Video goggles, such as these Fat Shark
Dominators made specifically for FPV flying,
are a popular choice because they provide an
immersive experience by eliminating outside
distractions from the pilot’s field of view.
Available online from specialty retailers, these circular, polarized
receiver antennas provide great omnidirectional performance, which
has made them popular among FPV pilots. As the wavelength of the
signal being received decreases, the antennas shrink substantially,
from the 1. 3 GHz antenna at the top of the photo to the 5. 8 GHz one on
the lower left. A quarter is included for scale.
Photos by the author
available from the FCC and probably the only one you will
ever need as an FPV pilot.
There are books and online courses available to help you
prepare, but my partner and I signed up for a free, two-day
class offered by a local ham radio club. To find classes in your
area, visit the Amateur Radio Relay Network website listed in
the “Sources” section.
If I can pass this test despite having the same level of
technical acumen as a half a ton of igneous rock, anybody can
Choose an Aircraft
Contrary to what you might think from watching online
videos, you don’t have to choose a multirotor! I believe that
multirotors have become closely associated with FPV flying
because both technologies matured at roughly the same time.
Because multirotors are stable, mechanically robust aircraft,
they were a natural choice for beginners who were drawn into
RC flying by the potential of FPV.
Although you don’t need a multirotor, the aircraft does need
to be a stable platform—either rotorcraft or fixed wing—
with sufficient payload capacity to carry the necessary gear.
Helicopters are certainly an option for
a skilled pilot, but they tend to induce
more vibration to the camera mount than
other aircraft types. Foamie trainers and flying
wings are popular fixed-wing choices, but we at the
Roswell Flight Test Crew favor the ubiquitous multirotor.
Several frequencies are available to carry the live video feed
from your aircraft back to you on the ground: 900 MHz, 1.2-
1. 3 GHz, 2. 4 GHz, and 5. 8 GHz. As a seasoned aeromodeler,
I’m sure that one of those frequencies set off all sorts of alarm
bells ringing inside your head— 2. 4 GHz, because that’s the
same frequency our modern control radios use.
Unless you’re still rocking a 72 MHz crystal radio that
you’ve had since 1975, let’s take 2. 4 GHz off the list.
Alternatively, if you’re using a 433 MHz long-range system to
transmit control signals to your aircraft, 2. 4 GHz is back on
As a general guide, the lower frequencies (900 MHz, 1. 2-1. 3
GHz) tend to be more forgiving if a physical object such as a
tree comes between the pilot and his or her aircraft. However,
the antennas tend to be larger because of their longer
wavelengths, which can make them more difficult to mount on
your aircraft and more vulnerable to damage.
Conversely, 5. 8 GHz signals are more easily blocked by
intervening objects, but the antennas are much, much smaller
and easier to install.
Transmitter/Receiver and Antenna
If you want to fly FPV, you’ll need a video transmitter
onboard your aircraft to send live video, and a video receiver
on the ground to pick up those signals. Wireless video systems
aren’t standard equipment at most hobby stores, so you’ll
probably have to look online to find one.
After you’ve identified a vendor, you’ll find that transmitters
on your chosen frequency are available at a variety of output
levels, generally ranging from 100 milliwatt to 2 watts. It’s
tempting to drop the most powerful one in your shopping cart
and click buy; however, a good-quality antenna will actually
have a much larger impact on signal quality than a high-powered transmitter.
Antenna quality is reflected in its gain (dB), and every
three points of gain is equal to doubling the power of your
24 Model Aviation APRIL 2014