Location? The National Exibition Centre (NEC), Birmingham.
When? 5th-6th December 2015.
What? FPV Racing, UK UAV Training, Agility Challenges, Aerial Photography, Mapping, Surveying, Shops & more.
To prefix this, despite going for both days I didn't actually get chance to get around all of the stalls all that often (had a couple of failures during races so I had to tend to those before the next race), there were a few prime companies I wanted to talk to. My main focus was to put names to faces, and also to talk about new and upcoming products they have, but of course also grab some deals if any were about :)
There were some top names there such as DJI, BMFA, OFCOM/CAA, I-Drone, MakeItBuildIt, Align, Fossil Stuff, Horizon Hobby, Panasonic, T-Motor and UAV Graphics. Most companies brought their own selection of their top products to showcase to the public, some offering exclusive deals and of course the main couple of "racing" (I-Drone and MakeItBuildIt) shops had a good range of their products too :).
I'll let some of the pictures showcase some of the awesome companies we had participate in the first ever UK Drone Show.
The UK Drone Show was a big event for a couple of people I know in particular as they were both releasing new frames to the market, of which I had either seen of or had one. Tom Stanton of Stanton Frames released his TSX250 to market, and there were 5 or 6 of us who were using it at the UK Drone Show, and was received very well by the community as something which filled a hole in the market.
Craig released his KC180 frame which focused more on the indoor and close proximity flying, again another amazing frame of which I have already written about as I have one myself. Chi has been vigorously testing this frame so you know it's good, and I have absolutely enjoyed building mine and hope to be able to fly it very soon when the weather starts playing ball.
So the track was actually quite nice and simple, but also threw in its own set of challenges at the same time. We were flying in a figure of 8 with a giant tunnel at the back, and a nice crossover bit in the middle. At the front featured a 3-gate area which was also the start/finish for the lap timing.
The idea is you go under on one part of the crossover which is another nice tunnel, and coming around the other side you go through the top of it. A cool part of the course which is making them a lot more "3D" compared to the traditional standard "gate" based courses. And below are a few more angles of the track :)
So, being completely into racing, this is my jam. This is my entire focus of the event. I would have 100% gone regardless of whether or not I had been invited to race, but the fact I was made it awesome. I was actually part of the reserve list after we ran out of space for pilot allocation, after determining in testing that the RF interference was so great we could only run 3 pilots per race. Luckily, on the day people got a few practice laps in, and with the surprise of Metalldanny joining us, we put it to a vote of whether or not to increase the pilot count to 4 for the races. It was a unanimous decision to go for 4 because we had found some other channels that were not so noisy (half the 5.8Ghz band was unusuable), so that was decided. I was now racing again :).
With that in mind, Eric set about to altering the race allocations to include the extra pilots and we stuck to 4 for both of the days, which made it far better from a spectator point of view, but also meant I got really lucky and got to fly on both days :).
As I mentioned earlier, half of the 5.8Ghz spectrum was unusable - there was just huge amounts of noise on it that you could not get past. This was due to a few things, mainly due to the fact we were flying inside a huge tin can (essentially), and there also seemed to be a lot of WiFi networks and even 5.8Ghz cameras spread around various places, so we were extremely limited to what channels we could fly. And even those we could fly, the picture was not brilliant, by any stretch. But, we did what we could. Rotor-Racing kindly providing some FR632's Diversity Receivers and Antennas to give all pilots a chance in improved video quality to try and break through the noise as best as possible.
The best thing about the event for me was seeing how much interest in this hobby there really is. Saturday was absolutely jam packed full of people. I didn't realise how many people when focused on racing, but the spectator area for the track was packed at least 6-7 heads deep all the way along! Aside from watching the races themselves, the pits area was just off to the side but allowed people to look in and see what it is we do when we're not racing (usually quite a lot). I personally spoke to probably a good few dozen people who had questions, and just general interest in the hobby, our quads, and even specific things such as which FPV Goggles we use and why. Everyone was super friendly (from both sides), and the atmosphere was brilliant!
So anyway, back to the racing :D I didn't actually get to use my practice slot in the morning as I didn't think I'd need it, so went into the qualifying races without any video testing whatsoever. The first 2 qualifying races did not go to plan - I had really really bad video which meant I was unable to even take off. The third qualifier was a little better as I had changed channel, but sadly crashed out before making it round to do the first lap! So not a great start, but I continued and focused on the next set of races.
Each day, we ran 3 groups with 4 pilots in each, and everyone made it into the semi finals. The winner from each Semi Final goes through into the Final and then the fastest second place takes up the remaining spot to bump it up to 4. Because of that I still made it into the semi finals and in fact completed the whole race, placing me 6th out of 12. I was quite pleased considering it was my first lap, my first completion, and that I had managed to achieve 6th from it. I could only imagine how I would have done if I had got better video at the start. But it was all for fun so I wasn't so bothered :). I was in the Semi Finals with James Bowles (current UK Nationals champion), and Luke Bannister - undoubtedly the fastest in the UK right now - so I knew it was never going to be a winner! :)
So as I mentioned earlier I got lucky again on the Sunday racing, being a reserve the idea was I would step in on my reverse video frequency if someone could not fly in the race for whatever reason. Again, it went to a vote and we decided that 4 pilots per heat would be better. With that being said, I wanted to improve on yesterdays performance and get some more successful races in, and hopefully also finish a little higher up!
