Estimated reading time: 18 minutes
Whether you’re new to drones, or you’ve been flying them for a while, you must have heard of drone racing. It’s a little different from flying drones for photography or fishing, and the fan base is fast-growing.
So, what is drone racing, and how can you start?
Drone racing involves flying drones at really high speeds in 3D courses. It’s the drone’s version of the Formula 1 and MotoGP. Racing drones have also been designed to achieve higher speeds by removing some accessories used in fishing. Drone Racing League is one of the most popular leagues, but there are several others that you can take part in.
Table of contents:
- What Is Drone Racing?
- What Kind of Drones Are Used for Drone racing?
- How Do You Get Into FPV Drone Racing?
- The Drone Racing League:
- How Much Drone Racing Pilots Make?
- Top 5 Racing Drones 2022:
- Final Thoughts:
What Is Drone Racing?
Drone racing is a fast-growing competitive sport. First introduced in 2014, it involves small drones racing at high speeds in a course laced with obstacles.
Unlike regular racing where the drivers are in the vehicles, drone pilots use FPV (First Person View) cameras top maneuver the drones.
Racing drones come with a smaller camera a transmitter that sends a live feed to the pilot through the FPV goggles.
Before it became a popular sport, drone racing often occurred in garages and basements. But now there are leagues with thousands of dollars in prizes to be won.
One of the reasons this sport is gaining popularity is its affordability. While racing cars cost thousands or even millions, you can assemble a racing drone with less than $500.
You can even assemble a paper drone and install the computing system and FPV controls.
Drone racing is also quite safe since even when the crash, the chance of injuring the pilots or the spectators are minimal. While there are no regulations for flying racing drones indoors, pilots will need to adhere to UAV regulations in the areas you reside.
History of Drone Racing:
Drone racing dates back to 2011 in Germany, where a couple of drone enthusiasts used to come together and organize races.
However, FPV technology dates back to the 1990s. This was when cameras and transmitters were designed to fit in UAVs.
The first form of FPV racing drones was popularized by Raphael “Trippy” Parker, who formed the team Black Sheep, who are known as the “aerial anarchists.”
They are famous for flying drones around famous statues and landscapes around the World and posting the videos on YouTube.
Around the same time, drone pilots would gather in garages, basements, and even forests and compete flying the drones. There is even a video of drones racing Star Wars Style in a forest in 2014 in France.
The first official race, The Santa Cruz FPV Drone Race, was organized in 2015 and won by Zan Stumbaugh. In the same year, Rotor Sports organized the first US National Drone Racing Championship.
The World Drone Prix is one of the largest drone races, and it was held in 2016 in Dubai. Luke Bannister won this Race. The Drone Racing League was started in the same year.
The DRL aims at making drone a “sport of the future”. It involves 3D courses and league-issued drones.
How Does Drone Racing Work?
There are several drone racing leagues, all with different rules. But they all test the pilot’s speed and maneuverability through obstacles. The first pilot to complete the race without crashing is often the winner.
Drone races also don’t last long. They range from 1 minute to 5 minutes. Some races will require a supporter who advises the drone’s pilot on what’s going on around the drone.
Also, the judges are wearing FPV goggles where they view each pilot’s live feed, awarding marks based on the metrics of the race.
DRL has a unique way of awarding their points. They’ve had races in an NFL stadium, in an abandoned mall, and a power plant.
When a pilot passes at least 2 checkpoints, they get 50 points. For every second spent under the time cap, the pilot receives e10 extra points. The winner is the pilot with the highest number of points.
What Kind of Drones Are Used for Drone racing?
You cannot use the regular photography drones for racing. Photography drones like the Phantom Pro are heavy and relatively slow.
Racing drones don’t have the huge cameras, gimbals, or other accessories that may slow them down. They are also very small
As a matter of fact, the best racing drones are custom-built. So if you’d like to compete in Global championships, you need to have some knowledge in building a drone from scratch or customizing an existing drone. All the winners in the top drone leagues build their drones too.
How Fast Are Racing Drones?
Racing drones maximum speeds range from 100mph to 150mph. They’re pretty fast considering a photography drone can barely achieve 70mph. As mentioned earlier, you can customize your drones to achieve top speeds.
Keep in mind that FAA’s speed limit is 100mph.
FAA also requires drone pilots to fly at speeds and heights that endanger civilians. Even though racing drones can fly faster than 100mph, you need to be highly skilled to manage such speeds.
