Here & now

Let’s go fly a… drone?

Experience the thrills of aerial acrobatics with an introduction to first person view drone racing – a sport that’s really taking off

For those who fancy being a daredevil pilot without the danger of actually taking to the skies, there’s now a way to reach new heights of wish fulfilment.

While video games might previously have scratched that itch, the new flying fix that’s soaring in popularity is first person view (FPV) drone racing.

Unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly known as drones, were first developed for military applications. But personal and commercial use has expanded rapidly to include photography, surveillance and inspection.

American research company Gartner expects almost three million drones will be produced in 2017 alone. Many of those will be micro drones, weighing less than 1kg and just a few centimetres in size. And it’s these smaller aircraft that are used in drone racing.

Radio-controlled and typically quadcopters (a helicopter propelled by four rotors), they are also equipped with cameras. Special goggles then allow the drone operator to see exactly what the cameras can see in real time, which drone racers call FPV.

Just like in real air races, the goal of drone racing is to complete a set course as quickly as possible. One of the premier drone racing competitions is the Drone Racing League (DRL), in which competitors typically race 250mm quadcopters at speeds of up to 120mph.

Broadcaster Sky’s confidence in the sport encouraged them to invest US$1m in the DRL in 2016 and the sport attracted publicity in the UK when the DRL 2017 final was held at London’s Alexandra Palace in June.

So, to give people a chance see what all the excitement is about, Paddington Central is working with the UK Drone Show to offer an exclusive three-day FPV drone experience this summer.

Oliver O’Brien, co-founder of the UK Drone Show, which has featured at Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre for the past couple of years, explains what will be happening.

“People will first have a go on a simulator because FPV drone flying is not something you can get the hang of that quickly. In a sense it’s like giving an F1 car to someone who’s never driven one before.

“First person view is effectively like you’re sitting in the pilot seat of the drone and when you put the goggles on for first time it can be a little bit disorientating. So the simulator is a good way to get used to the controls.”

After the simulator there’s a chance to fly a drone for real. Oliver says: “It won’t be a full-on race but it will still be flying a micro drone through a small obstacle course with prizes for the fastest lap. That will give people a very good introduction to the sport.”

UK Drone Show’s experts will also give demonstrations of their piloting skills and they’ll be bringing what Oliver calls an ‘autonomous drone’, which is easier to fly and which can be controlled by using a smartphone app.

So, what if you decide drone racing is the sport for you? Oliver says: “Start with a simulation then get yourself one of the smaller micro drones. You can fly those in your house – it’s all very safe because they’re made with beginners in mind.”

Oliver says it’s possible to get the kit you need to get started for £200. And for those who are interested, there will be an opportunity during the FPV experience to buy a drone to take home.

If you want to get involved in organised drone racing, UK Drone Show runs a monthly race at a permanent venue in Nottingham, while other drone racing clubs are springing up all over the UK.

But beware, there are laws about flying drones because of concerns about privacy and safety. Information about those regulations is available online. To find your nearest drone racing club, contact the British FPV Racing Association or the FPV UK.

  • Come and have a go at FPV drone experience 3rd-5th August, 10.00-18.00, Sheldon Square