The Hippo


Dec 5, 2019








For more on FPV racing drones

Visit the U.S. Drone Racing Association website at for more information about FPV racing drones, including safety and racing guidelines; a comprehensive glossary of drone terminology; national drone racing news; a calendar with local drone events, meetups, races, classes and workshops; and an FPV transmitter frequency reference chart. 
You can also find local races through Multirotor Grand Prix, a competitive FPV drone racing league that organizes races all over the country. Visit 

A flight to the finish
How FPV drone racing creates a virtual flying experience

By Angie Sykeny

 When Nashua MakeIt Labs member Dave Shevett first stumbled upon a YouTube video of first-person viewpoint drone racing last spring, he had no idea what he was watching. The video showed a group of people in the woods, some wearing goggles and some staring into small, flat video screens. Then, the video switched to a first-person viewpoint, seemingly of a pilot weaving between the trees on an aircraft with other aircrafts zipping by in a scene reminiscent of a sci-fi movie.

After observing several more videos of the activity, Shevett knew it was something he had to try. He was no stranger to drones; they’re popular projects at MakeIt Labs. But FPV racing drones were another story.
“If it’s between watching a plane fly or sitting in the cockpit, which is more exciting?” Shevett said. “When you fly an FPV drone, you have the excitement of flying your own airplane, except with a drone, you aren’t risking your life. If you crash it, it’s $500. You can repair it.”
How it works 
The standard racing drone has a frame of about 250 mm across and weighs a little over a pound. They typically have four rotors (the propellers that lift the drone), each powered by a brushless motor, an electric motor that is extremely powerful and efficient but maintains a relatively small size and weight. The drone is powered by a lightweight but very complex lithium polymer battery, which provides about five to seven minutes of flight time at speeds up to 40 mph.
The pilot controls every aspect of the drone’s flight using a radio receiver and a handheld radio transmitter. Each motor is attached to an electronic speed controller that communicates with the drone’s onboard computer, known as the flight controller, as well as the pilot’s radio receiver. Finally, to have first-person viewpoint capability, the drone needs an onboard small camera, video transmitter and antenna, which communicate with the pilot’s video receiver and display, which can be goggles or a video screen.
A drone of your own
If you’re looking to acquire a drone, you have two options: you can order one pre-built or you can buy the parts and construct it yourself. Building your own can cost anywhere from $300 to $600. Now that the sport is becoming more popular, many hobby shops have started carrying drone equipment. But before you buy, Shevett warns, make sure you do your research.
“There’s no lack of opportunities to spend money with this hobby, so go slow,” he said. “Watch some videos, read some websites, come to a race.”
Learning to fly
For Shevett, who opted to build his first drone from scratch, it took two weeks from the time he got the parts to the time he got the drone off the ground. However, with wear and tear and inevitable crashes, Shevett says the building and rebuilding never end.
Once you have a drone in working condition, it’s time to get it in the air. But flying an FPV drone is far from easy. Shevett compares it to running through the woods, looking with one eye through a paper towel tube and trying not to run into a tree.
“The skill necessary to fly an FPV drone is a lot. You need a lot of practice,” he said. “It’s very rewarding once you get it going, but also a little terrifying when you’re flying this drone that you spent weeks building and hundreds of dollars on.”
Ready to race
Shevett started the U.S. Drone Racing Association last spring to promote the sport, organize races, meetups and workshops, and establish safety and behavioral guidelines for competitions.
Most outdoor races take place in an open space like a field. The course is marked with some kind of markers or flags (Shevett uses pool noodles at his races) and will sometimes have obstacles or tunnels to maneuver. Pilots will have their operating stations as well as a pit area to make repairs on their drones. Between three and six pilots participate in each race, and a race day will usually have three to five official races as well as some practice rounds. In the race, drones will fly three to five laps around the course, and the first drone to finish wins.
The best strategy for winning a race, Shevett says, is to finish in one piece.
“Between crashing and mechanical problems, usually only one or two drones actually finish,” he said. “So my advice is, don’t get carried away in the excitement. If you see another drone pass you and you speed up to catch them, chances are you will smack into something. Just stay in control, try to survive and finish the race.” 

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