The 10 Best Racing Drones
10. Eachine Wizard X220
9. Rise Vusion 250 Extreme
8. ImmersionRC Vortex 285
7. Blade Inductrix
6. Arris X-Speed 280 V2
5. MJX Bugs 6
4. Holy Stone HS200
3. Swagtron SwagDrone
2. Holy Stone HS150 Bolt Bee
1. Walkera Rodeo 110
A Brief History Of Racing Drones
The first unmanned military aircraft buzzed like a bee, so much so that those who witnessed it in action started calling it a drone.
Today's slick and compact consumer racing drones hardly resemble their military predecessors. Most military drones have a single rotor and fixed wings or are jet powered, while racing and consumer drones are based on a four-rotor design nearly as old as manned flight.
The earliest quadcopters were regarded by some engineers and inventors as a possible alternative to the dominant fixed-wing design. Promoted for its vertical takeoff potential, these primitive quadcopters were unstable and challenging to pilot. For this reason, the design was largely abandoned for decades.
As components like flight controllers, cameras, and GPS units became smaller and more affordable in the late 2000s, drones were produced in increasing numbers by the military and hobbyists alike.
Manufacturers of the first consumer drones enhanced the aged quadcopter design, and it proved stable and nimble. Modern consumer drones are almost exclusively powered by batteries, which grow smaller and more powerful every year. Thanks to this improved battery capacity, drones are now used in disaster areas to establish emergency communications networks.
Consumers and researchers found many applications for the cameras aboard most drones, and they are now used on film shoots and deployed by photographers worldwide. Cameras are also used in auto-follow drones, which can lock on and move in synchronization with a target.
Competitors and observers in drone racing rely on these cameras, as well. Onboard cameras grant the operator a first-person view useful in navigation, and the video feed is shared with observers, granting them an up-close view of the action.
Drone racing started as an amateur sport in Australia in 2014, and has since spread throughout the world.
Drone Safety And Legal Issues
For more than two years American drone operators were required to register their drones with the United States Federal Aviation Administration.
However, in May 2017, a federal court struck down the FAA requirement, and today, personal-use drones need not be registered.
While operators no longer have to register their drones, the FAA still has numerous safety suggestions and rules. The administration advises limiting flights to 400 feet in altitude and maintaining line of sight with the drone at all times. Even with advanced consumer drones, it is dangerous to lose radio contact. While most drones manufactured today have auto-descent programs that trigger when signal is lost, there is no guarantee that the drone will land in a safe place.
The FAA also warns against flying near airports, manned aircraft, and emergency workers. Because of the danger posed by high-speed rotors, operators should also avoid flying over people, public venues, and sporting events, according to the administration.
In 2017, the FAA researched the risks of falling drones and found that they were not as dangerous as similarly weighted items. Despite this, the FAA still requires operators to secure approval before flying over populated areas. Before flying over people, operators should make certain their quadcopter has a blade guard installed. These guards limit exposure of quadcopter blades, and are essential to safely flying over people, the FAA reports.
The FAA is especially concerned about the dangers associated with flying drones near emergency workers. Commercial drones were detected flying near a southern California wildfire in 2015, leading officials to suspend their fire-fighting air missions twice in a single week. The large tankers and helicopters used by firefighters operate at low altitudes, comparable to those of consumer and commercial drones.
While a drone may seem insignificant next to one of these large aircraft, a mid-air collision could cause tremendous damage, according to the U.S. Forest Service. The FAA compares the danger posed by drones to that of birds, which although small can still damage a plane, particularly if they are sucked into a jet engine.
Racing Drone Technology and Organization
In the popular first-person view drone racing format, the pilot sees precisely what the drone camera sees.
In most leagues, video from the drone is fed to the pilot's head-mounted display via radio signal. Drone control and video require extreme radio bandwidth, and the technology to support today's racing leagues only recently became available.
While most consumer drones are suitable for some form of racing, competitive leagues have a number of standards, and they should be researched before enrolling in an event. For instance, the Drone Racing League manufactures and supplies pilots with its own drones. Other leagues allow competitors to bring their own drones, as long as they meet certain specifications.
Unlike standard consumer drones, racing drones are designed with a single purpose: rapid movement. Where a photography-focused drone will often feature four equally-spaced motors in an X-pattern, a racing drone is likely to have its four motors in an H-configuration. This H-arrangement grants the quadcopter more forward thrust, and less vertical thrust.
Racing drones are typically assembled with lighter weight components than other models, and feature more powerful electric motors. While this makes the quadcopters faster and more agile, it also makes them challenging to pilot. The best drone pilots have steady hands and quick reaction times.
Course layouts vary by league. The Drone Racing League builds obstacle-laden, single-lap courses with bright lights, and illuminated movie props. By contrast, the U.S. National Drone Racing Championship mostly races in open spaces, with fewer obstacles.
The world's richest drone race was the 2016 World Drone Prix, which awarded its winner $250,000. Held in Dubai, the race touted a total prize fund that exceeded $1 million.