Since I live in in India, I think it’s about time I wrote a post on how to encourage fellow Indians to get into the awesome hobby that is drone racing.
A lot of people have started getting interested thanks to the efforts of Karan Kamdar and the Indian Drone Racing League, and I hope this post will help people get started on the right foot.
What is drone racing, and what do I need?
Drone racing is building small quadcopters that have a camera and video transmitter, which sends video to a video receiver(usually attached to goggles you wear on your head).
You fly the drone using a radio control, and you can see the drone’s perspective through your goggles. Racing takes place around obstacle courses that can be set up.
If you are not into racing, or fly alone, you can also fly freestyle, which is doing tricks and acrobatics in the air and around objects.
Here is a comprehensive list of equipment you will require:
Note: the links I provide are to Banggood, who ship from China. Most Banggood parcels arrive within 3-4 weeks. If you are getting many things, break your order up into 2-3 shipments.
DO NOT under any circumstances buy ready to fly or almost ready to fly kits from international stores. These shipments will most certainly be detained by customs.
If you’d like to buy locally, scroll down to my list of recommended retailers and browse their catalogs. They are constantly changing so I am not linking to anything directly. I suggest you at least buy your goggles and radio locally, as well as your frame.
Long term purchases
A decent radio: One radio to rule them all, one radio to fly them. Save up a little and get a decent radio, as a single radio can be used with multiple models. Once you are bitten by the FPV bug, you won’t be able to stop at just one copter.
A pair of FPV goggles: You’ll also need FPV goggles – one pair of goggles can be used with multiple models, too, since it only matters what frequency your model is transmitting on and as long as your goggles can receive that frequency, you are good to go.
A charger: You’ll need a charger to charge your LiPo batteries. Chargers are a one-time investment, so consider spending a little extra on a good charger that will last you a long time.
- Imax b6AC
- ISDT chargers(requires external power supply, you can use a SMPS supply or a laptop charger by modifying the barrel connector to an XT-60 connector)
- A good soldering iron(at least 40-50W) and solder
- A hex screwdriver set with varying thicknesses
- A Phillips screwdriver(optional but useful to have)
- A hobby knife
- A pair of small, sharp scissors
- Double-sided tape
- Electrical tape
- Heat shrink tubing(3mm, 6mm, 15mm for different wires and components)
- Needle nose pliers
- Tweezers(optional but useful to have)
Parts of a quadcopter
Frame: This is the basic frame on which you mount all of your electronics. Frames are measured in mm, denoting the diagonal distance between two motors. The distance is indicative of the size of propellers you can fit. 200mm-220mm can fit 5 inch props, 180mm can fit 4 inch props, and 100mm-150mm can fit 3 inch props. 5 inch is the most common when it comes to racing, since it’s a blend of power and portability.
Motors: The motors spin the props. Get 2205 or 2206 motors for 5 inch props, 1306 or 1407 motors for 3 inch and 4 inch props. Motors will be listed as XXXX/XXXX kV. You’ll need 4 motors.
The first two numbers are how wide the diameter of the motor is. The next two numbers are how high the bell of the motor is. A 2205 motor has a 22 mm diameter, and a 5mm bell.
The next four numbers are the kV(kilo volts), or how many times the copper wire inside the motor has been wound. 2300 kv is a sweet spot for 2205/2206 motors. If you’re starting out, stick with this. For 1306/1407, stick to the low 3000 kV range.
ESC: The ESCs tell the motors how fast to spin. They are plugged into the power distribution board and the flight controller. ESCs come with different amp ratings – 20A-30A is safe for a build running good motors, moderate to aggressive props and on 4 cells. For racing quadcopters, BLHeli_S is the go-to firmware loaded on ESCs. Most ESCs you find on the market will have this firmware pre-loaded.
Flight controller: The flight controller is the brain of the whole quadcopter. It has sensors that it uses to keep the quadcopter level and going in the direction you give commands to it to go in. For racing quads, use flight controllers that support BetaFlight firmware, and have at least an F3 processing chip. Just search for F3 flight controller anywhere and you’ll find something decent. The Omnibus FC is a good cheap choice.
Receiver: The receiver receives signals from the radio and sends them to the flight controller. For race quads, use SBUS receivers if your transmitter supports them(FrSky will, Turnigy Evolution will, and others will if you are using the FrSky XJT module). SBUS receivers are tiny, responsive, and only require 3 wires for everything you need, plus one extra for telemetry if you choose to set it up.
