The 10 Best Racing Drones
This wiki has been updated 23 times since it was first published in December of 2016. Flying a drone is both thrilling and challenging, especially when doing so at high speeds. We put these racing models through their paces by considering factors like camera resolution, flight stability and responsiveness, and resilience after any inevitable crashes. Our selections include options suitable for beginners as well as those best left in the hands of experienced flyers. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. If you'd like to contribute your own research to the Wiki, please get started by reviewing this introductory video.
October 15, 2020:
There have been quite a few updates to the list this time around. Unfortunately, the BumbleB Whoop Pro, Holy Stone HS150 Bolt Bee, Swagtron SwagDrone, and Drocon Bugs 3 have been removed due to availability concerns. The Emax TinyHawk has been replaced with the Emax Tinyhawk Kit, which — you guessed it — is essentially the same product bundled with useful accessories. Similarly, the newer Cheerwing X20 has replaced the Cheerwing X27. The latest additions to this collection are the Ruko F11 Pro, Potensic Upgraded A20, DJI Mavic Air, and Snaptain SP510, chosen because of their popularity and ease of use, as reported by drone novices, experts, and users who fall somewhere in between. The DJI Mavic Air was awarded the top spot because of its high-quality construction and handy photography-related features, such as a "spotlight" function that makes it possible to fix the camera on a subject while the device is in motion.
Though there are several "affordable" options in this list, most of these cost more than just a few bucks. If you're not quite ready to commit a ton of cash to exploring a new interest, a budget drone may be the best way to determine whether or not you want to pursue this 21st-century hobby seriously.
July 01, 2019:
When it comes to a pastime like drone racing, the models best suited for long-term success are often beyond the scope of what beginners are capable of. We took that into consideration when compiling this list; while there are several models shown here that are newbie-friendly, at the end of the day success in drone racing requires a competent, experienced pilot and a high-end machine, which is why the Drocon Bugs 3 is in the top spot. Make no mistake, you will have a somewhat steep learning curve with it, but if you stick with it, you'll end up with flying skills that will translate to just about any other device on the market.
On the other hand, drone racing can quickly get expensive if your machines keep crashing and burning. The Emax TinyHawk is one of the toughest birds in the sky, so if you feel like you might have a few unscheduled trips to the ground in your future, it's a smart choice.
The BumbleB Whoop Pro is a good middle-of-the-road option that's fun for both new and experienced flyers. You have the option of switching out thumb sticks, with one pair that's best suited for inexperienced users and another super-responsive pair that can challenge veterans. It's fairly durable as well, so don't worry about actually breaking your toy while you're breaking in the sticks.
Storm SRD6 This option has the DJI Naza V2 system installed, which helps autocorrect common flying mistakes. It can take 1080p video while it zooms along, allowing you to relive your racing exploits again and again. helipal.com
Uvify Draco This flying contraption moves so fast you'll likely worry about it overheating — but fear not, as it has an internal cooling system that keeps it in mint condition even when you've got the hammer down. If you get bored with it, its swappable modular components make it almost endlessly customizable. uvify.com
Arris X210S with Skyzone The ultralight carbon fiber body on this machine won't slow it down in the air, helping you to wring every little bit of speed out of it during a race. The arms have a specially-designed edge that reduces wind resistance as well. arrishobby.com
A Brief History Of Racing Drones
Competitors and observers in drone racing rely on these cameras, as well.
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.
Despite this, the FAA still requires operators to secure approval before flying over populated areas.
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 this makes the quadcopters faster and more agile, it also makes them challenging to pilot.
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.