Sometimes, the best things really do come in small packages. Take, for example, the Tiny Whoop.
Here at TDC, we think first-person-view micro-drones are just about the coolest things around for the price. But before we start exploring this whole topic, it’s important to clarify a bit of language.
The term “Tiny Whoop” is being tossed around loosely these days, with a lot of people using it to describe pretty much any micro-quadcopter with ducted blades and an FPV camera. And while there are similarities between many of these models, the actual “Tiny Whoop” was created by, and is sold by, a creative and passionate guy from Fort Collins, Colorado named Jesse Perkins.
We gave him a call to talk about the phenomenon, and his role in creating it. It’s a cool story – and the 35-year-old was generous with his time.
“It’s become the perfect introductory FPV machine,” says Perkins. “It’s not even just introductory – all of these top pilots here at Drone Nationals 2016 fly a Tiny Whoop. And it’s become the official, or unofficial, after-hours activity of the professionals and the novices.”
So how did the Tiny Whoop come to be? And why has it spawned both a movement – and so many other models some confuse with the original?
Perkins explains he had long been an R/C hobbyist, and started building micro-FPVs the moment first-person-view hit the scene. He’s also part of a tightly-knit Colorado drone racing team called “Big Whoop.”
As the racing circuit grew, Team Big Whoop travelled to pretty much every race in the US during the summer of 2015 through the 2015/2016 winter. To help save money, anywhere from 14 to 25 pilots would pool their dough and rent an AirBnB they would call “Drone Haus.”
“I brought one of my early micro-quads to Drone Haus 1.0,” he says. “Micro-FPV had been around since the beginning of FPV, but there had been some problems. People tended to use heavier 8.5mm motors with slightly larger props that are exposed…I was really interested in making them more controllable, more nimble.”
The following video shows a micro-FPV Jesse had built, along with his incredible piloting skills, in the Drone Haus. Note the heavier motor and exposed props:
It was a good start, but Jesse wanted to improve things.
“I was already interested in making FPV smaller, more nimble, and more controllable,” he says.
At Drone Haus 2.0, teammate Christian Avedon brought along a Horizon Hobby Inductrix he’d modded with FPV gear. On that same trip they connected with pilot Ori Paamoni, who recommended upgrading the motors from the stock Inductrix powerplants, as well as finding a battery with more suitable oomph for the extra load. They found one through a German firm.
“That,” says Perkins, “is how the Tiny Whoop was born.”
With interest rapidly growing, Perkins built what he calls an “online recipe” for how people could take and modify a stock Inductrix to create their own Tiny Whoop. From there, he says, “It just started to snowball.”
People started ordering parts – tiny cameras, boards, different motors and cloverleaf antennas from Jesse’s website. They started having indoor races because the micros were so light and safe. And, before Perkins even fully realized it, a community had begun to coalesce around this quirky little aircraft (and his quirky little videos, which feature music composed by his buddy Ben). The thing was just plain fun to fly. And accessible, too. Far better to spend three hundred bucks to safely learn the FPV ropes than drop a grand on something more difficult (and potentially dangerous) for a beginner to fly.
For retailers like David Klein of Rotorgeeks, which specializes in FPV products, the Tiny Whoop concept was a winner.
“If you were a marketing guy and you were ticking off the boxes, you’d have: Low cost of entry, ease of use, zero danger – and available parts for repair,” he says.
“You really have to completely credit Jesse for doing it and then popularizing it,” says Klein, who met Perkins at the 2016 Drone Nationals. “He was the first one to take that Inductrix, which was not an FPV machine, and put all that stuff on it and start using it as an FPV machine.”
But why has this tiny machine become so popular in a market filled with increasingly affordable FPV units?
“There’s something disarming about that machine to people who aren’t into FPV,”
says Klein. “It’s not threatening and it’s cute… When you present it to people it doesn’t scare them at all.” Klein became a Horizon Hobby dealer solely so he could sell the Inductrix and a full range of components for people who want to mod them.
Horizon Hobby Follows the Trend
In fact, Horizon Hobby introduced its own FPV version of the Inductrix. The description on the Horizon site offers credit where it’s certainly due:
“When Jesse Perkins first flew the Inductrix® quadcopter, he knew that there was more to the experience yet to be unlocked. He mounted a small FPV camera and video transmitter, upgraded the motors, found a better battery and called it the Tiny Whoop™. Soon, thousands of Inductrix owners were flying in places they never thought possible!”
As for Jesse Perkins, the creation and community he sparked has changed his life.
“When I think of Tiny Whoop, I’m a little bit protective of the way the phrase is used, honestly. A lot of people want to call everything a Tiny Whoop just to get search engine results,” he says.
“We’ve been extremely open and inclusive.. All of us spend so much time just talking to people online on Facebook and walking them through these baby steps that allow them to fly for the fun of it. None of these larger companies trying to make money are willing to do that. I like to think of it as the spirit of the Tiny Whoop hobby.”
A spirit that’s built on fun.
“When people see a Tiny Whoop they can’t help but smile into the lens. That changes everything; that changes the public’s perception of drones, that changes the way people think about FPV events.”
The inspiration for this article, btw, was a personal purchase of an FPV Inductrix and a set of inexpensive goggles during the Christmas season. It’s a blast seeing the world like a you’re a flying bug – and trying to navigate through tight spots. In some ways, it’s like exploring a strange new land.
“It’s got this whimsical aspect,” explains Perkins. “To be a tiny flying object, a small room feels like a vast terrain and a single tree feels like a vast forest. For me, that’s one of the most important parts – turning everyday environs into a fast and dynamic terrain.”
Once we’ve mastered our Inductrix, we’ll take things a little further: We’ll buy ourselves a genuine Tiny Whoop – and report back to you.