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An RC plane with camera could be the nearest thing to flying your own full-scale aircraft. It’s one thing controlling your rc plane from the ground, but it’s a whole different world of thrills if you’re flying with a pilot’s eye view. That’s what you get when you’re flying your rc plane with a camera, or, to use the jargon, first-person view (FPV).
This article looks at this exciting aspect of the hobby from a beginner’s perspective and looks at whether it is worth all the fuss and expense, and if so, what is the easiest way to get into FPV flying, even if, like me, you’re a novice. I’ve been through a ton of articles, forums and videos to try and make sense of FPV from the absolute beginners’ perspective. Hopefully this will wet your appetite to get out there and try it.
But first, what is an rc plane with camera or FPV?
- What Is An RC Plane With Camera or FPV?
- FPV RC Plane – See It In Action
- RC Plane With Camera – How Does It Work?
- Do I Need To Be An Expert To Fly An RC Plane With Camera?
- The Legal Side of Flying FPV
- RC Plane With Camera – RTF (Ready To Fly) Or DIY?
- RC Plane With Camera – Is It Worth It?
What Is An RC Plane With Camera or FPV?
An RC plane with camera or FPV is a radio control model aircraft usually with a fixed video camera pointing forward which transmits the video picture to the operator, providing a real-time “pilot’s” view of where the plane is flying – FPV or “First Person View”. The video received from the camera can be viewed via either a monitor, or a goggle headset worn by the operator.
This contrasts with the camera often supplied with a drone, which is usually slung underneath the aircraft for a downward view but can be pointed forward as well.
Having said that, an rc plane with camera can also have a camera that can be moved by the operator to point in different directions. With some advanced systems, this is controllable via goggles – the operator can control the view from the camera by turning his/her head up or down, or from side to side.
Are you an rc plane beginner or novice? Check out the latest recommended RTF (ready to fly) rc planes here.
FPV RC Plane – See It In Action
Here’s a couple of videos taken from rc planes with a camera, just to give you a flavor of what you might see through FPV goggles:
RC Plane With Camera – How Does It Work?
Basically, flying first person view involves mounting a small video camera and a video transmitter to an RC aircraft and flying via video goggles or a portable monitor.
You’ll see in the videos above that the camera picture moves from side to side, emulating the view a pilot would get out of the cockpit. This is controlled by either a lever on your transmitter / controller, or, if you’re wearing goggles, by moving your head from side to side.
There is a host of different types of camera and transmitters on the market, but if, like me, you’re interested in just the experience of flying through the pilot’s eye view, you’re probably not too bothered about the detail.
Your best bet is to buy an off the shelf model which has been designed with FPV as a major feature, and comes completely set up with camera, transmitter and goggles or monitor. More on this later.
Do I Need To Be An Expert To Fly An RC Plane With Camera?
The advice I had was that the best way to get into FPV is to learn the basics of flying an rc plane first, before getting into worrying about extra things like cameras etc. Wearing goggles can be very disorientating, and even looking at a monitor screen, rather than tracking your plane in line of sight, could result in loss of control.
The Legal Side of Flying FPV
So, at the time of writing this, there are a number of rules and regulations which you have to observe whatever rc model you are flying, and wherever you are flying it. A full commentary on these are given here, but the rules for flying FPV rc aircraft are different in the USA and the UK. Here’s a summary:
Can I Fly An RC Plane With Camera in The USA?
You can fly an RC Plane with camera in the USA, but the aircraft is to be flown within the visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft. A visual observer is required for first-person view (FPV) operations.
That means you’ll have to have someone standing alongside you if you’re wearing goggles.
Can I Fly An RC Plane With Camera in The UK?
You can fly an RC Plane with camera in the UK, subject to certain conditions which are set by the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority). The full conditions are detailed in the CAA Publication Air Navigation Order 2016 General Exemption E 4853, Publication date: 07 March 2019;
A link can be found at Ref 1 below.
To summarise, you can fly an RC plane, drone or helicopter with a camera, of less than 3.5 kg in the UK, as long as you are flying for recreational purposes, you are accompanied by a “competent observer” who has been briefed on the conditions, and who is able to keep the aircraft in unaided line of sight all of the time.
There are other requirements which relate to flying under 400 ft, and restrictions on flying close to built up areas, individuals and crowds.
So, that puts the kybosh on an exploratory trip over the hills you can see in the far distance – even if your rc model has the range.
What Frequency Can On-Board Video transmitters Operate At In The UK?
It’s important to ensure that your equipment conforms to legal restrictions, and doesn’t cause interference with other users of radio equipment in the area. This not only applies to the frequency of the radio transmitter controlling the rc aircraft, but also the frequency of the video transmitter on board the rc model.
The video transmitters on board model rc aircraft are only legal if they operate at a frequency of 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz at a power level of 10mW and 25mW respectively.
RC Plane With Camera – RTF (Ready To Fly) Or DIY?
RC planes with a camera are currently tricky to buy off the shelf (or RTF – ready to fly), with only a few models available. It usually means you have to buy an rc plane which is designed to take a camera, then add the camera separately.
Such a model is the ZOHD Drift FPV RC Airplane KIT. This is a good beginner plane which gives comprehensive instructions on what additional parts – such as the motor and camera etc – are required. In the UK further details on this model can be found here, and in the USA, here.
If you want to go for an RC plane with camera which is ready to fly right out of the box, you’ll need to stump up and a lot more cash, probably around $500 or £500. One popular model in the UK is the MROSW Professional WIFI FPV RC Glider/Airplane which has an 1080p camera:
Further details on this model can be found here.
In the US, a similar “flying wing” type RC plane with FPV camera ready to fly is the Parrot “Disco”. Further details can be found here.
Drones with a camera, in contrast, are much easier to find; indeed, even the cheaper models come with a fixed camera, often viewable on a mobile phone.
RC Plane With Camera – Is It Worth It?
So is an rc plane with a camera worth all the money and effort? Well, I certainly think so, as it provides a much more immersive experience than watching your model flying around at a distance.
I will be waiting, though, until I get more experience under my belt of standard flying before I venture into the world of FPV.