So You Want To Get Started Flying FPV Drones: 2020 Edition

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The other day, Jeremy Cook from The Creativity Podcast invited me on the show to talk about getting started with the hobby of FPV drones. We just finished recording. During the episode, I said I would put together a write-up covering all the things we talked about.

I wrote about this same topic almost exactly twelve months ago. A lot has changed since then! Most of what I said then still applies, but there are a few new products available now that can help a newbie get started.

I’m definitely going to rehash quite a bit of what I wrote about last year, but that’s just the nature of this sort of post. I don’t want you to have to jump back and forth between blog posts. I want all the necessary information to be right here.

TL;DR: There are lots of options here! What’s your simple recommendation?!

This is really easy to answer. Buy the BetaFPV Advanced Kit. Don’t even think about flying the Meteor75 drone that is included in the kit. Just plug that LiteRadio 2 into your computer and play Velocidrone, Liftoff, or DRL.

Then fly the Meteor75. If you get proficient in the simulator, you’ll quickly outgrow the Meteor75, but it will still serve you well for flying indoors. Then pick up a TinyHawk II Freestyle. It is an amazing value. It will bind to your BetaFPV LiteRadio 2, and it really does fly so much like our 5” miniquads.

BetaFPV Advanced Kit

At this point you’ll have a reasonable radio, goggles, an indoor whoop, and a pretty good 2.5” micro for outdoors. You will have been flying enough that you will probably know exactly what you want to fly next!

If you are saying things like “$200 is too much to spend!” or, “My pockets are deep! I want to go straight to real miniquad!” then you should keep reading. There is no single correct recommendation that applies to everyone.

FPV isn’t a cheap hobby

You don’t have to spend a ton of money to get started, but I think it is important to explain just how much money this hobby actually costs before getting you hooked on a $165 starter bundle.

My battery-charging setup cost about $150. My purpose-built FPV backpack cost $200. My FPV goggles cost $500, and they don’t even work until you add a $150 video receiver module. The radio transmitter I use to control my drones cost $180.

That’s the gear I use with every single one of my drones. Each of my 5” freestyle quads cost about $450, and I have to spend a few hours building them myself. What’s my time worth? Who knows!

I usually carry two or three of these quads in my bag. I fly with a GoPro strapped to the top of my quad. Those cost $200 to $300, and I carry two GoPros in my bag.

I also carry around $200 worth of batteries.

I’m invested in the hobby. You could do everything I do for a lot less money, but I find that premium hardware doesn’t break as often when I crash it!

FPV isn’t an expensive hobby

There are so many hobbies that are much more expensive than FPV. I’ve spent more on a turbo charger and exhaust upgrade than what I paid for my drone backpack and everything inside. Things like Snowmobiles, ATVs, and dirt bikes are much more expensive.

I usually compare FPV to golfing. You can get yourself everything you need to be flying an entry-level 5” freestyle quad for around what a high-end driver would cost.

You don’t have to pay to rent a golf cart. You don’t have to pay greens fees. Your gear costs money. Repairs cost time and money. The flying is free!

That said, I carry a $500 set of Fat Shark HDO goggles with a $150 video receiver plugged into it. My 5” freestyle quads cost $500 each, and I carry two or three of them. I use a $200 radio with a $70 Crossfire Micro TX module installed. I carry all that stuff in a giant $200 backpack.

You can spend more than I do, but you can also spend a lot less and still have just as much fun. I just want you to know what you might be in for!

There’s a lot of maintenance involved in flying FPV!

You’re going to crash. You’re going to break things. You’re going to have to be able to fix things. You can get started without worrying about this stuff, but you will eventually need to learn how to use a soldering iron.

Choosing parts and building a quad is a lot like building a computer. With the computer, you have to choose a motherboard that’s compatible with your choice of CPU. You drop the CPU into the appropriate socket, you put your GPU in a PCIe slot, and all this stuff bolts into a case.

Quadcopters are similar. Motors connect to ESCs, ESCs connect to flight controllers, and this stuff gets bolted to a frame. The difference is that most of these things are soldered together with lengths of wire.

When you smash into something and bend a motor, you’ll have to be able to solder three wires to install a new one.

You can help avoid repairs by buying premium components, but that only postpones the inevitable. More expensive gear might survive more small crashes than cheaper hardware, but you will most definitely be involved in crashes that will break fresh expensive components in a single collision.

Who is FPV for?

We have friends that fly FPV with all sorts of different goals. Some want to fly long range to explore. Some want to cruise around. We have friends that participate in local races. Many of us fly freestyle.

I can’t speak for everyone else in our local group, but I think I’ve figured out why FPV is so appealing to me.

