For those thinking about or new to the sport of remote controlled flying machines it can be a little confusing when you see these terms used almost interchangeably.
In reality two of these terms are interchangable but the third one is not. Drones and UAVs are essentially the same thing. They both describe a remotely controlled flying machine. A quadcopter is a single instance of a drone or UAV characterised by four propellers usually mounted at the corners of a square or rectanglar shape.
When you first start to search for your new toy it’s like you have discovered a new language because you see bunches of letters such as FPV, RTF, LoS, IPD, FOV, CMOS, CCD, LiPo and ESC amongst a few others.
Perhaps some definitions are in order:
FPV – First Person Viewer. Using a camera and a video screen or headset to see what a pilot would see.
RTF – Ready to Fly. A remote controlled aircraft which requires no construction other than charging the battery.
2 Axis Gimbal – A remotely adjustable camera mount. When coupled with head tracking goggles you can turn your head to see what a pilot in the aircraft would see.
LoS – Line of Sight. How far away you can fly before you can’t see your craft anymore.
IPD – Inter Pupil Distance. The distance between the centres of the pupils of your eyes.
FOV – Field of View. How much of the forward view you have from your aircraft.
LCD – Liquid Crystal Display. The most common type of display used at the receiver end.
CCD – Charge Coupled Device. Target device to convert light from the camera lens to digital signals for transmitting.
CMOS – Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor. Similar to CCD, cheaper, uses less power but the resolution isn’t as good.
LiPo – Lithium Polymer. These are the high energy density but small and light batteries which make these small flying machines possible.
ESC – Electronic Speed Control. One for each motor so you can control them independently in flight.
Drone – All remote controlled flying machines. This includes helicopters and fixed wing aircraft.
Quadcopter – A helicopter with 4 propellers usually in the corners of a rough square or rectangle.
Multirotors / Multicopter – A helicopter with more than 1 lift propellers.
UAV – Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. This covers all remote controlled flying machines including the Global Hawk but you probably can’t buy one of those.
RPV – Remotely Piloted Vehicle.
RPA – Remotely Piloted Aircraft.
ROA – Remotely Operated Aircraft.
Drones, Quadcopters and other multi-rotor flying machines are becoming more and more popular as more people see them and their video clips in YouTube videos. They look so easy to fly and so much fun. They are fun but not easy to fly.
I got hooked when I watched a series of Drone racing videos. It reminded me of the pod racing in Star Wars and that always looked to be so much fun. I really wanted to get a long range FPV drone so I too could have that racing fun.
Let me tell you right now that even experienced pilots crash regularly and no it isn’t easy to fly these things but it is great fun and you can learn. My quad is currently out of action with a burnt out motor and I miss flying around my backyard.
What is the best way to start flying a drone?
In the beginning you should ignore the FPV models. You need to learn to fly with line of sight. FPV will only make learning to fly much harder. FPV really comes into it’s own when it comes to flying your drone over a long range.
It may be in your best interests to buy a small inside model and learn to fly where you won’t lose your new toy in the neighbours tree or on their roof. You will crash, a lot, so don’t let the crashes bother you. Keep working on it and you’ll get better.
One day you’ll fly all around the lounge room without hitting the TV more than once or twice. The cat will learn to recognise the buzzing of the propellors starting up and hide somewhere safe. The dog will run around barking and trying to catch that annoying bee.
What is the best starter drone?
You can pick up one of the Nano drones very cheaply, compared to an outside model and the Cheerson range seem to be pretty popular.
If your wife won’t let you play inside then you should buy a bigger drone so that any random wind gust doesn’t steal your toy and hand it over to the Pit Bull next door.
In any case, a bigger unit is much easier to see at a distance so you are less likely to fly it right out of sight and lose control of it. It will also be much easier to see when it’s stuck up a tree.
What if I really want to start with a full on RTF FPV drone?
If that is the case then what you’ll need to pick up is a kit so that you have everything you need ready to go when you are.
One of the issues of this modern world is that, since many things only work together and you can’t mix and match components, if you don’t buy everything at the time it is available it won’t be available when you are so you’ll have to buy a whole new kit then.
I’ve been caught many times in that same scenario. Picked up the starter bundle, gone back to get the rest a month or so later only to find that that isn’t made anymore and I have to basically start from scratch. Most frustrating and expensive.
If you look here there are a few kits at varying prices.
What if I want to build my own quadcopter?
Congratulations, this is the pinnacle of quad pilots and all serious quad racers build their own units. It is only when you can build one to your specifications that you can maximise the capabilities of the quadcopter.
You’ll find kits and parts all over the place but here is a good place to start. You’ll need to do quite a bit of research to find out exactly what specifications you are after. Join a club if you can, if not, find other local enthusiasts because you are going to need quite bit of help if this is your first build.
What is the best flying time I can expect?
Most of the lower priced drones have a flying time between 5 and 8 minutes. When you are starting out flying this long will seem like an unachievable goal. It won’t take long before this will seem way too short.
Some quadcopters have the capability to fly for up to 30 minutes or more. To do this they are either extremely light or can carry quite a lot of battery power. They are also usually fairly expensive.
What does long range mean if they can only fly 8 minutes?
Long range means a flight with is out of the direct sight of the operator. Usually this is done direct with the use of FPV goggles so the pilot can see where his craft is but sometimes this can be done using a pre-programmed flight path. This second one is usually used in agriculture, mining or surveying work.
One of the problems of flying a long range fpv drone is that you can lose control of the drone due to loss of radio signal. To get around this there are radio repeaters available which allow you to have an extended signal path to your drone.
This is also not without it’s problems. There can be a significant delay in relaying signals backwards and forwards which could result in a crash because your reaction time was compromised by the relay delay.
If you do have a crash on a long range flight you may have difficulty in recovering your drone. There are tracking devices which
you can attach to your drone to assist you in tracking it down. The best of these have a GPS coordinate locator and can, through an app, tell you where they are. However, you really need to practise using whatever tracking device you are using as you will discover that even if you have an idea where the drone is you still will probably have to hunt for it.
GPS is only accurate to about 3 feet (1 metre) and your drone could be stuck up a tree. If you are lucky you’ll be able to fly it out of wherever it’s come down.
Safely flying your drone.
Most of the pre-packaged drones and multi-rotator remote controlled aircraft you can buy now come with at least a single sheet of do-s and don’ts. Pay attention to those but understand that your local rules may be different so do a search on your countries government and aviation authorities websites.
In general you should avoid any regulated airspace such as airports or local landing strips.
Avoid flying over your neighbours property or other residential areas.
Avoid playgrounds and schools.
Avoid heavily trafficked areas both vehicles and people.
If you are not comfortable in an area, don’t fly there.
Don’t fly in windy conditions.
When you are out flying you might attract a crowd. Be polite, don’t be obnoxious. It can be difficult sometimes but they are usually just curious.
Respect other peoples right to privacy.
Most drones are small and light but even one of these has the potential to cause an injury so be mindful of the possibility. Your job is to minimise the risk to yourself and others, including the next door neighbour’s cat.
There is so much more to this sport but this is an overview which I hope will clear up some of your confusion and help you make the right decision for you when you close your first or next quadcopter.
Good luck and safe flying.