If you thought drones were only used to shoot cinematic aerial video or cause havoc at airports, think again. FPV drone racing (first-person view) has become one of the fastest growing and most exciting sports in tech. And the good news? Anyone can do it.
Drone racing is like immersing yourself in a real-life video game. Pilots fly purpose built racing drones – complete with a front-loaded camera that beams a live feed direct to FPV goggles – at up to 80mph around custom courses featuring obstacles on every axis. Yes, it’s as crazy and exciting as it sounds.
With the emergence of the mighty Drone Racing League (DRL), drone racing has become a huge draw and even a career path for the most skilled pilots. With prize packages of upwards of $1million, no wonder so many people are getting into it.
The Drone Racing League even produces its own racing drones, the latest of which, the DRL Racer4, is currently live on Kickstarter for $599. The DRL Racer4 high-speed FPV drone can accelerate from 0 - 90 MPH in under a second!
Whether you’re a beginner or pro pilot, you’ll find ample drone racing kit to suit your needs. Before you take to the skies, let’s take a closer look at the sport…
Getting started with drone racing
If you’ve flown a camera drone like the DJI Mavic Air or Parrot Anafi, you should be familiar with basic racing drone controls. However, unlike camera drones, FPV racers don’t stay in the air when you release the controls.
It’s therefore worth mastering the art of hovering before progressing to more technical moves and racing. Piloting a racing drone is incredibly satisfying once you’ve nailed it, but be prepared to crash a lot as you learn.
The ‘on-board’ perspective of first-person flying can be disorientating at first, but it’s the best way to control your drone and pull off more advanced maneuvers. When starting out, some pilots choose to learn the basics via a standalone monitor before strapping on a pair FPV goggles.
Before you take to the skies for real, learn the basics in a free drone racing simulator like VelociDrone or the DRL’s Sim 3 for PC/Mac. Both can be controlled using traditional drone transmitters, or even your Xbox or PS4 controller.
Away from the bright lights of the DRL, drone racing is an addictive hobby. There are plenty of clubs and venues springing up where you can race safely and pick up tips from fellow pilots. To find clubs near you in the UK, try FPVUK and the British Drone Racing Association, or visit the International Drone Racing Association for global events.
Choosing the best racing drone for you
Racing drones come in many guises, but all comprise the following: a frame, four motors, Electronic Speed Controllers (ESCs) and propellers, a flight controller, video and controller transmitter/receiver, antennas and an on-board camera. The only other kit you’ll need to start flying is a controller and FPV goggles or monitor.
Many experienced pilots go down the DIY route, building their own racing drone with optimised power and performance, before choosing specific goggles and a controller that meets their needs. If that isn’t your bag, you can also buy pro racing drones as ready-made kits.
There are plenty of Ready To Fly bundles available for beginner to intermediate pilots. These usually include a drone, controller and goggles in one package. These types of racing drones won’t be as quick or as nimble as the top tier models, but they’ll help you get airborne and start entering races.
The best racing drones and drone racing kit to buy
The Vortex 250 Pro is our top pick for the best racing drone. It was designed in conjunction with pro pilots and, as a result, is one of the most agile, powerful and race-tuned FPV drones on the grid. Add your battery, controller and FPV goggles of choice and you’re ready to race.
Under the hood is a state-of-the-art F3 Flight Controller, delivering superior processing power for optimum aerial performance. Punchy 2204-2300kV custom motors and 20A ESCs drive plenty of thrust to tackle challenging courses.
For the FPV live feed the Vortex 250 comes complete with a tiltable, vibration-free camera mount housing a 700TVL CMOS v2 camera that has been tuned specifically for racing. The camera is unphased by transitions between light and dark sections of a course, ensuring your view is never compromised. The drone also comes with an optional GoPro mount.
Crashing whilst drone racing is inevitable, but the Vortex 250 is one tough cookie. The twill-weave custom-injected Carbon Fiber frame and 4mm carbon fibre arms ensure the drone can take plenty of knocks in tight corners, while skid plates protect the belly from ground contact.
If you’re not ready to take the reins of a larger racing drone, the Rodeo’s 148mm length and compact form make it easier to handle, whilst offering plenty of aerial agility once you’re ready to perform more complex moves.
The package includes a 2S/850mAh battery pack for up to 8 minutes of flight time, and the drone’s enclosed modular design helps protect circuitry and other components from high speed impacts.
