken between the flight controller and ESC’s are called “ESC Protocol”.

The most popular firmware which runs on 99% of all FPV quad ESCs are either BLHeli_S or BLHeli32. BLHeli32 is newer of the two, and uses a faster processor. Flight performance wise, there is very little difference, but BLHeli32 is more future proof.

The main ESC protocol used today are DShot, more specifically, DShot300 and DShot600, with the number indicating the speed of the protocol.

How Does FPV Drone Work?

The Pilot controls the drone using a radio controller which has two joysticks. The stick commands are sent wirelessly to the radio receiver installed inside the drone.

 

The flight controller takes commands from radio receiver, combines with data from the gyro sensor, and calculate what speed each motor should move

 

The ESC converts this signal from the FC, and controls how fast the motors should spin, in order to generate the correct thrust desired.

 

A drone is normally powered by a LiPo battery.

FPV System Explained

In a nutshell, there are 4 main components in an FPV system:

FPV Camera

Video Transmitter (VTX)

FPV Goggles (with Video Receiver)

Antennas

There is a camera connected to a VTX, and the VTX broadcasts the video feed wirelessly to a VRX which is either built into the FPV goggles, or added to them as an external module.

Inside the FPV drone, there are a camera and a video transmitter (VTX).

Analog vs Digital FPV Systems

There are now two main systems for FPV drones – analog, and DJI (digital). DJI offers 720p 120fps HD video, while analog video quality is noticeably worse with static and breakups throughout your flight.

Despite lower image quality, analog still offers some advantages such as low cost and the consistent and lower latency which is preferred by hardcore racers. Also analog allows much smaller VTX and antennas, making it more suitable for smaller size FPV drones like Tiny whoops.

 

And DJI’s FPV system is still not as good as action cameras, so if you are looking for the best possible image quality, you will still need to mount an extra HD camera on top of the drone, such as the GoPro, or Insta360 GO 2.

Yes, DJI is not cheap, especially for those who already own the analogue setup, but if you are just starting, you should seriously consider the DJI FPV setup :)

FPV Frequency

5.8GHz (5800MHz) is the frequency band that we commonly use for broadcasting the video feed. The frequency we use for radio control is on 2.4GHz, so there is little interference.

Typically video transmitters and receivers support 40 channels or more. This allows multiple people flying at the same time. Spectators can also tune into FPV drones and watch the actions.

If you crash, you should unplug the battery as soon as you pick it up. If you walk back to your seat with the quad powered on, it will interfere your buddy’s video signal if they are still flying (because your transmitter is now much closer to your friend’s receiver than their own quad is).

Stay line of sight for best signal

To ensure you have the best possible signal your VTX antenna should be within the line of sight of the VRX antenna at all times.

When you fly behind a tree, or a hill, your signal will get weaker or even drop completely as you are outside of the Fresnel Zone. When this happens you might have video breakup or static on the screen. The problem becomes more pronounced with higher transmission frequencies. That’s why your 2.4GHz radio signal normally has longer range than your 5.8GHz video feed (given the same power and same antenna gains).

 

Remember that since most mini quad frames are made of carbon fibre, it helps to mount your antennas as far away from the frame as possible to avoid getting blocked (not just frame, but any electronic components for that matter such as your HD camera). Antenna positioning and placement are key.

How to Get Those Beautiful FPV Footage?

You just watched a surreal video on Youtube, and you are wondering how that guy captured those high quality footage.

DVR footage from an analog feed is far from 1080p HD quality, let alone 4K quality. Most of the beautiful footage you see online is usually recorded with a separate HD camera.

The most popular way is to put a GoPro (or similar camera) on the drone with a 3D printed TPU mount. You can also use an FPV camera system like the Runcam Split or Caddx Tarsier, that can record HD videos at the same time.

Lastly, the new kid in town is going digital with the DJI FPV system.  With the DJI system, you are seeing HD FPV feed and record in 720p which is still far better than analogue.

Learning How to Fly FPV Drones

Some might assume they have to become really good at flying LOS (line of sight) before they try FPV, but this isn’t necessarily the case.

LOS and FPV are two very different ways of flying. However, it is tremendously useful to be able to control your quad in line of sight. Remember that your FPV system can fail, so having at least some skill at LOS flying will help you get your craft back in control in an emergency. Once you start to feel comfortable with how to move the quad around in line of sight, you can move on to FPV. With that said, this is just a safe way to go, you can start FPV without ever flying in line of sight, it’s all up to you.

 

FPV simulators are really useful. They really help beginners pick up the basic skills needed very quickly. Sims can dramatically reduce the cost of broken parts as well due to trying maneuvers or tricks that are beyond your capability and just other pilot errors. 

 

It takes time to relate what you learn on a simulator to an FPV drone in real life. Don’t worry it might take a few days, then it will just click and all of a sudden the sky becomes your oyster!

Don’t Fly Auto-Level Mode

If all you want to fly is a DJI camera drone, or other GPS assisted multirotors, auto level is perfect and it’s fine to just fly like that. But if you want to get into racing and freestyle flying, you have to learn to fly in acro mode. The one exception is flying Tiny Whoop indoors, they are actually flown in angle mode most of the times. That’s why a Tiny Whoop flying indoors is not the best way to learn acro mode.

Acro mode might seem hard at first, but once you have learned it you are free to control your quad exactly how you want it. Betaflight has an Acro Trainer mode that will help you get used to Acro without the ability to flip or spin out of control.

Auto level is like a pair of crutches, great if you can’t balance yourself, but try using them while running a 100m sprint! Once you have learned acro mode, auto level will feel like a hindrance, it can also teach bad habits which can be difficult to shake.

While learning how to fly in a simulator, you should also start doing research on quadcopter parts, and plan your build. Move on to the next section to learn more about parts and equipment.

Attending Meetup and Race Events

As you arrive at the FPV site, first thing you want to do is to work out who is using which video transmitter channel.

 

DO NOT power on your quad before you get your video channel confirmed, especially when there are other people in the air!

When 2 quads are on the same VTX channel, or when frequencies are too close to each other, one can disrupt the video feed of the other. Interference on 5.8GHz frequency can cause accidents because the image in the goggles can disappear entirely while flying, leaving a pilot “blind”.

Always warn other pilots before you power on your quad.

Even if you are not on the same channel, some low quality VTX can emit power through the whole spectrum on start-up and changing channels. This can cause a split second of interference to everyone else.

Alternatively you can always switch on your video receiver first, and check which channels are being used before you switch on your video transmitter.

 

With proper equipment and frequency management, normally up to 8 people can fly at the same time, but typically 4 pilots is more common for an interference free race.

Safety Rules for Flying FPV Drones

Safety should always come first.

Remember that these racing mini quads are really FAST and powerful! They can cause some nasty injuries to people and animals, and damage to property. We have zero tolerance for people ignoring safety rules, because it does not only affect the pilot and victim, but also the reputation of this hobby.

Check your local rules and regulations regarding FPV, RC and Model Flying in general.

Get a spotter, or a fly buddy!

Choose your flying location sensibly.

Never fly too close to or above people and animals.

Disconnect battery immediately after picking up the crashed quad.

Do not try to catch a multicopter in mid-air.

Never use damaged LiPo, and dispose of LiPo battery properly.