Drone racing is an emerging competitive sport that has gained more and more popularity in recent years. It is tempting to start an FPV racing career, but how can you make your way there?
To become a professional FPV racer, join the DRL. Practice on the DRL simulator regularly. Get yourself a good radio transmitter, Part 107 registration, ham radio license, and finally a real drone. Start flying real life races to earn more experience, and build networks in the community to get sponsorship and more opportunity to succeed.
There are a lot of things to consider and different paths toward a professional drone racing career. What I am laying down here is what I believe is the easiest to execute with minimum cost, especially if you have a day job! While there is no guarantee that you will be successful in this career following this route, you will be pretty close.
Are You Sure You Want to be A Professional Drone Racer?
This is the question that you should first ask yourself. The path towards professional drone racing is surely not an easy one and you will be faced with various hurdles throughout your career. You will definitely need determination and spend a lot of efforts to be successful in this path.
Many people are skeptical towards a professional career in drone racing given it is relatively new. You will be questioned by your family and loved one whether the effort and dedication that you are putting on will eventually pay off.
But if you’re set on taking a leap of faith and grabbing that risk by its rear-end, great!
Choose A League to Start with
As a drone racer, you would have to participate in competitions to gather experience and boost your skills and status in the community. There are several competitions that you could enter, and each one will have varying rules and regulations – making it necessary to examine all of them first before simply diving into one specific tournament.
The most popular tournament in this field is probably the Drone Racing League or DRL. It is one of the elite professional global drone racing leagues that mainly focuses on the skill of the pilot instead of the quality of the drone that they are operating.
DRL provides the drones that will be used in the actual competition – making it a matter of how they are maneuvered throughout the track instead of the specifications that are incorporated into the building of the drone.
The competition is intense considering that only 12 pilots around the world are going to be qualified to compete for the championship. However, it certainly lives up to its elite status with its estimated revenue for pilots being around $100,000 for each season.
To participate, just download the DRL simulator and start flying.
Why DRL you ask? The answer is simple. First, you get to practice without spending too much. Drone racing is expensive considering the initial investment, replacement cost, upgrade cost, and running cost. While you are learning and pushing your limit, you will certainly crash and would need to replace your damaged drone. You don’t have to worry about those costs with a simulator.
Secondly, you will be ranked in DRL based on your performance in simulation. Essentially, you climb the ladder while practicing. If you are good enough to reach the top, you might be drafted to join the grand finale, which is your ultimate goal in your career.
Thirdly, because racing in DRL is done through simulation, you can do it anywhere and anytime without affecting your day job. This is especially crucial for those with heavy financial commitments.
There are some other leagues out there which are similar to the DRL that you can consider. For instance, the Drone Champions League from Europe features virtual racing where pilots are scored and drafted for the grand finale based on their performance.
Unless you are talented in drone racing, you will need a lot of practices.
So how much time can you allocate each day for practicing? 2 hours? 30 minutes? Most people have a day job or school and family commitment. We don’t have too much time to spend on practicing.
Regardless of how much time you plan to spend on training, make a schedule and follow it! It can be 30 minutes daily or 20 hours a week. Just make sure you are consistent.
Most importantly, have fun every time you fly. Otherwise, you will eventually get sick on training and give up your dream.
Learn the Knowledge and Get the Licenses
A drone itself is a technology that utilizes different areas of knowledge which include radio, aerodynamic, engineering and so on. While you don’t need to know everything inside out about drones, you do need to have some knowledge on the underpinning technology or mechanisms of the drone. On top of that, you also need to know the rules governing drones.
Some of the basic knowledge is covered when you study and register for a Remote Pilot Certificate by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Ham Radio License by the Federal Communication Commission, while some require you to learn from hands on experience or learning online.
You should prepare to register yourself with the FAA under Part 107, as you will eventually fly outside the simulator.
Equip Yourself with the Real Drone Set
At some point, get yourself a good radio transmitter for your simulation. In fact you should get it as soon as possible. The only reason I didn’t recommend you to buy it earlier is to save you some money, in case you’ve changed your mind after a few simulations.
You can refer to this guide to learn how to choose a radio transmitter.
You will need to get yourself familiar with a real RC controller because its design is so different from a keyboard or a gaming controller. Once you get used to it, start to buy or build your own drone, and an FPV goggle of course.
While you continue to practice through simulation, fly your drone regularly. You need to be familiar with flying a physical drone, managing batteries, changing parts and etc. Remember, you will eventually fly a physical drone in a race so you need to know how to deal with different scenarios.
Participate in Real Life Racing More Experience and Networking
You want to be a drone champion, not a video game champion. There is no point claiming yourself a drone racing professional if you can’t beat anyone outside the simulator.
As you get better in racing, you should start joining local, national, and even international races. The MultiGP Drone Racing league is a good option as it hosts regional, national, and international racing championships that you can compete in. If you think you are not ready for that, you can join a local chapter to test your skill in community racing.
A real drone racing feels very different from a virtual one. You no longer sit on your coach comfortably and focus on your race. Instead, you see opponents and audiences face to face. Their cheering, gestures and actions can give you enormous pressure than what you would face in the simulator. If you can’t get used to that, it will be tough for you to perform well when you are drafted for the DRL seasons.
In a real race, you will also encounter situations which you would never encounter in the simulations. For instance, your video transmitter may stop working, your drone refuses to pair with your controller etc. All these are good learnings that make you a better drone racing professional.
On top of that, participating in various races is a good way to build your network. In races, you get to know new friends whom you can learn from and potential sponsors whom you may work with in future. You might impress someone in a race so much that they decide to sponsor you, who knows.
If you manage to get sponsorships, you can potentially convert to full time and spend more time in racing. A full time racer spends up to 10 hours a day practicing. Unless you are already rich, the only way for you to allocate so much time for practicing is by having sponsorship.
Push Your Limits
“If you don’t crash, you are probably not trying hard enough”. This is a popular saying in the FPV drone community. While it is not necessarily correct, fears of crashes will definitely hold you back from improving.
You need to be ready to leave your comfort zone and challenge yourself so that you can reach a new horizon. Don’t be afraid of crashing in your attempts. Once you’ve reached a new level, celebrate and continue to challenge this new limit.
While it is crucial to push your limit, don’t overdo it. Overtraining can cause injury even for drone racers, especially on the wrists or hands. If you are tired, rest! Drone racing career is a long journey and you shouldn’t sacrifice your long term interest for a short term gain.
Establishing a career in an emerging field is a nerve-racking risk that no one would deny. It is hard to say where we will end up after a few years or so. However, there is no need to worry whether you’re making the right decision or not, or if you’re going to thrive well in this area. The only thing left to do is take a leap of faith. A decade ago, drones were not even known to many individuals. Now, it is steadily receiving attention and following. Who knows what the field of drone racing has for us in the following years?