Never been to a drone race? Plan on entering one? You’re in the right place. Here are five tips about going to a drone race. Whether you’re a first-timer or seasoned racer, these will all apply.
Continuing the focus on racing this week, today we’re talking about some things you should know about if you’re just getting into all of it. These came to mind while I was at the race event last weekend. Race events are organized differently depending on where you’re from so some of these things might seem trivial or not apply to races in other places, but some will be universal. I’ve got a few more tips in mind that apply to the intermediate racer, but we’ll talk about those next time.
If you’d like to read up about that race and see what it looked like firsthand, you can do that here. Without further ado:
1. Use a good, clean VTX setup
Don’t use cheap VTXs if you want to race. This is the most important one for beginners – to the extent that most races put a requirement on it. The problem with the cheap ones is that they spray all over the frequency band and mess up other racers video feeds. Avoid the ones with huge SMA connectors sticking out the back, and the ones that don’t support Smartaudio or Tramp. For a racing quad you should avoid SMA antennas altogether and use their smaller MMCX or even better U.FL versions.
- What I recommend is the $30 and up range like the TBS Unify Pro HV 5G8 – Race paired with a TBS Triumph Pro U.FL. Need something smaller? There’s the TBS Unify Pro 5G8 V3 (SMA), implying that you replace the U.FL to SMA pigtail with a U.FL antenna. What’s nice about the TBS ones is they work well if you’re using Crossfire or Tracer. This saves you a lot of headaches when it comes to setting up Smartaudio. You just solder the VTX Smartaudio wire directly to the Nano RX of your choice. And then you can change your VTX settings on your radio using TBS Agent Lite or with the screen on the back of the Crossfire LITE module if that’s the one you happen to be using. Or even directly on your goggles if you’re using a TBS Fusion receiver module.
- If you’re using ImmersionRC Ghost, a good choice of VTX is the tried and true Tramp Nano. Disclaimer: I haven’t tried Ghost or Tracer, I’ve only ever flown on Crossfire, so I’m not a 100% sure on how it works, but Ghost should have a way to change the VTX settings.
But why is Smartaudio/Tramp a must? Because the classic way to change VTX settings is to wire it to the FC, using up a UART port, then having to set it up on the FC (VTX tables?
2. Prep your quad(s) well
It’s a good idea to bring at least two quads with you to a race. But even if you’ve only got the one, here’s a checklist you should stick to. The first two are checked at the race anyway, so to save time and in field repairs, it’s best that you do them at home.
- Before any quad is allowed to race, it has to go through the failsafe and VTX power level check. With props off, you arm the quad and turn off the radio. When you do this, the motors have to stop spinning.
- Have your VTX power set to 25mw, and like we mentioned, use a good VTX. If you’ve already got a nice one with Smartaudio set up right, then you should already be at 25mw with props off when you show up.
- Don’t bring a fresh build to a race. Make sure you’ve flown it before and you how it behaves. No hidden kinks that pop up come race day.
- Don’t over-tune your quads PIDs if you’re not familiar with how PID tuning works. It can be dangerous if you hit a gate or tap the ground. That gyro input could mess up the PID loop and have your quad throttle up and effectively lose control, forcing you to disarm. If you do mess with your PIDs, make sure to include some bumps and crashes when you’re tuning it.
- Make sure all your cables and pin connectors are solid. So this doesn’t happen to you.
3. Bring a chair and the essentials
I mean this quite literally. Essentials include: folding camping chair, extension cable (you never know the electricity situation until you get to the race), charger, tools, spare props. Two folding chairs and a foldable table if you’re a baller. Some chow, some water, and a good attitude! Whatever you forget to bring, chances are somebody else brought one, and we’re all friends at a race after all. Don’t be afraid to ask for whatever it is you’re missing.
4. Don’t stand too close
Safety first, don’t forget these things can cause serious injury. It’s good practice to keep an eye on the track when you’ve got quads flying. Especially later in the race when you have the fastest pilots grouped together. Just in case one starts crashing out or spinning out of control toward you.
Depending on the track, unless it’s set up out in a big open field, there’s usually a fence or a net covering the people area at the event. But even then, it’s a good idea to stand well back from the net in case the following happens:
Luckily the netting caught the quad, but it still tapped the pilot standing closest to the net on the goggles. He was the one flying this particular quad and he didn’t even flinch. Take care in turns if it’s near the edge of the track. It’s better to disarm early than to have the quad bump into something and go out of control and possibly hurt someone. This is also why I suggested test crashing your quads. To make sure they wont throttle up when bumping into something and going out of control.
5. Take it easy
Unless you’re in the big leagues, don’t get too competitive. After all you’re there to have fun. Go slow in the practice rounds, watch other people fly the track, figure it out. Don’t get caught up in who gets the fastest lap time and try to beat it. It’s more important to practice consistency than speed. What saves you the most time is doing all the obstacles right on the first pass for all three laps. Rather than having a really fast lap but messing something up in the other two, go for three smooth consistent laps. Go slow at first, find the best line that works for you, remember it and just fly that. Over the course of the race you’ll get faster and faster at that one line you’re sticking to. Look back in between heats at which obstacles you’re losing time on and focus on improving those.
Bonus tip: Spread those XT 60s
You take a small screwdriver or something and you spread the pins inside the XT60 connector on your quad. Then you can get away with finishing a race in case your battery slips out of your strap.
I hope you’ve found this article useful. If there’s something I’ve missed or anything you’d like to ask, feel free to leave a comment bellow.
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