If you are looking to jump head over heels into drone racing and arm yourself with the best racing drone, I don’t blame you. FPV drone racing is exhilarating. It’s an adrenaline rush unlike none other. Not to forget that it transports you into another galaxy.
I still recall watching ‘Star Wars: The Phantom Menace’ in Olympia Theater, NYC and feeling my jaw drop when the Pod race sequence unfolded. That was the most insanely cool thing I’d ever seen in my life until then. And almost instantly, I knew I had to get a piece of that action, even if it meant moving to Malastare.
A few years later, I acquired myself one of the early-world UAVs and flew it around the neighborhood. When I saw the video, I felt Goosebumps. This was it. I ain’t manning the vehicle, but hey, I have no qualms about not crashing into a pole at 50 mph unable to maneuver around it. I’ll let my drone do that.
Long story short, I am an active member at drone races around the country. I was there at the DRL. I didn’t make it to the finals. But that’s not stopping me from heading to Dubai for next year’s edition of the World Drone Prix. Luke Banister, tough luck dude. That $250k paycheck is coming home to NYC next year and I have armed myself with the best racing drone in the business.
Eager to know which one? Have a little patience y’all. Getting there! But before I do that, I’d like to bust a few myths and clear a few things that I have been hearing from noobs at drone racing events.
Are you an experienced flyer and would like to jump straight to the five best racing drones? Click here now to skip the sermon.
What makes up the best racing drone?
Even though that’s not what you’d want to hear, there is no one-size-fits-all racing drone. Each pilot will tailor (mod) the drone according to his skills and the way the drone responds to flying conditions. Racing drones is not akin to exploding through the air at full throttle. There will be deft maneuvers, sudden sharp turns and times when the drone will lose radio signal with the remote control and the goggles.
Not to mention that the feed in the goggles will be grainy and at times, absolute junk.
As a racing drone pilot, you have to be ready for all these factors. If you are starting off with drone racing, there’s only one way to get there. Practice!
Practice till your head swings and your fingers ache. There’s nothing better for practice than a low-priced RTF racing drone.
Oh, by the way, there are two types of racing quads that you need to be aware of.
Ready to fly
A ready to fly racing drone is precisely what the name suggests it is. It is ready to fly out of the box. Charge the batteries and watch it to the air. It circumvents the whole mod scene which is what makes FPV racing drones so exciting. But as a beginner, this is what you want to start with because your drone will kiss the ground more often than you want it to, often at high speeds. This will happen irrespective of whether you have flown UAV drones before or not, because like I said earlier, racing is a different beast altogether. You do not want to crash a $500 racing drone after two flights. Learn to tame it before you venture into more powerful machines. For this reason, I will be mentioning a couple of RTF racing drones in my recommendations ahead. Will this get you to the DRL? Probably not. But for rotorcross events or local drag races, these are your best bet for and amazing and competitive fpv racing drone.
Almost ready to fly
These are the next level of FPV racing drones that will take some amount of DIY assembly skills from you. Different FPV kits have different missing components which you can then procure yourself and add to the drone. For example, some kits may have a missing motor or a flight controller. So, if you are new to assembly or just don’t fancy getting your elbows greased, then go for a ready to fly racing drone.
Assemble to fly
A true blue FPV racing drone is often built from the ground up. Along with a solid understanding of components that can affect the performance of the drone, you also need to know about the quality of the components being sold. How does one racing drone frame score over the other one? What sizing will work best? What about compatibility with Electronic Speed Controllers or ECS? Which propeller works best with the frame? Building your own racing drone provides unparalleled excitement. But it is also the turf of seasoned RC racers who have worked with self-mods before.
Bind to fly
Sometimes, you have an amazingly light racing drone with the most fluid movements that comes with an absolutely poor quality OEM controller. In such scenarios, you can opt for a BTF or Bind to Fly kit which comes without a controller. You can procure a better quality (hobby grade) controller and bind it with the drone giving you more control over the movements.
Another common noob mistake, buying a drone that looks good.
‘Oh, that is one sick looking beast there!’