Expect to often crash, especially when flying indoors where you’re too close to the obstacles.
How Long Can a Racing Drone Fly?
Racing drones are designed to last between 5 and 10 minutes. This is because most races last 5 minutes, where the pilot pushes the drone to its limits.
This is different from photography drones which can last up to 20 minutes. But you can still modify your drone to last longer.
How Do You Get Into FPV Drone Racing?
Below are some aspects to consider when starting FPV drone racing.
Drone racing may still fall under the FAA regulations since you are getting paid to fly your drone. First, you need to register your drone. All drones weighing between 0.5lbs and 55lbs should be registered with the FAA.
This only applies in the United States so you may need to check with airspace regulations in your country.
The FAA also requires the drone to always be on sight. Since FPV drone racing involves wearing goggles, you will need a spotter to help monitor the drone.
To be on the safer side, you should also get the Part 107 License Drone Pilot License. It’s not that hard to get, and you’ll get to learn how to fly the drone and understand most of the regulations, including the 100mph speed limit.
Choose a drone:
If you’re just starting, you can choose from the ready-to-fly drones in the market. They come with the FPV goggles, flight controllers, and transmitters in the package. But as you advance, you will need to learn how to build or customize a drone.
As mentioned earlier, in major leagues, you’ll be competing with people who’ve customized their drones to perform better.
Learn how to fly the drone:
If you’ve been flying the photography drones, then you know some basics. If you’ve never used one before, make sure you get some training. Once you learn the basics, you need to learn how to fly FPV drones.
They are more complex than regular drones. For instance, they don’t hover automatically when you’re not using the controls. Others lack the stabilizing features that make regular consumer drones easier to fly.
So, it would be best if you learned how to hover and how to pull off complex moves that are required in major leagues.
Flying using FPV goggles is quite different from using the screen. So, you need to practice flying using FPV mode before joining a competition.
You can even try flying using the usual stand-alone screen before using the FPV goggles.
If you fancy drone racing, then you most probably have played video games. You’ll be pleased to know that there are video game simulators that can help you learn drone racing. Examples include DRL Sim3 and VelociDrone.
You can play these simulators on your PC, Xbox, or PlayStation. You can also join local clubs where you get to learn from drone pilots.
The Drone Racing League:
Nothing’s more fun than mastering how to fly a racing drone and getting to compete with some top drone pilots. The Drone Racing League brings together drone pilots from around the world to fly their drones in a 3D course.
Drone Racing League was started in 2015, introduced to the public in 2016, and they’ve had 4 racing seasons so far.
Besides holding racing contests, DRL is also a tech company. The fastest drone we mentioned earlier, the RacerX, is one of their prototypes. Other prototypes include the Racer2, Racer3, and Racer4.
To top it all DRL has a video game simulator which helps drone racing enthusiasts learn how to race before they purchase a drone.
They have at least 7 different types of races. The World Championship is one that brings drone pilots from around the word to compete in a very challenging course. Others include The Preseason Gates of Hell and Levels 1 to 5, all which require the pilots to be very skilled.
And if you don’t have the chance to participate in the tournaments, you can also watch the races since DRL films the tournaments and broadcasts them on Sky Sports, NBC, NBC Sports, and other digital live-streaming platforms.
The only downside is that it’s tough to join their tournaments, and they also haven’t started selling their drone prototypes to the public. But there are several other leagues which are easier to join. Below are some of them.
- MultiGp –
- Aerial Grand Prix – https://www.bbc.com/news/av/technology-32236061
- Aerial Action Sports League- https://www.aerialsports.tv/
- Drone Derby – https://makezine.com/2015/03/24/drone-derby/
- The Mini Quad Club – https://miniquadclub.com
Always check the guidelines of each tournament before joining.
NOTE: Since tournaments may be hard to join due to the level of skills required and the drone specs required, you can also watch out for local meetups.
Reddit and Meetups.com are a good place to find like-minded drone enthusiasts who want to participate in drone racing.
How Much Drone Racing Pilots Make?
Despite the drone industry being just a few years old, it’s growing very fast, and the pilots are making good money.
For instance, when Luke Bannister won the World Drone Prix competition in Dubai in 2016, he received $250,000. Also, in most tournaments, the winners stand to win at least $100,000. And just like in athletics, drone pilots can also earn six figures from sponsorship deals.
Another reason why drone racing is a lucrative career is it has attracted a large audience of enthusiasts through the streaming platforms. This creates more chances of earning through adverts.