FPV camera: Get a decent FPV camera – don’t cheap out, because it’s the most important part of your build – it’s what you rely on to fly. HS1177 cameras and clones are very good, and if you’ve got a higher budget, get a RunCam 2. They are great cameras.
Video transmitter and antenna: The video transmitter takes signals from the FPV camera and transmits it through the antenna where it will be picked up by your goggles/video receiver. Use a minimum 32 channel transmitter, and 200 mw is a sweet spot for transmitting strength. If you fly alone, go for 600 mw – but you won’t be able to fly with other people if you use 600 mw as your video will bleed into theirs. With the transmitter, you’ll need an antenna – use a circular polarized antenna. Foxeer makes really good cheap antennas that are durable.
Bear in mind that your antenna and transmitter have the correct type of connector – RP SMA or SMA. The spec sheet will say which is which. If you attempt to mismatch RP SMA and SMA, you will ruin your transmitter.
Note: You can follow my build for a cheap FPV quadcopter here
Where can I buy all this stuff
There are plenty of great retailers in India that bring premium hobby grade stuff to market. One advantage of buying locally is that you don’t have to deal with the hassle of customs duty and you get good after-sales service, something that is a little tougher when buying from overseas.
Banggood will refund you for defective parts right away, but then you’ll have to wait another month before you get your replacement. Local guys will help you troubleshoot.
Quadkopters – has a great and growing collection of high quality parts in the hobby right now. If you’re lucky, you can pick up a radio and batteries from here before they sell out! After sales service is superb.
RCHyper – Great overall RC store, has a good selection of motors, ESCs, and props. They have a sister site called RCHLipos where you may find batteries, depending on stock.
GetTBS – has stocks of the hottest stuff on the market. If the pros are using it, GetTBS will get it. Some of the stuff may not be suitable for beginners, but as you get better, you’ll find yourself checking GetTBS a lot more often.
RCMumbai – has a great selection of lipo batteries – keep checking to see what’s in stock and what isn’t. Also has a growing collection of quadcopter parts.
eBay – there are a few retailers on eBay India that stock extra hardware you’ll need.
Then there are the Chinese retailers – Banggood, GearBest, MyRCMart, RCPapa, Drone Matters, 65 Drones, the list is endless(yes, I’ve ordered from them all!)
How do I put it together?
Once you’ve figured out what propeller size you will run and what frame you will get, it’s time to put it all together. I am not going to go into much detail here about that – if you do a quick search for quadcopter build video on YouTube, you’ll find plenty of awesome videos that you can go through to get an idea of how to do a build correctly. Check the ones on Rotor Riot and Flite Test, too.
How to fly safely
Safety is the most important thing to keep in mind when flying. Remember, your quadcopter has 4 incredibly fast spinning blades on it – if the blades touch any part of your or someone else’s body, they’re going to do some damage.
Whenever you fly, make sure there are no people close to you, especially children – children are naturally curious and they’ll go close to the quadcopter to see what’s going on. If people insist on watching you, have them all stand behind you.
That’s not to say make a spectacle every time you go flying – if there are two or three guys hanging around and want to watch, by all means, but if a crowd starts to gather, pack up and go.
The best way to fly is to go early in the morning when not that many people have surfaced yet. Find a decently open sized space like a cricket ground or a football pitch(or a farm/field) where you can fly comfortably – especially when you are just starting out. As you get better, you can fly in areas with more trees and obstacles.
What not to do
Whenever you fly, DO NOT make a scene. Drones have bad enough publicity as is.
DO NOT attempt to show off how high your drone goes.
DO NOT attempt to show off how fast your drone goes.
DO NOT hand over the radio to your eager friend who always wanted to fly. Get him on a simulator first.
DO NOT fly in front of the police.
DO NOT fly in or around buildings.
DO NOT fly near kids.
DO NOT fly near or over people’s heads.
DO NOT be a di*k about the whole thing. This hobby has some of the nicest, most helpful folks in the world, so be a part of the community.
The final and most important part of drone racing in India is the awesome community. Although we are all very spread out, we keep in regular contact and are always sharing our (mis)adventures with one another. To participate, head over to the IDRL website and register – you’ll be added to a Whatsapp group upon approval and you’ll have the opportunity to network with other like minded hobbyists.
For more information, check out my comprehensive post on getting started with FPV drone racing.