It’s not an uncommon thing to have happen. You see all the great videos of pilots tearing around courses, going around, under, and through gates and tunnels and flying at breakneck speed right behind their buddy through a complex course. You decide to take the plunge! You get yourself a racing drone, goggles, transmitter, battery setup, and you’re all ready to go racing… only to crash. And crash. And crash. And crash some more. What’s wrong? It looked so easy on Youtube!
Racing drones is hard! Youtube videos makes it all look easy… what you don’t see is the hours and hours of practice the pilots have put in before heading to the races, and also the time spent learning a track or route before recording the video.
As many have said before, the best road to success is practice practice practice. In that vein, here’s some tips for bringing your flying skills up to where you can compete.
First and foremost, TAKE IT EASY. Patience is the name of the game here. Your first time up will be thrilling and wonderful – until you fly into a tree or a building or a friend. Fly slow, keep your controller on ‘maximum assist’ mode (on a CC3D, this is called ‘rate’ mode), and focus on understanding what your FPV goggles are telling you. The hardest thing for most new pilots to get comfortable with is altitude and proximity. Figure out when you’re close to the ground or to an object by flying very slowly. Frequently, you’re closer than you think!
Next, design a simple course to fly around. Two trees on either end of a park are perfect. Fly about 10’ off the ground first clockwise around both trees, then reverse it and fly counter-clockwise. Take your time! Fly out 3-4 batteries just doing these ovals. You’ll find yourself correcting drift, learning how to do turns, understanding when you’re too close or too far away from something. This period is getting comfortable with your craft, your controls, and your goggles.
The next step up is use your already familiar space (this is important – knowing your space / track is half the skill of flying well!) and start flying figure 8’s between the trees. This is harder than you might think, because you’ll quickly figure out you’re more comfortable turning one direction than the other.
Now it’s time to make things interesting. Make yourself a set of pylons. The best and cheapest material for this are those foam pool noodles you can get for a buck. Get something to tape them to (a chair, a stepladder, something similar – photography light stands are perfect for this), and raise the pylon HIGH in the air. As high as you can get it. Don’t try flying close to the ground yet. Set up a pair of pylons between the trees, and make that your ‘gate’ when doing your figure 8’s. Leave the top of the ‘gate’ open, and make your passes between the top tips of the pylons. As you get better and faster, lower the point where you’re passing between the pylons. You’ll find a sweet comfortable spot somewhere around 6-8’ off the ground. At that height and speed, it’ll feel like you’re zipping through a fun gate, but you’re not risking your drone. If you hit the pylons, generally the most damage may be to the pylon, but you may break a prop or two. Keep spares!
You can have a remarkable amount of fun with this very simple course, running the gates and the end points. Keep practicing, and vary up the course a bit. Make one side of the return a straightaway. Set the two pylons so it’s a chicane. The most important thing is to start the course slow, get comfortable with it, and slowly ramp up your speed. That’s how the pros do it. If you are ready to make things more challenging, join the top of the pool noodles together to make an arch. You have your first air gate! A word of warning though, flying low through a gate is by far the hardest part of flying a racing drone. You have to swoop low to the ground and have enough speed to climb out after the gate, but not enough downward speed that will push you into the ground!
These simple gates and guidelines can be done over and over again, giving a lot of enjoyment, and setting up the skills you’ll need to get into racing with the big guns!