Practice seemed to go ok, I had bought myself a pair of VAS antennas to put on my own FR632 to make my ground-station after seeing how great Luke's setup was, and kindly borrowed a spare FR632 from Eric as I-Drone had none in stock (but got the Crosshair and Helical from them, and already had an Airscrew). I then made my own groundstation so I could use similar channels to Luke and others who had success, but were not in my race group.
So I went into the first qualifier and had the best video I'd had all weekend so far, meaning I had completed the whole race again for the second time of the weekend, and my fastest lap was only a second behind BanniUK's - this felt really good! I knew I had to keep pushing as much as I could to learn the track - it usually takes me a few runs to get into the flow of it to find the lines, of which some seem to master on the first practice :)
So onto the second qualifying round. Again, these qualifiers don't count towards anything, but are very good practice for going all-out in the Semi Finals so perfect to try and find those lines. The race went absolutely perfect for me. Tom Stanton and Mark Graves had both unfortunately crashed out leaving just me and Luke left. Luke had also crashed around half-way through which meant it was just me in it. I had managed to do the most laps in a round so far (7), and won the qualifying heat. Luke did manage to get his quad back in the air after someone fished it out of the nets, so he was hot on my tail, but ended up not able to catch me. I wasn't going particularly fast at this point, just really trying to make sure I could take in as much of course as I could for the later runs. I was hitting 14.688 as my fastest lap, which was a further improvement on my 14.750 from the previous race.
The next Qualifier, and the last, turned into an all-out race. Luke and Tom stanton were fighting to the death for the win, but Luke managed to take it with around 3 seconds difference over the whole 2 minutes, a really small amount (and both did 9 laps). I managed to take 3rd place with 8 laps, further improving on my fastest lap to 11.875 seconds, a great improvement over the last race. I felt confident, the quad was flying good and I was settling into the track but more importantly pretty much keeping up with those I thought I couldn't.
With that in mind, I was placed into the Semi Finals against Luke again, with Doug and Mark also. Sadly, the semi-final didn't go to plan - my video was some of the worst I'd have over both of the days meaning I didn't even complete a lap. It was quite frustrating after improving so much, but racing is racing and if I've learned anything from all the events I've been to so far it's very much the case that "anything can happen". And so in this case it did!
Here's some of my footage from the weekend, luckily I think this was from my fast qualifier so at least I recorded the right footage! I recorded very little as I had forgot to press record on the GoPro, and I was not used to the DVR on my goggles so it was hit and miss when I actually remembered to do so. You can see the video interference we had to race with, and while it was very difficult, if you got a good channel the interference was very consistent so it wasn't that distracting after a while. However if you got a bad channel then it would flicker - something I could not focus on.
With that being said, Luke Bannister, Tom Stanton, Garry Kent and Chi Stanton had made it into the Grand Final (for Sunday), so we all knew this was the race to watch, it had been a while since these guys had raced together, and we knew the pace was very similar so it was going to be an amazing race to watch regardless!
The start itself I've never seen anything like it. As soon as the sound from race control for GO sounded, they were off as if they were already flying - it was 100% from the get go, they all made it around the first corner flag without any incidents, and they were so close around the first lap it was really quite something. The lap counter sound was within a second of each other while they went round. Just after going under the triangle tower sadly Gary had video issues and had flown into Chi launching them both sky-high into the netting, taking both of them out of the final. So there were 2 people left, Tom and Luke. The racing was close until on the second lap Tom had managed to clip the higher part of the triangle and also crashed out, leaving just Luke to plod around to his victory - one that regardless of how many pilots were left in was completely deserved. He was ahead of the pack from the get go and continued to stay there.
So the final was not quite the outcome we had all come to expect (in terms of people who finished), but as I say racing is racing. It wouldn't be racing without any surprises or crashes either. Luke was crowned champion again on the Sunday and the response he got from everyone was fantastic. Here's his video of the final below.
And that was the racing! An eventful, fast-paced, much-crashing and hilariously fun couple of days. I couldn't really have asked for any more - we made the best of a bad situation (with regards to the video noise), and the public seemed to hugely enjoy it. And I know all of us racing and behind the scenes also had a fantastic time. I really hope I can get to be part of all the exciting things we have coming up next year, and indeed get to fly at the UK Drone Show next year, where I think it will have grown exponentially as the popularity of this sport increases.
I'd personally like to thank Eric and co. at Rotor Racing yet again for doing the race control stuff - without them it would not be the racing it is, and it all worked really smoothly. Obvious thanks go to all of the event organisers (special thanks to Oli for running it), and all those who turned up, whether it was to race, or to demo your products, or as a member of the public with either a interest or a returning interest in the multirotor RC community. Also a special thanks to Phil Upton for taking the photos again, as I said before, my blog posts would not be the same without them :).