Wait a minute. Whatever does the appearance of the best racing drone have to do with you winning a race with it? I mean, a good looking drone in the air certainly has some appeal when you fly it around the neighborhood and the girl next door watches it zip by.
In an FPV race, what matters are these factors.
Selecting the best fpv drones
Drone racing is all about controlling the drone even when it’s flying at extremely high speeds without elbowing your fellow racer or crashing into an obstacle and most importantly, gauging everything from the distance to your competitors speed and the angle at which you will need to turn to outrace them.
If it’s a racing event, you need speed. There’s no two ways about it. Some of the best racing drones can exceed 70 mph in speed. But a beginner RTF drone can have top speeds up to 50 mph which will more than suffice for practice as well as local racing events where you won’t be up against Matty Stuntz.
The lift power will save your copter when you find yourself pigeonholing yourself into a corner and your competitor nudging you to crash into that wall. This is what will help you race ahead and make that turn before they do. There are two components of a racing drone that determine the lift power you are able to achieve.
- The Motor: The motor is hands down one of the most important components of an fpv drone. The ideal configuration is when the motor can produce at least 50% more thrust than the complete weight of the drone with all components assembled into it. So, if you have a racing drone that weighs 1000 grams, your motors should be able to produce at least 2000 grams of total thrust. This allows you to hover around at 50% of the total throttle. This is also called the thrust to weight ratio.
- The Frame or the Prop: The best racing drone frame is made of carbon fiber which is the de-facto choice due to its light weight and durability. These can take a few bumps and knocks without getting dented.
This is the most important feature when looking for the racing drone. There are multiple components that come together to affect the maneuverability of an fpv drone. At the forefront of these are the:
- RC Controller and the Electronic Flight Controller: These determine the control response time for the drone.
- The Flight control software: This determines the stability of the racing drone and also how easily you will be able to bank it
For beginner racers, a 250mm spec drone works best. These pocket sized dynamos zip around faster than you’d expect them to and don’t give in that easily to crashes. There are of course much bigger ones too. But for a start, consider 250-350mm as the ideal spec.
Monitor vs. Goggles
The true FPV experience comes with goggles. It is immersive and if it is the first time you are flying it, it will be unlike anything you have ever tried. But for a newbie, a screen attached to the top of a controller which is also called a monitor is a better bet because it lets you see things for yourself in the event of the drone losing connection with the remote. If its an outdoor event, then you may need a sun shield though.
A racing drone is not made to fly forever unlike a video drone which can hover around peacefully for 20-30 minutes. The best racing drones will last 5-10 minutes tops. That’s all that’s needed to complete a race. Heavier the drone, lesser the battery time.
The most common replacement part that you will need is props. These will bear the brunt of your adrenaline rush or a miscalculated maneuver. But these are not the only ones that will get broken. ECS, motors and frames will also undergo damage and will need to be replaced. So ensure that the drone you choose has easily available replacement parts.
Top 5 best fpv racing drones
Whew! That took a while. But I had to get that out of the system. Kind of got sick seeing beginners sending $600 fpv drones crashing into oblivion. If you are still with me, then I am going to share my picks of the best racing drones in the market currently for beginners as well as experienced flyers.
These do not have any ATF or Assemble-to-fly models because that’s relative. What may be a good mod for me may not the best of choices for you. Instead, I have picked RTF drones, which are perfect for pilots of all skill levels and are the strongest contenders for the best racing drone on the market.
These are not ranked in an ascending or descending order. It’s a random list and you can pick any of these that work best for you.
1. Eachine Racer 250 FPV Quadcopter Drone
It is not easy to find a racing drone that fits into both beginner and advanced level categories for obvious reasons. But Eachine has managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat with the Racer 250. This is an entry-level FPV that is built with hobby-grade parts and offers enough zing to keep even experienced racers impressed. It looks mean, flies out of the box (RTF version) and comes factory tuned but bundled with open source software.
Rugged and light
The Racer 250 weighs a humble 400 grams without a battery and the result is that it can go to 60 mph which is adequate for drag races as well as rotor cross. The carbon fiber frame keeps things on the lighter side and it can take more than a few crashes.
