How I got into FPV drones and how you could too

#story#guide
March 01, 2020 ⌛⌛ 8 min read

FPV stands for First Person View and in the context of FPV drones usually refers to flying a drone for freestyle or racing while viewing the feed from a camera mounted on drone as if you were the pilot. This is what it looks like:

📖 How I got into FPV

My professional background is in software engineering. That’s my day job, but in 2016 I got interested in smart home devices and smart home automation possibilities in particular. I wanted to go past the simple “use an app on your phone to turn on your Philips Hue lights” which was kind of the highlight of that time period.

I quickly discovered an open-source project called Home Assistant, that I really liked and contributed to a little bit. In a nutshell that is a Python project that allows you to run a piece of software called Home Assistant on a Raspberry Pi. This software then allowed you to connect together many different otherwise unrelated smart systems or sensors. Ranging from fetching data from 3rd party APIs like weather information, to controlling your lights, blinds and many more. Most implementations were frictionless and very powerful.

Some of the things I had set up were, for example, a morning coffee automation that started brewing my coffee every day at 6:55, or automation where the lights would turn on every day 30 minutes before sunset. Cool stuff.

I was also using Google Home for voice commands, Amazon’s Alexa for a while, but I always preferred Google Assistant. Sky’s really the limit when it comes down to those systems, there’s so much you could do with Bluetooth, presence sensors such as motion detectors, smart outlets, soil moisture and nutrition sensors and so on.

Now I’m not going to get into much more detail about Home Assistant, as I want to get to the point and tell you how that brought me to FPV racing drones. If you are curious to learn more, however, I do encourage you to look into Home Assistant or to read my “Living with smart home automation for a year” article on the blog.

So what has that got to do with FPV racing drones? Well, roughly around July 2017 as I was looking into how to waterproof some electronics for outdoor projects, I stumbled upon a video by Samm Sheperd (I was saddened to have found out that he had since passed away. Rest in peace Samm). That video was about conformal coating the electronics on his FPV drone. He then flew around his house like crazy in the middle of winter, snow and all. I still remember what I thought to myself: “I gotta have this in my life”. No joke, I was legit so hook, it didn’t make sense. I just knew I had to be doing that. It was mesmerizing.

This lead to a bit more research on the subject and discovering UAVfutures, Joshua Bardwell and Mr. Steele, who (along with Samm) are the people I credit with my getting into FPV. One of the first UAVfutures videos I watched was his 99$ drone build guide, Joshua’s series on actually learning to fly in FPV Freerider, and Mr. Steele’s alien videos convincing me he’s an FPV god from another world and inspiring me to try to achieve 5% of his skill set in my lifetime of flying drones.

SO, I ended up ordering an Eachine Wizard x220 in August 2017 and I started my FPV adventure. I also started writing about my experience on my blog. (and mostly really fixing the issues I had and learning along the way).

I quickly learned how crappy the stock props of the Wizard were, when they shredded on full throttle and my quad fell out of the sky, I got better antennas, modded my box goggles to record DVR and got better at flying and started crashing much less over time. I was also lucky to have a buddy of mine join me in the FPV adventures.

I’ve loved the experience and all the learnings so far, but I’m sure our hobby can still be pretty intimidating to many beginners, so here’s my message: “You don’t have to know it all beforehand. It’s ok to learn at your own pace as you go.

Also, worth noting is that many things are so much less intimidating and so much easier nowadays than when I started and that’s a great thing! You can start off with a pre-built model and do modifications and adjustments to it as you go and as you learn. In my case, my Wizard x220 has only kept its original frame, PDB and Flight Controller. Since then, PDBs are now gone, and I have swapped out everything else - receiver, vtx, camera, motors, ESCs have all been changed.

But yea getting into FPV is just not as smooth as butter just yet. You will need to most of all have that “willing to learn mentality”. That’s what it’s all about. You don’t have to know much to start, you can learn as you go, but you have to be willing to learn. The amount of how much you need to learn as you go, however, I think has gone down over the past few years and is on a downwards trend and will only keep declining as parts and quads keep getting better.

That being said and while I’m all for lowering the barrier of entry so that more and more people can join the hobby and feel less intimidated at first, I think learning and tinkering with components are a fundamental part of it and are not going anywhere.

