Fast and highly maneuverable, with good battery life for its price point, reaching 14 minutes or more. Handles bumpy landings well.
Propeller guards can flex on hard landings, chipping them. Propellers themselves are flimsy. No spare battery. Carrying a larger camera will shorten battery life.
Ready to fly out of the box. Easy-to-use controls that are fast and responsive. Handles acrobatics with ease. Good battery life at its price point.
Battery life isn’t quite what is advertised, reaching about 10-12 minutes. Larger smartphones don’t fit on its phone mount. Attached camera can come loose during flight.
Lightning quick and agile with a range of more than a mile. Excellent battery life at more than 20 minutes. Easy-to-use controller. Included camera’s video image is clear and steady. Return home function is reliable, even with a poor connection.
Somewhat complex to set up for first flight. Using a smartphone to control the drone isn’t recommended due to poor connection.
Speedy with a durable build that does a good job withstanding crashes. Can do 360-degree flips and take decent images. Sporty looks add to the fun it delivers. Good battery life.
Requires firmware update for optimal performance. Not ideal for novices, as it takes a little skill to learn to maneuver it.
Super affordable. Reaches speeds up to 31 mph in seconds. Five speeds. Charges in 90 mins. Stable. You can fly multiple drones at once without interference.
Can be difficult for beginners. Battery life is only five to seven minutes in flight, and some reports of it only flying two minutes. Propellers aren't very rugged.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
There's a good reason why drones are so popular: they are enormous fun! Flying drones is something you can start young and all the family can enjoy.
Many people are happy with the leisure aspects, perhaps adding a camera to film their adventures. Others want to take their drone flying to the next level, and that usually means buying a fast, highly acrobatic racing drone. It's a sport that's growing quickly, both at amateur and professional levels, so it's not surprising that there are lots of racing drones to choose from.
The technology can be confusing, so BestReviews has been putting these exciting flying machines through their paces. The following racing drone buying guide offers a detailed description of your options and answers some questions about the sport itself. And our recommendations highlight a number of models that are ready to race more or less straight out of the box.
RTF, DIY, or ARF
RTF: Ready-to-fly drones are machines that you can buy online or at your local store and be flying the same afternoon.
Foolproof (All the components work together.)
Safeguards such as altitude hold (Even if you let go, the drone will just hover.)
Built-in camera (most)
First-person-view (FPV) goggles (some)
Limited speed (Many fly at 20 or 30 miles per hour, and even the most expensive don't exceed 50 mph.)
Strictly amateur (little or no upgrade path)
DIY: With these racing drones, you can build whatever you like. There are numerous parts lists available online (typically including frame, motors and rotors, flight controller, antennas, camera and FPV transmitter, receiver, battery, and charger) or, if you have the required technical knowledge, you can create one completely from scratch. For many, this adds another level of interest.
Cheaper than RTF racing drones (though costs soon mount)
Potential to design and build very maneuverable, extremely fast aircraft
Ability to continuously tune individual elements to enhance performance
Many different components available
Component compatibility is vital (If the transmitter and receiver don't work together, you're going nowhere!)
Build quality and functionality are largely down to you. (Following someone else's plans offers a shortcut of sorts.)
Camera is extra
FPV goggles are extra
ARF: There is a middle ground that can save money: almost-ready-to-fly drones. These drones consist of a known list of components that you assemble. Generally, you buy the racing drone itself, then add battery, charger, transmitter, receiver, and FPV goggles, and you might need need to source parts from several different suppliers. This will get you a fast amateur drone but not a professional racer. If you're buying an ARF, get the best transmitter/controls and FPV goggles you can afford. These components aren't restricted to a single aircraft, so if you want to build a more advanced racing drone in the future, you already have a great start.
When it comes to RTF, DIY, or ARF, there is no right or wrong choice. If you've never done it, piloting an RTF racing drone at 30 mph while wearing FPV goggles is an exhilarating experience. One that many people never tire of. You can enter amateur races simply for the thrill of taking part.
Of course, for some that's just the beginning. If you've been bitten by the competitive bug, you'll definitely want to get into building your own racing drone and then, as the saying goes, the sky's the limit.
Just because it's called a “racing” drone doesn't make it so. Check the specifications. Some drones won't exceed 20 mph.
Most racing drones have a built-in camera, but with both low-cost and custom-built models, you might need to fit your own. Check before ordering.
Flight times can be relatively short on racing drones, and duration is often quoted at average throttle settings. Going flat out will further reduce flight time.
Size: Most racing drones measure around five inches (250 mm). While many drones are bigger, small quadcopters provide the maneuverability required to cope with the obstacles and turns on a typical racecourse.
Weight: Weight is an important component. RTF racing drones might be two or three pounds, the best weigh about half that.