The most popular drone racing companies are Drone League Racing and DR1, and they’ve received sponsorships from the US Air Force, DHL and other investors. The future looks promising for drone pilots.
According to Nick Horbaczweski, DRL’s CEO, drone pilots can even quit their jobs and build a career practicing an activity they enjoy.
How Much Does It Cost to Start Drone Racing?
If you don’t have too much money, start saving. In the beginning, you need between $800 and $ 1,000. You’ll spend a decent sum to get some batteries, a charger, a quadcopter, FPV gear, and a n RC controller.
Along with the start-up costs, there’s a cost to staying in the air. Therefore, you’ll need lots of propellers and FPV antennas. Also, you need to factor in monthly expenses for the sport.
Top 5 Racing Drones 2022:
Now that you know how to start drone racing and the opportunities available for drone pilots, it’s time we get you a drone. There’s no need to worry if you don’t have thousands of dollars to spend.
Entry-level drones cost a few hundreds of dollars, and you can move up as you gain more experience. They are also ready-to-fly, so you don’t have to worry about the technical aspects of assembling a drone from scratch.
Below are some of the best racing drones you can buy.
Walkera F210 FPV Racing Drone: Best Overall–
This is one of the best RTF (Ready-to-fly) racing drones for beginners. This is because it has a gyro-stabilized mode that makes it easy for new users to control.
It comes with the Devo 7 transmitter which ensures a flawless flight and a high-quality OSD graphics feed when flying in FPV mode.
The high-quality camera and a night vision are a sight to behold. You can also fly it in the line of sight as you practice.
The 4S battery delivers enough power to the motors allowing it to achieve high speeds. The manual is quite long, but make sure you read the whole of it to have better control of the drone.
Walkera also has a cheaper racing drone, the Walkera Rodeo 150. So, you can save a few bucks if you’d like a smaller and more basic racing drone.
The only downside with both drones is that they don’t come with FPV goggles. But you can purchase any FPV goggles and connect them with the drones easily.
- Works straight from the box
- Interesting acrobatic modes
- Excellent for beginners and experts
- Covered motor
- Quick turning radius
- Low camera resolution
Ryze Tech Tello- Best Value:
Becoming a drone racing fanatic doesn’t have to eat into your entire paycheck. The Ryze Tech Tello drone is proof of that.
This drone is one of the best indoor or outdoor racing drones for beginners or those who don’t intend to break the bank.
The drone comes fully packed with two antennas to create a stable video transmission. In addition, the high-capacity battery lasts 13 minutes. Also, the drone comes with a propeller removal tool, micro USB cable, propeller guards, and four propellers.
If you’re in it to win it, then this drone from Ryze Tech is a gem in both price and performance. Plus, with the included propeller guard, you can horn your skills indoors without the risk of damaging your favorite lampshade or shearing off propellers.
- Works both indoors and outdoors
- Great wind resistance
- High power quiet motors
- Outdated camera specifications
ImmersionRC Vortex 150 Mini – Best Pocket Drone:
This drone is a great choice as a first quadcopter for a new person in the drone racing world. Setting it up is as easy as it can be. All you need is to install a receiver, attach it to the radio, tune it to the right channel, and you’re set.
Beginners learn fast how to fly it in acro, horizon, and angle mode as it is easy to build up speed and steer around objects.
The Vortex 150 mini is easy to control. What we love about it is that at only three inches off the ground, it glides through the air with grace. Even when crashes happen, it gets back in the air with ease.
- Easy to control
- Small and nimble
- Built tough
- Excellent camera
- Poorly laid out instructions
EMAX Tinyhawk Freestyle BNF- Best for All Skin Levels:
The EMAX Tinyhawk Freestyle BNF has both beginners and experienced fliers in mind. Its propeller system and brush motor allow the pilot full control of the flight time, maneuvers, and thrusts. Also, the CMOS camera is a great addition.
The interesting part? The drone has dual battery connectors that you can employ simultaneously to increase flight time and power output. This punchy little model rips through the air, takes tight corners, and fits pilots at all skill levels.
Thanks to the drone’s self-leveling feature, a beginner can take the drone out without the fear of an instant crash. Our only worry is that it has a short video transmitter range, so you need to note if you fly in open fields.
- It operates like a full-size drone
- Durable and lightweight
- Onboard camera
- Short video range
ARRIS X-Speed 280 V2 – Best Build:
If you love the thrill of racing without the pain of assembly work, then this is the best racing drone for you. The ARRIS X-Speed 280 V2 is an RTF built for longevity and speed.