Four 2300KV motors power it and it has a 1500 stock mAh battery that will be ready for an upgrade after a few cycles. You can always swap it for a 4S one. This one lasts for 6-7 mins.
Ready to mod
The Eachine Racer 250 is a strong contender for the best racing drone (pre-built) in the market that is apparent from the all-inclusive package. It has a 1000TVL camera with a 7 inch 5.8G 32CH monitor and mushroom antennas that give clear, noise free visuals up to 1.5 kilometers.
If you are looking to mod this, then there is a lot that can be used and replaced for better quality ones. The props are the most likely contenders along with the ESC, the controller, the transmitter and even the monitor.
Irrespective of whether it’s your first quad or an upgrade from a toy FPV, the Racer 250 takes you to serious turf. It flies fast, is easy to control and requires very little tinkering. Dream come true for beginners but equally interesting for seasoned pilots as well.
2. ARRIS X-Speed 250B 250mm Quadcopter Racer
Arris X-Speed 250B is one of the most popular entry-level fpv drones from Arris which is available in two different versions. I have picked the ready to fly version but experienced pilots can always go for the assemble-to-fly version too which offers ample scope for tinkering.
Designed for beginners
The RTF version of the X-Speed 250B has a sporty lightweight carbon/fiber glass composite frame supported by a 3 layer double plate construction and thick arms which ensure that this can sustain more crashes than an average beginner FPV.
Despite all components pre-mounted, it is pretty light weight at 395 grams without the battery. If you add a 2200 mAh 3S battery to it, it comes to approximately 550 grams which is still pretty light for a 250mm FPV drone.
It comes preinstalled with a 700TVL camera which is protected by a vibration damper plate.
Excellent flight control
What makes this one of the best FPV drones for beginners is the excellent speed, lift and maneuverability that it has. The brushless 2300KV motors clubbed with the 20 AMP ESC’s and the drone SP Racing F3 flight controller (configurable with Cleanflight) makes it a breeze to throttle and move.
Even if you have never flown a racing drone before, spend $10 more and grab a dongle, cable and Freerider software to gets some hands-on practice and you should be able to fly this like a pro. It does not overwhelm you with uncontrollable movements.
Grab a FatShark Goggle, load the batteries and you should be ready to go drone racing.
Unbelievable value for money! This fpv racing drone has put Arris on the map with the big leaguers and if you are learning the ropes, there is no better model to start with. An industry standard and a strong contender for the best racing drone on the market.
3. LHI Full Carbon Fiber 250 mm Quadcopter
The first two drones in this list have been aimed at anyone looking to enter drone racing as a serious hobby or someone looking to hone their skills with these machines. But if you are just looking to test the water or dip your toes into it, then in all honesty, you do not need to blow $400.
The LHI Full Carbon Fiber 250mm FPV is the closest that you can get to a hobby grade craft and it is priced under $200.
The LHI Full Carbon Fiber 250 comes tested and pre-flown. All that you have to do is install the propellers and plug in a battery. It does not need any adjustment unless you want to play around with the settings in OpenPilot or LiberPilot.
The drone is light, fast, extremely rugged and not overly responsive. A full carbon fiber frame, 2300KV brushless motors and CC3D flight controller make it a breeze to operate and one of the best racing drones you can get your hands on.
If you are a beginner, fly it on the default settings. It operates perfectly. If you wish to ramp up the battery or swap some of the original components, you may need to recalibrate it to tailor the settings.
Easily available parts
The LHI 250MM will take a lot of crashes before it begins to show any signs of wear and tear. But even if it does, most of the components, which are all top quality by the way, are easily available. There are no proprietary parts and you can be as creative as you’d want to be.
The OEM remote control is FS-I6 and has a range of 700 meters and is on the 2.4GHz. So, when you mount an FPV camera or a Go-Pro, ensure that you check the possibility of interference.
The package includes a neat set of extras which you will most definitely need during your training days.
Perfect beginners FPV package. Hard to beat this! It is easy, flies like a dream and will last for a long time without any major breakdowns.
