Things I’ve learned getting back into unmanned flight.
Things have changed big-time. The last big tech change I recall before we moved was that many of us were switching to PCM radios from our jittery AM transmitter/receiver combos. It was expensive. Everything was mail-order from the Tower Hobbies catalog as it was one of only a few companies that would ship to a Canadian Forces Base in Germany. You hoped you got your order right, and waited. The wait was anywhere between a standard Aliexpress delivery standard and often much worse; I’m sure some people have been posted back to Canada long before their stuff arrived. That was the early 1990s.
In February 2021, I started buying DJI drones from Amazon. I became aware of FPV drones a few weeks later. Things haven’t quite been the same since.
Todays supply chain is way better, the breadth of available products, combinations and options is endless. It’s almost to the point that choosing becomes far too difficult due to the variety and price points. Using the outcomes of reviews and watching what goes into successful builds becomes mandatory as often the support from the individual component manufacturer might not be so good.
Getting good advice is really tough; the community seems fractured into people that genuinely help and shills that provide positive reviews of questionable goods, or are simply pimping their own brands or “versions” of things. Between all the Stout, Ummagawd, JB, Drib, BotGrinder, Ethix… all these FPV YouTube pilots get their name on something. It’s become rather meaningless to me and make a point of avoiding them
In general, the documentation provided or available with devices and components you get is minimal at best and the community is left holding the bag. There are some exceptions to this as some companies meet the mark with sufficient reference documentation while others assume quite a bit.
UART/Serial is king. VTX, GPS, telemetry all use serial protocols to communicate.
Firmware. Some companies make managing this a nightmare, while others are down-right delightful. Truly, efforts have been made in this space and made things much better.
The law regarding drones/UAVs varies by jurisdiction, and for the most part, provided safety of persons, manned-aircraft and property is respected no-one really bats an eye at legality of the FPV footage we are a witness to on YouTube. There is no real way of knowing if the pilots had all the proper permissions/authorizations, the necessary spotters, and/or airspace clearances. Most of these YouTube FPV pilots have an awareness of the laws and generally fly safely with only peripheral drama, others don’t really care about TC of FAA rules. The community reactions are mixed and inconsistent, some pilots with risky flights are shredded to pieces, while others are celebrated.
Start with a simulator such as LiftOff or Velocidrone for at least 20-40 hours before attempting a real flight.
Buy a Radio (transmitter). The one you will use with the simulator can be the same one you use for a real drone. I recommend getting a wireless USB dongle so that you don’t need to struggle with yet another cable. I’ve used 3 FrSky radio models, Taranis Q7, X9D and Lite and I have a RadioMaster TX16s. The RadioMaster is superior. Lengthen your gimble sticks for more resolution.
Learning how to build and repair your own drones is key. You will need to understand the entirety of the machine, buy a naked frame and copy someone else’s build if necessary.
Start with DJI Air-Unit, or Vista and their V2 Goggles.
I wish I had started with this and saved myself a FatShark goggle. Know that you can retro-fit an analog receiver on a DJI v2 Goggle (maybe V1, but I don’t know first hand) but as of now, you cannot receive DJI digital on a FatShark goggle. I understand this is an expensive item for starting out but feel it’s well worth the expense.
SharkByte does not impress me. I have invested in the complete system and been underwhelmed. The picture quality is really good, and perhaps it is more technically advanced than others, but I find the range insufficient for my needs.
Read Christian M. Mollica’s book, FPV Flight Dynamics.
5″ drones are tough as hell. Find a source of cheap props. I like TBS Source frames.
Those that know about Air-Mode use Air-Mode.
You will break things.
Don’t crash cinewhoops.
Don’t disarm in flight.
Take a chance.
Flying over water should include a PFD for the drone.
Blue thread-locker is your friend. Get the gel. Use it.
Hot glue does not stick to carbon.
CA Glue and a vacuum can fix carbon.
Props Out is better.
Betaflight defaults are fine for most cases.
2 Straps for 6s batteries
Oscar Liang knows his stuff: https://oscarliang.com/