What Is FPV Drone?
The advent of the FPV drone was only possible when radio control manufacturers started R&D on small size yet powerful brushless motors, light yet strong carbon fiber frames, mini electronic speed controllers, mini flight controllers, and a battery capable enough to carry all of the drones with speed in miles per hour. Basically, it was a game of weight reduction in conventional radio control components. FPV drones are surely a breakthrough in the radio control hobby. This is because the hobby that was being practiced since 1938, when the world’s first radio control airplane left the ground, has one new trend. FPV racing drones are surely attention-catching. They are known for their aerobatics, freestyle, and racing flying abilities.
What’s So Cool About FPV?
The first-person view is a hobby that is trending for the last decade. It has given many people the freedom to experience flight in their comfort zones. FPV hobby teaches problem-solving, technical skills and enhances innovative thinking. FPV started only as flying drones but recently, it has proved to be a magnificent tool for cinematography. Shooting waterfalls in mountains were not done before like as an FPV drone did. A skier skiing in the mountains and an FPV drone chasing the skier. A drift car on a track drifting and an FPV drone is chasing the car. Hence it is being used in many ways as a photography tool.
Things To Note When Flying FPV Drone
Before we talk about making FPV drones there are some considerations to think upon. FPV being a great hobby comes along with great responsibility. There are some certain skills to start with. Rest, it will be polished as you are in the hobby for a long time. We will emphasize training for FPV as it is an essential part of the hobby. Remember, it comes with responsibility and you would not want to damage people, animals, and people’s belongings around you. We would talk about the rules, regulations, and safety aspects related to FPV drones. Then we would discuss the technical part that is what parts, tools, the software you would need to make a drone of your own. Lastly, we would go through the process of making one.
Train Before Flying FPV Drone
See training simulators below. Just like you are not eligible to do certain things without training, FPV also is a thing that you cannot proceed with proper training. The purpose of this part of the article is to emphasize what training has to do with FPV and how it impacts your flying abilities.
Some of you reading this article might have flown RC airplanes or non-FPV drones. An FPV drone flies in ACRO mode or freestyle mode. This is a mode in which a drone doesn’t center itself rather it starts to fly in a direction it is given input in. If a newbie trains himself/herself on a simulator, it would be a little easy on the first real FPV flight. We have gathered some popular and good FPV drone simulators. The good thing about these simulators is they can be connected with your real radio control so that you have the same hands feel when flying either on a simulator or a real FPV drone. Some of the simulators we recommend:
Another popular simulator that is available on steam.
If you don’t want to buy a simulator from steam, we got your back.
FPV Freerider is another simulator available for download. You can download the demo version for free. Don’t worry, the demo doesn’t expire. It just prompts you to buy the full version. The full version costs few bucks which makes it an ideal low-cost option.
Rules, Regulations, and Safety
Rules and regulations should be on priority when flying FPV drones. You shouldn’t put anyone or yourself in jeopardy. You must be aware of all the local laws related to unmanned vehicles in your country. You must go through all clauses that require any mandatory changes to your drone. You must fly below the permitted height and allowed places. Since FPV drones can fly beyond the visual line of sight there are some safety concerns that should be addressed.
If you are from the UK, the CAA has set an altitude limit of 1000 feet AGL for drones weighing up to 3.5 kg. If you are from the USA, the FAA is preparing a policy on the use of FPV drones. So far it is unclear but sooner or later, the ruling policy will be announced soon. Canadian government’s authority MAAC allows the FPV pilots to only fly the drone in visual line of sight distance. If you are from Australia, the new policy is under review. Hence it is very important to keep all laws in mind before flying FPV drones.
FPV hobby requires a moderate level of skills. It doesn’t require you to be a professional engineer but it surely requires some mid-level skills to assemble and operate drones. FPV drones require soldering skills, some electronic skills, knowledge of different kinds of battery types, knowledge of radio control technology, and video transmission technology. It would also require you to learn how to flash firmware in radio control systems, flight controllers, and electronic speed controllers. The FPV hobby equipment is improving day by day so you will also need to see what would work the best for you.
