Flying an FPV Quadcopter

Where Can I Fly an FPV Quadcopter?

That’s a difficult question to answer just now (early 2015). A better question might be this: Can I fly an FPV quadcopter anywhere outdoors in the United States? The answer to that question may dishearten you, if you were considering getting a quadcopter with FPV (first person view) capabilities.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) currently groups together all aircraft, no matter what their size, into the same category when it states that the operator must have full line of sight to the vehicle at all times. If you fly an FPV quadcopter (or other similar type of craft) using goggles or a computer screen, you don’t always have your eyes on the vehicle itself. In fact, the purpose of FPV is just about the opposite. You want to see what the quadcopter’s camera “sees”, not the quadcopter itself.

These rules may change in the future, but for the present it is probably safest to find an indoor location to fly FPV. You might not at first think that a large gymnasium or auditorium sounds like as much fun as being outdoors, but you might be surprised at how much enjoyment you do get out of it. Flying indoors is probably a good place to practice before moving outside, should the circumstances related to such flying change.

Note that the conditions described above only apply to the United States. If you live elsewhere, the rules are most likely more in your favor.

Update: See what the FAA may have in mind.

Which Quadcopters Come Ready for FPV?

Let’s assume that you don’t want to piece together your own equipment but want an RC FPV quadcopter that’s RTF (ready to fly). There are several models from which you can choose, and they’re not all from the same manufacturer.

Here is a list that is not intended to be all-inclusive, but it will give you an idea of what is available and what you can afford. Prices are approximate and will probably have changed (hopefully downward) by the time you go searching for a particular model.

Mfg. Model Res. Cost
Hubsan X4 H107D+ 720p $200
Estes Proto-X FPV 720p $230
Ares RC Ethos FPV 720p $270
Blade Nano QX FPV ???* $390
DJI Phantom 3 Adv. 1080p $1000
DJI Phantom 3 Pro 4K $1250

 

*I was unable to find the camera resolution for the Blade Nano QX.

There are quite a few other machines that are capable of FPV but don’t come equipped with the necessary gear out of the box. Some of those are from the same companies as those listed above. Other notable manufacturers are Lumenier, Quanum, Walkera, and 3D Robotics.

The first one in the list above, the Hubsan X4 H107D+, is expected to be available in June of 2015. The main difference (for FPV purposes) from the H107D is that the camera has a finer resolution. The older machine has 640×480.

What Are the Differences Among Lower End Models?

Let’s look here at the Estes, Ares RC, and Blade quadcopters. All three are currently available and are FPV quadcopters for sale between $200 and $400.

As noted earlier, I’m not sure of the camera resolution for the Nano QX, but I would guess that it’s 720p based on its price point.

Estes Proto-X FPV

The transmitter that comes with the Estes Proto-X FPV has a 4.5 inch screen which should be plenty big for you to see what your quadcopter is doing. The transmitter requires four AA batteries that you must supply.

Estes Proto-X FPV
Estes Proto-X FPV

The aircraft itself is a mere 4.4 inches across and weighs about 2 ounces. With a 650 mAh battery, you should get 10 to 15 minutes of flight time per charge and be able to go over 200 feet from your transmitter.

Ares RC Ethos FPV

The Ares Ethos FPV also has a 4.5 inch transmitter screen for following all the action. A very nice feature of Ares RC quadcopters is that the company always provides your first set of transmitter batteries.

Ares RC Ethos FPV
Ares RC Ethos FPV

The Ethos has a larger 1200 mAh battery which it needs to power the larger 11.5 inch, 11 ounce aircraft. You can upgrade the quadcopter camera to 1080p for an even clearer picture.

Blade Nano QX FPV

Instead of a transmitter screen, the Nano QX comes with goggles that you must wear to experience FPV. It seems you can get a range of about 200 feet before losing the connection.

Blade Nano QX FPV
Blade Nano QX FPV

The Nano QX can get by with only a 150 mAh battery because it’s only 5.5 inches wide and weighs just 0.77 ounces. As with most quadcopters, you have to provide the transmitter batteries – four AAs, in this case.

What about the DJI Phantom?

The DJI Phantom 2 Vision (and variants) have set some standards in the world of quadcopter flying. It’s no surprise then that the Phantom 3, which comes in an Advanced version and a Professional version, is at the forefront of FPV as well.

DJI Phantom 3
DJI Phantom 3

As noted above, the Phantom 3 Advanced features a 1080p camera, while the Phantom 3 Pro has 4K. For FPV, that is the one difference between the two that you’re likely to care about (other than the price).

Other noteworthy items are the Phantom’s 1.2 mile range (remember the caveat at the top of this article though) and it’s failsafe system that causes it to return home when the battery charge gets low.

The Phantom 3 has an auto-takeoff feature. When you power up, the quadcopter will rise to a preset height and wait for further instructions from the pilot. You can also end your flight gracefully by having it return home automatically, even before the battery loses its power.

For FPV, you’ll use your own mobile device, which will likely be a tablet for the best and largest picture. DJI provides the app that controls everything and even has a flight simulator for practice flights.