When I was younger, I used to modify cars and drive too fast. Building miniquads and flying FPV scratches similar itches, except it doesn’t cost as much as cars or turbochargers, and it is orders of magnitude safer!

I’ve already mentioned building computers. The first computer I built was a 40 MHz 386, and I’ve been building my own personal machines ever since. Choosing PC parts and quadcopter parts are similar exercises.

That leads into my love of video games. I started my gaming career playing games like Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, and Parsec. Then I had games like Super Mario Bros., Metroid, and Zanac. Then I spent a lot of time playing games like the Gran Turismo series and Grand Theft Auto San Andreas. These days I play a lot of Team Fortress 2 and Dead Cells.

I like games with high skill ceilings. I feel like I am an extremely competent FPV pilot, but I have friends that are better than me, and when I fly with professionals, I can see exactly how far I am from that ceiling!

What do I need to do to get started?!

I wish I could just give you a single, definitive answer. There are several good paths you can take to enter the hobby, and the route you take will depend on what you’re interested in.

You can do what I did three years ago and just dive right in. Spend a bunch of money and buy some sort of goggles, a transmitter, and build an FPV drone. This was fun, but learning was slowed down by the frequency of the crashes, and I wound up spending a lot of money on repairs!

There are better options today.

You need to learn three mostly unrelated skills

Learning to fly is a skill, and it is the skill that requires the most practice. That isn’t the only skill an FPV pilot has to acquire. This is unfortunate.

You have to learn to configure your quadcopter. For most of us, that means you need to learn to use the Betaflight Configurator. This is where you set up the way your quad feels, configure it to talk to your radio receiver, and set up exactly what your switches and sticks actually do. You don’t need to learn a lot to get by, but this hole goes quite deep.

You also need to learn to configure your radio transmitter and bind it to your various drones. This is the easiest part, but it really does gum up the works for a lot of people.

This doesn’t even count repairing or building a quad. That’s another skill you’ll need.

Attacking all three problems at once is a herculean task. I’m going to be breaking down your options starting with the easiest and least expensive option. These options aren’t really a list. You can’t really progress from the beginning to the end. Each of these options is a place to get started.

With the first option, you can get started extremely quickly and not have to worry about breaking or fixing drones. The next two options involve actual drones, but they’re configured from the factory. You just open the box, charge the batteries, and start flying.

Things get more difficult from there.

Get the BetaFPV Literadio 2 and a simulator

The new radio from BetaFPV is a rather recent development, and it is quite impressive. I’ve only gotten to try it once, but I was quite pleased with the experience.

The Literadio 2 is only $40. It is compatible with FrSky D8 and D16, which means it will work well with just about any bind-n-fly drone you might want to buy. It felt a little weird to me, because the throw on the gimbals is so short. It reminded me of the FrSky X-Lite radio.

You can plug the Literadio into one of your computer’s USB ports, and it will show up as a USB gamepad. This will let you fly in several fantastic FPV drone simulators.

  • The Drone Racing League $9.99 on Steam
  • Liftoff Drone Simulator $19.99 on Steam
  • Velocidrone $15

We’ve been meeting more and more people who started flying in a simulator, and they’re usually amazing pilots. It took most of us 6 months to a year to be proficient pilots. These guys spend a month flying in a game, buy their first real drone, and they’re doing fancy tricks their first time out!

I’m about to tell you about the TinyHawk bundles. The advantage of the BetaFPV radio is that you will be able to use it with more drones than just the TinyHawk, and it will even give you better control over the TinyHawks.

Pros:

  • Least expensive way to try out the hobby
  • All the hardware and software to get going is only $50 to $60
  • You won’t waste time chasing your drone when you crash
  • You won’t spend money on repairs
  • You will learn quickly, easily, and cheaply
  • The Literadio 2 will last you a while
  • The Literadio isn’t a premium radio, but it is a step up from toy grade

Cons:

  • You will be sitting at your computer instead of flying!
  • You will have to configure your first drone to work with the radio

That last con is why the TinyHawk bundle and the BetaFPV Advanced Kit are so awesome. In the future, you’ll be binding quads to your radio and configuring them all the time. The first time can be tricky.

NOTE: Even if you want to start on the simulator, you should probably start with the BetaFPV Advanced Kit. It comes with this same radio, so you can use it with the simulator. With the kit you’ll also have a quad that’s bound to your radio, and that quad is configured and ready to fly!

Get a proper radio transmitter and a simulator

Instead of spending $40 on a radio that you will probably outgrow, you can instead spend $120 to $200 or more on a radio that you will use for many years.