If you don’t have good skills or you are afraid to try out, you might want to consider some practice before you start making your own drone. For example, if you are not good at soldering, some FPV hobby stores sell practice soldering boards so you can practice on those boards and try to improve your soldering. This is one as shown below.
Before starting out, you must read each component product manual so you have an idea about the equipment you are using. Youtube has plenty of resources to get knowledge on FPV drones, radio transmitters, video transmitters, motors, flight controllers, electronic speed controllers, batteries, and FPV accessories. Let’s look at a parts list that represents general items installed in an FPV drone.
An FPV drone is a combination of several parts. The good thing about these parts is you can buy each and individual part and you can upgrade parts as you desire. They are all cross-compatible when it comes to compatibility. The parts are simple to understand. Let’s have a look at the parts.
- The Frame (usually made of carbon fiber)
- Brushless motors
- Electronic speed controller
- Flight controller
- FPV camera
- Video Transmitter
- Lithium Polymer Battery
- GoPro (optional if you record your FPV flights in 4k)
- Radio control and receiver
- FPV Goggles
- High gain antennas
- Long-range radio modules (optional if you go for cinematography or long-range flights)
Tools are very vital when it comes to FPV hobbies. You must get a good set of tools to work on drones. These drones can be costly and you wouldn’t want a cheap tool to ruin all your hard work and costly component. For example, a bad soldering iron can ruin a costly flight controller. So make sure you get the finest of all. You don’t want to go cheap on tools. These are one-time investments that you need to make for you to enjoy your hobby.
- Soldering Iron station: this is the most important tool in the whole tool arsenal. You can’t build a drone without this. So investing in a good soldering iron is a must.
- Heat gun: a heat gun will make some things easier for you. It would help in shrinking heat sleeves or help you repair plastic that needs spontaneous heat.
- A set of hex drivers and screwdrivers: a set of hex drivers is another important tool to have. All FPV drone kits come with hex head nuts so you will need hex drivers. Usually, they come in 1.5mm, 2mm, 2.5mm, 3mm sizes, because these are the sizes, used most in drone building.
- A set of pliers, nippers, and cutters: a set of pliers, nippers, and cutters is required to cut wires or bend parts.
- Hobby knife: a hobby knife saves time in cutting delicate parts. You will understand if someday you want to repair an antenna yourself.
- A multimeter or AVO meter: working with batteries and electronics means you need a multimeter to check certain things like voltage, ground connections, continuity between two points.
- Helping hands: things can get hot when soldering. Get a set of helping hands with an optical glass on top to solder with no handling problems.
- Tweezers: a set of tweezers can help you in holding wires while soldering. Things can get congested when soldering a flight controller.
- Weighing Scale: this isn’t essential but a useful tool to have. A weighing machine can help in reducing the weight of your drone. You have to keep your drone less weighing as possible so that you don’t have motors drawing too much current to lift the drone. The current draw has a direct impact on drone flight time.
- Hot Glue gun: a hot glue gun is another useful tool to have. Hot glue can help you in organizing or seal up any gaps.
- Set of files: you might need these someday to modify your frame parts.
- Wrench tool: a wrench tool would help in tightening your propellers to motors.
Read Also: Best FPV Antenna for Drones
The software you will be using while making drones are:
- Betaflight flight configurator. The Betaflight configurator is your flight controller’s firmware flashing and calibration software. It is also used to upgrade your flight controller firmware. The software is easy to use and it takes you through the setup wizard step by step.
- BLheli Suite. BLheli suite is software to flash the firmware on your electronic speed controllers. The new generation of electronic speed controllers is firmware based that uses a communication protocol rather than a PWM signal. This software configures the ESC and is used to set the rotation direction of motors.
