Drone Racing Training Part 2

Training Tips From Top MultiGP Pilots

There are many components that go into being a champion. Motors, ESCs, frames, flight controllers, and batteries are not the only choices that you face. How you train is also an important step on your road to the Winner’s Circle. Your skills as a pilot are the foundation to your success on the MultiGP Circuit. Races are won before the starting buzzer; races are won by finding that calm center in the middle of chaos. Training, drills, and practice – both on and off the course – are what prepare you for the race. Just like any professional sports participant, a drone racers’ skill must be honed before they ever rotor up.

How do the top pilots in the world get prepared for competition? What drills and exercises, both physical and mental, do they practice to give them the edge on the course?

We asked some of the best pilots in the world what they do to prepare. Here is what they had to say:

Abel Almaguer

Abel “Navihawk” Almaguer – ”Training is key. Without training you will not get better. When you are out during training sessions, make a point on not missing gates. Treat it as a real race. If you build good habits during practice it will help you during races. Having to go back for missed gates really slows you down.”

Zachry “A-Nub” Thayer – “My tip would to be always self-critical/analytical, review footage from the day, look for weak spots, where did you bobble, where did you blow out a corner, what did you struggle with, was the tune good, nit picking every detail, and then focus on fixing those issues the next session. Rinse and repeat.”

Nick “WillardFPV” Willard – “Well I’ve never practiced racing…. I think the only thing I ever do is make sure to go out and have fun while always pushing my abilities. I think its much more beneficial to push yourself flying overall and to focus on being a better pilot overall than a racer. A good pilot is a good pilot.”

Jason “VanGo” Glaze – ”One thing I do for practice since I fly I lot at my house (limited space) is fly as fast as I can as low as I can using trees as obstacles for chicanes. This helps me warm up my left hand (throttle) movement. Once I’m warm I will start using small gates at faster and faster paces. This also saves me a lot of time because gates can be hard on gear. Going through them once warmed up reduces the damage and time spent repairing. Spending more time flying, even at a slower pace, is more beneficial to me than hunting down parts and repairing gear.”

Jordan “JET” Temkin – “Build two or more identical quads. Having consistency in practice as well as racing is very important. You don’t want to rely on your ‘better quad’ and then fly a backup during a race. You should always be competing at the best of your abilities. Having two identical quads will reduce those extra variables.

Also, slower is a lot of time faster. A proper race line is ‘enter slow, exit fast.'”

Mackenna “McFly” McClure – ”When I get to the field I usually fly my first two batteries to get used to the sticks and the next 5-10 batteries are used to practice maneuvers that I feel are things I need to work on like right hand carousels, keeping low and controlled throttle arounds turns at high speed, split s drop ins and other things you’re starting to see on racing courses. Practice at the beginning and then just have fun flying because time on the sticks either way is going to improve your confidence which in turn improves your flying ability.”

Paul “Bulbufet” Nurkkala – ”My biggest tip for learning how to race FPV is that racing itself is a mental game. No matter how much you practice, no matter how talented of a pilot, the hardest part is winning against yourself. Your brain is your biggest enemy. Your brain wants you to go faster, shake your hands, and miss gates; it’s practicing resolve and “knowing yourself” that will enable you to overcome this internal dialogue. Thus, push your limits in practice and learn how to fly your own race, so that when you get to the race line, you are calm, centered and just happy to be there. Racing itself is a culmination of practicing, building, repairing, charging, composing, spending, and getting frustrated; everything is working against you to say “you’re going to screw it up after all this hard work.” If you can figure out how to tell your brain to shut up and let you fly, you’ll do better than you could ever expect. Push your limits in practice; fly your own race in competition.”

Joel Brown – “First thing I like to do is “warm up my fingies” never jump on a race track without warming up your fingers first. You’ll soon crash and just be upset. Set aside time to fly each day. Even if it’s two packs at lunch, muscle memory is key to drone racing. Don’t get discouraged when you crash or when you have trouble building. The beauty of this hobby is that everyone is eager to lend a helping hand. Soon enough you’ll have the knowledge needed to stay in the air!

Have fun!! Remember why you started this journey… to have FUN!! If it’s too stressful and the fun is gone… take a few weeks off to remember why you started flying FPV.”