In the box you’ll find a Devo 7 7 Channel 2.4 Ghz controller, ensuring the Racing Rodeo is ready to rock straight away. The Devo 7 not only offers smooth, precise flying thanks to quad-bearing control sticks, it can also be customised for individual pilot feel.
The Devo 7 works in conjunction with a powerful F3 flight controller for responsive flight. Four smooth brushless motors make light work of tricky manoeuvres, whether you’re flying inverted or performing loops.
An HD camera sits on the drone’s nose. The 5.8GHz image transmitter is the nerve centre for beaming the camera’s live view to your FPV goggles without any lag. Goggles aren’t bundled with this drone, but they’re easy to connect once you’ve found your perfect pair.
The Hubsan H122D X4 Storm Advanced bundles a nimble drone with a controller, plus a standalone FPV monitor that can be housed within supplied goggles.
Just shy of 10cm in length, the drone looks and flies like a grown-up racer, but in a much smaller package, making it easy to control. This also makes it a great tool for learning the ropes.
On the nose is a 720p camera, which beams a first-person live view to the supplied LCD HS001 monitor via a 5.8GHz transmitter. The monitor also supports SD card recording of your flights so you can create your own edits and share your aerial exploits.
The HS001 can be mounted directly to the controller, or for truly immersive FPV flying the monitor slips neatly inside the supplied goggles.
The Hubsan is about average in the power stakes, the 7.6V 710mAh Li-Po battery delivering around six minutes in the air per charge. That’s not the longest flight, but it’s more than enough for most races.
If you’re a drone racing newbie, the Air Hogs DR1 FPV Race Drone package offers everything you’ll need to get airborne and start ripping.
FPV is achieved by downloading the Air Hogs companion app to your smartphone and slotting the device into the supplied headset. Footage from the drone’s prominent front-facing camera is streamed straight to the phone, putting you in the pilot’s seat.
The drone itself is slightly bigger than palm-sized. It’s lightweight and comes with propeller guards to ensure neither the drone or pilot is damaged during flight.
This is one feisty little quadcopter, capable of performing barrel rolls, sharp turns and more – all essential maneuvers to master before you start drone racing for real. In the meantime, sharpen your skills by setting up race tracks at home and going head-to-head with your buddies.
If you’re a custom racing drone builder, or you’ve bought a standalone racing drone, you’ll need FPV goggles to enjoy the genuine immersive experience and ultimately gain better control of your drone during races.
Fat Shark headsets are ubiquitous on the pro scene because of their quality, comfort and reliability. The new HDO goggles are the first to utilise OLED display tech (resolution of 960x720). The result is a clearer picture, more vivid colours and higher contrast, ideal for changing light conditions.
In addition, the HDOs come equipped with a higher power module bay than their predecessors to accommodate modern, power hungry receivers, so you can be confident they’ll go the distance.
The FrSky Taranis Q X7 has been the transmitter of choice for drone pilots and RC hobbyists for a long time thanks to its supremely smooth control, host of programmable switches and useful haptic feedback system. The upgraded Taranis Q X7S is fast becoming the new favourite.
When it comes to controller feel, the Q X7S has been supercharged with upgraded ball bearing hall sensor M7 gimbals, ensuring controller input is slick and responsive.
The Q X7S also houses a MicroSD card slot for boosting memory. There’s also a USB port for firmware upgrades and for connecting to a PC to delve deeper into settings.
One of the best features is that the Q X7S can be used as a wireless trainer system alongside a second Taranis handset, so that control can be passed between trainer and rookie pilots.
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Even if you don’t live near a drone racing club it’s still possible to bag some practice in the garden or local park (as long as you have plenty of space and you’re flying safely, obviously). How? With this set of gates and obstacles designed specifically for FPV drone racing.
Set up custom courses using the supplied ring gates, checkered flag gate, pylon gate and arrows, all to help you master key moves and get race ready.
Think you’ve got it nailed? Invite your mates over and have your own drone racing time trial party. The loser packs away the gates.
If you’re regularly attending races or heading out into the field to fly, you’ll need a comfy and robust bag to cart your drone gear around. The Torvol Quad Pitstop Backpack Pro features modular internal sections which can be tailored to your specific storage needs.
The pack is capable of housing up to four racing drones, including two attached to external straps. There’s also a pocket for a 15-inch laptop.
Inside, Torvol’s unique Cleanseat attachment folds out, providing a place to kneel or sit when working on your drone, while the magnetic Magnetcase pocket prevents the loss of vital components and tools.