As you might already know from watching video clips online, piloting a quadcopter through first-person view is uniquely challenging and tons of fun. You can start small and improve, honing your skill and upgrading your hardware. It's a lot like overclocking in that way.
But before making an investment in your first multi-rotor, bear in mind that crashes are inevitable, especially as you're learning. Even experienced pilots wreck as they push boundaries and occasionally cross them. That's just a big part of the hobby, and you have to accept it. It's possible to fly carefully in a stabilized mode to minimize the damage you do over time. However, that caps a lot of the fun you'd have, in most pilots' opinions.
Getting out and flying can obviously be weather-dependent. Wind makes the hobby more stressful, increasing the chance you'll lose control of your quad. Rain should also be avoided; without significant protection, the electronics are subject to mid-air shorts.
As I mentioned, vibration is one of the multi-rotor's biggest adversaries. Minimizing this is going to involve a degree of trial and error. Vibrations originate almost exclusively at the motors and props. Fortunately, propellers can be balanced by sanding their blades to equalize their weight. You can make adjustments to the motors by adding tape to one side of the housing. Alternatively, you can isolate the cameras from vibration using dampening materials. Earplugs have proven successful in combating jello, though more specialized solutions are available as well.
There are understandable legal concerns surrounding UAVs, privacy, commercial use, and safety. All of those need to be taken into consideration as well, especially safety. Spinning blades can take a finger off on the ground, never mind a multi-rotor hurtling through the air at 30 MPH. Pilots need to do everything in their power to prevent injury or damage as an unwritten law of the hobby.
In the eyes of authorities, even more rules need to be defined. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the U.S. and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in the U.K. both require that UAVs are not flown at a distance greater than 500 meters from the operator, within 50 m of any uncontrolled person or building, or at altitudes greater than 400 feet above ground level. It is worth noting that no conviction has ever been made in the U.S. for exceeding these limits. Similar rules are in place in most countries. So long as a pilot is sensible, and they are not operating as a commercial enterprise, the likelihood of hobbyists being harried by officials is fairly insignificant.
Regulations also govern radio transmissions. Check the guidance given by your local regulator to determine the frequencies officially available to hobbyists.
The FAA recently attempted to charge one of the most infamous and respected mavericks of the hobby, Raphael Pirker (Trappy) of Team BlackSheep for commercial use of a drone and “dangerous” operation. It lost the case in a ruling that determined the FAA's laws are outdated and cannot be applied to hobby craft.
Now It's Your Turn
With the information in this article, we hope you're in a better position to consider building your own multi-rotor and piloting it with an FPV setup. Although there is a learning curve involved, that first dive is arguably the most difficult aspect to overcome. Once you're in the air, you'll see your skill improve rapidly.
As far as recommending a starting kit, there are plenty of options to choose from. For the sake of simplicity, though, investigate an ARTF or do-it-yourself mini-quad. They're typically more durable and able to withstand your early crashes. A smaller footprint translates to fun, responsive flight characteristics able to build you up to proximity forest flying. Options include the QAV 250 or the newly-released Blackout Mini H Quad, both of which are designed for racing-style flight. For a more gentle beginning, consider a slightly less compact frame, such as DJI's Flame Wheel F450.
YouTube is an excellent tool for researching the market. You'll find quality flight videos from every kind of multi-rotor. In the end, it all comes down to personal preference. You're the one making the investment; go with what you want to fly. This is a market that's growing quickly, and innovations happen regularly. Beyond simply having fun with multi-rotors, there are many other useful applications. Regardless of your motivation for getting into the hobby, FPV is a truly delightful pastime yet to be discovered by the masses.
Editor's note: Flying R/C aircraft and building rockets were two of my hobbies as a boy, so I've followed multi-rotors for some time. In fact, I have a Discovery Pro on order from TBS right now, which you'll see built up in an upcoming story.
One day, while I was browsing reddit, I ran across one of Clym's videos and started talking to him about the hobby, which led to this introductory piece. His scenic footage is embedded above.
If you'd like to learn more about multi-rotors, and the hardware and technology involved, please let us know in the comments.
Special thanks to GetFPV for providing most of the artwork in this article.
- Busting Through The Jargon
- Flight Controllers: The Processor Behind Every Multi-Rotor Flight
- Flight Controllers: OpenPilot, MultiWii, ArduPilot And More
- Frames And Arms: A Foundation For Success
- Motors And Propellers: Heavy Lifting
- Speed Controllers And Batteries
- Video Systems: Cameras And Radio Gear
- Video Systems: Antennas And Goggles
- Control Systems
- Give It A Go; You'll Love The View