Bapu Madhu – “Skill/Drill: Always push yourself to do better or fly harder on your weekend practice/fun races, never at the actual event. In other words, when you get to an actual race event, big or small, NEVER fly beyond your comfort zone. Consistency is the most important factor in races, finishing races should be the number one priority. I see many experienced pilots crashing out on races at big events mainly because they are trying to push beyond their comfort level or they are trying to fly faster than when they fly during their weekend practices. Consistency is more important that that miracle fast lap IMO!”

Bapu also told me that he has been coaching his wife as an FPV pilot, and he has been passing these ideas on to her. She just started flying five months ago, and with Bapu’s help she took 3rd place last weekend at a MultiGP race event.

Cody “Code Red” Matson – “Staying consistent with your components and knowing your machine is the best thing you can do. I feel like I just throw myself at trees focus on reacting smoothly. Flow like water.”

Robert “Captain Uno” Pringle – “It takes multiple tactics and strategies coming together to give yourself a chance to win. Have some determination.  Stick time is key to get as much practice as possible – real time or simulator…doesn’t matter.  Practice every move that occurs in a race. Repetition is the mother of all skill! Have fun.”

Tyler Brennan

Tyler Brennan – “No matter where you are, setup a course. Don’t always need cones or gates, but setup a course and fly it.”

Chris “Hasak” Haskins – “Consistency is king in drone racing. Completing laps is the only way to perform well, and not put yourself in a position where you must get a first place for the next three heats, trust me I know. If you find a portion of a track that you often get “wonky”, take a couple batteries and slow it down. Do it smooth as possible then crank it up a little bit the next heat. You will feel like you are moving slower but your lap time will be a pleasant surprise. If you have good training partners and starting to get fried at the end of a practice session from all-out battle, ask the whole group to take a pack or two at 60% speed and then get back at the hard-core practice. It feels like a bit of a “reset” and typically more of your group will finish with even faster lap times.”

Zoe “3D FPV” Stumbaugh – “Flying FPV is largely a mind game – and come race day nerves can be the deciding factor between winning and losing. Before every practice session I ground myself when I put the goggles on, closing my eyes when they’re finally comfortable – taking a deep breath and opening my eyes, ready and focused on the flight ahead.

Getting in the habit of centering yourself during practice will help calm the nerves when the pressure is on at a competition.”

AJ “awkBOTS” Goin – “I guess it’s training for adaptability.  I personally feel adaptability and consistency is the most important at a larger scale event. I typically do not set up specific warm up methods or drills until I have flown 5-6 batteries.  I try and take advantage of my first three batteries by going relatively slow the first battery, learning the track and slowly picking up speed as I learn the flow.  I focus on smoothness and making lines tighter and faster, all while making sure to choose the “safe” lines. After I have my first 5 or 6 batteries in (simulating a typical race) then I will generally just free fly and look for new lines, and try and work on a specific thing that I have had issues with, slalom, long sweeping corners, etc. until I run out of lipos. Fun is always the focus!”

 

The common thread between these champions is their mental game. All of them understand that training and drills, whether mentally or physically, are the foundation to their success. The more you can make your piloting become second nature, the better you will do as an FPV racer. Another important component of your training is also keeping your perspective. Understand and remember that if you are not having fun, you are doing something wrong. Putting yourself in the proper mindset is just as important as charging your batteries. 

Make these skills, drills, and mental exercises part of your training routine and you are sure to see a difference in your piloting ability. Races are won in your head before they are won on the course. Get out there and practice; 2017 is sure to be an amazing race season!

Have something to contribute? Contact Boss Hat (shawn@multigp.com) with your skills, drills, tips, and tricks.

MultiGP National Championship 2016 A-Nub and NTYFURY

About MultiGP:

MultiGP is the premier drone racing league which hosts frequent competitive gatherings and casual events within its network of hundreds MultiGP Chapters and thousands of pilots world-wide. MultiGP nurtures its Chapters by providing tools, guidance and community to make drone racing fun, organized and rewarding for pilots, Chapter Organizers and spectators.  Programming such as the Championship, Regional Series, Universal Time Trial Tracks and Chapter Tiers are designed to allow the drone racing community to compete in an easily accessible yet structured format with the goal of progressing the sport. MultiGP is the Academy of Model Aeronautics Special Interest Group for First Person View (FPV) Racing.   For more information, go to www.MultiGP.com

