When we think of electric racing. Formula E is king of the electric racing series. There are, of course, plenty of other series too including the e-Miglia rally, newly formed Electric GT Championship and Trophy Andros. There’s also a forthcoming electric rallycross series named E/RACING, which will feature 670hp all-wheel drive purpose built machines.
Slightly more obscure and always making progress are the beautifully designed Roborace cars that are set to provide robotic support racing at Formula E events. But they’re a little way off yet.
The one major problem with all these series is that they’re not for the everyman to enter. Drivers are hand- picked from elite drivers’ clubs the world over. Participation is not likely for most of us.
Enter drone racing. This relatively new phenomenon is picking up pace, with its exciting blend of virtual reality, quadcopters and pylon racing. If you’ve ever watched Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi and enjoyed the Imperial Speedsters racing through the woods, you’ll love this – or perhaps Pod Racing from Episode I.
While all that may sound tantalising, camera drones can be very expensive with top DJI models costing more than a thousand pounds. However, racing drones are a different beast with three aims; to fly fast, be manoeuvrable and provide a live view to the pilot.
They’re typically smaller and less expensive than other camera drones, as they don’t require gimbal mounted 4K cameras or need mile-long range either. However, they do require costly first person view (FPV) goggles. In addition, many racing drones can be built in kit form, whereas others are known as RTF (Ready to Fly).
Before we get into the racing, the law is an important thing to understand with regard to drones, which fall under the category of, “Small Unmanned Aircraft’. Racing drones are flown within sight and not above 120 metres, meaning participants don’t require a CAA permission to fly. Drones must be flown at least 50 metres away from people or property and 150 metres away from crowds and built up areas. You are legally responsible when using your drone and failure to do fly responsibly can result in criminal prosecution. If you fly near an airport or a plane, you could face up to five years in prison.
Races tend to be held in fields and usually comprise of four drone racers in each heat going around a course set out using pylons. There are two main classes for quad drone racing; Spec class for beginners and Open class for more advanced pilots. Spec class has more restrictions on quad type that can be used to keep racing equal, much like Formula E. Open class is more like an unlimited class, where the more money you have the better, as anything goes. Some of these flying machines are capable of more than 70mph! Because the sport is relatively new, finding places to race can be more challenging than the race itself. Fortunately, there are several resources in the UK that can help. Firstly, there’s FPV Racing World, which offers a map of both interested members and clubs with links.
How Racing Works
Traditional style racing is called Rotorcross, whereby drone pilots race flat-out against one another around a predefined course. As with most racing, the winner is the first to cross the line after a set number of laps. The advantage to this type of racing is that drones can be raced without expensive FPV goggles.
In addition to old-school racing is drag racing for drones. As you might imagine, this is simply a case of racing a drone from a standing start across a 100 metre dash. First across the line, wins. As we EV drivers know, the electric torque apparent in our cars is what makes this exciting and drones can take off with immediacy. Naturally, as with cars, these races favour drones that have a fast discharge battery pack and racing propellers. At the end of the drag strip, many events stipulate the drone must be landed (not crashed) to complete the course.
The last type of racing is known as Time Trial. This type of racing favours those more skilled in the art of flying and necessitate special timing transmitters attached to your drone. The winner, of course, is the one who can complete a set course in the quickest time.
Essentially, only a few key ingredients are required to setup a drone racing stage. First and foremost is a venue. Traditional RC plane and helicopter pilots have needed the same type of land for many years, so there’s plenty about from private land like farmer’s fields to common areas where flying is permitted. Of course, risk assessment and safety should be a priority and cordoning off an area allowing for the CAA’s Drone Safe guidelines should be a priority. Essentially that’s about it, aside from some organisation, interested pilots and, typically, flags to mark out a course.