I had been flying RC models for about two years when I developed an interest First Person View (FPV) flying. FPV allows you to fly your model from a visual perspective as though you are sitting in the model's cockpit. Yeah, you pretty much see the same thing you would if you were sitting in the pilots seat of a real aircraft. But you only get the visual input when flying FPV. Your other senses don't provide you with feedback like they would in a real aircraft. Your sense of balance isn't telling you the aircraft is banking or diving or climbing. Your ears aren't popping as you change altitude. And seeing the world through a wide angle lens isn't the same as how you normally see things. None the less, it is really cool which is why I decided to give it a try.
How does it all work? Hopefully very well else you might never get your RC plane back. <grin> But on a more serious note, the FPV concept is fairly simple. You start with a regular RC model aircraft that already has the regular electronics. To that, you add a very small video camera, a very small video transmitter, and an antenna for the VT. Let's take a look at these components so you can see what they look like.
The FPV video camera is quite small, with this one coming in at just 1"x1" square. Weight is everything when flying RC aircraft so smaller usually means lighter and that is what you want. This particular 1.3 megapixel camera, a Lumenier CMOS-1200 16:9 widescreen, weighs a mere 12 grams (.42 ounces) but comes with a boatload of features that make setting up the camera much easier than it was just a few years ago.
The video signal from the camera is fed into the FPV video transmitter. Video transmitters, like the camera, are loaded with different features. A transmitter is designed to work in band of frequencies. There are many different bands that you can use and depending on where you live in the world somewhat dictates which ones are legal for use. Many require a ham radio license for legal use. The most common power levels run from 25 mW to 800 mW, although some go even higher. Again, like the camera, size is important as is the weight. The video transmitter will use substantially more power than the camera. More power typically equates to more distance between you and the aircraft although frequency plays a very big part in this equation.
If you thought there were lots of choices for FPV cameras and video transmitters, wait till you start looking for a video transmitter antenna. The antenna is connected to the transmitter and is the last basic component of your model's FPV equipment. There are many, many different styles and types of antennas available. Some are very directional while others are not. Some are designed for close-in racing while others are intended for very long distance use. Just like the video transmitter, antennas are designed to work on a particular frequency band which directly affects how large they are. Mounting a small antenna on the model is usually much easier than mounting a larger one. And as always, weight matters.
So how does the rest of this FPV system work? You need to capture the transmitted video signal so you can view it. This is done with what is commonly referred to as a ground station. It can be a simple or complex design, but regardless of the cost, the basic setup is pretty much like the electronics we added to the airplane but acting in reverse. We'll need an antenna to capture the video signal from our RC aircraft, a video receiver, and something to view our camera video on. Some people use video goggles while others use a small video monitor. Here is how we do it.
Much like the antenna that was attached to the video transmitter, the receive antenna needs to be positioned so that it can clearly capture as much signal as possible coming from the aircraft's video transmitter antenna. Since we aren't too worried about weight in our ground station setup, larger antennas can be used. These larger antennas, when designed and constructed properly, are able to increase the video range between the pilot and the RC aircraft. Sometimes long range reception isn't an issue so a small antenna, such as in the above photo, can be connected directly to the video goggles worn by the RC pilot. The antennas come in all shapes and sizes and frequency bands.
The antenna is attached to the video receiver via the receiver's antenna connector. This particular video receiver is designed to fit inside a compartment in the pilot's goggles. This kind of configuration makes for a very compact and highly portable ground station. Some receivers are designed to have two antennas connected to them which makes the ground station well suited for both short range and long range video signal reception.
After the receiver has processed the video signal from the aircraft's camera, the pilot can use video goggles to view the image. The Fatshark Dominator V3 goggles shown above is very well suited for this kind of task. It has a special compartment for which a compatible video receiver can be installed. Once installed, a small antenna is connected which makes for a very portable viewing setup. The goggles can also receive the video signal from an external video receiver connected to the goggles via a special video cable. This method is often times used when larger antennas are used. These antennas, along with their video receiver, can be mounted on a camera tripod and aimed in the general direction of the aircraft's flight path for long range reception.
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