To learn more about MultiGP drone racing, and how you can get involved, join us on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/groups/MultiGPCommunity/ and on Twitter – @Multi_GP

Drone Racing Training Part 1

Drills, Recommendations, and Exercises for Improving Piloting Skills

Part 1: The Basics

It’s not the motors, it’s not the battery, it’s not the flight controller that wins the race. It is the pilot. The best pilots in the league are not the best because of their equipment. These “Top Guns” of the drone racing world are on top because they understand that at the end of the day it is their time invested in practicing, their reflexes, and their mindset when in the pilot’s chair that puts them on the podium. Running drills, and working on your technique makes you faster. Here are a few recommendations, tips, and drills that will improve your abilities as a pilot. The best part is that all it costs is your time!


#1 – Double check ALL your equipment

MultiGP 2016 National Championship Gear Photo

Seems simple, but it is often overlooked. Go through a “checklist” for all your gear (craft, batteries, transmitter, goggles, charger). Make sure that all your gear is set up properly. Every pilot of a full-sized aircraft goes through a checklist before every flight, so should we.

 

Craft:             

  • Inspect frame for damage
  • All components secured solidly
  • All fasteners tightened properly
  • Motors spin freely when turned (no dirt, no grinding noise, no bearing slop)
  • Props are in good condition (no bent blades, no cracked hubs)

 

Batteries:        

  • Physically inspect batteries for damage (nicked wires, broken plugs, cell swelling)
  • Check voltage and balance (it’s a good idea to label your batteries to track performance)
  • Verify voltage after charging (with a multi-meter or cell tester)      
  • Verify cell balance after charging (with a multi-meter or cell tester)

 

Transmitter:    

  • Inspect transmitter for loose switches
  • Inspect gimbals for smooth movement (no sticking, no grinding)
  • Check voltage of battery
  • Check trims and make sure they are set properly (all should be centered)
  • Connect flight controller to GUI and verify all endpoints and centers

                       

Goggles:         

  • Inspect goggles for physical damage (antennas, wires, etc.)
  • Check voltage of battery
  • Clean lenses and screens
  • Make sure straps are properly adjusted
  • Power up goggles and craft, check video feed (re-focus FPV camera if necessary)

Charger:         

  • Inspect charger for physical damage (broken plugs, loose wires, etc.)
  • Inspect balance charging board for damage (broken plugs, loose wires, etc.)
  • Verify (multi-meter or cell tester) charger is fully charging and balancing batteries

These may seem a little simplistic, but ask yourself if any of these items mentioned above have kept you from flying. Success in drone racing means having your equipment functioning properly. If you know all your equipment is working as intended you can focus your practice time on flying, not fixing.


#2 – Study the technique of other pilots

MultiGP 2016 National Championship Pilots Flying

Study the tapes! Go to the replay! There are volumes of videos online from the top pilots in the world. Think of these as the “training tapes” that football teams watch to gain advantage on their competitors. Watch how the pilots negotiate the course; study how they take turns (position going into the turn, height going in and out of the turn, lining up multiple gates, etc.). It is these techniques that shave time off your laps. The better you understand these flying techniques, the easier it will be to go into the field and practice them.


#3 – Drill, baby, drill!

MultiGP 2016 National Championship drone takeoff

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? PRACTICE! What separates a good pilot from a great pilot?  It is stick time, pure and simple. The more batteries you burn, the better pilot you will be. Some pilots are burning 100 batteries a week in practice. This is the biggest, most important part of becoming a better pilot. But this does not mean “just flying around the field”. Practice drills: set up gates to practice specific techniques (tight turns, slaloms, straightaways to turns, etc.). Set up “figure 8” training drills to practice rapid changes of direction. Focus on negotiating the training course smoothly, then concentrate on building up speed. You can’t be fast without being in control. “Slow is smooth; smooth is fast”. The more you run drills, the smoother and faster you will be. Drill techniques until they become second nature; the less you think about your flying, the faster you become.


