More Quad Racing

By Chris Mulcahy
As seen in the Winter 2016 issue of
Park Pilot.

Without a doubt, I absolutely love flying helicopters. I’ve also flown multirotors for many years—not so much for the fun aspect of flying (let’s face it, they can be a little autonomous sometimes), but for aerial photography. A new bug has recently bitten me, and by recently I mean roughly a year ago. I touched on it in the fall 2015 issue—it’s FPV racing.

For those who don’t know, FPV stands for First-Person View and usually involves strapping a camera and a video transmitter to an aircraft while the pilot uses either a monitor or goggles to receive the image while flying. This gives the pilot a first-person view from the aircraft. It’s an exhilarating way to fly. This in itself is a lot of fun, but combine it with racing, and it’s elevated to a whole new level!

I like to tinker a little, but I definitely prefer to fly more than tinker, so I relied on the expertise of a few friends when it came time for me to build my own racer. There is a lot of technical information you can sink your teeth into with FPV, especially if you choose to build your own aircraft, or you can simply buy a ready to fly model, of which more are becoming available by the day. I chose to build my own and had a great time doing it.

I featured the build in my December 2015 column in Model Aviation, but the basic outline is that you need several components. You need to choose an airframe, flight controller, motors, and ESCs. I chose a 250-size airframe with an OpenPilot ( CC3D Atom flight controller running Cleanflight (, an open-source firmware. There is much soldering and some improvising involved and Google is definitely your friend during the build! If you have any experience with soldering, construction will be a breeze.

My 250-size FPV racer, headset, and spare parts are all kept in one tidy case!

My experience on the racecourse at the Heli Extravaganza fun-fly, held in September at the Triple Tree Aerodrome ( in South Carolina, showed me a few things. I had two initial problems to begin with and neither was related to the equipment I was using.

For some reason, I found myself holding my breath while racing! As ridiculous as it sounds, I kept catching myself draw in a big lungful of air once every lap. I couldn’t figure out why I was doing it, and thought it must have been because of the extreme concentration while in the heat of the moment!

Whatever the reason, I found a simple cure, which was to chew some gum. Chewing gum stopped me from holding my breath, and as you can imagine, you really do fly a little better when there is oxygen in your blood!

The second problem that manifested itself was motion sickness. I’m not one to get motion sickness usually, but the first two or three FPV flights that I flew actually made me nauseous. I was a little worried. Is this what FPV racing is going to be like for me?

As it turned out, this wasn’t the case. After approximately a half-dozen flights, the feeling subsided. I have not felt it since. I guess it just took a little getting used to! After talking to a few friends who also race FPV, this apparently is not uncommon, which made me feel a little better about the whole thing.

I also discovered that a good racecourse is one that can really test your skills. I’m not talking about drag-racing in a straight line—I mean a meandering course with tight turns and switchbacks.

The course I flew at the Heli Extravaganza was perfect in this respect. It had a couple of long straightaways for getting up to speed, but the rest of the course was twisty and you had to control your aircraft well to get around the course without losing precious seconds. It wasn’t all about the power (unless you’re Jeremy Clarkson, former host of the BBC TV show Top Gear)—it was about finesse and skill.

Colored LEDs on the back can aid (or hinder) the pilots you are racing against!

This is where the pilots who had practice and experience really shined. It was interesting to see the different flying styles by watching them zip around the track and from dialing into their channel with my headset and watching them in the air, FPV style.

So what else did I learn from my first race experience? Propellers and prop nuts—bring lots of them! Although I didn’t actually break any propellers, I did make sure I had some spares with me. As for prop nuts, I had one come off of the motor midflight, and although it was easy to find the bright orange propeller, that black prop nut was lost forever.

Speaking of breaking stuff, make sure you choose a sturdy airframe, because you will absolutely crash when pushing your flying to the edge. The difference will be picking up your quadcopter and taking off again right after a crash, versus picking up the pieces and taking them back to the pit to repair them!

At the end of the day—however the race turns out—if you are having fun, then you are doing it right! I sure did have a blast at my first race!

Chris Mulcahy

Want to learn more about FPV?

Click here to read a related article about FPV cameras!


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