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Drones

Fat Shark 101 drone kit will have you FPV racing for $250

You get the quality of true first-person-view racing gear, but in a package tailor-made for new pilots.

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Fat Shark's little racing quad is no toy. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

A racing drone is typically the last place you want to start if you're learning to pilot a quadcopter. 

Camera drones like the DJI Mavic might be able to fly fast, but they're loaded with sensors and GPS to keep them stable in the air, avoid crashes and allow them to take off and land on their own or automatically return to you if you get into a sticky situation. (You can even find some toy models with these capabilities.) You'll find no such features on most racing drones because they're built for speed and agility so you're mainly flying manually. That's fine if you know what you're doing, but it sucks for learning.

Then you've got the costs. Whether you go with a ready-to-fly (RTF) model or have the soldering skills to DIY one, you're talking hundreds of dollars. Add on the cost of a controller (aka transmitter) and FPV goggles for flying by first person view and you can go broke before your first flight (and inevitable crash).

All of this is to say Fat Shark, the leading maker of FPV goggles for drone racing, has put together a killer kit with everything you need to learn to fly a racing drone without the headaches, frustration or costs I just mentioned. Plus, it gives you room to upgrade.

For $250 (approximately AU$325 or £185), you get an RTF mini racing quad, controller and 5.8GHz Fat Shark FPV goggles. Everything is set up to work together out of the box, but it's all been simplified. The controller, for example, is down to essentials with just two switches: one for arming the motors, the other for switching between flight modes.

There's still no GPS (you'll actually have to learn how to keep this thing in the air), but there are beginner, intermediate and pro modes that give you more piloting control as your skills improve. Beginner gives you some altitude hold and leveling assistance while flipping to pro removes all the limits.

The headset and controller have a range of about 100 feet (30 meters) giving you plenty of room to fly and when your battery starts to tap out (like all racing drones, batteries only last a matter of minutes), the color picture from the camera switches to black and white so you know it's time to land.

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Along with the quad, radio and FPV goggles you get:

  • Two batteries and a USB charger
  • Two spare motors and four spare propellers
  • Quick start guide
  • Two gates and gate holders
  • Lens cloth
  • Radio USB cable for flight simulators

Fat Shark recommends an AMA (Academy of Model Aeronautics) membership (as do I) for fliers in the US, so much so that it includes a three month membership. You'll also get free access to the Drone Racing League simulator, which is $20 on Steam (about AU$26 or £15 converted). Just connect the controller to a computer with the included USB cable and start training. Fat Shark will have its own simulator, too, as well as a series of training videos.

Basically, if you want to get into drone racing and are intimidated by the setup and costs, Fat Shark 101 is an easy answer. You'll still need to learn how to pilot the thing, but it's not nearly as frustrating or limiting as other "entry-level" systems I've tried and you don't need to worry about getting individual pieces to work together.

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