4. ImmersionRC Vortex Race Quad 5.8 GHz 350mW
ImmersionRC’s Vortex Race Quad is one of the beefiest RTF mini quads in the market that has a bunch of features that make them one of the most desirable options for beginners. It comes with a full-graphic on screen display, multiple mounting options for cameras and is pre-loaded with Cleanflight.
Incredibly fast for an FPV
The Vortex Race Quad has a 285mm chassis with a foldable carbon fiber and injected plastic frame. It features an in-built flight controller that comes with 3 Axis Gyro, 3 Axis Accelerometer, and a barometer which gives it unparalleled maneuverability. This comes pre-synced with CleanFlight but you can upgrade it in future for free.
The 2300kV motors are not novel but clubbed with the ESCs, it is brilliant. The manufacturers recommend no more than 1800 mAh for the Vortex Race Quad but you can use 3S or 4S for the added speed. Let me warn you though, this can be blinding fast and if you are a newbie, you should stick to 3S until you get a hang of things.
On Board Display
One of the standout features of the Vortex Race Quad is the full-graphical on-board display and the 5.8GHz video transmitter. There is no interference with the transmitter’s 2.4GHz signal.
The camera mount is flexible and allows tilting to give you a clear view during a fast race. Also, it features a 3A regulator that lets you power the camera from the flight pack thereby reducing the weight of the drone. A vibration-dampened carbon-fiber plate protects the flight cams.
There is a lot more that can be written about the Vortex Race Quad. But to sum it up, this is a great FPV package. It offers ample room to upgrade the components and flies like a charm out of the box. By the way, this is my best racing drone which I will be carrying to most racing leagues this year. I have made some changes of course but for those who wanted to know, it’s the Vortex Race Quad.
5. Walkera F210 FPV Racing Drone RC Quadcoper
Having piloted the Furious 320 from Walkera which looks and feels like a tank, it was quite a respite to see the F210 with its compact form factor and insane speeds. Once again, this is right at the cusp of beginners and pro FPV quads. There are enough reasons to choose this as your first racing drone and it is also a worthy upgrade to your old toy FPV.
This model is available in three different configurations. I have selected the RTF version that comes bundled with a Devo 7 transmitter, camera, battery and OSD.
The Wow factor
One good look at the Walkera F210 and you’d know that this is a serious racers machine. The body is solidly constructed and is dominated by carbon fiber or aluminum. 3mm thick arms keep the components protected from impact resistance.
The motors are 28 size 2500kvs and they are powered by a 4S battery pack. The camera is top notch. It is an HD camera with a 120° super vision lens that also features night vision. It is mounted just above two bright LED lights with the status LEDs mounted on the back side of the drone.
The F210 weighs just under 400g without the battery pack which is considered to be extremely light for the features that it is packed with.
Stable but fast
The new F3 flight board integrated into the F210 makes it a breeze to fly out of the box. There are three modes and Mode 1 is perfect for newbies looking to learn the ropes. Turn it to Mode 3 and the F210 really begins to shine. It is fast but allows you to make clean flips and rolls. The controls are responsive and it stops almost instantly when you push the throttle to low which are essential qualities when looking to buy the best racing drone for beginners and serious racers alike.
I must mention that it comes with a known bug which is known as the ‘Fail-Safe’ bug where the motors don’t stop if it loses connection with the transmitter. Instead, it goes to full throttle for a few seconds before coming to an abrupt stop. The total time is 20 seconds.
But there is a workaround to this. For models that are manufactured before the 8th of March 2016, a small receiver board upgrade followed by a firmware upgrade should reduce this bug time to 6 seconds.
Durable, fast and a great HD camera on board, the Walkera F210 is hands down one of the best racing drones in the market now. Walkera has since come up with a few more FPV RTF models but the F210 continues to outsell most other models from this brand.
That’s it folks, a comprehensive guide on helping you find the best racing drone that suits your needs. I hope you enjoyed reading this article and have a blast (no pun intended) with your new toys. Keep the flags flying high and hope to race with one of you soon.