Until relatively recently if someone were to mention drones, most people would conjure up images of self-propelled military aircraft sent on suicide bombing missions or used to spy on troops and other ‘high value targets’ in hot, far off lands.

This article isn’t about military drones.. or bees! Not too long ago, there was all that fuss about a drone… or was it a shopping bag in the wind, maybe the light on a crane near Gatwick Airport. It doesn’t take a particularly harsh news-drought for articles to appear in the newspapers about the menace to society of these buzzing pests – invading privacy with their peeping cameras, threatening the safety of passenger jets, carrying bombs and smuggling drugs into prisons every other Friday night.

Sigh. Well there’s a  lot more to drones than that, in fact there’s a whole culture that most people simply aren’t aware of – welcome to the world of FPV DRONES.

I should start by explaining exactly what FPV is. It stands for First Person View, and refers to the way that these aircraft are piloted. The pilot wears a special pair of goggles, much like the virtual reality headsets that you may have already seen; though these are somewhat less bulky and fitted with antenna to receive a video signal transmitted from a tiny camera at the front of the drone.

This affords the pilot with a drone’s-eye view in real-time. The effect is that of riding along on the drone itself.

The other important feature of FPV flight is the style. These powerful, agile little drones can often attain speeds of 50mph or more and can turn on a knife-edge, performing death-defying loops, twists and acrobatics. Trust me, the view  is BREATHTAKING and more than a little addictive.

Take a look at the footage from a trip with some friends to Snowdon. These flights are a team effort, born of an abundance of safety precautions. There are of course the very sensible rules laid down by the CAA, but on top of that is a code followed by serious drone pilots. Those not flying will usually act as ‘spotters’, looking out for unexpected incursions into the area, other dangers and in the case here of white-knuckle mountain dives keeping an eye on the radio signal strength. Loss of signal halfway up a mountain pretty much amounts to DEATH of the poor little drone. In general, FPV drones when set up properly are programmed to cut their motors in the event of signal loss – the idea being better to drop the drone than fly off and cause potential trouble.

Happily, this is a problem that I’ve hardly come across with a bit of care and knowledge about how radio signal propagate. But of course, things DO go wrong however well prepared you are. That’s why it’s ALWAYS a good idea to have a flying buddy with you – and what better than a trusty black Labrador. This was one time that definitely paid off.

There is another black dog that some FPV pilots know all too well. In the next video, you’ll hear how the supreme feeling of flight can be powerfully therapeutic against mental health issues. A good many people that I know and know of take to the air to help with feelings of stress and anxiety; there’s something about the sense of freedom that flying brings which is just so satisfying.

Freestyle drone flying has its roots in skateboard culture with a philosophy and language of its own. Most drones – or ‘quads’ (from the now, somewhat archaic term quadcopter) are built and maintained by the pilots themselves. Skills in soldering and electronics are essential to this sport as crashes can often be somewhat destructive! But even for those skilful (or just plain lucky) enough to avoid wrecking their quad, there is endless tinkering, tuning and upgrading to keep up with the ever changing technology. There is a similar “trespass culture” amongst FPV pilots that hardcore skateboarders follow. While it’s thoroughly unacceptable to rip a quad around a public place, pilots often seek out the best “bandos” (abandoned buildings), where it’s a lot safer to fully open up the throttle.

So, while there is an element of aparant lawlessness that may come across in some of the videos posted online, the vast majority of SERIOUS drone pilots operate very much within the law. Did you know that in the UK to fly a drone weighing in at 250g or more, you need to register with the CAA for an operator’s license, take a test and display your operator’s ID cleatly on all your Drones? Most people including myself also fly with pilot’s insurance to cover themselves in the unlikely event of an accident.

Sometimes though, a quiet car park presents the opportunity to tear things up a little.

I visited the revered Upwood bando, an abandoned army base in Cambridgeshire which has featured in a great many YouTube videos. I have to say that it was more than a little creepy, and I was somewhat out of my comfort zone climbing through the fence – but I think it was worth it, even though I was a little conservative with my flying. Not being one to take up the aerosol, I couldn’t resist the temptation to DIGITALLY tag one of the buildings in the video!

But whatever your flying style and skills – after 9 years, I only regard my flying skills as modest – the very best fun can be had when flying with friends. I’m part of an online group of drone enthusiasts and regularly organise meet-ups. Our regular haunt, Boars Hill just south of Oxford is a fantastic place to fly.

So, if you’re out walking and hear the distinctive whine of motors, don’t worry you’re perfectly safe, we’ll keep WELL clear of you. But why not come over for a chat – who knows, one of us might let you put on a spare pair of goggles and take you for a spin!

Want more?

Visit and subscribe to my YouTube channel. https://www.youtube.com/c/AndySevern

Or drop in at the MultiRotor UK forum to see what’s going on and when we’re next meeting.

By Andy Severn