Why Fly Long Range FPV?
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 and more pilots are pushing their gear (and nerve!) to the outer limits in order to experience FPV in its most purest unrestricted form. No longer is the park border the final boundary, 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 of freestyle, although, they all share this common element. Long range FPV can be classified as FPV flown for 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, although some propose ‘mid-range’ or ‘free range’ to be more suitable handles. However, long range seems to have stuck for now.
Unlike race and freestyle drones, the long range drone is often far more specialised and not as interchangeable. Long range quadcopters are usually built for efficiency, boasting larger propellers and lower RPM motors along with high power radio communications equipment, usually transmitting longer wavelengths to boost range.
For example: The TBS Micro Crossfire system that operates at either 868/915MHz – Very High Frequency (VHF) radio waves.
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. These 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 VHF radio equipment to control their craft, the most prominent systems being the TBS Crossfire and the newer FrSky R9M. These radio 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.
Note: Before choosing a VHF 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.
A diversity capable video receiver such as the ImmersionRC rapidFIRE is also recommended, along with a good patch antenna and standard circular polarised antenna. 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 1400-1800kV 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.
On Screen Display (OSD)
OSD is a very important feature for long range FPV, allowing real time tracking of battery health, radio link quality and the whereabouts of the drone if GPS is active. 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. Whereas in FPV freestyle a crash could mean a single busted motor, an unplanned landing while flying long range means the loss of a fully equipped drone. Following these useful tips and tricks will certainly improve your chances of going the distance while still managing to retain your investment.
- Baby Steps
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 as small as a loose wire or awkwardly positioned antenna.
- Record DVR
DVR is a recording of everything displayed by the FPV camera during flight, recorded natively 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 rewatching 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 Analyse your Surroundings
Before flying, it’s essential to carefully look over your surroundings, analysing 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.
- Closely Monitor Battery Level
Long range battery packs are big, but they don’t last forever. Setting a timer is a great way to stay aware of flight time, assisting in prevention of accidentally draining the battery too far. Even better, some flight controllers, ESCs and PDBs offer current monitoring that allows accurate live time tracking of the juice remaining in the battery. Keeping a close eye on the battery level is imperative to a successful long range FPV flight.