What is drone racing?

If your dream is to become a pilot or enjoy the thrill of speed and competitive racing, drone racing could be the sport for you. Not everyone can be a fighter pilot or a race car driver, but drone racing could be the alternative; it is more accessible to many for a similarly thrilling experience.

Drone racing is a relatively new competitive sport. In late 2013, early 2014, amateur drone pilots came together in Melbourne and Brisbane, Australia to compete against each other by racing their drones. It was the birth of the popular drone racing sport.

What is Drone Racing?

Drone racing is a high-speed competitive racing sport. It is like stepping into a real-life drone racing video game. Everything happens in a first-person view as if you are the pilot sitting in the drone cockpit.  Pilots compete with their flying and acrobatic skills at high-speed against opponents. 

The goal is to complete the obstacle course first, the fastest, or with the most points.  Pilots compete by flying quadcopter racing drones through three-dimensional courses at speeds up to 120 mph. 

Each drone has an onboard camera connected to the first-person view (FPV) goggles the pilot wears. The video feed transmitted to the goggles gives the pilots the visual experience of piloting from the drone’s cockpit.

What is FPV flying?

First-person view or first-person video flying (FPV) means the pilot sees what the drone sees. A camera is mounted on the nose of the drone. Live-stream footage is transmitted with radio waves of 2.5 GHz or 5.8 GHz frequency. The drone, goggle, and remote control are connected via radio and transmits in real-time, requiring immediate steering response from the pilot at that incredible speed.

Therefore, the pilot steers from the first-person viewpoint as if they are sitting in the drone’s cockpit. They control the drone with a remote control.

Where does Drone Racing Occur?

A racecourse for drones can be a basic course like racing cars or bikes where you pass your opponents to their left or right. Drone pilots have the option of moving left to right to race pass other drones.

Three-dimensional racecourses, however, allows for up and down movement of the drones during a race. Pilots have the flexibility to do tricks and acrobatics that isn’t possible with only moving to the left or right. This type of racecourse gives more maneuverability to the pilot but also requires more skill and control at high speeds. One could argue that three-dimensional FPV racing is by far the most thrilling and exciting for pilots and the audience too.       

Professional drone racing leagues, like the DRL (Drone Racing League), offer competitions for racing drones at iconic locations worldwide. They build three-dimensional courses at these locations. Course sites may be empty buildings, sports stadiums, significant landmarks, and other exciting venues.  

The Drone Racing MultiGP holds the FPV festival each year, where over 300 pilots attend from across the globe. They welcome all pilots and have events for different leagues.  MultiGP Chapters are groups of pilots that organize local drone racing events to hone their skills. With over 600 chapters globally, pilots should find a drone racing event close to them. Pilot groups can join as a country or as an organization.  

The sport has grown so popular that it is very likely that there is a league or drone course close to your home.

How Does Drone Races Work?

Pilots compete against each other to finish the obstacle course by racing drones against drones. During the race, they may also score points for various successes. In the end, the pilot with the most points wins.

When practicing for races, pilots may use natural obstacles to improve their skills, or they can use the simulations to virtually see the obstacles like what they observe during a race.  

The three most common drone racing formats are:

  • Rotorcross is where the winner is the pilot who completes the course first. 
  • Time Trial drone racing competitions are about completing the course in the best finishing time.
  • Drag Race is about speed and acceleration across a short course distance of about 328 feet (100m).

What is Drone Racing Skills?

Drone racing pilots need to practice and fine-tune specific skills to meet racing standards, enabling them to compete not only locally but also on national and international levels. Racing drones are difficult to control and require expertise to maneuver the drone with agility and speed.

Speed

Pilots race their quadcopter drones through obstacle courses at high speeds of up to 120 mph. All the drones that are competing can fly fast. Choosing the fastest lines may give a drone pilot the speed edge they need.

Reaction

The drone flies at an incredible speed, and fast reaction is necessary to avoid crashing the drone against an obstacle. The video feed is in real-time, requiring immediate, almost reflexive responses from the FPV pilot with little or no predetermined linework.

Movements

It takes skill to fly graciously during a race. Using gravity and operating smoothly makes it easier to control the drone. Jerky and out of control spins could cause the pilot to lose control of the drone and even have a nauseating effect on the pilot…merry-go-round effect.

Tight Spaces

Pilots must be able to fly their drones through tight spaces at that high-speed. Slowing down to safely maneuver through narrow gaps may cause a pilot the race.

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