Last November, I went to the Boston Drone Film Festival (BDFF) and I fell in love with a new kind of filmmaking that I just had to try. People were flying around these tiny drones using controllers from radio control cars. They wore VR style goggles and could see through the camera of the drone. It was my first real experience with First Person View (FPV) drones.
I’m not a total cro-magnon man, I had known that DJI had FPV goggles. In my experience as a Part 107 sUAS pilot, I scoffed at the need for such a thing. I thought that the Tello was a toy and teaching aid but not a serious device. In my work, the drone was a filmmaking tool for amazing establishing shots and for faux boom and dolly shots. On the photo side, I really limited myself by selling realtors vanity shots of properties. I was enamored with what I could do with a drone but I was not growing in my creative use of it. I had stagnated.
Then I saw this video from a drone shredding through an abandoned parking garage following a group of parkour athletes. My jaw dropped. I want to do that. The drone part, not the parkour. I’m not that crazy.
When I got home I immediately started researching and almost as immediately got decision fatigue. There were so many options. Everything from toothpicks to whoops, racing, cine, and freestyle. Sizes from less than 2″ to bigger than 5″. There are people building their own Matrice style mega drones. Many are under the .55lbs that require FAA registration but many are not. It was daunting.
Of course, depending on how you are using them and the results of the Remote ID fiasco, that may all change. Every drone may need to be registered or the use of them may be so restricted that the industry will die. I have spoken out against Remote ID before here and in other articles. I short it is imperative that we defeat Remote ID. Now, back to the story.
“Ok, so while I want to build my own I’ll just take baby steps.” If I’m going to build one I need to learn to solder. That’s easy there’s Harbor Freight near my home. I should probably buy my Radio Controller and my FPV goggles, that can’t be too hard right? Reciever protocols, antennas, channels, bands, oh my. There is a lot to take in. I miss Radio Shack.
When I was a kid I liked RC cars. I started with the cheapo all in one package kind but started to get more in-depth. Who could you rely on to answer questions? Your helpful techs at Radio Shack. Looking for an RC or hobby store today is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. The nearest ones to me are over an hour away.
Again, I am not a Luddite, I am a frequent YouTube learner and actually enjoy the process of teaching myself a new skill. However, there comes a time when you need a mentor and a one-way instruction video is not a mentor. You can’t reliably ask a question of a YouTube personality, and the instruction manual cannot rephrase a part that you don’t understand. Without a mentor, you invariably will make a stupid mistake, oh such as buy the wrong size battery and when it arrives you see that the battery that you purchased is bigger than the drone you intend to fly. Whoops.
In the end, I have found a great group of people in The Western Massachusetts FPV Group and a Linkedin friend through our mutual distaste of Remote ID. These people have become my new Radio Shack, willing to answer all my questions even the less intelligent ones. As a result of spending time with them, I may even get try out drone racing, which was not initially something I thought I’d be interested in.
The learning curve is high in getting into FPV, but so far its seems worth it. Or it will be. I have finally gotten the little FPV drone to fly but haven’t tuned it well enough. It will take a lot of practice to learn to fly it well. The potential is there and the capabilities have already stirred up my creative mind which was becoming stagnant in my drone filmmaking. Sure, online purchasing sites like Race Day Quads and Get FPV have been helpful and well priced and have been a pleasant experience. Still, something was lost when we lost our friendly, helpful techs at Radio Shack.