I finally decided to get into FPV RC this year and it has exceeded my wildest expectations - man is it fun! I've been getting many questions on the topic, what it is, choosing equipment, how to get into it, range, and how to be successful.
Most of all, I just really wanted to give it a try myself after (reluctantly) giving up powered paragliding last year and now really missing the "birds eye view" & freedom of flight that PPG provided.
I also have to give credit where credit is due - to my good friend Kieth for giving me a gentle, yet very persuasive push to suck up my fear and apprehension to this wonderful form of RC flight.
Kieth twisted my
rubber RC arm and started me down the correct path as did a few other
"experts" in this field such as Alex Greve at Video Aerial Systems, Tim
& Dave over at Ready Made RC, and Mike at 2ZO-RC. I have also included several great video's by Alex Greve in my FPV RC articles here;
so I want
to personally thank him again for making these videos available to all
budding FPV pilots. At the bottom of this page I have also included a
couple simple FPV videos I recorded with the equipment I have to at
least demonstrate I do in fact get the performance out of it that I say
I'm by no means an FPV expert but with the help of these guys, I at least was able to put my best foot forward and avoided much of the BS along the way.
I had pretty much instant FPV success because of the hours of
research I did, along with getting help from the "pros" and keeping
my system manageable and not overly complicated.
Now it's time to give something back to those of you who also want to give FPV a go, but don't know where or how to start. I hope to give you a good starting point here in an easy to understand format. I'm going to show you what components I chose and why I decided they were the best choice based on my requirements; but please remember, we all have different needs, fly different aircraft on different frequencies, fly in different environments, and have different end goals. That all plays an impact on what FPV equipment you will end up choosing.
I feel much of what I have listed here are good components to start with for many of you, however they are not for all of you. The main reason I'm mentioning them is to show you what questions you should be asking or thinking about when choosing your particular equipment.
If there is one word
that sums up FPV (next to fun), I would have to say it's "COMPROMISE"! There is simply no one best conglomeration of FPV components for everyone or every
Please note in the title at the top of this page, I used the word "Easy(er)"... There is absolutely nothing easy about getting into FPV (at least if you want to be fairly successful with it).
Like anything in our hobby, the more up front
homework you do now, the more time (and money) you will save down the road -
sounds exactly like a chapter I took from my Best RC Helicopter page doesn't
it? This write-up is for FPV beginners
and if there is only one thing you get out of it, that is to please keep your
FPV system simple to start with and use common sense when flying.
Speaking of flying and this is pretty obvious, but before even considering FPV RC flight, you must be a proficient conventional RC pilot.
Whether that be on a plane, a multi rotor, or a helicopter; don't even think of getting into first person view until you are very comfortable flying one or more of those specific RC aircraft; not to mention being very familiar with all the various systems onboard RC aircraft before introducing FPV components on top of it all.
I want to cover this topic right off the bat and get it out of the way. Afterwards we can get to the much tastier FPV dessert :-)
Recently, there has been much concern over the safety of FPV RC Flight (or as the media loves to incorrectly call it - "drone danger"); so much so it's in jeopardy of being banded in some locations due to lack of knowledge and understanding (on both sides of the fence). For example, strict interpretation of most RC governing regulations state FPV flight be limited to VLOS (visual line of sight). No 500 meter plus hero missions in other words. If you are wearing goggles, you then need a spotter who maintains VLOS with the aircraft.
In more congested areas I whole-heartily agree with these outlined safety precautions; but in more rural areas where there is nothing to damage or hit - it seems completely excessive and I'm the first one to admit I "bend the suggestions".
I'm lucky where I fly FPV because I'm out in the middle of nowhere, but I do fully understand the risks involved. Namely, the aircraft could fail and fall out of the sky at any time (link takes you to my first FPV crash story). The only time any RC aircraft is 100% safe from falling out of the sky is when it's on the ground - plain & simple!
This comes right back to what I was saying before about using common sense when flying FPV or any form of RC for that matter. Some people call it risk assessment &/or situational awareness; but the end question remains the same - how much are you willing to lose?
Here is a very simple and easy common sense question to ask yourself as you are flying FPV, and you should be asking it every second you are up in the air:
"What will happen right now if something on the aircraft fails and it falls out of the sky"?
If you're over nice open fields, forest, desert, or even water - the worst case scenario is you lose the aircraft. Can you live with that amount of risk? I won't fly over water myself because I know I'll lose the aircraft for good if it lands in the drink and I'm not willing to take that amount of financial risk. Over land, I still have a very good chance of finding it and repairing it if & when it goes down (notice I said when). I can very comfortably handle that amount of risk.
I didn't fly it however for a few weeks this past summer while the forest fire danger was high. If it crashed into some dry grass or dead stand of trees and the LiPo burst into flames, a wild fire could have occurred when it was so dry & hot. Was I willing to take that amount of risk - nope!
What if you are flying over a busy highway/freeway, houses, buildings, crowds of people? High risk factor for personal & property damage when it comes crashing down. Are you willing to take that amount of risk? The answer better be NO!
