With the rise of ‘drones’, drone racing is growing all over the world. Perhaps we’ll even have a drone racing Olympics in the near future! And contrary to what most people may think, getting into it and winning a reasonable amount against your friends isn’t as hard as it may seem. In this post, we’ll cover what you need to know for getting into drone racing and some skills you will need to develop in order to win!
Learn and master how to fly
What is the first step to becoming a drone racer? Common sense : Learn how to fly! If you have been relying on flight stabilization features and GPS, turn those off and go raw. Don’t use your expensive craft though (more on that later). Start slow and cheap!
Note: Learn about how to use a drone/UAV legally and safely if you are an absolute beginner to flying.
Master different types of flight patterns and flying through obstacles
Master flying basic flight patterns. Examples being the figure 8s, the square, the bank turns and the circular flying patters. Remember – Practice in Acro mode! Master flying both nose in and tail in and in different altitudes (both low, medium and high).
Check out our guide on how to fly a quadcopter for step by step instructions on how to go from a newbie level to pro!
Once you have these skills nailed down, practice flying through obstacles. You can set these up at home and use a nano/micro sized craft or set your own obstacle course outside! You can even use natural obstacles like tree branches.
Know how to tune and calibrate your multirotor and controllers
Of course, knowing your controls is necessary before you fly but experiment with different calibrations and sensitivities on your controls for different flight experiences. Learn to adapt with different settings. You’ll need this skill later down the road when you build your own multirotor with drone racing.
Drone racing is half building/tuning and half actually flying! And both are part of the fun.
Consider a simulator
Like we’ve mentioned in our how to fly guide, use a drone simulator to compliment your training. This is especially useful during winter and other unfavourable times during the year. Use something like the Heli-X simulator.
A word of caution though: Do not completely rely on this and ignore real world flying experience. Focus your attention primarily on a real quad and only use a simulator when you are bored and/or want to stay indoors when the weather is dire outside.
Getting the right quad
Start cheap and small if you are a beginner
As mentioned earlier, if you haven’t nailed down basic flying skills, start with a nano/micro quad. You are probably going to crash a lot before you master flying and you do not want to lose an expensive craft in the process.
Cheaper quads are also great because the replacement parts for them also come cheaper. Damaged your propellers? No worries. You do not have to spend a fortune to get another craft!
You also have an option to go for either an RTF (Ready to fly, which most quads you get in the market fall into) or ARF (Almost ready to fly) or better yet, DIY build your own craft. As a beginner, if you are not keen on learning to build your craft just yet, go for the RTF. You can always learn the building/tinkering process later.
Getting and building a racing multirotor
Racing drones/multirotors are generally 250mm size. These are highly manoeuvrable, fast and agile but not too good for high altitude flying and handling heavy winds like larger cinematography quads. Though not exactly cheap, on a relative scale, racing multirotors are cheaper than their cinematography counterparts.
After you have mastered basic flying with a nano/micro quad, you can buy ready to fly (RTF) racing multirotors. But as we’ll see in the next section, you are better off learning to build your own craft!
Learn how to build and tinker, know your equipment
Learn how multirotors work
No, you do not have to know the details of mathematics and physics behind how multirotor drones work (though it’ll certainly help ). You need to however, have a general idea of how multirotors work and are put together. You need to know how the flight controller, ESCs, motors, propellers and the frame come together.
It is important to get used to programming a flight controller (This is not nearly as complicated as computer programming. Far from it), selecting the right motors, ESCs, propellers, transmitter and frame to make your own custom built multirotors.
Start with DIY kits and progress into custom builds
Best way to learn how multirotors work? Get a quadcopter kit and assemble it on your own! It is not as hard as you may think it is. You’ll need to know how to effectively solder though. A DIY kit has every component preselected for you, stripping away any worry of picking components that do not go well with each other and messing up.
Later down the road with more experience, you can search the internet for custom builds and follow the recipe or better yet, build your own custom multirotor that will fit your flying needs. This is where you’ll truly be transitioning into elite level.
Learn the basics of FPV systems
Without the use of FPV (First person View) systems, you cannot seriously partake in drone racing. Therefore, it is important to have a basic understanding of how FPV systems work. Things like channel frequency, FPV goggles/screen and antenna types are important to be familiar with.
Here is a MUST WATCH video by FliteTest:
Another great video explaining FPV systems:
If you want to pick an FPV goggle, you may also want to read our guide on how to pick one.
Join and participate in online communities, local groups and learn from others
This is HUGE. You cannot get into drone racing in isolation and you sure cannot race yourself. Join online forums and communities. Sub reddits like FPV racing is a great example. A forum like RC groups is a great way to meet people with similar interests and learn from them. You may also keep track of major racing events online.
Check if there are any FPV racing groups or events in your locality by Googling for it or asking around. Learning from others is vital, if you are new. Start by attending a few drone racing events and you’ll be amazed at how much you can learn, even if you aren’t exactly racing yet!
Improve other ancillary skills
Just because we’ve placed this section at the end of the article doesn’t mean it is least important. Athletes in competitive events don’t just train by repeating their specific skills. Instead, they also work on developing qualities that assist them in their sport. For example, sprinters don’t just train by sprinting, they spend a considerable amount of time weight training to improve their strength and power and to develop muscle fibres.
Similarly, with drone racing, though you do not need to be physically strong or explosive, you can improve three main qualities of your brain to greatly enhance your ability.
If you have sharp reflexes, you are going to go a long way in drone racing. Period. Much like competitive video gaming, the more your nervous system is trained to respond blazingly fast, the more you’ll be able to react to the fast paced nature of drone racing.
If you can get your hands on some FPS or racing video games and play them competitively, you are going to improve your reflexes overtime. There are plenty of studies that show video games enhance this quality. Simple web based games like this will also assist plenty. Moreover, it allows you to test your reflexes!
That’s not all of it. You can also improve your reflexes by performing real world exercises like the coin drop and coin catch. Martial artists use these exercises to improve their reflexes and hand-eye coordination.
Spatial awareness level is the level of awareness you have of yourself and other object in space, the 3D world around you. Much like in drone aerial photography, spatial awareness is an important quality in drone racing.
Drone racing involves getting used to FPV (first person view) and especially with the use of FPV, the drone ‘BECOMES’ you. Hence the more spatial awareness you have, the more skilled you will be in maneuvering the drone in 3D space.
Here is a decent article on how to improve spatial awareness. We’re pretty sure there are plenty more exercises that can help you with this quality. Search for them, master them and you’ll be one step forward in improving your drone racing ability!
According to Wikipedia, “Eye–hand coordination (also known as hand–eye coordination) is the coordinated control of eye movement with hand movement, and the processing of visual input to guide reaching and grasping along with the use of proprioception of the hands to guide the eyes”.
That there is one of the PRIMARY qualities you need to develop to be successful with drone racing! Here is an article that lists 4 easy drills to improve hand-eye coordination. Here is a video that lists some more exercises you can do with a partner:
Conclusion and summary
Remember: If you are an absolute beginner, start slow and start small. Master how to fly a multirotor manually, learn how multirotors work, learn how to build them and learn about FPV systems and radio. Join communities online and offline and learn from other people. Also, don’t forget to develop ancillary skills – reflexes, spatial awareness and hand-eye coordination.
And that’s it! We hope you enjoyed this guide. If you have any questions or suggestions, please contact us or drop a comment below. We’ll be sure to respond!