A few moths ago, we made some noise about race specs. The sport as a whole is heading in a unsustainable direction and we called on race organizers to try new things to help restore balance—and fun—to the race course. Noah Katsma and the Bladed Fury chapter in Juneau, Wisconsin were already working on resolving the problem. What they came up with, titled “Limited Class,” is now a few events into its inaugural season. We caught up with Noah and a few of his chapter members to see how this grand experiment is taking shape.
What is Limited Class?
The basics of Limited Class are:
- A specified motor: EMAX RS2205 2300Kv
- A specified prop: 5040 tri-blade
- A maximum battery size: 4S 1600mAh
- A minimum weight: 600g
There are a few more items that can be found in the full regulations document, but for the most part they are just there to close up loopholes. In short, it’s a power-limited class. Each of the primary regulations directly affect the total thrust output. Some pilots initially balk at the slower components and presence of a minimum weight, but all of these work together to create a class spec that’s inexpensive to enter, easy to maintain, and doesn’t destroy batteries simply as a result of racing it. Performance-limited, effect-driven, minimally-restricted, easily testable, and different from other available classes—it’s as if Noah and crew were writing our spec article right along with us. But then they went one step further and built something that actually worked in the real world!
What’s it Like to Race?
I’ll let the pilots tell the story.
Anyone who has flown with me can vouch that I absolutely love my limited class racers. I honestly don’t even fly my “open class” rigs anymore because I enjoy this lim class so much. Fly smarter, not harder. —Tom Cinnamon
Easy to have a lot of fun with and no technological arms race. Low cost and durable gear. With the qualifying and mains format, a lot of packs get flown. Much different than the old days! —Mike Fredricks
At first I was not interested because I was getting a lot better at open class, but I fell in love with it immediately. I was still getting my butt kicked, but I wasn’t just watching quads go blazing past me like I was standing still. It was just nice to not be the guy that is just in everyone’s way. And I love it even more because I’m part of “that crazy chapter” doing the racing that everyone said was impossible. Not only is it totally possible, it is just as challenging and way more fun! I built my rig for like $60; all I had to do was throw some red bottoms on one of my freestyle rigs, buy some spec props and i was good to go. —Sam “ShotGun FPV” Purdy
I just laugh at all the pundits who said it couldn’t be done. —Gregg Novosad
Limited class is where it’s at! —Joe Lattuca
I made an attempt to find a dissenting opinion, but not one pilot who had actually flown the class gave me a negative comment.
Get to the Race Footage Already!
It’s fairly easy to build a quad well under the minimum weight—only a few of the very heaviest frames around (I’m looking at you, Wizard X220,) will come in near the weight minimum without having to add ballast. One really insightful component of the Limited Class encourages pilots to ballast with an HD action camera. With only a few events so far, it’s obvious that there will be a wealth of quality HD footage to help sell the class (and the sport in general). This is sure to stand in contrast to typical low-quality DVR race footage. Here’s a small selection of pilot video; explore their channels for many more examples.
- Noah Katsma
- Shamus Coughlin
- Anthony Paielli
- Spencer Wylie
- Troy Wojciechowski
- Tom Cinnamon (Here, he even runs a MultiGP Regional Qualifier in his Limited Class rig.)
Interview with Noah Katsma
We got ahold of Noah, the primary organizer of the class, and got into some real depth around the class’ origins, what it’s like as a race organizer, and what this type of racing brings to the sport.
Propwashed: Why did you develop Limited Class?
The discussion for Limited Class was initially started in response to the 2017 MultiGP Spec Class. MultiGP’s Spec Class was essentially the same as their Open Class at the time and in my opinion didn’t capture the authenticity of what I, and many others, felt “Spec” racing should be. There was even a lot of public outcry against MultiGP’s form of spec racing, and a lot of good ideas were thrown out, but I quickly saw that no one was going to take any initiative to do something about creating a truer spec class. Being an Organizer, I read and took mental notes on people’s suggestions for MultiGP to “fix” their spec class and merged them with my own. My idea of a true Spec Class shouldn’t be focused on speed at all, but instead I believe that the focus should be primarily focused on piloting skills.