I’m trying to do my part in helping more people take flight and enjoy FPV, mostly because I think it’s an awesome hobby and so much fun. If you’d like to help me and support me and others in doing so, come visit the FPVtips YouTube channel and tag along for the ride! We surely appreciate your help!

👩‍🎓 How you could get into FPV

So how could you get into FPV? Everyone learns in a different way, but keep in mind time in a simulator is really time well spent. It will save you months of frustration, repairs, money and forever lost quads. On the other hand, if you would like to learn with the real deal, so long as you know what to be careful about, I think that could work out too.

I did just a little bit of time in a simulator and was itching to try the real thing. I paid attention to how to set up my failsafe, so my quad wouldn’t fly away on me, and I was always careful and very respectful of 5-inch quads and the damage they could do with their props. That’s no joke! Those things’ props can do some real damage, so always stay away. In addition, being thoughtful and careful with your lipo batteries is a must too. Once you know and are aware of those main dangers which are VERY SERIOUS topics, you can have fun for the most part.

Go to a huge open preferably grassy field and fly. Why grass? Well, I went flying over concrete and gravel on my first flight, crashed a few times, lost a bunch of screws and caused some minor damage to my frame. Then I went flying over grass for a softer impact while I kept learning how not to crash.

Try and fly low, not too close to yourself and just give it a shot. You will be crashing, try to have those crashes as controlled as possible, try to learn the basics, get familiar with throttle control and then pitch, roll, and yaw. Learn how to be quick on the disarm switch to prevent further ESC or motor damage. Practice some line of sight flights, do some FPV. (I never really got very good at Line of sight as I tend to lose orientation fairly quickly). Don’t get discouraged, it turns out, I’m just better at FPV than at line of sight.

You do you. I’m not advocating jumping in and flying like crazy without any simulator preparation, but I do understand you’re anxious to try the real thing and don’t want to become a master of the simulator first. Again I advise for caution and taking this seriously, flying far away from people and buildings at first, until you get decent at flying.

You are also lucky because nowadays there’s a great way to get into FPV without much of the stress that comes with flying a 5-inch drone. That’s micro-drones and toothpicks. Those little quads in many cases fly almost as good as a bigger drone and will deliver an experience that actually translates well to the experience you would get when flying a bigger drone. That’s cool cause your practice on a smaller drone will not be in vain and the muscle memory and the flight control learnings will translate nicely to when you start flying a bigger drone.

And while I am a fan of flying the real thing, I have to say there are plenty of really cool simulators out there nowadays. My favorite is Liftoff, I have that on Steam, and you could also look into Drone Racing League or the new Drone Champions League as well as Velocidrone and a few others. There are no drone repairs involved or the walk of shame to go get your drone after you crash in the sims. Particularly useful when trying to learn and master new tricks. So I definitely encourage you to try to spend some time in a simulator. Of course, you want to do that with your radio plugged into your computer, instead of some other gamepad or joystick. Again, it’s all about muscle memory.

But in general, it is a great time to join the hobby of FPV racing and freestyle drones. You can grab a very decent and relatively safe drone for about less than a hundred dollars. A radio for about a 100 or so, some box goggles to get you started, or if you are 60% sure you would commit to the hobby, go for a 250$ pair of goggles that will be good for at least a few years if not longer. Good simulator software, with free trials or free levels, that will be enough to get you started. There’s also plenty of information on specific topics and a handful of YouTube channels highly recommended to follow, in order to stay up to date with what’s going on in the hobby. From then on, it’s all about ripping packs, alone or with some friends, flying different spots and just having fun.

Here are some action points on how you may take this further:

In no particular order, as mentioned above this is your journey and how you go about it is your own choice depending on what works for you. This is just to provide some concrete next steps if you are interested.

  • Watch YouTube videos on building and flying FPV drones
  • Find a local club and watch in person as others fly (and maybe try yourself)
  • Buy a radio transmitter and practice in a simulator (Liftoff, Velocidrone)
  • Buy a micro drone / toothpick class drone (there are some great suggestions below)
  • Buy a 5-inch mini drone

Enjoy your journey in FPV and happy flying!

If you’re curious to learn more, have a look at what’s in my FPV backpack and what’s the gear I use and the drones I fly.

Where to buy the gear?

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Need even more FPV in your life? Check out my YouTube channels:

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