How to get started drone racing

So you’re in the high-octane world of drone racing? Get ready to buckle up for a thrilling ride. This guide will take you through the initial steps to become a drone racing pilot and teach you everything you need to know to get started drone racing.

While the pros are generally making custom-built drones, it’s easy to get started with ready to fly drones (including those first-person-view FPV goggles) for under $500 before you commit to your own build. If you can’t decide between a racing drone and a camera drone, these days you don’t have to choose. Drones like the Avata, and it’s new-and-improved successor, the Avata 2, make it easy to have a UAV good for both drone racing and taking killer imagery.

Gear you need

When it comes to gear needed for drone racing, there’s high variability. That includes a range of budgets, as well as a range of how much you’re willing to customize (and how much you’re willing to build yourself). The more you’re willing to build yourself, the more of a custom product you’ll get — and the more money you’ll save.

In general, all FPV drone racers need three items:

  • An RC transmitter
  • FPV goggles
  • The drone itself

Of course, you’ll need more than that. There are the chargers, the microSD cards, and all the other accessories you need. But those three items — RC transmitter, goggles and drone — together are the bread and butter of FPV drone racing.

For an affordable racing drone under $500: Blade Nano QX2 with Fat Shark goggles

In the video above, I demonstrate how to get into drone racing without doing any sort of building it yourself. No soldering, no coding, etc. You do need to bind the products to each other since they don’t come from the same manufacturer, but it’s a relatively straightforward process that takes minimal technical no-how. Here’s what I’m using in that video:

Drone: Blade Nano QX2 FPV BNF

Transmitter: You’ll need your own DSMX transmitter. I used the Spektrum 1000 DXe Transmitter System which worked out great and was easy to bind.

Headset: I used the Teleporter V4, which was developed by Fat Shark exclusively for Horizon Hobby.

You charge the drone’s battery through a USB port and the Fat Sharks through a wall outlet. Then, you bind the transmitter to the drone — a quick process of waiting for lights to blink, then pressing the “bind” button while turning on the receiver. Then, since the drone is headset ready, you just power on the Fat Sharks, find the channel your drone is on (up to seven 5.8GHz FPV systems can be flown at one time), and you’re good to go.

For an easy-to-fly setup that also takes amazing photos: Avata 2

Sally French flies the DJI Avata 2 racing drone.

The DJI Avata 2 drone doubles up as not just an amazing FPV racing drone, but a great camera drone. It offers Cinewhoop-style drone racing in a ready-to-fly (and easy-to-fly) package.

Of any FPV drone out there under $1,000, the Avata 2 offers the highest-quality camera. It’s a 1/1.3-inch CMOS Super-Wide-Angle 12MP camera. Here are some other key Avata 2 camera specs:

  • The lens: This ultra-wide-angle lens offers a viewing angle of up to 155°
  • Image quality: 4k/60fps, as well as slow-motion footage at 2.7K/120fps.
  • Color quality: 10-bit D-Log M Color Mode offers richer detail in highlights and shadows, which can be brought out in post-production and streamlined color grading

It’s all incredibly stable too. Check out how sleek this shot of my back patio looks:

Okay, now sure, that’s a steady, smooth video – almost like the type of drone a real estate agent would use to show off a home for sale. But you want to go wild with your shots, and shoot those epic Acro or racing style shots! Read on to learn how to get good at flying FPV.

How to practice flying FPV

  • While typically I would recommend you fly drones outdoors to be as safe as possible, this one is definitely better of flying indoors.
  • The prop guards will protect your walls from scratches and the  drone is light enough that even if you feel like you’re going to crash, you can drop it to the ground and it won’t damage the drone.
  • Flying indoors also means not having to worry about weather (even slight wind can make a difference), as well as following FAA rules.

What about drone simulators?

Maybe you just want to practice in a safe, virtual environment before you unleash your drone in the real world. Or perhaps you just want to get some practice time in and sitting at a computer is more realistic than setting up a physical drone. Either way, drone simulators can help you hone your skills.

The best drone simulators include DRL SIM, which costs only about $10 and is made by the folks at Drone Racing League. Yes, the largest league of drone racers in the U.S. It works on PlayStation, Xbox, Steam, and the Epic Games store.

If you want to have a career in drones, consider the Zephyr Drone Simulator. Designed with high-level users in mind including higher education, public safety entities, businesses and even the United States Air Force, Zephyr is geared toward industrial applications. It offers realistic flight modes designed to emulate popular drones like the DJI Mavic Pro and Autel X-Star on the consumer end. It even mimics powerful enterprise products like the DJI Matrice or Freefly Alta X on the enterprise end.

And if you’re DJI through and through, DJI has something for you. DJI built a free simulator called DJI Try Virtual Flight. It’s available in the Google Play and Apple App stores and works with your smartphone and tablets. Since it’s free, there’s not a lot to lose in trying it out.

Tips to get started drone racing

Once you’re a confident virtual pilot, dive into your real-life drone. Here’s a breakdown of the key components. Here are some tips to get started drone racing.

  • Make obstacle courses for yourself. It can be as simple as flying between your door frame, from one room to another. Then upgrade the obstacles — maybe it’s flying underneath the legs of a table, or if you’re feeling advanced, the legs of your chair.
  • Plan out your route ahead of time. You may not have a fancy, LED-lit racetrack in your house, but you can plan a “track” to follow
  • Make sure your goggles are secure. They should be loose enough that you don’t feel like they’ll give you a headache, but tight enough that you can move your head freely.
  • No flying in reverse! This may seem obvious, but it’s worth saying. Unless you’re a pro, keep the camera only in front of the drone, so keep flying forwards at all time.
  • Bring a spotter. This is not as necessary indoors, but if you do head outdoors — always bring a spotter so you’re aware of your surroundings while the goggles are on. Yes, it’s actually the law.

And finally, don’t overlook the power of community and in-person meetups. I’ve found the drone racing community to be welcoming and supportive. Sure, look for online forums. But don’t overlook local clubs, or events to connect with other racers. Often Facebook searches or Eventbrite postigns can help you find local racing groups.

There, you’ll gain valuable knowledge, share experiences, and find opportunities to participate in races as you develop your skills.

How do you recommend folks get started drone racing? Leave a comment below! And with that, happy flying!

3 Comments

  • Hushel says:

    That’s a pretty good and cheap setup for a first timer flyer. One thing to keep in mind for first time flyers is that the resolution is 320 X 240. So, you aren’t going to have HD. However, upgrading to HD goggles can put you in the $500 price range. So
    maybe start with these, and sell them on ebay if you want to upgrade later. Also, video in the 5.8 range is great to prevent interference with other channels and faster data rate. But 2.4 is better for longer distances and transmission through objects. Good post!

  • Wingsland says:

    Very nice information for first time flyers

  • Chester Richardsom – Chester Richardson is a freelance web designer and tech enthusiast who has been designing websites for over 10 years. I run a tech review blog, The Gadget Reviews, which focusses on reviewing the best smart home appliances. I am a father to two beautiful girls and a husband to a lovely lady. We also have two dogs and one cat. Let’s connect through my site or socials.
    Voxy says:

    A good guide for starters who want to get into FPV drone racing. You should do a feature for finding the best racing drone for beginners. Maybe those that aren’t too fast to cause collisions and damage within minutes of practice.

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