With the recent release of new and more affordable radio link and FPV technology, long range FPV has been gaining traction within the FPV community more rapidly than ever before. More pilots are pushing their gear (and nerve!) to the limits to experience FPV in its most purest unrestricted form. No longer is the park border the final boundary. Now, long range pilots are free to reach for the next mountain, furthest peak, or even the next township over. There’s never been a better time than now to fly long range FPV!
How does Long Range FPV Differ from FPV Freestyle?
FPV freestyle is essentially flown for the purpose of executing a series of stunts during a flight. There are many strains in freestyle, although they all share this common element. Long range FPV has the purpose of reaching a distant checkpoint and (hopefully!) returning to the takeoff location. This could be to satisfy a goal or perhaps to obtain impressive footage of the location.
There is some debate as to whether ‘long range FPV’ is a suitable tag for this kind of flying. Some propose ‘mid-range’ or ‘free range’ to be more suitable handles. However, the long range moniker seems to have stuck for now.
Unlike race and freestyle drones, the long range multirotor is often far more unique. A special focus is often put on efficient use of power. This can sometimes be an issue with the often larger size of the aircraft, and the amount of equipment needed to be present on-board. This challenge has been somewhat mitigated by the miniaturization of components.
Plenty of long range FPV pilots have produced fantastic results with standard size 5” frames, although 6” – 7” size frames are often more appropriate for long range flight. If using a 5″ frame, the goal is to keep the frame and internal components as light as possible, while focusing on a larger battery and efficient motors and props. Think in terms of a light weight racing style multirotor frame.
However, 6″ – 7″ frames with a wheelbase typically between 220-300mm offer longer flight times due to increased efficiency and the ability to carry chunkier batteries. Larger frames also tend to cruise smoothly and are more capable of holding a line than their smaller counterparts.
The Radio Control Link
Most long range FPV pilots use UHF radio equipment to control their craft, the most prominent system being the TBS Crossfire. UHF radio control systems operate on low frequency/long wavelength radio waves. The larger size of these wavelengths allows the wave to penetrate through obstructions and travel greater distances more readily than high frequency radio waves such as those on the 2.4GHz spectrum. Also, your antennas be high up and out away from the carbon for maximum signal! This maximizes the amount of signal reaching your antennas, and greatly lessens the chance of a failsafe.
Note: Before choosing a UHF radio control system, it’s important to check the rules and regulations regarding civilian radio equipment for your area. For example: 915MHz is legal in North America and Australia, while 868MHz is free for civilian use in Europe.
The Video Link
Although the use of UHF radio control systems is almost unanimous for long range FPV, the majority of pilots choose to use high power 5.8GHz video transmitters such as the TBS Unify Pro. Although lower frequency video systems are available, 5.8GHz equipment is still far more abundant and will suit the needs of the average long range FPV pilot. Unlike race quads where you pop a stubby antenna that is partially hidden in the back of the quad, you want your VTX antenna to be well up high and out away from anything on your quad. This maximizes the transmitted signal and makes it more likely that you will not lose your video link mid flight.
A diversity capable video receiver such as the ImmersionRC rapidFIRE, TBS Fusion, or FuriousFPV True-D X, is also recommended. A good patch antenna (or two!) is a must on your goggle receiver long range FPV. If you plan on flying behind you for parts of your flight, you can pair a standard circular polarized antenna with your patch. Coupled together, these items will greatly boost the maximum possible range of a long range FPV drone.
The Power Train
Again, the typical 5” freestyle drone is capable of ‘long range’ flight to an extent, although more efficient 6”-7” quadcopters are far more optimised for the task. 2306/2207 sized motors (or larger) with a kV of 1400-1900kV are most suitable for these larger prop sizes, depending on the cell count of the battery. 4S currently remains the most common battery size, although 5S and 6S continuously gather popularity as the racing community moves toward high-voltage drone rigs and the range of HV electrons diversifies.
Long range FPV drones typically don’t require the same level of agility as a freestyle quadcopter and can safely be loaded up with high capacity batteries with little worry for loss of performance. In fact, a larger battery than the classic 4S 1300mAh is essential for most setups if long range distances are to be achieved. To truly obtain long flights, some pilots even double up on batteries depending on the lift capacity of the aircraft. This is done by wiring the batteries in parallel to achieve a higher capacity. This is not to be confused with wiring them in series, which would increase the voltage. If you choose to go down this path, be careful!! Power = Good / Flames = Bad.
For more information on connecting two batteries in series or parallel: Check out this video from Painless360
On Screen Display (OSD)
OSD is a very important feature for long range FPV, allowing real time tracking of the various stats of the aircraft. This is especially key with long range, where a battery getting low means the difference between your aircraft making it home, or you going on a hike! Battery monitoring is the just the beginning with OSD. The ability to track control link quality, direction and heading, and location with GPS, as well as altitude when a barometer is present, is all advantageous to the long range operation. With many modern flight controllers offering a built in OSD, there’s almost no reason not to include this useful tool in your long range FPV drone build.
GPS is a component integral to a long range FPV drone. These tiny devices can save you a whole world of heartbreak if used correctly. A GPS allows real time display of the coordinates of the drone, making for better chances of recovery in the event of a crash, given DVR is recorded. Additionally, GPS allows tracking of the takeoff position, which can be lifesaving if you happen to lose your way during a long range FPV flight.
Long Range FPV Tips and Tricks
In long range FPV, the penalty for a mistake is high. In FPV freestyle a crash could mean a single busted motor. However, an unplanned landing while flying long range could mean the loss of a fully equipped drone, or a very long hike! Following these useful tips and tricks will certainly improve your chances of going the distance while still managing to retain your investment.
When testing your long range FPV drone out for the first time, don’t overdo it. Take it slow and increase your mission distances in small increments. This reduces the risk of losing your drone due to something like a loose wire or awkwardly positioned antenna.
Know your Limits
Know how long your quad will fly under specific amp draws, and record and use that information. Remember, battery capacity is one of the key items that you will need to manage when performing your long range flight. Generally, you can effectively use up to 80% of your battery’s capacity, so you will need to plan your flight accordingly to not end up stranded on the side of the mountain. Plan your flight accordingly to maximize not only your epic mountain dives, but to ensure you have enough juice to make it back home. Nothing would be worse than your battery giving up the ghost when you still have a valley between you and your quad.
DVR is a recording of everything displayed by the FPV camera during flight, recorded locally to an SD card in the goggles or external DVR unit. The most valuable use of DVR is in identifying the location of a downed drone by re-watching the flight as well as recording the GPS coordinates at which the drone dropped. DVR recording will immensely improve chances of recovering a lost long range FPV drone.
Always Analyze your Surroundings
Before flying, it’s essential to carefully look over your surroundings, analyzing any potential threats that could cut your flight times short. These threats can take the form of an incoming storm, an inconveniently placed radio tower or other FPV pilots preparing to get their own crafts in the air.
Maintain Line of Sight
Line of sight is an unobstructed space between yourself and your quadcopter. Radio waves have a hard time moving through physical objects such as trees and mountain faces, so it’s essential that clear line of sight is preserved to ensure a stable radio link. One of the best ways to ensure clear line of sight is to gain altitude, higher altitude allows for greater distances to be achieved.