Frame: Many drone frames are plastic. Carbon and glass fiber are lighter and stronger. Good aerodynamics make for a sleek-looking drone but have little impact when it comes to actual racing. Many top racing drones look a lot like a brick with a propeller at each corner!
Flight time: The faster you go, the less time you'll spend in the air. Amateur racing drones might quote 15 or 20 minutes of flight time. Fast racers will run for less than 10. Batteries can often be upgraded, but this can be quite expensive.
Recharging: Chargers are usually quite slow. It's not unusual to wait four to six hours to recharge.
Range: Drones running on the 2.4 Ghz wavelength tend to have a greater range than 5.8 Ghz models, but the latter is perfectly adequate for racing. Additionally, 5.8 GHz offers 40 or more channels, so racers don't interfere with each other. As a result, it's by far the most popular.
Signal: High transmission output (rated in milliwatts) makes for a more reliable FPV signal. The minimum generally available is 25mW. Power can run to 600mW, but a signal that strong often disrupts other drones, so 200mW is a good compromise.
Comprehensive, high-quality solution
Drone racing isn't just about being fast in a straight line. The big strength of this model is its maneuverability. It's got rapid acceleration and a top speed of almost 40 mph, but unlike out-and-out racers it's also got great flight time and an excellent camera, so you don't have to sacrifice flexibility. The inclusion of FPV goggles (compatible with a variety of smartphones) delivers that immersive race experience.
You can find low-cost introductory drones that are capable of great maneuverability for as little as $100. However, few of these entry-level drones exceed 30 mph, so we hesitate to call them “racing” machines.
Good amateur racing drones require a bigger investment. Between $250 and $500 you'll find numerous excellent drones, some of them capable of more than 70 mph. However, many in this bracket require at least some assembly (which often includes soldering).
Really fast, professional-standard racing drones – those capable of easily breaking the 100 mph barrier – start at around $500. Many are closer to $750, and some cost over $1,000, but these are custom-built machines, sourcing the best components from numerous manufacturers.
Big features, small price
For the money, you'll struggle to find a better introduction to stunt flying. The Contixo may be low cost, but it manages to combine advanced aeronautics, optional smartphone control, and overall ease of use in a package that includes a rotating camera and even FPV capability. It's not the fastest drone around, but it delivers plenty of fun on a very tight budget.
Check the rules for the appropriate organization if you want to try competitive drone racing. Amateur races are often “anything goes,” but pro leagues have strict regulations. Some specify a particular type of racing drone so that pilot skill, not team budget, is the defining factor.
Buy a drone with easily sourced replacement parts. Frame durability and the availability of replacement parts are vital for racing drones. Even the most experienced pilots crash sometimes – that's racing. If you buy a cheap racing drone from a little-known brand, it could be difficult to find compatible spares.
Learn the basics on an inexpensive drone. High-end racing drones – like any kind of performance machinery – can be challenging to master. We suggest learning the basics on a more modest drone before progressing to a high-end model. If you dive straight in, be prepared for some expensive repairs.
Join a local drone racing club. You'll get lots of useful advice and information direct from real sports enthusiasts, and most are more than happy to share their racing drone tips and tricks.
The Altair Aerial Blackhawk Drone is recommended by many enthusiasts as a great introduction to racing. It's fast enough to teach you good control skills without needing to invest lots of money. The only negative is that it doesn’t come with a camera, though there are mounts for a GoPro or similar. The Eachine Wizard x220 Racing Drone has been tested at nearly 70 mph, which is fast for an RTF racing drone, particularly one that comes at such a modest price. It's particularly popular because it's relatively easy to upgrade and modify if you want to. The Arris C250 V2 Quadcopter is another very popular racing drone and one of the fastest of the consumer models, though it’s a little more complex to set up than some.
Q. How fast are racing drones?
A. Most off-the-shelf quadcopters have a maximum speed of 40 or 50 mph. Competitive drone racers can reach 120 mph, and the current world record stands at over 170 mph. However, achieving speeds above 100 mph almost invariably means building the drone yourself.
Q. Do I need to register a racing drone with the FAA?
A. We checked the Federal Aviation Administration website. The rules don't apply specifically to racing drones, but to drones in general. There is no need to register a drone as long as it’s used solely for noncommercial or recreational purposes and weighs under 0.55 pounds (250 grams). Many racing drones exceed this weight, so they do need to be registered whether you actively race them or not. Registering costs just $5 and is valid for three years.
However, the FAA rules are for drones flying outdoors. If you only fly yours indoors, where a number of races take place, registration isn't required. If you're joining a club, that organization should be able to keep you up to date on any changes in the law.
Q. Is there much prize money in drone racing?
A. Oh, yes. The sport has grown rapidly and there are now numerous full-time professional teams. The winner of last year's World Drone Prix, held in Dubai, earned a cool quarter million dollars.
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