True Spec Racing is essentially about leveling the playing field and giving everyone a chance at winning the race, not just pilots who can keep up with the ‘Hype Train.” The only way to really do that is by slowing everything down. Quad Racing today is quickly becoming a young man’s game. Flying a quad through a course at breakneck speeds become more of a game of chance and reflexes. While I just turned 30 and I don’t consider my reflexes to be terrible, there is just no way I can do what these younger kids can do now. By just simply slowing down the speeds at which we race, it adds so many elements back to Quad Racing that are quickly being erased with mainstream’s need for speed.
This is not a new concept as the R/C world has already been through this in just about every form of R/C competition. Everything from R/C Cars to R/C Combat has had to go through these growing pains. My Co-Organizer, Mike Fredriks, and I met when participating in local R/C Combat matches. We flew spec combat planes that barely had enough power to perform a basic loop. At first I was frustrated, I thought they were boring to fly and should have had more power and speed. I quickly learned that it isn’t about the speed, but finesse to be a good R/C combat pilot (plus a good ability of depth perception). Mike, however, has been a part of the R/C combat scene since since its “official” creation. If you sit down and talk with Mike he will tell you that R/C combat went through the same stages of “how fast can we go” to the point where they finally pulled back the reigns and started introducing slower “Spec” classes which are now more popular than the open classes. Everyone was trying to find the newest and greatest edge, and it wasn’t long before only a handful of pilots could keep up the speeds they were flying at and the costs it took to participate. Quad racing is no different as we are currently trying to go through those same growing pains.
Propwashed: How much time and effort went into developing the class?
It wasn’t too long after the announcement of MultiGP’s Spec Class that a few local pilots from Wisconsin and Illinois started to discuss what would be an ideal “Spec” racing setup. Of course, when you get a lot of people trying to pitch ideas, it becomes relatively crowded kitchen of cooks. It was clearly evident that everyone had their own idea of a perfect spec rig. On top of that, a majority of the discussion took place in a Slack chat, which is semi-unorganized and functions more like a big group text. There were a lot of rabbit trails and circling back had to take place, which made for a slightly challenging situation to come to an agreement.
Through the mess of our somewhat unorganized conversations, we tried to keep a list of a few different things that we did agree on. First, we knew we wanted it to be a slower rig. Second, we knew we wanted to keep it affordable. Third, we wanted to make sure to include those who like to record HD footage during races. Lastly, we realized that forcing pilots to buy a pre-built quad wasn’t going to appease two of those three rules, so we decided to try and keep as much of the class “open” as possible. In turn, I decided to call this form of spec racing the “Limited Class” as we are really only limiting the powertrain aspect of the build and keeping the frame, FC, ESC, and video system open for all pilots’ preferences.
This lead to a very long discussion trying to find the perfect powertrain combo. We all agreed that we were aiming to build a rig equivalent in speed and feel to a rig we all lost to in late 2016 owned by Jerrod Quillen: a heavy QAV210 still rocking the original EMAX 2205 2300Kv “RedButts”. At that time we didn’t know the availability of the original EMAX motors, so a lot of viable options were proposed. However, most of the motors suggested had some issue whether it be price, power, availability, or life expectancy. It took most of the fall of 2017 and part of the winter of 2018 to weigh all of the pros and cons, and test out rigs of a few of the combinations proposed. The conversations stalled out a few times and quickly rebooted when a new idea was presented but we never could really settle on that perfect combo. Then when it seemed like were at a stalemate, EMAX announced the price drop and continuation of the original “RedButts” and that is when I kinda took initiative and pushed everyone to stick with the tried-and-true bulletproof “RedButts” to at least get this Spec Class going.
Once we finally decided on a powertrain, then came all of the fun of figuring out all of the rules and regulations. I knew from experience, if there is a loophole, someone will try to exploit it. Various situations and circumstances were proposed by the group to talk out how people could cheat or gain an “edge” over the competition. It probably took a full month just to write a rulebook specific for this class, and revisions are still being made as we now have a few real-life races under our belts.
Propwashed: What are the most important parts of the class spec?
By far the most important part of this class is the powertrain. The powertrain really consists of four main parts being the Motors, Props, Battery and AUW. Once you “spec” out those variables, true Spec Racing can take place.
