You’ve likely heard of FPV drone racing, the high speed, and incredibly thrilling sport of racing small FPV drones around an obstacle course with a handful of other competitors. These events have gained massive popularity and international visibility. There were even events such as the World Drone Prix in which a $1,000,000 was up for grabs! It’s an incredibly innovative and thrilling sport, and it’s catching on like wildfire, but what about the rebel thrill seeking acrobatic show-off’s? Not everyone wants the structure, community, or publicity of formal drone racing circuits. That’s where the illusive FPV Drone Freestyle underground circuit born.
FPV Freestyle, unlike the more structured FPV racing, is really a free for all for drone enthusiasts who want to have an insane amount of flexibility. These special breeds of drone pilots are the pioneers and explorers of the industry. They have no interest in fancy competitions; they’re interested in pushing the envelope and making the incredible and the impossible, possible. Although FPV freestyle can be organized in groups, typically no more than one or two pilots will engage in freestyle flight at a time.
As mentioned above, they have no interest in the racetrack, so where exactly do they fly? In typical rebel fashion, FPV freestylers chase excitement, you’ll often find them in underground parking garages, out in a dense forest, under a bridge, or anywhere they can find unique structures to fly in or around. Continuing to differentiate from the typical FPV racers, freestylers don’t fly in circles with the goal of being faster than their competitor. They fly in completely erratic patterns with the sole intent of undergoing impressive flight maneuvers, flips, rolls, dives, spins, etc. A quick YouTube search will reveal a library of impressive and stomach turning maneuvers that really are quite impressive. Let’s get into some more detail for those of you interested in getting involved.
What Size of quadcopter (drone) is used?
By far the most popular drone used in Freestyle is the 210 class like the Gorilla Wing QAV-X or QAV210. These drones are about 210mm diagonally from motor to motor, and feature 4 brushless motors. Weights vary but the lighter the better. The 210 class is also the most popular class for FPV racing, so even if you start in freestyle, you’ll be able to easily transition into formal racing with the same drone.
What Style of frame?
The frames used in FPV drone freestyle are all really quite similar. As mentioned they are usually the quad copter configuration featuring 4 motors, 1 FPV camera, and sometimes a secondary action camera for recording. A good frame should be made of lightweight carbon fiber, but some of the cheaper models are constructed of high durability plastic. Another important features of freestyle and racing drones alike is the pitch of the brushless motors. The two motors at the back of the aircraft are sometimes pitched forward; some at steeper angles than others. This will increase top speed result in a very aggressive response.
Skills that impress!
When it comes to freestyle there really are no rules. You simply have to twist, roll, flip, and dive in the most impressive way possible. A common maneuver is a nose-dive, which is where the pilot spirals the quad towards the ground only to recover at the last second. This is more difficult than it seems, as drones can reach 80 miles per hour on the way down! The pilot and crowd are kept on edge, as neither are sure the drone will recover in time. It’s an edge-of-your-seat maneuver that’s sure to impress friends and judges alike. But at the end of the day it comes down to creativity, if you’re flying a in a parking lot for example, a roll between two parking spaces, or flip over a drain pipe, would be a stunning maneuver for all who witness. It’s freestyle after all, keep it fresh and push your aircraft right to the edge.
Respect will ultimately come from pushing the boundaries of your aircraft. But it’s not just as simple as pulling off some crazy maneuvers, it’s about consistency. Anyone can get lucky and pull of a daring backflip or nose-dive once, but the pilots that successfully repeat this over and over gain massive respect from friends, judges, and the community. It will all come down to getting as much stick time as possible. To get to the pro level you’re going to have to spend thousands of hours on the sticks. Get outside every day and fly, challenging yourself more than the last, and soon you’ll be flying with the best pilots. Don’t forget to record your adventure and share it with the world, it’s a growing community and everyone is looking for the next star.
Skillsets required to be successful
Ultimately drone FPV freestyle is not an activity for everyone. It takes a special kind of pilot who not only knows how to fly incredibly well, but who is willing to put hundreds of dollars, and many hours of building his or her drone on the line with each flight. Knowing that at any moment their drone can come crashing straight into the ground or a concrete pillar, shattering into pieces. But most importantly, they need to have an incredible reaction time. In this type of flying, things happen fast, really fast, and if you’re not capable of making split second decisions almost instinctively, you’re going to have a hard time.
It's best you start small, and learn to fly on the slowest 210 class drone you can find. Practice avoiding obstacles and recovering from a nose dive before you even consider a high-end racer capable of blistering speeds. You’ll also need a wealth of experience working with drone technology; you should be able to fully build a 210 class drone before you even begin flying. This is because no matter how carefully you fly, how slow you maneuver, or how good you think your piloting skills are, you will crash - it’s simply unavoidable.
Being that the industry is so new, you’ll likely have a hard time finding someone to repair your drone. There are online Facebook communities such as FPV Drone Racing that can help you get unstuck trying to repair it yourself with no experience. Don’t let this discourage you from continuing in the hobby. So the best advice is build your own drone, join our online community, and ask a lot of questions right from the start. Get lots of stick time and have fun!