- Open TX Companion (if you are using an open TX-based transmitterOpen TX companion is a software to flash/update firmware on your radio transmitter. Along with that you can copy save flight models on your radio transmitter.
Cost to Consider
An FPV drone can be costly to make. But there are options in certain components that can save you costs. An estimated cost is anywhere between $400 to $600. As a beginner or newbie, it’s not wise to invest in costly parts. You can cut your budget on some parts. Some parts are recommended not to get off low price. Pricey components do have reliability but the purpose is to have fun and enjoy a flight. After you have confidence in flying a drone you can then invest in the highest quality parts to experience quality flight. Initially, you are not looking for a pricey build since you might crash several times during learning.
Steps to Make an FPV Drone
Now we would take a look at how an FPV drone is made using all the parts listed above. The parts shown in this guide are different than the ones listed above but there is only a difference in prices in these parts. The parts we will show you in this guide are very low-cost parts and are recommended to start with for the sake of simplicity and cost-effectiveness. Please follow the UAVFutures Youtube channel video below. Keep in mind that $99 is only for drone parts. You would need your radio transmitter, FPV goggles, and batteries to complete the build.
Last but not the least, install your propellers to complete the drone build. This was one part of the drone assembly that you will do. The other part is now firmware flashing, configuration and calibration of the flight controller, assignment of switches on your radio transmitter, and assigning of frequency to your video transmitter. We will overview these aspects.
Download Betaflight flight configurator or add a chrome extension to your PC. Connect your drone with your PC via a USB cable port on your flight controller. You can then choose your board’s name and the firmware version you want to flash. Always find before what version other pilots are using. This is because this is open source software and it improves in several iterations.
Flight Controller Configuration and Remaining Setup
The first screen is to calibrate your accelerometer. place your drone on a flat surface making sure it’s flat to the ground surface and then click calibrate accelerometer.
This screen is used to assign UART ports on the flight controller. A UART port is used for communication with the USB interface and your RC receiver. We can see the first port is for USB and the last is for Serial Rx which s for RC receiver.
This screen tells you what configuration your drone is. 98% of drones are in X configuration. Meaning you have 4 motors on your drone. There are also tri copters, hexacopters, octocopters. On the right side, you can select your appropriate ESC protocol. Most of ESC are Dshot protocol. Check with your manufacturer. Calibrate and flash BLHeli firmware to ESC when you finish configuring the flight controller.
This screen is to calibrate battery voltage and current. These values are then displayed on the OSD of your FPV goggles.
The PID tuning tab is one of the tabs that advanced pilots use a lot. As a beginner, we recommend you go for default PID values. They work fine.
This tab is to verify the RC receiver input to the flight controller. When you move your sticks on your transmitter, you will see these bars moving.
This tab is used to assign flight modes and commands pilots want to enable/disable from their transmitter. In the above scenario, we can see an ARM mode. This is a safety mode which means your motors would only power up when you flip the assigned switch on your RC transmitter. The second mode is ANGLE OR ACRO mode. As a beginner, you can use ANGLE mode when landing your quad. But as time passes, you would be able to land in ACRO mode too.
This tab is used to check the RPM and rotation direction of your motors. Connect the battery and remove the propellers from your motors. Then use this tab to verify motor operation.
The final tab is the OSD tab. This tab allows you to set information to be displayed on your FPV goggles during flight. It’s essential because OSD can tell battery voltage, RSSI range, current drawn, and arm/disarm information.
With that said, the guide to FPV drone is complete. As for the RC transmitter and video transmitter, every pilot prefers a different kind of equipment. The above-explained process and parts are generic so they could be guided. The RC transmitter and video transmitter are really up to personal choice. Some people use OPEN TX-based radios while others want them cheap so they go for normal transmitters. Similarly, video transmitters come in different ranges and power. Some of them require firmware update so that too is a personal choice of the pilot. This guide has covered FPV drones briefly on which you can rely upon and search for the best setup suitable for you.
Last update on 2023-01-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API