4# – Challenge Yourself

MultiGP 2016 National Championship Sky Bridge Sunset

Do not hesitate to fly with pilots that are better than you. First, this will force you fly faster, it will push your piloting skills to their limits. You can also ask them about their technique (“Why did you throttle up going into that turn?”), which help you get a better understanding for negotiating obstacles. Most pilots LOVE talking about their technique. Listen to what they are saying, and take mental notes. Take advantage of the hundreds of batteries these guys have flown; learn from their experience. We do not excel if we do not challenge ourselves.


5# Hand Strength

MultiGP 2016 National Championship Reach

Our wrists, hands, and fingers are our “connection” to our drones. The stronger your hands are, the less fatigue you will feel. When we are flying FPV, our hands and wrists will start to tire after only 30 minutes. Once your hands start to fatigue, your reaction time will decrease. Slower reaction time means missing gates, it means crashing, it means DNF (Did Not Finish). This can be counteracted by strengthening our hands and wrists with a few simple exercises:

Tennis Ball Squeeze – Perform the following exercises ten times for each set, preferably three times a day. As you build up strength you can increase the repetitions. Begin this exercise by holding a tennis ball in the palm of your hand. Squeeze the tennis ball as hard as you can without causing yourself pain. Hold that squeeze for 5 seconds. Repeat this exercise ten times.

Thumb Opposition – Begin this exercise by putting your thumb and index finger up together. Squeeze your thumb and index finger together as hard as possible without causing yourself pain and hold the squeeze for five seconds. Then move on to the middle finger and thumb and repeat the exercise. Move on to each finger, so the thumb squeezes together with each of them. Repeat the whole exercise three times, so each finger gets three repetitions.

Finger Abduction – Place your hand palm-up, as if you were asking someone for money. Squeeze all the fingers together and the thumb also should be aligned with fingers, squeezing in on them. While keeping your fingers as straight as possible, squeeze your fingers and thumb together as hard as you can. Hold for five seconds and repeat ten times.

Finger and Wrist Stretches –

  1. Stand up and extend your right arm in front of you, with the palm of your hand facing down. Using your left hand, pull back each finger and hold it, one by one, until you’ve stretched each finger. Make sure not to pull back too hard because this could damage your wrist. But it should be enough to feel the stretch in your wrist.
  2. Once you’ve done each finger individually, stretch back all of them at once. This should help you stretch open your palm. Hold it for a few seconds and repeat the exercise a few times.
  3. Now that you’ve extended your fingers, it’s time to do your thumb. Pull back on your thumb and stretch it towards your wrist. Next, pull forward and down on your thumb. Again, this will stretch your wrist in the opposite direction. Finish these finger exercises by making a tight fist and slowly opening it, stretching all your fingers out as far as they can go.
  4. Put your palms together with the fingers facing upwards as if you were in a praying stance. Press the palms together strongly while holding your fingers straight. Keeping the base of your palms together, slowly lower your hands until your arms are like one long horizontal line. Try and take your palms down even further, with your fingers and base of the palms still held together. Go down as far as you can and hold it. You should feel the stretch in your wrists and the insides of your fingers. Hold for a few seconds and then repeat.

Make these exercises a part of your training routine. These strengthening drills are as important as flying drills; the stronger your hands, the more precisely you can fly.


#6 – Eye – Hand Coordination

MultiGP 2016 National Championship Pilot Seated

The path is simple; your eyes see, the mind thinks, and your hands react. The faster your body can complete this process, the quicker and more reactive your piloting will become. There are quite a few “Real World” activities we can participate in to increase our eye-hand coordination. Baseball, batting cages, tennis (or any racket sport), even the paddle-ball from our childhood, are great ways to increase eye-hand coordination. The other great benefit is that these activities also help strengthen our hands and wrists (#5 – Hand Strength), as well as give some much-needed exercise for the rest of our body. Unity of mind and body is a cornerstone for racing success.


#7 – It’s a Mental Game

MultiGP 2016 National Championship NYTFURY

Flying is as much in your head as it is in your hands. If your mental concentration is not at its peak, you will not perform at your best. Focus on your flying, don’t let the troubles of life inhibit your ability. Purge your mind of your “real world” troubles – thinking about your rent, car payment, girlfriend, etc. will only split your focus, and slow your lap times. For those four minutes, you are flying, there is nothing but you, and your craft. It’s hard to fly at 80 miles an hour when you are thinking about work.

