Getting Started as an FPV Drone Pilot

Elliot Spaudie  |  02-16-2023
Getting Started as an FPV Drone Pilot

I was a little apprehensive about getting into drones at first. But being an electrical engineer, the science and technology around these machines was just too cool to resist. So I jumped right in.

I knew I needed something different — something that sets me apart from the rest of the crowd. 

And that was FPV; First-person View drone piloting.

A big draw for me diving into FPV was just that: diving. It was a perspective that I had never seen out of a camera before. I knew I had to do it. 

Build Your Own FPV Drone

As it turns out, you don’t need an electrical engineering degree to get into building FPV drones. There are plenty of resources online from the likes of Joshua Bardwell, Mr. Steele, Oscar Liang, and a plethora of others. And now, maybe a little bit from me. 

There’s a lot I could go over today about FPV drones, I’m going to try and keep it pretty basic. I’ll tell you a little bit about how I build and the resources where you can learn how to do it yourself.

Something that separates FPV drones from your typical camera drone like a DJI Mavic or an Autel EVO II, is the way these drones are controlled. Typical drones are controlled with GPS positioning, collision sensors, and spring return radio controllers. 

FPV drones on the other hand are completely reliant on the radio controller inputs they receive from the pilot. And the pilot gets all his positioning information directly from the drones First-person View (FPV) camera. Hence the name “FPV drone pilot”. 

Typical FPV Drone Components

  1. Drone Frame: This is the structure that holds all of the other components and protects the electronics during flight. $30 to $100
  2. Motors: Typically 4 but some have as many as 8 and as few as 2 or 3!
  3. Speed Controllers (ESC): These control the speed of the motors.
  4. Flight Controller: This is the brain of the drone and manages all of the flight control functions.
  5. Battery: The power station and usually heaviest single component for most builds.
  6. Cameras: One for FPV transmission to the pilot and another if you’d like a higher quality recording.
  7. Transmitter and Receiver: Your radio controller and usually a small chip on board the craft with an antenna. Most radios can be plugged into a computer and used alongside a simulator like uncrashed(seen in video) or Velocidrone. 
  8. Goggles or Screen: These provide the FPV experience by allowing you to view the live video feed from the drone’s camera.
  9. Propellers: These provide lift and propulsion for the drone.
  10. Radio Antenna: This allows for a stable and reliable connection between the transmitter and receiver.
  11. Video Transmitter (VTX): This transmits the video feed from the camera to the goggles or screen. DJI makes the one I use. It is a camera/transmitter combo.
  12. Video Antenna: This allows for a stable and reliable connection between the VTX and the goggles or screen. 

These components make up the basics of an FPV drone but there are many other accessories and upgrades that can be added to enhance the experience. 

Check out FPV Know-It-All for a complete list of tools compiled by Joshua Bardwell. He has a list of drone components and tools that you will need to start building drones. 

Getting Started

The most affordable place to buy drones is through Facebook’s FPV marketplace. Buyer discretion is advised. If you’re unsure of what you’re doing I would advise avoiding buying used, as troubleshooting used components can be a hassle when you’re new to the hobby.

Other cost effective options are starting out with a Tiny Whoop. They tend to be light enough to crash hard and keep going. 

A great Tiny Whoop kit would be to find an E max tiny Hawk. They have a ready-to-fly kit.

What I Like to Fly

The FPV drones that I use the most are my freestyle 5” quads, and my cineWhoop. The cineWhoop design is great because it has protective guards to keep you from injuring soft targets that you might be flying around. 

The cameras that I use for my FPV drones are typically the GoPro Hero 10. I like the removable lens cap. You can add things like an ND filter or just replace the lens cover when it breaks. 

On bigger drones, I like to use a Z cam M4. It’s a very affordable option to get into the box camera style. It has a very robust system and it has a locking lens mount. 

Things tend to move with a heavy drone like this. Being able to lock everything down securely and tightly is very important. 

Another box camera style that is similar to the Z cam is the RED Komodo. I was just blown away by the footage that we took here at Clockwork 9 with these cameras. 

Learning With Simulators

Personally, I use Uncrashed or Velocidrone, and a lot of my racing friends do as well. Typically, I practice flying in real life, either in my house with a Tiny Whoop. Or I’ll go to a football field or baseball field during their offseason and practice with my freestyle quads or racing quads. 

Don’t Mess with the Law!

Something I highly recommend, especially if you’re going to be pursuing business interests with your drones, is to get your part 107. Part 107 is a test given by the FAA to people to become licensed drone pilots for commercial work. 

In the Northeast Ohio area, I recommend seeking out V1DroneMedia’s instructor led drone operations course and part 107 prep classes. V1Drone Media is a knowledgeable and reputable group of flight instructors and experienced drone professionals in the Cleveland area.

The Best Time to Start is Now

I think right now is actually a great time to get into FPV. There’s a lot of updating technology. We’ve had this new digital system from DJI for a few years now and they’re starting to upgrade their system. The older analog systems are upgrading to an HD system as well. 

Three steps that I’d recommend to somebody who’s interested in getting into FPV would be first to seek out the FPV community nearest to you. Most major cities have a multiGP race group in which you can find FPV pilots that can help you along the way, sell you secondhand parts or maybe even just let you fly for the first time. 

Second step will be to follow my links for videos provided by Joshua Bardwell, Mr. Steele, and articles from Oscar Liang

Third, if you’re financially ready, you can buy a radio and a drone simulator for anywhere between $100 to $200 and $30 to $55 respectively. 

I had a blast teaching you about what I love about FPV drones. If you have any questions, feel free to shoot me a message. I’ll be sure to get back to you soon as I can. 

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