I fly a Taranis X9D Plus that costs about $190. The Taranis Q X7 is around $120, and it isn’t any less capable for FPV than my X9D Plus. The Radiomaster T16S looks fantastic for around $160.

Taranis X9D+ and Spektrum DX6

There are a lot of choices here. Almost any of these radios will accept a TBS Crossfire or FrSky R9 long-range radio module. I use a TBS Crossfire module in my Taranis X9D+ for better range.

Pros:

  • You may never buy another radio
  • All the other pros of the LiteRadio 2 apply

Cons:

  • You will still be sitting at your computer instead of flying!
  • You will have to configure your first drone to work with the radio
  • Would you want to learn to change your oil before driving your first car?

If I can just spend $120 on a real radio, why would anyone buy the BetaFPV LiteRadio 2?!

I actually do have some good reasons to start with a LiteRadio 2 even if you can afford a $200 radio without even thinking about it!

I wouldn’t mind upgrading to a TBS Tango 2 radio transmitter. The Tango 2 only supports TBS Crossfire. This is fine for most of my fleet, but my TinyHawk and TinyHawk Freestyle only support FrSky. This is common for bind-n-fly whoops. My Taranis with a Crossfire module can bind to just about anything.

I kind of wish I had a BetaFPV LiteRadio 2 for my two smallest quads and a TBS Tango 2 for everything else. I’d leave my BeatFPV radio in a small bag with my whoops, then I would just have to move my goggles from one bag to the other. I don’t need the best-feeling radio in the world to fly my micros!

I think this would be a great path to take. Get a LiteRadio 2. Fly it in the simulator. Fly your first micro quad with it. Fly your first 5” miniquad with it. When you eventually decide you want TBS Crossfire, pick up a Tango 2.

A LiteRadio 2 and a Tango 2 added together cost about as much as a Taranis Q X7 and Crossfire Micro TX module. Even if you decide to upgrade to a Taranis instead of a Tango 2, you could still give your LiteRadio to a friend to get them hooked!

The Emax TinyHawk Ready-To-Fly bundles

These are fantastic. Especially if you’re itching to get in the air with real hardware!

For less than $200, you get a drone with an FPV camera, a basic set of FPV box goggles, a toy-grade but usable radio transmitter, a charger, and a battery or two. You should even be able to throw in a 6-pack of extra batteries without breaking $200, and if you buy a TinyHawk bundle, you will want more batteries!

NOTE: That’s my TinyHawk Freestyle. The TinyHawk II Freestyle has a much better camera and a more powerful video transmitter.

Emax now has a version of their TinyHawk bundle that includes the TinyHawk II Freestyle instead of the underpowered indoor TinyHawk II. The TinyHawk II Freestyle is much too powerful to fly indoors! It will have no trouble reaching 60 to 70 mph. It accelerates faster than any car on the road. It needs a wide-open space.

I own both the original TinyHawk and the original TinyHawk Freestyle, but I use them with my own radio and goggles. I do not own the Ready-To-Fly transmitter or goggles.

Pros:

  • The TinyHawk bundles are configured and ready to fly immediately
  • The TinyHawks will work with most of the common real radio transmitters
  • You can use the goggles with your next quad
  • You can use the simulators

Cons:

  • The BetaFPV Advanced kit looks like a better option?!
  • You will outgrow these basic goggles
  • You will need a new radio transmitter when you get your first real miniquad
  • The radio transmitter is an imprecise toy
  • The indoor TinyHawk can get carried away by the wind outside!
  • The TinyHawk Freestyle will be dangerous indoors!

NOTE: I’ve been recommending the TinyHawk Ready-To-Fly bundle for ages. It has been fantastic. I have tried it. I fly a TinyHawk myself, and that makes it easy to recommend. However, you should look at the BetaFPV Advanced Kit. I haven’t flown it, but it looks like a better investment to me!

The BetaFPV Advanced Kit

I have to mention this kit since it appeared as I was writing this post. At first, I only saw the BetaFPV Starter Kit 2, and I thought it looked amazing at $129. Then I noticed that it uses brushed motors. That’s a bummer, because brushed motors aren’t durable and they wear out. I could forgive that at the price.

Then I learned that the radio in the starter kit is a less capable version of the LiteRadio 2 that is missing the FrSky protocols. Without those protocols, the radio is really only useful with the drone shipped with the starter kit. That bummed me out.

The BetaFPV Advanced Kit

NOTE: I’m going to suggest avoiding the BetaFPV Starter Kit. If you really need to save the $70, you can probably piece together something better for a similar price. If you can’t afford the extra $70, then you also don’t want to be stuck with the radio in the Start Kit. Get the Advanced Kit!