Being able to put on your “game face” when flying will make good pilots become great pilots. Think about “Ice Man” from Top Gun. He was good because he was “cool as ice” when he was flying. The less you get “rattled” when racing, the faster you can be. Stay positive, even when you crash. Your “Mental Game” is just as important as your “Physical Game”.

Most importantly, do not get angry or frustrated; anger is the mind killer. Once you lose your cool, you have lost the race. Frustration and anger are very taxing on our “CPU”. The more your mind is focused on being angry, the less you are focused on flying. Drone racing is a sport of milliseconds, so stay focused on your piloting. If you find yourself losing control of your temper, it is time to step away for a little while. Regain your composure, and your lap times will decrease.


#8 – Rained Out – Keep Practicing!

MultiGP 2016 National Championship Flightline Sign

Into everyone’s life a little rain must fall. When it does you can keep honing your skills off the track. FPV flight simulators (like Liftoff and FPV Freerider) are great training tools. While the physics are not 100% like “real world”, they are close enough to help you build your muscle memory. The different “flying fields” that these simulators allow you to navigate contain many of the “real world” twists and turns you will see on MultiGP courses. In fact, you can even find the MultiGP Universal Time Trial Tracks and the championship courses within some of the simulators. This gives you the ability to practice these maneuvers (sharp turns, slalom runs, etc.) repeatedly, helping you build the muscle memory to make flying more subconscious. The less you actually “think” about flying, the better you will fly. That is why drills and practicing maneuvers repeatedly builds a pilot’s skill on the sticks.

Use your DVR as a valuable training tool, both for reviewing your flights to look for ways to improve and as a sort of “Guitar Hero” for FPV. Something that was noticed at the Regional Finals this year was that during bouts of bad weather, pilots were watching their practice runs that they had recorded (DVR) on their goggles. Some of the pilots were even holding their transmitters and “flying along” with their footage; they were practicing the stick movements necessary to negotiate the track. This sort of exercise also helps you work on the timing of the track and the timing of the different obstacles (like how to fly the Sky Bridge). Knowing when to start a turn is just as important as how the turn is done.

Practicing these drills and exercises will increase your piloting abilities. Remember that drone racing is the perfect symbiotic relationship between pilot and craft; the more comprehensive your training is directly relating to how we progress as pilots.

The next part of this series will be an “open” article of tips and techniques from top pilots throughout the MultiGP community. Part 2: Pilot Technique will be continually updated with tips, techniques, and drills that have launched the top pilots in our sport to podium positions. Be sure to check back often to stay up to date on the best techniques from the best pilots in our sport.

Have something to contribute? Contact Boss Hat (shawn@multigp.com) with your skills, drills, tips, and tricks for Part 2: Pilot Technique


About MultiGP:

MultiGP is the premier drone racing league which hosts frequent competitive gatherings and casual events within its network of over 375 MultiGP Chapters and 10,000 pilots world-wide. MultiGP nurtures its Chapters by providing tools, guidance and community to make drone racing fun, organized and rewarding for pilots, Chapter Organizers and spectators.  Programming such as the Championship, Regional Series, Universal Time Trial Tracks and Chapter Tiers are designed to allow the drone racing community to compete in an easily accessible yet structured format with the goal of progressing the sport. MultiGP is the Academy of Model Aeronautics Special Interest Group for First Person View (FPV) Racing.   For more information, go to www.MultiGP.com

To learn more about MultiGP drone racing, and how you can get involved, join us on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/groups/MultiGPCommunity/ and on Twitter – @Multi_GP

Build a Micro Drone Track

Parent/Child Project: Building a Backyard Micro Drone Track

MultiGP Drone Racing - Rollins Family

Father Michael Rollins, with his children, Ava and Logan, enjoying drone racing    PHOTO: Mike Henrie

These are not your father’s R/C models! It is truly stunning how quickly radio controlled model technology has advanced in the last decade. Modern R/C equipment is far more user-friendly and affordable than the models of old, which makes getting into this rewarding hobby much easier than before. One of the coolest R/C models for new pilots to get into are micro drones. These pint-sized flying machines can fit in the palm of your hand, have protective covers over the propellers, and can be fitted with First Person View (FPV) camera/transmitter bundles. This allows the pilot, through the use of VR-style video goggles, to navigate the craft from the perspective of the drone. This is micro drone racing, one of the fastest growing race classes in the MultiGP Drone Racing league.

