If you started flying quadcopters with a DJI or a micro toy drone, you will no doubt be used to your drone keeping itself level when you are not controlling the sticks. This behavior is called “angle” mode in the community and it is what makes getting into multicopters easy – you only need to learn that when you get into trouble, you just let go of the sticks and the flight computer will get you out of it. FPV miniquads are the red-headed stepchild of the drone world though – most miniquad pilots turn off the self-leveling feature on their flight controller in favor of what is known as “rate” or “acro” mode. If you are getting into miniquads, making the move from “angle” mode to rate mode is likely going to be one of your most trying experiences – but it is worth it.
What are these modes?
In my time in the hobby so far, I have met many awesome folks who are content flying FPV with angle mode. An argument I hear a lot is “I have no interest in racing or doing flips, and just like cruising around”. I think this is a common misconception about rate mode – that it is for advanced pilots who are looking to fly at the extreme fringes of the hobby. I believe that flying in rate is core to the experience of flying FPV with a fixed camera. To explain why, you need to understand what the differences between the modes are:
In angle mode, your sticks control the tilt angle of your quadcopter on the pitch and roll axis. When you press your control stick fully to its stop, your quadcopter will lean to a pre-determined angle and hold there – it will never be able to go past that angle. This works great because a centered stick will always command zero angle on pitch and roll – a perfect hover.
In rate mode, your sticks control how quickly the quadcopter rotates. If you hold the control stick in the same location, the quadcopter will flip or roll over and over (until it crashes into the ground). If you let the sticks center – nothing at all happens. If the quadcopter is pointed downwards, it will keep going downwards. This is at the core of why rate mode is so challenging – it is up to you to keep your aircraft in the sky.
The key limitation to angle mode with respect to FPV flying is that your quadcopter’s tilt angle is permanently restricted. This is important because on miniquads, your camera is set to a fixed angle. So when you have a restricted tilt angle, you also have a restricted field of view. For instance, if you are flying over something, it is very difficult to “look down” in angle mode to gain some situational awareness. Some of the most terrifying moments in my miniquad flying career have been descents from altitude in tree-filled areas in angle mode. You just cannot tell if you are going to come down into a tree.
It’s not just about safety or convenience, though. The fun of flying FPV goes exponential when you have full control of the camera. If you want to chase cars, circle around landmarks or do some hill diving, rate mode is really the only way to go.
Configuring your quadcopter
First and foremost, if this is your first time setting up software on a quadcopter (or if you just need a refresher!) check out our complete software setup guide. This three part guide covers everything from flashing firmware to configuring your quadcopter.
Similarly, many of the below sections on software configuration are covered in a video that we made on using the Betaflight Configurator. This video goes into detail on all of the necessary tabs that you will use to setup your flight modes. Check it out!
“Rates” refers to how responsive your miniquad is to your stick movements. Setting the proper rates is imperative when you are starting out in rate mode. Nothing is harder to learn on than a super-twitchy aircraft – although you may soon want it that way! Most everyone ends up with their own personal preference when it comes to rates, but for those just starting out, here is my rate advice for Betaflight or Cleanflight:
- Set Pitch/Roll RC Rates to .7
- Set Pitch/Roll Rates to .2
- Set Pitch/Roll Expo to .55
- Set Yaw RC Rate to .75
- Set Yaw Rate to .3
- Set Yaw Expo to .35
- Turn off super expo if using Betaflight
Here is what that will look like in the new Betaflight configurator:
If this still feels too twitch to you, continue decreasing your RC Rate values (for both pitch/roll and yaw) until you are comfortable.
When you are just getting into rate mode, angle mode will still be your best friend. If you get into trouble, you will want to have a “panic switch” on your transmitter that, when thrown, will immediately re-activate angle mode and stabilize your quadcopter. Many of you may already have such a switch set-up, but for those of you who don’t, here are a few resources outlining the process:
- Guide to configuring your transmitter
- Software setup – using Betaflight (or Cleanflight) Configurator
In case we haven’t drilled this in enough on this site – the best way to get the “initial feeling” for rate mode is on a Simulator. The reason behind this is when you are just starting with rate mode, there are a few stick motions you need to learn to orient yourself straight and level – and you want these motions to become learned in your muscle memory. You will get the best training possible by plugging your actual transmitter into the computer and practicing with that. Luckily, if you have a Taranis, this process is relatively simple. These days there are many options on the market for simulators, ranging from the price of free to $20. Check out our simulators article for some ideas.
In terms of actual exercises you can do in the simulator – don’t worry about it! Just fly around. Try to stay close to the ground and do lots of turns to the left and right and stay coordinated. Once you get to the point where you don’t crash too much in normal flight, you’re ready to move on to the real thing. You don’t need to be an acro superstar in the sim to fly rate mode in real life.
Trying it for real
When learning new modes or features on a quadcopter, I always like to recommend flying in a nice open place, like a park with a large field or an outdoor sports park. Obviously you’ll want to try to time it so that there aren’t a lot of people around – this is when you are most vulnerable to being “out of control” after all! One trick vesp likes to use for flying without human distractions is to go to sports park during the sport season later on in the evening – think around 8 or 9PM. This will generally coincide with the time after practice ends but before the automated lights turn off – at least in the USA.
Until you’ve gotten comfortable with rate mode, you should always take off and land in angle mode. Once you’ve gotten some distance between your miniquad and the ground, flip your angle mode switch to off and let the fun begin. Like the simulator, you don’t need to really practice anything in particular, just try to learn to fly around in acro mode like you used to in angle mode. The idea is getting used to the new control scheme and cementing that muscle memory for recovering your quadcopter into level flight. Make sure you practice turning both directions – many people will fly the same circuit hundreds of times and suddenly will suck at making coordinated turns in the other direction – it’s definitely happened to me!