Drone Racing 101
Few hobbies are as instantly exciting or more addictive than droning. Still, whether you are thinking about buying a new drone or have owned one for years, you are probably looking for ways to make drone flying even more thrilling and satisfying. Participating in a fun, competitive drone racing is a sure-fire way to take your droning experience to the next level. For good reason, the sport has grown tremendously in recent years. Here is everything you need to know about racing your drone.
What Is a Drone?
In generic terms, drones are flying vehicles that a pilot controls using four fixed-pitch fan blades. These blades spin at varying speeds to direct the drone in any direction. For competition purposes, the definition of “drone” may vary. Individual race rules often limit a drone’s size, power or other features. Prior to registering for a competition, you must review race rules and other restrictions to be certain your drone meets all qualifications. You should also be prepared for race officials to inspect your drone on race day.
What Is a Race?
Many drone operators enjoy flying their vehicles in a competition-free environment. Those looking for more of a challenge, however, often enter their drones in a race. Drone racing, sometimes called rotorcross, offers that challenge in an organized, highly competitive setting.
During the race, pilots fly drones through a pre-set course. Courses usually vary in length and complexity, giving both new and professional pilots an opportunity to showcase their talents. Generally, both speed and navigation are scored, meaning the pilot must be accurate and fast to beat other competitors. As with any race, failing to follow race rules may result in the assessment of penalties or disqualification from the race.
Drone racing is still in its infancy, with many pilots viewing races to be the drone sport of the future. Also, drone pilots are continually thinking of ways to demonstrate their flying prowess. Thus, new events are sure to crop up in the future. If you haven’t found the perfect drone competition for you, you may be on the forefront of designing an exciting event for other drone operators.
Where Are Races Located?
Drone pilots form associations around the world. These associations frequently hold drone racing competitions. Meanwhile, amateur groups often organize races. To find a race near you, check for drone associations in your area. Becoming a member of one of these groups or joining a group mailing list are both effective ways to learn about upcoming races. Similarly, many drone racing leagues have formed in countries around the globe. These leagues frequently hold races for pilots of all skill levels. If you are serious about participating in many races or supporting the drone racing community, joining a drone racing league is an effective option.
Since drone racing is only beginning to catch on in popularity, you may have to travel hundreds of miles to compete against other pilots. While this can be exciting, it can also be costly. Because drone racers are usually passionate about the sport, they are often happy to help racers establish events in their communities. As such, if there is no race in your area, you may want to start one. Begin by deciding which type of event you want to sponsor. Then, connect with other drone racers for the resources you need to pull off a successful competition.
What Is a Video Race?
One of the most popular types of drone competitions is the first-person video race. With these races, drone pilots outfit their vehicles with a camera. Then, instead of maneuvering the drone using the naked eye, pilots rely on video playback through head-mounted display screens. As you may suspect, controlling a drone using the drone’s visual perspective is often considerably more challenging than a conventional race. Accordingly, drone pilots typically wait to register for a video competition until they have acquired significant drone piloting skills.
During video races, pilots aren’t the only ones who wear headgear. Rather, in many events, spectators also don helmets to give them a first-person view of the action. If race watchers want to see another drone or watch a different competitor, they simply change frequencies. Remember, different racing organizations offer different viewing experiences, so check with your race’s organizers to see how spectators are encouraged to watch your event.
What Is the Global Racing League?
Perhaps the most popular racing organization for video-race droning is the Global Racing League. This league allows pilots to compete for a well-earned, world-championship racing title. Those who participate in the GRL may compete through four stages of racing, each testing their piloting skills in a video race. Interestingly, the league does not allow racers to provide their own drones. Instead, all drones used in competition are made and serviced in-house, helping to level the playing field for race pilots. That is, if you win a GRL event, you know it was skill, not your drone, that put you over the top.
Unfortunately, the GRL is exclusive, limiting competition to pilots with exceptional skills. As such, prior to joining the GRL, pilots usually work through an online simulation to give them an idea of course challenges. Remember, many of the courses in the GRL use wind-generating turbines to increase the difficulty of three-dimensional courses. Participating in this series of races often helps pilots become better drone flyers, as the GRL gives participants access to a variety of resources. If you are looking to compete against the best of the best, joining the GRL is a great way to ensure you have top-notch competition.
Are Drone Upgrades Acceptable?
You probably know that not every style of the drone is a good fit for every type of flying. Some drones are designed to hover, making them a good fit for aerial photography. Others are built to move through the air quickly, allowing them to dominate on a course where speed is a factor. Before choosing the right drone for your competition, be sure you understand the purpose of the event. Then, select the drone that gives you the best chance of dominating without violating the competition’s rules or restrictions.
As with any sport, drone competitions have rules that govern how participants must behave before, during, and after races. These rules dictate which drone upgrades are acceptable and which ones violate the rules. Often, however, pilots choose to customize their vehicles to give them advantages on the course or during the race. Since many aftermarket components help pilots improve drone agility and speed, diligent flyers check with the pertinent associations to avoid violating competition rules. Likewise, pilots often choose to carry spare parts and tools with them on race day. As you may suspect, making fast repairs during a race is critical for remaining competitive.
With the GRL, pilots typically don’t supply their own drones. Instead, league officials give pilots access to drones made and maintained by the league itself. Likewise, if a league-supplied drone sustains damage on race day, GRL rules require pilots use league-approved parts in making repairs. If you plan to participate in a GRL-sanctioned event, check with league officials prior to the competition to be sure you understand how to maneuver the drone used in the race.
What Are Some Other Racing Options?
If you aren’t yet ready for a high-level GRL competition, don’t panic. There are hundreds of other racing opportunities, each targeted to satisfy the racing objectives of individual pilots. That is, whether you are a first-time racer or have been racing for years, you can find the perfect competition to showcase your drone piloting abilities. Often, either taking a piloting class or joining a drone group is the best way to learn about races and other competitions. Meanwhile, a growing number of drone racing enthusiasts have begun to offer podcasts, videos, and other informational resources to pilots. Taking advantage of these resources is also a good way to find out about upcoming races and other competitions.
Is Drone Racing Lucrative?
There are hundreds of drone racing events around the globe, each with different objectives. Most who participate in drone racing do so because of a deep love of the sport. Still, competition winners may walk away with thousands of dollars in winnings. Since each competition awards winners with different prizes, be sure to ask about accolades before registering in a competition. Also, remember that racing organizations usually charge an entry fee for competitions. You may also have to pay for travel to and from the event. To get the most out of your racing experience, be sure you budget effectively for all race-related expenses.
Drone racing is probably the sport of the future. Those who participate in the sport understand how incredibly thrilling drone competitions can be. Still, with the variety of events offered by different organizations around the planet, drone pilots can get their racing fix in a seemingly endless number of ways. By discovering which events are right for you, choosing the best equipment, joining drone racing groups and honing your skills, you can likely turn your drone hobby into a passion.