Then I found out that there is an advanced version of the kit. This sure looks like the best way to get started to me. You get the full LiteRadio 2, a BetaFPV Meteor75 with its durable brushless motors, a couple of batteries with a simple charger, and a nice case for $199.

Pros:

  • Bound to the radio, configured, and ready to fly immediately!
  • You won’t outgrow the LiteRadio 2 immediately
  • You can use the LiteRadio 2 with any FrSky compatible Bind-N-Fly quad!
  • You can use the LiteRadio 2 with simulators
  • You can use the Meteor75 whoop with your next FrSky compatible radio

Cons:

  • Frame not as sturdy as the TinyHawk, but the frame is cheap
  • If you try this outside, the wind might carry it away!
  • I’ve tried the radio, but I haven’t personally flown the Meteor75

With the BetaFPV kit or either of the Emax TinyHawk kits, you will want to make sure you buy extra batteries! Each flight will only last you 3 to 5 minutes.

I’m ready to move up to a real quad. What do I do?!

I’m just now realizing that this blog post is going to be over 3,000 words. I was intending to list a bunch of bind-n-fly quads, like the $200 iFlight Cidora. I was going to list kits of parts that you build yourself like the $200 Rotor Riot CL1 kits. I was also going to talk about Brian’s amazing Toothpick 3 build, which is basically an ultra premium TinyHawk Freestyle.

If you’re looking to spend more, I don’t think you could go wrong by having Alex Vanover build and tune a custom FPV miniquad for you. Alex tells me he can do his standard analog racing build for about $400, or he can build something to your specs for $150 plus the cost of the parts. I’ve seen Alex’s builds, and they always look clean. I haven’t flown one, but I don’t think many people put as many hours on their quads as Captain Vanover, so I’d expect them to be quality builds.

By the time I elaborate on all these things, we’ll be up well over 5,000 words. That makes me think that detailed advice for the next step on your journey belongs in a different blog post!

What about DJI’s digital FPV system?

This complicates things. If you asked me a year ago whether a new pilot should use analog video or DJI’s digital system, I would have said analog. For sure. At that time, the DJI system improved a lot of things, but it was trailing behind analog in a number of ways.

DJI has been updating their software quite regularly. Every update has closed that gap just a bit. All those updates over the last 12 months have changed things quite a bit.

If you buy the most expensive analog gear, DJI’s pricing doesn’t look bad. If you’re on a tight budget, though, you can fly just fine on analog for a fraction of the price.

You can’t cram DJI’s system into tiny quads. Tiny Whoops can’t carry that much weight. Anything with props smaller than 3” with DJI’s system will be heavy and not fly well. On a 5” build, you won’t notice the extra weight.

The biggest problem with DJI’s digital FPV system is community. So far, we’ve had two people fly with us using DJI gear. Both of them also carried Fat Shark analog goggles with them, and one of them had both analog and digital quads in their bag.

The rest of us can’t tune into their digital flights. We can’t see the cool stuff they do. We can’t give them advice. We can’t help them diagnose weird issues while they’re flying.

This will probably change to be more in favor of DJI’s system in a year or two. It you already know you’re going to enjoy the hobby, and you don’t want to just dip your toe in the water to try it out, I wouldn’t blame you for investing in DJI FPV gear right away!

I want to fly an actual quadcopter, but I want to spend as little as possible!

You should check out the Eachine E010. It isn’t an FPV drone. It isn’t durable. It isn’t powerful. However, it is often only $12. You get a toy drone, a cheap radio controller, a battery, and a charger.

The Eachine E010 is a lot like the first toy drone I owned, except it is so much cheaper. It can’t compete with the TinyHawk or the Meteor75. It is just a toy, but it does fly.

I’d rather see you spend $40 on a BetaFPV LiteRadio 2 to play in the simulator, but if you really must have a toy drone, this is the way to go. I like giving these as gifts to my non-pilot friends!

Make sure you get the Mode 2 model with the throttle on the left.

Conclusion

After getting all amped up to write about fancier machines, this feels like an abrupt conclusion! I hope I’ve done a good job covering the reasonably priced options.

The BetaFPV Advanced Kit really goofed me up here. It wasn’t available when I recorded the podcast with Jeremy, and I only became aware of it part-way through this write-up. It is almost exactly the bundle I’ve been hoping to see.

This was a long one! How did I do? Have I made good suggestions to beginners trying to enter the hobby? Do you agree that the BetaFPV Advanced Kit and using a simulator is the way to go? Do you have a better option? Did I miss something important? If you have answers to these questions, or you have your own questions leave a comment below or stop by the Butter, What?! Discord server to chat with me about it!

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