The best aspect of micro drone racing is that it is something that most anyone can enjoy right in their own backyard. A great parent – child project is constructing, and flying, a micro drone race track in you backyard. This is something that you can enjoy even if your micro drone does not have FPV equipment! A micro drone race track is small enough that you can see, and navigate, the entire course from one location. Micro drone race tracks can be assembled in very little time with items that you already have around the house, or in the yard; you and your child (or parent) will be able to build and fly in the same day.

Be creative! Micro drones are so small that almost anything can be used as a racing gate to pass through; two rakes set up like a triangle, patio furniture, legs of a table, a tire swing, hula-hoops, let your imagination go wild. Once you have some race gates, now you need to come up with a track design. Take a good survey of your yard. Avoid water obstacles! Gates like hoops can be hung from the branches of trees to create varying height on your track. For beginners, plan a simple track layout until you get the handle of piloting your drone. Because micro drone tracks are so easy to set up, you can change the layout quickly and easily. A great place to look for ideas for your micro race track layout is on the MultiGP website in the Universal Time Trial (UTT) Track section. Here you will find 5 different track layouts for you to use for inspiration. The micro drones are about ¼ the size of the drones that race the UTTs, so you can take the dimensions of the track and divide them by 4 (16 feet between gates becomes 4 feet, etc.).

MultiGP UTT #5 - Nautilus

Be sure to practice, practice, practice. One of the most important parts of being a good drone racing pilot is to “fly without thinking about flying”. By practicing you are creating muscle-memory; you are teaching your muscles the movements they need to make to move the drone smoothly around the track. The top drone pilots in MultiGP will tell you that repetition of maneuvers is what makes you smoother, which makes you faster. If you are interested in finding out more drone racing pointers from top MultiGP pilots, click here for a link to our “Tips and Tricks” series.

Recently micro “All-In-One” (AIO) video transmitter/camera assemblies have been released. These are so small (about the size of a stamp) that they can be attached to almost any micro drone, allowing you to turn it into a FPV micro race drone. This allows your to take the action to the next level! Flying your micro drone with FPV goggles will let you fly with even more precision and control; being able to see from the perspective of your drone makes it easier to line up on race gates and navigate around obstacles. Many pilots find it easier to fly FPV than by watching the drone (called line of sight, or LOS). After you get the hang of piloting your micro drone through the goggles, you will be ready to hit the track!

When you want to take your skills outside your backyard, there is a MultiGP race chapter near you. There you will find other FPV pilots who love to race and talk about drones. Any questions you have about drone racing, either micro or full-sized, they will be more than happy to answer. You will even be able to test your FPV drone racing skills against them, competing in one of the several different race classes that make up the MultiGP Drone Racing league. In the smallest size class – Tiny Whoop, named after the popular “Tiny Whoop” micro FPV drone created by Jesse Perkins, pilots are flying and competing with sub-micro drones that fit in your hand. MultiGP Tiny Whoop race events have been held everywhere from offices, to warehouses, to bowling alleys.

MultiGP Drone Racing - Micro FPV

These fascinating little drones are just as fun and exciting as their larger counterparts, just in a smaller package. They are a great way for families to get outside and enjoy some friendly competition. Piloting a drone helps improve eye-hand coordination, and building them increases your knowledge of STEM. What a great opportunity to connect with your children and teach the some important lessons while having fun. So grab your micro drones, head over the www.multigp.com for some track ideas, and get outside and have fun!

About MultiGP Drone Racing:

MultiGP is the premier drone racing league which hosts frequent competitive gatherings and casual events within its network of over 900 MultiGP Chapters and 14,000 pilots world-wide. MultiGP nurtures its Chapters by providing tools, guidance and community to make drone racing fun, organized and rewarding for pilots, Chapter Organizers and spectators. Programming such as the Championship, Regional Series, Universal Time Trial Tracks and Chapter Tiers are designed to allow the drone racing community to compete in an easily accessible yet structured format with the goal of progressing the sport. MultiGP is the Academy of Model Aeronautics Special Interest Group for First Person View (FPV) Racing. For more information, go to www.MultiGP.com

To learn more about MultiGP drone racing, and how you can get involved, join us on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/groups/MultiGPCommunity/ and on Twitter – @Multi_GP