I decided on a single brand and make for our motor to start this class out, the EMAX 2205 2300Kv Red Bottoms. It just eliminated a lot of variables that, as an organizer, I can’t control versus opening the motors up to pilot’s choice. A big part of the beginning of the 2018 season has included the 4S vs. 6S / High Kv Vs. Low Kv debate. Pilots currently have a tendency to build for speed first, then blame the track design for destroying batteries. Most people don’t want to build rigs for certain tracks, but instead want to have all of the tracks designed for their own specific quad completely ignoring that everyone is running a rig designed for their preferences. As an organizer I wanted to make sure I will not hear the phrase “I puffed it.” It is not fair to pilots who run on a limited budget and have to hold back, while other pilots will just destroy batteries to win. Having everyone run the same exact motor just eliminates any questions.
As for propellers, I required pilots use certain PC 5040 tri-blade props that we have listed. And yes, I have heard from just about everybody that they have way more efficient props than PC 5040 tri-blade props, but what they need to realize is that the 5040 PC prop is made by just about every prop manufacturer and is readily available for everyone. Plus, the 5040 tri-blade propellors act as sort of a governor. At a certain rpm, the 5040 really don’t have much more to give, in turn keeping the Limited Class, limited. All these 5040 have the exact same design and feel, but give pilots a chance to stick to their favorite brand.
Lastly, we wanted to make it hard for people to gain an advantage during the end of the race by using High Voltage or larger capacity batteries. So a 4S 1600mAh non-HV battery cap was placed to help make sure no one can gain an advantage at the end of the race. A mAh cap also helped with the final aspect of “leveling the playing field” by limiting how pilots can achieve the 600 gram minimum weight. While discussing and writing the rule book, it came to our attention that it would be really easy to build lightweight rigs and just strap a 1900mAh or higher battery on to their quad and have virtually no sag near the end of a race. That was contradictory to our goals and we still wanted to encourage people to use HD cameras during races. By enforcing a minimum weight and a battery mAh cap, pilots are able to build rigs that can take a beating with a beefy frame, add TPU protection, add tons of LED lights, run a GoPro or other HD recording devices all without having to worry about saving those few precious grams to remain competitive.
Propwashed: What’s the best part of the class?
There are so many awesome elements about this class it becomes hard to pick one. Everything from great HD footage, longer race times, better spectator viewing with lots of LEDs and slower speeds, and the ease for any pilot to participate at a reasonable cost are all great parts of this class. However, as a pilot, one of my personal favorite parts of this class is how these rigs will show you where you make mistakes on the track. With open class quads you can make a mistake, and within milliseconds you can power through a bad line and be back in the race, but Limited Class will exploit those bad lines. Shaun Taylor once commented that he always tried to aim for smooth flying over brute speed, but after one of his losses to a few younger pilots who used pure brute speed to win, he questioned whether smooth was still fast. I personally believe it still is, and Limited Class brings that to the forefront. Just watch some of the Limited Class videos (in HD!!!) and you will see that a lot of lead trading takes place during a race, and nearly every single pass happens near or at a corner. Having a good line going into a turn is critical with Limited Class rigs as the AUW can really play havoc with hard turns. If you need to turn around for a missed gate, you will be “punished” for it and I think that is an amazing tool as it teaches me how to be faster without going faster! As one of my pilots, Shamus “Big Caddy” Coughlin, put it: “Pilot versus pilot NOT wallet versus wallet.”
Propwashed: How is organizing and running a Limited Class event different from other race classes?
Limited Class was designed to be an additional class that can be run for basically any established racing format. An organizer can even add just one group of Limited Class during any formatted Open Class race or vice versa (I host a Limited Class race and offer one Open Class group) to allow a few pilots to try out Limited class without hosting a dedicated Limited Class only race. While it is suggested to run a letter mains format to help bring pilots of similar skill level together, any format will do.
The only requirements to accommodate Limited Class is providing a table near the starting blocks with multiple battery checkers and a tip scale set at 600 grams. This is so that before every single race, all pilots must self-police by publicly weighing and verifying they are not HV charging. This eliminates a lot of responsibility as an organizer and keeps the day moving along smoothly as self-policing will usually result in pilots being honest.