Furthermore, it’s made of fiber composite sheets that keep its weight down.
Also, the X-Speed 280 V2 motors are fast, and that combined with its sleek body shape, means it soars. What’s missing? It has no LED lights, making it impossible to fly at night.
- A great option for advanced pilots
- Tough build
- No LED lights for night use
iFlight Nazgul 5 – Best for Freestyle:
Powered using the Xing-E 2207 2750KV motors, this drone has great power that you need to use responsibly. Its 5mm thick carbon arms make it difficult to break even in an extremely fast collision.
In addition, the drone has a digital video transmission system, and you’ll therefore need goggles which are an extra investment.
Other than that, the drone also comes with a good selection of props, rubber battery stickers, tools, and antennas.
- Extremely fast
- GoPro mount
- Thick carbon fiber arms with corner protection
- X-prop configuration
Here To The World’s Fastest Drone – RacerX
The RacerX holds the Guinness World Record for the fastest battery-powered quadcopter. It was tested in 2017 where it achieved a maximum speed of 179mph.
However, the recorded speed was 163mph since they had to take an average of two flights. This drone also proves that the best racing drones are custom-built.
It was built by Ryan Gary, a top stakeholder at the Drone Racing League (DRL). He’s also the Chief Technological Officer at Performance Drone Works and is often referred to as the “Da Vinci of drones”. This drone kicked off the design and manufacturing of today’s racing drones.
7 Things to Keep in Mind Before Purchasing a Racer Drone:
- Any remote-controlled aircraft that weighs over 250 grams, other than toys, needs a Federal Aviation Administration (FFA) registration in the US.
- Finding places to fly your drone can be a challenge; hence, before buying your drone, visit the FFA’s B4UFly app or AirMap to confirm the no-fly zones.
- Everyone feels drones are dangerous, and as such, US-based pilots benefit from an Academy of Model Aeronautics membership. It offers comprehensive general liability insurance if an unforeseen incident happens.
- When flying the drone, everyone assumes you’re invading their privacy.
- The drone’s price is only a start. You will incur lots of extra costs while you enjoy your hobby, such as spare batteries, prop guards, a charger, etc.
- Drone flight times are relatively short because the most they can remain airborne is 30 minutes or more on a charge.
- RTF (Ready-to-fly): This means that the drone is ready to fly and doesn’t require assembly.
- ARTF or ARF ( Almost-ready-to-fly): These drone types may require some assembly and some additional equipment like a radio transmitter (Tx) or a receiver (Rx).
- BNF (Bind-n-fly): These are RTF drones with a receiver.
- FPV (First-person view): The video feeds directly from a camera on the drone.
- RTH (Return-to-home): The safety feature allows the drone to go back to the starting point or the pilot’s location.
- Gimbal: A system that offers you sharp photos and a smooth video even in high winds and fast movements.
- Headless Mode: Intended for beginner pilots, this setting allows the drone to move back and forth, right or left when you move the remote stick.
- Follow Me: A feature that allows the drone to automatically follow its subject using a GPS signal through a beacon, remote control, or mobile device attached to the subject you’re tracking.
- Brushless Motor: Even though they are more expensive than brushed motors, they are quieter, last longer, and are more efficient.
How Do I Join the DRL?
You join the DRL by downloading Xbox or Stream or the DRL SIM and going to the tournament’s section to register for the DRL SIM tryouts. Players must be at least 18 years old.
Is DRL Virtual or Real?
DRL is both virtual and real because it authentically merges virtual with real. The DRL World Championships include tracks such as Allianz Riviera SIM, US Air force Boneyard SIM, Campground SIM, AND Biosphere SIM, all virtual maps created in a real-life drone racing simulator.
Who Owns the DRL?
Nicholas Horbaczewski owns DRL. He founded it in 2015 and it’s headquartered in NYC.
Drone racing is fast growing in the US, Europe, and some Asian countries. The airspace regulations in other countries may be one of the reasons they haven’t picked it up yet.
Is it the future? Probably. More people are learning how to fly drones, and the drone racing community is also growing.
Is it here to stay? Yes. Judging by its growth in the past 5 years, more investors have come on board, and there are even initiatives to integrate AI in drone racing.
The tech world is often volatile and hard to predict, but as long as drones exist, drone racing has a bright future.