Schools of FPV: drone racing

As part of our ongoing series on different types of FPV, this week we’re looking at FPV drone racing.

Drone racing is one of the more widespread types of FPV. After all, the term “racing drone” is more common than the term quadcopter. Especially when somebody outside of the hobby attempts to describe our 5-inch FPV quads. But racing isn’t exclusive to the regular five inch. It comes in all shapes and sizes. From tiny indoor micros, all the way up to 18-inch X-class quadcopters. There’s even fixed wing FPV racing.

Since racing is a discipline of many sub disciplines (types), instead of rounding up videos, I’ll do a roundup of the various kinds of FPV drone racing. We’ll start small and work our way up.

Whoop racing

The main thing that sets whoop racing apart is the scale. This is as small as it gets and as safe as it gets. Being this small means you don’t need much space to set up a racecourse. And your racecourse can take better advantage of the space. Be it a big house, office space, warehouse, or even a bar, all you need is some tiny stick on gates, some whoops, a couple of friends, a cold one, and you’re good to go.

Tiny whoops offer a good starting point in the hobby if you’ve never owned an FPV drone. They’re great for beginners and some companies offer decent ready-to-fly kits like the BETAFPV FPV Whoop Racing Advanced Kit V2. If you already own a set of goggles and a controller, I recommend the NewBeeDrone BeeBrain Lite PMB edition or the Emax Tinyhawk 2.

Granted you can get fancy with it and have LEDs all over the place.

Outdoor micros

All of the 3″ and under, brushless motor quads. Ranging from 2S whoops and toothpicks, up to things like the TinyTrainer sort of spec. Three-inch is no joke and some argue flies better than 5-inch and I can totally get behind that as I have some experience flying 3-inch micros.

The Tiny Trainer is a cool community development and you can learn more about it in the video below. As well as see how fast it actually is on a traditional 5-inch track.

Skip to the 4:00 minute mark to see it rip.

Standard 5-inch

As we’ve mentioned, the most common type of drone racing you’ll see is the 5-inch class. These races are typically MultiGP league races and have their own tiers from rookies to pros. But what makes a 5-inch racing quads stand out compared to their freestyle counterparts? They’re built for two things and two things only. Speed and agility. Smoothness is not something racers are concerned about, as at those speeds and turns the quads are bound to shake a bit anyway, rather the focus is on handling. They’re not there to capture footage, they’re there to go through all the gates as fast as possible. Typically they’ll run 20×20 stacks and other micro-size components to save weight, combined with a smaller profile frame and bottom mount battery.

There are decent bind and flies like the Emax Hawk Sport 5-inch, but if you’d like to build one like the pros are using, FPVCompare has a pretty nifty page with the parts lists.

Spec racing

Chances are if you’re into drone racing, or not, you’ve surely heard of or seen DRL, or the European counterparts DCL and DRA on TV. That’s high-production value spec racing made for spectators.

But the idea of spec racing is simple. Everyone flies the same quad. Gear is taken out of the equation and all that’s left is pure pilot skill. We’ve mentioned the term spec racing earlier with the Tiny Trainer. That’s a 3″ quad. The ones they fly on DCL are 6″, while the infamous DRL racer 4 is a massive 1kg drone, sporting 7″ props. While the quads, gear and equipment behind all of it are impressive, you can still spec race without any of it.

I am of course talking about FPV simulators, or sims for short. In theme with the global pandemic, there haven’t been any big live events from either DRL or DCL, but that doesn’t mean they’ve ceased all together. Moving over into the digital space, both companies have their own respective simulators and are running races and tournaments on them all the time. Both DRL sim and the DCL sim are available on Steam if you’d like to get in on the online drone racing action.

The big ones

Pro class, beast class, and X-class. There’s a bunch of names thrown around, each referring to different prop sizes and flavors of the same thing. Huge quads. The biggest and most expensive kind of FPV drone racing on the grandest scale, spectator wise.

Screenshot of a DRA Pro class quadcopter

Besides the piloting skills, big drone racing is also a competition at building and setting up these behemoth quadcopters. Crashes are crazy expensive. A lot can go wrong, components aren’t as proven and the flight code isn’t as refined. Which all adds up to why we don’t see them that often.

If you end up going to an FPV drone race, here’s five things that you should know. Like what to bring, what to expect and how to prepare. As always, let me know down in the comments if there is anything I’ve left out, or if you have a suggestion for future roundups.

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