As an organizer, there are a few things that I like to do for dedicated Limited Class races. Increasing the race time to 2:30 or 3 minutes based on course design is usually well-welcomed by all pilots. In order to accomplish longer race times, I do two things. First, I try to avoid a lot of hard 180 turn-arounds as that is one of the biggest causes of battery drain. Second, I make sure to design a course that forces pilots to slow down to be faster. Certain elements in a track can be hit at full throttle or at half throttle, but more times than not a pilot going slower can come out of certain elements faster than the full-throttle pilot simply due to cleaner lines. These elements may be viewed by some as more of an obstacle course, but we are racing a machine that can move in a three dimensional aspect, and as course designers we need to utilize every bit of that. The combination of the Limited Class’ lower Kv efficiency and slower track designs allows organizers to push the envelope on race time length.
Recently, Bladed Fury has been pushing the race-duration envelope even further. Noah states: “We just had a 4:00 race yesterday. It was cold, raining, and windy. but everyone had a complete blast. landing at 14.9–15.2V.”
Propwashed: How was Limited Class received by your members?
I brought the announcement of our Limited Class to our chapter just after MultiGP decided to open battery limitations for the 2018 season. My pitch: “Don’t shelve those old 4S batteries just yet!” While everyone had their reservations about Limited Class, a few pilots saw the potential for something great and went ahead and started their builds during Wisconsin’s unforgiving off-season months. Of course, I got a little grief from pilots about motor and prop choices, and a lot of confused pilots voicing their concern about that dreaded “600 grams!!!” But once the first Limited Class test event happened, I saw something happening. Pilots couldn’t believe how well these rigs actually handled. Pilots enjoyed the fact that the racing was close quarters and no one won by a landslide. They enjoyed the fact that the only thing people went home with was some busted props and not busted quads. Pilots enjoyed the HD video that they could review and post instead of that “quality” DVR footage. Pilots enjoyed the fact that they could compare builds and actually learn and compare PID tuning due to similar builds. But most important of all, I saw that pilots were having fun again! I even had several pilots tell me that they might sell all their open class rigs and go all Limited Class this season. I myself built a brand new 6s build that has been hanging on the wall after the first successful maiden. It seems like a crazy idea at first to pilots, but once they try it, they are hooked.
Propwashed: Has running the class changed your perspective on what FPV racing can/should be?
Limited Class has given me a new hope for FPV racing. As an organizer I saw the race to 1:30 coming, and I didn’t like it. I saw pilots showing up and getting upset when they crashed out due to a small mistake and it ruined their chances for the day. I saw the gap between pilots who could afford to crash and those who couldn’t. Limited Class is bringing the fun and excitement back into FPV racing by leveling the playing field and giving pilots more flying time. On top of that, Limited Class has opened a lot of doors in trying to bring some new and exciting formats to our chapter. In fact, we plan on experimenting with group racing, and 8:00 solo races that will require a pit stop. It will open the door for our pilots to break free from the standard 2-minute races, and maybe find a new love for FPV racing again.
Propwashed: How do you see spec (or Limited) racing in terms of the future of the sport?
I honestly do believe that we are not far from hitting the plateau when it comes our traditional 5” racing quads. My mentor, Gregg Novosad from GoDroneX in Chicago, has already proclaimed, “5” is dead” and has moved on to micro endurance racing. X-class is gaining new traction and being introduced to MultiGP’s International Open. 200-lap endurance races are starting down in Louisiana by Shannon Broussard and company. The average pilot is getting bored, and tired of trying to keep up with the newest hype train that supposedly makes them “faster”. We are at that stage of what all other competitive sports have already gone through. We need to take a step back and re-evalute how FPV racing will grow. I believe that Limited Class, other Spec Classes, and new racing formats are steps in the right direction to keep pilots engaged and to stick with the sport while still enticing new pilots to join.
Bravo to Noah and his chapter for bringing something unique to the sport while making it sustainable, fair, and best of all—fun.
We’d like to thank Noah and the other members of the Bladed Fury MultiGP chapter who took the time to talk to us. If you have other questions, you can ask in Bladed Fury’s Facebook group—they are a passionate bunch who are more than happy to answer questions and help other groups get started flying Limited Class.
All photos in this article were provided courtesy of Paul Park.