FPV ground stations come in all shapes and sizes. At the most basic level, the purpose of an FPV ground station is to receive the video signal from the video transmitter on the FPV plane, and then display the video feed on a monitor. Many items can be added to the mix, from video goggles that display the video feed in a small headset, to large Yagi or helical antennas on automatic tracking systems.
An FPV ground station typically has a long lifespan and can be used with many types of FPV planes. The ground station can be modified to include antennas and receivers operating at different frequencies to allow for formation flying.
Formation flying describes two or more FPV planes operating simultaneously in the same local area. During formation flying it’s important for the video signals to be operating on different frequencies so deconstructive interference will not cause signal degradation.
FPV Ground Station Types
An FPV ground station can be mounted on a tripod or inserted into a briefcase shell. Other designs also exist, but the briefcase and tripod designs are fairly common.
Below is a typical setup for a tripod mounted FPV ground station. The helical nine turn right hand circularly polarized antenna is mounted onto a thin sheet of plywood. This plywood is in turn mounted to the camera bracket on the simple Walmart tripod.
A tripod such as the one shown will cost about $40, and you don’t need to get anything fancier. Most tripods of this price range can hold 5-10 pounds, which is more than enough weight capacity for an entire FPV ground station setup.
FPV Ground Station Front.
On the back of the plywood base are two 1.3 GHz receiver units. One of these units is connected to a nine turn right hand circularly polarized helical long range antenna, while the other is connected to a right hand circularly polarized skew planar wheel antenna.
Both antennas were purchased from ReadyMadeRC. The skew planar wheel provides omnidirectional coverage in contrast to the directional nature of the helical antenna.
A three way video switch and hub allows for manual switching of the antenna feeds in flight. When the ground station is powered up, both receivers are operating, but the selector only pushes one of the feeds to the display.
Note how the receivers are connected directly to the antennas themselves. This short connection reduces video signal loss.
I also mounted a latitude and longitude tracker from ImmersionRC on the back of the ground station. This device displays the lat/long in realtime and also records the last known position of the FPV plane in case of a crash. This really helps if you aren’t using an on-screen display (OSD) or if you crash outside of visual range.
FPV Ground Station Back.
I use a simple magnetic compass to keep the long range antenna pointed in the general direction of the FPV plane.
It’s only helpful if you’re using an OSD, though. You’ll need to use the OSD data to figure out what direction your plane bears from your location on the ground before you can point the antenna.
I like using the manual method rather than an antenna tracker. I find trackers to be a pain to setup and they’re one more thing that can break out in the field.
FPV Antenna Tracking
FPV antenna tracking has some pros and cons. An antenna tracker (hopefully) keeps a directional antenna pointed toward the FPV plane to maintain a solid video signal. These trackers are not error free, and instances such as the plane flying directly overhead or a GPS signal loss can confuse the tracker.
If you’re trying to control the plane at the same time, you’re going to have your hands full if your tracker breaks. I personally don’t use an antenna tracker. The one in the picture has been sitting on a table in my basement for over a year.
FPV Goggles or Flat Panel Monitor?
The decision to use FPV goggles or a flat screen monitor to view the video output is an important one. There are several advantages to using each type of setup.
FPV goggles can cause disorientation and dizziness. They can also make launching an FPV plane difficult, as the goggles necessarily block your peripheral vision. You’ll have to launch the plane LOS and then adjust your goggles after the plane is airborne.
I’ve crashed a lot while trying to get my goggles adjusted.
Goggles do provide a more immersive flying experience, but they require additional battery power, cables, and add an extra source of error into the setup and execution of FPV flights.
7″ FPV Monitor.
Flatscreen monitors have their own set of problems.
On a bright, sunny day the glare from the sun can interfere with viewing the video output on the screen. A light blocking drape can be used to minimize the glare, but this can cause you to lose your bearings if you have to fiddle around with something on the ground station during flight.
A typical size for an FPV ground station monitor is 7 inches. Larger screens can make for a better flying experience, but also can be difficult to transport.
On a windy day, a 7 inch monitor mounted on a tripod will be a real pain to keep upright. You might consider using sandbags or tent stakes to prevent the tripod from toppling over.
FPV Ground Station Design Recommendations
Many interesting and useful examples of FPV ground station design can be found at the RCGroups forum. For the beginner FPV pilot, the general recommendation is to keep things as simple as possible. By starting out with just a helical omnidirectional antenna, and a simple flatscreen monitor, the first few FPV flights should be hassle free and more enjoyable.