Lastly on the "safety" aspect of FPV; I highly encourage you to read any governing FPV regulations in your country. Here is AMA's FPV document which is well worth studying as many other RC associations will have similar regulations in effect. Being aware of the regulations will allow you to make informed risk assessment decisions.
Flying any RC aircraft is a privilege - not a right. If we all use common sense here, hopefully this wonderful privilege will never be taken away. Abuse it, and we all suffer from new & unwarranted restrictions.
UPDATE: Well too little too late. The FAA has now stepped in for all of you in the United States and requires mandatory UAS/RC Aircraft registration. Strict interpretation of the rules say it's illegal to fly FPV without a spotter and beyond line of visual sight. This is very much what the AMA also says, but now it's actual law and if you get caught, you will have to deal with the consequences.
FPV is an acronym for "First Person View" or "First
Person Video" (take your pick). The RC obviously refers to our hobby in
general (radio controlled vehicles or aircraft). Seeing that this is an RC
helicopter web site, I will be talking primarily about FPV flying, not surface
vehicle driving or boating/sailing; but the basic FPV components/principles are the
same no matter what form of RC you are into.
Thanks to inexpensive security system wireless video transmission components, FPV allows you to pilot your RC plane, heli, or multi-rotor, just as if you were sitting inside it like flying a real aircraft; viewing the aerial environment in real time through a small onboard video camera.
The term RPV (remotely piloted vehicle) is also used, but FPV is what most people call it. This is a rapidly growing and exciting extension of our RC hobby because of the fun and immersive flight experience. Pioneering FPV pilots have and continue to push the boundaries of what is possible with FPV RC flight and continue to improve the components we are all using.
In most cases, don't think you are going to be viewing high definition video as you pilot your RC aircraft. That technology is still too costly for most FPV RC hobby users, and has some performance drawbacks as well.
The great RC high definition aerial
photography/videos that you may have seen on YouTube are all taken &
recorded by high definition video cameras mounted on the aircraft such as a
GoPro. You can certainly use a GoPro as your FPV camera (with an analog
composite cable adapter) for later HD
playback of your flight, but the image transmitted back to you won't be the HD
quality the camera is recording.
Why? HD video requires transmitting large digital data streams and the more bits of data being transmitted wirelessly, the harder and costlier it is to transmit (range is poor, latency is increased, and the likelihood of missing data is compounded.
Transmitting digital video wirelessly in other words...
Analog video transmission on the other hand is:
No question there are some HD FPV systems on the market now and more will arrive both getting better & less expensive. It's only a matter of time before there is cost effective HD FPV hobby grade equipment; but the very best we have now is about 900 TV lines (TVL) of resolution which gives roughly DVD image quality.
So, even with top end FPV RC video equipment, image quality is still about half that of true HD. It wasn't all that long ago, 380 & 420 TVL was pretty much tops and most people do fine with 500 to 700 TVL giving roughly VHS type image quality.
In the simplest sense, first person video RC requires five basic components. I have specific (hopefully easy to understand) articles on each of these components to help you better understand what to look for and avoid when selecting your specific FPV equipment. Clicking on the following links will take you to each specific write-up.
There are certainly other additional bells & whistles
that I touch on in each of those five topics; but again, I'm just making FPV as simple & straight forward as possible right now so it's not as overwhelming to start with. I should also mention you don't need a completely new FPV component setup for every FPV aircraft you have. The ground station and goggles can be used for multiple FPV aircraft.
In case you are wondering the exact components I started with, I have a full list below. Please remember however; just because I picked each of these components for my introduction to FPV RC, doesn't mean they are for you. Once again, I encourage you to read up on the individual component articles I link to above so you have a much better understanding of the what, why, & how of FPV RC. You'll be much better informed then when looking at all the various components at ReadyMade RC, Amazon, eBay, or other FPV RC vendors.
Similar FPV Gear On Ebay
First video here is a 2 KM distance flight I did fairly early on with this particular FPV setup I'm using. My latest distance record is 3.0 KM on a very dry and clear day, and my friend Kieth is getting well past 3.5 KM using pretty much the exact same components; so I just have to keep playing around with antenna placement. The video transmission on this particular day was the distance limiting factor due to the very high levels of atmospheric humidity that was absorbing some of the video transmission RF energy & thus affected transmit range. By the way - both videos look best if you select 480P or 720P in the YouTube playback settings box. As I mentioned earlier on, today's FPV equipment is not capable of HD.
In the next video, I'm just playing around having some FPV Fun! Note the "null" zone when I fly overhead as I do cover that on the FPV antenna page and here you can see it.
MORE IMPORTANT SAFETY NOTES:
I must mention I had special permission to use the local small
airport for these flights and had my hand held aviation radio turned on to
monitor air traffic the entire time. RC Flight should never be done
near an airport but for my distance tests, I wanted to be well away from
any people or property "just in case"; and obtained the required permissions.
In fact, I always have my aviation radio turned on to listen to local air traffic while I fly FPV no matter the location. We do have a fair amount of helicopter traffic in our area and I always like to know where they are. I normally only fly in the evening however when local air traffic is quiet. Assessing the risks, being situationally aware, and using common sense all adds up to safe FPV fun!